How to get better video when you’re working solo

“TV is a visual medium, so you have to have good pictures.”

Steve Phillips is a veteran solo journalist for WLOX-TV in Biloxi, Miss., and though his quote may seem obvious, too many TV journalists — especially those working alone — often fail to create visually compelling stories.

Part of the reason is that shooting solo takes a lot of work.  For a routine piece on summer tourism, Phillips went to five different locations for video.  At each location, Phillips took the time to consider exactly what he wanted his video to look like.

“I think a lot about shot composition.  I just moved my camera a bit there to get the phone pole out of the shot.  So much of good video is just good composition, same as it is with a still photo,” Phillips says.

After working on his own for years, Phillips has developed a routine for shooting solo stand ups as well.

  • Always use an earphone to check your audio while you’re still in the field and can fix any problems.
  • Frame the shot to get what you want into the background, and flip the viewfinder so you can position yourself in the frame.
  • Look at it in the field when you’re finished to make sure the framing and the sound are OK.  If not, do it again.

To make his stand ups sound more natural, Phillips also likes to use an anecdote he’s picked up during his reporting for the stand up vs. a recitation of facts.

“Since I’ll be talking directly to the viewers, I think it works better if I’m telling them a little story.”

PhillipsWLOXFor the tourism package, Phillips knew he wanted to talk to people on the beach, so he decided to go without a stick mic and got in close for the interviews.

“It can be less intrusive to go with the shotgun; that mic flag can be distracting,” says Phillips, “I just use the ear buds to make sure I’m getting good audio.”

He also made sure to position himself so that he was shooting all his interviews at eye level — often he was squatting down to talk to someone sitting on a beach towel or kneeling when he was speaking with a child.

For b-roll, Phillips takes extra time to be sure the video is rock steady.

“The lower the camera tripod, the more stable the video, especially in the wind,” he says.

Though Phillips has been around long enough to remember the days of a two-person news crew, he says he doesn’t really miss that.

“I like to shoot; I like to edit; I like that total control.”