Tips for Better Travel Videos, Pt. 1: Rock Steady

Uh oh, it’s that time again. Uncle Harry’s breaking out the video camera to take along on his annual vacation to Disney World. Which means you’ll have to suffer through 2 hours of shaky, underexposed footage, mostly of people’s feet and loud carnival music. Harry may love his stuff, but you know you can do better. The next time you take a trip somewhere and you bring along your video camera, take these tips along with you so you can show Uncle Harry how it’s done.

Part 1: Rock Steady, or how to not make your viewers nauseous.

  • Use a tripod. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? But most people forget this most basic of camera techniques. Manufacturers make lightweight tripods these days that you can bring along with you. You can even use a monopod to help stabilize your shots. Joby makes the Gorillapod, a great portable go-anywhere tripod that can support some of the smaller camcorders.
  • Brace yourself. If you’re going to shoot handheld, use your arms as though they’re the legs of a tripod. The third leg is your body. Hold your elbows close, locking them into your torso, and use your free hand (the one not carrying the camera) to hold underneath the camera’s lens. That also gives you access to many of the camera’s controls.
  • Move in, zoom out. The telephoto feature on your camera is great if you can’t reach your subject, but getting physically closer is better. Zoom your lens out to its widest setting and get as close to the subject as you can. You’ll nearly eliminate camera shake this way (the longer your zoom, the shakier your shot), you can see details better, you get better lighting (the more you have to zoom in, the less light can enter the lens), and you get a more intimate shot. Focus is also more forgiving in a wider angle.
  • Use what you have. Don’t have a tripod or monopod, but still want a rock solid shot? Use a backpack or purse to stabilize the camera. Rearrange things inside the bag so it creates a “U” shape that you can nestle the camera into.
  • Lean. Yup, lean. Lean up against a building, light pole, another person, whatever is solid and can take most of your weight. Your body naturally moves to compensate for changing conditions, and your muscles can only hold a position steady for so long. Again, think of yourself as part of a human tripod. Using an immovable object as a support will help you to keep things from rocking and rolling.

These tips may seem like common sense, but you’d be surprised how many people fail to use them. After a little practice, you’ll become a pro at getting rock-solid steady shots that will blow Uncle Harry’s movies out of the water and win you the praise of a grateful — and non-nauseous — family.

In part 2 of Tips for Better Travel Videos, I’ll give you some ideas on getting good sound for your travel movies.

Chris Cavallari

About Chris Cavallari

Chris is a longtime digital content producer based in Maine. Since 1999, he has been an early adopter and active participant in blogging, podcasting, and social media, and has been guiding small and mid-sized businesses in leveraging video, social media, and digital publishing to the fullest. With an avid love of travel and the outdoors, Chris started in 2009 to give him a platform to showcase his outdoors and travel adventures, and to help educate others in doing the same.