November 5, 2014

A Beginner's Guide to Shooting Outside: 5 Things You Shouldn't Leave Home Without

If you're new to filmmaking and taking your production outdoors, here are 5 excellent pieces of advice to consider.

If you're somewhat experienced in filmmaking, you'll find that these tips from the delightful folks over at Film Riot are pretty standard. Protecting your mics from the wind, always keeping a reflector and ND filter handy, and choosing the optimum time of day to shoot are things you should always keep in mind. However, host Ryan Connolly offers a couple of helpful alternatives for lighting and sound tools that even pros will find nifty.

There are countless things to consider before you shoot outside -- and your needs will change dramatically depending on the elements you're facing. I'd say one of the first things you should do before heading out is checking the weather report (something I've learned the hard way). Make sure you're not going to get unexpectedly rained out. Not only could rain ruin your shot, but it could ruin your camera equipment. Same thing goes with heat; make sure you're not leaving your equipment out in the sun for too long to avoid overheating. Be aware of sunset/sunrise times so you can anticipate how much time you have to gather footage.

Though Film Riot's tips just scratch the surface, they're essential for pretty much any outdoor shooting situation you'll find yourself in. What are a few tips you'd suggest to beginners who are heading outside to shoot some video? Let us know in the comments!     

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19 Comments

Best advice to a beginner filmmaker:

1. PUT THE POP UP REFLECTOR DOWN and go to a rental house and rent a mirror either 2x2 or 4x4, It will be as strong as an HMI and it won't blow in the wind.

2. Rent an butterfly frame with Quarter Grid or Lee 216 or 250 and put it over the talent during mid day to block the sun. Hell get a sun swatter from borrow lenses. That is the first step to filming outside mid day is diffuse the sun. Many large feature films will have a 20x20 of diffusion blocking the sun on a condor crane and a crew will move the crane all day to track with the sun.

3. Get some butterfly frames of diffusion, the mirrors will be stronger than you think, you will need to diffuse them as well.

4. Underexpose the talent by a stop or so. If you bring in an overhead frame of diffusion, the talent will get less light than the background. If you choose the right diffusion it will only make around a stop difference. If your shooting on a modern camera, that exposure compensation can be seamlessly corrected in post.

5. In a rush, shoot in the shade. Shade is awesome, its even lighting, requires less nd, and it is usually simple to bounce direct sunlight off a mirror and through diffusion into the shaded scene to model talent with soft light. If your camera can handle highlights well, expose for the shadows.

6. Don't be afraid of a generator, they won't bite you. Most you just have to turn them on and plug in.

November 6, 2014 at 11:33AM

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Indie Guy
1312

Oh great. I have all these grips following me around and nothing for them to do. I can have a few of the guys on a crane, a few messing with butterfly frames and one trying to work the generator...
I think you missed the "Beginner's" part of the article. If most of any of us have any extra help at all, it would probably be just enough to hold a boom pool or bounce some light in (which often times can work just as well as spending 10 grand on a truck from a rental house.)

November 6, 2014 at 12:51PM

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Josh Paul
Most often DP, Direct or Gaff
1099

You don't need grips to work with mirrors, just get a combo or junior stand and some sand bags you can set it up and walk away. You will need a PA to hold those fold out reflector that beginners weirdly are promoted to use though. I think your dropping the bar for beginner filmmakers too low, they still want to learn to become a real filmmaker and they should be learning about the inexpensive and accessible tools that the pros use instead of inexpensive tools that amateurs use.

November 6, 2014 at 1:58PM

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Indie Guy
1312

I'd have to agree with Josh on this one - most beginners are better off with a 4-in-1 reflector/diffuser. I've just shot my first feature - all outside, all natural light - with only reflectors and a sunseeker app. If you've got a tiny crew/budget it's important that you learn to react to the quality and position of light that's there. A couple of highly portable reflector/diffusers are perfect for this.

If you've got the time and energy to set up some stands, frames, mirrors and diffusers then good luck to you - but if you do that in England the weather conditions will have changed five times before you've started rolling.

November 7, 2014 at 4:36AM

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Alex Richardson
Director
3427

I've probably got that same handy reflector as you. I'm on a shoot in Kolkata. It's so easy to use, I can pay a kid 50 rupees to follow me around with it while I grab some B-roll.

November 7, 2014 at 5:08AM

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Josh Paul
Most often DP, Direct or Gaff
1099

I had an egg roll from a stall at one end of Sudder Street that I still remember...

And nearly got into a fight with a taxi driver at the other end of the street.

November 7, 2014 at 5:30AM

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Alex Richardson
Director
3427

Ha! You're braver than I am. I would not eat any of the street food around here. I have enough fear at the hotel.

November 8, 2014 at 12:50AM

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Josh Paul
Most often DP, Direct or Gaff
1099

I've convinced myself that street food is safer than the stuff in the hotels - it tends to be deep fried and has been cooking for hours. I've been poisoned in several continents now, and usually by hotels!

November 9, 2014 at 6:35AM

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Alex Richardson
Director
3427

Just checking have you guys ever used a mirror? Do you know that they double output? Do you know that they cost 10 dollars to rent. They take 2 seconds to set up and will give you a more powerful kicker than many HMI. Every beginner would be astonished if they just set one up. But for some reason, their is this reflector kick. You can also get a 12x12, yes I said it 12x12! Spend the time to set it up and you will not have to move it as often. More set up time less time actually slowing down the production.

This site has changed since the new look. When did it become elitist to rent grip gear that will increase you production value for cheap. Telling a beginner that they shouldn't play with mirrors is crazy.

November 7, 2014 at 10:58AM

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Indie Guy
1312

Come on dude - it's all just personal opinions and preferences, and doesn't really matter enough for anyone's nose to get put out of joint. I stand by my opinion - that for most beginners (the focus of this article) they're better off with the most simple setup possible, which is a 4-in-1 reflector or two. That'll give them gold, silver and white reflectors, a diffuser and a black bounce for negative fill. Using these in daylight is a great way to develop an understanding of light - it's quality, tone, direction, etc - and that's the best way of increasing your production value.

Mirrors and frames are an excellent and inexpensive way of lighting outdoors, but if you don't have much experience in using daylight I think you're going to trip yourself up. Once you're up-and-running and have a bit more experience, great!

As for elitism - you've labelled people that use reflectors as amateurs. That's plainly just silly talk - I know DoPs who'd get a better looking image with just a few reflectors than most of us could get with any wishlist of kit at our fingertips.

November 7, 2014 at 11:18AM

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Alex Richardson
Director
3427

What I am addressing is fear of equipment. Beginners do not need to have it. You guys hold your expectations for beginners too low. Getting tripped up by a mirror, for real? Its simple and so are butterfly frames, ultra bounce, medium roller, lollipops, and ball-busters and so on. At least down this path you will learn what all these things are.

Pop out reflectors are for amateur video and photography. Please feel free to show examples from the DoPs with pop of reflectors. Be sure to include wides and mediums.

November 7, 2014 at 12:03PM

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Indie Guy
1312

Crikey, you've got a bee in your bonnet. I'm not underestimating beginners - but there's no point in grabbing a load of kit that's going to weigh you down if you haven't even had chance to get some experience with a basic setup first. Nobody should be afraid of kit, but the mistake I most regularly made as a beginner certainly wasn't having too little kit - it was having too much and being determined to use it all!

I don't know why we're arguing though - we can all go off and make our own mistakes and learn from them, whatever we do.

November 7, 2014 at 12:23PM

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Alex Richardson
Director
3427

I was camera operator for a no-budget feature five years back, and someone was making a behind-the-scenes. I've never seen it, but apparently there's a montage of me turning to the camera, with a shot from every location we went to, saying, "I hate bugs." "I hate bugs." "I hate bugs." I hate bugs."

I'm never going to work for National Geographic. I'm professional enough to go into a zen place and not let it distract me during a take. But after a take it's like, "F!@#$ Get these off me."

Day-time with flies buzzing around you is bad enough. But this is a night-time problem especially. If you're in the middle of a forest and turn on an HMI, what happens next? Every freaking moth, mosquito, beetle, and flying ant in the world is coming straight for you. And I had it easy compared to the guy next to me -- the poor gaffer operating as a human light stand.

Moral of the story: night-time = bug repellant, lots of bug repellant.

November 6, 2014 at 3:45PM

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Adrian Tan
Videographer
988

One more thought... This is pure common sense, but I'm going to write it anyway. Depending on the environment you're facing, the following might be useful:

Shooting at night-time: flashlights to distribute amongst crew, though at a pinch you can use smartphones.

Shooting along a road: safety cones, and fluoro vests for crew members.

Shooting outdoors in daytime in Australia: sunscreen, hats, umbrellas to create shade.

Shooting in rain: rain jackets for crew and maybe appropriate footwear; plastic bags for the cameras or specialised camera jackets; tarpaulins to put gear on or to cover gear; lots of umbrellas -- to put over lights, cameras, crew and talent; enough lens tissues and cloths to keep wiping water and fog from lenses and camera bodies; and cable protectors (eg, if you're putting a generator 100m away for sound reasons, and you therefore need to connect two 50m cables, you might need something to protect the point at which they connect).

Snow and desert: never shot in those conditions, but would be interested to hear from people who have!

November 6, 2014 at 4:01PM

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Adrian Tan
Videographer
988

I've just done 24 days outside shooting, and these are great tips - with a couple of reflectors and an app for seeing the sun's position you can get great stuff. We shot mostly on a BMPCC, exposed to the right, used the sun as a backlight as much as possible, and brought in the reflectors for a little fill where necessary.

We had a LOT of rain during the shoot - probably around 20 wet days out of a 24 days schedule - and got pretty good at dealing with it by the end. These are pretty simple tips, but they made a huge difference to us (and our happiness...!)

- Set up a gazebo/tent/umbrella village at the start of each day. All kit goes under this. If it's crap weather, your kit won't get soaked - and if it's roasting hot your kit won't overheat.

- Make sure everything is in peli-cases, and that these are always closed and locked. No excuses. It's easy to be in a rush and leave a case open while you're sorting things out, but if there's a sudden downpour everything gets ruined. Put in as many silica gel sachets as you can.

- Flasks full of hot tea keep everyone happy.

- Clean the mud off everything before it goes back in the van.

November 7, 2014 at 4:45AM

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Alex Richardson
Director
3427

Know where your nearest hardware store is and have some money for those little things you may want or need.

If you are alone or there are only a few of you and you are somewhere that is difficult to control the public, get some various colours of electrical tape, the kind that looks really scruffy and peels off all by itself - if it's been kicking around in a tool box for a couple of years, even better. Tape up a few key pieces of kit to make it look like the electrical tape is holding it together. I've found that nothing deters a casual thief more than making your gear look worthless.

Also, just to reiterate one of Alex Richardson's points - Flasks of hot drinks, be it tea, coffee, hot choc or all of the above. Nothing makes the day go better than hot beverages on demand!

November 7, 2014 at 5:41AM

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The electrical tape's a good idea! Along (vaguely) the same lines - if anyone asks you what you're making, we found that saying 'a student film' saves a lot of time and bother. We found people lose interest almost immediately - whereas if you just say 'a film', you attract a lot more attention!

November 7, 2014 at 6:28AM

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Alex Richardson
Director
3427

Yesterday, We about died laughing when we found out that one of our translators has been telling anyone who asks that we're making Slumdog millionaire: Part 2

November 8, 2014 at 12:56AM

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Josh Paul
Most often DP, Direct or Gaff
1099

Brilliant.

November 9, 2014 at 6:35AM

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Alex Richardson
Director
3427