Filming in public spaces: Tips, tricks, and etiquette
Whether you are shooting B-roll, getting the establishing shot, or creating a time-lapse video, shooting outdoors provides an entirely different creative opportunity compared to shooting indoors. Videographers can utilize the numerous backdrops, props, scenery, people, and outside lighting to their advantage — helping their film stand out from the others.
Documenting your adventures outdoors is rewarding. However, it takes more than just a camera and great scenery to create outstanding footage. If you are shooting on the go, consider the following tips and tricks to ensure you are respecting everyone around you.
Some videographers like the thrill of spontaneous shots. They like knowing anything can happen and nothing is certain. Others prefer to plan their shoot ahead of time. While spontaneous video shoots can be fun, there are a few advantages to planning when it comes to filming — particularly when you are filming outdoors or in public.
Find the right location
The style of video you are shooting will help determine the right location. For example, if you’re wanting a more nature-focused film with little-to-no human presence on screen, consider filming in less-accessible locations in the mountains, fields, or away from popular hiking trails.
If you do choose to film in busier public locations, be mindful of the fact that they are favored destinations open to everyone. Unless you arrange it ahead of time, you cannot control human interruptions. You can always kindly ask people to relocate, however, they are not obligated to.
Finding the right location is also important because it can help facilitate the right amenities and props you may need for a specific shot sequence. If you can save money on these amenities by finding them outdoors, while also respecting local laws and the public, then you should do so.
Also, keep in mind that you will probably have fewer electrical outlets the farther you go away from urban areas. This is why you should always pack extra batteries, lighting, and anything else you may need while filming.
Know the local laws
Reviewing local laws is a major part of planning and choosing the right location. You need to know what you are allowed to do and what you should refrain from filming before you choose a location. This helps you prepare by getting any permits that may be necessary. It also helps to protect people’s rights to privacy.
It would be unfortunate for you to get to the principal photography stage of filming — having the actors all ready and the setting staged — just to learn that you are not allowed to be there. Researching your local laws ahead of time can help prevent this scenario from happening.
The best way to research local laws is by searching “local laws for filming in public in…” followed by the city or other location in which you desire to shoot. It is important to research the governing authority of each location specifically, since different jurisdictions may apply and have their own set of laws separate from the state’s.
Let’s look at filming in New York City, as an example. There are no set guidelines for filming or photographing in New York City in general. However, some specific locations that are under the NYCs Parks jurisdiction may require a permit you can get from the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment. Once you get a permit, you must also notify the neighborhood you want to film in out of courtesy and respect to those around you.
While these are only local laws for one location, they are laws that are common nationwide. It is up to you as the videographer to look into local laws in the area you want your film to take place.
Get necessary permits
According to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which is part of the U.S. Department of the Interior, “Filming activities that may require a permit include the use of motion picture, videotaping, sound recording, or other moving image or audio recording equipment on public lands that involve the use of actors, models, sets, and/or props.” The BLM also states that those who use public land for short-term filming are not required to get a permit unless the activity would cause damage or disturbance to the public land and/or cause closure of the land entirely.
The cost of the permit varies by location, reason, and city in which you need the permit. Keep in mind that any filming that causes damage to a public area, disturbs the peace, or goes against other local laws will not be permitted.
Just as with any film or photography project, challenges along the way are almost inevitable. Even with thorough preparations, you will still likely face challenges, especially when filming in public or outdoors. Listed below are just three of the multiple challenges you should anticipate when filming on the go.
Assuming at this point you have already gotten permission to film at this location, it is worth finding out what the lighting will look like. Doing so can help you determine what lighting sources you will need to supply and where you can set them up.
When filming outdoors you are bound to come face-to-face with multiple light settings. These include changes in the amount of available sunlight due to changes in cloud cover as well as shadows from buildings, fixtures, and/or people. These lighting settings can play to your advantage. But if they are the opposite of what you are aiming for, then you may need to consider investing in accessories to help control your low-key and high-key light settings.
With that being said, do not be afraid to explore the dynamic range of your camera. Creating a scene that has more contrast can help add dramatic appeal and improve your audience’s viewing experience. Of course, optimal light sources, especially outdoors, are nut always guaranteed. Luckily you can go into post-production and edit the film using a video editing software, like Adobe Premiere Pro, to make any necessary visual changes.
Background noise in public places can be one of the most difficult challenges you will have to overcome. While some sounds you can control, others, such as wind, traffic, and conversation, you can’t.
However, background noise is not always bad. The murmur of people chatting in a coffee shop or the sound of a waterfall in a public park can add to the ambiance of the scene. Make the best of the situation by finding ways you can incorporate the noise into your scene.
If you are not able to forgo the extra noise entirely, do not worry. You are still able to fix these issues using the right tools, like Adobe Premiere, in post-production.
People and animals
Again, you are not able to force people in public areas to relocate, and the same goes for animals local to that area. But what you can do is explain to people what you are doing. Always remember to be kind with how you get your message across. Inform them that you are filming a video and that you have a permit to be in that area. Acknowledge that you know you can’t tell them what to do, but that if they’re willing, ask them to please relocate for the time being.
Keep in mind that contracts, non-disclosure agreements (NDAs), and other legal paperwork may be involved for those who agree to be on film. On most occasions, those who do not agree with being in the background of a film will voluntarily walk away. After all, the basic rule of thumb when filming in crowds is that “anyone who is identifiable in a shot should sign a release…”
Animals may be a little more difficult to overcome, for obvious reasons. Most of the time they will leave you alone. However, there are those few occasions in which they too desire to be on film. You can either incorporate them into the scene, respectfully shoo them away, or reshoot the scene once the animal has left.
Respect the local people and environment
As we have mentioned, you must understand that you are coming into people’s lives at your own will. Because of this, you must remain respectful of the individuals who are going about their day in the public location you are filming. Take a moment to introduce yourself, your crew, and your cast. Explain to them what you are filming and when it will be released. You can even invite them to the screening, if you choose.
You should also be equally mindful of the surrounding environment when filming. The actions you and your crew make while filming will leave a lasting impression on the environment around you.
For example, closing down roads will impact traffic and loud noises can scare off the local wildlife. Similar to camping, if you pack it in, you must pack it out. This means you should be sure to leave the location better than how you found it — pick up any trash and/or equipment that may have been left behind by the cast and crew. Make it a point to explain to those you are working with the importance of respecting the people and nature around them as well.
Respect the privacy of others by being as transparent as possible. Do not just assume everyone is okay with you filming in public. Go out of your way to ask people if they feel comfortable being in the background of a film. Of course, this is not always doable, especially in large crowds. Luckily, once again, you can go in and blur out the faces of people in large crowds in post-production.
Be careful about sharing
Be deliberate about how you choose to share your content after filming. Be mindful of the privacy of those in the shot — if you told them it was only going to be shown on a certain platform, keep your word. Also, keep in mind how those in the shot are represented on film. If you portray them in a bad way without them knowing your true intentions, this could lead to legal issues down the road.
Keeping in mind the “golden rule” of treating others how you wish to be treated is just as applicable to filmmaking as it is to everyday life. How would you feel if you were an extra in a film? How would you want to be treated? Always remember that you are being granted access to a location that is not yours. If you wish to film in that location again, you will want to be sure to leave a positive and lasting impression.