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Tips And Tricks For Shooting An Impactful Documentary


Shooting an impactful documentary is a lot different than filming a single-camera comedy short. The way you tell a story in this film style will not look the same as scripted content with the right technique. Curate an exciting and real story through the lens of your camera that will provoke emotion in your audience. You can achieve this by following our advice and suggestions.


Travel Light When Possible

The kind of story you’re telling for the documentary could determine what and how much equipment you’ll need for shoots. If you’re traveling from location to location to shoot b-roll or other shots, consider only traveling with what you need and nothing more. Generally, this consists of a camera person with a camera and tripod, an assistant, a sound person with a sound kit, and yourself. You may consider taking this route if you want to be less noticeable; it also lets you react more quickly to opportunities and film unexpected situations or scenarios.

However, having a single camera is not always the best practice. It may be hard for some subjects to be on camera; therefore, composing scenes with multiple shots from different angles and distances will give the editors in post-production more options to choose from. The lens you use also impacts the storytelling; documentaries could benefit from using a cinema lens for more quality shots. Multiple cameras in one shoot also help the cinematographer manage pauses or fidgeting from the subject.


Search for Interesting Personalities and Characters

You may have an engaging storyline, but you can really captivate an audience by whom you choose to include in the documentary. Look for personalities and characters who add depth and dimension to the story. When interviewing potential candidates, if you find yourself gravitating towards someone’s personality or character more, the audience typically will too.


Don’t Forget About Sound

Audio and sound are just as essential in a film as visual aids are. The soundbites you use over clips or the music you choose to play over a scene greatly influence the story. Music and sound can also help convey the subject or interviewee’s emotional state within a clip and provoke these feelings in the audience.


Deliberately Light Your Interviews

Another part of the storytelling process that allows you to shoot a more impactful documentary is how you decide to light your subjects during an interview. You never want to make this individual feel uncomfortable in front of the camera, so try to set up your lighting in a way that puts their nerves at ease. Use the standard three-point lighting technique with a key light, back light, and fill light. To note, it may take some maneuvering and several takes to finally find the right lighting balance.

Because documentaries tell realistic stories, the way we film them is drastically different from scripted films or TV shows. How you shoot the film, add sound in post-production, and light your subjects all play a significant role in how you tell the story through the lens. Don’t be afraid to experiment with your techniques, but always remember to keep your target audience in mind; in the end, you’re making the film for your audience.

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