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Don’t panic – keep filming!

19 March 2021

It’s often said you learn from your mistakes. But what if one small mistake ruins a whole filming shoot? It happened to me…

It was in the early days of my career as a freelance videographer. I’d been asked by a client to film a series of very important interviews. I was using a borrowed camera I wasn’t familiar with and I had the settings in a mess, which made me nervous.

Let’s just say it was a shocker. About ten over-exposed, unusable blurry videos.

And I’ve heard similar horror stories from others, as filming has lots of moving parts to keep under control. And if you’re starting off or don’t have a crew to support you, it’s even more important to stay calm and focus (pun intended).

Here are seven tips for how to prevent panic setting in, to avoid making big mistakes when you’re filming:

  1. Create a production plan
    Days, and probably a week or more before your shoot, you should be doing things like prepping interview questions or a shot list. Think about what you want to get out of your filming session. This will help you get in the right frame of mind for the day of the shoot.

    It’s usually a good idea to write your intentions down in a production plan and have this on a clipboard or phone/tablet ready the night before. It’s also a good idea to include in your plan the kit you’re going to need.
  2. Check and double-check your kit
    Make sure you are ready to go – your batteries are charged, your SD cards are empty (or have adequate space on them), and all the kit you are going to use is working and packed. It can be the small things that go missing that make things tricky, such as a tripod plate or even forgetting a pair of headphones for monitoring sound levels. Some videographers I know of will lay all their kit down on a table and take a photo of it… but maybe that’s just for their Instagram!
  3. Don’t try lots of new kit (however exciting it is)
    It seems the latest, must-have cameras are released almost on a monthly basis from the likes of Canon, Sony or Panasonic. But don’t be tempted to rock up at an important shoot as you’re taking the wrapping off your new toy. Even if you’re familiar with cameras, they’re likely to have new quirks which could leave you stumped just when you need to find something in a menu.

    To avoid stress and panic when filming you should try and use kit you know well, or at least have had time to practice with. This goes for all your kit, be it tripods, lights or audio recorders.
  4. Get support if you can
    It can be a lonely experience to feel like you’re juggling a million things when you’re filming on your own. If you’re a one-person crew it doesn’t always mean you can’t ask for help, even from people who know little about filming. Perhaps someone could meet and greet your interviewee for you, to allow you time to focus on the filming side of things. Maybe they’ll even conduct the interview for you.

    Or perhaps someone else could be responsible for standing behind a second camera and checking it’s in focus or isn’t running out of storage space. Don’t go it alone unless you really have to or want to.
  5. Don’t rush to hit record
    Most of the time you won’t need to quickly start filming, so make sure you have everything ready. Check your interviewee is framed well, their mic is attached (yes, I forgot this once!), your camera settings are correct and any lights are firmly secured etc.

    Try and have a casual chat first with any interviewees to help them feel comfortable and relaxed. This will help you build a rapport with them. It’s a good idea to also give them a quick heads up (or reminder) about what you expect from the interview so everyone’s on the same page.
  6. Be super-alert when filming
    With so many moving parts, you really need to keep alert when you’re filming. Key things can ruin a shoot (as I revealed in my horror story above). Keep a close watch on focus and exposure – two things that are particularly hard to fix in editing if they go wrong.

    Check your audio levels and listen out for any interference with your microphone/s, such as rustling hair or clothes. Keep an eye on how much storage space you have on your cards and when you may need to change them.
  7. Some mistakes are ok
    Try and remember that it’s unlikely you’ll get everything perfect with your shoot. I’ve been shooting videos for more than 20 years and I can still get something wrong from time to time. But I’ve learnt that some mistakes have fewer consequences than others, so I focus on avoiding the bigger ones, as mentioned above (focus, exposure, audio etc).

    Many smaller mistakes such as not getting your white balance quite right, or not framing the interviewee exactly right in the shot can be fixed in the edit.

Try and follow these seven tips and your shoots should become calmer and produce better results each time.

For more tips to make the most of your videos check out Video for Charities Conference on-demand.

You may also like our FilmKit for charities.

Banner image: GR Stocks on Unsplash

Andrew Horton

online news and film editor, Tearfund