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How to Set Up and Direct a B-Roll Camera on Small Video Productions

When you're shooting video, it's a common practice to have a "second shooter", someone who films from a different angle to give you a range of footage to work with.

But how do you make sure the second shooter is positioned in the right place? And how do you ensure that the cameras are matched as closely as possible, especially when it comes to color and frame rate?

In this short video tutorial from my Instructional Video course, you will learn how to get your cameras properly matched. You will also learn how to communicate what you need with your second shooter.

The Setup

Before you start rolling, it's important to make sure that you have your cameras matched as close as possible, especially when it comes to color and frame rate.

Using two of the same camera, in this case the Canon C100, camera matching is fairly easy: use the same settings for shutter speed, white balance, and picture profile. Matching two different cameras is a bit trickier.

Frame Rate

Frame rate is easy. Most cameras have 24p or 30p, and unless you're doing something special you'll simply make sure each camera is using the same frame rate.

White Balance

Our lights for this shoot were pretty close to daylight color, and we also had pretty cool daylight light coming in from the kitchen window, so we set the white balance on the cameras to daylight.

Shutter Speed

The two fluorescent lights I used as the key light can cause a little bit of banding if the shutter speed isn't set quite right. The banding produced by these lights is extremely subtle, and it's very hard to detect, but it's best if it can be avoided. Because we usually shoot in 24p, 1/48th of a second shutter speed is what we usually use, but I have found that 1/60th of a second works better for eliminating banding on these particular lights.

Picture Profile

With the white balance and the shutter speeds dialed in on both cameras, next you need to make sure that the picture profiles match.

I set my camera and I had Andrew set his camera to something called Wide DR, which stands for wide dynamic range. Wide DR is a picture profile that uses a gamma curve that squeezes a lot of detail into the codec. It looks great right out of the camera.

I also had both cameras shoot a few seconds of a grey card, and I used this to help color correct the white balance in post-production. Usually, it doesn't take much tweaking if the white balance is set right in camera, but it definitely helps with multiple cameras. This is especially true of different camera models and brands of camera.

Exposure: Aperture, Neutral Density and ISO

Use a light meter to get a reading of what exposure settings you should use. In our case, that was f/5.6 at 1/60th of a second in ISO 800.

With the white balance, shutter speed, ISO, and picture profiles matched on your cameras, you should have everything looking pretty similar. On our shoot, Andrew's camera was looking a little more blue than my camera, but for all intents and purposes, they were as matched as they could ever be.

How to Direct the B-Camera

Direction and communication are key to making sure your second shooter gets what they need to make the final video a success.

Set Them Up to Give You What You Want

I went over the details of the shoot ahead of time with Andrew. But when he got to the shoot, we went over exactly where his camera would be located and tweaked the setup a little bit so that he was comfortable. He had the idea to get his camera up high so that he could shoot down into bowls. I thought this was a great idea, and found him a little stool that got him up off the ground, about eight inches so that he could reach his camera controls.

Instructional video setup showing second shooterInstructional video setup showing second shooterInstructional video setup showing second shooter

On this shoot, the second shooter was be responsible for covering all the details in all of the action shots. I directed Andrew to cover Cheryl from the side when she was talking, and then whenever she was doing anything with her hands or when she was pointing to anything to cover that with a closeup.

Because this is a real kitchen, not a set, and I have four young kids, it was not easy getting all the surfaces in the kitchen camera ready. I asked Andrew to use his 70-200 millimeter lens, in order to compress the shot and show less of the background. Backing up and shooting with a little bit more of a telephoto lens helps that because, compared to a wider focal length, the subject stays the same size and you see less of the background.

Andrew are also brought a 23-inch monitor to use on the floor as his camera monitor, because he has trouble focusing on the tiny 3 inch on-camera LCD that comes with the camera. This went extremely well for their production because, from my position, I could see his shot very clearly, and monitor what he was doing.

Work Together

Andrew and I have worked together on many, many projects over the last eight years. This working relationship means that I don't have to scrutinize his camera work. I know that he's a competent shooter, director and producer. If he didn't get a shot quite right, he would ask to do it again or stop the action on the spot to make sure that he didn't miss something that would have been impossible to get a second time, like mixing in the last of the ingredients. I expected him to do this and it was exactly what I wanted.

To some, this may seem like Andrew was out of line: halting the action and directing the talent for a shot that he needs. I don't see it that way. I know that when Andrew interjects he isn't trying to take over my production, he's trying to help it. I trust him.

I couldn't coach Cheryl, watch my camera and watch his camera at the same time, so this was a great help to the production. He had to cover all the tight action stuff. And if he didn't get it right, it would have hurt the production because I wouldn't have those shots to cut to in the edit.

This sort of working relationship comes with time. If I was using another shooter who I hadn't had much experience with, they might not feel as confident to stop action and get the shots they need because they might not feel that it was their place. In this situation, I would have to explain exactly what I wanted them to do upfront, but I would also have to watch out for them trying to over-direct the talent. It's definitely a fine line to walk. But when you have the right people on your team, it just works.

The Advantages of Working in a Small Crew

A lot of pressure is lifted off your shoulders by having an excellent crew to work with on your shoots. A crew allows you to focus on coaching the talent's performance, which really helps raise the level of production.

Again, good communication is everything. In an email I sent to Andrew the day before the shoot, I gave him a full recap of the scope of the production, what I wanted him to bring, and what I expected him to do. I specifically told him that we would be setting up for a few b-roll shots and I was also open to any additional ideas for b-roll shots that he had.

On the day-of, I also needed to make sure that we fully covered the material in the script. In other words, I was welcoming creativity in my second-camera operator, but that creativity could only happen after we covered all the content that we had planned for. I couldn't sacrifice getting the content nailed down for a few cute and creative shots.

Watch the Full Course

As companies work to build brand loyalty, product awareness, and cut down on support calls, instructional videos are becoming very popular. With the right personality, instructional videos can become entertainment!

In the full course, The Instructional Video, you will learn how to put together a high quality, multi-camera instructional video. In the next few lessons you will see a collection of highlights from the shoot, and you will learn how to coach talent, prep shots, stay on schedule, deal with problems, and more.

You can also find a huge selection of useful video resources on Envato Market.

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