Sometimes one camera just isn’t enough. A well-shot scene grows with different perspectives. We explain how to master the challenge of multiple angles though different cameras – as a one-man (or woman!) show.
Filming with more than one camera has significant advantages. As everyone who has watched amateur productions has discovered it: Sticking with one single angle looks cheap and boring. Different perspectives instantly make a scene more interesting. This is why even news anchors turn to different cameras in their studio during longer on-camera segments.
But there is also an upside from the filmmaker’s perspective: a smaller risk to miss the best moments, be it the famous goal shot by grandma, the first step of your child or the one important statement of the interview. A second camera minimizes the chance of not capturing every precious and unique second.
And this isn’t just something for pros or teams. With a small investment and a little bit of preparation, multi-angle shoots are feasible for everyone. Here we walk you through the phases of effective two-camera filming.
1. Preparation is crucial: Know your gear.
First things first: Even if you don’t need two people, you will definitely need two cameras. If possible, use the same camera model for each camera, and configure them as similarly as you can. This makes the post-production process a lot easier, especially with issues of color matching.
Second, have a close look at what is underneath your camera. As you will be moving between them, make sure you have a sturdy tripod for each camera that you won’t be holding.
Third, check that your cameras have remote control capabilities. You need to be able to start and stop them from a distance.
Pro tip for scripted scenes and interviews: If the scene is scripted or can be repeated without major problems, you can also try to film the scene multiple times with one camera. In this case, take the audio from one of the angles and apply it to the final cut. And remember, you can always show the person who is not talking. That way you get to see that person’s reaction.
2. Know your setup.
Preparations, step two: now that you have the right gear, check the setup. Make sure you have storage media in each camera that is large enough to record the entire event. Or at least have a plan for switching storage media one after the other during filming. The worst-case scenario: Several cameras run out of storage media at the same time in the middle of the shoot. This could potentially lead to some very embarrassing situations where you’ve missed something critical on each camera, or you become a distraction as you run from camera to camera in a panic swapping out storage media.
Choose your filming mode, and decide whether it will be best to use auto settings for each camera or whether you should set them manually, including focus. This is one of the configurations you should be aware of the moment you enter the set. And don’t forget to verify just before the shoot because light or other conditions might have changed. Be flexible and adapt accordingly.
Next, synchronize each camera’s clock before filming. This makes editing a lot easier, as you might be able to use time stamps for automatic synchronization in your non-linear editing system (NLE) later on.
Even if you feel comfortable with your equipment, we highly recommend setting up a test shoot well beforehand, even if you have to do it at an alternate location, and even if you plan on shooting in your own studio or location. This is important for you to get to know and to run through the entire process, so you’ve done it at least once before the pressure is on and every second counts.
3. Know your setting!
Now focus on the surroundings. How much space do you have? Are there people who need to pass by your cameras, and can this be avoided? Are there unexpected sources of noise? Do your best to picture the entire process up front and understand the location and the sequence of events.
Also, don’t forget to check the light. Where does it come from? Is it artificial or natural? Plan your setup accordingly, including the question: Do you need spotlights?
This is also the moment to think about the angles of your cameras and what they should focus on: the face of an interviewee? Gestures or movements? Or the entire setting? This is something you shouldn’t neglect, as it has huge impact on the final result.
Once this is done, make a detailed plan for setting everything up, starting and stopping recording. This helps you to cope better with unexpected events during filming.
4. Hear, hear! Quality audio for multiple cameras
One of the trickiest things in filming with more than one camera is the sound. This requires special attention. First of all, make sure that you have a dedicated pair of headphones connected to each camera, so you can easily monitor the audio of any camera at any time. Do not mess with the headphone plug and jack of the cameras while recording, as this may result in cracking noise and shaky footage.
Just as you record the image on each of your cameras, always record the audio for every camera. This will be invaluable for synchronization later in your NLE, especially since some NLEs can analyze the audio to automatically synchronize your footage.
Consider shooting some background footage without the main action or the main conversation. This is known as “B roll” and can save you when your cameras capture something that is boring or inappropriate to show. You can cut to a B-roll clip while still hearing the main audio and cover up anything you don’t want the viewer to see.
Pro tip for scripted scenes and interviews: You can try taking your scene in one long shot and without pauses in between. Alfred Hitchcock was known for this kind of technique as was Woody Allen. The record is held by Allen with a scene of over 15 continuously shot minutes!
5. At the scene
Now that your equipment and you are prepared, don’t neglect the following checkboxes on the big day:
- Find a secure and convenient staging area where you can keep all of your gear and equipment during the shoot for easy access.
- Keep the cameras as close to each other as possible while still getting the angles you need so that you can more easily get from one to the other if you need to.
- Find secure locations for each camera where a passerby won’t bump into them.
- Make sure the tally light is on for each camera, so you can see whether it is recording.
And finally: Do your best to make sure you capture every moment with the camera you’re holding or operating most often. If all others fail, you know that at least one camera has everything!
Because if all else fails, in the end, you absolutely must have at least one good recording to deliver the project. Don’t compromise the main recording in attempting to capture all of the others. The main recording is your lifeline. You must have that at least!