By Gaston Blanchet
Instead of linking you out to a bunch of studies that show the hockey stick growth in online video, let’s just agree that online video is BOOMING. Especially short-form video. I’d say the sweet spot is anywhere from 30 seconds to 3 minutes (tops!) of engaging video. This presents an enormous opportunity for travel bloggers because there’s no more visually inspiring content for videos than images and stories from around the world.
People are consuming online video through all sorts of channels: YouTube, Vimeo, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Viddy, G+, and the list goes on. Choosing the right channel for your content is the subject of another article but for now, let’s focus on the actual content itself. With all the high-quality and affordable new tools out there for filmmakers, you’ve got everything you need to make great video and avoid the pitfalls of bad filmmaking. Let’s jump right in:
1. Take steady shots
Steady up there, young steed. Whether you’re shooting on an iPhone (hey, it’s HD), GoPro, DSLR, or on a Red Epic, the #1 factor that will immediately differentiate your video from amateur to pro is steady shots. And the good news is that it’s the easiest tip on this list to accomplish! You should try to almost always avoid handholding your camera, unless you’re using a steadicam of some sort. Here’re some tools to help you keep it steady:
– The oldest trick in the book: place it on a steady platform around you before you hit record. I’ve never been a situation where there wasn’t an object around on which to place my Canon 5DMII.
– Invest in a lightweight, travel-friendly tripod for your camera.
– If you’re looking to step your game up, try out a steadicam. Merlin is the sexiest but I use the more affordable, Opteka Steadyvid. This is my newest and probably favorite tool because it lets us shoot amazingly steady follow and movement shots.
– Be a total badass and get a jib, which lets you take gliding and crane shots. Here’s one I just bought, specifically designed for travelers: the Aviator Travel Jib. Epic.
2. Understand fundamental photography concepts
There’s no better way to be good a decent filmmaker than to a decent photographer. After all, film is just a collection of still frames so if you can create a good picture, you can create a good video. The journey of a thousand miles starts with one step, right? I’ll ease up on the proverbs if you check out this blog: NoFilmSchool. It’s one of the best blogs out there for photography and filmmaker beginners. They have awesome beginner’s guides, like this intro to DSLR filmmaking.
Spend some time on there understanding about shutter speed, aperture, ISO, and frame rates. Once you understand how a camera works, you can move on to the conceptual stuff, like framing, lighting, and composition. Don’t let this all scare you – in literally three articles you can have an understanding of the bare essentials, which will already improve your filmmaking. Here’re some general tips to get you going:
- Avoid shooting in dark places, especially if you’re shooting with an iPhone, digital camera, or anything other than a full frame camera, like the Canon 5DMII (these cameras are more sensitive to light). The sun is your friend, don’t shoot at it but use it’s natural goodness to correctly expose your shots.
- Start with basic composition by following the Rule of Thirds and then try out some more creative shots. (Remember: creative does not equal unsteady).
- Shoot in 24 frames per second to get that “movie look” but shoot in higher frames (60 or more) if you’re going to slow the footage down for some epic slow-mo.
3. Take an online video editing course
If you’re just getting into filmmaking, you may be editing on iMovie. If you’d like to step up your game, I recommend Apple’s Final Cut Pro X, which is like a nerd version of iMovie – just as easy to understand but capable of a lot more. Just as with reading up on photography basics, I’d strongly recommend investing a few hours into a video editing course for whatever program you choose. One intro course can make the difference between amateur and semi-pro and can easily translate into viewer retention for your content. When I first started, I took an intro online FCPX course from Ripple Training, the guys who do the official Apple tutorials and put out some really intuitive stuff. Some essentials to cover for tips to professional editing:
- Easy on transitions between scenes (aka cuts) especially the stock ones that come with your editing program. One of the best pieces of editing advice I received: just because your editing program has 50 built-in transitions DOESN’T mean you have to use them. Ever notice how Hollywood movies rarely use fancy transitions? That’s because they take you out of the story. Your mission is to create interesting content driven by a compelling story and clean visuals.
4. Don’t neglect audio
Audio’s a bit more advanced but the main takeaway point is filmmaking is not just about visuals. In fact, good audio is half the battle. Here’re some quick tips:
- If you’re doing voiceovers, record directly into your computer or recording device in an extremely quiet place to capture clean sound.
- If you’re recording sound directly out of your camera, consider ambient sound when you set up your shots. If it’s a super loud place and you’re trying to capture your voice, chances are it’s sound really crappy. Boo.
- Get pro with it and capture natural sounds with a dedicated audio recorder to use in your videos. I use the Zoom H4N and it’s treated me extremely well. It captures clean, professional sound to help you transmit the full story from your travels, not just the visuals.
- Swap the cheesy stock travel song with a good tune from the Vimeo Music Store, and use this awesome free music sparingly in your videos. Use the right music to elicit the emotion you want from your audience and use it as an aid to your story, as opposed to having it carry your video the whole way through.
El fin. Hope that helps any and all aspiring travel filmmakers. We readily welcome you into our community – let’s all make a pact to make only excellent travel content and help each other avoid the pitfalls of amateur filmmaking. I’m always happy to answer questions or give any tips on new tools I’m using in my films. Cheers!
Gaston Blanchet is an Argentine + American self-taught filmmaker and entrepreneur. He is the cofounder of Humanity.TV, a new HD video travel series about authentic local stories from around the world.