Making an interesting property film isn’t as easy as you might think. Harry Jellicoe from Panoptic Motion shares his top 10 tips for shooting exciting, narrative-driven footage
All imagery and footage by Panoptic Motion. Visit the Panoptic Motion website, here.
Shooting property interiors and exteriors might seem like a relatively modest task. But simple production elements and a touch of faux magic can turn a bland selection of clips into an enchanting tour of someone’s home. Here are my top 10 tips to help you on your way...
1. Check the weather
Trying to get attractive shots of exteriors and the view through a window is impossible with flat light and grey skies. Such conditions can leave rooms looking dull and houses uninviting. As such, preparation and the selection of a suitable day are key. At Panoptic Motion, we give our clients a provisional date for the shoot and then call two days prior, once we’ve checked the weather conditions. We only shoot during suitable weather, unless the client is in a hurry. This might mean that we have fewer days per year in which to shoot, but we end up with much higher quality productions in the long run.
Working in this manner also makes our lives easier on-site, when capturing attractive shots. To gauge the forecast, we use a combination of BBC Weather and Metcheck (a particularly useful resource). We also use Suncalc, which allows us to determine where the light will fall on a house at any given time. We tend to email a screenshot of the forecast to the client, the day before we leave, to make sure they are happy for us to come out.
2. Be prepared
Supply your client with a document, detailing how you like things to be prepared before you arrive. It can be a list of simple tasks, such as making sure all lightbulbs are working, any fires are lit or the dining table is laid. These seemingly small tasks save a lot of time during the shoot and can often relieve pressure on the day. This step is usually only necessary for new clients.
Most of our clients understand how we like to work and will make the necessary preparations automatically. But it can work both ways; we work for a property developer who likes to have cushions plumped in a very particular manner, so we always make sure they appear as desired, before we start shooting!
3. Get the light right
Light is key to any shoot, but understanding how to make light work when filming a property and the feel this can give to your finished piece, is essential. Whether it’s a modern or old property, or a summer or winter shoot, working with light will really help to form the mood of your video. For example, we have found that working more with natural light for older properties or when shooting in the winter can produce a natural/rustic feel. Great sources of natural light are fireplaces and candles. Light beaming through a window, when the sun is high, can give a great effect too. Alternatively, we tend to use more artificial light when working with modern properties, which fits their style more.
Whether you’re shooting with lots of light or in low light, both situations can present their own challenges. For low light, we’ll use all natural light available, before making use of artificial light – make sure curtains and doorways are open to maximise natural light. When that’s not enough or if we want a particular effect, we use the Rotolight Neo II 3 light kit. It’s a super handy, minimal faff kit. Easy to take everywhere and incredibly portable, considering the results it provides.
Unless the client has any particular needs, we tend to replicate natural light, artificially, as much as possible. For example, we might place artificial lighting where a window would be, to replicate light pouring through the opening. If we’re still experiencing issues with unwanted shadows and dark corners, we’ll use reflectors to bounce light into the desired areas. Another key tip, when using artificial light, is to always use the right colour temperature for the style of property you’re in. Warmer tones are generally more inviting, whereas colder tones can work for ultra-modern properties – you still need to be careful not to make them look too cold and uninviting. Speed boosters are also a great way to increase performance in low light. We use a Canon EF to Micro Four Thirds adapter, which gives us access to our Sigma 12-24mm lens and an increased maximum aperture of 1-stop.
Excess light can prove a hindrance if you want to shoot shallow depths of field – a great technique for detail shots. If this happens, go to every effort to stop the light from hitting your lens, sometimes all it takes is a lens hood. We find the LUMIX GH5 to generally perform really well in all lighting situations, although footage can get grainy when exceeding ISO 1600. We’re really looking forward to getting our hands on the GH5S to see how it performs at sunset!
4. Lens choice
Understand what your video is trying to convey, what your client wants and how this correlates to the lenses you’ll be using. For example, shooting a property with a high ceiling, like a period home or country manor, will often require you to really sell the height of the ceilings in your shots. As such, maybe think of using a wide-angle lens to emphasis the size of the rooms, before filming those tighter details. Be mindful of what your client wants to show.
We work with a developer who makes the most of small spaces with open-plan designs. As such, we find shooting flowing movements with the Ronin-M and Olympus 7-14mm lens — partnered with our GH5 — gives us a great way to illustrate the space within each room. Sliders can be a great way of conveying space, when working with tighter lenses. In regards to our shooting procedure, we always start wide and sharp, capturing the best establishing shots to provide a good base for the edit. We’ll then go back with a tighter lens, shoot details and try out the more creative shots.
5. Play on your curiosity
We’re all slightly nosy when it comes to visiting a new property, and you should play on this when filming. Are there any interesting features? Look for artwork, hidden doors or modern technology (automatic dimmers, curtains and doors work well). Finding and capturing these elements in a novel way can add character to your film. From underground pools in the centre of London to secret hydraulic wine cellars, we’ve found that adding such features can keep people talking about your work for a long time and create a lot of interest!
6. Find your story
A common trap we see in a lot of property videos is when people simply piece together a series of clips with no theme whatsoever. You often see timelines jump from bedroom to kitchen and back to the original bedroom again. This isn’t consistent. A property video shouldn’t be a collection of nice clips thrown together. Think of it as a story to thread throughout your video. Whatever narrative you take, you will not only find the editing process a whole lot easier, but you'll also end up with a much more structured video.
Lastly, think of your video’s runtime. Unless a certain length has been requested, try to avoid putting something together that's over 120 seconds. We see a lot of videos of simple three or four-bed houses around the five or six minute mark. This is overkill! There’s no need to show a near identical drone angle five times. If you can’t cover what you want in 60 to 120 seconds, have a think about your shooting methods and the lengths of your clips.
7. Mix things up
Keeping a property video engaging is very important. Bring in as many elements as possible to spice up your edit. We shoot from land, sea and air, with a mixture of techniques to add variety. Time-lapses are a great way to bring life to exteriors or to transition from interior to exterior shots and vice versa.
Using aerial clips can add a touch of cinematic quality to a property video. These often work best when placed at the start or end of a video, to draw people in or provide an overview of the property. However, it’s worth repeating that you don’t need to show identical drone angles several times over. If the shot isn’t adding something new, it shouldn’t be there.
If you want to bring in a human element, you can opt for the lifestyle video approach. Capture people enjoying the property; maybe they’re drinking champagne or relaxing in a spa. There is a fine line to walk with this approach; go too far and it can appear cheesy or forced. However, done right, this can engage viewers and works well for clients who have a house with a unique selling point.
8. Shoot and edit consistently
When it comes to the feel of the video, everything should be planned in pre-production so that when you shoot you know exactly what style to shoot in. Yet so often, the editing style is at odds with the footage. If you’ve shot for a slow-paced video, but cut every other second, the end result is going to clash. Pick the best shots and let them breathe. If you find some of your clips are too fast, try and slow them down slightly — we tend to shoot at 50fps to give us that option.
We often use a variety of shots including aerial, slider, time-lapse and static. Smooth transitions are key. Cutting continuously between static and fast moving shots will jar. Consider pulling back to aerial shots or another establishing shot to break up sections and create natural transitions.
It’s easy to create a cliché video with an over dramatised score. A slower tempo tends to suit properties a lot better than faster tracks. If filming a property which will remain private, we will often use well-known tracks, but for anything public, we always license tracks from popular websites such as PremiumBeat, Music Vine and Soundstripe. Soundstripe has a fantastic subscription model, with unlimited downloads at a fixed annual cost. PremiumBeat and Music Vine cost more per track, but have a larger selection of quality scores.
Equipment is key for a successful shoot. Below is a list of what we're currently using...
Panasonic LUMIX GH5: We use two GH5s; one is usually set up for our Ronin-M gimbal, while the other occupies a more flexible role for tripod or slider use.
DJI Ronin-M: An invaluable 3-axis gimbal for smooth shots throughout properties.
Olympus 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO M.ZUIKO Digital ED lens: Our go-to wide-angle lens. We couldn’t shoot without it, and it’s proved remarkably durable over the years.
Panasonic 12-60mm f/2.8-4.0 LEICA DG VARIO-ELMARIT POWER IOS lens: Our everyday lens, which provides fantastic image quality and is great for shooting shallow depths of field.
Rotolight Neo II LED (three-light kit): One of the best lighting systems we’ve used. The Neo II LEDs are portable and easy to set up.
DJI Inspire 1 Raw quadcopter drone: We are still using this drone for most of our aerial work. It’s a fantastic workhorse that captures incredible footage, when partnered with the Zenmuse X5R 4K camera.
Atomos Ninja Inferno: Making sure your footage is perfectly focussed is invaluable. Pair this with the ability to highlight clips directly from the monitor and record at a higher bitrate, and our Ninja Inferno goes everywhere.
Walkie Talkies: If you’re co-ordinating a team within a large, unfamiliar building and across several floors, this is an effective way of keeping in contact.
6-18ft Jib: Whether we’re unable to fly drones or are looking for something a little different, using a jib can provide effective cinematic movement.
To wrap up
Sometimes we shoot on high-end production equipment, but for the majority of the time we find the GH5 goes above and beyond the call of duty. We've found that skill is more important than equipment 90% of the time. Remember, your video is almost entirely going to be viewed online, where the average viewed image quality is still HD. As such, think of focussing more on lenses, light and angles, and less on high-end cameras to add depth to your videos.
If we had to prioritise a single top tip, it would be preparation. Make sure you’ve prepared a narrative, prior to your shoot and that the house is ready for you. This will lead to greater efficiency when shooting and a much more concise and effective edit.
About the Author
Harry Jellicoe works for Panoptic Motion, a video production company specialising in property work. The company also has a specific arm for the luxury market called Panoptic Prime. Here you can view its website and showreel.