The newbie’s guide to making travel videos

Using a Flip video camera in Kenya (courtesy whiteafrican on Flickr CC)To record travel impressions or memories, my first reaction is to find a pen and paper. Hey, I’m 48 so that’s how I roll (plus pen/paper always boot up.)

Once I began blogging, of course, a trusty laptop or Internet cafe connection became a favored tool.

Within the last few years, however, I’ve started doing more photography and video.  On a visit to Bali, I was struck by how the locals all seemed to view themselves as artistic, rather than in so much of Western culture where only “arty types” think of themselves as artistic.  I decided to push myself more in mediums other than text, including crafting photos (which felt like play) and in shooting video (which felt like I was way overreaching my capabilities.)

Still, a point and shoot disposable pocket video camera from the CVS drugstore chain convinced me that I could point the device at something, press a button to record, and narrate what I was seeing (my first effort was on Duke of Gloucester Street in Colonial Williamsburg, where reenactors made my task easy.)

Since that day in Virginia, I’ve tried to train my brain to look for opportunities to tell visual stories, not just text ones.  Here’s what I’ve learned.

1)  Get an idiot-proof camera, like the Flip.  Turn it on, point it to what’s interesting, press the red “Record” button and there you go.  Simply narrate what you’re seeing, or let the action speak for itself like this Native American dance in Albuquerque.

2)  Don’t jiggle. Pan slowly. Anchor your hands, arms and body when you’re shooting. No one wants to look at your seemingly drunken, weaving coverage of the Zócalo festivities.  When you pan across a scene, go more slowly than you think is necessary. Sure, you can move the camera quickly, but all of your viewers will want to throw up from motion sickness.  Consider investing in a portable tripod for best stability, especially in low light.

4)  Stay basic at first when editing.  Use the iMovie software on your Mac or Windows Movie Maker on your PC.  Don’t be like a Power Point newbie (they use every slide transition and cutesy audio feature, like a kid who does poster letters using every color in the paint box.)  Do not throw every cool feature into your movie just because you can.  Have a few little clips to string together?  Fade—->Clip—->Fade—->Clip  will do you fine.

5)  Audio and lighting are important. Pocket camera built-in audio devices are OK, but primitive.  If you’re interviewing someone, have them speak up and/or back them up against a wall so the sound bounces more effectively to your camera’s receiver.  My Flip Ultra is pretty forgiving in poor lighting (I’ve shot a nighttime New Year’s street musician video that turned out alright) but I’ve run into problems with harsh sunlight. Avoid shooting when the light is behind your subject (backlit) – position yourself so the available light falls onto their face.

6)  Think carefully before going with HD (High Definition) video cameras.  I think the Kodak Zi8 pocket video camera is a great product because it is under $200, shoots HD and has an external microphone jack if you want to use a handheld or lavalier microphone for vastly improved audio.  HD files, however, are computer memory hogs and require high-powered editing software plus lots of computer processing speed and RAM.  Learn from my recent mistakes in this area in “Look before you leap into HD video.”

Did I miss any of the basics?  Video folks, please let me know in the comments below….

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