How to improve your travel videos

Travel video improvement tips

I was asked by a reader to write a post on how to improve your travel videos. I should mention first that I am no expert. I do think that I have improved, but I still have a long way to go. If you look at some of my first attempts at creating travel videos, you’ll see that they were poor quality, shaky, and just not good. I’ll be alluding to some of them in here so you can check those out to see what I am talking about.

In the past, I believed, like most amateurs, that you just have to point and record and you’ll make great videos. That is a big mistake and something that you have to leave behind if you want to improve your recording techniques. Making a decent travel video is a lot like taking a good picture, except there is movement. The old notion of “point and click” works alright if you just want to capture something in the moment. However, if you want to turn heads in photography you need to factor in a lot of things from light sources to focus. In making videos, you need to be able to hold attention. I’ll get into that below.

I was fortunate to meet up with a professional videographer on my recent trip to Spain and he taught me some things, which I will share with you in this article. I would like to start with a few major mistakes that I was making and I will add some of his tips as I can. I will post links to some of my YouTube videos so that you can get an idea of what I am talking about in my points. At the end, I will share some of my better videos and some of my worst ones.

1.) Don’t move the camera too much

 This was one of the simplest lessons that I learned, but it makes a huge difference. I always had this image that you should just turn the camera and point at different things to capture everything that was going on around you. I think that this would only work if you are trying to make a recollection video. For example, you would like to remember exactly how something is placed in a room. Travel videos are different though. They are supposed to be fun and capture the scene while embracing the cultural side of wherever you are traveling.

If you look at some of my old videos such as Walking Down Istiklal Avenue in Istanbul Turkey or Eiffel Tower Lightshow, then you will notice how moving the camera can be detrimental to a good travel video. In the Eiffel Tower video, I would have been better off getting a good focus on the Eiffel Tower and letting the live music compliment the scenery. Instead, I was turning back and forth from the Peruvian flute band and different angles of the Eiffel Tower. I ruined the video by doing that.

In the Walking Down Istiklal Avenue video, I was trying to give people an image of what it is like to walk down the street in Istanbul’s most famous avenue. Therefore, it was not a bad idea to try to capture different activities going on in the street. Moving the camera too fast, made the video worse than it could have been. The difference between this video and the Eiffel Tower one illustrate the need for different approaches to filming, which leads me to my next point.

2.) Adjust to your subject

I never paid attention to the whole scene in the past and that created a huge problem. The idea of focusing on the subject is extremely important in photography, and this idea is no different in filming a travel video. Not only did I move the camera too much, but I didn’t identify what I wanted to film always. Adjusting to the subject is very important in improving your travel video skills.

I was told, if the subject moves, you should not. If you are moving, focus on something that isn’t. Understanding this was extremely important in my improvement. I will break it down for you.

Let’s say you’d like to film a busy street in a city, much like my video of Istanbul. You want to remain still and allow the subject(s) to move into the space where you are filming. That will get you the best quality film. Rather than you moving and your subject(s) moving. I would have done much better in that video standing at a street corner and trying to capture a few seconds of the entire street in motion. I focused on everything at once, which got me nowhere .

Let’s say that you would like to film a city or landscape as you drive by it. If you are in a car, bus, or train then you may get some good footage. You should not be tempted to move the camera though. In this case, you should leave the camera in one place. Possibly pressed against the window and allow it to capture the scenery as you move. Don’t keep rotating the camera back and forth to see cool new things. Your video will be out of focus and not concentrated on a subject.

3.) Short videos clips rather than drawn out scenes

One of the major mistakes that I used to make was trying to film large segments of whatever I was doing or seeing. This works alright if you are videotaping an interview or an orchestra playing, but if you are trying to make a good travel video it will not work. Not only will it not work, but you will quickly lose the attention span of your viewers. You need things to be action packed, diverse, and intriguing. You want to show people contrast and activity. Most importantly, you want to capture the culture.

My recommendation is to capture as many 3-10 second segments as you can. Possibly longer depending on the situation. However, you want to keep the segments short when you actually make your travel video. Having segments that are too long will make people think about other things, which leads to disinterest. I never noticed it before, but after I was taught this I started noticing in many of the professional films that I watch on TV scenes change rather frequently. Pay attention next time and you will see what I am talking about.

The length of your travel video should be about 1-4 minutes depending on the type of content that you are providing. If you make it much longer it probably won’t be successful unless it is a TV show, which is a totally different scenario.

4.) Capture the entire scene to show more local life

This one depends entirely on what you are filming. For example, if scenery is important or if the background will show the actual culture of the place that you are filming, then you should definitely try to incorporate it. If you are focusing on something small, it could be anywhere in the world. One example of this would be in my How to boil Crawfish Louisiana Style video. Although it was necessary to focus on the processing of cooking and eating crawfish in this video, I did not actually show much scenery. The crawfish boil could have been in Tajikistan and no one would have known the difference. It is better to capture at least some of the background and the people if possible. People are important in helping to show the way culture is and how it relates to what you are showing.

5.) Landscape 2/3 Rule

This is something that I did not know before, but when filming a horizon, sunset, and/or landscape you should section the shot into 3 main segments. A sunset should never be in the middle of the screen. If you look at my video of a Florida Sunset, you’ll notice that I did not do a good job at balancing. Although I was using a sturdy tripod and the video turned out all right, I should have moved the film down more or up more. People say that in photography you need to either place the subject (horizon in this case) either at the top 1/3 division or the bottom when you are photographing a landscape, but not the middle. Moving my focus down about 1-1.5cm in this would have been perfect. You’ll see what I mean on the screen of the sunset video.

6.) Local sounds in the background (background noise) VERSUS Music

When filming a travel video, you will typically want to capture at least some of the sounds and background noise to humanize the video. If you put music into it and cover over the natural sounds then you may lose out on some perspective. Of course this is entirely subjective and depends on what you are filming. There is nothing wrong with covering over the background noise if it works with a good song or music. However, if you are trying to make a more intimate or personal travel video, then it will likely need some. An example of when background noise is bad is wind noise. You’ll notice in my Tribute to Morocco video that there is a large amount of wind noise at the beginning when I am riding the camel through the desert. That noise is not good and makes a video low quality. However, if you continue watching that video, then you’ll hear sounds that actually compliment the music. You’ll hear locals talking, locals playing music, the sounds of the streets, et cetera. That starts at about 32 seconds and continues from there. Actually during that video the background sounds are stronger than the music most of the time so you only hear the music after the local noises are quiet. Those background sounds were good, but the filming quality was poor.

Another video that I made as a Video for Turkey had similar issues. The video noise worked alright with the music, but the filming was all over the place.

7.) Use a tripod when you can

Use a tripod, when possible. No matter how sturdy you think your hands are, they aren’t. I have proved that time and time again trying to focus on different things for 30 second intervals. In addition to travel videos, I have also filmed a lot of scenes of running water. I like nature and I find the sound of running water to be soothing. I typically try to film at least 30 seconds of running water so that I can loop it and make longer videos. Other times I have filmed longer intervals up to 30-40 minutes using a tripod. The difference in focus is noticeable. For example, see the difference between this video of Spanish Fountains and this one of the Sound of Relaxing Running Water. You will notice immediately in the Spanish fountains video that I am filming fountains of running water freehand. I am shaky and not consistently focused. In the Sound of Relaxing Running Water video, I begin by filming a Japanese Koi pond with a waterfall and I am using a tripod. There is no movement whatsoever.

A tripod is not absolutely necessary, but it helps. If you don’t have access to a tripod, then you can look at other things for support. Anything sturdy and flat should do just fine. You just need to keep your hands from shaking so much.

8.) Lagniappe 

You will notice in my Tribute to Morocco video and my Video for Turkey that I move the camera down towards my feet often. This is especially noticeable in the Tribute to Morocco video. There is specific reason that I did this. I did not want to capture faces, only the experience. I have this strong conviction about not capturing people in videos or pictures who I have no received permission from. I know that a lot of bloggers post pictures of people all the time, but I don’t think that it is right unless they say it is alright to do so. If there are any people in these videos where you can see their face, then I likely asked them for permission like in the Deltebre Catalunya video. By the way, if you are still wondering what lagniappe is or how to pronounce it check this out.

I learned that in dancing scenes just capturing the feet of people can be really interesting, you can see this in the Remembering España video. You do not need faces. Other times, you can film from afar and not capture actual faces, but in this case you should still ensure that you are not invading a person’s privacy and right to anonymity.

Interestingly enough, I found that you do not need a top-notch camera to take videos. Some of my videos in Remembering España were taken with an iPhone 3G. However, the new iPhone video capabilities are better and far superior. Several other smart phones also capture good videos with proper focusing. It certainly helps to have a nice camera also. I used my Canon for several videos also. That makes a difference in quality.

This may seem obvious, but make sure your lines are balanced. This is an additional tip that I have taught myself with filming and photography that I think is probably taught in photography 101. If you are taking a landscape video for example, then try to ensure the background is level and even. Don’t record your videos at an angle, unless it is relevant to your subject.

Some of my worst videos:

A tribute to Barcelona – I chose this one mainly for its cheesiness. It is a compilation of videos and pictures from Barcelona.

Visit the Balkans – A terrible recollection of my trip through several of the Balkan countries.

Some of my best videos:

Remembering España – Personally my favorite. I got a lot of feedback on this one. It is a collection of everything that I saw in Spain this past summer.  In fact, this is the one that I received the inquiry to write this article from.

Deltebre Catalunya – Another video capturing some enjoyable moments in the delta of Catalunya.

Two of the mediocre ones: 

3rd Lafayette Holi Festival or Holi Festival – This is a video that I really love although I did not do a wonderful job filming it. I love it because it was one of the most fun events that I have ever been to ever. I have never had so much fun getting dirty. If you have never attended a Holi Festival then I suggest you do. Dance your heart to contentment!

I have some other videos from random things, interviews, and more if you would like to see them you can visit my YouTube channel.  If you like relaxing water sounds, then you may enjoy the multiple videos I have made about those also.

Well, I am all out of thoughts to help you improve your travel videos. If I think of anything else, then I will edit it in.

Feel free to share or post your best travel videos below, I’d love to watch them.

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  1. Hi Andy,
    Nice post – I recently went through some old video I shot and it was truly awful. To much moving around, too much zooming in and out…I did everything wrong. It’s something I want to work on going forward so I appreciate the tips!
    Frank (bbqboy)
    Frank recently posted…Photo Essay – Montreal in the summerMy Profile

    • Hey Frank! My first travel videos were terrible also, no worries. But I still made them, like you, which is how you improve by practicing. I am ready to make some more now. I just need the footage. Glad you enjoyed the tips, hope they help you.

  2. Great tips. Looking back, I have made many of the mistakes you just listed. Great idea to post about this – I will now remember to pay attention and not just point and shoot. I can’t wait to try this out on my next trip!
    Marsha recently posted…Top 10 Rome AttractionsMy Profile

  3. I agree with #8. I too do not feel comfortable taking pics of peoples faces unless I have permission.
    Mig recently posted…Bike Tour To Panama City: Crossing The Finish Line… The Bridge of the AmericasMy Profile

    • That is one that I feel strongly about as well. I´ve heard that in many places around the world people really want their pictures taken, but I still feel strange about it particularly with children. If adults want it, then it is a different story. I guess it is a case by case basis.

  4. This is really useful! I just started working on a video project with a friend and it’s great fun so far. But I’m such a beginner that there’s an overwhelming amount of stuff to learn, so stuff like this is definitely helpful.
    Jessica of HolaYessica recently posted…The Bittersweetness of Celebrating the Holidays AbroadMy Profile

  5. hello Andy,
    Well I’m new in video making and photography but i learn some point form you. I ‘m glad you posted this experience.

  6. Thanks for sharing your video tips. Really enjoyed the post. I’ve been making family videos for years but just recently started to create them to share with family and friends. Been focusing my efforts on sound lately and love your tips. Would love for you to take a look at a few of my videos and let me know what you think.

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