When I Love Lucy came on the air in 1951, most television series were shot using the single-camera format on a sound stage in multiple takes, with a laugh track added in later. However, Desi Arnaz knew that his wife Lucy was a big presence that shined in front of a live studio audience.
So he procured one of the first studios that could accommodate a large audience. And since filming in front of a live audience is not conducive to the multiple takes of a single-camera set up, Desi worked with cinematographer Karl Freund to perfect the three camera shooting system. Using multiple cameras allowed for the show to be filmed much like a play, with longer takes of chronological action, and capturing multiple angles during those long takes. Freud also had to invent a new lighting system that went along with the three camera set up to ensure that the light was consistent across all camera angles. This three-camera format turned out to be faster, cheaper, and enabled Lucy to play to the crowd. That three-camera system quickly caught on in the television industry and is used today for most sitcoms that are filmed in front of a live audience, including The Big Bang Theory and How I Met Your Mother. The single-camera system is still widely used, too, in sitcoms like The Office and Modern Family.Besides being educational and just plain neat, this brief television history lesson also relates to the question "How many cameras should I use to film my event?" Much like the factors that led Desi Arnaz to the three-camera format for I Love Lucy, there are several points to consider when deciding on the filming format for your event: What is the set-up of your venue? How big or small is the stage presence of your speakers? What is the lighting set-up and how will that look on camera? To help answer this question, let’s dive into the differences between a single camera shoot and a shoot with two or more cameras for a conference or event.
One Camera Shoot
Regardless of how many cameras you decide on, a key idea is that video needs to be worth watching. An online video presentation must distinguish itself from a radio interview or a written transcript. By zooming in and out, expertly panning across the stage, and incorporating multimedia like PowerPoint slides, a professional videographer has the ability to transform your stationary single-camera shoot into a visually dynamic experience. That being said, single-camera shoots are an efficient and cost-effective video solution. The camera is positioned at the optimal location at the venue to capture all of the action, and remains stationary for the entirety of the event. For events with multiple speakers, a single camera may be positioned behind the audience, where it can capture all of the action on stage as well as potential Q&A participants from the audience. As the conversation moves from person to person, the videographer zooms and pans accordingly. This style of shooting works well for sessions with single speakers and without a lot of movement, like a keynote presentation or an educational lecture.
Two or More Camera Shoot
Multi-camera shoots afford more dynamism compared to a one-camera shoot. For starters, shooting with three cameras gives you many points of focus. The possibilities are endless – in one scenario you can have one camera trained on the moderator, another on the speakers, and a third on-stage camera to capture audience questions and reactions. Shooting the stage from multiple angles gives the post-production crew more material to work with, as they can stitch together various shots and angles, and edit in cutaway and reaction shots to truly achieve a broadcast television sensibility. For a shoot with two or more cameras, a visit to the venue should be scheduled with the videographers before the event to determine the best positions for each camera. For live-streamed events, an on-site director should work directly with the camera crew for smooth, professional, seamless live switching from one camera to the other. So which of these shooting setups is right for your event and your goals? Here are some questions to think about:
- How many speakers do you have scheduled for this event or session?
- Will there be a lot of movement, or will the primary speaker be stationary for the most part?
- Do you want to capture the speakers or presentation from several angles?
- Do you want the ability to capture the audience reaction?
- Will one camera capture all of the action in your venue, or does the layout require more than one angle?
If you have a mainly stationary speaker or panel, are comfortable with limited camera angles, and have a venue conducive to a single-camera set-up, then a one camera shoot would be great for you. If you have several speakers who will be moving around, would like to capture several angles of action, or have a difficult venue that requires several vantage points, then a multi-camera shoot would be best. Here is an example of what's possible with a multi-cam shoot.
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