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When I'm at a location, I love to start to visualize the production. The first thing I look for is, where am I going to put the camera? Camera position is going to affect the overall shot, and there's really two ways to pull this off. You could take your DSLR on location and use that to check framing, but you really want to go through the viewfinder. That old thing of taking your hands and making this doesn't really work. There are also electronic viewfinders that run these apps on your phone, and we'll explore one of those a little bit later.
You want to visualize the location through the lens and determine the best place to put your cameras. When it comes to camera position, here are a couple of the points I look for. First off, I want to think about the best angle. When I'm choosing a location I want to make sure that I'm getting angles to accentuate the depth of the scene. I generally try to avoid shooting completely flat. This means putting the camera at a slight angle or a dramatic angle to the actual backdrop that you're going to be shooting on. Remember, video tends to be a pretty flat medium, so introducing angles into your shots will add some variety and depth that can really improve the overall composition.
You also want shot variety. Chances are you're going to need more than one shot from that location. Maybe you're going to keep the camera in the same relative position, but can you punch in and out from a wide shot to a close-up, or do you need to move that camera just slightly in between the wide and the tight? Maybe it's a multicamera position and you're going to need to make sure you have multiple angles of coverage. Make sure when you're looking at the scene, you try it from a few different positions and see if it holds up. I generally will then mark those positions. If I can leave them, I'll put marks right on the floor so when I come back; otherwise I'll take a photo and put markers down, so I show them, and then when I come out for the shoot day, I could put those markers back in place.
Don't be afraid to actually mark the positions on the floor and document it with a photo. This will make it a lot easier when you come back to shoot. Additionally, think about the safety of the crew. Not every shot is going to be safe to achieve. Sure, flying the camera overhead from the rafters might give you a great angle, but you're going to have to figure out a way to put that camera there. Make sure that you evaluate each angle and that if you're going to be putting a crew person there, you're not putting the crew person at risk. Sometimes we'll need to fly a camera, and we can do this using a balloon, a blimp, or a crane, or attaching the camera to a suspension point.
Other times we will put crew in relatively risky situations, but we'll have things like safety harnesses to make sure that they keep safe. I've had a lot of shoots where we've covered things like road races or bicycling events, and to do this we've needed to have crews shooting out of moving vehicles. In this case, I use a safety harness, much like you would see for a rock climbing, and this is going to keep the person in there. We also will put a spotter, someone who is not looking through the camera lens but is simply making sure that the photographer is not putting themselves at risk.
If you're doing things like a steady cam, having a second person to make sure the path is clear and watching the person's back literally, so they don't trip or fall. It's important as you choose shots, you don't sacrifice the safety of your crew. Additionally, think about the safety of the equipment. Is the camera going to be getting rained on? Are you in a place where the camera might get hit? Shooting in traffic or highly volatile areas could be dangerous, so you might need to think about the fact that the equipment itself is preserved.
Do you need any cages or protective housings to keep the gear safe? This is also useful if you're planning to do things like underwater shooting. Make sure that the camera positions don't obstruct the location. It's important as you're planning this out that the cameras are not going to interfere with the normal day-to-day business. Some days you'll have a closed set and it doesn't matter if the gear is blocking things. Other times you might be shooting in a hospital or a highly trafficked public area.
In this case, if the cameras are in the way of the normal things that need to happen, people will get pretty annoyed with you, and you might actually lose the location. Make sure you think about minimizing the impact on the location and if you can completely take it over or have to blend in. Another modern thing to think about is disposable cameras. Can you put cameras in a position to get the shot and not have to worry about the safety of the gear? We're seeing use of cameras by Contour or GoPro a lot in the situation.
People don't mind blowing up a $200 camera or suspending it. Even if that camera gets damaged, it might be worth getting the shot. Other people are using DSLRs for the same thing. An affordable body like a T4i could be mounted to a vehicle, and you probably don't want to bounce it unnecessarily, but it if were to get knocked off and smashed on the race track, you probably could still recover the card. A lot of people are approaching productions with these in mind, that the new breed of cameras are somewhat disposable, letting us get shots that were previously too risky, either to the equipment or the personnel, and they're even running the camera over.
So, be sure to consider all of these points when it comes to planning where the camera is going to be positioned on set.
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