How to shoot great travel videos with limited equipment – Part 1: Camera

Veröffentlicht: 29. Juli 2014 in Communication, Technology
Schlagwörter:, , , ,

tutorial_travel_video_makingSince DSLRs and bridge photo cameras with large sensors are capable of recording high resolution video and since everyone can capture moving scenes with his smartphone a lot has changed – not only in the camcorder industry but also in the way self made videos look. In the last weeks I have edited some travel videos and watched hundreds of them on Vimeo. Here is what I have learned. A lot of it is influenced by the technological shift towards filmmaking with a photo camera.

Pimp your equipment

All travel videos you watch on Vimeo seem to be shot with a DSLR or another kind of filming photo camera. I don’t have one. I’m using a camcorder. Disadvantage compared to video making with a DSLR: You cannot achieve the cinematic look of low depth of field that you can easily get with a full frame or APS-C sensor (see below). Also lowlight capabilities are worse. Advantage compared to video making with a DSLR: Thanks to the smaller sensor it is much easier to keep things in focus. And in terms of handling and usability camcorders are totally optimized for filmmakers. Whatever you prefer – photo camera or camcorder – you should know the pros and the cons.

In addition to the camcorder I have a GoPro. The GoPro (or any other action cam) is a perfect second camera for traveling. You can easily put it into your pocket (as it is very small), you can shoot with a very wide angle (which hardly any camcorder is capable of) and you can use it in extreme situations (under water, in the air, attached to the car,…).


The last part of my traveling video equipment is really great value for money: Travel videos look much more professional if you use a tripod. But hardly anybody is willing to carry a real tripod which weights a couple of kilos and does not fit into the suitcase. For me a flexible Gorilla mini tripod turned out to be the ideal solution. You can easily attach it to balustrades, street lights or trees. It keeps your shots calm and the best: It costs just 10 € (plus the adapter if you want to use it with a GoPro).

Know your camera

Two years ago I went to Thailand. I wanted to make a nice travel video but I must admit that at this journey I didn’t know my camera good enough to achieve great results. Here are some errors I made:

  • My camcorder has different recording modes which are different in picture quality and file size. I didn’t know that (as these modes have strange names like HE, HA and so on) and accidently I went for the mode with the lowest quality…
  • The auto white balance of my camera doesn’t work great. The colours come out a bit too blue. When you know that you can easily handle that limitation by setting the white balance manually or by using presets. But it is a pity if you find it out too late when watching the scenes on your TV…
  • GoPro wants the footage to look good without any need for post processing (because most users will never do it). That is why the picture delivered by the camera is high in saturation and contrast. Whilst that is a plus in many situations it is a downside especially in high contrast environments with lower light. All darker picture parts are just black. And you cannot fix it in the post by pulling the contrast down as the details in the darker picture parts are just lost. If I had known that before I would have shot those scenes in ProTune mode. It delivers a flat image which is low in contrast and saturation. You definitely have to grade it afterwards but in post you have the detail of picture detail you need.

These are just a few examples from my personal experience. But what I think is essential to do before you go on your holiday: Get to know your camera very, very well. Try all the modes, read a lot about the camera and know how to handle its limitations. It will prevent you from painful surprises in post-production.

Photographer or filmmaker?

Since DSLRs have learned recording video it seems to me a lot of former photographers have now become filmmakers. The (moving) pictures look great but in many cases the videos look like a sequence of stills with music but with no story behind. You can even see it in the clips‘ titles: „Postcard from [fill in your travel destination]“. I really like watching those kind of short videos and I have edited a few myself (see below). But if your plan is to make a travel video that lasts longer than the duration of the song you enrich your video with you need to tell little stories that will keep up the viewers‘ attention.

What I mean is: Try to ban the little adventures you experience during your journey on video. The little adventures follow the basic principle of dramaturgy: Someone has an aim, has difficulties achieving it and finally reaches it (or not). One example: One day at the beach we were out of cash. There was a cash machine on the next beach but we couldn’t get there easily as we had to walk through the low tide and then the flood came… After nearly crashing my camera in the water we finally reached the other beach. Those little stories will enrich every travel video.

Try to tell your adventures in a sequence of some scenes (including establishing shot to explain the setting and some close-ups). Even for those „postcard from…“ kind of videos I think it is beneficial to make use of a storytelling principal. For example in my video „amazing Indonesia“ I tried to concatenate the scenes as if it all would have happened within a single day at different locations in the country – from sunrise to sunset. You can take a look at it here:

[vimeo 97979637]


Getting nice shots with any camera

 Low depth of field („bokeh“)

You know those kinds of shots from every Hollywood production: Your view is totally focused on the actor because the background is blurred. This cinematic look with low depth of field is called „bokeh„. How to get that look?







1. Chose a camera with a big sensor

Your camera only has a 1/4 or 1/3 inch sensor? No problem. You still can get that kind of look by following step 2 und 3.

2. Open up the aperture

The more open the aperture is the lower the depth of field will be. To avoid overexposure make use of an internal or external ND-filter which reduces the quantity of light. As an alternative you can also reduce shutter speed. But be aware that reducing the shutter speed will also reduce the motion blur. You might not like motion blur in photos but in videos it makes the motion in the scene come out smoother.

3. Make your shots on a long lens

The easiest way to get the bokeh look is to film in telephoto mode. The more you zoom in the more blurred the background (or foreground) of the object you are filming will be. The effect will increase if you keep the distance from the camera to the object much shorter than from the object to the background (see example pictures above).

The magic hour

Keep in mind that sunshine at noon is anything but perfect for filmmakers. The contrasts caused by the shadows are usually too high and the colour temperature is rather cool. In contrast to that shooting in the „magic hour“ after sunrise or before sunset will give you nice warm colour and long shadows that are interesting to watch.







Chose the right foreground (or background)

Especially when you film in a wide angle you should always try to look for objects you can place in the foreground. That will give your images depth. And when you shoot on a telephoto lens put at least some attention to the object’s background. Often it is worth walking a bit to right or left to significantly improve you picture.

Mix different field sizes and perspectives

I have seen a lot of travel videos that mainly consist of long shots recorded at eye level. Long shots are essential for every travel video as they show your audience where you are. But don’t forget close-ups and detail shots as those shots are important to provoke emotion. As a rule of thumb in every location you are filming you should at least make three shots – and those shots should significantly differ in field size. Also try to mix perspectives. It is sometimes worth to lie on the ground or to climb a building for a good shot.

Pan and zoom with caution

Camera movement is one of the main aspects that sets filmmaking apart from photography. For a long time I had the impression that there was far too much panning and zooming in self made travel videos. Now that filming photo cameras have conquered the market it seems to be the other way around. Zooms and pans can hardly be found in travel videos today. From my point of view pans and zooms can enrich a travel video if they are used with caution. For pans it will look better if you follow a moving object than if you make a panoramic pan through the landscape (without a real tripod). And if you really want to achieve great camera movement you should consider using a slider – but be aware that a slider is really heavy gear for your holiday suitcase…

That was part 1 of this (rather entry level) introduction into travel video making. Part 2 will follow soon. In part 2 I will concentrate on what I have learned about post production and audio.

If you want to get more advanced information I recommend you to turn to the pros:

  • Philip Bloom: This DOP shares so much of his knowledge in his blog… Simply fantastic. Main focus is DSLR filmmaking. Also take a look at the education section on his site.
  • David Kong: This film student has made a beautiful travel video called „Portrait of Macerata„. It is definitively worth a look as David gives you dozens of useful hints on how to shot a perfect travel video in the making of. Be aware that this guy is really a perfectionist. Impressive!
  • Fenchel & Janisch: You can learn a lot about filmmaking from those guys if you watch the tutorials on their Youtube channel.

German Websites for filmmakers

  • Nice site with lots of information about cameras and further equipment for filmmakers.
  • Videoaktiv is my favourite filmmaking magazine and I also turn to their website quite often. Do not forget to check out the forum for interesting discussions about the latest filmmaking technology.

Inspiring Clips

  • Watch thousands of inspiring travel videos in Vimeo’s group HD travel videos.
  • I appreciate if you take a look at my holiday clips on Vimeo. For privacy reasons I have protected the longer versions of my travel videos with passwords.

Related articles in my blog

  1. Lae sagt:

    Great and informative posts! Where is part 2?

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