Video Compilation: 5 Tips for Road Trips

Road trips for the annual family vacation might give some people thoughts of the horrors of a Griswold Family Vacation, but if you plan how you record it, you can come back with a great fun video to share.
Summer Vacation: time for barbecues, pool parties and family vacation road trips. Whether you travel by plane, train or automobile, (or even something else!) hitting the road is a time-honored summer activity that offers the chance of an entertaining video compilation the whole family can participate in.
Below are five tips to help you make that fun video stress-free and entertaining for viewers. But before you pack the kids for your road trips, some housekeeping and paperwork. Organize your gear. Know what you need and what you can leave behind. Maybe your big pro tripod is a bit cumbersome; invest in a little tabletop variety or a cool hand-held stabilizer like the Stealthy from Varizoom. Leave the big light kit home, but pack a simple 8×11 piece of stiff card stock folded twice to work as a bounce card and white balance sheet. Keep track of events as they happen. Jot down dates, time of days and where you are. For the esthetics of your vacation video compilation – read on!
1. Are we There Yet? Make the family vacation video interesting.
  • Let the viewer know where you are by including a wide establishing shot. You can start with a closeup, but somewhere in the mix include a wide shot and hold it long enough to orient the viewer to the feeling of the location.
  • Sweeping panoramas are nice, but don't take too long – a good video compilation should be a summary of the trip, not an epic! 
  • Include size reference props. It's not easy to tell the size of a tree, building or statue without some familiar object in the shot. Include people, hands, feet, etc. in some shots for referencing.
  • Plan each shot and hold them long enough to let the viewer soak in the ambiance of the scene.
2. Plan, Frame, Compose, Shoot: Esthetics Happen! Don't shoot like an amateur
  • A fun video is just that – fun. You don't need to shoot everything, but make it interesting. Don't frame every building, statue or landscape exactly the same way. Get low on some shots, shoot from above on others.
  • Get dirty! Lay down on the ground next to a tall tree or building and shoot up it's length.
  • Follow the Golden Rule of Composition and Rule of Thirds rather than centering every subject in your viewfinder like the target of a gun.
  • If you must move, then pan, tilt or zoom slowly with deliberation and thought. Have all moving shots sit stationary at the beginning and end of each shot. Plan the end of each moving shot before you begin so that it ends on something interesting rather than a collection of garbage cans at the campground.
  • Get lots of closeups and medium shots of every location. Too many people shoot from so far away that you can't see details. Get in close. Get details on the architecture. 
  • If you can't get in close, stay steady and zoom in slowly. If you don't have a tripod and need to zoom, you can steady yourself on a tree, side of a building or even back-to-back with a friend. 
  • I make a habit of following my 1-2-3 rule: every scene, object or person I shoot I try to get three angles or shot types so I have options when editing my video compilation.
3. Sign me Up: Look for interesting road signs, marquees and other signs of interest.
  • Road trips mean you might be seeing lots of historical places and maybe venturing down roads less traveled, so take a shot of signs and road maps for added interest. 
  • If you're showing a human subject along with the sign, set them up esthetically for a better look. For instance, with a shot of a person next to a large sign, you're either going to have to cut off some of the sign to get the person in, or stand so far back to see all of the sign that the person is very tiny. Have the person stand a few yards closer to the camera with the sign orientated over his or her shoulder. 
  • Or shoot an angled perspective of the sign. This short story, What's in YOUR Background?  has a nice look at how to use signs and reminds you to check for elements in the background of your shot.
4. Shut up and Drive!: Enjoy the view, but don't narrate every scene.
  • You might want to give yourself some audible clues for editing later, but let the scene carry the sound, especially if you have a musical babbling brook, thunderous waterfall or symphony of bird songs filling the air.
  • A trick I used when I was shooting news was to put a wireless mic on a reporter in a crowd. Capturing the audio of the scene got the ambiance of the scene better than the camera mic ever could. A small inexpensive recorder in someone's hand can do the same thing.
  • Or set the recorder down on a rock, the ground or a table and step back with the camera, to get the wild sound around you without nabbing the camera's mechanism.
  • Interview locals to capture their dialect, ask them about the town's history.
  • Interview your kids – ask them what they liked best about a visit to a location. Having kids describe historical events following a tour is hilarious – what they perceive and didn't get, they just make up. Good for a laugh.
5. Maps, Brochures and Postcards: Pick up area maps and postcards to edit into your piece.
  • Using a pan and scan technique, a postcard set at a canted angle is a fun way to introduce each new location.
  • If your trip takes you on the road to many places, a brand new map that gets dog-eared and marked up over the period of the trip can be fun to incorporate into the video at each stop. (A "staged" argument between two people trying to read the map is a good filler scene!)
  • Shooting the map at each location helps segue to the next scenes. This kind of added effort can take a fun video to a higher level of extraordinary memory.
  • Animated maps require some extra skill, but are fun to present like an Indiana Jones type movies.
Finally… don't forget to enjoy the time. A family vacation can be fun, but don't forget your purpose. Two things the family archivist often neglects is to put him/herself in the video and learn when it's time to set the camera down and just enjoy the instant. It's too easy to try to record every little moment every single time, but then you'll only enjoy the days spent after you return, when you are editing into the wee hours of the morning, or when you glow with satisfaction at the reactions of your family and friends at your video's unveiling. Learn to relax, delegate someone else to handle the camera on occasion, and tune in to the moment once in a while. After all, they say it's the journey, not the destination that matters.
Jennifer O'Rourke
Jennifer O'Rourke
Jennifer O’Rourke is an Emmy award-winning videographer & editor.

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