In this episode, you’ll learn pro video tips with Sara Sampey, our director of video services, and Jake Ammann, our lead videographer. The team offers insightful suggestions on how to capture video for various formats; how to be stealthy and get the perfect shots; and how to plan your shoot so you get exactly what you need—and more. Get ready to make memorable videos for those big college events students won’t want to forget.
For even more great resources, check out our blog, How to Capture Commencement: Pro Filming Tips from Interact’s Video Team.
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Welcome to the Community College Marketing Masterclass, where we explore the latest conversations happening in higher ed, including trials and triumphs and recruitment equity, guided pathways, retention, and beyond. With more than 25 years of experience working with nearly 1,000 community colleges nationwide, Interact is proud to share best practices and insights from experts around the country. Tune in now for another great discussion with your host, Sara Sampey.
Sara Sampey: Hi, everyone. I’m Sara Sampey, director of video services here at Interact. And today, I’m speaking with our lead videographer, Jake Ammann. We’re having a discussion about how to film large events like commencement, sports, recitals, and plays. I thought about the questions we get asked when we work with colleges and thought about the bandwidth you usually have available within your marketing department.
With that in mind, we wanted to talk about some ways you can shoot these large events on your own when you don’t have the time or budget to bring in the experts. So with that, Jake, what are three tips you have for us if I was looking to collect some marketing material? What three things should I consider?
Jake Ammann: I think one thing you should consider before you start filming anything is making sure that you have permission from the people in the video. So, photo and video releases. It’d be a real bummer if you film an event, and then someone that was in the footage or in the photos decided that they didn’t want to be in the photos or videos anymore, and you had already made a video with it, or ads.
So, first of all, make sure you have photo releases. And then, it’s helpful to know what the end result you’re going for is. So, if you’re filming an event, is it for documentation purposes? Do you want the whole thing filmed? Or are you going to be making some sort of ad with it?
Do you just need some slow-motion glamor shots because you’re just going to use some B roll for an advertisement? Are you doing photos? Do you need headshots of people? Are you planning on making a billboard or flyers with it? Knowing the end product will help you decide what you need to do on the day of the event. That way, you can make sure you have the materials at the end of the event that you need.
And then, a third tip is knowing what you’re going for. Knowing the end result is really helpful. But then, also sometimes shooting extra, covering all your bases. Getting wide shots, getting shots of individuals, and then maybe shooting horizontal and vertical. Just getting what you came to get and then grabbing some other stuff.
You never know six months down the road … maybe you’re making a brochure, doing a trifold, and you need some long vertical photos. Then it really comes in handy to have that stuff. So it’s good to shoot extra, but definitely have a plan for what you’re trying to accomplish on the set day of an event. Those are three helpful tips for shooting live events.
Sara Sampey: Yeah, those are all really good ones. I can think of times where, even with your last tip, knowing what we were going to shoot could have really helped us figure out different angles. Do we really need this wide? Should we be tighter? I think that’s a really great thing to consider.
Jake Ammann: Yeah, it’s huge. Because say you’re shooting a video, you can get shots for the edit that you have in mind. And when you do that, the final product comes out looking so much more polished. You can do creative things with transitions, or if you have an opening shot in mind, on the day of the shoot, you can try to get a closing shot to bookend it.
It makes it just look a lot more well thought out. It opens up way more possibilities than just trying to go out and shoot whatever you see in front of you and then get back and try to put it into something. I mean, you can do that. You have so many more possibilities when you’re thinking about the end product from start to finish, and when you know what that is.
Sara Sampey: Yeah, it probably makes it look a lot more professional, even if you don’t have the team or anyone to do it. You mentioned in your first response something that I think a lot of people don’t think about, which is asking, ‘should I film this vertical or horizontal?’ How should I decide that?
Jake Ammann: I would say it depends on where you plan on sharing the final product. So, if it’s going to YouTube, horizontal, probably unless you plan on doing YouTube Shorts, which are kind of new and being promoted now. So, horizontally for YouTube, or any photo, video pre-roll, probably. But, if you want to make an Instagram Story or a TikTok, or Instagram Reels, those are all a vertical format. So then, definitely shoot those vertically.
There are some ways that you can shoot for both, but it’s trickier! Because framing becomes an issue. Trying to keeping your subject in the middle of a horizontal frame, and then being able to crop it for vertical and have it not look really punched in can be difficult. It can be done, but it’s better to shoot for the aspect ratio that you plan on sharing it to.
It just depends on where you plan on sharing the final video or photos. Whether it’s a square, or carousel. All that type of stuff comes back to knowing what your final deliverable product is going to be before you even shoot because that is going to dictate what and how you shoot it.
Sara Sampey: I know that for us, it’s a pet peeve when we get assets that are vertical, but we’re making something that is horizontal, or vice versa. Or it’s shared that way, and it can look kind of silly. There are ways, like you said, there are ways around it. There are ways to work with it.
Jake Ammann: If you have to, yeah! There are creative ways you can frame things to make it work. Especially if you have cameras that can shoot really high resolution, that helps, but that doesn’t solve all the issues with that. Because sometimes if you have a vertical photo, and then you have to put it into a horizontal sixteen by nine, say it’s a photo pre-roll. Not only can the crop be really awkward, because it can crop off so much of the top and bottom that you’re left with just a really zoomed-in shot of someone’s face.
But then, on top of that, it ends up having to scale it up so much that the photo becomes really pixelated. And it’s generally just a lot harder to work with than photos or videos that were shot with a specific aspect ratio in mind from the beginning.
Sara Sampey: You also mentioned something in there about pixelation and quality. Let’s say someone is really used to just shooting in natural lighting. What if they’re now going into an auditorium where it’s really dark? Or, a sporting event, like a basketball court where it’s really bright? What are some different considerations that they would need to think about with the lighting?
Jake Ammann: Generally, in low light, there is only so much you can do. If you have a camera with interchangeable lenses, you can go to a faster lens with a lower F-stop, or you have a camera with a better sensor for low light.
Phones generally, are not great in low light, just because the size of the sensor on the camera is so small. The new ones are getting better, but they’re still not great. It still kind of makes things look soft and mushy, and it’s essentially just de-noising it in real-time.
If you’re shooting on a phone, I would avoid low light unless you have to, like in an auditorium. If you’re shooting a person, you can try to bring them closer to the light. If you have a camera with interchangeable lenses, use a faster lens, raise your ISO.
In really bright situations, generally, it is better for phones. It’s not usually the most flattering light to have them out in broad daylight around noon. It’s just a really harsh light beaming down on them from overhead. So, if you’re trying to shoot something, maybe pull people away into the shade. It kind of depends on the equipment that you have, what your options are, but generally, avoid low light with a cell phone and try not to shoot in broad daylight around noon. Pull them into the shade if you can.
Sara Sampey: I think that’s really solid advice. I know that’s something that we advise our clients about all the time — avoiding outside around noon. Let’s try to get somewhere with at least okay lighting. If you don’t have lighting equipment for an event, there is really no way to light it unless you’re the person lighting the whole event.
Jake Ammann: Yes, or you’re pulling individuals away. But then, they’re removed from the event.
Sara Sampey: What do you think about if I wanted to get a shot of a whole crowd? What’s the best way to do that? Or, what should I be considering or thinking about when I’m going to get that shot?
Jake Ammann: I think when shooting events with crowds, it’s important to get a variety of shots. Get some shots from far away so that you can see the whole crowd and the whole event. Maybe a few different angles of the event. Avoid getting all the equipment, stands, and garbage cans in the background, so you can see the whole event.
But generally, those shots are a little uninteresting. So, I think it’s cool to get a variety of shots. Where you can get some really wide shots that show the whole event, but then some closer-up shots of people in the crowd, so then you can see their reactions and get a feel for the emotion. It’s not just a sea of heads; you see people’s smiles.
Sara Sampey: I agree. I know a lot of people think that’s the shot to get because then you can get everyone in there. But I would say, especially when you’re editing, get it quick. Just a couple seconds, and then the individuals are really who’s going to pull it together and make it interesting.
Jake Ammann: It’s cool to show the event, so you see the scale of it, but that’s not where you’re going to see people’s reactions. And that’s what’s going to trigger people’s emotional response — just seeing the smile on people’s faces. It’s important to get both, but the ones that first come to mind is the wide shot with everything so you can see how big it is. I don’t think that’s the most interesting shot.
Sara Sampey: I agree. Now, if someone wants to do interviews, what are your best practices for doing some quick on the fly interviews at an event like this?
Jake Ammann: The number one thing I would say is try to find a quiet location. That’s going to be the most distracting out of anything if there is a really noisy background, and you can hear people talking or music playing in the background over the person that’s being interviewed.
So, finding a quiet location would be number one. And then, there are a lot of things you can do. You can get a cheap lavalier mic that can even be plugged into a phone. That would increase the audio quality quite a bit. Holding the camera steady, or better yet, a tripod. And that would be awesome because just having the camera shaking around the whole time the person is talking is going to be distracting.
And then, back to the other comment that we’ve made about lighting. Find something with pleasing light, so it’s not too dark and not too bright. Make sure that the person being interviewed is in the light, so they’re not in a shadow. I think all those things make a huge difference and are easy to do with really any equipment.
Sara Sampey: Yeah, it goes back to your first point of knowing what you’re going to shoot and what you want it to look like, and those do help shape it as well. Besides the audio getting cleaner but also knowing what you want it to look like.
Jake Ammann: Yeah, if there is one takeaway, I would say is just find a quiet place. Because I’ve had people send me footage where they filmed interviews on their phones, and they didn’t think about it. And then, there is a boombox playing music in the background of one shot, and you hear people talking in another shot. When you try to cut that together, it’s so distracting, and a lot of people don’t think about it. That’s one thing I’ve noticed a lot of people don’t think about when filming someone talking; moving an interviewee somewhere quiet makes a huge difference.
Sara Sampey: It does. Even little things. I know for us, when we’re looking at classrooms or places on campus to film, the littlest buzz that you don’t think about makes a huge difference when it’s coming through headphones.
Jake Ammann: An air conditioner, your refrigerator, or doors opening and closing in a hallway, or class letting out and kids walking down the halls in the middle of your interview. A lot of people, when you’re setting up for an interview, they think, ‘well, this one hallway is really beautiful. We just remodeled it,’ and it might be true, but they don’t think about the fact that at noon, say, the class is let out, and everyone’s walking through that hallway to get to the cafeteria. And that’s going to completely ruin or throw off the whole interview. It’s just overlooked a lot and makes a big difference.
Sara Sampey: This is something that I think about whenever we shoot something with a large crowd or with a stage that I don’t think we’ve ever really talked about. But how do you stay out of the way of — not only the people on stage — but, more importantly, the view of the crowd? What do you do to minimize that?
Jake Ammann: So, I sneak around like a ninja. I stick to the parameters of the event and then I try to figure out what I want to get a shot of and crouch. Then sneak in there, grab a few shots, and then sneak back out.
And I just do that and bounce around. You can only be so sneaky, but just trying to find someone that I want to grab a shot of, scoot over there, grab a few shots, and then get back to the edges. If there is a particularly dramatic moment someone’s giving a speech, I might wait until they finish their talking point before I run out into the middle. Because I don’t want everyone in the crowd to all of a sudden be looking at the photographer standing in the middle of or in front of the person speaking. Do you have any tricks that you use for not being distracting when taking photos at an event?
Sara Sampey: I usually try to wear black, to begin with, especially for a dark event, and it really helps. Bouncing around from where you need to be to the edge. If you’re not actively taking a photo, depending on what the situation is, I do usually try to stand along the sides and reevaluate the room to try to see what the next angle could be.
There have been times where … one time, I shot commencement, and if someone’s giving a speech, you don’t want to be bouncing around the whole time when people are emotional and really focused. So, crouching is a really great example. I just curled up on the floor, just sitting there, trying to be as low as possible to not get in the way.
Jake Ammann: I don’t think you end up being very distracting when you do that.
Sara Sampey: If you’re really in and out, you have an idea. You get in there. You get your shot. You get out. It’s such a fast thing that if you were in anyone’s way, they’re not really thinking about it that long. It’s not like, ‘oh, man, I can’t see anything.’ It was for 30 seconds you were in the way, and then you’re gone.
To wrap this up, or to start wrapping it up, I know that this past fall, you went to a college, and you filmed part of their basketball games as just some promotional material. Do you have any anecdotes or tips from that experience?
Jake Ammann: It was really fun to do that, actually. I was able to get some really cool shots. I was able to get cool shots of the crowd. I was able to get shots of all the players, cheerleaders, men’s and women’s basketball. It was really like filming any other live event.
I think it really did spice up the ad, though, because it was a pretty lively event and everyone was really excited, and there was a lot of action going on. We put a sign up on the door at the entrance to the gymnasium, telling everyone that there was going to be a recording in progress. I think that is a good tip, for your sake, and the people being filmed sake. Mostly for the people being filmed sake.
I think if everyone knows that you’re going to be there, they’re not surprised once you’re there, and they’re kind of warmed up to the idea that there is a videographer. So, they might be more relaxed around you, and you’ll get more natural footage and shots.
I think that was a helpful symptom of putting up that sign. It was cool because I was there from the beginning to the end. Which I didn’t even need to be there as long as I was. But, just because I was there to grab the women’s game and men’s game, I ended up being there for a couple of hours.
Being that I was there that long, all the players I saw were there watching me film them warm-up. I was getting shots of them on the bench, and they were all relaxed, smiling and goofing off, and I got some really cool natural-looking shots. Even the crowd was hamming it up for me. I think the sign helped a lot. I guess that would be my tip.
Sara Sampey: That’s good! This actually made me think — I know, it’s not sports-related — but you were talking about keeping up with the action. And something like basketball, it’s really easy to figure out where that action is going to be. Obviously, you’re following the ball. We’re pretty familiar with how the flow of sports games go. What if it’s a different event? How do you know where the action is going to be and where you would want to be?
Jake Ammann: If you don’t know already, the best thing you can do is find that out. As the photographer or videographer, go to whoever is organizing the event and just tell them.
Say it’s a play you’ve never seen. Where are people going to be standing? Where can I be without being in the way? And then, what are some of the big moments that we for sure want to capture? And then, where’s that going to be happening, and how far into the event? So, you have an idea of the schedule, the timeline of events, where you need to be at each point.
So, if you’re in the back of the room getting shots of someone, and you look at your watch, and you say, ‘Okay, this big thing is going to be happening in ten minutes, I need to get back to the front of the stage and get to where I need to be for that shot.’ And that’s all things that the photographer, whoever that may be, needs to know, before the event, ideally. Because you could miss the biggest event if you don’t know that it’s going to happen, or when it’s going to happen, or where it’s going to happen. Just asking questions to whoever’s organizing the event, whoever would know, whoever’s in charge. Tell them that you want to make sure that you capture the event as well as possible. And you want to know where are the key moments going to be, and where can I and should I be to get those?
Sara Sampey: Yeah, that’s huge. I filmed a piano recital one time, and normally, I would just stick to the edges like we were talking about. I talked to the person organizing it, and they said, ‘At this moment, there are other things going on. So, if you sneak on stage, you could hide yourself behind the piano and could get this perfect shot with the hands, with a light behind them like a silhouette.’
And had I not talked to the organizer, I would have never known there is going to be this moment, and I can scoot in there and get out. But that’s a great example, great tip, for plays or other types of recitals.
Jake Ammann: Even commencement. If someone’s going to be giving a speech halfway through, then you know, halfway through, I need to be set up in a place where I can capture that. Any event, there are always key moments that you don’t want to miss. And if you don’t know the timeline of events, how are you going to know where you need to be to make sure you don’t miss them?
Just before the event, touching base with whoever is coordinating it and asking them, ‘what are the key moments that we don’t want to miss?’ And ‘where can I be without getting in the way and being distracting?’ So you know your options of different angles you can get, so you can make a game plan before it goes.
Because with a live event, once the ball is rolling, you can’t tell everyone, ‘Hey, I missed my shot. Can we go back and redo that’? So, you have to have a game plan before everything starts moving. Almost always, whoever is coordinating the event, they might be busy, but they want to make sure that you can show off their event they worked so hard to plan as best as possible. So they’re almost always grateful and happy to help.
Sara Sampey: We talked about a lot of topics, a lot of tips. If someone needed to walk away but they could only take one piece of information with them, what would you say is the number one thing to consider?
Jake Ammann: For filming any type of event?
Sara Sampey: Any event type. If someone could only walk away from this podcast with one piece of information, what would you say that is a must, or you have to remember this?
Jake Ammann: Oh, man, that’s tough. Alright. So it’d be really vague or general, but having an idea of what you’re making and where it’s going to go before you start. Because I think that will tell you everything you need to do. Whether it’s framing, or the aspect ratio, vertical or horizontal, whether or not you need to record people talking. All of those things will be dictated by what you’re trying to make and where you are trying to put it.
Thinking of the end product before you start will give you so much direction. It’ll answer a lot of those questions, and you’ll have a game plan on the day of the event. So, whether you’re making a YouTube video or a 30-second ad, you’re trying to get photos for a viewbook or brochure. All of those questions should be answered for you in your head if you know what you’re trying to accomplish on the day of the event. So, that’s my advice.
Sara Sampey: Yeah, that theme was weaved throughout this conversation, too. So, it makes sense to me.
Jake Ammann: I just think a lot of people, they know there is an event going on, and they know they need to capture something of it, and they don’t really think it through more than that.
They just think, ‘well I’ll figure it out,’ or ‘we’ll have the materials. We can figure it out later.’ And that’s natural to think that way! But, it doesn’t result in the best product. You can still always shoot extra stuff, like I was saying, but if there is something in mind that you want to make, it’s better to know that before the day of the event and to plan accordingly.
Sara Sampey: That’s the theme! Thank you, Jake, for chatting with me. And thank you, listeners, for joining! While we talked mostly about shooting video, these tips work just the same with photography. If you’re looking for more of Jake and me, a blog was posted recently where we talked specifically about filming commencement. Visit our website for more content from your 2-year experts.
Thank you for listening to another episode of the Community College Marketing Masterclass Podcast, hosted by Interact’s team of 2-year college experts. For more community college resources, insights, and downloads, including the transcript of today’s show, visit interactcom.com. That’s interactcom.com. And don’t forget to follow Interact on social media and subscribe to this podcast to keep your finger on the pulse of higher ed trends. That’s all for today. We’ll catch you next time.