Shelter’s guide to self-shooting a video, taking you through the filming process with practical tips and techniques.

At Shelter we use video as a powerful tool to share stories, highlight housing injustice and campaign for change. Some of our most impactful content has been self-shot by the people we work with, or staff, who don't have prior filmmaking experience.

This introductory guide covers the filming process and some practical self-shooting techniques to help you get started. 

Filming

Whether you are recording a video diary or making a documentary, the process of filming can be broken down into two parts: the main shot and b-roll.

The main shot is the central footage and dialogue that tells the story, such as an interview, or piece-to-camera (when a subject or presenter speaks directly to viewers through the camera). It often consists of one or more people discussing a topic or telling their story.

The b-roll footage is supplemental footage, intercut with the main shot, that helps tell the story visually.

Informed consent

If you're filming an individual or group of people, be extra sure they have a full understanding of what it is you’d like to capture, what you plan to cover in the interview, and how and where the footage will be shown and for what purpose (as part of a fundraising campaign, or to lobby the government on a cause).

If you are recording a video diary, it is the producer’s responsibility to cover all of these things. If there is anything you are unsure of, no matter how small, ask for clarification.

Everyone who appears on film must have read and completed a media release form.

Main shot

The main shot is either an interview or piece-to-camera.

It’s usually advisable to film your subject, or yourself, sitting down. This way the subject is comfortable and able to concentrate more easily on what they're saying. It also means practically that your camera can be set-up in a stable position and won't need to move around.

Location

To film your interview or piece-to-camera, find somewhere well lit, quiet and free from interruption.

Larger rooms with a source of natural light are usually the easiest to work with, giving you more framing options and space to work in comfortably.

Shoot in landscape mode

If you are shooting a piece-to-camera, position the camera at eye level and leave a comfortable amount of space around the subject in the frame.

Framing

  • If possible choose a non-distracting background

  • Stabilise your camera, either with a tripod or by positioning it on a chair or desk

  • Shoot in landscape mode

  • If your subject is looking off-camera it's usually best to position them to the left or right and in the left or right third

  • If your subject is looking into camera, it's usually best to position them in the centre of the frame

  • If filming yourself speaking, flip the screen so you can position yourself comfortably

  • Position the camera at eye level. Avoid angles where the camera lens is looking up or down at the person you're filming 

Lighting

  • Make sure the interview subject is well lit

  • If you're speaking to camera, use the daylight from a window or position a lamp to light yourself  

Focus

  • Your camera's focal point should be on the subject

  • If you have a camera with a short depth of field, ensure critical focus is on the subject's eye closest to the camera lens

  • Allow distance between your subject and the wall behind them, to give focal separation

Sound 

  • Choose a quiet location with minimal background noise. Avoid filming near a busy road or in windy weather

  • If possible, use a lapel or handheld microphone

  • Record an audio ‘wild track’ at the end of filming. This is a sound recording of the location’s atmospheric noise which is used in the edit when cutting dialogue. 20-30 seconds is a good length

Conducting an interview

  • Ask your interviewee to include part of the question in the answer. E.g.
    Q: “Please can you tell me where you live?”
    A: “I live in Manchester” as opposed to simply “Manchester”

  • Ask your subject to start and end answers with a second of silence. This will help them compose themselves and the pause will help in the edit.

In this video diary the filmmaker documents the difficult conditions he is living in over several days. He uses b-roll and visual devices to show his situation and he captures the atmosphere by recording sound and framing from his point of view.

B-roll

B-roll is the footage intercut with the main shot, used to tell the story visually. It’s what brings a story to life. For example, if you’re making a film about a Shelter Boutique manager, your main shot will be the interview footage of them talking about their work, and the b-roll could be shots of them walking through the shop, helping customers, styling the shop window and so on.

Whatever b-roll footage you choose to use, make sure each shot supports the narrative being driven by the main shot dialogue.

B-roll shooting tips:

  • During the interview, make a list of the topics discussed. With this list you can then capture b-roll footage of the things that visually tell the story

  • Try thinking non-literally when you are out capturing b-roll. Look for things in the environment that convey a feeling or describe the atmosphere

  • Ensure you come away with lots of b-roll coverage. A good rule of thumb is to shoot enough to cover four times the final interview length

  • Shoot something from a mix of distances, known as angles: wide (W), medium (M), or close-up (CU). This means that in the edit you'll be able to describe an action in a compelling and dynamic way

  • Hold shots still for 5-10 seconds

  • Don’t feel you need to move the camera unless it's important for the story

  • Camera movement should have intent and purpose - it should not float around or move aimlessly

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