So, you’ve been inspired by the newest wave of YouTube vloggers; have just received a new camera for Christmas; are planning a sick trip that it would be a crime not to document; or maybe you just rate your skills on a board and want to show off to the world? Whatever your reason for stepping into the realm of filmmaking, Urban Surfer are here to help. Check out these top 10 filmmaking tips that everyone should consider before shooting their 1st or 100th edit.
1. Decide the theme of your video before touching your camera (pre-production)
You don’t have to script a second-by-second screenplay or spend hours on a story board, but always try to visualise the final product before getting started. The mood you’re aiming to portray will play a large part in how you film (think happy summer holiday edit versus a dramatic surf edit like John John’s incredible: Space). Deciding on a song (or at the very least, a genre of music) to edit to is a useful way to work out what you’re hoping for. While shooting, listen to similar music or sing in your head to align your shots with the vibe. There’s nothing worse than returning from a trip ready to start on your moody storm surf edit, only to realise your shots are ruined by too many rainbows and children playing on the beach!
Check out the more dramatic intro I shot for my most previous Urban Surfer Vlog
2. Choose the right filmmaking equipment for the job
There’s an infinite number of recording devices available these days, from budget point-and-shoot cameras, to high-end professional equipment. Know your budget, level of expertise, and what kind of environment you will be shooting in to determine the best for you!
A good place to start for any action-sports edit is obviously the infamous GoPro. A favourite among amateurs and professionals alike, it shoots in 4K and can withstand almost anything you throw at it. However, the fisheye lens doesn’t look great for landscapes; in this case, a DSLR or camcorder would be a better option. Check for image stabilisation, 4K compatibility and ensure the resolution and frame rate match any other camera’s you’ll be using. Surprisingly, most modern smartphones can compete with DSLR video quality so are a great place to start (besides their lack of optical zoom).
Sometimes a smartphone is all you need
3. Ensure you know how to use your hardware to it’s full potential
It’s cool to have the latest RED camera, but if you don’t know how to use it you’ll probably get better results on your iPhone! The first place to start is frame rate: 24fps is standard for Hollywood-style productions (thus creating cinematic-style movies), whereas 30fps is used more often in soaps or news broadcasts. Higher frame rates are useful for sports where you need to capture every millisecond of the action.
Besides that, here’s a few tips if you’re filmmaking on a GoPro or another camera with more manual control.
- Find the best Field of View for your activity: Superview is great for point-of-view shots where you can’t pay full attention to the camera (e.g. while surfing), whereas medium or narrow may work better for landscapes.
- GoPro (and third-parties) offer a mount for pretty much any situation. My favourite is @theprostandard Grill Mount (check it out here) as it records exactly what you’re looking at while keeping your hands free!
- GoPro’s default settings use a great automated colour preset if you just want to share your videos straight away. However, if you’re going to colour grade or apply LUTs, choose a flat image setting to give you the most freedom in post-production.
- Many cameras will let you adjust the exposure, ISO, or aperture before shooting. The perfect combinations are too detailed to explain here, but a quick Google will tell you everything you need to know and can drastically improve your footage.
- It’s worth noting that many DSLRs offer little-to-no image stabilisation. If a gimbal or stabiliser is out of your budget, try using a tripod, or else be very careful (especially when zoomed in)!
- Manual focus is typically better for laterally moving subjects who aren’t changing their distance from you too much (such as filming surfers from the beach). It also avoids annoying flickers if the camera momentarily picks up an object in the foreground.
Shot entirely on GoPro with the Pro Standard’s Grill Mount
4. Think carefully about when and where to shoot
You may have heard of golden hour – it’s the hour after sunrise and before sunset – in which everything looks its best. Nonetheless, you should be careful not to film if it’s getting too dark (but a lower frame rate, higher ISO, and the ‘low light’ setting available on some cameras will help).
Finally, don’t forget to leave enough time to charge your devices and clear enough memory before you leave home!
Setting your alarm that extra hour earlier always pays off
5. Don’t neglect B-roll when filmmaking
Watch any good production (from a short YouTube vlog to a blockbuster movie) and there’ll always be filler shots. Whether to set the scene, show a more personal side, or just mix things up so the viewer doesn’t get bored, a little variation from the main content is often appreciated. Typical examples of filmmaking B-roll include candid shots or outtakes and travelling scenes (but use them sparingly so as not to bore the viewer). Always keep the camera running, you never know what could come in useful later.
A few scenic shots can be the difference between a monotonous edit and a complete production
Everyone can spot good filmmaking from just a few seconds of watching. Telltale signs of someone who knows what they’re doing behind a camera are unique stylish considerations, rather than the standard pointing-and-shooting. Just be careful not to overcomplicate for the sake of it unless the effect is adding something worthwhile!
Some cool ideas you could consider while filmmaking:
- Original angles (find a way to shoot your subject without just standing directly in front of them)
- Hyper- or time-lapses (from moving traffic, stars, clouds, or something even more imaginative, playing with time is always fun)
- …Talking of which, why not slow it down too (or even combine ramped fast and slow motion in the same shot)
- Use small apertures to create a shallow depth of field and highlight a subject in the foreground (or background)
- Set your shutter speed at double the frame rate for a natural motion blur
Think of original ideas to incorporate into your edit later, like the intro to this video
7. Vary your shots
Nobody wants to watch the same thing over and over again with only minor differences. If you’re set on sharing many similar takes, try to vary the camera angle or lighting. Furthermore, subtle camera movements (such as pans, tilts, or focus adjustments) can help make a still scene much more interesting; just be careful not to give your viewers motion sickness!
Always keep an eye out for new perspectives on the world
8. Don’t overlook audio
Always be careful when shooting speech, interviews, or any other scene where sound is important. An external microphone is preferable, but not essential. The biggest risks to sound quality are wind distortion (try to find a sheltered spot), covering the microphone of a phone or smaller camera with your hand, or standing too far from your subject to hear them! Alternatively, if the environment is too loud the audio can become distorted. If there’s no way to mitigate the problems, voiceovers recorded afterwards are often a convenient solution when filmmaking.
This Urban Surfer board repair tutorial was the first time I had to pay attention to audio, and it was a great learning experience (even if the audio was a little distorted at times!)
9. Back up your footage
Don’t lose all your filmmaking hard work by dropping your camera in the ocean on your last day, or losing your luggage at the airport! Hard drives are so cheap these days (I just bought a 4TB WD Passport for less than £100), so you have no excuse!
No, a lobster cage is not secure enough to keep your footage safe
10. Most importantly: have fun!
Like it or not, a positive mood while filmmaking always shines through in the finished product. Even for more serious or solemn projects, enjoying the process will yield much better results, not to mention the extra motivation and productivity!
Don’t take life too seriously
Look good in your shots with these latest styles from Urban Surfer:
while storing your gear:
and keeping it safe:
Keep an eye out for Part 2 (post-production and editing) of this blog series – coming in December – in which I’ll explain what to do with all this footage!
~ Will (@willdavies11)