3 Key Factors To Keep In Mind When Filming Outdoors

September 11, 2019 6 min read53

Towering trees, majestic lakes, verdant meadows, crystal clear skies…what content marketer wouldn’t want to feature the great outdoors in their video? Even if you’re not a nature-centric or wilderness-themed brand, the appeal is obvious. Compared to building an expensive studio set, renting out an elaborate location, or just using a dull, unappealing office interior for your content, shooting outdoors has a ton of built-in perks. It is relatively affordable, increases the scale of your content, and boosts its appeal with some serious production value. So why would you ever shoot in front of a nondescript wall when you could use a waterfall as your background instead?

But in their eagerness to take advantage of this accessible opportunity, many aspiring content marketers overlook the essentials of outdoor production. Shooting affordable, high-quality video content in nature is very different from shooting in a more controlled environment, which means that there are many unique factors that you’ll want to keep in mind – some beneficial and others potentially catastrophic. As you decide where to shoot your video, don’t let your creative vision blind you to these harsh realities. 

Here are just three quick, easy reminders that can help any content marketer take their outdoor production from “middle of nowhere” to “totally wild.”

1. Know Your (Natural) Light

One of the biggest upsides–and biggest challenges–of outdoor filming is the enormous ball of flaming gas that our entire solar system orbits around. When utilized properly, natural sunlight can give your video content an exceptionally vivid look. Observe how using natural sunlight helped create a bright, luxurious color palette in this video we shot for SeaDream Yacht Club. 

Those are the kinds of colors and shades that very few can possibly hope to replicate at that scale in a studio. But pulling off this shoot required an incredible amount of coordination and planning to prevent our greatest asset from souring into our greatest encumbrance.

That’s why one of the most significant elements for you to keep track of is time of day. As we’re sure you already know, the sun rises, sets, and drifts across the sky in the interim. If you’re less experienced at filming, the changes in its position might feel incremental and–accordingly–unimportant. But those subtle solar shifts add up as the day flits by, and if your shoot takes more than a few hours to complete, the sunlight that you start with will inevitably be very different from the light that you finish with. 

Shooting mid-day tends to be the most difficult, with the sun directly overhead. Depending on your availability, try to film in the early morning or evening instead, when the sunlight is more diffused. Specialized equipment like ND filters and reflectors can also help break up the harsh qualities of direct sunlight. Another possibility is to film under cloud cover, when the sunlight is more evenly distributed. While this may result in a less vibrant feel, it will make it easier for your brand to produce a well-lit video. 

2. Listen Carefully

The other major technical concern that rears up with outdoor filming is sound. Recording any kind of high-quality audio is difficult enough, even in a controlled studio space. But when you shoot in a natural (and unpredictable) environment, your production team will have to factor in the omnipresence of ambient noise. Rain, wind, barking dogs, chirpy birds, crackling leaves, murmuring brooks…all of these background sounds can disrupt your filming experience and render your audio totally unusable. The more ambient noise you pick-up over the course of your shoot, the harder your engineers and editors will have to work after the fact.

While it may sound obvious, one of the best methods for mitigating ambient noise is to invest in a real microphone. Whether it’s a boom or a clip mic, these will allow you to make sure that your focal sound is the subject of the video, and not the gang of squirrels scampering around in a nearby bush. Even an inexpensive mic will get the job done to a much more satisfactory degree than none. You can always choose to utilize your camera’s built-in mic instead, but you’ll have a much harder time separating the sounds that you want to record from the ones you would rather ignore.

One convenient work-around for the challenges of recording sound outdoors is to shoot video without any at all. If your brand decides to insert your music and voice-over in post, instead of using the recorded audio from the outdoor shoot itself, you can save yourself a world of worry. 

But if you absolutely have to use outdoor sound, make sure to record at least 30 seconds to a minute of room tone first. All that means is capturing a piece of your environment’s general ambience so your editors have something to help smooth transitions or cover up audio hiccups in post. Think of it as putting on a base layer of foundation before you apply your eyeliner and contouring, just to even everything out. 

3. Permit Permission

A third serious consideration for outdoor filming is permitting. Unlike when you’re shooting in a controlled location that your business or brand owns, the great outdoors do not belong to you. Sure, you could bring an iPhone on a hike and try to film some content clandestinely, but for a professional-quality production, staying on the down low can be impossible. Accordingly, your team will need to obtain full legal permission well in advance of any outdoor shoot, or risk the police shutting it down.

You don’t need a permit for every outdoor shoot. One is only necessary if your brand is filming on public property or if there’s a chance that the production might disrupt pedestrians and/or the environment. That means if your shoot involves specialized equipment (dollies, cranes, etc.) or takes place somewhere with a lot of foot traffic, you almost certainly will require a permit. 

A quick web search can show you whom you ought to message about permitting – usually the local government. Keep in mind that outdoor filming permits can range in price from hundreds to thousands of dollars depending on multiple factors, including crew size. Even more importantly, they can range in processing time, so don’t leave your permit request to the last minute. While some outdoor permits might be approved within 48 hours, others could take a week or more, potentially leaving your production stranded.

While these three tips cannot possibly reflect all the unique difficulties of an outdoor filming experience, they are a terrific way for your brand to get started. Creating video content is always a challenge, and even for veteran content marketers, one of the hardest things to deal with at an outdoor shoot is the lack of total control. 

This leaves you with two options: Hire a veteran production company with experience filming in every type of environment, indoors and out, or tackle it on your own. Either way, once you accept that some things are out of your hands, your brand will be able to adapt accordingly. So go explore the great outdoors, and use our three tips to elevate your content with the power of nature.

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