4 Hurdles You Face With Exterior Video Shoots

Using exterior scenes in your video can bring added depth to the project, but it can also bring added headaches if you’re not careful. You can control most, if not all of the elements when you’re shooting in an interior location, especially if you’re using a studio. When you’re outdoors, you have to take a lot more factors into consideration. Here are four potential hurdles you may encounter.

1. Weather

"Uh, guys, I think we may need to do a second take..."

“Uh, guys, I think we may need to do a second take…”

Of the more obvious wild cards. Shoots are usually planned weeks in advance, but there’s no way to predict what sort of weather you’ll have until shortly before the shoot occurs.

We’re talking hours here, a day if you’re lucky. It pays to have some flexibility with scheduling so that if the weather is bad on a given day, you can shoot other portions of the video and reschedule the exterior scenes for a different day. This requires that everyone involved in the shoot have the flexibility to adapt, from the crew to the talent. This is where the balance between production scheduling and coordination comes into play.

2. Lighting

Even if you’re not expecting a deluge, a tornado, or a volcanic eruption (but how cool would that be in the background!) cloudy weather can play havoc with the shoot. Dismal lighting won’t do much to impress the viewers. It’s possible to use artificial lighting in some circumstances, but that requires time to set up and resources to pull off, including portable generators in many cases.

Here comes the sun... oh, and there it goes. So much for the perfect lighting.

Here comes the sun… oh, and there it goes. So much for the perfect lighting.

Even a sunny day can prove problematic in terms of lighting, because the sun has the irritating habit of not staying in the same place for hours at a time. The play of light is especially noticeable if you’re in an area with a lot of trees or buildings. Shadows will move and shift with surprising speed as the day progresses. If you’re doing an extended scene that requires multiple takes, you may be dismayed to see that the shadows appear to take on a surreal life of their own during a relatively short scene that was shot over a relatively long period of time.

Shifting natural light is also something to take into consideration when shooting indoor scenes if the location has a lot of windows. You should always take into account which direction the windows face, and do a little research about the position of the sun at the time of year when your shoot takes place. A southern exposure will be less problematic in summer than in winter because the sunlight will be less direct. Still, you may still need to take precautions such as blocking the windows if they’re not being shown in the scene to avoid lighting shifts.

3. Access

Dealing with the problems nature creates can be a cakewalk compared to obstacles created by humans. Exterior locales may look expansive and open, but getting access to them can be tricky. If a locale appears to be undeveloped (lots of trees, overgrown with weeds), that doesn’t mean it’s unclaimed. You need to do research to see whether someone owns the site, and then get permission to shoot there. Property owners are not always required to post “no trespassing” signs, and even in areas where the signs are required, they can be a significant distance apart, so you may not notice them. Always do your research to find out who has a claim to the site, and then get permission for access in writing. Remember, the video you shoot will be a record of your presence at the location, and it can be subpoenaed and used against you if a landowner decides to charge you with trespassing.

Walk softly, carry a big stick, and get permission to enter

Walk softly, carry a big stick, and get permission to enter

What about shooting from the street? Do you have to get permission from a building’s owner if it’s in the background of your video? Generally, if the building is visible from an area of public access such as a street or sidewalk, you don’t have to get permission. The same is also true of residential buildings including houses in most cases. But be aware that what appears to be a part of a public sidewalk may in fact be sitting on private property, and you will have to get permission to set up your cameras there. The same goes for large open areas in front of buildings. That lovely little plaza with the cool fountain didn’t spring up from nowhere. Find out who controls that area and get permission for your shoot.

Places that are generally considered open to the public aren’t always open for video shoots. Two examples are cemeteries and airports. Yes, generally anyone can get into a cemetery (and the lucky ones will get back out) without explicit permission, but it can still be privately owned and operated, so seeking permission to shoot there is a must. Airports have restrictions on video recording, although those are often eased in certain circumstances (remember all those live shots on the local news showing hectic travellers at Thanksgiving). With security concerns still a top priority in airports, this is definitely one case where it’s essential, if not always easier, to get permission beforehand rather than offer an after-the-fact apology.

4. Noise

Lastly, don’t forget to take noise from an exterior location into account. You may have to go back and dub in dialog and ambient sound if the location is especially noisy (traffic, people talking, music playing from nearby buildings, airplanes going overhead, trains going by, etc.)

Even when you're not driving, noisy conditions like traffic can give you road rage

Even when you’re not driving, noisy conditions like traffic can give you road rage

This requires an experienced hand at sound mixing. You can’t just have your on-camera talent go into the sound booth and dub the dialog by itself. Viewers will notice that the audio seems unnaturally flat. You’ll have to have, at least at a low level, some sound that could reasonable be expected in your exterior location.

Taking all of these factors into account is a lot to juggle. That’s why full-service companies like Hencar are the way to go for complex video projects. We handle all of the legwork needed to get permission for exterior and interior shoots, giving your peace of mind and a lot more time to enjoy the final results.