Video Best Practices for Creating Thumbnails

video thumbnails best practices

Thumbnails are critically important to driving viewership of your video.

Think of your thumbnail like a book cover… or album cover… or advertisement for people to watch your video.

Just like a book, people will judge your video by its “cover.”  So it’s important to spend some time making sure you have the best possible thumbnail for your video to gain and hold attention.

Here are five video best practices for creating thumbnails:


An offshoot of artistic rules, used in still photography and video, is called the rule of thirds.chart

The rule of thirds states that you should mentally divide the frame (what you see in the viewfinder) into thirds, both vertically and horizontally. What you get is like a tic-tac-toe board overlaying your screen.

For interview shots, there is a general rule of thirds. Your talking head should fill up one-third of the shot for a mid-shot, and two-thirds of a shot for a close-up. That’s the rule.

For wochit purposes this can be applied to thumbnails: we recommend you have your main subject filling up at least two-thirds of the image.

Headroom refers to the amount of space between the top of a person’s head and the top of your frame.  When using the zoom tool to crop thumbnails of people, pay attention to where the eyes appear. Follow the rule of thirds and place the subject’s eyes on the upper third line.

Most novice photographers and videographers will frame shots of people with too much headroom; you’ll know you have erred if your thumbnail subject appears to be sinking (because of the extra headroom) in your image.



Problem: A little too much head and neck there, looks like an ID photo


This is a better example of head and neck; it’s a little tighter shot than the image above, and the emotion shows more clearly.


This Lady Gaga headshot works —  the focus is on hair and chest, as much as head and neck.


Emotion is a powerful weapon to draw attention to your thumbnail — and to your video — so use it!

Extreme close-ups are one type of thumbnail that can amplify emotions. Thumbnails that show laughter, joy, sorrow, anger — all can draw attention to your thumbnail. Make the viewer wonder, “what made this person feel that way?” — and compel them to click on your video thumbnail to find out!

If you want to do an extreme close-up for a thumbnail, full-face images that display emotion work best.


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Too often, there’s no congruity between video thumbnails and video titles. Make sure the subject of your thumbnail is the subject of your video. Make sure the subject is also noted properly in the video’s title.

Make it crystal clear to your thumbnail viewer what your video is about.

Don’t let comical missteps like these happen to you!


This man was never in the Grateful Dead (he’s Bob Dylan).


This man is not Tupac Shakur (he’s Kendrick Lamar).


It’s annoying, and frustrating, when a thumbnail promises one thing, and a video delivers something else, entirely. This type of deceit is called “clickbaiting” — and it’s a terrible way to build loyal viewers.

For a story about an event, or breaking news, it’s best to use a still image from the actual event in your thumbnail.  Images that illustrate action are best.



Fire in Los Angeles, 2014



Air crash in San Francisco, 2014

NEVER USE any video or still image that is not from the actual event in a thumbnail.  For example, if your video is about the Germanwings crash, only use an image of a type of Germanwings aircraft that was involved in the crash in your thumbnail.



When it comes to thumbnails, blurry images, out of focus images, cluttered images and confusing images are all losers.

Be clear, be upfront about the subject of the video, and use as compelling an image as you can to draw attention to that subject.

Compare and contrast these two thumbnails below — which draws you in more?


Good image of a group shot for thumbnail – for the band, Metallica.


Bad image of Metallica  for a thumbnail.  You could say, “Enter Sandman” for this image: It’s not clear who they are, and their faces are hard to see.


Follow these five video best practices for creating thumbnails, and your videos will gather the clicks you want, from audiences that you have treated with respect.

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