How to: Shoot Vacation Videos Like a Highly Proficient Amateur

[Brooke Pudar lives in an old house, where she alternately tends and neglects her garden.]

Last year we upgraded our DSLR to a Canon T3i. John wanted the better camera, and I wanted the ability to shoot HD video for those moments that a photo just can’t capture. We’ve gotten some good shots along the way, but our vacation videos need some work. Here are some lessons we’ve learned by trial and error.

Lesson 1: Variety is nice.

This lesson is easier to achieve on urban trips and harder on beach or outdoorsy trips, where imagery tends to fall into one bucket. For example, I was flipping through our Glacier National Park clips the other night and realized that about half are waterfall shots. Pretty, right? Although gazing upon a waterfall during a long hike is the highlight of the day, watching video after video of said waterfalls is, well, boring. I think we kind of killed waterfalls. We probably won’t be using most of these clips in our final video of the trip unless we want to use the video to put people to sleep. Could be good for babies…

To sum up: Don’t kill waterfalls. Shoot different stuff.

Lesson 2: Shoot stuff that doesn’t seem worthy.

Like eating an awesome piece of pie in a rural diner. Or sipping a latte in Seattle. Small moments capture the essence of a trip just as well as, or better than, sweeping vistas.

Lesson 3: When you do shoot sweeping vistas, put people in the shot.

The mountains and oceans look more vast when a tiny person appears in the foreground.

Lesson 4: Shoot a lot, just in case something cool happens.

You can always leave it on the cutting room floor. In one clip of ours I’m getting ready to cross a steep, slippery snow bank on the side of a mountain. You see me tap the snow with my boot to get a feel for it, and as I start to take the first tentative step… the camera pans off me. It’s still an OK video, but the exciting part isn’t captured. All told, we didn’t shoot enough, either, our final video montage might make it to a minute… barely.

Lesson 5: Ninety percent of the shots end by panning up into the sky. Don’t do this.

It’s a cool effect, and a nice way to fade from one shot to the next. But when we stitch together our shots of Glacier National Park, there are going to be a comedic number of shots that end that way. So from now on, we will use it once in a while, and I recommend the same to you.

Lesson 6: Don’t bother trying to zoom in or out.

You cannot zoom with a DSRL. I mean, you can, but trust me, don’t. Because you have to do it by hand, your shot will lurch toward (or away from) your target as though you were shooting from a bumper car. Pick your focal point, set your level of zoom, and then begin to shoot.

Lesson 7: Think like a storyteller and shoot things that piece together a narrative.

I learned this lesson watching a young couple shoot the exterior sign at the Kauai Coffee Plantation. What a boring thing to shoot, I thought. But then it dawned on me that when they go to assemble their montage, this shot will give context to the next, which was likely the hustle and bustle inside as visitors sampled the thirty or so varieties of coffee roasts. Without the sign, viewers wouldn’t know what they were looking at.

We’re no experts, so if you have other tips, share them so our next vacation video is something we can use to remember our trip many years from now.

This montage of our trip to Austin and San Antonio was “beginner’s luck.” It was our first and best video with our Canon T3i.