Once you have decided how to tell your story (i.e., creative treatment) it is time to decide where the shoot will take place. In many cases during pre-production, the team determines that some of the video needs to be shot on location. The outdoors provide a realistic environment and are used when a studio just won’t cut it. I personally love shooting on location, but there are always a few things to prepare before getting started.
Here’s a list of issues that can arise while on location:
- Constant changing of light (sun)
- Spectators stopping and staring
- No room to put unused gear
- No where close to park
Despite the challenges of shooting on location, here’s a few of the advantages:
- Some locations offer many ‘looks’ in the same block
- Can be more cost effective
- It’s Fun! (you should be enjoying yourself while on a shoot)
- More possibilities for camera and character movement
- Landscape becomes backdrop
As you can see, there are both positives and negatives to shooting on location. Once you create solutions for the negatives, shooting on location becomes a great option for your next video. Let’s explore how to prepare for some of the challenges when shooting outdoors.
There is some luck involved with this but we improve our chances by continuing to check the weather and preparing a back up plan. If there is a scene where characters are talking outside of a building, we will see if there is a spot that has covering. We could even have them inside the building. Ask yourself: does rain add or take away from the story? Can they be inside instead of outside?
Wind will always be an audio recorder’s enemy. There are tools that we use to help decrease wind noise into mics, but we still want to think of other ways to get the shot. Sitting on a bench, leaning against a wall and finishing the scene inside are just a few of these ways. By finishing the scene inside (while having the characters begin outside), you can have them walk into the building and continue their conversation. Above all, figure out if it takes away from the story, if it does, scrap it and choose a day that has the conditions you are looking for.
In feature films, the cinematographer and director wait as long as it takes to shoot scenes in the perfect lighting. But, other than those on feature films, it’s tough for a crew to be able to wait all day for the sun. Having a general sense of the location and the times needed for filming each scene is key. It’s important to be STRICT on timing – the Director is responsible for working with the crew to manage expectations.
My go to tool for tracking the sun is the Sun Seeker App. With this app, you can easily see where the sun is, where it is going, and at what times it will be there. It’s key to be aware of shadows as well. You can see in the image below that if Matt kept shooting in that spot for too long, his shadow would spill into the shot. Even if you are shooting inside, we take note on where windows are because the sun can ruin a shot (or make it). Using reflectors, flags and silk screens can take an outdoor video from looking like a home movie to a feature film.
When shooting on location, people are going to stop and stare. Some will even come up and start asking questions. Unless you have the budget to close down where you are shooting, this is something that a crew needs to manage. The quick and easy solution is to make a PA and/or intern responsible. They will make sure people aren’t ruining takes and that everyone keeps moving. Along with having someone guide spectators, you can also choose times that have very low foot trafic. It’s important to keep in mind where the sun will be at those times as well. A third consideration is to minimize foot traffic. We usually only have the exact crew members we need and the equipment required to get the shot. Although this can’t always be the case, having a smaller footprint while on location certainly helps.
Storing Gear and Parking
I put this last because it should be considered last. NEVER let parking concerns dictate the story. EVER. This is why you have budgeted for a PA and/or intern. It’s always important to be aware of the parking situation, but it’s more for scheduling purposes. Parking can be addressed once you have an understanding of the crew, equipment and overall schedule.
Storing gear can sometimes cause a problem. That is why location scouts are a huge help. If you already know what you need and how much room you have for the extra gear that you ‘might’ need, you can make decisions before getting there on what goes and what stays.
These above tips help make the most out of shooting on location outdoors. We like to walk through some of these considerations with our clients during pre-production. Along with using this as a guide, it’s always important to have an open mind and be flexible. With weather, sun, lighting, spectators, etc. – there’s always some challenge. Be on the look out for a future post on location scouting which will really help with your next on-location shoot.