I've talked of my love for train travel before and there may be no more epic of a trip then on the Trans-Siberian Railway. The Beijing to Moscow portion stretches almost 5,000 miles. Starting off in northern China, through Mongolia and the Gobi Desert, you then pass into the Siberian wilderness of Russia.
My family heritage is mostly Scottish and yet for some reason I've never set foot in the land north of England. This short travel video by Gilles Havet makes me want to book a ticket right away. Highlighting the natural beauty and landscape, Havet moves from Edinburgh to Lewis in the north with a few stops on the Isle of Skye.
Shot on a Panasonic GH5 and Sony a6300, the rugged beauty of Scotland's coastlines comes to life. The heavy drone work is handled by a DJI Phantom 4 Pro but unlike many travel films, the aerial footage works beautifully in tandem with the mirrorless cameras on the ground. The result is a stunning and complete view of Scotland's natural wonders. You can really feel the GH5's 180 frames per second capability with the crisp slo-mo shots.
For a complete list of locations Havet visited in Scotland, click through here.
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?
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. With powerful camera technology packed into our phones and cameras, creating beautiful videos is now as easy for the amateur as it is for the professional. Just pull out your camera, capture some moments and weave it together to show the world the amazing adventure you just had. Now that everyone can make these videos, if you want yours to stand out online, it has to be a really compelling story or something that is technically well done. My favorite way for travel videos to stand out from the crowd is by using mood.
Carpathians by Boroda Cinema
In this travel video by Boroda Cinema we see a group of people hiking the Carpathians in Eastern Europe. It's pretty straightforward story wise, just friends enjoying a holiday, but what makes it stand out is its use of color, light (or the lack of light) and sound to create a coherent mood throughout. The lush greens of the mountains are obscured by fog and rain creating an immediate tension in frame. the grayness of the opening shots, juxtaposed with the green fauna immediately sets a calm, almost still vibe. Even though the light changes and we see more bright colors, this imagery can be felt all the way through the video.
Sound As Setting
From the opening shot we hear rain and wind, adding to the grayness and seamlessly intertwining with the opening notes of "Stay Alive" by José Gonzalez. Not only does the song match the gray and green tones in its somber composition, it helps push the frames forward. The one thing that stands out the most about the sound in this video is the use of natural sounds in certain moments to help layer and give a human quality to the film. After all, these are people on an adventure and the intermittent laughing, the sound of cars and boots slogging through mud really reminds us of that.
Using natural sound in video helps draw the viewer in and make them a part of the setting.
The rule of thirds is undoubtedly something that should be followed in film and photography, but when shooting handheld travel video, don't be afraid to mix up the framing for interesting shots. In Carpathinas you'll see a mix of people walking center frame, leading the camera forward and then quick cuts to people middle-left or middle-right, this intentional mix of framing keeps the viewers eyes on the screen because the action is not clearly focused in one spot. A balance of shots in the center, middle-left and middle-right can make even the most mundane video easy on the eyes.
Oh That Glorious Light
What I love about travel photography and video is that you normally don't have a light setup with you and you're at the mercy of the sun. It's a humbling place to be if you're used to studio work and can really create some beautiful images. As I touched on before, the opening shots of Carpathians use the lack of direct light to create a calming mood. When you're traveling, don't be afraid to play around with under or over-exposing your images, as long as you can weave together a balanced mood throughout. Even though we have a mix of gray and bright images in the video above, the filmmakers helped bridge the two light sources by gradually bringing in the light. There's no jarring black to white jumps, but a casual stroll into the light. Use different light sources to your advantage to create a journey.
Creating a travel video is about capturing memories and helping draw others in your adventure. Using light, sound, framing and color you can really pull viewers into the world you just experienced, possibly sparking their interest in visiting the same place. Regardless of the quality of your equipment, Boroda Cinema used a Sony A7s II, these simple storytelling techniques can make your travel video stand out from all the rest.