Three Tips for Shooting Video Outdoors

Published on July 6, 2010

Cristina at the castle

Do you like to shoot video outdoors? I do. The sunlight looks amazing, especially in the morning and evening.

I could give you many tips for shooting video outdoors, maybe enough to fill a book. But in this article, my goal is to give you three big tips that will dramatically improve the quality of video you shoot outdoors.

By the way, I’m going to assume that you’re shooting video of a person. (The tips would be slightly different if you were shooting video of a building, for example.)

Here we go…

Tip #1

Place the subject between you and the sun. This will light your subject from their back. That’s why the subject is said to be “backlit.”

Why put the sun behind them? A few things happen when you do this…

Your subject gets rimmed by a halo of light. This creates a bright line that separates your subject from the background. Because it appears to be separate, it also layers your subject in front of the background elements, emphasizing the 3D nature of the world — even though the video image itself is a 2D image.

Backlighting also emphasizes your subject’s form. If there is something important about their form that you want to emphasize (pregnancy, cowboy hat, unique nose. etc.), you can use the rim light to emphasize the characteristic.

Also, backlighting places their front in shadow which creates a more dramatic look. This is a good tip in and of itself — if you want more dramatic lighting, place the shadow toward the camera.

Tip #2

Blur out the background behind your subject.

Zoom in on your subject and use a wide aperture so you get a shallow depth of field. People ask me all the time how to do this, and it’s very simple. To get a shallow depth of field requires two things:

  1. A long focal length. If you have a zoom lens, then move it toward telephoto.
  2. A wide aperture (low F-stop, wide iris).

If you open the aperture and zoom in, you’ll get a beautifully shallow depth of field and that will create a blurry background.

Tip #3

It’s possible that your subject won’t stay in one place, so…

Use a fluid-head tripod to follow your subject with a smooth movement. Try to emphasize either tilting up and down, or panning back and forth. My personal preference is to try not to mix them. Either I’m tilting or panning, not doing both (usually).

One bonus tip about using a fluid head tripod: If you have the ability to adjust the resistance, turn it up very high. If you’re like me, you might find you get smoother movements with the resistance turned up. It looks better when you ease into the pan or tilt, and the extra resistance helps create that effect.

Bonus Tip #4

The best time to do backlighting is when the sun is at a 45 degree angle in the sky. If the sun is too low, the light shines directly into the lens, creating lens flare and reducing the contrast in your image.

If the sun is too high in the sky, the light falls too much on their shoulders and head. Also, it creates deep shadows in the subject’s eyes. This might not be the look you want.

I could say a lot more about shooting video outdoors, but these tips should help make a big impact in the quality of your video.

As always, I’d love to hear what’s worked for you and any ideas you have. Please give me your thoughts in the comments…

* Photo by Florin Draghici

This article was last updated on July 6, 2010


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