Multi camera filming tips

Multi camera filming tips showing actors on set
Filming the opera ‘A Quiet Place’ by Opera Zuid. 4 different shots edited from 2 x 4K cameras.

Multi camera production

Working on my own as a freelance videographer, I can offer my clients the option of multi camera filming for suitable projects. Filming with more than one camera allows me to film a wider range of angles for any suitable event, performance or interview. These additional camera angles enable me to edit together highly professional and dynamic films and promotional videos. Using the latest 4K and Ultra High Definition (UHD) cameras, I am used to filming at performance venues and locations within the UK and also around Europe.

Setting up time

However, setting up more than one camera on your own does require much more preparation time. Multi camera projects need more time to prepare and pack your extra kit. As well as setting up each individual camera kit on site, it is necessary to explore which camera position and what kind of camera support is preferable for any given location and event.  Arriving at the filming location much earlier than normal will ensure you have sufficient time to manage what can be a very complex set up. When possible, being able to ‘test film’ any rehearsals offers an opportunity to assess and improve the quality of all camera movements, positioning, exposure and framing prior to the filming of a live performance.

Camera supports

For the camera being used to follow the main action, it’s usually preferable to use the best fluid head tripod so as to follow any action smoothly on a tighter framed shot. For any other locked-off cameras that are being set up, other tripods or stands that you have and can manage to carry can be used. Consider different types of grip to fix the cameras to whatever solid poles and structures are available at the location. A mix of small clamps and brackets don’t weigh much and can easily fit in your kit bag for air travel. My very flexible Leitz 14100 tabletop tripod with a large ball head is great for placing at the edge of the front of a stage or on any flat, angled or undulating surface.

Power supplies

Multi camera filming means you need more extra supplies of everything to ensure you can keep rolling continuously. This is especially true when it comes to camera power and batteries.  For filming with long takes or complete theatrical or operatic performances, I’ve found that it’s essential to use mains power to supply each locked-off fixed position camera. Using mains power is also less stressful than worrying about your battery maybe going flat during a performance. If you are using camera batteries, put a numbered label on each one so that you can tell which ones work the longest and which ones are prone to running out more quickly.

Camera data cards

Multi camera filming gives less time to manage the operation and monitor each individual camera. It’s sometimes both helpful and more realistic to keep all the locked-off setup cameras rolling even between short breaks in a performance. To allow for this constant filming (especially when filming in 4K) I now use much larger SD data cards for each camera. Also, by filming with two SD data card slots in each camera, I can ensure that each camera records for as long as required. In this case, it is advisable to use the most reliable, highest quality and fastest data cards. Personally, I’ve always used SanDisk SD cards during my multi camera filming and they have never let me down.

Multi camera filming camera positioning

Filming with multiple cameras works best when there is sufficient space to position each camera correctly and safely. Consideration needs to be given to the framing of any action, also the lighting of the subject and the background of each different camera angle.  If your subject being filmed has to move around the set, then it is useful to watch any advance rehearsal or to ask to see what the range of movement will be which will allow you to frame each camera separately for the action.

Camera exposure settings

On one recent filming project, one dancer was wearing white and the other dancer wearing black. For some of their performance, the dancers were lit with overhead spotlights. The challenge for me here was to set the camera exposure correctly so that the white costume would not overexpose or burn out under the bright lights. Filming live creative and theatrical performances may mean that your ability to expose the shot correctly for the camera is limited by previously designed costumes and lighting. Some productions are not suitably lit for filming purposes. This means that, if these productions are being filmed, the lighting of the scene may vary from being very dark to being very bright according to the stage lighting set up. One way I have found to manage this, whilst working on my own when exposing in manual and filming with multiple cameras, is to establish if possible what will be the brightest part of the scene and set any unmanned locked-off cameras for that brightest moment. Also, some lights being used may run at different colour temperatures to others and this will be more noticeable to a video camera so do check with the lighting team before filming.

Recording sound

Using a higher quality 24-bit digital audio recorder enables you to record the highest quality sound which you can then sync easily to any camera guide sound in post-production.  My Tascam DR-701D 6 -track audio recorder allows me to connect a range of microphones from different positions or sound desk mixer out tracks if required. Also, consider the possibility of connecting additional radio mics to each camera to record any individual instrument or sound.

Camera codecs

Consider which camera codec and which quality setting to record with. Ask yourself what is required of the media after filming. Will you be managing the post-production yourself or will someone else’s workflow and post-production system need to be considered? Having an overview of the production and post-production process will help you ensure that you deliver the highest quality, most suitable and most compatible media for any given project.

Backing up camera media

Filming with multiple-cameras also means you will need to carefully manage much more data. It’s always a great idea to back up any recording immediately onto hard drives using a laptop. Organising your camera media into separate camera folders can also help prevent any confusion when a great deal may be happening around you at the same time. Creating one or more clones of that hard drive data is the safest way to secure your data. Always make sure you have a checked copy and clone before you clear down your camera data cards.

Filming kit security

Filming solo with multiple cameras means you need to ensure that all your own kit is set up in a safe and secure way. Consider the teams of people that are working around you and make sure they know where everything is being set up and placed. When carrying lots of gear, you need to make sure your kit will be safe from potential theft or possible damage. Think about the health and safety issues which may affect you when considering whether to accept any new commission.

Multi camera post-production

Filming with two or three additional cameras means managing two or three times as much data so having enough media storage becomes an important issue. If your camera media needs transcoding, or any further workflow prior to editing, then this will also add significant extra post-production time. You then have the fun of editing all your amazing footage with multi-camera editing and then delivering a whole beautiful production that you’ve produced, filmed and edited all on your own!

Multi camera filming

Multi camera filming is a great way to add value to any high-quality production. Modern smaller lighter cameras are a great solution for multi-camera filming of theatrical and operatic performances, live gigs, music promos and one-off events.

Do you have any tips and tricks for filming solo with multiple cameras?  It would be great to hear them.

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Julian Langham

Julian started his career in media in 1994; shortly after Julian was invited to join the BBC where he was quickly promoted to Editor. Julian left the BBC to develop his freelance career in 2009. Highly-practised and skilled in constructing engaging narratives, Julian’s key strength is his ability to produce strong visually-led stories. In his work, Julian shares his passion for creating powerful synergies between story content, visual rhythm and music.