I’ve shot a lot of travel video. Currently I’m sitting at around 50 countries across 6 continents, including Antarctica twice (Africa has eluded me). When I’m not shooting for travel brands abroad, you guessed it, I’m making holiday videos for myself. Here are my top 10 tips from 7 years of experience. With these in mind, you too can create some memorable videos to immortalize your trip and awe your friends.
In no particular order:
1) Organize your clips into a mini story
The #1 mistake I constantly see on Vimeo and Youtube in holiday/vacation videos is the trap of just showing completely random, disjointed imagery. Sure, eye candy is great for a while, but it gets boring quick. Always remember: Story is King.
When you’re shooting, try to think ahead about your edit and how the images will be put together. String together mini sequences in your head, even if it’s only 2-3 images. These will push your story along and allow the audience to be engaged beyond just your pretty images.
2) Variety is the spice of life
Your camera likely has multiple shooting modes: standard speed, slow-motion, time-lapse, etc. Use them! These combined with fun action cam footage (i.e.: GoPro), aerials from your drone (if you have one!), as well as underwater footage etc. will all make your video far more dynamic and entertaining.
3) Authenticity wins the day
Cut the staged crap. People see right through it nowadays. The more authentic and real you can make your video the more it will mean to you and your audience. The best images I have captured over the years have been completely candid shots- usually when people are in the ‘moment’ or unaware they are being filmed.
4) Think about going Micro 4/3
I made a conscious decision two years ago to switch my kit to the mirrorless Micro 4/3 format. For the uninitiated, this refers to the size of the sensor in your camera. M43 (for short) is a relatively new format that features a smaller sensor than your typical full frame camera. Wait? What? I thought large sensors were better? Well, it depends on what you value in your video and travel. There is a host of benefits to this format:
The biggest benefit is the SIZE. M43 is the best camera system you can have for travel. I own a Panasonic GH4 and it’s tiny. Like, really tiny. The camera body is half the size of competing DSLR’s, and the lenses are even smaller.
Both the cameras above (Canon 5DmkII on the left, and Panasonic GH4 on the right) have 70-200mm lenses. What would you rather lug around during your vacation?
This means you’re not inhibited by your gear and you’ll be more likely to haul it around and get great shots.
Mobility is key.
As an added benefit it’s also an extremely discrete camera. You can get shots in places you wouldn’t be allowed with a giant professional looking DSLR. People are also less intimidated by your camera and will act more natural around you— which goes back to point #3.
Basically, I’m a big fan of the Micro 4/3 format.
5) Bring a stabilizer
Nothing kills the vibe of your video more than shaky, unwatchable camera work. Personally, I use a Glidecam 4000HD (it’s an extension of my body now), although for most this is probably overkill.
Luckily, there are some great alternatives out there:
- Gorillas pods are the best! They are inexpensive, light, and offer stability and tripod functionality in a pinch.
- Use a beanbag. It may sound goofy, but a small beanbag acts as a versatile platform for placing your camera on uneven terrain on the go.
- Use the neck strap of your camera. If you are forced to go handheld, hold your camera in front of your body keeping tension on the neck strap to eliminate unwanted jitters.
- Handheld stabilizers: an example is the DJI Osmo. This is a motorized handheld gimbal that is tiny and delivers a similar (although inferior in my opinion) effect to the Glidecam. (Bonus: no skill required; turn it on and go!) Although this camera may be excessive for some, the portability and smooth imagery it creates really does make a massive difference in the production value of your video.
- Shoot slo-mo. Using the slo-motion function on your camera not only delivers a really cinematic and beautiful effect, but it smooths out all shakiness while handholding (or at least makes the footage viewable; steady hands are still required!). My personal favourite is 60fps, but I do mix things up.
- Warp stabilize! Ok, this one applies to post production, but the built-in ‘warp stabilizer’ plugin (I use Adobe Premiere Pro) is the travel shooter’s best friend. It’s a quick fix that digitally smooths out your footage. I use it religiously in all my work and it does a spectacular job of smoothening out my footage. Are you editing in FCPX or iMovie? They will also have a stabilization options that do the same thing. Use them!
6) Find the adventure
At face value this seems pretty basic, yet soo many filmmakers don’t do it. I’ve lost count how many travel videos I’ve seen online of people showing boring or totally irrelevant shots of their vacation.
When I say do interesting stuff, I mean do REALLY interesting stuff. Sensational, fascinating, or challenging stuff. Find the adventure. It really does pay to go off the beaten path and seek out unique and interesting activities.
Remember, 90% of people won’t go the extra mile to get that shot– push yourself if you want the best content. In particular, high energy activities such as action/adventure sports really come across well on camera, not to mention just being fun to do.
Bottomline: If you want cool and engaging content, put yourself in situations where this will happen naturally. Your travel video and audience will thank you.
Are you starved for activities or inspiration? I’ve found Instagram to be an incredible resource for shot ideas and memorable travel experiences.
7) Bring your camera everywhere
Even if it’s a pain, you never know when that ‘moment’ will strike. There’s few things worse than having an incredible travel moment slip your grasp because you were too lazy to bring the camera out. Maybe you won’t use it, maybe you will– but it’s better to be prepared. Do what I do, have your girlfriend carry it. 😉
This is yet another reason why Tip #4, having a small and mobile camera system, is a huge boon to your video’s success.
8) Backup your footage!
Nothing you do on your trip will matter if you lose your footage.
Travel is hard on your gear: things break, drinks spill, hard drives get dropped, things go missing… Make sure you have your memories backed up.
I personally always travel with two small external hard drives (mirrors of each other) that I keep in separate bags. Each night I take 15 minutes and backup the day’s footage. Is it a pain the ass? Slightly, yes. Are my memories worth it? Resounding yes.
Several years ago I learned this lesson the hard way while traveling through Peru. I had just spent 4 days in the oasis town of Huacachina, sandboarding and capturing some stunning desert sunsets. I opted to not backup my footage during this leg of the trip (for some reason, probably laziness). While leaving on an overland bus my bag was silently slashed from under my seat and camera stolen. He literally took a knife and cut a hole in the side, snatching my camera and taking off. I never caught the guy. All of the footage from Huacachina was still on my camera and un-backed up. Gone.
I was devastated.
Since then, I’ve been a massive stickler for daily, duplicate backups.
Above: Beautiful Huacachina, Peru. Photo taken from Google, mine were stolen.
Luckily for me, I had captured my footage from the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu the week prior, so it wasn’t the end of the world.
Morale of the story? Backup your stuff!
9) ND’s and polarizers are your friend.
ND’s and polarizers are little glass filters that you can screw onto the front of your camera lens. They offer immediate and dramatic improvements to your video [and photos] and are essential when travelling.
ND is short for ‘Neutral Density Filter’. Think of it like a pair of sunglasses for your camera. It is absolutely integral if you are shooting video abroad, as you will be subject to all kinds of crazy weather and light conditions. ND’s will instantly improve your image while giving you more control over your exposure. More flexibility in your depth of field & shutter speeds means more creative freedom!
Polarizers are the same – they cut light and make landscapes and sky more vibrant. Furthermore, they have the ability to cut reflections, making water look spectacular and see-through.
If you want to instantly up your shooting game while travelling, purchasing a variable ND and a polarizer filter will garner you immediate improvements to your video & photos. I don’t travel anywhere without them.
10) Get an action cam.
Action cams are almost synonymous with travel video. Take for instance my personal favourite, the GoPro. (I have 6 of them… I’m addicted.)
They are bomb proof, inexpensive (as far as camera equipment goes), can be used underwater, produce great video, are unobtrusive, can be mounted on almost anything and are fun to use! These things are purpose made for getting those extreme shots you wouldn’t want to risk your nicer camera with — so don’t be afraid to abuse them. I’ve tossed them off cliffs, dived with them, driven ATV’s over them, attached them to aircraft… The uses are only limited by your imagination.
Action cams are an essential piece of kit if you’re travelling and wanting to shoot video.
The biggest tip I can give you with travel video is to just get out there and DO IT! It’s easy to feel inconvenienced or lackadaisical about shooting while on holidays. Let me tell you, it’s worth it.
As time passes it’s easy to forget your experiences. Memories fade. Details become fuzzy. Having a killer video to stand the test of time will instantly transport you back to your happy memories and ensures they stay with you forever.
As an added bonus, you have something to share with your friends and family that they actually want to see (no one wants to sit through a slideshow or sift through 800 Facebook photos).
Video is the best way to capture your holidays. Follow my tips and up your travel video game. Now get out there and shoot!
Life is a series a moments. Collect as many as you can.
Facebook: Amber Pacific Studios