It’s a challenge to shoot video from a moving vehicle whether fording a stream or crossing dry land!
Videographer, instructor and African safari tour leader, Janice Davis, shares personal insights and offers tips on capturing the best video highlights of every memorable vacation. She says, “You’ve heard the saying ‘A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words’. If that’s true, then a video is worth 30 Thousand Words a Second … Plus Sound!”
There are many reasons to shoot video of your travels: to remember and share your experience with family and friends, post to your computer or on-line, even sell your clips. The best reason is that video adds another dimension to engage your senses. Each time you watch, it’s like taking your vacation all over again. Maybe someday we’ll be able to virtually smell, taste or even feel our past travels as well, but for now video is the next best thing to being there.
Whether you’re looking to buy your first video camera or you’re a seasoned hobbyist looking for your next “best shot”, these tips and the accompanying short video samples will whet your appetite and provide confidence on how to capture each travel adventure.
African dancing: Sometimes an encounter comes along with its own music, making such a perfect background that there is no need to add music after editing.
If you already own a digital still camera that “also” takes video, the tips provided will help you improve. However, if you need a new video camera and want to take your vacation video up a notch, I recommend purchasing a camera specifically for videography. There are many options available in different price ranges. Consumer camcorders start in the low $100’s, prosumer midrange video cameras start around US$1,00 and professional video cameras start in the US$3,000 range.
Determine what you want to spend, then research a camera in your price-range with capabilities you are interested in learning and using. A prime consideration when buying is “how techy are you?” Almost every camera has automatic settings but if you are unlikely to use more than a few manual settings, don’t spend more for extra bells and whistles. Zoom capacity is a huge sales point, but “Optical” zoom in the only one you should consider. Using digital zoom degrades your picture quality.
If you want a camera capable of using an add-on zoom lens, look at prosumer or higher level cameras. Ask about its capability of shooting in low light if you plan to shoot at night or in darker areas, and remember to get power cables, chargers and adapters whose electrical current and plug configuration are compatible to your destinations.
Zoom and Pan: Zooming and panning takes practice, particularly with moving subjects. Sometimes try letting a herd of animals move through the shot rather than try to follow them.
Well before going on holiday, become thoroughly familiar with your equipment and practice, practice, practice. You don’t want to spend vacation time figuring it out or miss that great shot for lack of practice. If your camera has pre-programmed settings, learn how to access them and when to use each one. Chances are you will find one or two that you’ll use most often.
Low Light and Manual focus: This short video capturing an Aardvark at night illustrates how to utilize low light by switching the camera to manual focus.
Learn how to switch back and forth from auto mode to manual settings and how to work those manual settings. Practice making fast and slow “zooms” in and out, and smooth “pans” from side to side. Know how much video you can shoot on one battery or one storage chip at different settings. Test transferring your footage from camera to storage, like your computer or external hard drive.
Whether you take stills or video, there will be sorting and editing to do back home, so shoot abundantly with the intent to edit your best shots later.
Composition: This is the design of your shot. Study your scene first, and note distracting items or spaces that don’t add interest or meaning to your shot. For example, a tour guide speaking in front of a blank wall makes the wall extraneous information. Get closer and fill the frame with your guide because getting closer works better than zooming in.
Creative Shooting: Always leave room for creative shooting that captures your trip’s sense of adventure!
On the other hand, a single leopard surveying a vast landscape would make the landscape an important part of the story. The concept for composition is the same whether you’re shooting video or stills. So as not to repeat excellent advice in another Travel with a Challenge photography article, I recommend that you study the section, “Composing Your Wilderness Moments”, in that outdoor photography article.
Series of Shots: Here is a series of giraffe shots that illustrate how to take wide, medium and close-ups in a single clip while holding the shots for 10 seconds.
Shoot a series: A series is several shots of the same thing that will edit well together. For example, the Wide Shot sets the scene and gives your viewer some perspective about where they are, like a herd of giraffes within their surrounding environment. A Medium Shot homes in on one or two giraffes, and a Close Up could be just a head or flicking tail.
Hold your shot: When learning, shoot your Wide, Medium and Close-ups first. Hold each shot for 10 seconds or longer. Action and interest determines the length of each shot. Wildlife shots are naturally longer because the animals move. Once you have your basic shots, then play with slow zooms or pans. Pan to follow action or just let the action happen in and out of your shot without moving.
If your subject isn’t moving, take your wide establishing shot first. Then use slow pans and zooms to create interest and add movement. Decide where you want to end the shot before you start. Start with a short static shot, zoom or pan and end with another static shot. Pan slowly. Your eyes cannot follow 2D(dimensional) video as quickly as you can in real life.
Steady as she goes: “Steady-cam” is an internal camera setting that helps steady your shots, but it’s also a piece of equipment. If possible use a tripod, monopod or hand/body mounted steady cam device. Sometimes your environment just doesn’t cooperate, like in a moving boat or jeep. So steady yourself the best you can and be prepared to edit when you get back home.
There are times when you will want to have some settings on “Auto” and other times when “Manual” is more appropriate. Depending on your equipment, follow these guidelines.
Capturing Natural Sound:This short clip illustrates great natural sound in the wild thanks to the antics of this Yellow-billed Hornbill.
Focus: When shooting sports, animals or other action where the distance of the object can change quickly, try using auto-focus. Today’s video cameras can keep focus on a moving subject very quickly. Switch to manual focus in low light, if you are shooting an object that will not change distance or if your shot has both a close and far object and your camera can’t decide which to focus on. When using manual focus, zoom all the way in to the subject, set your focus then zoom back out to your shot.
Dramatic Light: Be conscious of where light and shadow are in the frame, and creatively use any rare moments of dramatic lighting if they present themselves.
Lighting: As a general rule, avoid shooting a very bright area and a dark area in the same shot (like a building with the sun behind it). Try to shoot with the light at your back which naturally lights the subject you’re shooting. Avoid your own shadow falling into your shot. If you can’t control the light direction, move to the side, step into the shadows, zoom in to avoid the bright area or be creative with the challenge.
However, as you get more comfortable with your skills and equipment, you can make use of the light to create some real drama in your video. Audio: Remember you are capturing sound as well as video. Sometimes the information from your guide or music enhances the visuals and sometimes the peacefulness of nature is all you need. Although you can’t always control this, try to get the natural sounds as often as possible.
Courtesy: You will never be more aware of other people shooting as the moment someone steps into your perfect shot or stands in the perfect location forever. When you find that one location, remember others probably want it too. So get your shot and move aside.
Keep your holiday perspective: Video is two-dimensional and nothing can compare to enjoying your adventures with your own 3D naked eye. Remember to step away from the camera to admire your surroundings, talk with your fellow travelers, meet new people and exercise your other senses to absorb the touch, taste, smell, sound and above all the sights from your own 3D human camera.
AFRICA can be your classroom too! Experience some of the finest wildlife viewing opportunities and exclusive lodges that Africa offers. Janice instructs and leads these highly educational and memorable tours. Kruger National Park & Botswana are favorites. Videographers of ALL levels are welcome. Even if you don’t shoot video, you will enjoy the exclusive, small-group trip of a lifetime. Review the current trips and itineraries.
Grand Finale: We close with a longer four-minute video edited with dubbed music to demonstrate a number of the tips discussed in this article. See if you can spot them!
Janice Davis is a passionate videographer, editor and wildlife enthusiast. She gained her love of photography from her grandfather who taught her to shoot, develop film in the dark room and lead visitors on tours at the U.S. National Parks where he worked. She started Take 1 Productions in 1997, the platform from which she writes, produces, shoots, edits and helps others improve their skills. Though her home-base is California, her favorite classroom is Africa, leading Safari Video Workshops. See more of Janice’s work at www.vimeo.com/Take1Productions.
Video Copyright & Disclaimer: All video provided with this article is the copyright protected property of Janice Davis, Take 1 Productions. The footage was originally shot in High Definition (HD) 1920 x 1080p and compressed to Standard Definition (SD) here for speed of viewing. To view HD footage, visit www.vimeo.com/Take1Productions.