Making sure you have the right kit on location

Sam Measure, Technical Consultant at CVP

When it comes to location shooting, preparation is everything. Run out of batteries? Missing a filter? You’re not shooting in a studio with a workroom just round the corridor. You could be halfway up a mountain or in the middle of a rainforest, and spares are hard to come by. So, preparation, preparation, preparation is the key here: think of everything you might need and then think of it again, because there is a distinct lack of Plan Bs once shoots start roaming about in the real world.

Above and beyond that though there are three areas you really need to be zeroing in on to make sure you have all the boxes ticked (four if you include permits, but we’ll let the Location Manager deal with that one). They are: climate, power, and environment.

Climate is the big bad when it comes to cameras. Most are good at high temperatures nowadays, indeed with high temps you perhaps need to worry more about the effect on operators than on the kit, though of course condensation can be a worry in humid areas. Extreme cold is a problem. Not only will your batteries deplete a lot faster than you are used to (though the tip here is to keep them on your body to maintain at least some operating temperature) but if it is too cold, your camera will be unhappy about booting; polar bags are a huge help here. Cables can go brittle and break, and things like touchscreen controls can be a real issue as it is likely you will be wearing gloves! Choose a camera that at least has the option of using physical buttons and bring spares.

Water, and salt water in particular, is a nightmare so make sure everything is thoroughly, protected in specialist bags. The salt gets into connectors and corrodes them, and any water in the electronics is almost an instant write off. Protecting your gear with camera bags and cleaning it after each shoot is essential.

Sand can also be an issue. Shooting in any dusty environment means that the fans will need to be cleaned on a regular basis, and some camera’s fans are a lot easier to reach than others. We recently serviced some kit that went to shoot on a volcano, from which we learned that sulphur eats away at things at an impressive rate.

Power depends on the size of a production. The larger ones will have access to generator trucks, while the smaller ones will usually run off batteries. Either way, you need to make doubly sure you have enough. Those looking to save on juice can, of course, turn to more power efficient equipment like LED lighting, though take enough of those with you and you can end up with a similar sized power problem to large HMIs.

And finally, environment. You need to think about what you’re taking out on location and how well it will safely deploy out there. Also, how close you can park so you don’t have to carry it all the way to set! If the terrain is uneven or soft, it may be tough to set up for a dolly shot, so Gimbals or Stedicam may be a better option.

Last but not least we need to consider light and sound. Sound is often overlooked but is as important as the picture, and if done badly can ruin the narrative. The set up at location, the time and day, you are meant to shoot all have a huge impact. Do your recce on a similar day to one you will shoot on – week days are very different to weekends for example. You don’t want ambient noise such as a school, busy road or even birdsong running the effect if your scene was supposed to have taken place at night. Positioning of the sun, how it sets and rises from which direction on location also needs to be considered.

A lot of it is common sense, some of it isn’t. The rule is to have a plan in place, know where you’re going and what you’re doing there, and then talk to people like us in detail before you go. And once you’ve done all that take out good insurance just in case.