This photographer-YouTuber explains why human facial expressions are important for a YouTube thumbnail

Have you ever tried balancing yourself on two things at the same time, like how Hollywood actor, Jean Claude Van Damme did in a famous ad for Volvo trucks?

Sounds crazy, right?

But, our guest today does it regularly, and even thrives at it.

Meet Sofia Surreal, a Copenhagen-based photographer, who is a biologist-turned YouTuber.

What started as a personal preference for vegan food later became a YouTube channel. Her channel, 'Vegan Watching,' is split into two parts:

  1. One part called "Lessons of Life & Love," where she features popular TV shows and movies and brings out the lessons we could learn.
  2. The other part features nutritional tips and vegan lifestyles thanks to her background in biology.

And, being a photographer, Sofia knows a lot about doing videos. Her single piece of advice for aspiring YouTubers?

"Be passionate about your videos, don't make them for the sake of it."

Sofia also revealed that her YouTube thumbnail process starts much before she puts out a video. And, that has resulted in attracting viewers who care about her videos than random views.

Here is our conversation:

Q. Tell us about yourself and your YouTube channel

Sofia: "My name's Sofia, and I'm from the UK, but I've been living in Copenhagen for a couple of years. I host a YouTube channel called ‘Vegan Watching.’

I started it a couple of years ago, and it was because I've personally been following a plant-based diet. It's gonna be nine years this week actually. I used to interview people, and kind of sharing their lifestyles, and trying to do motivational videos.

Then, I took a hiatus for a couple of years to do my master's degree in biology. And, when Covid-19 happened, I decided, “Oh wow, I really miss making videos!” So, I restarted doing that.

My YouTube channel is split into two parts: so it's me as a vegan and watching things. So, I do a series called ‘Lessons of Life & Love’, where I delve into popular TV shows and movies to see what lessons we can learn from them. So, I take a film, and I'll break down the lessons around relationships, or life, motivation or sort of inspirational content, and this is with my voiceover.

At the same time, I'm a biologist, so, I also do health science videos, for people following a plant-based diet, and some of those videos on nutrition and weight loss have become popular.

So, my YouTube channel follows those two streams."

My YouTube channel is split into two parts - one caters to lessons that we learn from TV shows and movies. The other is about health and nutrition-based videos

Q. Tell us about your most famous video - the 'Normal People' one

Sofia: "Okay, it's interesting that you mentioned it. That one really took off. I think one of the strong points was that I try to pinpoint the two different perspectives.

So, I started with the split-screen, and what I found through making videos, is that it is very important to hook your audience right at the start. So, at the beginning of my videos, I like to pose a question or delve into something that will engage them.

In the beginning of a video, I start off with that kind of split-screen, then I go into, “Okay, this is the lesson”. But, then I also take something that is universal interest to people. For instance, it could be signs of attraction, and relationships, and that's what people want to know about.

So, I do a quick take on that, and later, I really delve into more details and break down the relationship. But, by this point, a lot of the people are already engaged with what's going on.

I think especially when you're making content, it's very important to think about what you want to say, and then break it down. For me, I write the scripts beforehand. I spend quite a lot of time writing these essays, and I cover main points and then I think about, “Okay, as a viewer, what would be the most interesting thing?”What will be applicable and relatable?"

Then, I try and always structure the video. So, that's the key, and that's how I always adapt to the content. In the video about 'Normal People', Marianne and Connell have a tumultuous relationship. They're not communicating well, and that's something that a lot of people experience. I guess that's why it struck a nerve. People can learn through these characters."

It is important to introduce a hook in the beginning. In my case, I present a split-screen so viewers know both sides of the relationship.

Here's the video that Sofia speaks about:

Q. How do you make awesome YouTube thumbnails?

Sofia: "So, what I found is focusing on facial expressions in YouTube thumbnails helps a lot. For instance, when I am making films or videos, I depend on the skills from these productions. Sometimes, I can't get the great imagery, but an expressive portrait image with a zoom-in effect helps.

Besides, make sure that the text on the YouTube thumbnail is as short as possible. Sometimes, you want to combine two sentences in one, but I recommend a couple of words max, and it should feed off the title.

YouTube thumbnails are so important because, if they don't click, it doesn't matter how much time you spend on a video.

I've had to rework some of my thumbnails, and I've also learned to think of my thumbnails when I am creating my script. And, then see what I want to say.

So, if you can't present it in a way, if you can't package it, then you're not going to get any viewers, and it's really important to know what you're making. You need to structure it in a way that you can entice people.

I would recommend really strong imagery, close-up spatial, if you're using people, and short titles on the actual thumbnail.

And then, of course, making sure that the full title is captivating. A lot of times, people don't think of what someone will click on, and they maybe do it too factually.

So, you need to really make it something that will entice them in a way. I know some people do a lot of clickbaity stuff, but I think it's better to be authentic and not do that but of course, make it in a way that's more persuasive. So, I would always say persuasive over clickbait."

Use strong imagery and facial expressions for a YouTube thumbnail. And, don't make the title clickbaity - be authentic.

If you're looking to create awesome thumbnails, use our YouTube thumbnail maker to get hundreds of readymade templates for free.

Q. What is most critical while doing YouTube videos?

Sofia "I think it is a loaded question, because it has more layers to it.

So, number one is consistency, because if you don't make videos, what's the point? But, then, how do you figure out what will make you consistent, and that is, of course, picking videos you truly care about.

So, pick a topic that can sustain you, and that you have a greater mission. Because, if you're dedicating so much time dedicated to it, then don't do it for the views, because it takes so long to actually get any views.

I've noticed since I've changed my niche, changed my style, that you need to be passionate about what you're making. That way, you're excited and you're thinking about creative ways to explore and explain the topic. But, if you don't care that much, it's not going to come across."

Be passionate about what you're making, that way you'll explore more creative ways of doing things

Q. What do you enjoy most while making YouTube videos?

Sofia: "I'm really passionate about continuing, and learning and the why. I decided to go with the video essays, in this style because, with every video, I learned something.

I'm honing in on my skills of writing, editing, and putting it together. So, I didn't want to make something that didn't take you that much effort, or I didn't challenge myself.

If you're already gonna spend so many hours, it really needs to be something, and you feel like, “Okay, wow, I'm actually growing as a person.” The views will come eventually.

But, for me, I'm excited that I made the video, and I'm proud of it. Sometimes, you want to follow some trends, but then I was like, “Whoa, I'm not even super proud of what I made."

Now, I ask myself, “Okay, how can I help other people, what is it that I'll learn about, and what would be exciting creative content to share?”

Now, I ask myself, “Okay, how can I help other people, what is it that I'll learn about, and what would be exciting creative content to share?”

Sofia Surreal's story is just one amongst a series of fabulous conversations that we've had with famous YouTubers. Here're other conversations in our "Grow Your YouTube" series:

  1. This VET doctor explains how she wants to grow her pet food YouTube channel into a TV show one day
  2. Live For Another – The story of 20-somethings who make it a habit to help ailing patients live their craziest dreams
  3. Trekers - The YouTuber couple who shot to celebrity status with a video of a secret World War II U-boat
  4. The story of how a celebrity interviewer-YouTuber discovered his "Aha!" moment three years ago - Chris Van Vliet
  5. How a French guitarist got 2 million views on his YouTube videos - Tanguy Kerleroux
  6. The awe-inspiring tale of a 55-year-old realtor-YouTuber who's aiming for 100k subs from zero!
  7. "If you aren't authentic on YouTube, people can smell you from a mile," says a flight attendant-YouTuber