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Capturing Cinematic Shots of Yourself, By Yourself

Zach Ramelan

Here’s your all-in-one cinematic guide to filming yourself with no crew, no help, and just you as a one-person band. Let’s take a look.

In the current collaborative climate, having a crew to produce your next project is becoming a challenging task. Rather than being hindered by these limitations, I’ve developed a model that can elevate any solo production, from a simple vlog to a tutorial video to a stylish short film. This article is my cinematic guide to filming yourself with no crew, no help, just you — alone.

For an example of what you’ll achieve by using these steps, check out my short film “Storms.” I shot this production entirely with myself and by myself.

So, Why Bother?

If 2020 has taught filmmakers anything, it’s that you won’t always have a crew up and ready for every shoot. What’s more, not every shoot actually requires a full crew anyway. Whether you’re a vlogger or a rising indie filmmaker, there are going to be times and situations where you need to go it alone.

These tips will help you fill in those gaps in your production where you would normally have at least one other person helping you out, whatever their role.

Get a Stand-in

One of the biggest struggles to filming on your own is framing up a shot. When you’re without a monitor or an additional set of hands, it can almost feel impossible. That’s why I use a stand-in to nail my framing. A stand-in could look like my mom, dad, or grandma standing in front of the camera. It could even be a broomstick, if there are truly no human beings for you to call on. So long as your stand-in matches the same distance and height you’ll be representing, feel free to use anything in the house!

To achieve accurate white balance and lighting with skin tones, stick your hand out in front of the camera and input your settings accordingly.

Shoot Tighter

A tighter focal length can give your footage that missing cinematic element. Image by Cavan-Images.

Elevate your production quality by implementing tighter focal lengths to your setup. The obvious choice to proper “selfie” production is to slap on a wide lens between a 16mm or 24mm. It’s fast, easy, and always gets the job done. However, with some simple practice, switching your lens to a tighter focal length — like a 35mm or a 50mm — can give you a cinematic “edge” that’s impossible to achieve with wider focal lengths.

Use a Robot

In all honesty, one of the most essential pieces of gear you need when filming yourself is a tripod or GorillaPod. Either one will save you from a world of time-consuming reshoots or fixing shaky footage in post. If for whatever reason you don’t have one handy, find something you can use as a stabilizer.

But, one of my favorite tools when shooting is a motorized slider. It creates a breathing movement that my tripod just can’t emulate. Its dynamic frames also diversify my shots. In my short film “Storms,” this tool was crucial to the entire production because it created the feeling that there was an operator behind the camera. For $300, this dream tool steps up my production quality.

For more information on the slider I used, check out the Neewer Motorized Camera Slider.

Put It in Auto

It’s tough to tell what settings you need to use when you’re in front of the camera instead of behind it. So, I always switch my ISO, white balance, and focus into auto for any higher-quality shoots I do on my own. It saves time and headaches when you’re doing everything by yourself.

Filmmakers have a love-hate relationship with the auto settings in their camera. But, when filming yourself, swallow that pride and save some time.

Side Selfie

Subvert expectations and give your footage instant visual appeal by trying an unexpected angle. Image by Dean Drobot.

The easy, obvious shot is to capture yourself from the front — the cool kids call it a selfie. But, I’d challenge this perspective and rotate the camera to a different angle. So, instead of filming a dead-on shot of your mug, the camera captures your profile. This creates what I like to call a side selfie.

Cover image by DimaBerlin.

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