This is part of our blog series highlighting a new set of Video For Change Best Practices, also available in Arabic. Please share these with your networks and help make them better by leaving comments below or tweeting to @WitnessChris or @RajaAlthaibani. Thanks!
Before you pick up a camera, be prepared with the right equipment and plan so you can film safely and effectively. Know why you are filming, what story you want to tell, and the details and people you need to film in advance. Our tip sheet “Before Filming“ goes into more detail on these preparations.
Always assess the risks to yourself, those you film and the communities you are apart of before you press record. Follow these steps to create effective video that may be used for advocacy and evidentiary purposes. Use the following suggestions as a checklist to ensure you are recording and submitting the most reliable, accurate, authentic, and impartial video evidence possible.
Remember: Personal stories and testimonies are incredibly powerful in human rights advocacy and documentation. Whenever safe and possible, conduct interviews to let people share their experience and story.
Filming for Human Rights Documentation and Evidence
- Record date and time: Set your camera with the correct date and time, film a watch, your phone, a newspaper or speak into the camera to establish time and date.
- Record your location: Film landmarks and street signs to note your location, write your location on paper or speak it into the camera.
- Establish context: Record essential information to show what is happening, who is involved and the context of the event. Get various angles when documenting the size and behavior of the crowd, number and formation of police or military and any weapons they are holding or using. Consider narrating what is happening to provide details that you may not be able to capture.
- Record details: If there is an arrest or violence, attempt to capture the entire incident. Film or say any important details and work to get faces of those affected on film. Consider verbally adding noteworthy facts of what was happening before you started filming to give context while you film. Record the sound as well as the visual of what is happening. Whenever possible, keep recording the incident.
- Film with intention: Hold your shot steady, move the camera very slowly; avoid jerky movements and zooming in and out unnecessarily. Move closer when possible.
- Film for at least 10 seconds: Make sure the footage and clips you are capturing are at least10 seconds long. Record events as they happen from start to end. The less you cut your footage, the more likely it may be used as evidence.
- Protect the identity of your subjects: It is your responsibility to protect the people you film. If they may be at risk if identified, film from behind or only their hands.
- Film with a partner: If filming, have a partner to watch your back, help keep you safe and alert you of other potential shots you should capture.
- Film in teams: If more than one of you is filming, try to get separate angles of the same incident – ideally keep each other in view. If you are at risk of arrest or capture and want to keep filming, consider giving the media card to friend for safe keeping and replace with empty card and KEEP RECORDING.
- Conduct interviews: Filming first person accounts of events can add emotion, credibility or important details to your video. However, before recording you should always explain what your intentions are and how you plan to use and share the interview. In particular, the interviewee should know that if the footage were shared publicly, authorities or potential enemies who may retaliate would likely see it. We call this process informed consent. By using it you will both build trust with the interviewee and allow them to determine if they would like to participate, be identifiable or if they need their identity hidden.
- Protecting the Identity of your subject during interviews: There are many ways you can conceal your subject’s identity. You can film their hands while they speak, adjust the focus of your lens to obscure and blur the image, have the subject wrap their face in a scarf, etc. It is also important that you do not capture any landmarks, scars or other identifiable symbols that are traceable.
- Get good sound: Sound is incredibly important, particularly when conducting interviews. Move closer when needed, and choose a quiet place to record interviews – use an external microphone if possible.
- Use a shot list and track your shots: Have a shot list in advance to ensure you film the right shots and conduct detailed interviews in advance. Keep track of your shots with specific time and location to help you better save and edit your media. Always note consent or security issues of subjects in your footage, and if you have a particularly important shot or good interview response, note which clip it is and time code with pen and paper.
- Don’t Draw Attention. Keep your mobile silent and turn the vibration on. Do not make many calls, use SMS instead – communicate faster and with more people, and use less of your battery life. If filming in the dark, cover anything that lights on up your camera to avoid attracting attention.
- Consider surveillance. Not only might you face message delivery delays due to network issues (either incidental due to network congestion or intentional by security services), but also your phone communication may be under surveillance. This is also of great concern if you are using satellite phones, which are easily traceable in real-time. If under high-risk situations, assume for the worst and take safety and security precautions.
Here’s a video that summarizes some of the above: