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8 Tips for Getting Good Shots in a Bad Location

Caleb Ward

Stuck with a bad location? Here’s a few tips for getting better shots when your location is less than ideal.

In a perfect world we would all be able to shoot in whatever location we want and control every aspect of the filmmaking process. Unfortunately we don’t live in a perfect world.

Unless you are working on a big-budget shoot you are likely going to have to shoot in some less-than-ideal circumstances. Thankfully there are a few things you can do to help make a bad location better. Follow these 10 tips for getting the most out of every location.

1. Show up Early and Make a Plan

While you should always make it a point to show up early for your productions, it is especially important if you are shooting in a ‘bad’ location. By showing up early you can create a plan of attack for how you are going to deal with the various obstacles keeping you from getting great video. This is an easy one. Moving on…

2. Set Expectations with Clients

Clients are often clueless when it comes to selecting a good location for shooting video. Don’t assume that they know what makes a location good or bad. If your client is insisting on shooting in a specific location let them know possible pain points that may be associated with that locale. Setting these expectations will help to minimize surprises once you’re in the editing bay.

3. Moving Blankets

Moving Blankets

Sound is normally the biggest obstacle to overcome in a challenging location. It’s always best to seek out locations away from roads, crowds, and airports. However, if you simply must shoot in a specific location, one tool you can use to dampen echo and outside noise is a moving blanket. The coarse, thick material is perfect for mounting on walls, covering windows, or simply laying on a concrete floor. Unlike acoustic foam, moving blankets tend to be very affordable and versatile. I highly recommend getting some for your next production.

4. Know the Schedule/Move the Shooting Time

You’ve been here before…

You begin shooting an interview only to be interrupted by people making noise and constantly walking onto your set. This all-too-common problem can be incredibly annoying, especially if you are on a time-crunch.  Let your clients know that you will need time and space away from people. Typically this means shooting in the evening.

5. White Balance for Blue/Orange and Green/Magenta

White Balance Grid

Most bad locations have a commonality… florescent lighting. Florescent lights are bad for multiple reasons including buzzing, flickering, and strangely tinted light. If you simply must shoot with florescent lights you will likely find your footage more green than normal. On most cameras you can adjust your white balance from blue to orange, but this will not effect the green tint found with fluorescents. On most high-end cameras you can white balance to adjust for blue, orange, green, and magenta deep in the menu. Make sure to adjust both settings if you want an ideal white balance in florescent lighting.

6. Filters

In day-to-day life, mixed lighting isn’t that big of a deal, but when it comes to shooting video it can be a nightmare. Instead of trying to work with different color temperatures try using colored filters. By filtering your lights can make your video easier to color correct in post. Filters come in all sizes but I’d personally recommend getting a large roll of orange, blue, magenta, and ND filters. This way you can cut them to certain sizes as needed.

7. Bring More Lenses

Camera Lenses

One of the best ways to stay flexible on-set is to have an arsenal of lenses at a variety of focal lengths. Narrative films are typically shot on prime lenses, but if you are shooting a corporate video you can normally get away with shooting on a good zoom lens. I typically pack a 24-70mm and a 70-200mm lens. This allows me to stay versatile in less-than-ideal circumstances.

8. Know What’s Important

A video shoot is full of choices and compromises. It’s important for you to know the difference between what’s important and what’s not and to discern each in the moment. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to make your finished product as nice-as-possible, but knowing when to draw the line is important for you as a director/producer. When you’re in a time crunch – and who isn’t on a film/video production – sped the time fixing things on set that you simply can’t correct in post.

Know of any other tips for shooting in a bad location? Share in the comments below.