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5 Simple Ways to Work Smarter on Your Next Solo Shoot

Tanner Shinnick

Work smarter, not harder! Tips, tricks, hacks — whatever you call them — these five easy moves will make your next solo video shoot better.

Productions of all sizes are slimming down and tightening up. Clients are looking for every opportunity to cut costs and save money. Yet, with customers spending more time online looking at screens, they need more video than ever.

And that means there’s money to be made by videographers and filmmakers with the right gear, attitude, and hustle to offer end-to-end, turnkey production capabilities. Welcome to 2020: The Year of the Solo Shooter.

Going it alone is not without its hassles. After all, the entire idea hinges on successfully replacing an entire crew, from pre-production to post, with an individual. To make it happen, you’ll need to keep a beautifully simple old adage close to your heart: Work smarter, not harder. This is your new mantra. And these five stress-relieving, sweat-reducing, time-saving moves are where you start.

1. Use Camera and Equipment Carts

I must admit, it took me too long to discover the advantages and sheer joy of using carts. I was that person with nine straps across his chest, painfully lugging gear to a location. Before the shoot even started, I was already tired and dreading the return trip.

When you’re working alone, minimizing the amount of equipment you need to carry is absolutely key. As such, gear and camera carts are total game-changers.

While there are a few surprisingly glamorous camera carts on the market (like Inovativ), sometimes a simple, affordable cart (like the Rock-N-Roller) will do. I’ve got a Rock-N-Roller myself. Loading it up with cases of light fixtures, cameras, and even stands makes my life undeniably easier.

2. Don’t Sleep on B-Roll

Okay, sure. You always shoot B-roll. However, when you’re on a solo shoot, the stress may begin to set in and you might think you’re saving time and energy by sacrificing B-roll. Don’t believe it. You’re filming solo, sure, but that doesn’t mean it has to look like you filmed alone.

One of the few things that stuck with me from film school is how our professor hammered home the point that we should capture every shot we get in at least a three-shot sequence — for example, wide, medium, and tight.

So, if you’re tasked with filming a corporate video, and you need to capture the outside of the building, a three-shot sequence might look like this: Get a wide shot of the entire building. Get a medium-up angle of the windows and sky. Finish with a tight shot of an interesting piece of the building’s architecture.

So, now that you’re rededicated to the importance and value of dynamic B-roll, here’s how you capture it faster.

3. Choose Zooms Over Primes

Most of the time, I love a solid prime over a zoom. In fact, I shot an entire documentary series on nothing but primes. I love how they force you, as a camera operator, to move around a scene. I embraced all the lens changes and limitations that come from creating a reactive piece with nothing but primes. They make you a more active participant, and, for my dime, create a much more intimate image.

However, man, they sure do slow you down. So, all those “pro prime” points in the paragraph above? I could put them here as “anti-prime” points. The constant lens changes, dancing through a scene, the nagging voice in your head — Why didn’t I bring a wider lens?! — it can all wear on you quickly.

For solo operators, choosing a zoom over a prime is an absolute must. Zooms eliminate the stress of losing a shot due to your lens choice and frees you from constantly changing glass for different focal lengths. Ultimately, it’s just one less thing to worry about on the day of production, so you can maintain focus on story and content.

4. Bring Extra Media

Having to transfer and clear cards in the middle of a shoot is a time-consuming, risky endeavor. Doing it in a rush can lead to costly mistakes. Whenever I’m working a solo shoot, I bring enough media to last me the entire day. This allows me to save all media transfers until after wrap. And that allows me to devote my full attention to the media transfers and ensure that everything is properly stored and backed up.

5. Embrace Stock Footage

Stock Footage

Stock footage is an excellent option when needing to fill gaps in your own footage. Image via guruXOX.

As a solo shooter, you have to do it all. Unfortunately, sometimes you just can’t do it all. And that’s where the real value of stock footage is revealed. I’ve relied on Shutterstock footage countless times to help me complete a project.

Stock footage is a smart choice when you need shots that scheduling, headcount, and gear limitations don’t allow for. It’s an even smarter choice when you make the clips part of your plan right from the start of your project.

Stock footage works best if you don’t allow yourself to treat it as some sort of band-aid that fixes something that happens on the day of your shoot because of poor planning.

This isn’t about fixing it in post. Instead, think of stock footage as an extension of your vision, as a secret weapon in your bag of tricks. If you make the proactive pre-production choice to use stock footage, you’re already saving time and opening up your schedule before your first shot. Plus, choosing your stock clips early, informed by the demands of your project, allows you to keep an eye out for day-of shots that sit nicely between your stock clips.

Work smarter. Not harder. Solo shooting is not defined by limitations. It’s absolutely all about opportunities. Lighten your load, cut the right corners, and do not sacrifice the things that you know are valuable. When you optimize your process and turn it into something that perfectly meets your demands, you free yourself to focus on telling the best story of your life.

Keep exploring ways to help you make the most of what you’ve got:

Cover image via Piotr Piatrouski.