You won’t have access to your best gear and a full crew on a remote shoot, but you can still make something cool. Use these tips when you have no time, no help, and few resources.

It’s not always possible to do things the way they’re supposed to be done. Especially when you’re a filmmaker. Sometimes you’re in the middle of nowhere, you only have a few hours, and the only other person there is the one that you’re supposed to be filming. You have no help, no time, and no resources. I’ve dealt with this situation quite a few times over the years, and I’ve learned a few things along the way.

As filmmakers, each of us is the product of our experiences; my experiences have taught me that necessity is the mother of invention. On a remote shoot, the key is learning how to take lemons and make lemonade. The video below might give you a head start.

These are not rules to live by – just the musings of a fellow filmmaker who has been through a thing or two on the road.

Here are some universal tips for any filmmakers on a remote shoot.


Prioritize Slow Motion on Short Shoots

How to Shoot a Documentary in a Remote Location – Desert Photography

This tip is best applied when you have have a small window of shot time. If you have just a couple of hours with your subject or a few small stretches of time to capture the story, shoot slo-mo as much as it makes sense.

The reason for this isn’t so much about a cinematic look – it’s a matter of functionality. With slow motion (particularly 50-60fps) every second you shoot is worth two seconds of content. This means you can fill an edited timeline and cover more interview with b-roll than if you were shooting in standard speed. As an added bonus, you’ll get some cinematic and epic footage.


Embrace a Super Wide Angle Lens

How to Shoot a Documentary in a Remote Location – Cacti

If I could bring only one lens with me on a project, it would be a wide angle lens like the Tokina 11-16mm f2.8. I find this lens gives me the most versatile ways to shoot in tough situations.

This lens has an especially close minimum focus distance, which means you can get very close to your subject without being out of focus. This allows for dynamic and intimate close-ups.

On the flip side, with the ability to go as wide as 11mm you can achieve epic wide shots without having to cover as much ground. This is a powerful quality in impressive locations like the desert.

How to Shoot a Documentary in a Remote Location – Desert Canyon

Since the lens is so wide, it also has a deep depth of field, which means you’re not worrying so much about critical focus. You can just move about the scene, capturing it how you want. I find this way of shooting to be the most free-flowing and stress free.


Keep Gear Out of the Way

How to Shoot a Documentary in a Remote Location – Desert Hike

This is the most important bit of advice I have to give you.

I used to spend so much time and energy packing and carrying every single piece of gear that I could fit. Eventually I realized it was showing in my work – being constantly stressed and tired, I wasn’t paying attention to developing a good story, much less the beautiful surroundings I was capturing. When you’re fumbling with equipment you become a less perceptive shooter.

How to Shoot a Documentary in a Remote Location – Open Road

For example, I used to shoehorn a gimbal setup into all my shoots. Then I had a particularly difficult shoot and decided to take the camera off and finish the whole thing handheld. Nowadays I almost never use a gimbal.

Instead, I discovered simple techniques that achieve similar results. By shooting super wide in slo-mo,  moving very carefully through each scene, and adding warp stabilizer in post, I can very easily pull off a similar (if not better) result than a gimbal shot. Before you grab your pitchfork, remember that this tip applies to shoots with serious limitations. Using minimal equipment, you can pull off gimbal moves with a handheld, and most people will never know the difference.

How to Shoot a Documentary in a Remote Location – Golden Hour

At the end of the day, good content is good content. Don’t spend all your time on a shoot stressing about setting up that gimbal or slider or whatever it is. Just get the best shots you can and make sure you’re not letting the gear dictate the result.


Get more filmmaking and photography tips, tutorials, and insight in these articles: