Scouting for the Perfect Video Shoot Location Part 1: Composition

So you’re ready to shoot a video? You’ve outlined a purpose for the video, put together a production brief, gotten everyone on board… but wait, where will you shoot the video? We’ve all been here before. Quickly scrambling around the office, grabbing a ficus or two, and desperately hoping for an available conference room. But, it doesn’t have to be like this. With just a little extra work on the front end, you can plan ahead to ensure your shoot location is ideal for your video: providing the right size and framing, the best available lighting and sound, and the right amenities to make everyone comfortable.

When we set aside time before a video shoot to look for the right location, it’s call location “scouting” and if it’s important enough that professionals gave it a name long ago, it’s important enough for you to consider as you prep for your video. This post is the first in a series of posts that will look at different location aspects and help you pick the right spot for your video. This time, we’re focusing on how the location will help you with your composition, that is, how your video will be composed using background, foreground, your subject, and any other visual components.

Let’s dive in and talk about how your location plays a role in what you’ll be able to do with composition.

Background

Your background can be a star: lending color, texture, and even meaning to your video, especially when you’ll be interviewing a subject. Don’t shortchange it by thinking you need to find a blank wall. In fact, the most boring type of background you can get is a white (or worse – beige) wall. Instead, try to use a background with some color and texture, but at the same time one that contrasts with the subject. Think ahead about how your subject and the background will look together. For example, if you have a subject with very pale skin, it is usually best to use a slightly darker colored background (and vice versa) to give the shot contrast.

Pick a spot that’s interesting to look at, e.g. a nicely organized bookcase, but not so interesting that it distracts the viewer from your subject, e.g. a circus performance. Speaking of circus performance, the setting needs to complement your topic, so don’t decide to shoot outside just because it’s a nice day out. Shooting outdoors can be tempting because of all the natural lighting and positive vibes from being out of the office, but you want to make sure it fits. While making dinner the other night I caught a glimpse of a video my sons were watching on Disney Channel. Take note of how the video was put together – the hosts were recorded outside on the beach and never even appear on location at The Plant in Chicago, which works because of the line “When you think of fish, you probably think of them living in a place like this. But, did you know that you can also grow fish on a farm?”


Aquaponics – Pass the Plate on Disney Video

See what they did there? You can do things like that too, you know, if you plan ahead.

Framing

Locations that provide some room to move around for both your subject and your camera will help with framing. Since you’ll want to use the Rule of Thirds to frame your subject on the left or right of the image, never dead center, you’ll need to consider whether a location has enough room to accommodate that setup.

Scouting for the Perfect Video Shoot Location Part 1: Composition image Rule of ThirdsScouting for the Perfect Video Shoot Location Part 1: Composition

Remember, too, that you’re not just working with a subject that can move left to right – get some depth to your shot. Your working not only on an x and y axis for framing, but also a z axis. So, ask yourself when scouting, “If I use that interesting back ground, can I create some separation between the interview subject and her surroundings but putting some space between them?” This space creates depth of field and helps your subject to not fade away into the background (depth of field is also one of those aspects that really enhance the perceived quality of your video).

One more thing since we’re talking about framing – watch head room too. You should never have more than an inch or two of head room when composing your interview shot. In fact, it’s even okay to cut off the top of a person’s head if you’re going for a close shot (just don’t cut off their chin – it looks weird). Speaking of close shots, that leads us to our final consideration…

Shot Variety

Scouting for the Perfect Video Shoot Location Part 1: Composition image Shot VarietyScouting for the Perfect Video Shoot Location Part 1: CompositionFinally, when scouting for your next video shoot location, consider how many types of shots each option may or may not offer. When we speak of shot variety, typically we refer to shots in terms relative to your subject. For example, a “close up” has to be a close up of something. Your question when scouting for a location should be, “Does this location offer enough space and enough visual options to mix up my shots if I want?” For example, will you be able to set your camera up for a close up of your subject, then move it back later (or use a second camera) for a wider shot too?

Shot variety, along with your choice of background and your options for framing can make all the difference in the world – the difference between viewers believing your message is valuable because they can tell you took the time to plan ahead, or believing it’s a waste of their time because you stuck your subject in a conference room and made them look like they were in the witness protection program.

Up next, we’ll explore how you can choose the best locations for lighting while out scouting for your next video shoot – stay tuned!

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