Off on a travel adventure with your video camera in hand? Follow our guide to get the best results from your holiday footage, regardless of your video skills.
Our Top 10 Tips for Shooting Awesome Travel Holiday Videos – Documentary Style
Traveling is an amazing experience, especially if you’re going to somewhere off the beaten track, or a completely different country to what you’re used to. Capturing photos and videos of your experience can be a great way of keeping the memories of your travels intact, but it can equally become a boring, maudlin mess of video cluttering up your hard drive. So how to capture the experience, without missing the best bits or getting generic video content?
Key elements of shooting documentary-style travel videos
1. Start at Departure
Start building your travel story right at the start, at the airport/departure on your trip. These shots (even if you had to capture them later on) will give a nice context to your video, rather than – BANG! now we’re in Africa! This technique is always used in TV documentaries and travel movies. If you fly somewhere for example, try to get a plane take off, then some footage on the plane and landing, and then film another plane as it takes off if you can, especially if the airstrip is somewhere remote or interesting.
2. Focus on People
Your fellow travelers, family and friends are the most important part of your video (not the scenery!). Go through your photo album and see which photos you like the most, and which are just ‘same-same’. I’ll bet the best ones are where you/your kids/the girl you just met on the tourist bus, are standing in front of the landmarks, not the landmark itself. Get people in there! Capture conversations if you can. Kids jumping in front of the camera, while you try to get that shot? Let them! Trust us, in a few years time when they’re surly teenagers, you will wish you had footage of those cute moments on your trip when they were so amazed by a sea lion/waterfall/butterfly.
3. One Establishing Shot
One opening wide shot, and maybe one pan (if you’re steady or you have a camera slider) then move onto the action. One sweep and one direction only please people! Never never NEVER pan one way, then back again! (see point 6 about feeling sick while watching your finished videos). If you’re not sure if you’ve ‘got’ it, go back to where you started the shot, and shoot again. No reason not to take multiple shots if you’re using a digital camera.
4. Point, shoot, stop
Point, shoot, stop shooting. Then point and shoot at something else. Leave about a 3 second gap at the start and end of your footage for the best results. Don’t forget to experiment. Put the camera down on the ground and leave it rolling for a little while. Lag behind your companions to shoot them walking along/climbing/whatever. Race in front to get some footage of them walking towards you. Shoot down from a high point, not just at the horizon. Don’t go nuts, but if it’s possible try to keep the motion heading in the same direction, do it (but remember, you can always flip the footage in your edit so it runs the same way as everything else).
5. Sound Recording
Only talk while shooting if you plan to keep it as a voiceover. Otherwise, try to say nothing if possible, or as little as you can, and let the people you are filming do the talking. Ideally, if you want the full ‘movie effect’ in your video, set the camera down somewhere and just record the sounds of the place for a while (ask your friends to chill and keep quiet for a moment). That’s all you need to create an ‘atmos’ track (short for ‘atmosphere’ and it creates exactly that). This will give your finished videos a really professional look, and it also gives you a handy backup if you are filming a great bit of footage, but then a noisy truck rumbles past just at the best bit. We talk about sound a lot – if you want energy in your videos, you NEED sound. Video with no sound is ALWAYS lacking energy, even with a music backing track. To see what we mean, have a look at the video in our last post, a shorter version of the Myanmar Balloon Ride that we used for promotion. Note how in the middle section, where we show the unedited footage, there is no sound (only music)? We did that deliberately to emphasize the energy that a full soundtrack gives your footage.
6. Keep it Still!
Remember our tip (and we can’t say this enough) – it’s the action in camera that moves, NOT the camera itself! Keep that sucker still! Your stomach will thank you when you’re watching it back later on. Trust us, nothing creates that ‘sea sick’ feeling more than a camera that’s waving about all over the place. (Lucky we have strong stomachs!)
7. Location, location
Don’t forget to shoot things like your hotel, place names, street names, local characters, shops and houses, and a bit of ‘travel in between’ footage. Unlike photos, which are ‘point of place’, video is all about the journey and the story you tell about it. If you are traveling to a different country, especially one that’s a bit off the beaten track, things will be very different – even down to where the locals do their shopping. (see our Myanmar Markets travel video here to see what we mean. To the locals this is just ‘shopping’ but for you, it’s a whole new experience).
If you want the full David Attenborough experience, find out a bit about the places you visit, and do a ‘voiceover’ back at your hotel or backpackers. Break out the Travel Guide and read it, if you can’t think of the words yourself. Just narrating a short description of what you’ve just seen, in a quiet space, can be added as an overlaid narrative, and it give your footage a whole new level of professionalism. Don’t try to narrate as you shoot unless you have a really excellent mic (not the one on the camera), or a nice loud, clear voice (and a good idea of what you plan to say!).
9. Tour Guide Narrator
Got a personal travel guide or a tour guide? Ask them questions, interview them on camera and try to get as much of what they’re saying into your footage as possible. They will do the narration for you. Don’t try to film the location at the same time (we’re back to that camera waving about the place, people!!), just film the guide while they are talking until you feel you have enough material. If you didn’t get the start of what they said, keep on filming until you know you’ve got a start and end of something worth using, and only then turn to the scene to film that separately. (Don’t worry what they’re saying at that point – you’re going to wipe it out, use the previous footage of the guide speaking, and switch between footage of the guide and footage of the thing they’re talking about.
10. Be There!
This last tip is probably the hardest one, but it’s also hugely important. Don’t video all the time! Put the camera down, look at where you are, drink it in, really experience it. Travel is an amazing, immersive experience. Watching your entire trip through a camera lens can be a bit like watching a movie – you’re not really THERE. So put the camera aside for a moment and experience your trip in the real world. NOW, try to capture what it’s all about. What grabs your attention? What is most worthy of pointing that camera at and shooting? If you do this, we promise you’ll get a better final movie, because in that moment – while everyone else takes video of the Eiffel Tower – you will instead have spotted a Nigerian guy selling little plastic Eiffel Towers, talking to a tiny child. Or a bunch of Parisian women commenting on the tourists. Or two lovers holding hands while they gaze up at the monument. Any number of other things which say more about the place, its flavour and its atmosphere than the monument or the ‘tourist lure’. By the way, everyone else will have captured that for you anyway so if you’re with a group and you swap footage you won’t miss it. Look around for the real starring shot to capture that ‘sense of place’. It may not be what you think.
If you want a great, easy reading guide to shooting good amateur videos, we recommend Steve Stockman’s book ‘How To Shoot Video That Doesn’t Suck’.
Thalia Kemp is the video and sound editor at Sonic Eye sound and video editing in Sydney, Australia