I am not an expert cameraman but I enjoy filming my trips.
These days, almost everybody who heads off on travels and expeditions likes to document their experiences with video.
Google, as always, can provide budding Spielbergs with swathes of detailed explanations and equipment advice. I spend a lot of time trying to teach myself that stuff. I’ll leave you and Google to spend some quality time together for all that.
But I thought that it might be helpful to write a simple article, distilled from my own experience: from one enthusiastic amateur to another. I’m not pretending that this is all “the best” advice, nor necessarily even right! I hope you will offer corrections and suggestions in the comments below. I am deliberately not mentioning camera gear: it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that you get out there and do stuff, regardless of your kit.
This advice then is stuff that feels important to me, stuff that works for me and stuff that I try to do when making my own little films about my trips.
1. Take Good Video. You wouldn’t try to take good photos simply by waving your camera in the direction of the first pretty thing you see, would you? (You would? Then you need to STOP DOING THAT. And you need to read this and this.) So don’t be lazy and casual with the video camera either. All of these photography principles still apply to filming.
2. Use a tripod. If you heed nothing else from my article, please do use a tripod or make sure to brace your camera well. This is the single best thing you can do to make your film look more pro. I use this cheap one.
3. Record good audio. I am really guilty of having poor audio on my films but I am learning now how vital it is. Good audio is at least as important as good video when making a film. Ignore that at your peril. I don’t really know how to do it. I just know you need to find out! Record lots. Record thoughtful interviews. Record long rants when you are on the verge of bursting into tears and going home. And always record a few seconds of ambient sound at the start and end of each clip.
4. Don’t zoom. It’s what your Dad does on home movies. Don’t pan either. Instead you should…
5. Vary your shots. For every scene you capture you need a variety of shots. This often means faking stuff and doing it over and over again, particularly if you are filming yourself. (See my Oscar-winning, fake waking-up here…)
Imagine you are filming me writing this post. You need a wide shot to set the scene. You need a medium shot of me typing away, probably from a couple of angles (I’ll save the 30 degree rule for another day). And you need some close-ups (hands typing, words appearing on screen, face furrowed in concentration). These are crucial for…
6. Cutaways. These are the vital two-or-three second clips of details that you can use to break up long sequences. It means I don’t have to endure watching 20 minutes of you paddling a river before you eventually go off the waterfall. Show yourself setting off, cutaway to a flailing paddle, and then straight into the glory scene showing your heroic death, which is all we want to see anyway.
7. Start filming a few seconds before the action begins. Keep recording for a few seconds after it has finished. It really helps with the editing.
8. Record the stuff you can’t be bothered to record. Tents blowing away, misery in the rain, near-death disasters. This is what everyone really wants to watch.
9. Plan. This is hard to do, but before you even begin filming try to have a vision in your head of how the film is going to look. This will help you get all the shots necessary before it is too late.
10. Talk to the camera lots, particularly if you are unsure what direction your story will go in the edit.
11. Do stupid stuff. Film yourselves having fun, mucking about, laughing as well as crying.
- Tell a story. Stories have a beginning, a middle and an end. They have a point and a message. So should your film.
- Watch good stuff online (such as the Vimeo awards). Why is good stuff good? (Hint, it is not just because they know about post production colour grading and have amazing cameras). Pay attention to what you enjoy about it. Then steal it!
- Kill Your Darlings. Time is short. Attention spans are shorter, particularly with online content. Less is More. Do I really need to watch 20 minutes of you paddling down a river on YouTube? (No). Just because you liked it doesn’t mean that anyone else will care. So “kill your darlings” – cut away everything but the essentials. Show me only what I want to see / need to see. I try very hard to keep all of my films under five minutes.
- Only include your very best clips and your most important clips. Be ruthless. Less is more.
- Pieces to camera (you looking at the camera and speaking) are important and powerful. But they can be boring too. Learn how to extract the audio from the clip and place it over other video clips. This also helps keep the film shorter.
- Watch a documentary on TV and pay attention to the edit. You will be surprised how short each clip is. My rough rule is 3 seconds per clip. Don’t go above 7 unless you have a good reason to do so. Varying the clip lengths will change the mood of your film.
- Music can be powerful. Absence of music can be powerful. Think carefully before you decide. Pick music that will resonate with other people, not just your favourite song. Don’t use Hoppipola.
- Did I mention keeping it short?
- Rules are for the guidance of wise men and the obedience of fools.
I’ve gathered the best videos I’ve made together in this Vimeo Channel. Please do have a quick look, if you have time.
And please leave your thoughts, criticisms and suggestions in the Comments below: I have a lot to learn!