Tech and Technique
Capturing good audio in many ways more important than capturing the visuals. If the audio is good you can put it over some b-roll, but if you've got footage of someone talking with crap audio it's unusable.
It sounds obvious but if you're using a microphone, make sure it's on. check that the mic lead isn't loose and knocking on the camera and make sure you check back on the audio after you record any key footage. If you're filming in windy conditions try to shelter the mic, use a muffler or better still a combination of both.
If you're not using the microphone be aware of background noises. Wind, nearby roads and talking off camera are things to look out for. Try to get the camera mic close to to the subject. If you're shooting an interview try and do so in a quiet corner where background sounds wont drown out or distract from the speaker.
If you're shooting with a Gopro (and it's safe to do so) take it out of its housing to improve audio pickup. If the background noise is really bad you might want to have your subject using a mobile phone as a mic, it should be possible to match the audio up to the video in the edit.
You can pick up a cheap lapel mic for about £10, these are great at capturing localised audio and are small and tough enough to chuck in your camera bag. You can also get an mini-usb to audio jack adapter so you can use them on your Gopro.
While we're not trying to shoot a cinematic masterpiece there are some simple rules you can use to improve the quality of your footage. Try not to have the main light source directly behind your subject, if you do they'll become a silhouette which can look crap. The exception to this is when the sun is high in the sky, when you might find that having the sun behind the subject actually works best.
If you're shooting with the light behind you try not to get your own shadow on the subject as it can be distracting to the viewer. The best direction for the light (where possible) is usually off to one side, this is enough to light the subject and gives it good depth.
Remember your camera lens isn't as sensitive to light as your eyes so when the light is less than ideal you'll need all the help you can get. This is especially important in low light or high contrast light condition. In really high contrast you might need to move the subject out of direct light to improve the image quality and soften the light.
Even during the day, indoors the light can be insufficient, so if you're interviewing inside, try to do so by a window, or a lamp.
When filming at night, you should use what you can to light your subject, vehicle headlights, streetlights, torches, mobile phone lights can all be used to add light to a scene.
The light an hour before and after sunset (and sunrise) are great for shooting with natural light, with a bit of care positioning your subject you can get really good conditions for interviews and the like. Sunrise is also a great time for shooting when you don't want so many people around.
You can buy an LED camera light to help with night scenes, these are pretty small, inexpensive and don't use that much power. You can also turn down the power and use them if your subject is backlit, or contrast is really high.
B-roll is the footage used around the main action/dialogue. It can be functional, eg you putting fuel in the car, or aesthetic eg, a wide shot of your car driving across the landscape. B-roll is used to set the scene and to provide visual diversity. It also gives the editor something to smoothen transitions between clips. Don't assume because of the name B-roll is less important than A-roll, it's a vital part of what you're shooting.
When you’re shooting functional B-roll it’s important to get the footage that tells the story.
This clip tells the story of a team being stuck at sea, it contains just enough variation of B-roll for the audience to be able to visualise the events, we see the team struggling at various points as night is falling, with the interviews overlayed, we are able to place ourselves with the team as the situation becomes more desperate.
However, it could have been made better if specific events were filmed, For example: Once it’s dark, he is talking about them getting all the dry clothes they could find and putting them on. It would have been good to capture some shots of this. When it all goes wrong it can be tempting not to film, however, when it comes to television it is not good enough to just verbally tell the story - if it’s not caught on camera, it didn’t happen.
This team describe a moment where they were almost hit by an oil tanker, however, this did not make the cut as they provided no footage of this event. When it comes to functional B-roll, don’t focus too much on setting up these shots, just capture as much as you can.
This team get caught in the rain and by capturing a variety of shots of themselves reacting to their situation they have really been able to portray their story well. Please note, this clip does not contain any of the footage from the interview/video diary we hear over the top of it.The best thing to do is capture good quality audio in your interviews and a variety of B-roll.
Even if you did not manage to capture the moment things went wrong, try and film the aftermath, for example, if you blew a tyre in a pothole, get some footage of the tyre and the pothole, the road where this all took place, you jacking up the car, getting out the spare, looking at the wheel with hands on hips. If you've just broken down, get some footage of the vehicle, the tools, the broken part, the replacement, some action footage of the vehicle being opened up, tinkered with. If you're lost, some shots of map, compass, roadsigns. Film things that you think will help to visualise the story.
Aesthetic B-roll is important to situate your story in an environment. A common shot in many films and TV programmes is the establishing shot. If you are arriving in a new place make sure you get a shot that sets the scene. Jumping from one location to another with no establishing shots can be quite jarring, so it is good to give the editor the option. Get a shot where you approach each new location so every new place is introduced. Try and get lots of shots of the scenery you pass through, shoot these from far away to get as much scenery as you can in. Shoot your vehicle passing by, show the audience the journey you have been on, they won’t be able to grasp this with just shots of a car’s interior. This should be quite fun as it is much more enjoyable to film amazing scenery than to film things going wrong.
It's also good to get some b-roll of the more mundane stuff to contrast with the action, haggling for food, laying down to rest at night, eating meals, packing your vehicle, having a drink at the end of the day. All these help the editor paint the overall picture of your adventure.
When shooting B-roll it's a good idea to mix up the shots you're using. Some wide shots, some really close shots, high angles, low angles. And always make sure you hold the shots for long enough. The editor won’t be able to use clips that are only a few seconds long. After pressing record, film for at least 30 seconds before stopping.
A lot of what you'll be shooting is on-the-fly, so you wont have loads of control over your composition, however there are things you can do to improve the shot, especially when you're shooting dialogue/ interviews.
When you can, use a tripod when you're interviewing someone, not only does the shot look better but you can leave the camera set up and focus on the questions. If you don't have a tripod, try standing your camera on a chair, the floor, or your vehicle.
When you're shooting one person talking you can crop them close (just over head, to top of armpit), or wide (just over head, to belly button). Close cropping is good if you're worried about background noises, wide cropping is good if you've got more than one person in frame.
A common camera technique is to line up interviewees with the 'rule of thirds' basically to imagine your camera screen is split into 3 vertically and horizontally and to place your subject at the cross section of two of these lines. You then want to have them facing slightly in, to the centre of the composition and looking just off to the far side of the camera.
When you're shooting people be aware of what's going on behind the camera. It can look really distracting if the subject looks like they've got something coming out of their head, or if there's loads going on just behind them (unless that's what they're talking about).
Try to mix up where you're filming your interviews/ dialogue too. Hotel rooms are great for finding somewhere quiet with controllable lighting, but they get really boring after
If someone's standing in front of a wall it's a good idea to bring them forward to drop the wall out of focus a bit and to avoid their shadow cluttering your background.
When you're shooting stuff moving you don't want to move the camera around too much. Unless you've got some sort of steady-rig or a video tripod, camera movement looks bad. When you're filming action you wont always know what's going to happen, so don't get too close. Definitely don't zoom in or out and if you find you have to move, try to do so in a steady motion from the waist.
If the action is really good, try to get a second camera on the action. This will enable you to get different point of views and will let the editor switch between cameras if you do have to move. It also means you have the possibility of capturing peoples faces so you can see their reactions to the drama.
While you might not have the space or cash for a steadycam rig, they're easy to improvise from what you've got lying around.