10 Tips for Shooting a Cinematic Music Video

On this video, photographers Parker Walbeck and Nick Sales from fulltimefilmmaker take a look at 10 unique cinematic gimbal moves that can spice up your videos.

Sometimes you discover what you are really good at while doing something completely different and apparently this is exatly what happened to Walbeck after a not so successful music career where he actually realized that he is much better shooting music than performing). Although Walbeck still shots music videos from time to time (you can check out his fantastic tutorial on the subject which we published here a while back), he does most of his work on other photographic genres so he got photographer Nick Sales to help on this video.

Sales is apparently is an extremely busy music video photographer shooting around 80 music videos per year which should make him one of the most active shooters in the industry.

So let’s dive into the 10 tips for shooting a Cinematic music video:

  1. Buying the right gear and RENTING the better gear – for small production you can manage with even relatively inexpensive gear but Sales suggest that when you start getting paid jobs, try setting aside some money to rent higher end gear (he shot with a RED camera but it took him a while to buy one so he rented it per project). Also hiring a lighting expert might help bring the level of your production way up. Thre are much less expensive options and Sales did suggest using a fast zoom like a 24-70mm to get both wide and tight looks. Drones are also very useful for many music videos. Getting a good stabilizer is almost essential (Sales suggest the Glidecam HD-PRO although many nowadays will probably prefer to stick to motorized gimbals)l.
  2. Master your gear – This might actually be the most obvious but important tip – shoot, shoot and shoot some more. The more you shoot (even for your own projects or for friends when you start) the more you learn and improve. There are so many aspects that you need to master that nobody starts up perfect and it can take years to really master the craft so the more you shoot and make mistakes the more opportunities you have to improve – it is that simple.
  3. Have a killer demo reel – if you want to get into this industry you need to build an amazing portfolio. You need to make a video which includes the best movement, composition, lighting, and emotion – be ready to shoot a video for free just to be able to add these shots to your demo reel. Having a jaw-dropping fast paste demo reel is what can be the difference between getting and not getting your next job.
  4. Networking – it isn’t all about shooting or editing a lot of your work needs to go into the business side as well if you want to be successful. Reach out to musicians and studios in your area and if they will trust you and recognize the quality of your work (again – you need to have a killer video reel) you will significantly increase the likelihood of getting that next job opportunity.
  5. Pre-plan the shoot – so now that you have done the groundwork and landed a job you need to sit down and plan the shoot. If the job of planing the shoot falls on you (which is the case more often than not) start by listening to the track time and time again. Try and visualize in what location and what atmosphere you feel that the music needs to be shown, what camera movements, what types of shots (lighting, focal lengths etc.). Now start writing everything down by timing. If there is dancing in the video – ask the client to send you some sort of footage showing the dance (or make a pre-shoot of a rehearsal) to be able to visualize that aspect in advance as well. If there is a story with actors and costumes – make sure you scout the location, and get permits first and make sure all of the costumes are ready in advance.
  6. Camera settings – 4K these days is pretty much the preferred option even if you only deliver in 1080 it will give you the option to zoom in during post-production. As for frame rates, Walbeck recommends going for 24fps for most shots and jumping to 60fps for that dreamy look (slowing to 24fps in post) and using a lower aperture for that shallow depth of field with a higher aperture in landscape or group shots.
  7. Composition – the rule of thirds is your friend – if your subject if facing right give them more room to the right and vise versa and always make sure not to leave too much room above the head (although too little might also be distracting sometimes).
  8. Lighting – if you are shooting outside, probably the best time to shoot is during the golden hour just before sunset or after sunrise. Having the sun behind your will give you flares and softer light and if you have a reflector (and somebody to hold it) it can be useful to fill some shadows. Indoors is a more complex topic but remember not to skip on lights.
  9. Camera movements that match the feeling of the music – if the song is slow, minimal camera movements are the way to go but if the tempo is faster it might be a good idea to add some faster movements and cuts (and sometimes even some effects in post) to complement the sounds with visuals.
  10. Aim for emotions  – music can evoke emotions and great music can evoke strong emotions so before you shoot to try and listen and understand which emotions and which massage to convey – if this is a love song – try and shoot something that convey this, if this is a hard edgy music clip you need to find the right footage that will let the viewer feel just that.
  11. Have more angles and more shots – bonus tip – Walbeck suggest to have several different shots/angles of the most important parts of the song and if at all possible do at least two takes of each of those angles to get the most options for the edit.

You can watch more HDSLR and video techniques on our dedicated HDSLR channel here on LensVid. You can check out more of Walbeck videos – here on LensVid as well.

Iddo Genuth
Iddo Genuth is the founder and chief editor of LensVid.com. He has been a technology reporter working for international publications since the late 1990's and covering photography since 2009. Iddo is also a co-founder of a production company specializing in commercial food and product visual content.

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