Three Tips for Shooting Video Outdoors

Cristina at the castle

Do you like to shoot video outdoors? I do. The sunlight looks amazing, especially in the morning and evening.

I could give you many tips for shooting video outdoors, maybe enough to fill a book. But in this article, my goal is to give you three big tips that will dramatically improve the quality of video you shoot outdoors.

By the way, I’m going to assume that you’re shooting video of a person. (The tips would be slightly different if you were shooting video of a building, for example.)

Here we go…

Tip #1

Place the subject between you and the sun. This will light your subject from their back. That’s why the subject is said to be “backlit.”

Why put the sun behind them? A few things happen when you do this…

Your subject gets rimmed by a halo of light. This creates a bright line that separates your subject from the background. Because it appears to be separate, it also layers your subject in front of the background elements, emphasizing the 3D nature of the world — even though the video image itself is a 2D image.

Backlighting also emphasizes your subject’s form. If there is something important about their form that you want to emphasize (pregnancy, cowboy hat, unique nose. etc.), you can use the rim light to emphasize the characteristic.

Also, backlighting places their front in shadow which creates a more dramatic look. This is a good tip in and of itself — if you want more dramatic lighting, place the shadow toward the camera.

Tip #2

Blur out the background behind your subject.

Zoom in on your subject and use a wide aperture so you get a shallow depth of field. People ask me all the time how to do this, and it’s very simple. To get a shallow depth of field requires two things:

  1. A long focal length. If you have a zoom lens, then move it toward telephoto.
  2. A wide aperture (low F-stop, wide iris).

If you open the aperture and zoom in, you’ll get a beautifully shallow depth of field and that will create a blurry background.

Tip #3

It’s possible that your subject won’t stay in one place, so…

Use a fluid-head tripod to follow your subject with a smooth movement. Try to emphasize either tilting up and down, or panning back and forth. My personal preference is to try not to mix them. Either I’m tilting or panning, not doing both (usually).

One bonus tip about using a fluid head tripod: If you have the ability to adjust the resistance, turn it up very high. If you’re like me, you might find you get smoother movements with the resistance turned up. It looks better when you ease into the pan or tilt, and the extra resistance helps create that effect.

Bonus Tip #4

The best time to do backlighting is when the sun is at a 45 degree angle in the sky. If the sun is too low, the light shines directly into the lens, creating lens flare and reducing the contrast in your image.

If the sun is too high in the sky, the light falls too much on their shoulders and head. Also, it creates deep shadows in the subject’s eyes. This might not be the look you want.

I could say a lot more about shooting video outdoors, but these tips should help make a big impact in the quality of your video.

As always, I’d love to hear what’s worked for you and any ideas you have. Please give me your thoughts in the comments…

* Photo by Florin Draghici

14 thoughts on “Three Tips for Shooting Video Outdoors

  1. hi

    I like taking shots outdoors – i am trying to capture children doing their thing. and just googgled the name fluid head tripod – now i know what it means. Good material and thanks


    1. I’m glad you found the material helpful. And yes, a fluid head tripod is very helpful for getting smooth camera movement. It’s one of the first things I recommend people get with their video camera.

      If you’re using a consumer level camcorder, then you don’t need a big expensive fluid head tripod. You can get away with a cheaper one that emulates the movement of a fluid head. They’re usually called “fluid action” tripods or “friction head” tripods.

      Thanks for the comment!

      All the best,


  2. Hi Izzy,

    You are doing a great job.Thanks
    Balebedi in Botswana,keep up with the tips.You are teaching us.

  3. I wonder if you have any tips on zooming? I’ve just moved from a camcorder to a DSLR and I’m having a hard time with any subject that moves either toward me or away from me because of the focus. The camcorder auto focus system worked well in these situations, but the DSLR does not have the ability to focus this way, as far as I can tell. Any tips?

  4. Hi, thanks for that tip.

    Something worries me though. Can you do that kind of shots without additional lighting ? It seems to me the subjet would appear very dark, especially if the athmosphere in the background is a bit dusty and very bright.

    How do you manage that? Can it be enough to rely on light scattered frim adjacent buildings ? Or wozld you have to use some reflector, or a light fixed on the camera ?

  5. Izzy: I shot this scene. I am facing the camcorder. The sun is high in sky directly above and behind me. Everything about the scene is sharp, distinct, vivid, except looking through the lenses at me you cannot see my face, it is hidden in shadow. Other than facing the sun in the shot, how can I in the future shoot the same scene and have the audience actually see my face? (Vixia HF G40) please email me your opinion

    1. The trick to filling in shadow outdoors is to use a reflector. I use the highly reflective white side of a Scrim Jim fabric in a 4×4 frame. A person (or a C-stand) holds it in place just outside of the camera’s viewable frame, and the sunlight bounces off the reflector and into the shadow area of the face. Avoid using the shiny silver side because it’s blinding for the poor subject.

      The one white reflector panel makes a world of difference when shooting outdoors.

      I hope that helps. :)

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