A Guide To Filming Sessions Outdoors
So you're a musician in the early stages of your career and you realise it's in your best interest to get your music online. With a few releases on Soundcloud and an increased social media presence you're going for the big one; a live performance for YouTube or Facebook.
I mean, that's where your fans are right, so why wouldn't you want to feed content directly to them? Okay so what do you need? We're going to break it down so it's super simple and so that hopefully you can set up your own shoot following this guide. It's important to know that there are no right ways and no wrong ways to filming a live session outdoors. It's all about how you as the creator want it to look like, but in this article we'll list our suggestions. We'll try to avoid any technical jargon, so that someone who understands the very basics of a camera can still make use of this guide to filming an outdoor session.
Let's get started with an equipment checklist. These items might be expensive to own, but you can borrow them from friends/family, and sometimes schools/universities have them on site. It's always worth checking if you can borrow them. Worst case you can rent them, if you're London based check out London Video Camera Hire.
Either one, two or three. Three is the preferred number, but two works well too. One can work but it's a bit more work and there'll likely be a few inconsistencies with the video. The first video below 'Swim Good' was filmed with two cameras, the second video 'Mine', was filmed with three. You'll notice 'Swim Good' has more angles than 'Mine', this is because we filmed different takes and added in the visuals from the takes which weren't associated with the audio take. For example, let's say we filmed that song 4 times, changing the angle each time, the 'vocal' take would've been the one used for the audio and we'd be left with 3 other takes of different footage - wide angle, guitar etc. We'd then use those takes to compliment the vocal visuals. As you can tell that's quite a long process and we eventually stopped filming that way, but if you're limited with cameras it's a good way to cover all your bases. The other method which we currently use, involves three cameras all filming different things simultaneously, it's a lot easier to edit that way and unlike the first method there are no inconsistencies. You won't catch the artist with their head looking one way and then a split second looking another way.
For an outdoor shoot we often use an on-camera microphone like the RØDE SMVX or the RØDE VideoMic Pro. Of course there are other more elaborate options too but for the sake simplicity let's stick to an on-camera mic. Below are two examples of how the RØDE SVMX sounds in an outdoor environment.
Shakes can be the worst! It's a good idea to reduce the 'shake' by placing your camera on a tripod or a monopod. If you can get enough tripods/monos for the amount of cameras you're working with that would be ideal as it will mean all your footage will look smooth and wont suffer from the shakes. Now this doesn't mean don't go handheld, because there are some great stabilizers out there, but as a beginner we suggest to go down the route which will provide the best results which in this case is going to be the monopod/tripod. Here's an example of handheld vs tripod/monopod. First up is the awesome collaboration between Connor Maynard and our friend Sarah Close, as you can tell the video is very 'jittery', although the song is a great performance the visuals aren't as good as they can be. Compare this with Matchstix Studio's film with Mackenzie Rogers performing 'Good Good Father' and you'll see a huge difference. These videos were filmed maybe 3-5 months apart.
A reflector isn't compulsory for an outdoor shoot but it's incredibly handy at lighting up your subject. They're very affordable and you can grab a 5-in-1 reflector for under £10 on Amazon. They bounce light from the sun onto your subject allowing you to film in areas that don't normally receive as much light as you'd hope for.
Picking the right outdoor location for your shoot is really important. Think about whether there's unwanted sound nearby. For example, are you near a road where the hum of cars will get picked up by the microphone? Maybe a busy high street, or a park with lots of children playing? The microphone will likely pick up those higher frequencies. Alternatively you can use this to your advantage, if you want to get the background noise of a woodland or the sound of waves crashing onto a beach. It can be a nice touch which makes your environment part of your video rather than just a location.
So you've got your equipment and you've found a cool location. Maybe, a pond, a beach, forest or even just your back yard. Now you'll want to think about light - this is where the reflector I mentioned earlier really comes handy. Again this all comes down to style, but find the best light. Some people like to have the light behind their subject, reflected on to their subject with a reflector - think a sunset or something similar. Others tend to go towards a more neutral light, maybe an overcast day which naturally diffuses the strong light, softening shadows. I can't really tell you what's right and what's wrong as it all comes down to preference, but don't be afraid to play with your 5-in-1 reflector/diffuser. Try bouncing the light or diffusing the light on your subject. Try to capture that beautiful sunset by setting your exposure (the amount of light reaching your camera's sensor) for the background, if you have the reflector you might be able to illuminate your subject but if not you might get a really casual and moody vibe for your video, which can work really well.
Take a look at these examples from our friend Andrew Rose - we recently spoke to him about how he creates his work, well worth a look. The first video shows he's set his exposure is set for the background and guess what? No reflector! Even though the singer is in shade it still works really well, because it suits the song style. The second video Andrew has set his exposure for the artist, we can see her clearly but this time the background doesn't have the rich colours of the first video.
The great thing about these videos is that they were done without a huge set up. Here's what he used: one camera, one lens, one on-camera microphone. That's it. Andrew is as one-man team so I imagine it was literally whip the camera out, add a microphone on top and film. But if you have a larger team you can think about adding multiple cameras and reflectors, meaning you can try to keep some of the colours from the background while still having a fair amount of light on your subject. You can see how well these videos work with such a simple set up. In the past we wanted to get cutaways on our videos with a one camera set up, but we think it looks better as one take, paying attention to the finer things, such as the background and framing can be more important than a video filled with 5-10 cutaway angles, sometimes they can be too much. Plus not to mention the headache they can cause when editing as they might be inconsistent with the main performance footage you're working to.
Whether you're in a team or still filming alone, a two-camera setup is still not too tricky to achieve. Once you have your subject in place and figured out your lighting, it's very similar to the one-camera set-up but with an additional angle. From here once you've framed up don't be scared to pixel peep - zoom in using the magnifying glass button on your camera and make sure the subject is in focus. Often the artist will be moving around a bit so it's always wise to go for an appropriate aperture (the amount of light that passes through the lens' diaphragm) which impacts the depth of field for your subject. Where possible try a medium/large aperture (medium/low number) so that you get a nice depth of field, but be careful not to set your aperture too large so that your subject doesn't go out of focus - unless that's the effect you want.
Finally we come to the three-camera set-up. This is the option that we use on Reload Sessions. Once we have figured out the location, the framing, the lighting we set up the three cameras. We make sure none of our belongs can be seen in shot, and certainly that no other cameras can be seen either. When using an on-camera microphone we make sure we always have one camera/angle dedicated to the vocals & instrument, this will be the camera with the microphone. We also make sure we always have a shot of the instrument too, the remaining shot - the third one - is often a medium shot or if that's the audio take it'll be a close up of the artist's head.
Below are a few stills from some outdoor sessions. The first one with Robbie Lee was done without a reflector. Here you can clearly see the 'guitar' angle and the other two angles. The background is over-exposed, because we couldn't balance the light on his face with the light in the background. Though the video still works well. We've also included a 360 video of a 3-camera set-up. You can see the team of three each manning a camera. We all make sure not to get in the way of each others shots.
The next example is with JC Villafan, we used a reflector for this shoot, as the sun set behind the cliffs of San Pedro in LA. If you look at his glasses you can see light from the sunset behind him reflecting from the reflector. Because we were using the reflector it also meant we could balance the exposure for the medium shot (the one with JC and the guitar in the same frame), JC is lit up as well as the background being visible.
It may seem more complicated than the one-camera set-up but it means there are more angles and more footage to work with. From here editing should be quite simple. We've spoken about how to edit a session before and seeing as these three cameras were running at the same time it should be quite forward to get the edit done without any inconsistencies.
That should be everything you need to know to set up a basic shoot outdoors. Of course once you get more familiar with equipment you can add in different pieces of gear, like a slider for example which will increase your production values.
We'd love to know if you found this guide useful, and if there are any other things you think the Reload Sessions team could help with just let us know.