Tip Sheets

Storytelling Tips, Shooting Solo and Finding the Human Element

These tips are helpful for shooting great video solo and on a deadline.

  1. Don’t start shooting right away.  Chat up the subject to relax the moment and find common ground.

  2. Sound matters. If you have an external mic, use it. If you don’t, get close to the subject. If you have a viewfinder that flips open, use it, but maintain eye contact with the subject to make him or her feel more comfortable.

  3. Utilize natural light. If necessary, place the subject by a window or other light source. Make sure the light is NOT behind the subject.

  4. Follow closely enough to hear the subject as he or she works, cooks, or demonstrates the activity being filmed. Some of your best sound bites and comments will be captured off the cuff.

  5. If video is scarce, don’t be afraid to ask subjects to text or email some photos.  They probably have some on their phones that will add depth and visual interest to the story in a pinch.

  6. If you shoot photos to supplement video in your story, shoot landscape or horizontally.

  7. If your camera battery dies, shoot with your phone. Don’t laugh, because it may be all you’ve got! Don’t go home empty-handed.

  8. If you need a phone interview, the interviewee can respond to your question via voice notes and text you that response.  Drop it into your story with an accompanying photo.

  9. If you have a small camera or phone, a bag of popcorn works wonders as an impromptu tripod. Set it on the car, in a tree, or wherever, and nestle the phone or camera inside. It’s pretty amazing, and it ensures that people will give you funny looks.

  10. If a hospital or corporate PR person accompanies you on a story, why not have him or her hold the camera for your standup? It can be fun, and make the relationship more relaxed as well as make the story more interesting.

  11. When shooting in the operating room, don’t be afraid to ask the doctor for a 2-minute warning when something is about to happen. Don’t miss the shot when the kidney is removed.

  12. If you have the luxury of time, use it. Shoot a pre-op interview, follow the action into the OR, then follow up with the patient afterward. Do the same thing with different locations. If the subject does the interview at home, ask if you can follow her to work to get good “on the job” b-roll. It adds depth, visuals and the passage of time to the story.

  13. You’ll be amazed what people do when you ask. If someone has a scar, ask to see it. If someone had all his teeth pulled due to meth mouth, ask him to remove his dentures on camera.

  14. If you have only one mic, and you know it will be important for the audience to hear you ask the subject a pointed or otherwise tough question, project toward the mic he or she is wearing. You don’t have to yell, just lean in a bit and raise your talking volume a little. Hearing you ask the question may add to the story.

  15. As the interview subject talks, try to refrain from “uh huhs” and other comments as he is speaking. Nod instead, in order to communicate without talking. Your utterances can sometimes add to the story, and other times ruin it. It's best to keep your mouth shut.

  16. If the interviewee says something interesting, but in a monotonous tone, lean in and reply with, "Huh?" He or she will almost always repeat it louder and better.