A Video Checklist Before Pressing Record
I'll admit that I don't have a great memory. At all. I forget pretty much anything that I don't write down in my phone. The same goes for production days. It has taken time to train my brain to remember what I need to do before rolling on a video shoot. Below is the mental checklist that I run through in my head before I press record on the camera.
Are cards formatted?
It's a very good idea to format all your memory cards before a shoot. You want a clean slate for your footage, and you don’t want files to get mixed up with other previous videos and photos that are stored on your card. And don't ever reformat until the shoot is complete and you have offloaded all your footage (and backed it up). You don’t want to get your C001, C002, C003, etc., file names mixed up and accidentally overwrite something while in the heat of shooting all day and transferring onto a hard drive. Leave everything on your cards until you are absolutely sure it has been copied to a new location. Then when your next production comes around, you know you are good to go with formatting the card!
Is everything fully charged?
This is an obvious one, but also crucial to never forget. Make sure all your lithium, AA, and internal camera batteries are at 100% before production day so you never have to worry about running out of power. The last thing you want is for a client to notice that you're almost out of battery, or even worse, have to stop in the middle of a take because a battery ran out. I've been there more times than I want to admit, and it can be pretty embarrassing. So always be fully prepared with your battery levels before shooting!
Are lenses and sensors clean?
Even if you think your sensor is clean, double-check it right before shooting and give it a quick blow of air from a dust cleaner. The same goes for your lenses, with making sure to wipe them down with a microfiber cloth (or my shirt sometimes when on the move). After a successful shoot day, the last thing you want to find is that a speck of dust was on your glass for every single shot. It happened to me before, so I now ensure that I have a clean sensor and lens before starting the day.
I won't lie, I am usually always dialed into somewhere between 5400-5700K for the general daylight look, unless I have to adjust a little bit for a specific lighting situation, like 2700-3200K for indoor incandescent/fluorescent lighting. But if time allows, I'll do a full white balance if I'm doing interviews to adjust for skin tones, or if something else just looks a little off. But for the most part, lock into 5500K and you'll be golden.
Resolution and frame rate?
Also double-check that you are in 24 frames per second (fps) before you start recording, unless you need to record at a higher frame rate like 60 or 120 fps for slow motion. And if your camera has 4K resolution capabilities, I personally say to always shoot in that. Sure, it has larger file sizes, but if the output of your project is still only 1080p, you can get away with some wiggle room while editing, like if you need to push in on a subject, or position the frame a little differently.
And finally, you can always start charging clients higher rates if you tell them the video is being delivered in 4K.While 1080p is still the typical industry standard for delivery, some clients value knowing that their video is able to be watched in 4K, and like to be able to market that aspect. It's just another way of selling video, and trust me, it works!
When running around and shooting, I will sometimes, by complete accident, hit the shutter dial and adjust my shutter speed, so be sure to always glance over at that shutter dial before shooting! Sure, you can still get away with shooting at a 60 or 70 shutter speed and be able to edit it just fine in Premiere, but for every small incremental step you dial up your shutter and it's not locked at half your shooting framerate, you are losing that cinematic motion blur that everyone knows and loves. So it's something that is vital to keep tabs on, whether in a controlled studio setting, or on-location all day long.
Be sure to check that level bubble on your tripod after picking up your camera and moving to a new location. I've been on shoots where you are constantly raising and lowering the tripod all day long, and it's easy to forget to re-level the camera before pressing record sometimes. But you want to make sure you do exactly that, so all of your shots are uniform and nothing looks canted. And yes, you can always adjust your level in post with image rotation, but that requires scaling your image up, which makes for a loss of image quality. So it's best to take a few seconds to readjust and make sure it's shot right the first time.
This might sound like a no-brainer with making sure your shot is in focus, but it can be tough to do sometimes if using a small on-camera monitor, or running and gunning with a lens that doesn't have great autofocus. Most modern cameras have built-in focus peaking, so use that as a safety feature to make sure your focus is never soft. Or if you can, use an external monitor to guarantee that you double-check your focus at a glance. You never want to capture an amazing 30-minute interview, only to realize that the sharp focus was on their nose and their eyes are slightly blurry. As I said, it's another one of those things that may seem obvious, but be sure to seriously always give a final look before shooting to make sure your image is crisp and clear!
Lighting is the make or break of any shot. It's, bar none, what sets apart the professionals from the enthusiasts. Make sure there is some form of light exposing your subject no matter what, whether by an LED light, or by the practical lights of a lamp or nearby window. And make absolutely sure that nothing is ever overexposed, including talent or background. Is there a bright window in your shot? Then make sure there is enough light on the subject so you can expose the window properly to prevent backlighting. No one wants to stare at a distracting blown-out rectangle during the middle of an interview or scene. Did you turn on a light, and there are harsh shadows on the face of your subject, along with a glare on their glasses? Then be sure to add some diffusion to the light to soften the shadows, or use a flag to put over the other lights that are getting in the way.
Good lighting is crucial to quality video, and you should make sure that you spend the proper amount of time honing in on making it look as good as possible before rolling.
Is everything leveled and straight? Is the background clean and orderly? Is there visual interest to the shot using the rule of thirds? Once while out on-location, right before shooting, we noticed that there were holiday decorations hanging on the wall. To make sure that the video is able to stay as evergreen as possible and not make it seem holiday-themed, we took all of the decorations down before pressing record. Another real example is that I once did an interview with someone, and they had a strand of hair sticking out that I completely missed. I missed it before shooting, but it was distracting once watching the footage. They weren't pleased, and we had to reshoot the entire interview.
Sometimes I am so worried and focused on the technical side of the shoot, that I forget to analyze if everything in the frame is appropriate. So doing a quick check of the room could prove beneficial, and help you avoid having to dreadfully use the Content-Aware Fill tool in post.
Audio? Mic'ed correctly?
Capturing audio is equally as important as video, but it's not always looked at that way. Think about it, when you click on a video and it has poor quality audio, it's tough to make it past a few seconds. Even if it takes an extra minute or two, always check that your audio is sounding right. Check that the boom mic is pointed at the subject's mouth when switching between interviewees. And if using a lav mic, make sure the wires are neat and covered. After fully checking, and double-checking, that audio sounds nice and clear, then it's okay to hone in on the video.
This may seem like a lot to remember all at once, especially while on-location and in-front of a client with a limited amount of time, but with practice and constantly gaining experience, it all becomes second nature. And believe me, it's worth it to take the time and make sure everything is completely ready to go beforehand on production day, rather than to find out something went wrong and you have to tell that to a client after the fact while editing. And it could have been easily prevented and avoidable with a quick confirmation. The bottom line is to have confidence in yourself and skills, act as an authoritative figure when in the presence of clients, and to believe in your ability to produce an amazing video. You got this!
Here's a small checklist that can hopefully help you visualize the steps on what to do before hitting the big red record button. Did I forget anything on my checklist? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org!
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