Getting to know your equipmentFeb 07, 2023
Hi there filmmakers, ready to pull out the camera?
If you're planning on whipping up a documentary soon, hopefully, the next bit you read won’t rock your world too much: you need to know how to use your equipment!
Your camera is your best friend. If it wasn’t for your camera - the likelihood of your film coming to fruition, is pretty slim. But like any friendship, you’ve got to nurture it. That means, getting to know it as deeply as you can.
I once hired a cinematographer for an oversees shooting trip and he built the camera and proceeded to hold it in his arms for the duration of the trip. It became his ‘baby’. This is very dedicated but possibly a bit extreme.
Okay, maybe I’m going a bit far with the metaphors. But you catch my drift! Knowing your tech simply means less obstacles and more creative possibilities. Which is exactly why pre-production is the perfect phase to try and learn what every button on that camera does.
Pre-production is where we’re focused currently on this blog, so if this is your first time visiting, make sure you catch up on the previous blogs as they’re going to be super important going forward!
Be the ultimate documentary boffin
Of course, we’re not just talking cameras here. We’re talking the whole shebang. Microphones, lights and any other piece of equipment you’ll likely need. If this is all starting to seem overwhelming, there is an easy way to resolve this:
Get in a studio and play around! It’s worth the time to have a fiddle with no expectations and time constraints. Not only will this familiarity save you money down the line, but you might discover something about your equipment that opens up a whole new abundance of ideas.
Planes, trains and bags with no wheels
Another super simple but super effective tip is to have great bags and cases for your equipment. Bags with many pockets, zips, compartments but most importantly: wheels.
Yes, this modern invention has saved my life more than I can count. When you're zipping around from location to location, being able to move your gear around quickly and safely is absolutely crucial.
What do I need in the bag?
Fair question. For your sound equipment, I would suggest:
- Lapel microphone x2 or more (and plenty of spare batteries!)
- Shotgun microphone
- Boom microphone
Knowing what sort of sound each microphone captures and which ones will work best for your set up on location is extremely important information. If you’re spending your shoot day googling what each device does, you’re going to end up with some very grumpy and tired talent.
But at a minimum you should know how to set up your lapel mic and position it on your talent to avoid rustling and have at least one other mic recording sound as well, like a boom mic for example. Relying on the camera’s in built microphone is not going to give you a good result.
Unsurprisingly, you’re probably going to need a camera! How many cameras you have at one time is going to be very case by case. But the way I see it, the more cameras the merrier! Not only does it give you flexibility in the editing suite, it also means if one camera goes down, you at the very least have one shot you can use.
I generally have two cameras for any interviews with a single interviewee. One mid shot, one close up for example. And if there’s two people in the interview- ideally I’d have three cameras. One for each interviewee and one for a wide so both can be in the same shot. It’s very helpful for post production to have a shots to cut between.
“What do you mean I can’t put that in the overhead? ”
Unless you’re planning on filming your whole documentary handheld, the other weapon you’ll need up your sleeve is a tripod. Being nimble is key. Avoid having tripods that are too big and heavy. Additionally, if you’re travelling on a plane and your equipment is heavy it could become a very expensive exercise when you get hit for excess baggage!
And lastly, your lights. Though also incredibly valuable to your production, they can be big, bulky and and impossible to travel with.
Outside the studio, we avoid this issue by using smaller lights that are battery powered. Unfortunately, these aren’t as powerful as our regular LED’s. But be resourceful! Being a documentary on location, natural lighting is your ally and I encourage you to experiment with it, whenever possible.
One foot in front of the other
The phrase can almost seem patronising, but I always come back to one simple remark: practice makes perfect. As much as it can sometimes seem an exhausting prospect, it’s undeniably true.
The more time you can spend with your equipment and can plan how you will use it in production, the easier it will be. Oh, and one last tip - Make sure you’re backing up your footage and sound and charging your equipment at the end of EVERY shoot day! Stay in touch!
Okay, so I know it’s been a long journey, but we are nearly at the end of pre-production! We’ll be moving on soon, so it’s a great time to check you’re organised and prepped to be going into this exciting new phase.
If you’re not feeling confident about transitioning over to production, I can help. Firstly, I’d have a look at our resources page for any useful information and definitely look back over previous blogs.
But also be sure to get in touch! Sharing tips and tricks is why the Moonshine Moonshot series began and I’m only a click away. Send an e-mail or a DM via socials, I’ll find it.
Until then, go hang out with your gear!
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