A few months back, our community pal Mark published an awesome list of tips for traveling with camera gear. We thought we’d unpack that a little more (pun absolutely intended), and connect with some of Vimeo’s top travel peeps about all-things video wanderlusting — from pre-production, to gear, to best practices and beyond.
But who are these insightful humans offering us advice? Amazing filmmakers from our community, naturally: Caspar Diederik from the filmmaking collective StoryTravelers, the talented roving sisters known as Travel Pockets, creative human and Staff Picked director Oliver Astrologo, and circumnavigating cinematographer Rod Gotfried.
Vimeo: How much pre-production and location scouting goes into your work?
StoryTravelers: An “experience and shoot strategy” makes the feel spontaneous and more authentic than scripted content. We make sure we have kind of a rough concept to work with — a central emotion, thought, or feel. That’s the magic of story traveling ... capturing the story as you travel/experience it.
Travel Pockets: We don’t do much pre-production before we shoot our travel videos. We like to get a feel of the city or country first and then decide on what kind of shots we want to get. The most pre-production we do is ... testing out gear.
Oliver Astrologo: I make a shortlist of the potential locations by carefully watching a vast amount of videos of the locations. I consider Vimeo the best platform to observe those locations and more importantly to understand how other video makers have worked and approached those destinations
Rod Gotfried: Pre-production on a travel video is very different to how I plan for a regular shoot in that I generally have no lighting, no actors, and no crew. But there are definitely things I can plan for. Before arriving in a country I’ll always do research into the best places to visit and what time the light is likely to be best at those locations ... by using Google maps, or by looking at stills taken at those locations.
Having said this, despite all of my planning, travel plans can go haywire very quickly! It could be raining at a location I only have one day at, an event I had been planning to shoot could be cancelled, or a site I wanted to film may not even allow me to use my camera. I try to be flexible and always keep on the lookout for other things to film.
Do you shoot what appeals to you on a whim, or do you have a shot list going into the day?
Story Travelers: We never exactly know how the condition will be, so we go with the flow. Mostly we get into a creative flow as we travel, [which helps] us invent ideas on the spot.
Travel Pockets: It’s all on a whim; we rarely plan out shots. Just having fun and shooting what you feel will inspire your viewers the most. Try not to go for typical shots, as everyone’s seen them a million times at popular tourist sites.
Oliver Astrologo: I usually have a story that I want to tell or a recurrent subject in the video. In an unknown place, I tend to observe the environment and people before I picture the scene I want to achieve. This allows me to get better footage than shooting thousands of random people or locations.
On average, I usually I eliminate 80% of the clips I have filmed. Once I’ve collected the best, I tag each clip into four categories: establishment, people, transition, or slide.
Rod Gotfried: I can plan elements such as angles and lighting conditions, but so often the best shots I get are ones that I did not plan for, that just happen to appear in front of me. I think the most important skill in shooting a good travel video is being able to recognise the potential for a good shot quickly — and being able to frame that shot in good light and with a good composition. Sometimes that scene will last less than 10 seconds, so you need to be very reactive!
I also try to capture scenes rather than stand-alone shots, with a mixture of wide, medium, and close-ups from a variety of angles to give myself the most flexibility in post. There is no denying that luck plays a part in the shots I end up with. But I can definitely do my best to maximise that luck.
What gear do you recommend for traveling?
Story Travelers: We try to keep it light and flexible — although some stuff you just need to bring if you want certain shots or to use certain techniques, [like] drones for aerials. The DJI Mavic and the GoPro Karma have come out and seriously [save] space in your bag. A gimbal is indispensable for smooth shots and creating interesting movement. The Helix Jr. is light and awesome but expensive, the Beholder seems the most compact, [and] the super tiny Sony RX100 IV on a mini Glidecam [has a] really tiny setup that you pop in your bag.
Travel Pockets: The Sony α7S II is a great camera to travel with. It’s light, durable, and takes amazing shots for a little camera. Plus, it shoots 4K and 1080p at 120 frames per second. Another bonus is that its low-light performance is outstanding.
Oliver Astrologo: Traveling with light equipment gives you more freedom and allows you to be discreet when wandering around. My standard setup includes a GoPro Hero4 Black and a Sony α7R II. I do believe that the 35mm lens is the closest to the focal composition of the human eye. That is why it is used so often in my videos. It gives a more realistic vantage point for the viewer.
Rod Gotfried: I’m currently on a yearlong round-the-world trip, so keeping my kit portable and light is very important. In my opinion, the Sony α7S II is the perfect travel camera. It’s small, light, shoots up to 120fps, and you can use the viewfinder when the ambient light is too bright to see the rear screen. It also takes a beautiful cinematic image. One of its other major benefits is APS-C mode, which essentially turns each of your prime lenses into two focal lengths. This allows me to change focal length without having to take the lens off the camera. This means that with a 24mm and 50mm lens, I essentially also have a 35mm and 85mm lens. Mirrorless sensors are dust collectors, so this is very handy!
And don’t neglect the audio! Put time into the sound design of a project. Sound effects can often bring a whole new dimension to a shot, and really draw the viewer in. Even the built-in microphone on your camera can be enough to capture some ambient noise that gives life to an image.
Are there any safety or legal tips to keep in mind while shooting abroad? Or any final tips for those looking to get into travel filmmaking?
Story Travelers: Drone regulations. It’s getting stricter and stricter everywhere. [Be] informed and ready for some paperwork to fill out. Every country has its own regulations. Be beware that officially you need a waiver/release form of when you want to use close-ups of people in commercial work. [In] some countries you need a license to shoot commercially. We went to Zanzibar and needed to pay for a permission. You can get in difficult situations in some places not having the right papers.
Don’t check your camera bag. It might get lost or damaged. I carry all my cameras and lenses in a bag that fits perfectly under a seat.
Travel Pockets: We haven’t run into any safety or legal issues while traveling abroad, but I’d say just to respect everyone’s privacy — and don’t pull over on the road where it is convenient for you, but dangerous for other cars. Park in a safe area where you’re not in the way of other cars driving. Walking is good for you!
Oliver Astrologo: Always check with local authorities [to see] whether it is legal to shoot in those specific destinations with a drone and the rest of the equipment. For example, I could not take a drone with me to Cuba as it is banned across the whole country to film with a drone. Also, filming people is not easy, and you have to keep in mind that not everyone wants to be filmed. My recommendation is to ask locals permission, and listen to their stories before you film them. Once I do this, I get their email address and send them the video once it is online.
Rod Gotfried: Each country and culture has different attitudes to being filmed. This is something that is very important to respect. I always ask the local people for their permission, [and] most of the time they will have no problem being filmed. Sometimes they will ask for a small amount of money, which is fine. After all they are doing me a favour! [When] shooting drone videos, I’m always very careful of the local regulations which can vary wildly from country to country.
I think one of the hardest parts about travel filmmaking is trying to create a sense of story, using shots that can be difficult to plan for. Editing a travel video is often like putting together a puzzle without the picture as a reference, so any way you can make that easier for yourself is definitely worth putting time into! So many travel videos these days are full of creative transitions and fast-paced cuts, and these can be quite effective, but I think sometimes the editing takes away from the cinematography and becomes the focus of the video. I think the best travel video creators are those that know when to hold a shot, how to craft a story, and how to use good light and composition to craft beautiful images.
Wise words. Thanks, everyone!
Next time you hit the road, keep these tips and tricks in mind. And be sure to categorize your sick edits as “travel” so the community can tune in. They just might get featured in our Travel category.
Have great travel tips for your video-production peers? Share them below so we can all reap the benefits.
p>This interview has been edited for length and clarity.