Tips for shooting video in Africa

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    • #36862

      I am leaving next week to go on a mission trip to Africa. I am taking my new Sony DVD 105 Handycam and I will be there for three weeks. I would like to put together a movie/ still pic presentation and burn it onto DVDs for the team members. We will be working on our project of course, but we actually will be doing a lot of sightseeing around South Africa. There will be safaris and other stuff like that. Anyone have any tips for me… What to shoot, how to shoot it, how to make it turn out nice after editing and all…


    • #163720


      It sounds like you’re in for an awesome trip. However, the camera you’re bringing might give you difficulties later on.

      Over and over, I’ve seen people come to this forum with problems related to their DVD camcorders.

      Basically, the format the the DVD camcorders uses to store video is a pain in the neck to edit. Editing it will almost always give you reduced image quality. One poster here said they found a way to convert the DVD files to .avi clips, so check your manual to see if this is possible. If not, you might want to exchange your camera (if you still can) and get one that records onto MiniDV. The MiniDV format is basically the industry standard for editing and getting the highest quality video. Your editing will be just as easy (it might be a little long to dump all the video onto your PC initially, but worth it), and your finished results will look much better.

      Having said that, regardless of your camera, there are some tips to making a finished video, and some of them start before you ever get on the plane.

      1. What’s your story? Your finished video should tell a story. It’s been proven countless times that people lose interest in watching an hour of random vacation footage, but if you edit your footage to tell a story, people will be drawn in. Maybe your story will be abut the people you’re helping. Maybe the story will focus on one of your team members overcoming some personal trial.

      Come up with a few ideas, and here’s the important part, storyboard them. Basically, write a rough idea of where you want your video to go, and then draw some pictures depicting what you want to capture. They don’t have to be good pictures. Believe me, the last storyboard I drew for a production had stick figures and basic shapes. But this will give you a blueprint, so you know what shots to look for when you get out into the field.

      Also, be open to changing your storyboard ideas. You might have planned to tell one story, but something totally amazing happened in the field, and now you want to rewrite your story around it. Be willing to change plans, but if you do change plans, make sure you know what you need to film to make the new plan work. Lay out a new storyboard. (FWIW, I’ve seen storyboards that were very advanced wall-sized bulletin boards and I’ve seen storyboards that were plain paper notebooks. I’m guessing that going into the mission field, you should probably try the latter).

      2. Pack plenty of supplies! One standard battery and two or three tapes won’t get you through almost a month in Africa. Bring LOTS of big batteries (you can buy batteries super cheap on eBay). For three weeks, have at least 10 hours of recordable media available. Honestly, I’d buy as many tapes (or DVD’s if you can’t get a MiniDV camera) as you can fit in your bag. You can always return the ones you don’t use when you get back, or hold them for another day. But I wouldn’t expect to find gear for your American NTSC camera over where most of the world uses PAL.

      3. Make sure you’ve got the power! Since I mentioned batteries, I should also point out that it would be prudent to look into buying one of those "international power inverters" so you can convert the American plug on your camera’s battery charger into whatever foreign outlets you might have. Considering the stability of power in third world countries, bring a surge protector too, just to be safe.

      4. Know your priority. Obviously, if your role on this mission trip is to roll video, then you should be doing that most of the time. If you have another role to perform, make sure that you’re not slacking off on your job to go filming. Be the epitome of helpfulness either way. Aside from being a good witness, it will also make people more comfortable when you do have the ol’ camera out. They’ll see you as a friend, not as the videographer they avoid with all their power.

      5. Know thy camcorder. I don’t know why I waited till point 5 to bring this up. This is really the fundamental base of videography. IF you don’t know how to use your camera, you’re going to get poor pictures, and sloppy footage. Know how to set up and use the manual settings. If your camera has manual focus, exposure, shutter speed, and/or white balance, know what all of these do, and know how to change these settings with one eye closed and the other looking into the viewfinder. IF you’re spending all your time in the field trying to wrangle your camcorder into working, you’ll miss the best shots.

      6. Think ahead. What will you need? Will you need lighting? Will you need a rain cover for filming in wet situations? Will you need an underwater enclosure? Wide angle adapter? What filters will you need for the lens? Etc, etc… Before you leave your home to head to the airport, know exactly where your camera will be every hour of your trip, and bring what you need to get the most out of it. If you can think of a situation that you’ll encounter, but you don’t know what you might need to get the most out of your shot, come post it here, and all of us wise guy know-it-all types will do what we can to make up some legitimate sounding answers for ya! πŸ˜€

      7. Keep is short! If you draw up a storyboard and film what you need, editing will be a snap. You’ll just upload your video onto the PC, and splice in the parts. Just remember, don’t linger on any one clip for too long. Stay on it long enough to set the mood you need, and then move on to the next clip. Watch TV and look for how often they cut from one shot to the next. Get a stopwatch and look for the longest amount of time they spend on any one clip in a standard TV show. You’ll be surprised how many cuts there are. Use different angles, and switch between shots to keep the viewer’s attentions.

      And don’t make the video longer than you need to! If you can tell your story in 10 minutes, do that. If you can tell your story in no less than 45, do that. But if you can tell your story in 10 minutes, don’t drag it on for 45 minutes just because you can. If after telling your 10 minute story, you (and others) still want to see more, I smell a sequel! πŸ™‚ Personally, I would much rather watch 3 10 minute videos than one 30 minute video. Even if they’re all just a continuation of one another. It breaks it up, so you can stretch, and mentally digest info.

      8. Don’t be transition happy. When you open up your video editor, you’ll see that there are 50,000 different transitions. Horizontal wipes, vertical wipes, 3D fly-ins, etc, etc…

      When I edit a professional video, I usually use only two transitions, the cut and the dissolve. And cuts are the vast majority of them!

      Again, watch TV. On almost all television shows (the sort you and I watch and are mentally attuned to seeing), they almost never use transitions. It’s almost entirely cuts. During music, or to make a statement, sometimes they’ll do a dissolve, but most of the time, a well timed cut is all they use.

      So leave the fancy pants transitions off if you want to put together a really professional looking piece. If you have to use them, only use them one or two times, and it had better be WELL justified.

      9. Save early, save often. When you’re editing, make sure you save your work every so often, so if something happens, you won’t lose it all.

      10. Have fun! It’s going to be an incredible mission trip. Enjoy it, and the service you’ll provide. Document the trip, and put together a video that shows that the trip was worth it. Maybe it will be a video used next time to convince others to join. You just never know.

      Let us know if you have any other questions. Welcome to the board, and Godspeed on your mission trip!

    • #163721

      Once again, Hank sums up in a dozen words what I spent a week writing! πŸ˜€

      As always, why use one word when 6 will do! πŸ˜€

    • #163722

      Ive spent time in Senegal, Tanzania, and Egypt. A bright sun may be your constant companion. Definitely shoot (some of) your footage using manual exposure. As with still photography, zoom in or get right next to the key subject, aim the cam, lock the exposure in, and then move into position across the alley or soccer field to take the shot with that exposure setting. Remember, dark skin requires about 3X the exposure of non dark skin, if you want any detail in those areas. It may be dusty; protect your cam when not in use. Im sure youve heard it over and over already, but here it is again: If your lighting source is the sun, the best time to shoot (video and still) for the most interesting color values and to avoid wash-out is around dawn and dusk. There may be a baksheesh issue; discuss with your sponsors before you go. I have a remarkable collection of Makonde sculptures, bought directly from the wood carvers in their shops in Dar Es Salaam, because I was alerted while still here in the States that the Makonde had a special thing for Timex watches; so I brought 15 Timex watches. Go for multiple angles of your subjects to make editing easier later. Video close-ups are always cool. Dont forget to get yourself in the picture. You are part of the story, if not The Story. If you bring a lot of new gear, bring US sales slips to show customs when you return. Remember, if you get attacked by an animal, keep shooting (preferably auto focus) and it may pay for your trip; also, your cam can be a defensive weapon if you get in this situation.
      Enjoy a great experience.
      REGARDS TOM 8)

    • #163723

      Hey, thanks everyone for the great tips. I will definatly take them all with me. Jim, I wish that I would have posted this earlier. I have had my camera for about a month and a half now so I can’t think about returning it. I haven’t had a chance to do much with it but what I have done has looked okay quality. I guess for what I am doing.

      But again, thanks for your time and all of the great tips. You guys are great!

    • #163724


      Eh, you know, videography is really subjective. Beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder, and if you’re happy with your quality, then you’ll be just fine.

      Everything said still applies (just change "tape" to "DVD" where needed). Good luck on the Mission field!

    • #163725

      wow, well I`m a little bit jealous. that is a really great opportunity.
      have a nice time

    • #163726


      Here is a scene possibility that you may want to consider on your travels. For me, it is one that got away.

      While bouncing around last October in Province Ilocos Norte, island of Luzon, several hours bus ride north of Manila, me and my production partner, Alex, a Filipino, were tooting around on a tricycle (Filipino for motorcycle with sidecar) when he suddenly told the driver to stop. Alex had been a Mormon and had done some missionary work in Germany. He had spotted a tricycle preparing to leave the gate of a well appointed tabernacle compound sitting in dramatic contrast to the weathered but sturdy dwellings of that part of town. So we went over to meet the bishop and two young lads from the States. Both were wearing wide ties and white shirts, a bit comical I thought, and the first U.S. business attire we had seen since arriving in the Philippines a few weeks earlier. (Temp and humidity were both around 90.) One of them had some vestments over his forearm; and they were setting off for his first christening as a missionary in the Philippines. We chattered briefly and then everyone went on their way. Due to: Fatigue, we were on our way to an appointment, it wasnt one of the themes we had in mind at the time, more fatigue, etc etc, I didnt start shooting as I almost always did for any and all reasons in the Philippines. I broke my rule: When shooting a doc the ONLY priority is to keep the tape rolling.

      I regret that I did not shoot this little scene and follow those lads for the big moment. Not sure if would have been allowed, although my friend Alex was getting on well with the bishop. Also, (many times, not always) it is easier to beg forgiveness for a video faux pas than to ask permission.

      I dont know if you will be the player on the stage for a scenario such as the above, but if so, you might want to plan for it, which would mean directing an assistant in the handling of your cam and the shots to be taken as you perform your duties in front of the cam. With fellow missionaries on site, that opens up your options and would facilitate this kind of a shoot if you are inclined.

      Happy Trails!

      REGARDS TOM 8)

    • #163727

      don’t feed the lions

    • #163728

      But nobody told you the most important suggestion – You need to bring me with you as an assitant (somebody’s gotta go for coffee).

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