For fifty weeks a year, life seems
to move with the predictability of a spinning washing machine.
Then, all of a sudden, the countdown you’ve run for months
reaches zero and you’re about to embark on a vacation, camcorder
in tow. Maybe you’ll zoom in on a space shuttle launch, tape the
kids screaming aboard Disney’s Space Mountain roller coaster or
watch through the viewfinder as Hong Kong’s Star Ferry moves against
an amber Asian sunset.

Travel is a way of temporarily escaping
from routine daily living and video can help you freeze those
exciting days for future enjoyment. Follow these tips for globe-trotting
with your camcorder, and the next time you return from an exotic
locale you’ll re-experience the sounds and images that make travel
so enjoyable.

A Camcorder Case Packed Right

An immediate question most people
have before setting out to videotape their vacation is: What to
pack in a camcorder case? The answer is as little as possible. If you load up on accessories,
you probably won’t take them farther than your hotel room.

Start with just your camcorder and its case, the battery charger/AC power supply, a current power
converter and all of the appropriate plugs. A word on power sources:
remember that power voltages and frequencies vary widely from
country to country. Your charger probably can handle either 50
or 60 cycles seamlessly and, as most of the world uses 220 volt
current, many power packs can accommodate that as well (check
your instruction booklet). When you must plug something in,
make certain that the power coming out of the wall isn’t DC (direct
current) or you may fry your power pack.
Always ask your hotel
staff if you aren’t sure.

Other essentials to pack in your camcorder case include
two or more cassettes, instructional booklets and a remote control
unit if you have one. Leave the floodlamps home. Many historic
houses and museums will let you take video as long as you don’t
use video lamps; this restriction includes small built-in camcorder
lights. A handful of filters could be beneficial. They spice things
up, and are easy to squeeze into a camera bag. Tripods are optional
on vacation; a good compact model will provide stability in certain
situations, but often will get in the way when you’re and exploring
the surroundings.

Invest in extra batteries–bring
two or more high-capacity battery packs–and keep them fully charged.
It’s more than a little frustrating to run out of power while
you’re shooting a scene.

The Smart Camcorder Case

An ordinary suitcase or carry bag
does not offer the protection and custom fit a camcorder case provides,
so carry your camcorder in a proper case when traveling. There
is a wide selection of lightweight, soft-sided camcorder cases
available that will protect your video gear from scratches and
bruises that jetliners, trams, taxis and ferries can cause. Soft
cases are light in weight and can be effective carriers, provided
they are weather-resistant with additional top and inner flaps
that double-cover the contents when closed. Look also for a wide
strap so it doesn’t cut into your shoulder. Remember to install
and use your camcorder’s shoulder strap–this lets you carry the
camcorder from your shoulder and bring the unit to shooting position
in one quick movement
when you’re ready to record.

For extra protection, at the cost
of more bulk and weight, a hard camcorder case, made of aluminum alloy or
impact-resistant plastic, largely eliminates the possibility of
damage during transit. Some hard protective camcorder cases come with
foam inserts which you cut out and mold to fit the contents. Other camcorder cases have interchangeable compartments with Velcro straps and
binders that allow you to change the inside configuration of the
camcorder case, yet still keep the camcorder well protected. Look for lined
or padded compartment separators as well as body armor on the
base and sides of the camcorder case.

When traveling by air, always treat
a camcorder as carry-on baggage–even if it’s in a hard camcorder case–to protect it from rough handling. While your video gear
may not be damaged by luggage handlers, checked luggage still
could end up in Phoenix while you fly to Rome.
In any situation,
jot down your camcorder’s serial number and keep it separate from
your equipment when traveling. This will allow you to identify
your camcorder if it’s lost or stolen.

Make sure the camcorder case
measures no more than 9 by 13 by 23 inches-the limit for airline
carry-ons. By the way, there is no need to be afraid of airport
X-ray machines; they won’t harm videotape.

When you’re shopping for a camcorder
case, it’s a good idea to bring your gear with you, so you can
load up the camcorder case and carry it around the store to see how it feels.
This test will keep you from being disappointed later when you
find that the new camcorder case you bought is too small for your equipment.

Practice Before You Go

Most people shoot travel video as
a record of a visit to a place. You want your video scenes to
convey the special feel of the location and to be visually interesting
to the viewer. How many times have you been forced to look at
a friend or relative’s amateurish or just plain boring travel
tapes? Have you wondered why vacation videos tend to be so bad?

For one thing, the camcorder user
may not be comfortable with the operation of his or her equipment.
All of us remember vacation videos that bounced all over the screen
because the camcorder operator was not familiar with the use and
placement of the function controls. It’s one thing to play with
the unit when it’s sitting on your dining room table and quite
another to be able to grab your camcorder to capture a spontaneous
shot. You should be familiar–by touch–with the placement of
your camcorder’s buttons, knobs and switches, and know which way
to push or turn each control. Don’t hunt and peck. Practice
until you can focus, zoom, set exposure and use the camcorder’s
primary features without thinking about the location of each control
or which way it moves.

Now that you have become proficient
with the operation of your camcorder, the next step is to be aware
of the content of your vacation video, so that you take home more
than a collection of postcard views. Remember that a prime objective
of videotaping is to capture information. Let the viewer see the
whole subject for a reasonable time, keeping the camcorder stationary.
Don’t zoom in and out without purpose just to give the scene movement.

Be aware, too, that there are some
types of shots where manual adjustment will give a more interesting
effect. The "follow zoom" is one example. As the subject
moves toward you, a camcorder with a manual zoom lever lets you
pull out slowly so that the subject stays the same size in the
picture. The viewer will see the background changing, yet the
subject does not seem to be getting closer.

The secret to interesting vacation
videos is planning. Just as you plan lodging and travel itineraries,
preparing a list of the sights and scenes you think you’ll want
to record on your trip will help to guarantee success.
Keep
on the lookout for unexpected scenes as well; some of the best
shots are those you cannot plan. Plan your video story, and remember
that you’re trying to do just that, tell a story. You may find
it helpful to research the customs, history and tradition of an
area you plan to visit. Learning about a new culture can be fun
and it will give you ideas for shooting video. Determine the shots
needed to tell that story–don’t just record various unrelated
events. If you do find yourself shooting a series of static, tourist-type
scenes, plan to take the next scene you shoot and add a story-telling
figure or edit in shots of a group of people. The result will
be a more interesting sequence.

Having said that, don’t be afraid
to shoot well-known travel landmarks. It may seem trite, but if
you’re going to London, even the most the seasoned traveler in
your viewing audience will expect to see scenes of Buckingham
Palace. What’s more, famous monuments will give your travel
video historical perspective and can be very effective when interspersed
with shots of people in everyday activities.
Commuters boarding
those famous double-deck buses in London are a great example.


Vary Your Shots

Use basic shots to tie your scenes
together. If you’re taking a car trip, you might start by getting
a shot of the car being loaded, then a minute or two of the family
getting into the car. Similarly, when you arrive, get ahead of
the group–or jump out of the car first–to record them arriving
at the vacation site. A word of caution: when traveling by car,
don’t leave your camcorder locked-up in the vehicle for long periods
of time; keep in mind that excessive heat or cold can damage your
equipment.

Mix your shots. Use a variety of
long shots, medium shots and close-ups. Take long shots of groups
or scenes of an area to establish where you’re and what is going
on. To give your long shots perspective, try to include a foreground
object such as a tree or signpost. Be careful that your autofocus
system doesn’t have a bout of misbehavior when an unimportant
object passes between your camera and your subject of interest.
Use medium and close-up shots to focus on what your subjects are
doing.

The people you meet when you travel
play a major part in the impressions you get from a trip. Remember
that people act differently when they realize they are being videotaped.
If you wish to capture subjects on tape, it’s polite to ask
them first. Approach them in an open, friendly manner
and
show an interest in them before shooting by striking up a conversation.
Never try to take video of people unobserved. Apart from risking
a hostile reaction, a stealthy approach will result in guarded
expressions on the part of your subjects.

Here comes the Sun

You can add flavor to vacation video
sequences by taking advantage of natural light. This often can
be done by varying the time of day that you shoot. In the great
outdoors, it’s usually best to avoid those bright, mid-day hours,
because video shot at noon tends to be too bright and contrasty.
Instead, shoot when the sun is low on the horizon to capture interesting,
even artistic scene treatments. A low sun at the end of the day
casts a reddish orange glow, and that wonderfully intense color
of a tropical sunset, for example, can fire the imagination. Shoot
tall foreground objects with the setting sun as backlighting and
buildings or trees will become toneless black elements.

If you’re shooting a sunset against
a water background, take note that framing your shot is critical.
Be aware that there is a significant chance that the horizon line
will be a bit crooked if shot with a hand held camcorder. As you
probably won’t take a tripod along, remember to hold the camcorder
firmly, with both elbows in tight to your body.
When using
a standard viewfinder, keep one eye in the viewfinder and the
other eye open so you don’t skew the camcorder in one direction
or another. LCD panel display camcorders should be operated
in a steady arms-out-front position.

Another video vacation shooting
situation that requires some forethought is when your subject
is stationary but you’re in motion: videotaping from the deck
of a boat or a cruise ship, for example. Once you’re ready to
walk up the gangway, take your seasickness medicine, wear comfortable
shoes and bring along a camcorder with image stabilization circuitry.
While the passengers on a luxury liner are likely to be among
the world’s movers and shakers, moving and shaking is a bad thing
for vacation videos. Fortunately, many of the more fully featured
camcorders available today have electronic or optical image stabilization
systems to correct involuntary camcorder movement or picture jitter.

When shooting harborside, you’ll
want to start with a wide angle shot to establish the location,
then a slow pan to reveal some of the details of the landscape.

When videotaping aboard ship,
try to get a bit of the ship in the picture in order to create
size and distance references.
Otherwise, you’ll simply have
a great deal of empty space–water and sky–in the scene. Also,
give your viewer a feel for the boat’s movement and the rhythm
of its surges and lapses (but not too much, because even viewing
the rocking of a boat can give some people vertigo). One other
thing: videographers on the high seas will want to make sure their
gear is secure–in case of a sudden lurch, you may reach to grab
something to keep your balance and accidentally drop your camcorder
in the process; using the shoulder strap that came with your camcorder
will help prevent such accidents.

The Last Word

There is absolutely no horizon ahead
for the traveling videographer. The potential of compact video
equipment keeps getting better by the day and the hobby abounds
with excitement and opportunity for those who care enough to invest
time into practice and planning. Just as any chef will tell you,
it takes know-how to make a good omelet. The same is true of interesting,
informative travel video. Preparation is the key. Before you embark
on your vacation, get to know the feel and function of your camcorder.
Then, take the time to plan, leaving enough flexibility in your
planning to account for unexpected and spontaneous events. The
world is a big, interesting place–preserve it on tape.

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