We’ve been filming sessions for over 5 years and throughout that time we have constantly been refining our systems. There’s a system for loading in, a system for packing up and a system for booking sessions. If there’s a process, you’ll most likely find a system behind it. However it took a long time for us to get to a satisfactory level, we were constantly experimenting, making mistakes and fine-tuning our methods. It has now got to a point that if someone outside from the team offers to help pack down our equipment, we kindly have to decline as we have our own systems in place. If something is packed up in the wrong order or placed somewhere else, we’ll most likely leave an item behind. As someone who is thinking of creating their own sessions, do you have systems in place? If not, it’s best to start thinking about implementing a few, otherwise, you’re going to get overwhelmed by everything else. Think of your systems as a 1,2,3-type-process of getting something accomplished.
In this article, I aim to share with you our system for the shots that we like to secure for every shoot. By creating online content, we give independent artists an opportunity to be seen and heard. Hopefully, you’ll be able to take away some useful information that you too can implement for your own shoots.
Before you carry on reading, we have also written an article that outlines the 3 methods for filming a live session. Since you’re reading this article, it’s most likely that the other article is applicable to you too.
In our Reload Sessions, we’re fortunate enough to have a three-camera setup. Although this makes it easier for us to capture all our shots, this doesn’t mean it cannot be done with just one. It might take a little longer, but it’s still doable.
So what four shots do we like to secure whilst filming a Reload Session? It’s simple, a close-up, medium, wide and detail shot.
The Close-Up Shot - The ‘Who’
We like to treat our close-up shot as the main shot. Whatever happens, it is essential for us to capture this. This is because it is the main focus for the artist. We’re there to film the performance of the artist, regardless of if they are with a band or not, the artist is the star of the show. So our close-up is dedicated to the main act. Seldom do we move around with this shot, this is because we like to refer to it often and so by keeping it static we have the luxury of cutting to this angle whenever we want to.
How do we frame our close-up? Well, we mostly focus from the shoulders-up, so the head of the artist is mostly taking up the majority of the screen. This allows the audience to see who is singing. It also creates an intimate feel to the session, since we’re so ‘close’ to the artist. By using the rule of thirds and other camera techniques, it allows us to construct more visually pleasing compositions. I recommend you experiment with your shots, you’re only going to get better if you constantly experiment. Below are a few examples of shots that we’ve captured in the past.
I’m sure you’re asking, “what lens do you use to film a close-up?” It is a valid question, but what I want to stress to you is that it doesn’t really matter what equipment you’re using. A poor technician blames his tools, so make sure you know what you’re doing with yours. But if I had to answer your question, here’s a list of lenses that we like to use. I tried to cover a variety of different models so you can have a general idea of what is out there:
The Medium Shot - Set The Scene
A medium shot helps set the scene a little. It lets us know who’s playing the instrument/s, where the artist is and if they have any bandmates. If you wanted to, you can stick on your close-up for the majority of your session, but for the audience sake maybe it’s best to add a little variety. For example, how is the audience to know your main artist is also playing the guitar if you only focus from the shoulders-up?
We like to be a little bit more creative with our medium shots. If there are other bandmates involved we’ll fit them into the composition and use a little rack focusing to switch between the two. Or we’ll position something in the foreground to add a little depth to the frame. The main focus is to set the scene, the medium shot should accompany the close-up allowing you to switch between the two angles.
Like anything, you’ll only get better if you consistently try it out. In your next shoot try and be creative, look for different methods to set up your shot. Below are a few examples of medium shots that we have used in past sessions.
In terms of lenses, you can use the same equipment that I mentioned above, all you need to do is take a step back or two. However if lack of space doesn’t permit, then it’s probably best to get a wider lens.
The Wide Shot - Context
If the medium shot helps set the scene, the wide puts everything into context. It allows the audience to know if you’re filming inside a studio, or outdoors in the forest. You can instantly tell how many bandmates are playing with the artists, as well as what the audio set-up is like. Of course, if you’re clever enough you can figure out the setting of the shoot from the close-up and medium shots, but the wide confirms your educated guess.
We often use this shot when we’re dealing with three or more people in one session. Getting over the shoulder shots with the medium lens is all well and good, but if you want to feature everyone together in one angle, you’re gonna have to go wide. Saying that, you can still use a wide shot for a lone artist, maybe the emphasis is on the setting of the session and you want the audience to focus on that. It’s totally your call.
Below are a few examples of shots that feature bands as well as an artist by themselves. I urge you to experiment with your shots as well. Who knows what kind of shots you’ll come up with.
Getting a wide shot with the lenses mentioned above can be quite difficult if you don’t have much room to back-up. That’s why I suggest you go with the lenses mentioned below, these will give you more versatility and extra options in a tight space.
The Detail Shot - Something Extra
Personally, I feel that this shot isn’t as important as the previous three. However, it is something we like to secure in a session, but if we don’t, it’s not the end of the world. Whenever an artist or a bandmate is playing an instrument, we like to occasionally cut to a shot of the fretboard of a guitar or the keys of a piano. Essentially this shot is a close-up of the instrument that is being played. We like to label this type of shot as ‘detail.’
There are times during a part of the session where it’s only the instrument that is making noise. In the edit, it doesn’t make sense to focus on the artists head as they are not singing. We could cut to a medium shot or even a wide, but to give the audience some perspective of what and how the instrument is being played we often would focus on the hands playing it.
You can get some nice leading lines when focusing on the fretboard of a guitar, it really depends on how you frame your shot. Below are a few examples of detail shots that we’ve captured in the past.
You can use similar lenses mentioned earlier. Just in case, I’ll label them below.
So there you have it. Those are the four shots that we like to secure for every shoot. Of course, everyone has their own preference, and we’re not saying that ours is right. We just want to give you some insight into our process as it’s something that really helps us with each shoot. Hopefully, you can take away something from it.
If you can capture all four shots, it’ll add some variety to the final edit. You can pick and choose what to focus on during the session. However, if you prefer to have just a wide angle camera set-up for your entire performance there is nothing wrong with that too. The main thing is that you experiment and figure out what is best for you. It took us a few years to figure out our methodology, hopefully, yours will be shorter!
If you have any questions, ask in the comments below and someone from the team will get back to as soon as possible. I wish you good luck on your journey.