Are you thinking about filming your backpacking adventures? Possibly starting a YouTube channel? Excellent idea. If a picture is worth a thousand words, video can be worth a million. I am by no means an expert nor do I have as successful a YouTube channel as others, but I thought I would share what I have learned during the past couple of years since starting my channel. It is a fair amount of work, but the preserved moments and emotions are priceless. Here are 11 tips I have learned along the way:
1) Look into the camera, be yourself and try to keep away from the "um" "um" "um's" - those three things seemed like no-brainers, but when I started I found them really hard to do, especially the “um’s”. By looking into the camera (as opposed to off in the distance) it keeps the conversation genuine. If you aren’t looking at the camera, the viewer will find themselves wondering who you are talking to, over their shoulder. While I'm out solo I find that my camera becomes my hiking buddy, and I try to look him in the eye when I talk to him.
2) Pay close attention to background noise and lighting. I have lost many a good shot due to planes, trains, sun and so forth. While walking along in the woods, paying no particular attention to much of anything, I never seemed to notice all of the unnatural noise around me. I guess that is largely due to the remote areas I typically hike in. That being said, I can almost guarantee a shot or two lost due to some type of noise that just doesn't fit in an outdoors movie.
3) Make sure you use a camera with good audio. A movie with bad audio is like watching a movie with subtitles, I click off immediately. I am not going to speak about my opinion of other brands of camera that I find the audio to be suspect at best, rather speak about a camera I know has good audio. I use a Canon ELPH110HS for 95% of my footage. Not only is the audio great, but another benefit is the relatively low cost of additional batteries. I typically bring an extra battery for each day I am on a trip on top of the starting battery in my camera.
4) Why all the extra batteries? So you can shoot a ton of footage. Shooting a ton of footage will slow your mileage down, but it will give you options when it comes time to make your final product. I typically find about 40% of my footage on the "floor" as I try to be selective with what makes the final product. Also, when you create your talking clips, do so in short little bursts (20-40 seconds), stop, and then start the next clip. By doing so, it helps to figure out what you are going to say and helps with #1 and #2 above.
5) Be particularly aware of camera movement! Try and keep your arm as steady as possible and in rhythm with your movement, otherwise motion sickness for the viewer will occur. Also, try and vary your shots both in style and distance. What I mean by style is how the camera is being held. Selfie stick (or some other hiking pole mount), tripod, or hand-held to name a few. Keep the style of shots varied throughout the day. Now on to distance. I try to incorporate close up, 1/4 body, 3/4 body, full body, and wide angle where I pick up as much scenery as possible. You will find that different distance will convey a different emotion to the viewer. There are some great videos on YouTube that really explain the last two concepts well. This is still a part of the process I am working hard to improve.
6) Gear, food, and camp footage. Everybody loves gear, food and camp footage! As Andrew Skurka states, a backpacking trip involves two activities, hiking and camping. For the most part, the later makes better footage than the former.
7) Talk about the temperature, time, and incorporate a bit of the map if you can. It helps to set the stage and create a mental image for the viewer. If you want to take the overview of the map to a whole new level in post production, you can use a different application to animate your maps. A few channels that I follow do this and it adds to the shot. Additionally, if you have a device that tells you elevation (I use a "Lad Weather" (lad004bk) Watch), you can share the change in elevation you are experiencing.
8) Speaking of post production, use of editing software. Mine is iMovie, and it's all I have ever used. Regardless of what you use, be prepared for a steep learning curve. I used to spend about 5x the length of a finished video to edit it, but now I am down to about 3x or so. For example, in my Long Trail series "Walking North," my goal for each produced video (covering two days of hiking) was to be at about 30 minutes. The time to edit each part was about 90 minutes. When I started, that would have easily been 150 minutes. It takes time! Like we discussed in #4, the quality and quantity of your raw footage will be the driving force behind editing time. More high-quality raw footage is easier to integrate into a finished product.
9) Use of transitions, or should I say lack of use. You don't need a transition between every clip. Pay attention to your favorite TV show, they very rarely (or never) use a transition between shots. I use them about 15% of the time, only when it fits. When you do use them, find a few simple transitions you like and stick with them. I like cross dissolve and swap, and use those almost exclusively.
10) Avoid time warp (A movie where you only talk about and show where you currently are)! Incorporate some kind of quiet movement between spots and talking. It could be a walking away from, or towards the camera shot. A view down at your feet and legs walking. Change it up, be creative, and try to stay away from the time warp clips...beam me up Scotty.
11) If you incorporate music, keep the music quiet and in the background. I typically have mine set to 10-15% volume. A general guideline I follow is to make sure I still hear natural noise over the music. Select music that enhances the mood or tone of the shot or video.
And a bonus...
12) Create something that captures your memories, and something that you're proud of. Don't get frustrated with views, likes, subscribers, or the idea that you will make a bunch of money. Do it for you.
Why do I do it? Two reasons: 1) I love the interaction with everyone who takes the time to comment and 2) When I am old and in a rocking chair, with cob webs from my nose to my knees, probably a little drool on my chin, I can show my grand, or great grandkids how old gramps used to get out and live his life.
Leave a comment sharing what you like to see in videos or what your movie making tips are.
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I hope to see you on the trail,