How to Shoot a Documentary with One Camera?

Mostlyindependent documentaries were shot with one camera. Until today, one can make a documentary with several cell phones. But, if you want to shoot a documentary with one good filming camera, you need to be aware of certain things before filming the documentary with a single camera.

How to shoot a documentary with one camera? The answer is to – Know where to place the camera, Be aware of the conditions, Do extensive coverage, Decide on its movement, Shoot innumerable B-Rolls.

Setting up to film a movie, take a series of still pictures or film a documentary with only one camera has both its advantages and its disadvantages. 

The most significant benefit of filming something with only a single camera is that you can economize your shot with maximum information. The fact that you can shoot it one at a time, with full concentration while working on an optimized plan, covers all in the information with minimum camera placements. By taking the time to film each scene, you have more clarity and focus on how you want it to be. Also, you don’t need another camera to cover unnecessary angles. You have more clarity on your choice of shots.

Meanwhile, the biggest drawback to film an entire documentary with just one camera is that the process is going to take longer to finish. It means that it will take much longer to get to the result. Another drawback is the fact that you may not get the best camera angles as you would if you were to use multiple cameras. 

With one camera, you can only get one angle for your documentary. So, if you use several cameras, you are more likely to get the best camera angles out of your finished product to fulfill its purpose.

However, if filming your documentary with one camera isthe only option, then learning to shoot a documentary this way will be the key.So to successfully filming a documentary that is well done and enjoyable towatch, read on.

Camera Placement is Everything

The first step to learning how to shoot a documentary with a single camera is learning how to prop the camera up and where to place it. 

Step one is to look at the area you will be filming in and take in everything you have to work with. Find the angle that exhibits the kind of mood you are trying to convey.

An example of this will be if you are trying to shoot an interview for the documentary. You will want to find an angle that captures the person’s body language and captures what they are trying to convey with their movements as well as their tone. 

Placing the camera in a clear line where your target can be seen is pivotal to the scene. Also, use Zoom to go close to the character for more emotional connect during empathetic moments.

If you are moving the camera, fix the pathway so that you can gather more information in a few shots. Camera movements make the scenes interesting if used wisely.

Before filming, look through the viewfinder and make sure there is no debris or smudges on the lens or any clutter or background flaws that could mess up the shot. 

Study the Conditions Beforehand:

Unlike feature films,you may not get to plan the conditions extensively while shooting as indocumentary we use real locations. However, you can always study theweather and light conditions by visiting the location a day earlierand take note of the light conditions. It will give you the anticipation to your visual frames.

Also, you will be more aware of the hustle and bustle of the location during that time. If it is crowded or there are traffic issues, you have to plan your camera placements accordingly. For a single camera, you have little time to fix these issues. So your production team has to take notes of the conditions before you start shooting the next day.

Play with the Shots and Cover your Scenes Well

What separates a good documentary from the others is you can capture the candid moments ofthe characters in question. For that, you need to roll and roll. With the digital medium, it is quite affordable if you have your storage backups in place.

You may need to do extensive coverage meaning shooting a scene from different angles to capture the scene exactly as you want it. When filming a documentary, it is vital that your actors and people you are interviewing do the scene mostly identical every single time you film it. Why? So that your final edit is seamless and looks as if it was all filmed by multiple cameras at once. 

When going through the interview camera angles process it is also crucial that everything in the frame from the actor’s makeup and costume to the background is exactly the same so no one notices the continuity jerks. 

Decide whether you want your Shots to be Fixed or Mobile

When you only have one camera to work with, you will need to decide ahead of time the movement of the camera. You should know whether the scene for your documentary should be a still frame (like in interview) or a scene your camera moves along with the subjects to capture every movement.

You need to think through your vision for each scene of your documentary and decide whether you want it to be fixed or have movement. You can then find the best angle for your fixed camera, or determine if you wish to do a hand-held or track to film the motion. It all depends on your style for shooting. After all, it should stick to your overall vision for the scene and the documentary on the whole.

Shoot Extensive B Rolls

Documentaries look rich when you provide tons of visual montages. The best way to shoot is to hide your camera and candidly shoot random shots of the location, milieu, and people. But, keep your visuals pertinent to the theme.

Also, shoot a lot of cutaways whenever you are shooting a scene. Cutaways flesh out the characters life, and additional information always helps your story. Cutaways can be anything – the close up of the hand or random shots of subjects home or its near about. They also help in editing the scene if you feel short of footage or you need to hide a glitch in your take.

Extra Things to Think Through

Before you start shooting your documentary with a single camera, you will more than likely not be able to film the movie in order. You will then have to take the help of the script. From it figure out an organized order in which to shoot your scenes and then edit them together in the order of the script once filming is completed. 

It is best to do it this way. You can shoot all your interview scenes at once, have specific days for specific actors to shoot their respective scenes so that you can get everyone in and out of filming as quickly as possible. 

It helps the process to be more time-efficient and gets you through filming faster. You should also look at all the locations where you will be filming and shoot all the scenes in each location in one day so that you don’t have to set up or take down the set several times. 

Filming with one camera cannot deter your efforts in making a documentary that people learn from and enjoy watching. What matters is whether or not you take the time for each scene, play with your angles, and pay attention to every detail.

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