Every travel magazine has one: the ubiquitous travel photo contest. And if you’re anything like us, you have either submitted one of your treasured gems, or have at least thought about it. Then, when the winners are announced, you might offer that the photos are terrific – but you have ones that are just as good. The question is: why do we take photos (and video) when we travel? And how can we make them as great as possible?
For us, we are less focused on taking that perfect, contest-winning or publishable shot than we are in capturing some visual memories that we can take out months or years later and remember the feeling of the place. Over the years we’ve changed, too, though.
Our very first travel photos together were on a trip to Venezuela about six months before we were married (of course we both have photos from earlier, but our travel photos verify us as a couple from that hot & humid trip 25 years ago). Those fuzzy photos were taken with good old film, on some kind of simple camera – although it’s hard to remember now – there have been so many over the years. And although we can’t remember the camera, we certainly remember the experience whenever we crack the cover of that old photo album for a trip down memory lane – regardless of how truly awful they are from a technical point of view!
Through the years, one thing that we realize has changed is our intentionality about those photos. We used to just point and shoot. Now we compose and think about what we’ll see when we get home.
That intentionality is never clearer than when we’re shooting vacation video.
We acquired our first video camera eight months after our now 23-year-old son was born (OK, we’re bad parents since we didn’t have one from the moment of birth but we can live with that!). The first few years were spent taking ever decreasing hours of video of the growing child. Capturing video of our travels began with those family vacations – first Disney World, then onto Barbados, Jamaica, then the European bus tour with a ten-year old, to the sophisticated Queen Mary 2 trans-Atlantic last summer with a suave and cultured 22-year old in an Armani tuxedo. As those vacations progressed to ever more discerning approaches to choosing place and experiences, so too did the sophistication of our video logs. In fact, that growing sophistication has been indirectly proportional to the size of the cameras! The one we use now is easily popped into a pocket, and takes videos of a quality that was unheard of when we first started capturing our memories this way.
Art is the videographer in charge of production on most vacations, although Patty as the assistant videographer gets handed the equipment from time to time. Art’s ability to capture scenes has improved so much that there is little editing needed on the return home these days. Gone are the days of pointing and shooting and shooting and shooting. Brief pieces of video that capture moments are threaded together to tell a story.
Our tips for shooting video that people will actually want to view after a trip:
- Learn how to use your camera before you leave for your travels. This might seem like one of those obvious suggestions, but you’d be surprised how many people have no idea what their camera can actually do.
- Practice using the camera before you leave. Actually push buttons, shoot footage and look at what comes out.
- Actually look at what’s in your picture before you start shooting.
- Shoot in short pieces. Stop and move to a different view and shoot another short piece. No one wants to see three minutes of the same scene.
- Try to shoot scenes in which there is actual movement – otherwise you might just as well take a still photo. Three minutes of a tree is three minutes of a tree (and in video time, three minutes is an eternity!)
- Turn off the camera before putting it away. Another seemingly obvious one – but we’ll bet the price of our next vacation that most of us have had what in our family is laughingly referred to as ‘camera-bag incidents.’ You know the ones. That’s when you leave the camera running and put it in the bag or your purse only to find you have 15 minutes of video from the inside of the bag. (Of course, the obvious possibilities for juicy commentary inadvertently caught are tempting.) We came home from our first visit to Venice with a terrific video of the floor of a gondola. All you could see was feet – but you could hear the gondolier belting out a Verdi aria.
One of Art’s finished videos that we like from last summer…