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Traveling is hard.
When you’re on the road you miss weddings, parties, birthdays, and watching your bank account shrink with each plane ticket purchase doesn’t help much. Sure you get to see exotic locations, experience incredible, diverse, people, and blah blah blah. None of that matters to your friends back home, because they weren’t there.
No, the hardest part of traveling is coming back and feeling alone. Because without an outlet for sharing your travel experience, the transition back to “normal” life can be jarring. It’s unavoidable.
So, how do you share your latest exploits without a hacky sack falling out of your mouth every time you talk about it? Simple. Don’t talk about your travel. Show people how awesome it was by making a great travel video.
Everyone, and I mean, e.ver.eeee.one likes to watch videos. Even your jaded hipster friend, “Blueberry.” So, read on for a few tips on how to capture, edit, and create better video of your next vacation that will even impress Jaden. But first…some technical video nerd stuff!
FPS & Frame Rate: Define Your Video’s Speed Limit
Before you close this window, I promise this is not going to be a nerdy technical section. Frames per second is a simple tweak you can make to your camera settings. Heck, I’ll even show you how to do it on your iphone. Just stick with me. It’s important, because if a picture is worth a thousand words, then a video is worth…like…millions, depending on your frame rate.
Standard video format used to be 24 frames per second (fps), and in the *gasp* film age before digital cameras, 24fps made perfect sense. 24 pictures every second is fast enough to capture most action, but still lets directors shoot a video without chewing through miles of expensive film and digital storage space. Sure, your hands might blur a little while you walk, but no one really notices.
However, today, the game has changed.
The proliferation of cheap(ish) digital cameras and juiced up editing software, as well as inexpensive, plentiful, storage devices, lets you shoot in whatever format you want. HD, slow-mo, whatever. You just have to pick your fps, and 60fps is the clear winner.
60 FPS is Perfect for Travel Video
Doubling your frame rate —especially for action shots and moving targets (which hopefully comprises most of your travel footage)—makes your travel video smoother, more professional, and just plain easier to watch. Believe me, viewers notice high fps rates, even if they don’t know exactly what’s so good about them.
“But I’m not an AV geek like you,” you whine. “I just want to point my phone at stuff and have it come out looking amazing.”
Ok. Cool. Your phone has four different fps settings, and you can change yours in, like, 10 seconds.
Changing the FPS on your iPhone
- Open Settings
- Scroll down to Photos & Camera
- Near the bottom, under the Camera tab, change Record Video to 1080p HD at 60 fps
Ta-to-the-da. You are now a professional videographer.
60 FPS and Storage Space
The jump up to 60 fps obviously makes video files larger, so if you travel without a backup HD, or your phone is crammed with apps, 60 fps might not be for you. You can toggle back and forth between fps speeds but, honestly, once you go 60fps you never go back. Just buy this military-tested portable 1 TB HD for $50 and keep shooting beautiful HD video.
FPS Storage Capacity
We’re all about size guidelines here at Tortuga, so here’s a nuts and bolts guide to fps rates and storage space:
One Minute of Video is about:
- 60 MB: 720p HD at 30fps (the smallest iphone option choice)
- 130 MB: 1080 HD at 30fps (default setting)
- 200 MB: 1080 HD at 60 fps (smooth like butter)
- 375 MB: 4k (oh man)
I don’t advocate shooting 4k video on your iphone for a few reasons, but mainly because it triples the size of every single video. That becomes a storage problem pretty quickly. The other, more important, reason to use 4k with caution is that it’s tough to edit.
Editing 4k Video Sucks
The number “1080” in 1080p is the number of horizontal resolution lines in a single frame of video—in this case over a thousand. 4k video has 4x as many resolution lines as 1080, which means it looks fantastic, but will also annihilate any graphics processor and dinky RAM in a computer setup that can’t handle that much visual information, i.e. your travel laptop.
Get used to watching that video render for days if you edit 4k video on a rig that can’t handle it. Just FYI.
1080p HD at 60fps is the sweet spot for great travel video. Nuff said.
Technical chops are important for making quality travel video, but those can be compensated for with a few clicks. Literally. So, from here on out, the tips are about how you actually shoot great travel video.
Consistency is Key: Find a Theme and Beat it to Death
A great travel video should do one thing really well. Is your video about the lemurs of Madagascar, the bbq trucks at SXSW, or getting wasted in Thailand with your friend Jaden? Don’t try to summarize your whole trip or show every single thing you did. Pick one topic, or one gimmick, and commit to it. Travelers aren’t typically great with commitment, but the best travel videographers are defined by it.
Matt Harding, for instance (from Where in the Hell is Matt? video fame) practically reinvented the amateur travel video genre with his “Where the Hell is Matt?” video from 2005. If you watch it today, 11 years later, the resolution is crap, the shots are shaky, and the framing is a mess, but the story it tells is still amazing. Millions of people loved watching that guy get down—myself included.
What’s more interesting is that he got better over time (his follow up videos in 2008 and 2012 are fantastic). Practice makes perfect, and his simple idea—dancing in exotic places—grew to include better locations, more people, and a refined shooting style. Stride gum liked his first video so much, they gave him $5o,ooo to travel and shoot another one. That’s a darn good travel video if you ask me.
Nathan Barnatt is a dancer and video producer that uses consistent framing as the foundation of his epic, viral dance music videos. Most travel videographers can learn a lot about reaping the rewards of consistent shots from him.
Landscape: Travel Video Superstar
If you’re camera shy, don’t worry. Some of the best travel videos don’t even have people in them, let alone your awkward face. Sometimes, the landscape itself is the most stunning thing you can shoot.
Joshy Washington (not a typo) took weeks to shoot this entrancing “hyperlapse” (a time lapse with a moving POV) video of the bewitching Icelandic countryside. Vimeo made it a “Staff Pick” and Matador still features it on their Iceland travel page.
Caution: Landscape video takes a lot more work and technical precision but, if you have the patience and editing chops, let the landscape be your travel video star, and you might get to ride its coattails to fame.
Transitions: Spins, Hi-Fives, & Pans
Most travel video clips are short—typically less than 3 seconds, and hopefully no longer than 5-10 seconds—which means that in even a short video 2-minute video, you’ll transition dozens of times. The way you get from shot to shot can make or break your travel video.
So, how do you keep your short clips from turning into a jump cut nightmare? Simple. Shoot every second of footage with a transition in mind.
Start and end your videos with this visual cue, and editing will be a snap.
Aussie traveler, Craig Lewis used a simple hi-five transition at the end of every video clip he shot to make his frantic switches between completely different locations the star of his video—not a distraction. Every time he hi-fives the camera (and the viewer), it builds anticipation for the next crazy fun locale. It’s an awesome transition device, and one that you should steal immediately.
A Note For Perfectionists: If you notice, Craig starts the second and third clips featured above with his hand moving away from the camera, but not the first and fourth. And that’s totally ok. You didn’t even notice until I pointed it out, did you? Transitions are really fast, and don’t have to be perfect. You just have to try to be consistent.
Spinning is another transition option, but use it with care. Spinning for every single shot in a travel video can give viewers vertigo. Alex Chacon does it well, because he spins super duper slowly.
I like to mix my transitions up with slow pans (turning the camera left, or right) in either direction. Below is a clip from a video I made for Iceland’s Secret Solstice Music Festival. I pan right on three clips, then pan left on the fourth. The subtle movement makes a transition feel less like a cut and more like a rolling moving canvas, and changing directions isn’t jarring.
Monopods, Tripods, & Gyro Rigs—Oh My!
Ah, the gear question. The success of GoPro and other action cameras has created a weird ecosystem where video attachments—not ability—is all travel videographers worry about. It’s not the attachments that make a great video. I’ve written at length about the camera gear you need for great travel video, but really, the only thing you need to create great travel video is a camera.
A nice travel tripod or GorillaPod is great, but I’ve shot amazing time lapse footage with my phone and a pile of rocks. Don’t spend hundred of dollars on carbon nanofiber tripods that just take up space in your carry on bag. Start small, with a cheap desktop tripod, and challenge yourself to get interesting video using this limitation as fuel for more compelling framing and story-telling.
Honestly, gizmos and gadgets will make you a worse videographer, not a better one. Shoot without top-shelf gear until you realize that a certain shot demands a certain piece of hardware. Then go buy it, not before.
Is Hand Held Video Ok?
Hand held video is always ok, especially with travel videos. I shot that entire Iceland video with just my hands—even the pans. Put the camera down, or use a tripod, for time lapses; but other than that, auto-stabilization software and programs like Hyperlapse are pretty great at keeping your shot watchable. If you use your iphone to film, Hyperlapse is amazing. Just don’t get addicted.
Here’s a simple Hyperlapse I shot in Manhattan the other day:
Jeeps are bouncy, rafting is wild, and no one expects you to keep a perfectly steady hand as you flee from a bull in Spain. That being said, do your best, because too much shaky video will turn people off. Just keep shooting, and you’ll get rid of that hand shake eventually.
Pro Tip: If your hands shake a lot, you might want to give up coffee. Seriously. Street performers like Amanda Palmer, talk about how you can’t be one of those living statues if you drink coffee—too much of the shakes.
Editing Doesn’t Have to Suck
Editing your baby is the last very, very, important step, and while there are several schools of thought about length, style, etc. I’ll give you my observations of some of the standards for great, watchable, and, more importantly, sharable travel video below. Take them with a spoonful of salt.
Honestly, I love editing video more than filming. It’s fascinating to see my pile of garbage footage transformed into something watchable.
Ideal Travel Video Length: 2 Minutes
Travel video should rarely exceed 3 minutes, but honestly, aim for 2 minutes. If you’re Werner Herzog, you can break this rule, but that’s exactly the point; Herzog is a filmmaker and you’re just a traveler with a camera. Even the most stunning 4k video gets tiring without a great narrative, and editing together clips from your European trip is hard work, but it’s not a film. It’s a travel video, and there is a difference.
Limit your travel video to 2 minutes so that you don’t have to write a script and block every scene. That’s not a travel video. That’s a production. If you want to shoot above three minutes, go to film school. That’s not sarcastic. I’d love to see your film when you graduate, but not before.
Music: Almost as Important as Video
Music is essential when creating a great travel video. Seriously. Every single video I used in this article is cut and edited to a great song. Choosing a killer song is the cornerstone of the editing process, and if you find one with a steady beat, a breakdown, and rising action, all you have to do is find images that match these emotions and clip them to fit. Problem solved. Epic travel video created.
Pro Tip: The FMA Archive has thousands of songs that you can use for *gasp* free. Browse by genre and “most interesting” and scroll through some straight up jams.
Sound Matters a Lot, or Not at All
Quality audio isn’t paramount to every production, especially if you’re just gonna slap a song over the audio, but if you do like to talk to the camera, invest in a Rode Video Mic Pro Mini Shotgun Mic. It captures great sound when you point it at something, or someone, it draws power directly from your camera (so no extra chargers or batteries) and it’s small and light. Love this little guy.
Final Tip: You Have to Not Give a Crap
If you’re really want a great travel video that will tell a story, make people laugh, or inspire them to see the world, you have to look like an idiot while you film it. Seriously.
The perfect shot might involve talking to your camera in front of a crowd of strangers. You might have to dance in the middle of grocery store in a pith helmet. You might have to sit at an awkward angle on a traffic strip median for 30 mins to get the perfect time lapse shot or wake up at 4 am to get to a temple roof in time for the sunrise. Great travel video requires you to look like a fool. It does.
That’s what editing is for. That’s when it all comes together. Forget about everyone else and how stupid you look, because if you follow through on what you know you need to get the shot, it’ll all be worth it when people finally click “play.”
Creating quality travel video is tough. Just remember:
- Change the settings to 1080p HD 60 fps
- Find a theme and stick with it
- Consistent transitions matter
- Keep it to 2 minutes