Whenever we look back on our holiday photos the kids always ask for the videos. “Play that one,” they demand as we scroll through the folder on the computer.
It made me realise that taking video while on holidays is a great way to remember the trip. Many of us take the time to put together a photobook of our holiday snaps. But a video of your trip is far more fun for everyone to watch. Video allows you to recall the sounds and to see the kids’ reactions as they experience something for the first time.
But how do you create a good video? Just like photography – a few little tricks go a long way.
The first is to invest in a good video camera. Sure you can take video on your phone, but the quality of content on a video camera really is so much better. These days most will connect straight to your phone so you can upload the videos direct to social media and even to editing apps.
Let the kids use it. You will be amazed at what they shoot. The moments and items kids capture are so different from what adults see. You can teach the kids how to take video and let them record their own moments. Just make sure you give them a lesson on holding the camera safely first.
After the trip, you can work together to produce an edited holiday video. Many high schools are now asking students to submit video assignments. In the workplace, video skills are highly sought after. Companies now produce their own video content. Kids who can add that to their CV will have an edge.
Sean Ellwood is a Senior Product Specialist at Sony, one of the biggest producers of video cameras At Family Travel, we use Sony Handycam Camcorders to produce short travel videos of our trips. They’re light enough that the kids can hold and they are simple to use. The footage is crisp, clear and never flickers.
For beginners, Sean suggests the Sony AX33 4K Handycam as an affordable video camera that is easy to use. It has slow-motion, timelapse, a great ambient microphone and it links to your mobile phone so you can easily share the footage.
Camera in hand, the next step is to ensure you are shooting in the right format.
4K or HD?
4K and HD (high definition) are the video display formats. They’re the technical terms for the quality of the video – defined by the number of pixels at the bottom of the image.
A standard definition (SD) image has 720 columns of pixels across the bottom of the image. HD has 1280 columns, full HD has 1920 columns. 4K is nearly 4000 columns across.
“Think of it in terms of when we had the jump from VHS to DVD – there was a jump in resolution and when we went form DVD up to Blue-ray – there was another jump in resolution,” Sean says. “Blue Ray is full HD. 4K video is another jump above that.”
4K video is the best quality. But you don’t necessarily want to shoot in 4K if you are just producing holiday videos or filming birthdays and happy moments at home.
“On the Sony AX33 you do have the option of shooting in 4K, but if you shoot in 4K you will have to edit in 4K and you can only take advantage of it if you can display it in 4K,” Sean says.
“For someone whose home TV is just a full-HD and if they don’t have a very powerful computer at home, they may want to record in HD which is much less demanding on your computer and gives you very good quality anyway.”
If you are trying to edit in 4K in iMovie or on a standard laptop, you will probably find the computer will struggle. HD will still showcase your video content beautifully.
Frames per second
The next step is to choose a frame rate. The AX33 offers offer a choice between 50P (50 frames per second) and 25P (25 frames per second).
For home travel videos, you will want to set this to 50P. Professional “arty” filmmakers use 25P.
“When you are shooting at 50 frames per second, it’s very fluid and a lot more forgiving,” Sean says. “25 frames per second can look a lot more stuttery especially in bright light.”
Video is a lot more forgiving when it comes to composition rules than still photography. However, a few small tricks will ensure your videos are interesting and top quality.
For still photography, most photographers generally work to the rule of thirds. Divide your screen with imaginary lines one third and two thirds -both horizontally and vertically. Then use those lines to place the subject of your shots.
“The rule of thirds is a way to think of a shot, but there are other ways to compose a shot with video,” Sean says.
“You can make centred videos if there is one thing that dominates a shot – that can look great.”
If you frame two more things together, you’ll have a better shot than framing one thing alone.
“You could fill the frame with the Taj Mahal – but everyone has seen the Taj Mahal – you want to take video of your family experiencing the Taj Mahal,” Sean says.
Look for natural framing for busy shots.
“A busy shot where there are things coming and going into the frame and out of frame can be difficult to look at,” Sean says. “Seek out doorways, windows, or gap in some foliage you can shoot through and the create a frame. This will help you keep the focus on the shot and the eye where it should be.”
Look for reactions
The most precious thing about travelling with kids isn’t so much the places you see – but watching the kids react to them. So capture that. That is what the kids will want to see when they beg you to watch and re-watch the videos from your trip.
“When you walk into a new place, have the camera ready and have it rolling so you can capture that initial a moment of reaction.”
Just like still photography, it’s important to know where your light is coming from. If you’re not sure, hold your fist up in front of you and look at which side is getting light. Then put your back to that light.
“If you are shooting with the light coming from behind people will find the image is dark, you will get the sky and the light source in the sky looking bright, but the people will be dark silhouettes.”
If you can – try to make sure you photograph either in all light or all dark – to avoid a light “blow out”.
The AX33 can also shoot in low light and night vision.
Zoom is one of the best tools on an AX33 Handycam. It allows you to focus in on a distant object such as a lion on safari or kids playing sport.
But you need to make sure you do it right. Sometimes, it’s still better to simply move your body closer to the action.
Sean has a great trick to make your video look more professional with zoom.
“If you zoom during a shot it tends to look very home video,” Sean says. “Think of a zoom as something you do between shots. It gives you the freedom to frame your video in certain ways and it gives a more professional look to your video.”
Slow motion is a great effect when something is under the effect of gravity or moving of its own accord.
Typically you want to use slow motion for actions where we know how long something should take. The slow motion is then unexpected and interesting.
“Slow motion of people walking is fine but not really that interesting,” Sean says. “Slow motion of a juggler is interesting because you know how quickly things go up the air and how quickly they should come down. Playing with that with the slow-motion gives you a really good effect.”
Water-play, fountains and waterfalls all make for great slow motion video as do people jumping.
“Another great one is hair – a shaggy dog or people with long hair moving around can give a great effect with slow motion.”
Fast motion is best used for time-lapse videos. It shows the passing of time in a place. But that’s hard to do when you have limited battery life.
Sean says you can use the AX33 to do time lapses. This makes a great set up shot for travel videos. To do it, you will need a good travel tripod and a power source.
“Bring the mains charger and plug the camera in, set it up in the window of your hotel room and get a sunrise or sunset shot,” Sean says. “This gives you a nice opening shot, a sense of ‘here we are’ this is the place we came to before you jump into the more personal stuff.”
So much video. Are you one of those people that can’t stop filming “just in case”? This next tip may be hard for you. If you want to share your videos, you are going to need to edit them. If not, shoot as much as you want.
“The trap most people fall into with editing home videos (if sharing) is its hard to cull your footage,” Sean says. “It’s footage of the people you love and it is precious to you but leaving long shots on the screen is a trap if you want to make a watchable video.”
Sean says 10 seconds of one shot is long enough.
“A 10 second shot in a video is a long shot – the more you keep things moving and change between different views the more watchable your video will be.”
Shoot to edit
“The more you can visualise what you want your finished video to look like, the easier your life will be in the edit suite,” Sean says.
This is far easier in hindsight. But we can assure you that it does get easier with practice.
Look for what experts call “cutaway shots” or “overlays”. These are little details shots – something that isn’t the main action – but is something interesting that you can use to hide a transition.
Kids are surprisingly great at these. Think of all the times they get distracted by rocks, birds, fountains. Give them the camera and you will find you have loads of cutaway shots.
Imagine you have a small video of your family walking through the gates of the Taj Mahal. Everyone looks amazed and excited. But the actual walk up to the building takes 10 minutes. That’s boring to watch.
“You want to cut from – ‘we’re at the gates’ to ‘we’re at the Taj’,” Sean says. “You can hide that transition with a shot of a fountain or detailed shots of peacocks walking through the grounds. Those overlay shots give you a way to cut that longer shot and give you something to move through on the way.”
Audio is really important on video. People will forgive bad vision, but nobody can forgive bad audio. It immediately kills the sense of emotion.
The AX33 has an excellent ambient microphone, which captures all the sound around it. It also supports the use of a shotgun microphone – easily attached to the top of the camera. For more detailed audio, it fits a lapel microphone.
The other option for making travel videos is to fill the background with music when editing.
No-one wants to watch a shaky video or your family. In the past, that meant you needed a tripod to do video well. But these days video cameras have advanced.
On the Sony AX33 Handycam, the steady shot is on by default.
“If you pick up the camera and give it a wiggle – you will see the lens physically move,” Sean says. “There’s a gimble inside the camera – you don’t have to do anything but it gives you much steadier footage especially when you are at high zoom.”
Not just video
Remember that most video cameras don’t just do video. Most also take still shots up to 20MG – depending on what quality you are recording.