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A Step by Step Guide to Filming the Best Travel Videos

Jonas Puidokas

Embarking on any journey to new destinations is a thrilling experience, filled with unforgettable moments and unbelievable landscapes and new cultures to experience. In the ever growing age of social media and digital storytelling, there is no better way to share your travels than through captivating videos. So whether you’re a professional filmmaker or you’re just getting started with a camera, learning how to capture the beautiful world around you is one skill you must not miss out on.

Who am I?

But first, let me share a bit about who I am and how I found myself in this world of travel and cinematography. The journey began in 2015 when I watched my first travel film on YouTube by the talented filmmaker Sam Kolder. Still a student at the time, the discovery of this cinematic universe I never knew existed swiftly became an obsession, consuming my daily life. Day after day, I found myself at the local park, making silly videos with friends, driven by an insatiable desire to learn. 

This passion then carried through college, where video-making became a constant pursuit. Eventually, my work caught the attention of individuals already established in the film industry. They offered me occasional gigs, took me under their wing, and taught me all the ins and outs of filmmaking. 

This marked the beginning of my filmmaking career. Learning from some of the industry’s best, I experienced rapid progress, allowing me to work on larger and more ambitious projects which allowed me to save some money and get all the new camera gear I wanted. At this time I wasn’t travelling anymore and only just filming commercials, but in 2022 everything changed. After spending nearly two years locked away during the global pandemic, the desire to travel found it’s way back into my life and I found myself embarking on my first ever solo trip. From there I went on a new trip each month for 6 months, I grew more and more confident in my ability to travel and by the end of 2022 I made the bold decision to leave everything behind and to begin travelling and chasing my dreams for a full-time living.

Jonas Puidokas

Image source:Jonas Puidokas

Today

And now, I can confidently say that after spending the last two years of travelling around the world as a commercial cinematographer and working for some of the biggest brands such as Adidas, Peugeot, Redbull and of course, Contiki, I’ve had the chance to learn a thing or two about the art of spontaneous filming when being on the move constantly. 

From choosing the correct gear, to mastering composition and natural lighting techniques, I will explain to you all the secrets that can turn any boring footage into works of art. How to prepare for the unpredictable, how to keep your gear to a minimum, and how to organise your friends to be in videos for you are just some of the things I would like to touch on here, and with that being said, I would love to invite you on this visual adventure as we explore the essentials of creating unique and captivating travel videos.

So grab your camera and let’s dive into the world of adventure filming.

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Equipment

When it comes to equipment, preferences among filmmakers vary widely. Some opt for a minimalist approach, while others prefer to bring along their entire arsenal. As for me, well I think I’m a mix of both worlds. I love the idea of having a small set-up with a light camera bag as not only does it make it easier to travel with, but it also allows me to be more inconspicuous and get more candid moments as often people don’t notice that I am there filming, plus, there’s the added benefit of avoiding the usual back pains that come with a heavy bag. 

So, with that in mind, here are the essential pieces of film equipment that never leave my bag:

And most importantly my phone. No matter how much equipment I have, I often find myself reaching for my phone to capture those spontaneous moments that are just too good to pass up. When it comes to seizing those moments, pulling out your phone and pointing is often the quickest and most intuitive solution.

It’s worth mentioning that any phone released in the last few years is more than capable of capturing stunning imagery. In fact, some phones perform exceptionally well, rivalling or even surpassing the capabilities of many professional cameras. So, don’t be discouraged by relying on your phone – they are versatile and truly great tools for capturing the beauty of your travels!

Lastly, when travelling with a considerable amount of equipment, it’s crucial to pack it in your carry-on luggage. The last thing you’d want is for delicate gear to break in the cargo hold or, even worse, to risk theft. When I travel, I have one rule, I ensure that all my valuable and fragile items accompany me onto the plane, leaving the more robust gear in the check-in luggage to lighten the load.

Additionally, consider the importance of having travel insurance specifically tailored for the equipment you’re carrying. Accidents can occur unexpectedly, regardless of your destination or the nature of your adventure. By insuring your equipment, not only will you be less worried about the gear, but you will also have financial protection against any potential mishaps. 

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Pre-production

Let’s approach all of this like any production company would; so, let’s start with the basics. How do you prepare for a travel content shoot, and what kind of equipment should you bring to make your life as easy and as enjoyable as possible while you are on the move.

One thing that always gets overlooked when it comes to travel filming is the importance of planning ahead. Yes, predicting what will happen or what the weather might be is usually a challenge, but doing some basic research can really elevate how you capture content. Here are a few essential things you should consider researching before you look to go filming your next travel adventure:

Jonas Puidokas

Image source:Jonas Puidokas

1. Sunrise and sunset times

Knowing when the sun rises and sets is crucial. Every place you visit will be different where the sun will rise and set at different times, but also how it will interact with the environment that you might be in too. For example, if you are travelling through the mountains, then the sun might rise much later than if you were travelling along the coast as it takes it much longer for it to come over the mountains, but also this is something that works the other way around as it might also set sooner than expected due to the elements that surround you and where the sun is positioned. 

This incident takes me back to a memorable journey through Japan, where I eagerly awaited the famous Mt. Fuji to emerge from behind the clouds for a sunrise photograph. However, my oversight became apparent when, with little time remaining, I realised I was on the wrong side of the mountain to capture the iconic view. With no time to waste, I found myself racing to the next spot, hopeful to witness the beautiful sun illuminating the mountain. Fortunately, with just a few minutes to spare, I reached the vantage point and secured that coveted shot for my bucket list. I remember in that moment thinking, if only I had taken a few minutes the night before in simple research to determine the sun’s rising direction.

Yet, every cloud has a silver lining. Since that time I have discovered a great app that helps plan exactly for this. And this app is called SunQuest; it accurately provides these times and lets you use your phone’s live camera to show you exactly where the sun will be at any given moment. This information is essential when determining the best time to film at any location.

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2. Location list

Creating a comprehensive list of all the destinations you aspire to visit is the initial step toward crafting a memorable travel video. Pinning these locations on your map serves as a visual roadmap for your journey, allowing you to anticipate the flow of your adventure. However, for those seeking a more seamless experience, consider the advantages of embarking on a group trip with Contiki.

Joining a group trip will not only eliminate the stress of planning intricate details but also provides you with an itinerary full of exciting activities. Contiki takes the reins, ensuring you get to witness and experience everything your chosen destinations have to offer. With a pre-established plan in place, you can redirect your focus and energy toward the creative aspects of crafting the travel video you envision.

Your trip manager will guide you through all the new locations you visit and they will ensure that you don’t miss a thing. Oh and they might even help you stage a few key shots for your video! In fact, one of my favourite shots from a film I got to make in Canada while on a Contiki trip was only possible because our tour manager Carlen said she knew a great filming spot, and she was not wrong as this place was perfect and way more incredible than anything I could have ever imagined.

​​So, whether you prefer mapping your own adventure or entrusting your itinerary to Contiki, having a clear plan allows you to maximize your time, ensuring every frame contributes to the storytelling magic of your travel video.

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3. Inspiration

Filming while travelling becomes much easier when you have a clear idea of what you want to capture and how you want to do it. Before any trip, I always dedicate a few hours to content consumption. I visit YouTube or Instagram, search for the destination I want to visit, and immerse myself in various bits of content until I feel I have a solid grasp of what there is to film and how I can capture it. This process often leads to the discovery of truly hidden gems, which is always a rewarding bonus.

Jonas Puidokas

Image source:Jonas Puidokas

Production

Now that you’re all set and finally on your dream trip, it’s time to get into the nitty gritty of what it’s like when you’re finally on your adventure. Here is where we will touch up on composition, lighting, directing, vlogging and most controversial of all, whether you should film in landscape or portrait? 

1. Composition

The easiest way to draw your viewer into any video is with the use of beautiful composition. It doesn’t need to be anything difficult; it just needs to be clean. In fact, nearly 90% of my videos are shot with the same composition technique and it’s called the rule of thirds. Let me explain. 

Imagine breaking your video frame into a grid of nine equal parts, much like a tic-tac-toe board. The Rule of Thirds encourages you to place key elements of your scene along these gridlines or at their intersections. By doing so, you not only create a more dynamic and balanced composition but also draw your viewers’ attention to the most important aspects of your shot.

By placing your subject on the top horizontal line we get to be at eye level with the point of interest making it much more relatable to the audience and turning the scene more intimate and closer to the camera whereas on the contrary, if we place our subject in the bottom third we add more negative space above them and thus we create the illusion that the scene is bigger than it is. 

This works with everything, people, places and buildings. Each use case will give a different emotional connection with a viewer and it is up to us to decide if it portrays what we want it to portray. These rules are just guidelines and it’s important you keep experimenting with them to really understand them and know when and how to use them.

Jonas Puidokas

Image source:Jonas Puidokas

2. Lighting

Once you’ve mastered composition, the next important step is lighting and understanding how natural lighting can be used to shape our subject and how it can help convey an emotion or feeling. And as a matter of fact, this is something we have no control over. However, there’s a clever trick I often use while filming on the go, and that’s backlighting.

Regardless of your location, whether it is in a city, in a mountainous a valley, or even by the coast, all you need to do is place whatever it is you want to film in front of the sun and then just simply allow nature to do its thing and just watch as your shots become pieces of art. In fact one of my best travel videos to date was all shot using direct and harsh sunlight, but by placing it behind all of my subjects, it turned the video into something beautiful.

3. Directing

Now that we have composition and lighting nailed down, it’s time for action and by that I mean it’s time to direct the people we are travelling with. Often, we will get to new places and our creative minds will begin to race with ideas, but we will just find it hard to express those ideas to those around us. 

Here is where you can direct your friends on where to look, what to do and how to even move at times. And over the last 6 years of doing this as a full time job, the best and easiest way to do that is literally showing it in person. Act out what you envision seeing in your camera screen, then step back, click record and watch your vision come to life. People are always more receptive to visual rather than verbal visualisation so the more you can show them the easier it will be to direct someone. 

To break the ice and to make work into a fun process, I’d often add a slightly silly twist, encouraging laughter and helping everyone to loosen up. Subsequently, I would invite each person to put their own spin on my direction, ensuring authenticity in their expressions and actions. Through this hands-on approach, you not only engage your travel companions in the filmmaking process but also ensure that everyone is having a good time while executing your creative ideas.

Jonas Puidokas

Image source:Jonas Puidokas

4. Vlogging

But what about vlogging? What if I just want to capture the most authentic video of me having a good time? And well to that, it’s a very simple answer. Just take your phone or camera out, point it at yourself and begin talking and capturing what’s going on.

It will be awkward and weird at first, but then the more you do it, the more comfortable you will get and before you know it, you’ll be sharing stories about your travels to a camera as if you were talking to a person which will turn you into the most authentic version of yourself. It’s really that easy, it’s just practice, practice and more practice to build up confidence for the camera. 

5. Landscape or Portrait

And now, onto the most controversial topic in the filmmaking world, should I be filming in landscape or portrait.  And to that I will say that this is entirely up to you. It’s up to you to decide who will be watching the video and where you will be sharing it. If you are posting it to Instagram or TikTok, then portrait is usually better, but if it is going to be longer and on YouTube, then a landscape video is likely a better option. 

My approach to this is usually by filming everything in landscape and then converting it to portrait if I choose to do so, but never the other way around as converting a portrait video to landscape is sadly not easy and very time consuming.

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Post-production

And now after everything is filmed, we get to finally move onto my favourite part of travel filming and what got me into it in the first place and that is telling stories, and better yet creating them. And the best way to do it is by placing together small video clips that then turn into bigger video clips, stitched with emotion, feeling and energy, it’s like playing with Lego, but better! It’s our way to express ourselves and our ideas through the form that is called editing. And here we can really take a full mismatch of clips and turn it into something truly magical. 

This is also probably a good time to get some knowledge about video editing. I won’t go into details about this as it is a whole separate world of its own, but I do have some recommendations. If you are editing videos on a phone then CapCut is your best friend and if you are editing on a laptop then DaVinci Resolve is for you. Oh and did I mention that both programmes are free so what an absolute steal. From here it is just a case of watching video after video on YouTube learning how to edit and piece together the footage that you have shot. 

There is something incredible when piecing together a new video, you have so much control over what you want to show. What you want people to also feel and the story you want to share. Is it your story, is it someone else’s or is it a completely made up fiction. The possibilities are endless and, infinite editing is just a creative person’s playground. A place where you can let your ideas run wild and free. 

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Final advice

And now, to any aspiring filmmaker, the journey to create spectacular videos is going to take some time, filmmaking isn’t something you can just pick up on after a 5 minute article read. It’s something that takes years and years of practice, but not just any practice, it takes perfect practice. A lot of hard work, a lot of experimenting and most importantly a lot of failing. Always ask questions, and never stop learning. Your journey of filmmaking is just beginning and I promise that the adventure you are about to face with your camera is going to be worth sharing, so stay curious and be sure to document it all. 

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