14 Tips for Shooting Live Stage Events
Thinking about shooting a live event? Here are 14 things you need to remember.
For videographers, a live event can be an exhilarating experience that pushes you outside of your creative comfort bubble… but if you’re not careful, a seemingly insignificant technical error can ruin the entire video. Don’t let this happen to you! Here are 14 tips for shooting your next big live event.
Quick Note: This article will focus on an “in-camera” video style, not using a switcher or live-directing.
1. Pick a Style
Before you shoot a live stage event, do some research into what you want the look and feel of your video to be like.
Ideal for: Lectures, Church Services, Conferences
While they may be the most popular lecture series in the world, TED talks are surprisingly simple when it comes to shooting style. Most TED talks consist of a few cameras on tripods with a master camera. It’s all pretty stationary, which is not a bad thing.
Ideal for: Plays, Concerts, Award Shows
Most modern live events consist of a mixture of tripods, shoulder rigs, cranes, and sliders. These events can become incredibly complicated to edit in post (or direct live). But when done well, a mixed-camera shoot can bring a lot of life to an otherwise boring event.
Cinematic Highlight Video
Ideal for: Weddings, Festivals, Expos
Sometimes your client will only want a “highlight reel” of the live event and not the entire event itself. This is your opportunity as videographer/filmmaker to show off your cinematography skills. Good event highlight videos will feature complex movements. It’s also more common to see highlight videos shot on DSLRs instead of more traditional video cameras.
This article will focus mainly on the traditional and mixed camera style of live event videography. If you shoot a lot of highlight videos, I highly recommend checking out our How to Make Event Footage More Cinematic post.
2. Tap Into a Sound Board
When it comes to shooting live events, you will absolutely need to record audio from a soundboard. No matter how good your on-camera mic setup is, it won’t be good enough quality to use. For this reason you’ll need to invest in an external audio recorder. The key is to get an audio recording device that can record signal from an XLR or 1/4” audio output and run on batteries. Something like a Zoom H4N or Tascam DR-40 should do the trick.
In addition to the actual recording device, you’ll need to buy the various accessories that are necessary for recording great audio. Don’t be cheap when it comes to accessories. Cheap cables are often unreliable.
3. Monitor Your Audio
You will need to have someone monitor the audio during the event to make sure there are no problems. While the audio may sound fine coming out of the main speakers, there’s a chance that the audio engineer might not have given you the best mix into your external recorder. As such, it’s vital that you monitor your audio for peaking, distortion, and bad audio.
4. Go Multi-camera
If you’re recording a live event, you have to use more than one camera. A multi-camera setup will make your entire video more engaging and make it seem much more professional. Moreover, you’ll be covered in case one of your cameras goes out.
Every event you shoot should have at least one master camera that will remain virtually stationary the entire time, just in case something happens to one of your other cameras. It’s usually best to let the person manning the master camera be the same person monitoring the audio feed.
5. No Handheld Footage
Because of the extreme distances between you and the subject, handheld footage is a bad idea when shooting live events. Instead, try using either a stationary tripod or a shoulder rig to help keep your footage steady.
Your decision to record with either a tripod, shoulder rig, or slider is entirely dependent on the style in which you will be shooting the event. If the event is more formal (plays, lectures, conferences) you will probably want to go tripod. If it’s more casual (concerts, award ceremonies) you might want to have a shoulder rig.
6. Don’t Ever Stop Recording
Assuming you have your master camera on a tripod in the back of the auditorium, you will probably be manning a secondary camera that is more mobile. Whatever you do DO NOT stop recording during the event. If you stop recording, you are going to have a syncing nightmare when you sit down in post. Sure software like PluralEyes may make syncing easier, but it’s still unnecessary if you simply keep recording.
7. Try to Use “Real” Video Cameras
DSLRs may be good options for some controlled events like weddings, but if you’re going to be shooting a live stage event, you should consider using a professional video camera. This is mostly due to their flexibility when it comes to focal length and their ability to record long durations without stopping.
If you simply must shoot on a DSLR, do your research. Some modern DSLRs will stop recording after a certain duration which can have disastrous consequences. DSLRs are also pretty difficult to keep steady while zooming, focusing, and tracking a subject.
8. White Balance
DO NOT set your white balance to automatic when shooting a live stage event. If you’re shooting on more than one camera, you’ll be in for a horrible surprise when you sit down to edit your footage and discover that the white balance on one camera is completely different than the other. Even if the stage lights change color dramatically during the event, it’s much more ideal to set a white balance keyframe in your post-production software.
9. Zoom Sparingly
There are very few instances in professional video production where zooming is a good idea. When it comes to shooting live events, you may be tempted to zoom in and out a lot to compensate for the changes on stage, but try to avoid this. It’s far better to simply cut to your master shot, zoom in or out, then cut back to your close shot. It does, however, all depend on the style in which you are going for.
10. Plug in Your Camera
Needless to say, changing your batteries during a live event is a bad thing, if not an impossibility. If possible, plug in your camera into a wall outlet. This will require a little pre-planning on your part. The best thing you can do is buy a long black extension cable (50+ feet) and gaff tape the cable down so nobody trips.
While you’re shooting a live event, try to get some b-roll of the crowd watching the event. Even if you don’t think you’ll use the footage, b-roll may save your life if you have to add in a cut in post. B-roll can also give some context to your video and make scene transitions easier.
12. Turn Autofocus Off
Using autofocus during live events may seem like a good idea in theory, but cameras are notoriously bad at focusing on subjects under stage lights. If you leave your autofocus on, you’ll find your focus pulsing in and out every time your subject moves.
It is especially important to turn off the autofocus on your master camera. In my own experience, I’ve had unattended master cameras remain out of focus after the stage lights come on, rendering my footage useless.
Side note: Focusing by hand makes the event more fun to shoot.
13. Manual Exposure
If you try to record a live stage event on an automatic exposure setting, you will likely end up with incredibly blown out images. This is because your camera automatically exposes to split the difference between the light and dark parts of your scene.
Instead, you should expose by hand. Don’t look at the waveforms, look at your subject. Your histogram will lie to you during a live event. In order to expose well you’ll need to arrive early to get your camera settings right before the pre-show lights dim.
14. Show up Early
No matter what the event is, you should always show up early so that you will be prepared once the event starts. Here are a few things you should do before the show starts:
- Talk the the audio person about tapping into the sound board.
- Ask the director about details regarding the event and if there are any surprises you should know about.
- Reserve your shooting locations.
- Set your camera’s exposure to match the stage lights.
- Tape down any cables.
- Hide your gear in the sound booth or backstage.
- Talk to your crew about shooting style.
Shooting live stage events is an art form and it can be more challenging than making a film. Once you get a formula down, shooting live events will become much easier every time you do it.
Have any tips for shooting live events? Share in the comments below.