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Tips for Capturing the Best Travel Footage

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Written by Caroline Rysenga (Classic Travel Intern, Spring 2015).

Travel filming is becoming more and more popular among globetrotters, and putting together a video of your excursions is a great way to remember your adventures and possibly show off all the interesting things you did to your friends and family. Not everyone has access to professional videography equipment, but you don’t need expensive cameras and fancy gear to make a high quality travel video. Follow these tips to make sure your travel footage looks stunning!

  1. Find a tripod
    Traveling around with a bulky camera is too much hassle as it is, and bringing a tripod along on the trip probably seems outrageous. However, I would highly recommend packing a small tripod for your next trip as it greatly enhances the quality of footage you’re able to capture. Using a tripod is the most important tool you can have to make your footage look professional, even if you’re just using an iPhone! I use “Gorillapods” http://joby.com/gorillapod because they fit on any camera you have, and are small, versatile, and sturdy. If there is no room to bring even a small tripod on your next trip, creativity can help you make a tripod out of almost anything! Set your camera on a table, chair, or whatever you can find in order to get a nice, steady shot.
  2. Avoid using the camera’s zoom function
    To keep the highest resolution possible, try and steer clear of the zoom function on your camera. Instead, physically move the camera closer to your subject to get that close up shot. This will also help reduce shakiness as well as keep the image clear and crisp for you to upload quality HD videos.
  3. Find your light!
    If you ever find yourself in Film School, one thing you’ll hear the most is how important it is to have good lighting. To put it simply, you won’t have a good video if you can’t see your subject! I find using natural light is the easiest, and most likely your only option while traveling. The sun can be your friend as well as your enemy. Filmed a certain way, the sun can definitely make a shot look exceptionally beautiful, and don’t be afraid to get creative when using the sun in your shot. If you are trying to film people, this is where direct sunlight can really hurt your footage. Avoid filming with the sun behind your subjects, as this will create unwanted silhouettes. In addition, if you’re filming with the sun hitting your subject, try and minimize the harsh shadows that it will create on their face. The best days to film are when it’s overcast, that way whatever you’re trying to film has light on all sides. When possible, seek out shaded places when filming a person, and look through the viewfinder at your subject as the lighting may look different through the camera.
  4. Less is more
    These days, technology is becoming more and more advanced, and compact digital cameras as well as entry-level DSLR cameras are being PACKED with functions that can get pretty confusing to use. You may be tempted to use that cool black and white filter, or play around with options such as white balance, gain, etc., but my advice would be to just stay away from them all together. The reality is, using these functions takes a lot of practice and even if you think you know what you’re doing, it is best not to chance it on that awesome shot of your travels. All cameras have an automated option for all of these functions, and I suggest only switching to manual settings if you absolutely MUST.
  5. Take long and short shots
    The story needs to be told from different angles. Make sure to take both close-ups and far away shots of you doing the travel activities that fit the location. A variety of shots is especially important because it keeps the viewer engaged. Remember tips 1 and 2 when filming close-up shots!
  6. Film real-life titles
    Of course adding titles to your footage while you’re editing is not a difficult task, but shooting “live” titles as you go make for a much more interesting final video. Look for road signs, menus, post-cards, or anything you think could be used as a title!
  7. Look out for local music
    Another great thing to have in post-production of a video is music that either reflects the mood of the footage, or possibly a song from a local artist from the location of your trip. Appropriate music will greatly influence how your final video is received by the viewer, and help them feel as if they were right there with you!
  8. Record narration
    A fun way to make your video stand out is to have narration. Whether you choose to record yourself speaking in the form of a video blog, or interview a fellow traveler or local, this tip can make for a more interesting video. Always pay attention to audio (you’ll learn more in tip 9) when recording someone speaking. If you choose to interview someone you don’t know, make sure you get their permission in the event you decide to post the video somewhere. It is also always nice to keep their name written down in case you would like to add a title into the video of them speaking.
  9. Audio matters
    Capturing usable audio with non-professional equipment is tricky, but not impossible. First, think about what kind of audio you may want to have later on when editing your video. Natural sound is important in every film, even if you are planning on adding music or a voice-over, and for capturing good natural sound you need to consider a few things. Secondly, be aware of where your camera’s microphone is located. You want to make sure your hands are not covering or bumping it while filming. Lastly, think about where you’re located: is it windy? Are you in a crowded, echo-y restaurant? Are you at a concert? If you notice there is a bit of extra wind out, try and position your camera so that there is minimal wind hitting it, or simply hold the camera a bit closer to your body and physically blocking the wind. If you’re in a crowded restaurant or loud concert, it is okay to get all of that background noise, you can simply lower the levels during editing as there isn’t usually a function to manually lower audio on a DSLR, GoPro, or compact digital camera. However, if you’re in this type of loud situation and are trying to record a single person speaking, make sure to move the camera as close to the subject as possible. Internal camera microphones are terrible, so they need all the help they can get when trying to record specific sounds. If you’re trying to record a narration, consider finding a quiet, carpeted room.
  10. Label footage! (You’ll thank me later)
    Working primarily on the editing aspect of creating a video has taught me a few very important things that all videographers should think about when filming. ALWAYS label your footage. I can’t tell you how many times I have filmed some seriously cool places, only to forget names and dates of the shot later on when I sit down to compile all my footage. Filming a trip results in LOTS of footage and even though you may think you’ll remember where you filmed a certain shot, it’s better to keep everything as organized as possible. If you really want to go above and beyond, try writing down the corresponding clip number each time you record. When you edit, these numbers will show up on each clip, and if you have the name of the place you’ve recording already written down with the clip numbers, then you can rename the files without having to re-watch everything! Trust me, it’s a huge time-saver.