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Travel Video Tips for Beginners

Originally posted on GoGirlGuides.com on 3/21/11:

Video.

There’s no better way to bring your travel memories to life than to have a well composed video to support your story or highlight a special aspect of your travels.

In last week’s column, I explored some of the budget-friendly high-tech gadgets that flashpackers could bring along to enhance their adventures. This week, we’ll take a deeper dive into the world of video and focus on some key techniques to get you shooting more effectively and confidently in an effort to elevate your travel videos to a higher standard.

The key point to keep in mind is that you don’t have to spend a lot of money on your equipment to end up with some polished content. Whether you’re shooting with a Flip or a higher end HD video camera, the same fundamental shooting principals apply.

Before we begin, a little about me (so you know who’s giving you these tips!)

I’ve worked in television for over 10 years, and recently worked at the Travel Channel. While I was there, we offered the Travel Channel Academy where we taught consumers how to shoot foolproof travel videos. All staff had to take the class as well, so some of the tips I learned in the class are featured here.

However, many of these tips are from my own tried and tested experiences and have helped me immensely whenever I go out in the world to shoot.

Let’s get started:

TIP #1: PLAN AHEAD

As with most endeavors, the key to any good video is planning. This will keep you from going out into the field, shooting wildly with no direction.

Choose your story angle.

Your story angle is the foundation of your entire project. Do you want to end up with a Top 5 video, or would you rather highlight a single place or experience? Once your angle is established, you’ll have the focus needed to truly start your planning.

Write a rough script

What is the story you want to tell? Thoroughly research your subject and write out your draft script before you go out to shoot. You can always adjust your script later, but having a script written out early in the process helps put a true structure to your project so that you can…

Plan your shot list

Every shot you take should have a purpose, and a shot list is a crucial tool to help keep you on track while you’re out in the field. Look at your script, and think, “What will I need to shoot to be able to visually tell this story?” Then create a checklist that you can bring with you by writing out each shot that you’d like to make sure you get.

Begin by identifying all establishing shots of the location (any signs, buildings, surrounding landscape, etc.)

Next, move down your script and figure out what you’d need to film to illustrate each thought or sentence.

For each shot that you identify, plan for at least 4 angles to provide diverse coverage.

For example… If you’d like to feature someone drinking wine, your shot list for that one detail would look something like this:

  • Close up: Wine being poured into a glass
  • Medium Shot: The subject drinking wine
  • Wide Shot: All of the people at the wine bar, including your subject
  • Unusual Angle: A shot from behind the subject looking towards the pourer

Here is an example of a video I created at a winery that utilizes these techniques:

Of course, while you’re in the field you should always be on the lookout for additional shots as well. But having a comprehensive shot list created ahead of time should at least help ensure you have enough relevant footage to work with when you’re back and ready to begin editing.

TIP #2: KNOW YOUR ENVIRONMENT

How you would successfully go about shooting a video in Seattle is very different than how you shoot in sunny South Beach.

When planning, try to choose a story angle that will be the least affected by potential environmental restrictions. As a beginner, your best bet is to shoot indoors or in mild climates so you can gain your confidence before graduating to the trickier environments.

Also, make sure your equipment is appropriate for the region you’re traveling to. If it’s rainy, bring plastic bags to protect your gear. If it’s windy, bring a tripod to help you keep a steady shot. If it’s sunny, bring a polarizing filter to cut the glare.

The better you think through the potential pitfalls of any given environment, the more successful your project will be. 

TIP #3: BE PREPARED TO BE ADAPTABLE
The above planning should help you come into the project with a calm and level-headed demeanor, but any number of things could go amiss along the way. Be ready to change your game plan to adapt to an unexpected scenario, if needed.

True story: I went to Chile’s Torres del Paine Park with the sole purpose of shooting a Top 5 video. I had planned to shoot 5 fantastic features, including kayaking, hiking… and amazing landscape vistas. However, when I got there, it was raining, snowing and utterly windy for 2 out of my 3 days in the park. To add insult to injury, I was virtually the only person there since it was off season so there was no one to actually be in my project.

I had to think really quickly on my feet to come up with alternative features to keep my Top 5 video interesting (and keep my employer happy!) so I ended up turning the unpredictable weather into one of the 5, and shot myself at times where there wasn’t anyone else around to shoot. Luckily my last day turned out to be pretty beautiful, so I was able to get at least a few of the breathtaking panoramas I had planned on.

Check out my finished video to see how I ended up working around these pitfalls.

TIP #4: KEEP A STEADY HAND

No one wants to watch a shaky video, so be sure to keep the camera as still as possible to instantly elevate the quality of your work.

The surefire way to do this is to use a tripod or monopod. There are many lightweight options that are well suited to the traveling lifestyle. However, even if you don’t have a tripod, there are a few equipment-free techniques you can use to steady a shot in a pinch.

Find a nice, flat surface to set your camera on at the height you’d like to shoot at. Compose your shot and use a book, wallet, rock or pretty much anything you can get your hands on to help level the shot. Hit record, then viola!

the new kid in town
photo credit: silas216

Alternatively, you can use your body to help keep the camera still. One way to do is this to lower your center of gravity by kneeling with one knee on the ground. Put the elbow of the arm that is holding the camera on the raised knee. Use your other arm to provide extra strength by holding the camera. This should give you more support and, ultimately, steadiness when you go to shoot.

TIP #5: BE SURE TO GRAB AT LEAST ONE INTERVIEW

I have always had a love/hate relationship with interviews. When I was first starting out as an amateur videographer, it was very hard for me to go up to strangers and ask for them to be on camera. However, you’ll find that most people are thrilled to be on camera so it’s not as daunting as it may at first seem.

Again, be prepared and think up a few key interview questions in advance. (For example: “What do you enjoy most about coming to South Beach?”)

Just ask your interview subject those few planned questions, and be sure that they form their thoughts into complete sentences. It is very difficult to edit in a sound bite if the interviewee doesn’t phrase their answers completely to include the context of the question. (For example, an answer such as “…The diverse cuisine.” is a much weaker sound bite than “I really love that South Beach has such diverse cuisine.”)

Even a line or two of interview content will an air of authority to your videos and makes them look more complete and professional. 

TIP #6: EDITING

Once you’ve shot your masterpiece, the next step is editing. Editing will help add interest and momentum to your video projects by piecing together a sequence of related shots to tell your story. 

Beginner editing software: 

Flip Camera ($: free… with a camera)
The Flip Camera’s editing software is free and comes embedded on each camera. The advantage is that it is fairly user friendly and it’s free. However, be prepared that your capabilities will be limited and there are no voice-over capabilities. 

iMovie ($: free… with a Mac computer)

All new Mac computers come with iMovie as part of the standard software package. It is a fairly comprehensive, yet easy to use, system and has a number of graphic packages to help easily transform your videos into a polished piece. You are also able to add voice-over to your projects. 

Higher End editing software:

Final Cut Express ($: 199)
Not for the amateur, Final Cut Express is a consumer alternative to the professional-grade Final Cut Pro editing software. This is best for those Mac users with editing experience who are looking to take their productions to the next level.


TIP #7: GRAPHICS AND MUSIC

Put the finishing touches on your projects by adding graphics and/or music.

Graphics are helpful in all travel videos to help establish the scene and purpose of your video. Most video editing software has at least basic text graphic capabilities for you to add titles, lower third banners (used to call out details such as the name of a place, person or tip) and credits.

Music isn’t always necessary in travel videos, but sometimes can add a nice touch. If you’ve decided you’d like to add music, first look to see if the editing software has any provided tracks that you can use. (The Flip has a number of licensed tracks available and free for you to use.) If there is no provided music for you to use, you can usually also import MP3 files as well. 

TIP #8: SHARING YOUR MASTERPIECE

When you’ve finally finished your travel video, there are a few popular options for where you can host your finished project.

First, YouTube is clearly the most mainstream option. The upload process is very simple and you’ll be part of the global phenomenon… and who knows, maybe your video will be the next viral video sensation!

Also, TripFilms is a fantastic resource for all travel videographers. Here you can post your videos, tag the destination and be part of a larger network of like-minded travelers. A great perk is that every time your videos are watched you earn points towards rewards that can be redeemed, such as Amazon and iTunes gift cards and American Airlines frequent flier miles. Also, post enough quality content to TripFilms, and you may get selected to be a TripVlogger, where your travel costs are paid for as you shoot commissioned content for their site!

**POST-SCRIPT: THE NOT SO FUN STUFF… AKA LEGAL CONSIDERATIONS**

If you are looking to do a video for fun and just upload it to YouTube, you really don’t need to worry too much about legality. However, I would be remiss if I didn’t at least mention a few legal considerations you should keep in mind if you are looking to take a more professional slant on your videos.

Releases are used in professional settings to help ensure that you’ve received the proper approvals from the location and individuals who appear in your video. If you are shooting a video for a company, first ask to see if they require releases. If you are shooting a video independently but with the intent of selling it to an established company, I’d recommend you plan on obtaining releases… just to be safe.

For locations, you should talk to the owner (restaurant, store, hotel or owned property) or tourism board (National Park, festivals, etc.) to get permission in advance of your shoot date. For your own protection, have them sign a location release. (An example is here – just adjust the details to reflect your project.)

Note: For some locations, especially National Parks, they may require you to pay a permit fee to shoot, depending on where your video will be published.

For individual releases, the same general idea applies. The key litmus test for this is recognizability- if a person could look back and say “hey, that’s me!” then you should try to obtain a release for that person.  A sample individual release is here.

Now, off you go… Happy shooting!

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