Join Anthony Q. Artis for an in-depth discussion in this video 10 Tips for Shooting Live Events, part of Pro Video Tips.
- One of the more fun challenge you may encounter is shooting live events. But whether it's a stage show, concert, wedding, or speaker at a podium, there are some basic tips you should adhere to every time. So this week on Pro Video Tips I'm gonna share ten tips for shooting live events starting off with scouting the venue. Before the event, try to scope out the venue. Most events will usually have some type of rehearsal beforehand, the earlier you can get a look at venue and/or performance, the better.
Before you shoot, take notes on the performance, available electrical outlets, best camera placements, venue layout, lighting changes, sound system, venue rules, all of that. Write down all of your questions and any ideas for coverage as they come to mind. Find out who the technical point people are gonna be in case you have questions or need adjustments to the lighting or audio, and think and walk yourself through every step of the production, from setup to show to wrap.
Will you need a wide angle lens to shoot the whole stage? Is the lighting too dark or too bright? Is there an outlet that you can plug into or will you need enough batteries to last the entire show? If possible, try to shoot some test footage when you can. This may be your only chance to discover and fix major issues beforehand. Tip two: Arrive early and get establishing shots. Give yourself ample time to set up, speak with organizers, and scout the venue if you haven't already done so.
As soon as you have your game plan and your camera is built and ready, go outside and pop off some exterior and establishing shots while you still have daylight and things are quiet. Simple establishing shots are easily forgotten in the hurried energy of a live event. Sometimes, if I arrive early, I will even try to get my exterior shots before I even walk into a venue just to make sure I don't forget later on once things get hectic. If the actual event is taking place in the evening, you'll probably want to just wait until the evening. Or if you've already shot some go ahead out and get more establishing shots of the venue after sundown when the audience is arriving so that those shots will match the exterior lighting at the actual time of the show.
Tip number three: Know the agenda. Make sure you get a program, set list, or whatever schedule or document they're using that will tell you exactly what's happening, when it's happening, and who's involved. Busy or frantic event organizers and venue managers will often forget to tell you about last-minute changes, so you have to pay close attention to any changes or additions to staging, lighting, and blocking during rehearsals and warm ups. Write notes on your agenda and keep it in your pocket or taped to your camera at all times.
One key to covering any live event is anticipating what's going to happen and being prepared to cover it. If you don't know where and how the performers are entering, when the vows are gonna be said, or when the pyrotechnics are gonna go off during the big finale, you could potentially blow some of the most important shots of the event. Tip number four: Shoot like a video ninja. Wearing all black or darker clothing helps you blend into the dark and avoid distracting the performers or the audience as you move around and get your different shots.
When placing stationary cameras try to shoot from vantage points that allow you to get a good shot but also allow the audience to have a clear view. If you also have to setup your tripod among the audience to get the best viewpoint, ask if it's possible to block off the immediate seating area around your camera to prevent people from bumping your tripod. Also beware of venue areas that may become shaky when are filled with people who are moving, dancing, stomping, or tapping their feet. A tripod planted on a shaky surface is pointless.
The other alternative is to go handheld. Keep moving when doing handheld work so you don't block any one person's view for too long. For long events, vary your handheld camera positions and use stationary objects to steady your camera to give your arms a break from time to time. Try to plot and time your moves across the stage to minimize distractions whenever you're shooting handheld footage. Tip number five is to check sound early and often. Most shooters will tell you that picture is usually not too much of a hassle to set up.
But audio at live stage events and performances can drive you insane. Strange hums, low levels, or simply no sound at all are all common issues when setting up for these type of shoots. The most common culprit in these instances is usually an incorrect camera or audio equipment setting, crossed wires, weak batteries, close proximity to other electronics, or just incompatible equipment or audio signals. It can sometimes take a significant amount of time to diagnose and fix an unexpected audio problem.
So set up and check your audio as soon as possible and check it regularly leading up to shoot time. If you've arranged to plug in to the main sound feed, make sure you have enough XLR cables to run from the main mixer to your camera position. If the venue is not already providing them for you, you'll want to make sure you bring enough of your own. And even if you're just getting a feed from the sound board, you should still always have at least a shotgun mic on the camera as a backup in case the feed doesn't work out for any reason at all.
If you're using wireless mics, you want to allow yourself extra time to deal with any sound interference or problems you might have mounting the mics on performer's costumes. And if costumes are involved, it would be very wise to get a look at them ahead of time and discuss with the wardrobe department how you'd like to mic peformers and where you want to hide the wireless transmitter body packs. Any time you're dealing with wireless mics in a crucial recording situation like a live show of course, you always want to use brand new, premium brand batteries, so Duracell or Energizer and that's it.
And another big gotcha, don't commit the cardinal sin of forgetting to turn on or to un-mute a performer's mic before they walk out on the stage. If you or an audio person is not available to do this, someone in the wings should be dedicated to making sure all wireless mics are turned on and off whenever necessary, because we also want to make sure that the off-stage comments of an actor don't end up ruining our soundtrack. Tip number six: Shoot with multiple cameras.
Now, it's difficult to cover a concert or other dynamic live event adequately with just a single camera, so shooting with two or three cameras will help ensure that you have plenty of creative choices in the edit room. Decide and communicate what each camera person will cover. Typical camera assignments will be something like the main performer, the audience, a master shot, closeups, or instruments only, whatever you need creatively. And when it comes to multiple cameras, it's always best if all of your cameras are one, the same make and model.
Two, shooting on the same codec and at the same frame rate. Three, white-balanced on the same card in the same light. Four, shooting at the same f-stop and the same shutter speed. And five, all of your cameras should be on the same menu settings. So if you can't do these things under the circumstances, you can pretty much count on spending a lot of extra money or time color correcting and tweaking your video during the editing process. Another huge issue to work out is how you're going to sync the audio from all of these cameras.
PluralEyes is a popular program that takes a lot of the hassle out of syncing multiple cameras. The latest versions of Adobe Premiere CC also includes a relatively user-friendly multi-cam sync tool to make this job even easier. But even without specialty software, you can still do it down and dirty with an old-fashioned slate or even just a hand clap to mark the beginning of the performance. Either way, it's best to start rolling with all of your cameras at the same time. Have them all record the same slate clap and then keep all cameras rolling until the end of the performance so that you'll only have to sync the media from each camera one time during post production.
If the show is gonna be longer than the recording time you have for whatever type of media you're using, you'll want to stagger and roll off a few minutes of footage on some of the cameras so that they don't all run out of media storage at the exact same time. So if you're shooting a 90 minute show on media cards that only have 60 minutes of capacity, you would start your first camera at the top of the card, your second camera three minutes into the card, and your third camera six minutes into the media so that they would all run out of media at completely different times and you'd still have at least one or more cameras covering the action while one operator swapped out media cards.
So for this reason, DSLRs with limited recording times of 12 minutes or similar can be much trickier to work with when shooting longer live events and take even more careful thought and planning to avoid this issue. Tip number seven, beware of battery and media card changes. Properly timing the changing of batteries and media cards involves planning, skill, and a little bit of luck. Even if you can change batteries as fast as a gunslinger can draw a gun, you're still going to miss anywhere from 20 to 40 full seconds of the action because the computer that runs your video camera takes a little bit of time to boot up and down and load data.
If it's during the big show number, the kissing of the bride, or any other crucial moment, you're done for. Follow the agenda and anticipate when important moments are coming up. Keep a vigilant eye on your media remaining indicator on the LCD screen and always have a media card or fresh battery ready to go within an arm reach as soon as your current one nears its end. When shooting with a single camera, it's better to do changeovers at the first lull in the action during the last three to five minutes left on your media card rather than getting stuck changing out cards, drives, or batteries in the middle of a crucial shot.
Remember, five minutes remaining doesn't mean you should continue rolling for five more minutes. It means you are in the danger zone, so don't get caught out there. Change it before you run out. Tip number eight: Cover the whole event. Don't just shoot the main event or performance itself. You're a documentarian, a filmmaker, a visual storytelling. The real story of any event involves more than just what happens on the stage.
Use your camera to tell the story of the whole event from A to Z. Even if the performance is all you're really interested in, you should still get a few decent shots of the venue setup, audience, backstage activity, and anything else of interest that will help you edit and tell the whole story in pictures. Before the event, make a shot list or storyboard of all the action you'll want to cover and remember to check it off as you go. Tip number nine: Inventory your gear at wrap.
It's not uncommon for there to be several different sets of video equipment or audio gear and cables on a shoot like this. Your own personal gear, rented gear, the venue's gear, plus other crew member's equipment. It's also not uncommon for this equipment to get mixed up or misplaced during a long day of shooting in a large, dark space. Use easily identifiable labels, stickers, tape, Sharpie, or engraving to clearly identify your own equipment. Try to keep all of your own gear together near your location or in a secure staging area in the venue.
Also, make sure that all items that you might need are on your person or at arm's reach during the show. So we're talking about lens cleaner, extra batteries, filters, extra lenses, things like that. Keep a checklist of all the equipment that you brought with you and make sure that you actually check your gear against this list as soon as you finish breaking down. Lastly, don't forget to return any cables, adapters or other gear that you might have borrowed from the venue or other shooters at the last minute. Tip number ten: Don't react, anticipate.
You have to learn the art of anticipation if you want to shoot live events. Over time, as you shoot more and more unscripted footage, you're going to learn to read body language, facial expressions, and the rhythms of speech and conversation to the point that you will instinctively be able to anticipate and be prepared to follow the action as people move, sit, stand, do something dramatic, or just start and stop talking. You will eventually develop sixth camera sense that will guide you to pull out, tilt, zoom in, or hold at the exact right moment.
Anticipation of live action is one of the things that really separates doc camera work from narrative camera work. We don't actually know exactly what the people in front of our camera will do at any given moment when shooting live events. But whatever they do, we need to be on point with a solid composition in our frame no matter what. So learn to use the video force and always anticipate and follow your subject's actions and you'll never miss a spontaneous magic moment on stage again.
So that's it for this week. I hope you found these tips helpful and practical, and that your next live event shoot will be smoother, less stressful, and look better on screen. I'm Anthony Artis and I'll see you on stage.