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Documentary filmmaker Tom’s top tips for filming on ICS

Many of our ICS volunteers use the opportunity of going overseas to do even more amazing things on top of their work on placement. For Tom Greenidge, his team leader placement in Malawi this spring inspired him to create a documentary showing the impact of his ICS team.

Every year we celebrate the best in photo and video content from our ICS volunteers across the world. We caught up with Tom after he entered the competition this week to find out his top eight tips to photographers and filmmakers on getting that perfect shot.

a group of volunteers walking through a village
© ICS / Andrew Aitchison
Make sure you get permission before you start filming, says Tom

1. Get permission

I make sure I speak to whoever's in charge to check I'm ok to film and make sure everyone's comfortable with it, then let whatever's happening happen first before I bring the camera out.

And it’s not just asking one person if you've got permission, but if you're doing something with a group of people, get someone to address the crowd and say, “By the way, we're taking some videos today to show what's going on, is everyone happy with that? Does anyone have any objections?”

2. Capture real life

I don’t approach it any differently to how I do in the UK. It's about being as honest and realistic as possible. I want to capture real life and it's always about letting that happen by working with what's in front of you and thinking on your feet.

Make sure everything's covered. You set the scene, you establish where people in the shot are, you get the wide shots, then you show the action and the reaction. Finally, you edit it together.

a volunteer with a megaphone at a community event
'To get the best shots you've got to get in there and get close'

3. Don’t be a statue

Don't be afraid to move. The number of times I see people with a camera and they just stay where they are…to get those best shots you've really got to get in there and get close, get on your knees, get up high. Use your creativity to capture something different.

I start with wide shots and then slowly creep in so it's not so dramatic when I suddenly appear in people's faces with a camera! It can be a bit of a military operation at times!

volunteer takes a break from digging
You need to be creative when thinking about how to frame your shot

4. Dominate the frame

There's no golden rule to framing. I'd encourage people to be creative, but what looks good if you've got a workshop or an event going on – something where the volunteers are leading – is if you can get the camera up high and looking down at the crowd from the volunteer's perspective.

And why not try a low angle shot from the crowd looking towards the volunteers? That's quite powerful because the volunteers dominate the frame.

5. Action shot? Give it context

Action shots can be quite hard to get if there's dancing or running going on or something where people are moving quite fast, so I have two main pieces of advice.

First – make sure you have wide shots of the crowd to show the location and what's going on, to give it context.

Second – but don't fill the frame up with stuff that's not needed. If there's something going on, get in there as close as you can without distracting them and fill the frame up with that action.

6. Make people actors

Don't be afraid to move people. Obviously that can be impossible with action shots, but if there's stuff going on and you want to get the perfect take, feel free to move people and position them around the frame and ask them to look to different directions. Be the director too!

If you're doing something quite sensitive or serious, maybe that's not the right time to be going in really close or asking people to move, but if you're outside and it's a fun, relaxed event and people know why you're filming, then as long as you're not distracting people then go for it!

a man explaining something to an older man
© ICS / Jeevani Fernando
Feel free to move people around and position them as actors

7. Pack light

Don't bring too much with you. Just bring the basics, because it's a lot to be worried about, a lot to carry around. All I brought was a small but powerful camera, a tiny tripod and another steadying pole. I wouldn't go to town and bring the whole kit and five lenses.

8. Stay protected

Don't forget to bring spare lens caps because they easily go missing, and there's often a lot of dust and dirt so you’ll want to make sure your equipment will be protected. 

Make sure you back things up. After putting files on an SD card, back this up onto a computer or another card or a hard drive, so if anything goes missing you've got copies. And always make sure your suitcase is locked – even the side compartment!

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ICS is funded by the UK Government's Department for International Development (DFID) which leads the UK’s work to end extreme poverty.

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