MediaStorm Guide to Setting Up Shots

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At MediaStorm, we ask one important question to test the veracity of our work: does it deceive the viewer?

The most fundamental way to break trust with not just your audience, but also your subject, is to set up shots. [1]

How to Set Up a Shot

If you ask someone to repeat an action, you are setting up a shot.

  • “Could you walk through the door again so I can film you from the other side?”
  • “Will you put your shoes on again so I can get a tight shot?”
  • “Can you pick up your coffee again? I missed it the first time?”

If you attempt to direct the action or ask subjects something they normally wouldn’t do, you are setting up a shot.

  • “Would you mind dancing?”
  • “Can we take you to visit your dad?”
  • “Will you turn off the lights so I can get some pictures that look more like night time?”

The Harm

You might ask, “What’s the harm in asking someone to tie their shoe again? They’ve already done it so I’m not making anything up. I’m just trying to get a close up to make the piece better.”

Here’s how Director of Photography Rick Gershon explains it, “When you ask a person to repeat something, you’re no longer documenting what’s real. You’re making your subject act. The implication is that what they’re doing is not good enough. That establishes a bad precedent. Pretty soon, they’ll start questioning themselves and begin asking, ‘You want me to do that again?’”

In other words, Setting up your shots breaks down the authenticity between subject and documentarian; the last thing you ever want to do.

It’s not just a matter of ethics. It’s a matter of best practices. Setting up shots almost never yields good results.

Case in point, any TV news story. How many times have we seen we seen a subject with a glazed stare walk aimlessly down the street? Why does it look so awkward? Because it’s fake. The person walking knows it. The viewer knows it. So why resort to such blatant fakery? In a word, laziness.

As journalists, we should adhere to a higher standard than convenience.

  1. There are at least three situations where setting up a shot is not only permissible but a necessity: portraiture, it’s cousin the video portrait, and the interview. Here, it’s clear to all involved that the subject is posing. ↩