Eight Simple Tips For The Solo Filmmaker
You want to go out to make your next movie or go off into the wilderness to shoot some stock video content, as you’ve seen a niche in the market that you know you can meet. The trouble is, you’re on your own! You don’t have any friends available to help you film your great idea, but instead of giving up on it, you’ve decided to film by yourself. You’ll be the director, talent, producer, and even the one getting the coffee.
However, self-filming can be more challenging than you think, especially when handling multiple tasks simultaneously. It can be challenging to keep track of all the details and ideas that come naturally to you. That’s why I’ve compiled a list of tips and things to consider when self-filming to improve the process and final product. And I’ll let you in on a secret – these tips are helpful for anyone filming, not just those working alone. So even if you have friends to help, there may still be something on this list for you.
Tip 1: Understand What You’re Shooting
It’s essential to start with the most fundamental aspect of filming: knowing what you’re shooting. While this may seem obvious, it’s even more crucial when self-filming since you’ll juggle multiple roles. Your project details will vary depending on the subject and your approach. For example, my process may be simple: I want to capture myself arriving at a location, hiking to the top of a mountain, and taking in the view. However, other projects may require scripts, shot lists, or even a checklist of essential elements to include. Whatever your project entails, it’s crucial to have a clear plan as it will guide all your decision-making as a director, DP, and talent.
Tip 2: Know Your Limits
The next tip is a two-parter: Recognizing and accepting your limitations when filming alone is essential. There are limits to the amount of gear you can carry and your ability to get movement in your shots while in the frame. You also have to manage your time effectively. Filming yourself takes longer and requires running back and forth to the camera. You’ll get tired, and the sun will set. Don’t let these limitations discourage you; use them to spark your creativity.
It is essential to bring the right gear when filming by yourself. Pack a tripod (don’t forget the tripod plate!), memory cards, batteries, and lenses that cover a wide focal range, such as a 16-35, 24-70, and 70-200. Depending on your location and the type of shoot, you may also need ND filters, polarizers, microphones, and a monitor. Consider using a camera app to remotely monitor and set up shots, and potentially bring a gimbal or motorized slider for added camera movement. It is vital to be mindful of your limitations and the gear you can carry and to choose appropriate equipment for your location and the needs of your project. Every shoot is a little bit different; knowing your gear and what you’re going to need is crucial here.
Tip 3: Vary Your Shots and Composition
The next tip is to ensure that you are getting balanced coverage. When you are filming by yourself, it is easy to get caught up in repeatedly filming the same types of shots. You are already running back and forth to the camera, and it can be tempting to shoot the same kinds of footage to save time. However, it is essential to vary your shots to add interest and depth to your footage. Aim for a balance of wide shots, medium shots, and close-ups. Make sure to include both the main subject and the surrounding environment or b-roll.
For example, if you are filming a hike, you might include:
- A wide shot of you approaching the scene
- A medium shot of you walking by the camera to the back of your car
- A detailed scene of you grabbing your camera bag
- And then a close up of a sign to show the location
This variety of shots will make the footage more engaging and prevent it from feeling monotonous. You can also get multiple versions of the same action, such as a wide shot of you walking up to a beautiful view and then a medium or close-up shot of you stopping to take it in. followed by POV footage of the view itself. When edited together, these shots will feel like they all happened simultaneously, even though you had to move the camera multiple times to capture them. Another bonus: if you find that a given shot has a distracting background or unwanted background noise, you’ll have others to choose from.
Tip 4: Don’t Rely Solely On Auto-Focus
One way to improve your self-filming is to use manual focus. Even if you have an advanced autofocus system, there’s always the risk that it will focus on something you don’t want. Additionally, manual focus can create a visually intriguing effect when the focus stays in one place and the subject moves in and out of that focus or when you focus on something in the foreground and walk through the background to show motion. To use manual focus, choose a point close to where you want to be sharp and focus on it. If no landmark is available, place an object like a backpack at that specific distance from the camera for a reference point. By doing this, you can ensure that you’re in focus when you hit that mark.
Tip 5: Be (Aper)Sure of Your Aperture
Using the correct aperture for your shots can be beneficial for several reasons. One reason is that increasing the depth of field can make it easier to get a sharp focus on your subject. Using a slightly smaller aperture, such as f/5.6 or f/8, more of the frame will be in focus, which can help prevent missed focus shots. Conversely, a larger aperture can highlight specific elements of a beautiful scene by narrowing the focus – you might even get some sexy bokeh! Remember also, that if you’re shooting with a wide focal length, like 16mm, a smaller aperture may not be necessary, as f/2.8 at 16mm will already provide a contextually deep depth of field. It’s essential to consider the aperture you’re using and not just default to the widest option available.
Tip 6: Review it After You Do It
Reviewing your shots after filming is crucial when you’re working alone, as you don’t have someone behind the camera to check that everything is working as it should be. Before moving the camera or wrapping up the shoot, take a moment to review the footage and make sure that the focus, lighting, and any other camera settings are as desired. This may add extra time to your filming process, but it will save you a lot of headaches and time in the editing process. If there are any issues with the shot, it’s better to fix them on the spot rather than work around them in post-production. Remember, the extra time and effort you put into reviewing your shots will pay off in the quality of the final product.
Tip 7: Fake It Up a Notch In Post Production
When you edit your videos in post-production, you can use several cool tricks. The next tip is to give the impression of camera movement. This can be especially useful when you’re working alone and don’t have a crew to help you create dynamic shots. One technique is keyframing small movements in post. For example, zoom in or out slightly as you walk towards or away from the camera. The result gives the illusion of the camera moving with you. You can also use left-to-right or right-to-left movement, but keep in mind that you’ll need to zoom in first to have room for this.
Another option is to add a fake camera shake to make it seem like a handheld shot. Several software programs have plug-ins that can help you achieve this effect easily, such as DaVinci Resolve or Adobe Premiere and After Effects. Using fake camera movement can give your footage a more professional feel and help conceal the fact that you filmed it yourself. Just don’t go overboard with it; a little can go a long way!
Tip 8: Go For It and Have Fun!
Lastly, remember to be creative with your shots. When you’re wearing many different hats and taking on all these different roles, it can be tempting to take the easy route and not get too experimental or creative with your approach. However, it’s important to remember that the audience doesn’t necessarily know that you were filming by yourself; they’re just judging whether they liked it or not. So it’s important to go the extra mile to ensure they can’t distinguish between a film shot all by yourself and a film shot with a larger crew doing individual jobs. This means trying different angles, experimenting with multiple techniques, and pushing yourself to be creative and think outside the box. Don’t be afraid to try something new or take a risk, as it may pay off in the end and result in a more dynamic and exciting final product.