Let’s face it – as a filmmaker like you and me it’s one of the biggest joys to create travel films. It’s our opportunity to make long lasting memories of our travels and to show another country or city from our own perspective. Not only that – “Cinematic Travel Film” is a very famous key word and gets a lot of views on youtube.
On the other hand, most of us started our filmmaking career with travel films, so those films were also the place where we made a lot of mistakes. When I look at travel films I created a few years ago, it makes me cringe. So don’t worry, if you’re making those mistakes – we’ve all been there. Now your goal should be to avoid those mistakes as early as possible to improve your footage. So let me show you the 5 biggest travel film cliches you should avoid and what’s the solution to that!
I know – one of the highlights during the edit is to bring your footage finally alive with some creative colors to give it a cinematic look. But here’s the error – applying a creative LUT without Color correcting and matching your footage first will look inconsistent and unprofessional.
So better stick to the following workflow:
Being in the hectic to capture the most epic shots on your journey it’s easy to forget about the correct exposure. But it’s the one thing you cannot recover in post production. Especially shooting with entry level DSLRs like the Sony A 7 iii you have a very limited dynamic range and you’ll really have to take care about the correct exposure. Once your highlights or shadows are clipping, you’ll lose all the details or even have pure black or white areas in your image.
When you’re shooting in Picture Profiles like S-Log or HLG you should also be familiar with the Expose to the Right concept. The best way to check the correct exposure is to use the histogram. Here you can see all your image information from pure black to pure white.Now try to move the mountain as far as possible to the right without making your highlights clip. So as soon as you have a steep cliff on the right side, you’ve gone too far.
Another good tool to avoid clipping highlights are Zebras. How to set up your Zebras depends on your picture profile. With HLG 3 the lower limit should be 99+. As long as you don’t see any black and white stripes you’re good to go.
Also try to make your life easy. Avoid harsh light during the day, and try to avoid shooting directly into the sun with a dark foreground. Try to turn your camera a little bit away from the sun. Standing in 45° to the sun will still give you some nice backlight, without having too hard contrasts.
I’m seeing it all the time and I also did it myself quite a lot. I filmed my first Travel Film completely at 120 frames per second. Here you can see some sequences. Of course your initial thought might be: “Uh nice – it looks so cinematic”. At least that was my first thought. But in the end you’re completely losing the effect of slow motion. Your Viewer will feel completely disconnected from the people in your movie as it has nothing to do with how something looks in real life. It’s a very extreme look. Used carefully and you can give the special moments in your film a very epic and eye catching look. If you overuse slow motion you’ll completely lose the impact and it will also take away from the pacing and fluidity of your story. Remember, that less is more!
Also, when you shoot in higher frame rates, remember to adjust your shutter speed according to the 180° Rule to get smooth slow motion. So if you’re shooting at 120 Frames per second your shutter speed should be at 240th of a second. Due to the higher shutter speed you’ll also need a lot more light.
In my opinion a very good compromise is to shoot in 30 Frames per second on a 24 frames per second timeline. Your footage will look less shaky and you’ll get this dreamy look. The look is not so extreme and the movements still look realistic.
When I did my first travel film and had a look at the final edit, I thought “hmm somehow the transitions seem so harsh and somehow boring”. So I looked for some transition templates and threw them onto my timeline. I was amazed at how it looked. When I look at it now it makes me cringe. I’m not saying you shouldn’t use those transitions at all. But the transition should fit your footage. If your clip doesn’t have a lot of motion and suddenly there’s a crazy zoom in triple turn to your next clip, it just doesn’t fit and looks off. The best transitions are those you don’t even recognize. So if you use premade transitions they should only be the salt in the soup to make it more seamless. The actual motive for the transition has to happen in the production, when you move the camera in the direction the transition happens. For Example if you move your camera from left to right and you have the same movement in the next clip, then the transition will look purposeful.
But the best way to cover your transition is to use more classic techniques, which are used in big Hollywood productions as well, like L and J Cuts, where you use Sounds to transition into the next scene, cut on action, match cut or smash cut. Parker Walbeck did a very good video about the most used cuts and transitions in Hollywood.
As mentioned before: Less is more! If you use special effects on just a few cuts and purposefully your edit will stand out. If you use it on every cut it will be predictable and looks unprofessional.
When done on purpose shaky footage will underline and support fast movements in a hectic action scene. But if there’s no action, shaky footage will be distracting and exhausting to watch. Of course there are effects like the warp stabilizer and the tracker, with which you can stabilize your footage, but it doesn’t work all the time and especially the tracker can take a lot of time. So better put in the work when filming. I’m not saying you need to buy an expensive Gimbal. Instead there are some easy and cheap tricks to stabilize your footage, let me show you!
A good rule of thumb is: The more points of contact you have between your camera and your body – the better. If you hold your camera in one hand far away from your body it will be shaky – for sure.
Instead hold the camera with both hands very close to your body and push your elbows into your body. If possible do movements without walking and use foreground elements to add more movement.
When you have to walk, do the ninja walk, where you try to walk as smoothly as possible with very little impact.
Another good tool is your camera strap. If you put it under tension you’ll have 3 points of contact again.
For low shots you can take a top handle. The heavier the camera the better, as the inertia works for you. So try to add a little weight to your camera.
If you don’t have a top handle you can use your strap like this.
For Indoor shots, where you have a table available you can use a towel or a cushion to slide your camera smoothly over the table.
Just to name a few – You’ll find tons of other stabilization methods online.
That’s it – for me 5 of the biggest travel film cliches you should avoid.
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