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Perhaps you have obtained a documentary master's program and want to get your start in film production. The old saying that the devil is in the details certainly pertains to documentary video production. There are many details to consider. This outline will get you started down the right path.
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1. Scoping Out a Location
Depending on the type of documentary you are making, your location may already be chosen for you. Whether or not it is, you still need to go to the location to do some planning and find the best places from which to film. On filming day, you want to be prepared, know where to set up your equipment, where best to park your car, if there is a power source you can use and other pertinent details.
Scoping the location also gives you the opportunity to check lighting sources and obstacles. When shooting outside, look for any structures that may cause shadows or glare on your subjects. If shooting inside, look for lighting coming in through windows that may create exposure problems.
If the subject of your documentary allows for it (such as a wedding), get a schedule of events so that you can plan accordingly. To get the best shots, you want to be ahead of the action whenever possible.
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2. The Challenges of Lighting
When shooting on the run, there is not a lot you can do about lighting. Setting your camera at an aperture that will provide the best light exposure for the maximum of your shots is the best you can do, and then make adjustments in post production.
When you are in a situation where you have a bit more control over your location and find the lighting inadequate, add light however you can. Using a camera video light that attaches to your camera and will aim light directly on your subject -- such as the Micro Pro LED by Litepanels-- is prudent. Another solution is to turn on lamps, use reflector light panels or a mirror to reflect light onto the scene. Having a portable light kit available is always a good idea.
For documentary video production, obtain a camera for documentary shooting that has the widest possible array of choices for altering the light settings. Get the largest aperture range and shutter speed available so that you can change the settings to get the optimal lighting for your situation, be it too much, or too little.
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3. The Shoot
When making the film, remember that you are telling a reality story. You need a beginning, middle and end. Starting shots should begin wide in order to introduce your audience to the subject. Moving to medium shots sprinkled with good closeups works well for the middle of a story. The ending of your narrative might best be served by more closeups to truly personalize the story for your audience. Plan as much of your shots as you can. Scouting locations ahead of time will give you good points of reference from which to work. Avoid zooming in and out and save the zoom for real closeups and bringing something in particular to the audience's attention.
Remember that audio is just as important as your camera for documentary production. Take the time while planning your project to be sure you have sufficient microphone coverage. Don’t rely only on the mic in your camera. Documentary video production entails the sound, as well as the sights you capture.
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With these basic tips, we hope that you are on your way to shoot to your next documentary film.
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- Photo by Sveta Suvorina