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10 Tips for the Video Producer on Location in Summer's Heat

photo with a camcorder sitting next to a thermometer set at 110-degrees

Every season I think this is the most fun (or worst condition) to shoot in, but summer's sizzling, scorching, sultry heat is indeed a special challenge.

In the winter, a video producer needs to protect gear from the extreme cold and drizzle from the rain and snow. In the summer you have to protect your gear from the extreme heat... and splashes from water adventures.

I was sitting on a hot dusty slab of tar the other day in the middle of no-where, shooting a field of sunflowers drying in the scalding sun. The torrid heat was almost unbearable and as I sat there, sweating and feeling grumpy, I thought, "didn't I just do this very same shot last year?"

It takes a lot to drag yourself out into 100-degree heat, and your gear doens't like it much, either. Before venturing into the boiling cauldron, check out our 5 tips for the video producer to take care of their gear while on location, followed by 5 tips to shooting great outdoor summer-time fun.

First - Protection. Summer's heat, water, sun and fun can hurt your video camera more than winter's weather!

1. Your Vehicle: You know about leaving kids and dogs alone in a hot car, well, the same concerns can apply to your expensive gear.

  • If you can take just one item with you when you are scouting your location, take the camera, leave the rest of the gear in the car.
  • If you have to leave the camera in the car, the trunk can actually be cooler than the backseat. The reason is the windows and the sun - you do the math.
  • Pack your gear for the heat by using a cooler bag or store it in your hard travel case with foam insulation. (NOTE - Without ice!) The cooler bag keeps the sun from reaching your gear, and for a bonus - potential thieves will think it's just your lunch instead of an expensive camera inside!
  • Wrap your camera in a thick towel before placing it in your soft-bag, this helps insulate it, then put your bag within a second bag or a cooler bag.
  • I put a an ice brick in a small ice-chest or cooler bag, then place that in a bigger one with the rest of my gear. (not my camera.) This helps keep it cool and lessens the possibility of condensation.

2. Condensation: Condensation can happen when you change environments: like from a hot backyard to air-conditioned house.

  • Allow your camera to acclimate to the temperature change for about half an hour before you turn it on.
  • I toss silica gel packets in my bags for extra protection. Love them. Use them.

3. Bag it: Water and sand LOVE cameras!

  • It's hard not to be near the water when you're shooting in the summertime, and there are all sorts of tricks to keep your gear from getting wet, but remember that if you use the standard household freezer bags they might cause condensation in the heat or raise the temperature of the gear inside - so be forewarned.
  • Invest in a true water-repellant bag for your camera, phone and tablet from companies like Lifeproof and ewa-Marine. These are worth the investment.
  • Cameras need lots of TLC in the summer. You need to clean them regularly if exposed to sand. DON'T rub the lens if sand gets on it. Use a blower and soft baby-wipe.
  • In any weather, any video producer should keep a clear protective lens filter on their cameras to protect the lens from scratches.

4. Shade: If you Can't Find it - Make it.

  • I've talked about these before: Those inexpensive umbrellas made to attach to lawn chairs are great for everything. Attach them to a chair or the cooler as your gear is waiting be used, or attach them to your tripod to protect your camera while in use. They can also act as diffusers, if you get a white or gray one.
  • Park two cars a nice distance apart and lay the edges of a blanket over the door frames, then close them, to create a tented shady area.
  • Get a cheap nylon pavilion. They're good for shade, diffusion and water protection.

5. Take Care of You: We often forget the important things!

  • People tend to slather on sunscreen in the summer, but I find it annoying - it gets greasy fingerprints all over my gear and makes me sweaty. People also tend to wear short pants and T-shirts, which actually exposes your skin to more, not less, heat. For on location, lose-fitting cargo pants are better than shorts when you're doing some heavy shooting in the sun; they have big pockets for stuff, you can get down and dirty and they block the sun better than oily greasy sunscreen.
  • I have two very light weight gauzy long-sleeved shirts that I rotate on location on extremly hot days. I wet them both before the shoot, then wrap them in a wet ball and throw them in a cooler bag with an ice block. On location, I pull out one cool damp gauze shirt and wear it over my light T-shirt until it's dry then I wet it and throw it back in the cooler and rotate it with the next one. Most of the day I'm cool, and my arms are covered from the sun.
  • Hats. 'Nuff said!
  • Hydrate - often!

Second - Shooting. In the summertime, people seem to be drawn to locations that pull in bright light and heat: concrete sidewalks, white sandy beaches and water. The sun reflects on these and throws extra light into your lens. Let's cover a few tricks to fight the harsh light.

6. Roosters, Bat and Owls - It's About Time: The sun's light cast is harsh at mid-day.

  • To avoid unsightly shadows on your subjects' faces or a flat shadowless landscape, time your shoots for early morning or late afternoon. (Check out Videomaker's free "Golden Light" app that tells you when and where the golden hours will hit in your area.)
  •  Even if you want to show how hot a scene is, [see item #10] it's easier to manage the light if you get up with the roosters for morning shoots, and take a rest at mid-day until the bats come out in the early evening.

7. Filter the Sun: If you have to shoot when the event is happening - then ignore item #6! There are a few tricks you can use to filter the light.

  • Shoot slightly higher than your subjects to block the bright sky and keep lens flares at a minimum.
  • Exposing for the sky - Learn how to expose both for the sky and your subjects, so they aren't fighting each other.
  • Shoot with the sun at the side instead of behind your subject so they aren't backlit, or the sun isn't blasting in their face. Check out this tip we used in the news to find a quick angle for a more flattering look for faces in the sun. 
  • If you wear sunglasses, chances are cameras might need them, too. Consider getting a few ND (Neutral Density) filters. If your camera doesn't have screw-on filter abilities, there are also magnetic filters from Cokin that attach directly to the front of your camera. 

8. Diffuse the Sun: Think of the sun as one big light source that needs to be controlled.

  • Try to filter the sun using a scrim, or make your own by having someone hold a white pillow-case between the person you are shooting and the sun.
  • To seem less hot, frame your subjects with a dark background like trees, fences, or darker brick buildings. Soften the background by not having them too close to it.
  • If you want to make them appear more more hot, shoot subjects with a bright building or dying grassy field in the background. A hot parking lot will feel more hot to viewers than a green grassy park.
  • See item #4 about umbrellas above.

9. Hide from the Sun: Yes, We know. It's hot. If you could, you'd shoot from inside. And why not?

  • Grab yourself a polarizing filter for your camera lens, and experiment with twisting it just right to shoot the activity outside through the window from your nice air-conditioned house. Or, check out this little device we discovered recently, Lens Skirt. It folds up nice and compact, and acts as an anti-window glare for cameras by using suction cups and a black hood. Clever.
  • If you're shooting through glass, get as close as possible to avoid glares. Some windows are tinted, so your color temperature may be off. Some CTO or CTB [color temperature orange or blue] gels might be in order.

shot of thermometer covered with half orange, half yellow gel with needle pointing at 110-degrees
10. Embrace the Heat: Finally - remember that saying, "if you can't beat them, join them"? Make the harsh sun and heat work for you. Do a video that makes your viewers cringe with the feeling... make them FEEL the sweat dripping down one's back.

  • Shoot directly into the sun and show lens-flares.
  • Experiment with shooting through leaves, water and other natural elements that frame a hot subject.
  • I used to make video "photo essays" for the weather segment of a TV station I worked for. These were 1-minute videos set to music that showed the local flavor of an event, season or experience. Two in particular I enjoyed the most were dedicated to the summer heat. My favorite, to The Loving Spoonful tune "(Hot Town)Summer in the City" was a collection of fast-paced, slightly over-exposed shots of people around town who were unable to cool off. The over-exposed shots made the scenes feel even hotter, and I shot some scenes through my sunglasses to give them an orange-y distorted feel. When the lyrics segued to cooling off in the night-time, all my shots were done at twilight so I'd capture that bright deep blue sky to stimulate a feeling of coolness, and I slowed the pace to be less frantic.

    My other favorite photo-essay was one in which I reversed the hot shots with cool ones, showing scenes from wintertime or skiers, kids playing in the snow and soft snowy landscapes to The Isley Brothers tune, "The Heat is On." The contradiction of a heat wave song against cool refreshing snowy scenes was refreshing.

shot of a camcorder with yellow/orange filter
When you're struggling to find your muse in a new season - think about what makes that season unique to the others, embrace the difference and go out and create. Stay cool out there--Happy shooting!

Jennifer
O'Rourke
July 05th, 2013