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Camera Gear and Tips for Documentary Filmmaking

Documentary filmmaking is one of the most challenging and rewarding endeavours you can ever undertake. Good documentaries create a wave of change in society and people’s perceptions, serving as a strong catalyst. But a documentary is only as good as the story you are telling. And the right camera gear and equipment are imperative for telling the story not just in an authentic way, but also in the most impactful way.

Here are some of the most important Documentary Camera Gear tips to shoot your movie:

1. Know your topic

You need to identify what kind of story you want to tell in the first place. Then only you can find the right content, tone, length, camera gear and filming style for the documentary. Having a clear vision will enable you to ask the right questions, establish your target audience, and draw a satisfying conclusion. Is your story structured around a timed event? Is the event taking place soon or is it a slow burn where time plays no major role? Is your documentary about an event – a concert, beauty pageant, a game etc.? Will you have interviews with the main characters before capturing their daily lives and highlighting their challenges? When you are well-aware of the story, it determines many of the technical decisions like the filming locations and duration of the shoot.

Here are a few ways to get a good grasp of your topic:

  • Research thoroughly on the topic.
  • Consult with experts to get an accurate understanding of the topic.
  • Include key points from your findings in the documentary.
  • 2. Have the right camera

    How you want to tell the story is as important as what the story actually is. You need to have the right camera gear and equipment to bring your vision to life. How do you want to shoot the documentary? What camera do you want to shoot it with? In the tech-savvy modern age, you can even film long documentaries with your smartphone. But that isn’t the best option considering the long days of shoot which requires great amount of storage and battery power.

    At Bottle Rocket Media we always shoot interviews in 4K. When we’re not able to use two cameras for an interview, shooting 4K is like getting an extra camera on set for free. We rarely deliver in 4K, so we use the extra resolution to punch in edit. For us, it’s vital to get the quality and flexibility we want, while respecting our client’s budgets.

    DSLR cameras have also been the staple of indie productions for their affordability and effectiveness. You can get a lot of work done with a 24-70 zoom lens. As a filmmaker, you will collect a hundred gigabytes of footage in the long duration of shooting. Make sure to back up your footage on external hard disks on a regular basis, irrespective of the camera you choose for shooting.

    3. Care for sound

    The sound element is as important as the visual element in the movie. Excellent sound quality brings the audience closer to the protagonists and the subject, whereas bad audio will immediately alienate your audience.

  • Invest the time and money to capture clear sound for your documentary.
  • Get good headphones to monitor audio.
  • Also, invest in a good shotgun mic or lavalier.
  • 4. Create a shooting plan

    Create a plan before the start of the shoot. Make a blueprint of how you will shoot your documentary with proper variations for each scene. Incorporate various shooting techniques along with the usage of focal length, camera angle and camera-to-subject distance for capturing the necessary shots.

  • Make sure to show visuals as a reference to the subject.
  • Shoot enough b-roll as it supports the subject.
  • To draw the viewer into the scene, start with wide shots. The closer you bring your audience, the more drama you can create.
  • Include cutaways. They help to fix continuity errors.
  • 5. Have affordable camera backups

    Having a backup camera helps to create a great balance between preparation and spontaneity. Your back up camera doesn’t have to be expensive. An affordable camera like DSLR captures the shot well without requiring much preparation. If your production budget doesn’t allow you to get a secondary camera, you can also use your smartphone. The image capabilities in today’s smartphones have improved drastically and present infinite possibilities.

    6. Get the right lighting equipment

    Lighting makes a huge difference in the quality of your finished product. A cheap camera with great lighting will produce better results than an expensive camera with bad lighting. The massive advancement in the LED technology over the past decade has completely changed the filmmaking landscape. It’s easy to achieve good lighting even without any fancy and expensive lighting equipment. Thanks to the latest LEDs, building your own compact lighting kit has become doable as well as affordable. Even if a camera manages to get a good shot in low light, adding light will enhance the shot, taking it a notch higher.

  • Have as much light as possible to get the best shot.
  • Make sure the light is falling on the right places.
  • Diffused lights are better than direct lights for shooting videos.
  • Best advice: Let the story be your guide. Keep it simple and be there to capture the story.

    And, we’re here to help! Contact Bottle Rocket Media

    Documentary Videos for Business

    Build credibility with your audience with a documentary-style video

    Storytelling for business doesn’t have to be stuffy and buttoned up. In fact, if you get creative and really focus on the emotion behind a business’s history, you can create a video that leaves a big impression. Enter the documentary video for business. Known to captivate audiences, this style of video storytelling is impactful, engaging, and leaves audiences wanting more.

    Spotlight on documentary videos for business

    What are documentary videos? As the name implies, documentary videos shed light on a specific topic, usually in the style of a series of interviews, and then present the information to a target audience. These videos are objective in nature, which is what makes them unique compared to the more common promotional and marketing video. Documentary videos are informative and factual, and aside from their marketing function, they are also used internally for “about us” videos on a website or for a company’s anniversary highlight reel at a corporate event.

    Why are documentary videos effective? It’s no surprise that consumers love when a brand tells them a real, personal story or experience. A documentary video engages the audience beyond the product or service to establish trust. To add credibility to your brand, tell a story that resonates and leaves the audience eager to learn more about who you are and what you do. These videos are also effective because the viewer is totally locked in like they would be watching a documentary on TV. The New York Times executes this perfectly in their teaser for their documentary, Page One.

    Why are documentary videos worth it? When done right, documentary videos create empathy, tell a fantastic story, and engage audiences in a way other types of video simply fail to do. And in terms of bragging rights, a documentary video is an impressive piece of marketing to have in the vault. This video from Stella Artois is a great example. Not only do you learn about the history of billboards from the men who still paint them today, but you end up fixated on their own personal stories and the sadness they feel about an art form that is fading away. That is what a documentary video is all about.

    Our work with Horizon Pharma

    It takes a special kind of person to be a nurse, which is why we wanted to highlight in this video for Horizon Pharma. Instead of making it about the clinic and their services, we filmed a series of one-on-one interviews with questions that really let the audience get to know the wonderful nurses who are so passionate about the patients they help every day. Not only can you feel the compassion oozing out of them in the final product, you find yourself wanting to visit the clinic – not for the services, but to meet the wonderful women working behind the scenes to make sure every patient is comfortable and feels like family.

    If the documentary video sounds like something you’d like to use as part of your marketing strategy, our team knows a thing or two about storytelling, and we would love to help you make a standout video to represent your brand. Contact us to get started.