If you’re a blogger, instructor, stock-footage shooter, or general narcissist, then you probably want to get a few shots of yourself when you’re out there on a shoot. It can not only make you, you know, look cool, but it can aid in explaining a teaching point by giving viewers context for a certain shooting setup — or it can show a real-time example of how a camera move or action is supposed to look, and it can actually improve your shooting by letting you see what you’re doing (or what you’re not doing) that you may need to work on.
In the grand scheme of things, you’re really just pointing a camera at yourself, but these subtle nuances and techniques can actually increase both your efficiency when setting up video selfies (we’ve got to think of a better word for this) and the quality of your shots. There are also options for repurposing this video as stock footage to sell. Plenty of news outlets and video projects call for footage of people shooting footage, so it does have a use beyond your internal collection. We always need more of it, so keep in mind when editing that attaching a model release and uploading to Pond5 is never a bad idea.
Know Your Purpose
First, you should ask yourself why you’re trying to get some footage of yourself. Are you making a how-to video or teaching a filming style/technique? Are you shooting a timelapse from an amazing vista and want some footage of yourself while you’re up there? Are you looking to show people what goes on behind the scenes on your productions? Creating B-roll? Once you figure out exactly what your purpose is, you’ll be able to figure out where, how, and why to position your camera to get the best shot you can get. If you just want some footage to show off, you may not need any of the rest of these steps; you can just wing it.
Add a B-Camera
The first thing to do after existentially analyzing your purpose is to have a camera that you can use to capture the coveted video selfie (velfie? selfeo?). This could be an older camera that you’ve since upgraded from and don’t use anymore, or it could be a GoPro, or even your smartphone. Or it could be a drone, which would be the most epic and amazing B-camera footage of yourself you could possibly get, especially if that drone has a “follow” feature. Set yourself as the point of interest and let the drone do its thing while you do your thing. You can see this in action in our post about the DJI Phantom 4, or you can check out Phillip Bloom’s vlog on the DJI Mavic Pro. (The follow feature starts at 10:00 in.)
Remember that your image quality is always important, but take an inventory of what you’ve got before springing for a brand new camera that may or may not be used just to film yourself doing cool things in cool locations. As they say, the best camera is usually the one you have with you.
Lock It Down
As always, having stable footage is the best practice. This is especially true if you’re out there on your own and don’t have any other way to get your shot (like an additional cameraperson). Bring along a small tripod (but big enough to support your B-cam) like a GorillaPod or this Slik Mini tripod. I love the Slik tripod and have used it extensively with great results.
If you don’t want to use the tripod option, you can always prop up the camera on a stick, rock, your shoe (take it off first), etc. Just make sure it doesn’t move and that it’s pointing where you want it to point.
Do a Test Shot
Set up your camera and record your first attempt. Check everything, especially your focus, lighting, and framing. You’ll probably need to make adjustments based on where you moved through the frame or where your focus was set. You can always make setting up the test easier by pairing your camera to a tablet or smartphone and doing a live view (GoPros are especially great for this), but it does require you to bring along extra gear.
Another aspect of the test is your positioning. Do your move or action and either mark your start/stop points with tape or something else you have in your gear kit, or just be very mindful of your beginning and end points as you move, so that you stay in the optimal location.
Do a Drive/Walk/Run/Pass-By Shot
One type of shot that can help you when you’re trying to film yourself is a pass-by. This is where you set up your frame, then pass through it. It gives viewers a third person’s perspective on the setting, and adds a short-story element to your video. It can also be useful because you don’t have to be as precise. You’re basically just passing through the frame and can use as much or as little as you want in the edit. We’re riding bikes way off in the distance in this clip.
Doing this type of shot, however, requires you to fake it to make it. You’re literally setting up your camera, hitting record, passing through the frame, then going back to the camera and hitting stop, which looks really awkward until you edit it. The genius part about it is, you cut off the ends and you have a great clip that works for your story.
Be Safe and Keep an Eye On It
I would be doing you a disservice by telling you how to film yourself and not saying that you need to be very aware of what’s going on around you at all times to avoid any mistakes. The last thing you want is to have your camera fall over because you improperly set up the tripod or stand and walked away without double-checking. Use weights, rocks, or your camera bag to hold your gear in place. Put a bright flag or ribbon on your gear so people can see and avoid it if you’re in high-traffic areas.
If you’re in a crowded space, wait until it clears out before setting up a tripod or your expensive camera. You don’t want to compete with lots of people moving around you, nor do you want them to accidentally knock over your camera or break something. And if you’re filming in an area with people around, try your best to never take your eyes off your camera. Don’t let anyone take away your attention by asking you what you’re doing or trying to give/sell you something. These aren’t meant to scare you, but after knowing people who have had gear stolen in public, I feel you’re always better safe than sorry.
The final thing to try here is to experiment with all different kinds of unique perspectives and angles. Once you work at it, you’ll learn the limits of your camera and see what setup works best for you. However, if it gets to the point that the selfeo or velfie starts becoming too distracting or too difficult to pull off, or if you find yourself spending too much time trying to get that perfect shot, remember that your original goal is to actually do the task you wanted to film initially, and that should always come first.
Ready to upload footage or photos to Pond5? Get started here.
Top image: Pond5 contributor David Fortney at work.