5 Potential Problems When Shooting Video on Location (And How to Prepare for Them)

Joe Oberster Learn

5 Potential Problems When Shooting Video on Location (And How to Prepare for Them)

Let’s face it—making professional videos can be intimidating. There’s a lot that goes into them, from planning to finding talent and worrying about audio, lighting, editing. And that’s only if everything goes right.  

What if things don’t pan out the way you want them to? What if something goes wrong on set? One slipup could ruin everything! 

Chill, friend. I’m here to help you.  

It doesn’t matter if you’re the next Steven Spielberg or you’re using your iPhone to make marketing videos for your small business. I have tips for you that will help video productions of any level. 

Potential Problem #1: Shot in the Dark 

The first step toward great quality video is great quality lighting. You want it to be bright, consistent in color, and hopefully not from directly above (a la gross fluorescent office lighting). 

Not every (or many, for that matter) situation you walk into is going to meet these criteria. This can be a real problem, but I have solutions for you! 

First, be prepared! If possible, I always advocate for a location scout. Well in advance of your video shoot, try to visit the location so you can look around and know what kind of situation you’ll be dealing with.  

If you really want to do a thorough scout, you could even be sure to arrive at the same time of day that your shoot is scheduled to take place. This allows you to take note of how much sunlight is coming in through windows and skylights and how harsh or soft that lighting is.  

Viewing the lighting situation in person can help you decide whether you’ll have to bring supplemental lighting with you, and how much. 

Bonus tips for location scouting

Take note of where available power outlets are in case you are going to be bringing lighting. If you’re really not happy with the ambient lighting at your location, then you’re going to want to bring your own lights to improve the situation. 

Lighting is its own beast that we won’t be tackling today, but a great place to start is by Googling “3-point lighting” and go from there. If you have any questions just let me know, I love to teach and talk about lighting! 

During the location scout, listen for any audio pollution that might make recording audio difficult. Some examples are a generally noisy office, loud HVAC in the room, or the doggie daycare across the street that has outdoor time for their rambunctious fur babies the same time every morning. 

Potential Problem #2: Your Set is a Pigsty 

Set design is important! That can be an intimidating phrase, but good set design can be as simple as ensuring the shooting area’s state looks intentional. Shooting a messy, disorganized scene will be very distracting to your viewer, and they will end up paying less attention to the message you are trying to get across to them. 

This is an easy fix! While you’re on that location scout, take a look around the space and note the cleanliness/clutter, décor, and furniture. You’ll want to do your best to decide where exactly you want to shoot your video to do as much planning as possible ahead of time.  

Use your smartphone to mockup your planned framing, and notice what décor is on the walls, where the furniture is, if there are any windows, etc.  

If there is an opportunity to have your client tidy up a space before you arrive for the shoot, or if you feel uncomfortable moving things around in their space, don’t be afraid to ask them to do so before you arrive on shoot day.  

If you can’t fit in a location scout, be sure to arrive early on shoot day so you have plenty of time to tidy the area or maybe put some décor in place, like plants or other appealing objects. 

Bonus styling tip

If you find yourself shooting video all the time, pack a small bag or case with a few fake plants, a stylish coffee mug, a nondescript book or two, and maybe even a small table lamp. That way, no matter what situation you find yourself in, you will have some set design options if you need them. 

Potential Problem #3: Talent Not Passing the Vibe Check 

You might not have thought about video production this way before, but the person or people you have on camera can be part of your set design!  

The state of the talent and color and pattern of their clothing can have an impact on how the scene is perceived, so you need to make sure the video’s vibe and talent’s vibe are coordinated. Unkept hair can be distracting to the viewer. Wardrobe and the tidiness of your on-camera talent are more important than you realize, and not preparing for this can add to the distraction in Problem #2. 

The best thing you can do to solve this problem is to be proactive. Contact your on-camera talent days in advance and have wardrobe suggestions ready for them. Let them know that, if they can accommodate, you would prefer they wear A, B, or C. This way you run less risk of them showing up in their favorite green and pink plaid blazer. 

If you want full control over this aspect of your video shoot (and have the budget for it), hire a makeup and wardrobe artist for your shoot, and plan to provide wardrobe to your talent. Make sure you get their sizes in advance. As with anything else, the earlier you begin planning, the smoother things will go.  

Bonus on-camera wardrobe tip

There is a lot more to say about on-camera wardrobe. Thankfully, we already broke it all down in our blog post, “6 On-Camera Wardrobe Tips to Get Camera-Ready.”  

Potential Problem #4: Faulty Equipment, Dead Batteries, Missing Gear, Oh My! 

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve packed the car for a production, driven down the street, and then started stressing about whether or not I charged all my batteries—or even brought them with me! 

I kid you not, there have been many times I’ve pulled over just to double check my camera was in its bag. Without reliable (and present) video equipment, you may not be able to perform a video shoot at all.  

Technical issues are also a terrific way to slow down production to a crawl and waste other people’s time. Fear not, I have many helpful suggestions for this one! 

Testing, testing. 

Before you head out for your shoot, be sure to test all your equipment to make sure it is in good working order. Now’s the time to ensure your electronic equipment powers on properly, your camera settings are correct, your light stands aren’t broken, and you have all the right connection cables you will need. You should also make sure that your memory cards are formatted and ready to go (but not before making sure whatever is on them is backed up!). 

If you do come across issues with equipment during a round of testing or during a shoot, make it a top priority to have that equipment repaired or replaced so you don’t have issues in the future. 

Make a list and check it twice. 

Make yourself a checklist to reference every time you have a video shoot. This makes it way less likely to forget to bring or do something.  

Since what I’m suggesting is a list, I think the best way to communicate it to you would also be a list. Here are some ideas to get you started: 

  • Do I have all my equipment packed and ready to go? This includes: 
    • Video camera 
    • Audio recorders or microphones 
    • A tripod 
    • Lighting and power cables 
    • Batteries for anything that needs them 
    • Recording media, such as SD cards or whatever your camera uses. Bring more than you think you need! 
  • Did I charge all my batteries? 
  • Did I format my SD cards so I don’t run out of recording space? 
  • Do I have my script, storyboards, interview questions and/or shot list? 
  • Are my camera settings correct for this shoot? 
  • Have I confirmed the shoot location and time with my client? 
  • Do I have enough fuel in my vehicle to make it to the shoot on time? (Yes, we’re really getting into details now)

Potential Problem #5: Your Shoot is Taking Waaaay Too Long

If you haven’t noticed a pattern in this article yet, the theme here is organization and preparedness. This next one is pretty cut and dry: Be organized or be slow.  

Fumbling around on set, waiting on people, or trying to jump around an undefined schedule are things that will lead to wasted time and money. 

Here is your solution: Pre-production!  

Pre-production is some of the best time you can spend on a project, because it makes everything else easier. This is when you plan out all the little details. Put together a schedule for the day, who you need where and when, what you will be shooting at a specific time, and any other details you don’t want to forget on the day.  

Even planning down to how zoomed in you want your lens to be, or what you want the lighting to look like can save you from taking the time to make decisions in the moment.  

This can also keep you from becoming overwhelmed. You will need to keep a clear head to troubleshoot the kind of problems you can’t always plan for that always seem to pop up. 

So here are some things to keep in mind when planning your shoot: 

  • Schedule for the day 
  • Crew list and their responsibilities 
  • Cast list and who is in which shots 
  • Shot and location lists 
  • Keep your scripts and storyboards on hand 

The most important thing to keep in mind is to stick to your plan! Schedules and lists don’t do anybody any good if they are ignored. Do yourself, your crew and your client a favor and follow through. 

That’s a Wrap! 

My list of 5 potential problems to plan for is a good foundation for your video shoots. Of course, not every shoot or client is the same.  

If there are any tips here that don’t apply to your specific situation, I hope they at least got your brain working to think about the things that you should look out for, and how to better prepare for them to make sure your video productions run smoothly every time. 

If you have any questions at all, or are just interested in chatting about video production in general, I’m always happy to talk! Drop me a line, and let’s get planning!