Tip: Telling the story

Your audience hasn't spent the hours, days or weeks planning the film with you so their capacity to follow your story will only come from what you present to them through the lens of your camera. Make telling the story your focus, not just getting 'pretty' pictures.

Tip: Equipment

Get familiar with the controls of your camera before starting to shoot so that on location you can focus on the creative side of the job rather than worrying about the technical aspects of it.
If using unfamiliar camera, shoot a camera test. Possibly even shoot some at the location and at the time of day you intend shooting to see if the light will be okay.
Make a checklist of all the equipment you may need: lights, cables, tripod, reflectors etc. Check that batteries are fully charged and ensure you have enough tape PLUS a cleaning tape!

Tip: Pre-production

Read the script and talk with the director about their 'vision' for how they want the film shot. Discuss style: low key lighting (dark shadows); tripod or handheld; 'edgy' framing etc.
Do a 'block through' with the director and actors to get some sense of how you might shoot the scene.
Do a location recce, checking for direction of light, power-points, background noise.
Estimate how much time you think you may need to set-up, particularly if using lights and/or grip equipment. This will help in scheduling the shoot and give the director a realistic expectation of how much they can shoot in a day.

Tip: The shoot

Be conscious of backgrounds and use lens size to include or exclude elements irrelevant to the story. Shooting the subject with a wide-angle lens puts background objects further away, whereas shooting them with a telephoto lens will bring background objects closer.
Look for interesting angles, don't shoot everything from eye level!!
Think ahead, particularly of the light and whether it will remain long enough for you to complete the scene.
Be aware of the difference in 'mood' between shots of the same size done either on a wide-angle or telephoto lens. There's a sense of being an onlooker or voyeur when looking at something shot with a longer lens and intimacy when shot from closer in.
Focus on getting the essential shots first and be prepared to compromise. Prioritise first, compromise later!

Tip: Sound and editing considerations

Editing. A 10 second wide-shot (WS) of scene not seeing sync dialogue may be a useful 'life-saver' for the editor, plus in a scene with dialogue, remember to shoot listening and/or reaction shots/cut ins and cutaways.
Beware of 'crossing-the-line', particularly when shooting close-ups of dialogue to be cut into a master shot.
Try to shoot cut-in shots in same light as the master shot.
Don't cut the end of your shots too short. The extra length may be useful for laying over the following scenes audio before cutting to the vision.
If just shooting dialogue scenes with just a camera microphone (not recommended!) shoot on the wide-end of the zoom close to your actors to increase the chances of getting useable sound.

Tip: General techniques

Shooting in vehicles. Try to shoot with the background backlit as this will usually give you a better light balance between the interior subject and the background. Useful shots are point-of-views (POVs) through the windscreen and close-ups (CUs) of drivers face in rear-view mirror - shoot this from front seat with a wide-angle lens to reduce camera shake.
If pushed, you can often get reasonable sound with just the camera mic, but be sure to have the windows closed, and the radio and air-con turned off!
Shooting TVs and computer screens. To see true colour shoot with the camera set to 'daylight'.

Tip: Techo

Exposure. Pan camera away from misleading elements like bright lights, windows, dark walls etc. areas when setting.
White Balance. Do in predominant light.
Focus. Zoom in to subject on auto and when the camera finds focus-lock. Do this especially when framing a subject who is close to the camera and will be framed to one side and not in the centre of the frame.
Shutter. Normally set to 50. There are great advantages in changing sometimes. (When? Do a workshop!)
Gain. If possible lock to zero unless shooting in low light.
After checking scene in playback re-cue tape to end of last shot before continuing to shoot. DO NOT start in blank time-code
Lighting. Be careful with the balance of foreground to background light levels. If you want to see the background add just enough light on your foreground person or object to match the background. If you don't want to see the background put more light on the foreground then when you expose correctly for it the background will 'drop-off'.
If using lights in a scene that is predominantly lit by daylight add blue gel to the light to correct for colour temperature.

Tip: When out walking

Always use the lens at the widest end of the zoom and be close to your subject(s). When the lens is wide and the subject big in the foreground the viewer's eyes will be focused on the subject and they will be less aware of camera movement. Having walked through Mangrove swamps in waist high water filming Harry Butler I can vouch for this!
Walk at the same pace as the subjects. Tell them beforehand to walk at their normal pace and that you will walk to their pace. That way there is a 'rhythm' between you and them and the camera movement will be less noticeable.
Remember to get listening cutaways too, as you would with any other 'conversation' sequences!
Think about cutting points. If you are walking along (backwards) shooting two people having a conversation let them know that at some point of their conversation you may stop, but that they should continue on. This way, after something relevant has been said that you feel makes a nice end point to the sequence - you stop, and let them walk out of the frame.
When you stop hold the camera REALLY steady, if only for a second or two. This will make the cut to the next shot so much smoother than cutting from a 'wobbly' picture.
If walking backwards (without someone to guide you) remind your subjects to be aware of your safety and take a 'line' that ensures you don't walk into any obstacles.

Some other useful shots to keep in mind if shooting this type of sequence.

A front-on telephoto shot on the 'long end' of the zoom (use a tripod), with your subjects walking directly to camera, (e.g. with them filling the bottom half of the frame). Depending on your lens you may need to be about 100 metres ahead of them for this. Prearrange signals so they know when to start walking and when to stop and repeat if you don't get it right the first time! This shot can be used either at the head of the walk with some narration, over their first few words or later at some other time during the walk.
Another is a medium-wide shot from the other side of the road. Start with them backed off about 50 metres or so and pan with them till they are adjacent, then let them walk out of frame. If there is some traffic flow between you and them the shot will probably be more interesting and when this is the case keep rolling for a few extra seconds after they have exited the picture. Remember not to 'cross-the-line' (you lose points for this!), so if in the walk you have them walking right to left have them walking right to left in the shot from across the road too.
A shot following behind them is handy too as (not seeing sync) it too can be used at any point.


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