Top 5 Tips for Shooting Great Video
How many times have you found yourself in the midst of an I-want-to-save-this-moment-forever situation (maybe a compelling street performance in Mexico City or a sunset over the Grand Canyon) and you instinctively whip out your hand-held camera and start filming—only to go back later and discover that the results are, well, lame?
If so, you're not alone. The proliferation of film devices has made it easier than ever to shoot video, but just because we have access to all of these gadgets doesn't mean that we know how to use them. In fact, according to documentary filmmaker Roger Sherman, what matters most is not what kind of recorder you're using, but HOW you're using it—a detail that's reassuring for a budget traveler like me who doesn't have hundreds of dollars to invest in the newest video device.
Roger feels so passionately about this subject that he has just released a book on the matter, called Ready, Steady, Shoot: The Guide to Great Home Video. If anybody is qualified to create such a guide it's Roger—he founded Florentine Films with Ken Burns and his films have won two Academy Award nominations, an Emmy, and a Peabody. And on top of being a documentary filmmaker, he's also a cinematographer and a still photographer.
I caught up with Roger yesterday by phone and he was kind enough to give us his top tips for shooting great video. Best of all, if you read these tips and you STILL have questions Roger will answer them—just write them in the comment field below by Tuesday, March 27. We'll post Roger's answers in a follow-up blog post.
5 tips for shooting great video:
1. Hold Steady
Hold the camera, even a small smartphone, with two hands. Bend your knees a bit. Tuck your elbows in close to your body. Breathe slowly and don't rush your shot. Don't hit the record button until you're really relaxed and ready.
2. Don't Pan Back and Forth
Most professional films are made with static shots, no camera movement at all. If you did the same, the quality of your videos would soar. Amateurs usually move the camera far too much, to disastrous results. If you need to pan (moving the camera left or right), take a quick look at the scene to determine where the energy is. Pan slowly in that direction. Let's say you're in Florence and you spot a majestic statue and a beautiful fountain. Frame on the statue and pan over to the fountain—towards the energy. That's where you'll want to move in for closer shots. Never pan left and then right in the same shot. Pan left, cut, reframe, Then shoot again, another pan if you must, but it's usually better to follow a pan with a static shot. That's the way pros do it.
3. Don't Zoom
According to Roger, zooming is death. It's guaranteed to ruin your film. No one, not even pros, can hold steady a shot zoomed in all the way. Instead of zooming, walk closer to the subject, then shoot. My rule of thumb is zoom no more than 10-20% from full wide angle unless your camera is equipped with steady shot, a smoothing mechanism. Even then you can't zoom in all the way. Do a test to determine how far in you can truly hold a zoom.
4. Short Shots
Most shots can be six seconds or less for statics. It all depends on what you're looking at. A beautiful view of the Grand Canyon will keep your audiences' attention longer. A close up of a piece of Murano glass doesn't need to be held as long. Think about how long you held the previous shot. It will help determine how long the next one should be. Look at your footage to learn how to pace your movie. Watching TV shows, movies, anything with the sound turned off is a great teacher.
5. Vary Your Shots
Professional films are made of a variety of shots: wide, medium, close. Yours should too. Again, watch a few minutes of any movie or drama on TV with the sound off and you'll see what I mean. Many home video shooters make the mistake of shooting their films repeating the same wide shot from the same distance to the subject over and over. Boring! If we go back to the example of the fountain in Florence, we might begin with a wide shot of the whole fountain—people hanging out, kids playing. If we walk in closer, we might frame a second shot of most of the fountain with fewer people. That would be a medium shot. Going in closer still, we might frame a shot of the mermaid spouting water, a close up. Those three shots become a sequence that tell a complete story about the fountain, one that viewers will be captivated by.
The best way to make great home videos is practice. Shoot a bit. Look hard at your results. Learn from your mistakes. Shoot some more.
What challenges do you encounter when shooting your own home movies? What would you like to know most? Ask your questions below and we'll follow up with Roger's answers in two weeks time.
SEE MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL:
40 Unbelievable Underwater Snapshots
Summer Trips You Need to Start Planning for Now
The temperatures are brisk. Your gloves and scarves are still in rotation. That must mean it’s time to start thinking about summer? No, not just wistfully, but seriously. As crazy as it may seem, the annual deadlines for summer hiking and rafting permits are upon us and now is the time to secure your spot for summer fun. The rules for permits vary depending on what where you want to go and what you want to do. To help you plan, here is what you need to know. Start by shopping around and learning about your options. A good place for that is recreation.gov, which is a single point of access for gathering information and making reservations for multiple federal agencies. Once you know what you’re interested in, get your ducks in a row by checking the individual park’s website and familiarizing yourself with their application rules. Then make sure you’re in the right place at the right time to make your reservation. 4 popular permit deadlines to write on your calendar: Here are a few popular permit deadlines that are coming up. Many places offer both pre–reserved lottery permits and last–minute permits, but we recommend trying for a spot in advance. All charge application fees in addition to the permit fees themselves. Half Dome, Yosemite (California): The application process for climbing the iconic granite monolith’s cables gets an update this year when a lottery system replaces the first–come, first–served format that was abused by scalpers last year. Permit window: March 1–31 Submit: Visit recreation.gov. Mount Whitney (California): The highest summit in the Lower 48 at 14,505 feet elevation, Mount Whitney has good reason to be popular, and this is the first year that applications are online rather than snail mail. Deadline: March 15 Submit: Visit recreation.gov. Coyote Buttes North, Paria Canyon/Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness (Arizona/Utah): The photogenic "Wave" is a popular destination for photographers, but permits restrict the number of people in the area to 20 per day to accommodate the limited number of people who can comfortably fit there at one time. Deadline: 4 months in advance of desired dates. The most difficult months are April, May, September, October, when chances of winning lottery are 10%. Submit: Visit BLM.gov. Four Rivers—Salmon River (Wild), Middle Fork of the Salmon River, Selway River, Snake River (Idaho): Even though the original lottery deadline ended on January 31, any reservations unconfirmed by March 15 will become available again on March 16. Deadline: March 16 Submit: Visit or 877/444-6777" target="_blank">recreation.gov. Camping Camping reservations can be extremely competitive in the most popular parks during the summer. In Yosemite, reservations open up four months in advance on the 15th of the month on recreation.gov, and are usually filled within minutes on the first day they become available! Yellowstone Park, however, is one park that doesn’t offer campground reservations on recreation.gov—it runs its own reservation system through Xanterra Parks & Resorts. Apply online or call 866/439-7375. It can feel like a lot of work to plan this far ahead for summer, but before you get frustrated by the application process, keep in mind that permits are just a part of what keep the beautiful scenery beautiful. Anthony Bobo, Acting Deputy Division Chief, National Recreation and Visitor Services of the Bureau of Land Management, explains it this way: "Permits are used to protect natural resources and to insure high quality recreational experiences for public land visitors. They are a necessary tool for managing use in popular places." Once the dates are set, the months leading up to your trip are invaluable for other reasons, such as training, budgeting, and catching the off–season equipment sales—not to mention the daydreaming that gets you through the rest of the winter. Do you have any summer travel planning tips? Share them below! —Alison Brick MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL National Parks (Minus the Crowds) 7 National Parks You've Never Heard Of Quiz: Think You Know the National Parks?
Should You Be Charged For Booking a Rental Car and Not Picking It Up?
Travelers are charged when they reserve a hotel room and don't show up. Same thing with flights, of course. For car rentals, though, there's usually no fee for being a no-show. But could the system change? For years, car rental operations have complained that they're the only major segment of the travel industry that accepts reservations and imposes no penalty when the customer doesn't follow through on their reservation. In many cases, a rental car can be reserved without even submitting a credit card. It's basically an honors system. Cancelling a reservation is encouraged, but there is generally no fee for the being a no-show without giving the rental agency a head's up. As things stand, the absence of such a fee gives rental agencies justification for accepting more reservations than they have cars. The assumption is that some of those making reservations won't actually pick up their vehicles. When the amount of customers at the rental counter outnumbers the cars on the lot, though, the car rental company must scramble, and sometimes customers who have dutifully made reservations wind up out of luck without a car. Increasingly, rental car agencies seem to want to change the system and start collecting fees on no-shows, just like their hotel and airline brethren. In a long guest column in Auto Rental News, Craig Parmerlee, director of business development for ACE Rent a Car argues that the time has come for "guaranteed reservations" in the rental car world. In a recent program, ACE and CarRentals.com teamed up to offer guaranteed reservations, in which the agency would guarantee that the reserved car would be ready for the customer, and the customer would be obliged to pay in full in the case of a no-show. The scenario is similar to the "prepay option" many rental agencies now offer. At this stage, about 20 percent of ACE's reservations are now guaranteed. After studying six months of "guaranteed reservation" data, ACE has concluded that the vast majority of customers who book this way are happy with the system. They understand the risks (losing money for being a no-show) and the upsides as well (cheaper rental rates). Parmerlee estimates that only 1 in 10,000 reservations results in an unhappy customer. As for that one individual, Parmerlee writes: While we hate to see even one unhappy customer, we know that we are able to provide better service and a better value to the other customers because guaranteed reservations give us a more reliable basis for planning the daily operation. Parts of the guaranteed reservation system make sense for rental agency and consumer alike. But it seems unfair for an agency to collect the rental fee in full from a person who never uses the car, and then the agency turns around and rents that car to another customer. In this situation, the rental agency is essentially doubling its revenues. Some compromise and limitations on fees seem more appropriate and fair. The hotel business seems like the most appropriate model: Perhaps there could be a fee assessed only for customers who fail to cancel within 24 or 72 hours of arrival, and the fee would only relate to a single day's usage, rather than the entirety of the reservation. That would seem much fairer. Interestingly enough, just as rental car agencies are pushing to become more like hotels or airlines in terms of fees, at least one hotel company is changing its reservation system to become more like car rental agencies. The La Quinta chain recently announced that it would begin accepting reservations without requiring a credit card number. The "LQ-Instant Hold" feature allows travelers to reserve a room on the day of arrival with the use of a smartphone (and a smartphone number). The reservation will be held for four hours, by which time the traveler is expected to arrive at the hotel and check in. And if the traveler doesn't show up, no harm, no fee. No charge is assessed, and the hotel is free to offer the room to another guest. MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL: Rental Cars May Soon Be Safer Thanks to One Angry Mom Rental Cars: Are 'No Show' Fees in the Works? 6 Foreign Car Rental Fees to Watch Out for on Vacation
U.S. Lists Non-Advisory Mexico Cities In Time For Spring Break
Spring break season is upon us again, a time when hordes of high school and college students flock to popular fun-and-sun destinations to blow off some studying steam. Just in advance of spring break, the U.S. Department of State updated its Mexico travel warning, highlighting destinations throughout the country for which it does not have a travel advisory or travel warning in place, including such popular tourist destinations as Cabo San Lucas, Cancun, Cozumel, Playa del Carmen, the Riviera Maya and Tulum. The new warning notes that "millions of U.S. citizens safely visit Mexico each year for study, tourism, and business, including more than 150,000 who cross the border every day." The State Deparment noted that "resort areas and tourist destinations in Mexico generally do not see the levels of drug-related violence and crime reported in the border region and in areas along major trafficking routes." But the U.S. government reminds travelers to be vigilant nonetheless. "Travelers should be mindful that even if no advisories are in effect for a given state, crime and violence can occur anywhere," the warning states. Despite the clarification, and Mexico's ongoing attempts to educate travelers as to where ongoing drug cartel-related violence has been occurring and its distance from popular resort towns, the destination continues to struggle with a reputation of being unsafe as endless reports of deadly violence continue to emerge. It didn’t help, for instance, that Carnival Cruise Lines earlier this week said it is suspending on-shore nature excursions in Puerto Vallarta after 22 cruise passengers were robbed on their bus during a tour near the coastal city, the Seattle Times reported. What about you? Do you have spring breakers at home? Do you feel it’s safe for them to travel to Mexico? Let us know by commenting below. More from Budget Travel: Mexico’s New Tourism Campaign: Are You Convinced? One of Mexico's strongest assets: Value To Go or Not to Go: 11 Places With a Bad Rap
Expert Tips For A Fear–Less Flight
While I'm certainly not immune to a little in–flight anxiety now and then, over the years I've become a pretty cool customer when it comes to air travel. (I'm not going to stop flying, after all, so what's the point in freaking out about the what ifs?) But a recent puddle–jumper flight in the Caribbean had me in completely unfamiliar territory—specifically, in the copilot seat of the nine–passenger plane. I don't mean I was merely close to the pilot, I was actually right next to him. We could have held hands. I could have easily grabbed the second steering wheel that was inches from my knees (see photo). I was borderline terrified. Even the seat belt style was foreign to me—a five–strap number with a between–the–legs harness—and I wasn't entirely sure I'd know how to open it if I needed to open my door (the handle was right there!) and bail out into the sea in the event of an emergency. But seating assignments were seating assignments—based, I believe, on balancing the weights of various passengers and their luggage—so I sucked it up. And mid–way through the flight, I actually started to enjoy it. (It helped that my traveling companion two rows back was clearly jealous of my "luck.") Small planes, of course, are in a league of their own, but even on big commercial flights, plenty of folks can get a little panicky, in spite of the fact that the odds are in our favor as passengers: Studies estimate driving a car to be 65 times riskier than riding in an airplane*. If you fall into that anxiety–prone camp, you've got company—roughly one in six Americans experiences some fear of flying—and you might want to pick up a copy of clinical psychologist (and former flight attendant) Sandra M. Pollino's new book, Flying Fear Free: 7 Steps to Relieving Air Travel Anxiety ($14.95, New Horizon Press). In it, Pollino takes a holistic approach to soothing in–air anxiety, starting with pinpointing where your fear comes from (for many, it's not just fear of crashes, but a nerve–racking stew of claustrophobia, social phobias, and other stressors. Then Pollino systematically addresses common worries (bird strikes, thunderstorms, turbulence), answering them with detailed nuts–and–bolts explanations of the actual dangers and how pilots and ground crew work to avoid them; she also breaks down all the disconcerting noises, shakes, and changes in pressure you might encounter in an average flight. It all gets a little nerdy at times, but Pollino believes that demystifying the experience can make a big difference. (When you learn that one kind of turbulence is caused by warm air rising from the earth on a sunny day, doesn't it seem a little less scary?) In other chapters, Pollino outlines real–world advice for choosing the right flight time, seat—even the right snacks—for a less stressful flight, and gives strategies for using breathing exercises, guided imagery, stretches, music therapy, and many more techniques (ranging from the very logical to the fairly out–there) to calm your nerves. There's pretty much a tactic for every type of traveler under the (turbulence–producing) sun. How do you calm your nerves when you're in the air (or before you take off)? Leave your best tips in the comments section! *based on the mileage for an average domestic flight; the results vary when measured on a per-hour or per-trip basis MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL 6 Places Germs Breed In A Plane Are Airlines Cracking Down On "Airplane Mode"? Green Day Incident Spurs Question: Should Airlines Enforce Dress Codes?