I often get ask a lot about my travel videos, how I created them, what software do I use and what is my workflow and I never actually had the time to explain my work process fully so today, I decided to write a step-by-step guide which will cover everything from my camera settings to what I do while traveling and eventually into the editing booth.
This is by no mean a professional way of doing travel videos since I do not have proper education on filmmaking but from my personal experience through countless trial and error, I was able to find a workflow that works perfectly well and I would like to share that with you so you don't have to go through the through all the mistakes I had encountered. Without further ado, let's begin with the first step of how I create a travel video, travel gear.
Travel Gear I Use
First and foremost, before every big trip, I will always list my camera gear and see how it will fit in my backpack. I am a light traveler with one 60L backpack for clothes and one 25L Herschel daypack for all my camera gear so space management is very important.
I have written an article recently about what gear I carry for travel filmmaking and to summarize, these are the camera gear I carry in my daypack in 2018:
Camera: Sony a6500
General Purpose Lens: Sony 16-70mm F4 (SEL1670Z)
Low light Lens: Sony 35mm f/1.8 (SEL35F18)
Wide Angle Lens: Rokinon 12mm F2.0 (RK12M-E)
Tripod: Rangers 57” Ultra Compact
Storage:SanDisk SD Card
And a few other gear that helps ease the pain of travel filmmaking like cleaning solution or battery packs.
Sony a6500 Camera Settings I Use
I always configure all my camera gear before a trip because traveling is spontaneous and if I always have to fiddle with my camera settings all the time, I would probably miss a lot of what is going on in front of me which is not ideal. I usually spend a few hours trying new settings like Picture Profiles, Memorize settings into shortcuts, and experimenting with settings under low light condition etc.
From a painstaking process of trial and error, I have found the most optimal settings for my Sony a6500 and I will share it here for those of you who have the same or similar Sony camera to mine:
Picture Profile: PP6, Cine2 Gamma, and Cinema Color Mode.
Memory 1 Button: For 4K footage, XAVC S 4K format, 25p 100M Record Setting, Shutter Speed Priority, ISO Auto, Auto White Balance, Auto Focus Continuous
Memory 2 Button: For Slow Motion,XAVC S HD format, 100p 100M Record Setting, Shutter Speed Priority, ISO Auto, Auto White Balance, Auto Focus Continuou
And that is pretty much it for my camera settings. I used to use a flat picture profile like SLOG2 which works amazingly well at bringing more detail out of my footages but it proved to be quite difficult to work within different lighting condition, especially when it's really dark or really bright and I spent a lot of time fixing most of the footages in post because of that, so now I am back to a normal cinematic picture profile again.
Where Should I Go?
After experimenting with my camera, it is time to decide where to go. I personally prefer going to countries nobody goes, and places nobody talks about so that I can tell a unique story in my travel video that not a lot of people know.
Once I pick a location, I will often come up with a loose concept in my mind that I'll use to structure my film. This concept often evolves into a better one over time as I experience the country more and more. This is to be expected as I can not tell a story from my imagination alone, I have to experience the country first and let the story evolves with it.
If that is the case, then why bother coming up with a concept at all, you asked? Well, the concept is there to initially guide me on an approach I should take to keep everything structured and consistent. I work better with limitations and if I have to follow a concept, I would approach the video in a more creative way.
For example, when I arrived in Russia, I decided to focus more on cityscapes instead of human interactions so I approach the film by going up to lookout points or where people move around a lot like a bus stop, set up my tripod and take a few timelapse videos.
When I was there, the weather was terrible, and daylight was short, so I had to adapt to the situation and went for more time-lapse of clouds, and shot everything at night and let the artificial light illuminated the city instead. As you can see, the timelapse concept stuck, but the way I approach the film evolved throughout the trip.
If you are interested to see the result, here is my RUSSIA video which earned me my first Staff Picks from Vimeo.
2. While Traveling
Storage and Security
Now that I am on the road, it is important to know how I should store my data safe and secure. I do not want to lose everything like I did in Cologne, Germany when someone stole my bag so what I do is, I will carry one external hard drive, and have an exact-copy at home so that I don't lose everything if someone steals my bag again.
I will then use a 128GB SD card in my camera and shoot with it for my entire trip. When I am done for the day, I would then transfer the new footages to my external hard drive as a backup, but still, kept the data in the SD card and put them in separate places. SD Card would be in my camera in my daypack and external hard drive in my big backpack. That way, if someone decided to steal one of my bags, I would still have everything intact either in my SD card or in my external hard drive.
I found this to be the surest way to not lose everything when something goes wrong. It's better to be prepared than to be sorry at the end. Trust me, I learned that the hard way.
Before a day begins, I will think about the place I am going and organize my gear accordingly. For example, if I am going underwater, I will prepare my GoPro and leave my other lens behind so I don't have to carry everything or if I'm hiking, I'll leave my laptop behind, and bring my tripod and wide lens.
If you are carrying drones, and gimbals, this is a must for you because you will find yourself with no space for essentials like a place for a bottle of water or snacks for a long day etc.
What and How Should I Shoot?
Now that I am all prepared, It is time to go out and shoot something. What and how I will shoot will depend on the location mostly. If it is a city where there is a lot of people like an old town square, I would go with a timelapse of people from above, usually up a tower or something, or a close-up shot of people interacting with each other.
If I'll be seeing a lot of architecture and monuments, a simple, pan or spin shot of the architecture or hyper-lapse are what I often do.
If I am hiking in nature, on a cloudy day, timelapse is also a good option, but if it's a clear day, I would try to get a shot of human interacting with nature to capture the scale of the mountains, or if there is no one around for me to shoot, I'll set up a tripod and do it myself.
If I'll be camping overnight, I will always go with a night timelapse of the Milky Way or wake up early morning for a sunrise time-lapse.
The most important part is to be at the right place at the right time. For example, I was walking around the streets of Seoul at night and I stumbled upon a parade. I followed the parade and it led me to a stage full of people singing and dancing. Apparently, it was a Buddha's birthday celebration and I was lucky enough to be able to witness considering that it was coincident, and a happy one at that.
If you are interested in watchong the Korea video I mentioned above, here is WTF Korea.
Want to learn more about creative ways to shoot a travel video? I have also written an article about it here: How to Make a Great Travel Video.
3. In the Editing Booth
Once I am at the end of my trip, I will spend at least a day to think about what kind of music I want to use in my travel videos. It is one of the most important parts of my travel videos and it can dictate how my audience will feel about my travel videos at the end. I always want my travel videos to inspire people, so I will often pick music that is fast and uplifting with a climb that will eventually peak and drop.
This is where the loose concept comes in handy. For example, the concept of my Turkmenistan video was isolation due to the country's nature of being isolated so I picked a music that is ambient and eery which match perfectly well with all my footages.
The best place to find good music for your video is MusicBed.com. They have a great selection of high quality music for a reasonable price. I personally like this website because I can filter through their collection by mood and genre, and add a bunch to my favorite list so I can decide later. Artlist.io is also another great alternative with different (cheaper) approach to travel video music selection.
If you are looking for a free option, I've got that covered as well. Check out, the Free Music Archive, an interactive library of high-quality music available for you to use for free. I found and used quite a few of their music before as well.
Once I find the music, I often have to decide whether I want to modify the length of the music and cut it in a way that is not too short or too long or not. For a travel video, I found that the most optimum length of a video is between 3 - 4 minutes mark. Anything shorter will leave the audience wanting more and anything longer will bore them and they will become disengaged and leave.
Overview of Footages
After I select my music, I will then import all my footages into Adobe Ligthroom, organize them into countries and look through all the footage one by one. With Lightroom, I can spread the footages out into a grid and sort it by the date it was taken so that I will know roughly where the footages were taken from.
Adobe Lightroom also has a peek feature where I can hover my cursor over the footage and move to peek at the video without actually opening it which is perfect for my puny little Macbook Pro (2015) that are always giving me a difficult time when viewing 4K footages.
For editing, I will use Adobe Premiere Pro and together with Lightroom catalog, I will then look through the catalog, find the right video and then drag it from Lightroom into Adobe Premiere Pro timeline, thanks to the well-integrated Adobe products.
How I start editing my video will depend on the material I got but my approach often boils down to finding the most uplifting part of the music, which is when the beat drops, and then I will find the most impressive footage with a lot of motion, for example, people dancing or hyper-lapses, throw it on my timeline and see which one sticks.
Once I find the best one, I will then work out from there by trying to find another footage that connects well with the one I picked to create a seamless transition either through camera movement, object motion, shape, dominant colors, or luminant. I will do this one by one until I fill up my timeline.
It is a time-consuming process which may take at least 2 days but I think it is the best way to keep my video interesting and unique.
In the editing process, I would start stitching all the video up on the timeline and once I filled it all up, I will watch through the entire video and add more refined transitions using Adobe Premiere Pro transform effect. That way, I can create easing effect that will help smoothen any artificial transition effects I added in post. I also like to use the great smooth transition effects created by Chungda sometimes which can be found here: Seamless Transition Effect by Chungdha.
The third step of my editing workflow is to add artificial sound effect to the video to create a more immersive travel video experience. More often than not, my built-in microphone is usually not good enough to pick up decent sound or sometimes, I might be interrupted by an unwanted sound like wind or loud city noises so I always muted my footages and use a sound effect that best reflect the imagery in my video.
The best place to get access to a great collection of sound effects is through Audio Blocks which has a great search feature that allows me to find the right sound for my video. The peeking feature is also convenient as I can hear the sound by just hovering my cursor on the sound clip I want to hear.
When I am satisfied with my video sound effect, I will then move on to color correction. I often use the default Color Correction workspace on Adobe Premiere Pro, create an adjustment layer and add it in my timeline above my entire video and use LUTS to add creative effect to the adjustment layer. That way, the colors will come out consistently throughout the video.
From there, I would go into each clip, select Basic Color Correction on the right panel, and fix exposure and saturation individually. Once done, I'll prerender the video and watch it, see if anything seems off, fix it and repeat until I am satisfied with my video.
Which LUTS did I used? I love the IWLTBAP Cinematic LUTS which comes with over 200 different presets for all kinds of mood I need for my travel video. It only costs 25 USD for all the presets which I think is probably one of the best investment I had done so far. What a bargain!
Export and Upload Online
After finishing up everything, I would then go on to export the video in ProRes 422 format, which is a raw format that retains quality but still reasonably sized and keep it as a backup. I would then convert the ProRes video file into other formats if need be. That way, I don't have to waste time converting from the source through Adobe Premiere Pro again which takes forever.
One thing I learned, from countless hours of poor quality videos uploaded, is that if I wanted to retain the quality of my video, I should not export it in H264 MP4 format on the get-go. H264 MP4 format is a lossy format and even though the file size maybe significantly smaller than ProRes, I am also sacrificing a lot of detail for it and if I decided to upload the MP4 file to Youtube or Vimeo, the platform will compress and convert my video in MP4 format even further which is where I will lose all the fine detail that I painstakingly put into my video such as cinematic noise effect etc.
I always upload my travel videos to Vimeo because I enjoy the community there more, where it feels like it is more about the creative community than to get exposure like Youtube but it will depend entirely on you where you want your content to be. If you want to get more audience, Youtube is the way to go but if you want a more positive feedback loop to improve your filmmaking skill, I still think Vimeo is the best for that.
And there you have it, my entire workflow for creating a travel video. I realized that it got a little too technical halfway through and so if you have any question or suggestion on how to improve the guide, feel free to let me know in the comments below.
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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