I have a confession.  I’m a little bit obsessed with locations.

When working on a project about gentrification, I remember waking up in a panic over the fear of a construction crane disappearing before our actors were available for the shoot.  Would the crane still be visible behind our building in three weeks?

My years of documentary filmmaking has taught me that locations are never the same place twice.  If I scout a park in summer and I film in winter, the feeling will have completely changed as the leaves disappear and the ground becomes covered in snow. 

Even between one day and the next the mood can change.

Weather, sunlight, changing landscapes, time of day, level of activity, number of people present all impact what you can film and how you can create a sense of place in your final edit.

Details matter.  They bring people into the world of your video in both a visual and emotional level.

As more and more video content floods our social media channels and online spaces, the ability to form an emotional connection with the content you produce is becoming even more important.  Use of the right details can help you make a bigger impact.

What do I mean when I say details and how can you make sure you hare capturing what you need?


For each location I film at, I’m thinking about what feelings I want to evoke with my footage.  Depending on the feeling I am trying to achieve, I will change the way I film a scene.  Here are some questions to ask yourself.

What is in the frame – story elements

How can you visualize your story?  What specific elements will you film in order to communicate the feeling of your story? 

In general, you want to make sure you capture the visuals that will support your story. 

If you are talking about a change, then show both the before and after.  If you are sharing a personal story, show images that let your audience get to know the person better.

For more ideas check out this post:  Visualizing Your Story

How much is in the frame 

What is in the frame of your image depends on your story. If you want to build trust and the location you chose is chaotic, can you zoom in on small details and blur out the chaos.  Maybe you are talking about a problem you want to fix, in this case showing chaos might be preferred.  Make sure your camera person knows the story so they choose shots that convey the message you are looking to tell.

What details will evoke the physical senses:  sight, hearing, smell, touch, taste

It may seem obvious to capture sights when filming but what about the other senses.  Don’t forget about capturing the audio on your locations.  This means paying attention to background noises from talking to the hum of a refrigerator or sound of airplanes overhead (unless you want that to be heard in your video).

And what about the other senses.  There are times when it is useful to show the texture of something to represent touch, or the vapors rising from garbage left out in the hot sun to represent smell.  What details will help place your audience in the scene?

What should be left out of the frame

Sometimes as important as what is in the frame is what you leave out.  If you want to show a very active space, maybe filming close ups so people won’t see the empty spaces will help you better tell your story.  Or maybe you want the opposite effect, you want the viewer to experience the isolation of a place so you film only parts of the space without people.



In addition to filming for feelings, there are times when you want to set the stage and show people where you are.  For those times, here are different types of footage to consider.

Capture the surroundings

If you are in an interesting or unique location showing a wide shot of the surroundings outside of the main event helps the audience understand where the story is taking place.  Maybe you want to show that you are in a typical location, in this case showing shots of the surrounding area can help people relate the situation to their own experience.

You might want to capture several types of location footage or simply capture one shot of the surroundings to give a hint of where you are.

Beginning, Middle, End

What is happening at the beginning, middle or end of your event at the location that might give the viewer a better understanding of the location, people there, and different aspects of your story?

Of course this varies greatly depending on the video but I’ll give an example of a Creative Mornings talk.  If you haven’t watched Creative Mornings, check them out online and at a city near you.

These videos are simple lectures, but they always start the video with a scene from the surrounding area, placing you in the specific city where the talk is taking place.  Then they show the people arriving, getting coffee and snacks, and talking to one another.

This simple mis-en-scene of the beginning of the event gives the video a sense of the place, of the type of people who attend, of the opportunity to meet new people and exchange ideas.

Watching this inspired me to explore if there was a group near me, which there was, and inspired me to want to attend, which I have and continue to do and enjoy here in Berlin.  Providing that sense of place inspired me to take action.



In a way this goes back to feelings, but when you are filming with people it is important to actively look for the type of expressions you want to include in the video. This doesn’t mean you look for fake expressions.  But just as you are composing your story based on a very specific context and construct, you have to be aware that you want to select reactions and expressions that go along with the story you are telling.



So how do you ensure your story is told well and that your location is captured?

Think about your story before the shoot:  What are you trying to convey both in terms of information and in terms of feelings

Research the location:  Issues to consider include lighting, sound, availability, access and what will happen, how the events will unfold in the context of the location.  If possible get photos at the same time of day that the shoot will take place.

Schedule enough time for the shoot:  Your camera person or team will need time to set up, time to see the space, time to assess the situation, and time to capture each element.

Tell the camera person your goals ahead of time:  Discussing your goals ahead of time will help the camera person or film team decide on what type of equipment they need to bring, how much time they need to film, how to position themselves at the location, and make other decisions that will help you get the footage you will need to create a powerful story.

For an experienced team, they will ask you questions about all of these areas - your goals, the logistics, timing.  Regardless of who you are working with, It is useful to have these questions in mind before you work with any video person or team as it will only help you strengthen your story.  

Capturing a location well gives you a lot of flexibility in the edit.  Go forth, look at your location with fresh eyes, and have fun.