How To Make A Travel Video: Focus

  The How To Make A Travel Video series looks at the different aspects of capturing travel memories on film. You'll see great examples to inspire and learn about the gear and techniques that help make great travel videos better. You can find the rest of the series here.

I recently traveled to Amsterdam by myself. It was my first bit of solo travel in a while and with my camera in hand, I didn't really know what to point it at. I had a Nikon D750 with a small Joby tripod that fit inside my backpack. The houses were there, people were everywhere and yet I had no inspiration. Every time I pointed the camera at something, I would get shy and not sure if that's what I wanted to shoot. In short, I had no focus. My regular travel companion had just flown to Pittsburgh from Paris and I was definitely short of inspiration.

So where do you find focus?  Lets take a look at a few different types of travel videos and then see what sets them apart.

Berlin and People

In this video by David Drills you get an up close and personal look at Berlin. By personal, I mean most frames are filled with a person. It's less a look at the city structurally than a gaze at its inhabitants. There's a personal feeling to the video that really captures the essence of Berlin more than other types of travel video. Drills focus was on the interactions and microcosm of Berliners. You still see shots of the city's transportation, skyline and even some street art, but they are a vehicle to break up the look at different people. If your focus is on new experiences, this a perfect type of video to create them. Why not try filming some local people on your next trip and see what adventures come out of it.

I also love that he shot the whole thing through a single 35mm lens. The wider angle caused him to have to get up close and personal with his subjects. What a great way to meet new people in a foreign city. With his focus on the people, Drills creates a stunning look at the modern city of Berlin.

Memories of Italy

If Drills looked at people, Gunther Machu went the other direction and focused completely on the beauty and aesthetic of Italy. Here you see stunning landscapes, timeless architecture and lots of sumptuous lens flare. There's no competing with the grandiose scenes of Venice and Florence. The focus is clearly on conveying beauty and the few people that show up are simply taking that beauty in. For people who are sightseers, this is a super effective way of capturing the heart and soul of the subjects history. The different sites draw you into the tourist's path and invite you to come along. These are the kind of videos that people search for before they go on a trip.

Now lets take a look at a totally different, and much more involved type of travel video.

Travel Where You Live

In this video, which was sponsored, concepted and probably scripted, we see Sebastian Linda create a compelling argument for traveling where you live. This is a much higher concept piece than the last two, but is easily repeatable with a little bit of time and brainstorming. The focus here, like with Berlin 35, is on people but the difference lies with what those people are doing. Not only is a narrator talking about a particular subject, the people in the shot are interacting with their surroundings. It's a marriage of the first two video concepts built around a specific purpose.

The narrative structure puts the experience in focus, with the people and the destination acting together. Berlin 35 shows the people. Memories of Italy shows the place. Travel Where You Live shows the people experiencing the place. The difference in focus is small but the resulting footage is vastly different.

Finding Your Focus

All three of these videos work. They have many similarities in style, execution and subject but it's their focus that sets them apart. When you're filming your travel, remember that the memories are what's important. If you're a people person, Berlin 35 probably speaks to you more than Memories of Italy. If you want to remember the stunning beauty of the destination, Memories of Italy will definitely be the type of focus you look for. If you want to show others the experiences they can have, the Travel Where You Live model makes the most sense for you. The important thing is to keep your focus in mind when you start. Don't close yourself off to a narrative structure change, but just be aware of what you want to capture. It'll make the experience more enjoyable and probably result in more professional footage.

What other types of narrative focus do you like to use in travel videos?