Any discussion about shooting a good video—or taking a good picture, for that matter—will inevitably come down to lighting.
Once you get beyond the quality of bargain-basement cameras, lighting is quite possibly the single most significant factor in making your video look good.
If you have the space and money to create a studio space for your videos, this can be a very easy task to accomplish, as you can control every aspect of your lighting with a fine-toothed comb. You can acoustically treat your studio to get the best possible sound, and sound-proof it to ensure your videos aren’t full of background noise from passing cars or people talking.
Shooting outside, on the other hand, can be a little hit and miss. It is much harder to control those environmental factors and, for the most part, you will often find yourself at the mercy of mother nature. Still, that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of tips and tricks for us to share with you!
Let’s get into how to record YouTube video outside.
Patience is Key
If you are relying on nature to provide you with the ideal conditions for your video, you will have to accept that you are on nature’s schedule. You won’t be able to make concrete plans, which can make recording videos that involve other people or time-sensitive components (equipment rental, for example) tricky.
Granted, if you live in LA and you need a hot, sunny day for your video, you most likely won’t have to wait long to head outside and record your video. I
f you live in Manchester, England, on the other hand, hot sunny days are much fewer and far between. Couple this with the unreliable nature of weather forecasts, and you have a recipe for frustration.
Of course, you can plan for bad weather, bringing lighting rigs and specialist audio equipment, perhaps even shelter from rain and wind. But you may reach a point where you have so much equipment working to cancel out the unwanted effects of being outside that you may as well just go back inside and record there.
We understand that not every video idea is flexible, and you should want to make the best possible video and if that needs it to be shot outside, you will just have to do your best to plan around what universe throws at you. If you do have some flexibility—such as you would with a video that doesn’t require other people or lots of setting up, then put the video on the back burner if you have to, and be ready to head outside and shoot the next time the weather turns out good. Or bad—whatever you need.
Top Tips for Shooting YouTube Videos Outdoors
So what about when that perfect weather lands, and you are ready to head outside with your camera and make that YouTube video you’ve been planning? Let’s go over some tips for shooting outside.
Sunglasses: When to Wear Them
Generally speaking, you should avoid wearing sunglasses as much as possible when shooting a YouTube video. Eye contact is an incredibly powerful tool in establishing a connection with your audience. It helps to build trust and makes it more likely that any given viewer might become a subscriber.
That being said, you may find yourself filming in harsh sunlight. If you are having to screw your face up and squint your eyes, it’s time to don a pair of sunglasses, since your viewers aren’t likely to build that trust while you are gurning at them.
To sum up; if the sun isn’t affecting your ability to function, try to avoid wearing the sunglasses, but if you are having to squint to prevent damage to your retina, put them on.
Look for the Right Kind of Light
If you have even a basic understanding of lighting as it pertains to photography, you will know that diffuse lighting is always better than harsh lighting.
Harsh lighting—such as you would get from a single bright light source—creates sharp edges and a stark contrast between light and dark areas. This can be great for certain cinematic effects and things like silhouetting, but not so much if you are just talking into the camera. Diffuse lighting, on the other hand, spreads more evenly over the subject and has much softer edges between light and dark areas.
Unfortunately, sunlight is the very definition of bright light from a single point, and on a bright, clear day, harsh light is unavoidable. So how do you get diffuse light when shooting outdoors? Well, if you consider how you would get it with indoor lighting—by having the light reflect off of or pass through a diffuse material, one solution springs to mind—clouds.
If you can shoot during an overcast part of the day, the clouds will act as a natural diffuser for the sun. Another natural diffuser is snow which works by reflecting the light back up, rather than obstructing it on its way down.
Of course, both of these options rely on certain conditions being true outside and, as we established earlier, that’s a risky game to play, especially if you live somewhere hot and dry, where snow and clouds are rare. If you are shooting at darker times, such as dawn, dusk, and night time, you can always use a typical lighting rig to get that nice diffused light, but if the restrictions you face force you to record during the middle of the day under a cloudless, blazing sky, you will just have to make the best of it. Consider shooting in the shade if you can, and if even that is not possible, just make sure the sun is not shining directly into the camera.
Make the Most of Your Setting
Regardless of the reason you are filming outside, be sure to take full advantage of your setting when you shoot.
There may be plenty of outdoor channels on YouTube, but the overwhelming majority of videos on the platform are still shot indoors. If you are shooting outdoors—particularly if shooting outdoors is unusual for your channel—make sure you incorporate your surroundings into the video in a noticeable way.
It could be something as small as framing a shot so that the backdrop is more prominent than usual, or something more grandiose, like filming on a rooftop in the evening with the bustling lights of a city behind you. It could even be something ridiculous, like filming while sitting in a tree (be careful!), but don’t go to the trouble of filming outside if you’re not going to take full advantage of the visuals that nature provides you.
Use Common Sense Regarding Other People
As is sometimes the case on this blog, we need to make it clear that nothing you read here should be considered legal advice. We are not qualified to give it, and the various laws across different regions and countries would make it impossible to give comprehensive advice in any case. Always check your local laws before doing something that could potentially land you in trouble.
There are two things to consider when recording in public regarding other people—what is illegal, and what is legal but might land you in a sticky situation regardless.
For many places in the western world, it is perfectly legal to record people in public. The exception to this rule is often some variant of them having a “reasonable expectation of privacy”, which is very hard to claim in a public place. As an example, gyms, while not technically a public space, can choose to allow cameras in the gym itself. If they did, a person would not be able to take legal action against you for filming them.
If you filmed then in the locker room, on the other hand, they have a reasonable expectation of privacy when they are getting dressed, and you could be in for some serious legal troubles, not to mention a reputation for some questionable behaviour.
There are also matters of harassment to consider. While you might legally be allowed to film someone in public despite any protesting they might make, if you follow them around all day against their wishes, you could end up in trouble for harassment.
The other side of this coin is what is legally allowed but could still be problematic. An example of this might be filming in a public park with children playing in the background. Parents are, somewhat understandably, wary of people filming their children without consent. Whether it is legal or not, they will likely ask you to stop, but it’s worth remembering that emotions can run a little high when you are talking about a parent and their child, so it’s entirely possible things could turn into a physical altercation. The point here?
If you want to film someone’s children, it would be a very good idea to seek permission first. And if you have no interest in filming children but there are children in your shot, maybe mention it to their parents, then they at least have the option to move their children if they don’t want them in your video.
It’s also worth noting that physical altercations are a possibility in any situation where you refuse to stop filming someone, even if you are legally allowed to do so. This may be a risk you will have to accept. Asking permission in advance can help avoid such situations.
The final thing to note here is the difference between public spaces and publicly accessible private spaces. The above example with the gym is a publicly accessible private space, whereas the park full of children would be a public space.
The vital difference here is that the gym may seem like a public space, but it is actually private, and thus it is entirely up to the gym owners what rules they want to set regarding filming and photography. So, if you are in publicly accessible private property, such as a store, gym, swimming pool, etc., and you are asked to put your camera away, do as they say.
In most cases, they will be required to ask you to stop filming before things escalate, but if they have to keep asking and you keep refusing, you will officially become a trespasser on their property, and that is a whole different bag of legal problems.
One of the most significant issues you face when filming outside is dragging your equipment around.
If you have a bulky (by today’s standards) camera, a tripod, a full audio setup, and a lighting rig back home, the thought of dragging all of that equipment outside will understandably be a little daunting. There is an alternative, however, and it is in your pocket.
Or, you know, wherever your phone is right now.
Few phone features have received quite as much attention as cameras in recent years, with every manufacturer from the big boys down to budget models placing a significant emphasis on what their phone’s camera can do. The end result of this little arms race is that you get to take advantage of some remarkably capable camera tech in a tiny package. Especially if you have one of the more premium models, like the latest iPhones or Samsungs, these cameras are not only far better than they have any right to be, given their tiny size, but they also make use of all manner of hardware and software trickery to make taking great photos and shooting amazing videos as easy as possible.
Can a premium phone shoot video that is as good as a high-end recording setup that cost a few thousand dollars?
No, of course not. But it can certainly shoot great video. And, remember, you’re not comparing your phone’s video capabilities to what you can achieve at home in your studio, you are comparing it to what you can realistically achieve outdoors.
High-end phones have plenty of tech to compensate for things like over-exposure and low light, so you could well find yourself deciding that your phone produces better video than just dragging your camera outside, and is also more practical than carrying your whole recording set up outside.