When I first started making travel videos 5 years ago, I never had any experience or any education related to filmmaking. I was using a compact camera to record my epic Himalayan solo hiking trip for myself as a memory. Five years passed and 40 travel videos later, I finally have my videos featured on National Geographic, BBC, and Vimeo. I miraculously found a small niche audience that enjoys the video that I initially created just for myself. So today, I will talk to you about the things I have learned after 5 years making travel videos, mostly through trial and error, and share with you 10 tips that I wish I knew before I started making travel videos.
What Kind of Travel Videos Do I Make?
Travel videos comes in many forms, from the usual walk and talk vlogging style to a more street run-gun-shoot style and it is important for you to know which kind of travel videos you want to make before you begin shooting. Personally, I prefer a more cinematic, fast-cut, inspirational video with little to no narration. You can see the style of my travel videos here.
Find a purpose for your travel videos by asking yourself, "who are the videos for?" and "what kind of feeling do you want your viewers to feel at the end?". For example, the purpose of my travel videos is to inspire people to visit the country through beautiful visual, authentic interaction and transferring the energy I got from the country through visual and sound. My videos are not meant to be informative, and so the cinematic, fast-cut style is most suitable for the purpose of my video.
What Camera Gear Do I Use?
I used to use a more compact, light-weight setup with the Sony Rx100M3 as my go-to camera. This is a good starting point for those who are not so familiar with basic camera settings like apeture, ISO amd shutter speed. The RX100 helps automate most of the process while giving you the option to go manual anytime if you need to.
I have since moved on to a little more advanced, but light-weight gear and now, I am currently rocking the Sony a6500 mirrorless camera with a 16-70mm F4 Zeiss lens. The camera shoots in 6K but downscaled to a 4K format, giving me a sharper footage than most traditional 4K format. The lens is also good for general purposes, with wide enough angle for landscape, zoom far enough for a close up shot of people without them noticing, and it's compact for the kind of range you get.
For more detail of the gear I used, here is all the gear I carry in my bag now.
Which Program Do I Use to Edit
I started out using iMovie with my first few videos since it was really easy to use and already available on my Macbook. If you are just starting out, a simple program like iMovie is the way to go as it lets you learn the ropes a little easier than starting directly with advanced tools.
I have since moved to Adobe Premiere Pro though and have been working with it, together with Adobe After Effects for more than 3 years now and have not looked back since. You can also use Final Cut Pro if you are on a Mac. The benefit for using Final Cut Pro is that since it was built to run on OSX, it is more optimized and render faster than Adobe Premiere Pro on OSX. Try it out by signing up for a trial run and see which one you want to invest in.
10 Tips on How To Make a Great Travel Video
1. Watch Tons of Travel Videos
Most skills are best learned through great examples and travel filmmaking is no different. When I first started, I used to watch tons and tons of travel videos every week, until I was inspired enough to create my own. I like to observe how travel videos work, what kind of format they used, why did they put this clip before the other clip, why and how they shot a certain frame, and from that, I would go out, experimented, filmed and came up with my own style.
Vimeo Travel is a great place to find high quality inspiring travel videos that you can learn from. The community is pretty active, and they usually list the gear they used and the story behind the video. Watch through a few of those videos, pick your favorite, and learn from them.
I have also compiled a list of the world's most inspiring travel videos of all time if you want some examples to learn from.
2. Prepare the camera settings before your trip
One of the last things you want to do is to change a picture profile of your camera while you are on the trip. That would create a lot of unnecessary headache along the line, especially while you are in the editing booth color-correcting. Before your trip, experiment on which settings work best for you and set it to default for all modes. Avoid changing any settings that would affect your footages for consistency of the footages you will get.
For my Sony a6500, I have the 2 memory buttons set to 4K, 25fps with picture profile 6 (Cine2, Cinema Color Mode) for general footages and 1080p, 120fps with the same picture profile for slow-motion shots respectively so that I can easily switch between modes depending on the type of footages I want to get at that moment. Spend some time and experiment with your camera, find the right settings, and stick to it for the entire trip.
3. Shoot Smartly
Shooting as much as you can is a great advice because when you are back home editing, you will wish you had more material to work with but there is a thin line between shooting enough and overshooting. Don't forget to enjoy the country itself and remind yourself once in a while why you travel in the first place.
What I often do is I will dedicate a block of time for shooting videos during when the light is at its best which is usually in the early morning, or around sunset. That way I am getting the most beautiful footage I can get from that place, and I still have an entire day to explore and enjoy the experience.
4. Come up with a Story
This is not easy and I have struggled with it many times myself due to the fact that traveling is spontaneous and unplanned, and in order to tell a great story, it requires us to do extensive research and careful planning. Unless you have the budget and the time to scout a location, come up with a story and dictate actors around, you will have to settle with the chaos and spontaneous that comes with traveling and that is why it is so important to have your camera ready at all time and shoot as much as you can.
In order to create a story from chaos, you need enough material that you can connect the dot and come up with a beginning, a middle and an end. For example, after a trip, I would open up all my footages and go through them one by one, while trying to find a common thread that can be weaved into a story. It doesn't have to be Spielberg quality, you just need to come up with a loose story that goes well with your footages and the country. That way, your viewers will keep themselves engaged long enough to watch your videos until the end.
A great example is my Daydreams in the Philippines video which I shot unplanned and spontaneous but I was able to come up with a story to engage the viewers in. The video started off in Manila, a buzzing capital city of the Philippines, where the video cut to a woman sitting in a jeepney closing her eyes and then it cuts to all the footages of the adventure I had in the country, all weaved together consistently throughout the entire video until the end when the woman opened her eyes and realizing she was daydreaming, hence the name.
5. Make it More About the Country, Less about Yourself
Nowadays, too often time, travel videos tend to focus a lot on the filmmakers and how great their lives seems to be which is not what travel videos are about. Travel videos are supposed to tell a story about a location, showcase the sceneries, the locals, and the food etc. not a platform to show off your life.
Shoot fewer videos of all the parties you had in a country and more of the local people, the architecture, the history, and weave them all together to tell a unique and engaging story that will inspire people to follow your footsteps and do the same.
6. Diversify your Shots
As mentioned before, travel videos don't have the luxury of having a proper structure and an engaging story to keep the audience interested so it is important for you to experiment and diversify the way you shoot videos in order to keep your audience until the end.
Try panning left, right, up, down, shoot time-lapse or on a moving vehicle, shoot from worm eyes view, slowly spinning shots, or from different angles. One of my favorite techniques, which I used a lot when I'm in a church in Europe is to wrap my camera strap around my neck, tilt the camera up and slowly spinning my body to capture a smooth motion of all the beautiful ceilings of cathedrals and churches. You can see an example in my Russia video at around 1:22 mark.
Taken from my RUSSIA video.
7. Create Motion
One difference between travel photography and videography is that most of the beautiful architecture you find when you are traveling can be beautifully captured with a photo, but when it comes to videos, due to the lack of motion, you will not be able to capture the excitement and the energy of the place like photography does. You will need to create your own motion and there are several ways you can do that. You can try creating your own motion with a simple camera movement like panning, use time-lapse to bring life into an otherwise static building or landscape, or shoot something that is already moving like kids playing, pigeons flying or people dancing.
One of my favorite techniques is to do a Hyperlapse (a moving time-lapse). Most tutorials will teach you how to do it with a tripod but ain't nobody got time for that, so what I did was I shoot each photo handheld and move with my feet. I then compile the photos into a video and stabilize it in Adobe Premiere Pro. If you are interested, you can learn how to do it yourself by watching this tutorial on Youtube.
Here is an example of a hyperlapse I did in Poland:
Taken from my Proudly Poland video.
8. Get close-up shots of locals
Nothing can invoke more human emotion than having a person staring intensely at your camera. We, humans, interact with each other every day. We love, we laugh, we cry because of each other and we can utilize that in our travel videos to bring out a strong emotion from your audience.
Taken from my RUSSIA video.
For example, in my Russia video, I was shooting a local and she noticed me and stared intensely and the camera. As the music becomes more intense, so is the audience due to the fact that they started to realize that the woman is actually staring at them.
When you are traveling, if you have a chance to get to know a local, ask to take a video of them for your film and keep the camera rolling even when you say you've got the shot. I found that the reaction of relief after the shoot is the most authentic.
9. Connect your shots in a meaningful way
This is probably one of the hardest and most time-consuming parts of editing a travel video. Most travel videos look like a bunch of random clips stitched together with no purpose or story behind it, which is alright but if you want to create a great travel video and stand out from the rest, you need to pay attention to how the clips are connected.
Let's look at one of the best example of travel videos with meaningful transition, the Watchtower of Turkey. When you watch it, it may seem like everything is random, and yet you don't seem to mind. That is because every single clip in this video is connected either by a motion of an object, a camera movement direction, dominant colors, shapes or luminant, all to create a single flow that dictates the entire travel video.
As mentioned before, travel videos are spontaneous which makes it harder to plan meaningful transitions between shots but it is not impossible. What I usually do is, following the third tip from this article, I will be left with plenty of material to work with at the end, I would then display all the footages in a catalog (Adobe Lightroom is great for this) and I would look through the catalog one by one a few times over before I find 2 clips with a meaningful transition and then I work it out from there.
10. Export it properly
Last but not least, export your video with proper settings so that all your hard work won't be ruined by a poor finished product. A good rule of thumb is to export it in the highest quality possible with the settings consistent with the source. For example, if the majority of your footages are shot in 25fps, set your sequence to 25fps when editing, and export it in a ProRes (RAW) format in 25fps. Why RAW? So that you have a high-quality version backed up and then you can convert the RAW ProRes file into a different format which is much faster than converting again directly from the source.
After months of experimenting, I also found out a way to retain the video quality when uploading to Youtube and Vimeo. The key is to export your video in ProRes 422 format (here is how to install ProRes to Adobe Premiere Pro if you don't have one listed under Quicktime in the export menu), which retains enough quality without the gigantic file size and then upload the ProRes file directly and let the platform convert and compress the video for you. Do not compress your video to MP4 by yourself because Youtube and Vimeo will compress it again, causing your video to lose even more quality. This is really helpful if you want to retain the grain effect for your vintage cinematic travel videos.
And there you have it, all the lesson I have learned so far on how to make a great travel video. What do you think? Did I miss anything from the list? If you have any tips and tricks to share, feel free to do it in the comments below. Safe travels and happy filming!
P.S. If you want to see more of my travel videos, I have created a page compiling all the travel videos I have done so far here.
The Solo Traveler’s Resources is a series of posts by Bucketlistly where we will explore the ways of life of nomads including how we work, travel, and what we carry in our backpack.
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