Guide – Basic Classroom Filming Setup

By | 10th May 2014

We’re working on a series of teacher training projects on behalf of a British client in the education sector. The projects include footage from a number of countries which will be filmed by local crews. The aim of this article is to help ensure that footage being acquired will be of a suitable standard for our client’s purposes. If it’s helpful to anyone else then that’s a bonus.

This is a general guide to recording of a lesson in a typical classroom. The information will be concise and will cover the type of equipment required, shot composition and preferred content delivery formats.

Equipment required

At least two 16:9 capable video cameras should be used. If HD or HDV cameras are not available then DV/DVCAM will be sufficient. We accept content from any solid state recording format including AVCHD, XDCAM, P2 and ProRes files. If consumer grade MP4 cameras are used then please include a note specifying the make and model of camera along with the files.

Audio from the tutor should be recorded via a lapel radio microphone. A handheld radio microphone (if available) may be useful for Q&A sections with students but this will need to be managed effectively by the tutor. A directional on camera microphone is desirable for Camera 1 and is essential for Camera 2.

Lighting requirements are dependant on the available light and classroom layout. You may need to use lighting to balance out available light or provide an overall lift to the levels provided by the room fixtures. Be mindful of matching colour balance and avoid using hot tungsten lights in a classroom environment.

Camera operation, positions and composition

Camera positions for filming a class

A minimum of two video cameras are required with either one or two operators. Both cameras should record continuously for the entire duration of the lesson.

Camera 1 should be at the back of the classroom in a central position directly facing the tutor. Set Camera 1 to a wide enough angle to cover the entire front of the classroom but not so wide that Camera 2 (or the operator) can be seen in vision. Be mindful that your viewfinder may not show everything in the overscan area.

If only one operator is present then this camera can be locked off on a wide angle. If two operators are present then only reframe Camera 1 when absolutely necessary and you are certain that a good alternative shot is being recorded by Camera 2.

Camera 2 needs to be positioned at around the halfway point between the back and front of the class to one side. Many classrooms have windows running down one side. In this situation the camera should be operated with the windows behind it. Camera 2 will be used for close and medium shots of the tutor and students. The tutor should be framed no closer than waist upwards with the eye-line on or close to the top third. It’s important the the tutors hand gestures and any teaching aids they might be holding up whilst teaching and setting tasks are in shot.

The tutor will normally introduce a subject, set tasks and then ask the students to conduct these tasks either on their own or in groups. When the students are working on tasks Camera 2 should be used to record that activity. If necessary move around the classroom to get those shots. If there are two camera operators then Camera 1 can also be employed to cover groups and individuals. Shots of the tutor working with students during this time are desirable. This is also an opportunity to shoot cutaway footage. Make sure you are back in position in good time for the tutor to resume teaching.

During lesson feedback and/or Q&A sections Camera 1 should be left on the standard wide shot (single operator) or slowly reframed to take a medium shot of the tutor (two operators). At this time Camera 2 should be framed on the student(s) participating in the feedback. Whilst the tutor is speaking Camera 2 can record students in groups of three or four and be ready to reframe on the next student who may speak. Revert to normal camera positions once the section is finished.


Getting the sound right

Monitor your audio to be certain that you are getting the correct sound. Set the recording level of the audio to peak at around -10dB.

On-camera microphones (external or internal) are not suitable for recording the tutor. A lapel microphone with wireless belt pack & receiver kit is usually the best solution. If a radio mic kit is not available then consider using a good quality wired lapel mic with a small portable recorder such as a Zoom H1.

Directional shotgun microphones should be used with both cameras in addition to any radio receivers. If possible position at least one of the directional mics close to the front of the class. In hot climates fan and air conditioning noise can be very high. Avoid placing microphones directly under ceiling fans or next to open windows etc. A directional mic mounted on Camera 2 may be helpful when recording comments from students.

It’s always a good idea to ask the tutor to repeat any questions or answers from the students unless a handheld mic has been used (and is working effectively).

Submitting footage

Do not recompress or convert any footage. Make sure the entire file structure from the camera’s memory card is included (all files and folders). Clearly label the contents e.g. Camera 1, Camera 2 etc.

Solid state cameras – You can send the memory card itself, high capacity USB sticks or portable hard drives. USB sticks are more robust than hard drives so use them if available.

Tape-based cameras – If you are sending in camera tapes then make a local back-up copy (digital clone). You may also send digitised footage on a portable hard drive or memory stick. Avoid any recompression – so if the footage is DV/DVCAM then digitise it as a DV AVI or .MOV. If it’s HDV then send an HDV MPEG2 file.

We accept any hard drive format (Mac or PC). Use exFAT if you have the option as this provides large files sizes and cross platform compatibility.

Do not send footage directly to us unless requested to do so by the project co-ordinator in your country.

Things to avoid

We need complete uninterrupted recordings of full lessons. Don’t stop and start the cameras unless there is a break in the class itself.

Try not to get the other camera or camera operator in your shot and try to stay out of their shots.

Don’t use DSLR cameras to record classroom videos. They are not really suitable for this purpose.

And finally

The information presented here is for your guidance only. We recognise that equipment levels, budgets and classroom layouts vary. You will need to interpret and adapt this information to best fit what can be achieved on location.

If you have any general questions or comments then please complete the contact form on the right or add your comments in the box below.

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