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How to Film Locations for Documentary B-Roll

written by: Shane Burley•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 7/4/2011

Locations are perfect images for B-roll footage in your documentary, and there are certain techniques that can be used to get the best possible images.

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    Getting Space

    Filming locations is one of the standards in documentary production because you have to show where events are happening and give a spatial sense of an area to the audience. These are probably the most persistent kinds of images because the audience demands that there are these clips so that they get a sense of the weight of the characters or events within the world. When approaching these clips you have to consider what they are going to be used for, how they will be viewed, and in what state they will be displayed in.

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    How it Should Look

    Before you begin you have to think about how you feel about the location and at what point the visual will be shown. It is true that you want the area to be shown clearly, but also to maintain a visual style and mood. This will help you decide what kind of shots you will get as well as what time of day you are going to film. For establishing location shots you are usually going to want to do this when there is a fair amount of natural light because you will not be able to artificially light the entire area. You can go as far as to film it during twilight, as long as you will be able to see the location. Think about classic film techniques that are used to highlight an area in a certain mood before you go about this.

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    Energy and Image Quality

    All of the elements of the story and perspective will provoke different camera techniques. For energy you may want to tilt the camera a certain way or film the location in smaller bursts of hand held footage. The most important thing you can do is give yourself a series of options. Make sure to get several stable long shots of the location before you begin improvising or experimenting. It is almost crucial to give a four to six second clip of a location in your film so that the audience is able to connect with what it looks like and its relative size.

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    Medium and Close

    When you begin filming around the location you need to think about it in a certain framework. Once you have already gotten the large encompassing shots you then should look for the comparative medium and close up clips. What this means is to then get shots that look at specific areas within the larger location, and then very tight shots that focus in on only a single object within that area. This way you get a whole series of different focal points for it and then you can really give it some character. This is also an extension of how you want to portray the location by making choices about the type of tight shots you get. You also apply the same estimation when it comes to filming techniques.

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    You also have to decide whether or not you want people in the image. This can cause a problem over image rights, but if they are outside and do not speak you usually will not have to worry about it. Always carry image release forms with you just to cover your bases. You may want people to interact with your location, but they will likely be outside of your control and so you should be careful.

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    You need to approach the locations like a character in a narrative film because you have more control over it than you do during spontaneous events and interviews that will part of your film. Plan these shoots out well and take your time so you can get exactly what you want.