January 14, 2015

How to Film Sports in the Winter

Written by:
Jonathan Fowke

With winter well and truly here it can make filming sports quite difficult as you’re stood on the sidelines or up in a stand in freezing temperatures and howling wind and rain! I’ve often found it tricky to film during winter depending on the conditions, but if you’re prepared for bad weather then it can help you out a lot.

I film a lot of Rugby Union and have to deal with the elements on a regular basis. I always check the weather prior to getting my gear ready so I can be prepared for anything bad. I usually pack my set of waterproof trousers and jacket in case the rain starts to come down. Nowadays you can pick up a decent pair of lightweight, waterproof trousers from any good outdoor retailers for around £20.

I’ve also found that multiple layers are the best way to go when it comes to keeping out the cold. A lot of the time I’ll be filming pitch-side and it’s difficult to keep warm when you’re stationary trying to concentrate and film the action on the pitch. I’ll use a cold weather base layer along with a shirt/polo with a hoodie over the top. I then go with a lightweight soft-shell jacket on top with an additional thicker winter jacket on top of that. For the height of the winter months, that’s my go-to clothing regime and it works really well.

Frost-free fingers...

For me, I find it important to keep my hands as warm as possible, which again is not always the easiest as you can’t keep them in your pockets whilst filming! I need to use lightweight gloves to make it easier to make any adjustments with the camera, and as a result they are often the coldest part of me when I’m pitch-side. If you take a look online there are some good brand options available for around £10-15. I’ve recently bought a pair of Nike thermal gloves, which have touch assist tips on the thumbs which come in handy for touch screen devices and overall they are comfortable and lightweight to help with handling equipment. Something else to help with keeping the hands warm are heat packs. You can buy either disposable packs or gel packs, which can be re-used. They can be good for half time just to warm the hands once more when you have a bit of time to move around properly and warm up. I have a set of gel hand warmers and they provide a decent amount of heat, but I find them to be most effective over a shorter time so I will generally wait until half time to get the best use out of them.

Choosing the right tripod...

After many years of filming out in the cold during the winter months you find the best way to keep yourself as warm as possible. For me, the filming often takes my mind off the cold anyway but it can still be tricky when you’re out for an extended period of time. Windy conditions often make life difficult whilst trying to film as well, in extreme cases it can make it hard to keep the camera steady and knock your balance a little. This is where having a good sturdy tripod can really help. If you are set up with a good platform then it can assist with getting as steady shot as possible, despite the elements.

Manfrotto Tripod

I’ve used Manfrotto Tripods most often whilst filming and found them to be a trusted reliable option, in a good mid-range price bracket as well. Depending on your budget you can opt for a good lightweight option around £70 or you can go for the higher end models in the region of £150-£200. My Manfrotto Tripod is a mid-range model costing around £150 a few years back – I’d recommend paying a decent amount on a good name brand as a good Tripod can really help out when filming – Having used a cheaper brand before it makes so much difference using a good piece of equipment! I find it best to keep as close to the camera/tripod as possible during windy games as you can use your body as a shield and it helps to keep a steady platform reducing the chance of a shaky shot.

When it comes to audio, I use an external microphone – Rode Videomic Pro. It’s a great piece of equipment producing a much better audio input compared to most in-built camera microphones. This particular model allows you to change the directional input from a wide range to a more directional input which can be helpful for recording interviews or just taking in the atmosphere at a rugby game.

High winds can affect your audio but the Rode Videomic does a good job at producing high quality sound regardless. You can buy a ‘Windshield’ or ‘Dead-Cat’ which slips over the microphone’s foam windshield to provide help to reduce the effect of the wind. The microphone also comes with a shock mount, which helps reduce the effect of high winds and can attach to most mounts on either a Camcorder or DSLR. Whilst the Rode Microphone is a great external device to record audio it has its limits in bad weather as with most pieces of equipment in a similar price bracket (£120), but for the price I would recommend Rode Microphones due to their high quality and directional range.

Most cameras these days are pretty good against the elements, my Canon Legria has been to the top of Mt Kilimanjaro, in below freezing conditions, and through some pretty bad weather by the side of many rugby pitches! You still need to take the best precautions possible to protect it from rain or snow. You can buy rain covers for most styles of camcorders, I myself have just made use of a large freezer bag, which I’ve used over the past few years a long with an LCD Screen cover.

Keep your eye on the forecast...

From my experience it’s not always pleasant to be exposed to the harsh winter whilst you’re trying to film a game pitch side, but being prepared can certainly help you out. Keep an eye on the weather prior to heading out so you know what to expect and take along the necessary equipment to help keep your camera protected as best as you can. It’s not always possible to be under cover when filming games but as long as you’re careful and don’t expose your camera to the elements or allow it to get too exposed in the rain you should be fine.

Written By Jonathan Fowke of JPF Sports Media

Jonathan is a Sports Videographer who has a vast amount of experience. He currently works as the 'Media Man' for the Royal Engineers rugby team but has also worked for Samurai International and London Wasps RFC.

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