One of the questions I get asked most, aside from ‘Giles, what does Tim Shieff’s hair smell like?’ Is ‘how can I make my video better?’ Now usually this question is asked over Facebook chat and is then followed up by a link to the video in question, so aside from saying ‘improve the edit,’ there is very little else I can do. The video has already been shot and therefore the majority of opportunities for improvement have already been lost.
What I intend to do, over the next few blogs is provide you with a guide to all the things I would consider ‘essential’ when it comes to improving your videos. As there is a lot to cover I am going to break these blogs up into four parts.
Part 1 – Planning
Part 2 – Shooting
Part 3 – Editing
Part 4 – Distribution
*DISCLAIMER Everything I am going to tell you has been learnt purely through experience and I have had no ‘official’ training of any sort. This is not a list of definitive DO’s and DONT’s that you have to adhere to. This is what works for me. Take this advice onboard or ignore everything I say, the most important thing is that you find your own path and are happy with what you create.
Honestly, planning is one of the most important parts when it comes to improving your Freerunning videos and generally creating something you are really happy with. I’m not talking about writing out shot lists and applying for permission to shoot in certain locations, I’m talking about preparing the little things to make sure your day of filming goes smoothly and you don’t end up kicking yourself for forgetting to shoot that specific shot you needed to fit the song you are using. You want filming to feel natural so the more you think about the little things now, the less you will have to later on. Eventually everything will just become a seamless routine from start to finish.
Lets get started with something everyone has asked themselves at some time or another.
What camera do I need?!
If you want to make a freerunning video, you’re going to need a camera! What camera do you need?! It really doesn’t matter! As long as it shoots video and doesn’t spontaneously combust in your hands, you’re good to go! Even if you don’t actually own a camera I’m sure you have a friend or family member who will let you borrow one for a few days so you can get creating!
For anyone reading this hoping for advice on which new camera to buy, fear not! I will be covering this in a separate blog in the coming weeks!
For now, I’m just going to list out a few options that are all considered ‘affordable’ in the camera world, that will more than suit your needs.
The Canon DSLR Series – Any Canon DSLR made in the last few years shoots beautiful 1080p video for a very good price!
Nikon DSLR’s – Honestly I don’t know a huge amount about Nikons but I do know a few are able to shoot video in the same specs as the Canon’s
Panasonic Lumix GH Range – Another range of incredible cameras, especially the GH4 which can be picked up for around £1000
Sony A7S – A relatively new camera to the game with incredible low light abilities! Perfect for roof missions!
GoPros – Everyone knows and loves the GoPro! Every year these guys seem to release a new camera that is lightyears ahead in terms of specs, leaving everyone else to try and catch up. Very compact and very cheap for what you get!
Smartphones – Nowadays almost every smartphone has the ability to shoot seriously good video! Stop taking selfies and start making use of whats in your pocket!
Before I move onto my next point, I just want to stress how important it is that what camera you have really doesn’t matter. Everyone has heard this saying but its worth reiterating because its so true! Its not the camera, its the photographer behind it! Stop worrying about not having the latest bit of kit and instead find a creative way to achieve what you want with what you have.
Memory Cards & Batteries!
This is a short one but its easily one of the most vital parts of this planning stage…
Make sure you have enough fully charged batteries to get you through the day.
Make sure you have previously taken off old footage from your memory cards and backed it up, before formatting them ready for the next shoot.
I have experienced the negative repercussions of failing to do both of these too many times and its never fun! My personal tip – if you’re going out filming the next day, prep your bag the night before, charge all your batteries, check your cards are clear and then do everything again in the morning before you leave.
I know points like these may not seem like tips to improve your videos, but trust me! When you miss an awesome shot because you ran out of batteries, or format a card containing an epic roof mission you thought was backed up, those things definitely don’t improve your videos either!
What Tripod, Glidecam, Slider, Crane, Drone, Helicopter or Nuclear Submarine do I need?!
This is another question I get asked a lot and the simple answer is this.
You don’t NEED any of these to improve your videos.
Granted, some will provide you with the ability to capture shots that may improve your videos IF you put the time in to master them. But none of these items are a quick fix to suddenly making your videos incredible. (Apart from the nuclear sub, if you can film a video on one of those then its going to be pretty cool!)
Once again, this is another topic I will cover in more depth in a separate blog but much like I did with the cameras, I will briefly touch on each piece of kit below.
Tripods – Considered an essential piece of gear in the video world and although I would recommend owning one, be aware that too many static shots can sometimes takeaway from the dynamic fluid movement of your average freerunning video.
Glidecams, Gimbals & other Stabilisers – My personal preference when it comes to filming freerunning or anything requiring camera movement. They take all the shakiness out of moving footage allowing you to run alongside your subject.
Sliders – They can produce beautiful sliding shots but are often hard to transport, expensive and many of their shots can be replicated with a Glidecam style stabiliser.
Cranes – Allow you to create a tonne of awesome shots but are similar to the slider in the sense of being expensive and awkward to transport. Not the type of thing you’d bring out to a casual training session.
Drones & Helicopters – An item that is actually becoming very affordable and has the ability to give you a field of view rarely captured on camera. Requires serious time to really master the controls of one and are now being banned in many areas due to how common they are.
As I said previously, I will cover all of these things in more depth in a separate blog, but for now, if I were to recommend one piece of ‘support’ to improve your videos, it would be a stabiliser. I use my Glidecam on almost every shoot I work on and once you have mastered it it can be such an asset to your catalogue of skills.
Learn the book, then throw the Book away!
Unlike the ‘Memory Cards & Batteries’ section, this is not something you want to be doing the night before you head out to film. This is more something you want to focus some time on learning if you want to take video making a bit more seriously.
What I mean by ‘Learn the Book’ is know how to use your gear the proper way. Its great to grab your camera, point it at something and experiment with the settings wildly until it looks cool but if you are thrown into a scenario where you are required to shoot to a specific standard when it comes to things like shutter speed, ISO and aperture, you need to be able to perform without hesitation.
Another huge benefit of knowing your gear like the back of your hand is that once you do, you can be quick in situations where you need to be.
Imagine you’re out training and someone is about to do something huge for the first time. You grab your camera, point it at the subject and realise the image is horrendously over exposed. Unless you know how to remedy that issue in the correct way in a matter of seconds, you’re going to miss the shot.
So where can you learn everything? Youtube! Websites! Maybe even here in these blogs?! What I’m trying to say is the internet is an unlimited resource for learning everything you need to know about filming and making videos. If you want to learn how to use your camera, head to youtube and spend a couple of hours watching tutorials, then put this into practice and before you know it your camera will feel like part of you.
So why do I then say ‘Throw the Book away?’ I say this because like I said at the start of this blog, you need to find your own path. Most of you reading this are probably freerunners and something we all do very well is take the rules and bend them so that we can be creative and express ourselves. Just because technically your shutter speed should be double your frame rate ‘because thats what they do for films,’ doesn’t mean thats what you have to do! A camera is just a tool to create so get hold of one and go crazy and put yourself into your work because thats what makes it unique!
Work with a good team!
Just to clarify, I certainly do not mean that you have to work with ‘the best team of freerunners’ to make a good video. I mean work with a group of people who you get along with and share the same vision. This may be a your freerunning team or maybe just some talented guys who you want to make a video with.
The reason being is that to create something really nice, it usually takes a good deal of communication and patience from everyone involved to make sure you capture something you are truly happy with. If you and your friends are heading out with the intention of shooting a video, you all need to be focused and set on that goal. Otherwise halfway through the day someone might get bored and want to head to a different spot to train when you and the other guys are trying to plan out a group run.
Working with athletes can, at times, be dangerous and therefore you need to know, to the best of your ability, how these athletes work so that you can minimise the likelihood of anything going wrong.
A short example:
You’re filming your friend doing a jump between two high roof tops. You are standing on the takeoff roof with your friend with the intention of waking towards him with your glidecam as he does the jump. He’s prepping the run up over and over but due to a lack of communication you don’t know exactly when he’s actually going to jump. Worst case scenario – he starts running, you weren’t expecting and aren’t ready so you shout for him to stop. He hears your shout and is distracted from the jump which leads to him falling into the shark infested waters unfortunately positioned below.
Obviously its an extreme scenario but it doesn’t take away from the fact that good communication and understanding of each others movements leads to a safer and overall better video.
Another point to touch on is that sometimes you may need to shoot a run or movement a number of different times from various angles to achieve the shot you want. Working with a team who understands that is so much better than trying to ask someone to do something again when they really don’t want to.
This is something that is definitely not required to improve your video, but at the same time, it can make such a difference so its always worth looking into. Its a known fact that people get bored of seeing the same thing, so unless you really need to shoot at that training spot you always film at, have an adventure, go off the beaten track and find somewhere else that looks awesome on camera.
A good example would be Storm Freerun : Barcelona, a video we shot at the start of 2014. If we were to put Parkour and Freerunning in two categories, large Parkour style movements usually require and environment relatively suited to them, whereas Freerunning flip style movements can be performed in more varied locations. Therefore, whilst staying in the centre of Barcelona for a week, we divided our time up equally between filming at known training spots (for Parkour movements) and heading to more picturesque tourist locations (for the Freerunning.)
Another thing to bear in mind is making your locations work well alongside your music. If you’re planning to use some grimey dubstep or heavy rock, its probably best to find locations that complement the song choice. Gritty estates and alleyways maybe? Then on the other hand, a tranquil piano melody may call for bright open spaces and beautiful scenery.
Obviously as I have said before, none of these points are official rules on how to make a good video, they’re just what usually seems to work. For all I know, you may be able to create the best video ever made using Ludovico Einaudi and the most gritty dangerous estate of your city.
Now that we have touched on music, this brings me onto my final point of this blog…
Choosing the right song!
Music can and will, make or break your video! No matter how much you love the song and fill the video with cool moves, if the general audience doesn’t like the music, their chances of liking and sharing it are severely diminished.
Obviously and most importantly, you are making this video for you, therefore by all means i’m not saying choose some middle of the road radio friendly crap for every video you make. But, if you are going to stick it on youtube in the hope of people sharing your video, you just have to take into consideration how your audience might feel about your song choice.
Personally, when it comes to planning, music is pretty much vital. I hate going into a shoot not knowing what music i’m going to be using in the edit. There is so much depth to music that can be extruded simply by placing a certain clip or transition in the right place and because of this its so useful to find a song, listen to it loads and create a rough plan of how you want your video to look in relation to the music.
That way, when you head out to film, you already know that your song has a 20 second long introduction, therefore you need something suitable to fill that space. You also know it has a really fast paced heavy section halfway through that needs some super fast movement with multiple angles to fit there. You get where i’m going with this…
The right song and the right plan can create the lid of a puzzle box in your head, you can envision the final product and how its supposed to look. All you need to do now is capture all the parts and piece them together in the edit.
Well that concludes what I have to say in regards to improving your videos through careful planning and preparation. In some ways I’ve only covered the tip of the iceberg but hopefully it has helped you and opened your eyes to a few things you may not of taken into consideration.
My next blog will be ‘Part 2 – Shooting’ where I will cover a whole range of tips and tricks to improve how you go about capturing your footage.