Tips for documenting your outdoor adventures on film and video.
Find out how you can transform visual records of your adventures into exciting experiences for your friends and followers.
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If you’re a fan of the great outdoors, your social media accounts and digital photo albums are likely full of pictures and videos of your most treasured memories. But do your photos and videos tell a story? Or are they more of a disorganized slideshow than a cohesive narrative?
These days it’s relatively easy to create beautiful images and videos with your smartphone. But there’s more to documenting vacations, expeditions, and other outdoor adventures than simply hitting the “record” button or camera shutter. As New York Times writer J. D. Biersdorfer explains, what felt like an adventure or life-changing experience to you may not look that way to others if you aren’t thoughtful about how to bring your own narrative to life in photos and videos.
You don’t need to be an expert in photography or video production to share your adventures with others, but you should be deliberate about it. If you put some thought into editing your footage or compiling a slideshow, you’ll end up turning your adventures — whether they follow you up the Great Wall of China or across the coast of Hawaii — into a visual story that everyone can enjoy for years to come.
Build a narrative around your memories.
Stories stick in our memories and connect with our emotions more powerfully than raw data like facts or location names. As Doug Stevenson at Associates for Talent Development (ATD) explains, marketers, teachers, and creative storytellers use the connection between narrative, emotional engagement, and memory all the time to create memorable stories. Wrapping your outdoor excursions in an emotional, personal narrative can be the difference between a dull series of recollections and an exciting adventure that keeps your friends and families on the edge of their seats.
That's why documenting your outdoor experiences has to be about more than just capturing images — it should be about distilling the spirit of your adventure. Even if you consider yourself more of an adventurer than a photographer, start tapping into your creativity now so you can build this growing skill with each new excursion.
Think about filming and photography as storytelling. Like any good narrative, the story of your trip should have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Capture any moments of drama and tension, as well as resolution, to hook your viewers. And remember why you’re going on this adventure — as well as why you’re choosing to record it — so that your story feels personal and unique.
Above all, be patient. Don’t try to force anything or over-choreograph your shots. Focus on enjoying yourself, the surrounding nature, and the people with you. If you do, the special moments that make this adventure uniquely yours will arise organically. You just have to be ready, camera in hand, to capture them.
Shoot your best shots.
When it’s time to film or photograph, you need enough footage or stills to create a whole story arc. So, really go for it — capture the big moments and the small — knowing that you don’t have to use every shot you take. This will make your film or photos more interesting for people to watch and help them experience the actual feeling of your adventure.
The expert videographers at B&H tell us that part of what creates the “cinematic experience” of viewing Hollywood films is the variety of shots, angles, and camera work used to add a sense of continuity, momentum, and emotion to whatever’s on the screen. The emotional and storytelling power of different shot types (for both still images and video) aren't limited to big-budget movies — with a little planning and perspective, you can use all kinds of different shots in your own outdoor adventure story.
Try out some of these types of shots in your visual storytelling:
Set the scene with wide shots. Commonly used as establishing shots, use wide shots to provide context and show viewers where the action of your story is taking place.
Bring the details into focus by zooming in on a subject or simply getting closer with the camera itself. Whether you focus on a person, animal, or inanimate object, you can unlock incredible views and perspectives with close-up shots. You can also contrast the close-up against a larger object to highlight your surroundings.
Standing in the center of the spectrum of wide shots and close-ups, medium shots strike a balance between extremes with more middle-of-the-road angles and perspectives. They highlight the most important parts of your subjects without losing the beauty of your background.
Capture an intimate, immediate perspective for your viewers. POV shots help viewers experience the film from a subject’s perspective.
Film more than you need, and don’t limit yourself to only the most intense, emotional, or obvious subjects and angles. B-roll is any kind of footage that can be used to supplement your primary footage. Take notice of any features or subjects that you find intriguing.
Try more than one angle or presentation for anything you capture. Similar to B-roll, inserts or cut-ins record small, close-up details that add variety to your film during the editing process.
Imagine the experience before it starts: what sights, sounds, angles, and events do you expect? What will you want to capture? The more you visualize and plan ahead, the better your chances of capturing special moments and giving yourself plenty of material to work with when it’s time to edit everything together.
Have fun with color.
One of the strongest tools professional filmmakers and photographers use to engage emotions and evoke moods is color. The Los Angeles Film School details some of the most common colors and their emotional or psychological triggers in film. But again, you don’t need a professional studio or closed set to unlock the power of color in your own adventure videos.
Outdoors, you can get some genuinely mesmerizing shots thanks to the beautiful scenery — however, you don’t have as much control over the color and lighting. The varying lighting conditions in exterior scenes can also affect how your camera recognizes and records colors. While you can always correct colors after the fact, start by working with your surrounding lighting and landscape to set the color palette of outdoor video.
Consider where you’ll be going and what you’ll be doing, and plan accordingly. If you’ll be going skiing or snowboarding, wear something colorful so you and your subjects pop against the natural white, neutral backdrop of the snow. If you and your friends will be hiking in the woods, avoid wearing dark colors so your camera can capture everyone through the trees. When in doubt, consult a color wheel to find the best complementary and contrasting colors.
Don’t forget to look at the weather before you leave since it can alter the look you’re hoping to achieve. If you want brightly lit photographs, adventure on a sunny day, and consider clothing that reflects or absorbs that light accordingly. If you want softer light for more muted colors, go out when there’s some cloud cover. You can’t control the weather, but if you’re flexible, you can wait until natural light does what you want it to.
Create a personal soundtrack.
If you’re making a video, do you want to pair it with live audio from where you filmed? Or do you want to set the atmosphere with music? Perhaps you would like to add quirky sound effects, or even record narration. While there are no hard-and-fast rules to choosing audio, be intentional about it — getting the sound just right can make your video much more engaging.
High-quality audio without distractions makes it easier for viewers to vicariously adventure outdoors with you. Look out for wind, traffic, and other noises that can interfere with your sound. Be sure to bring a microphone to get the clearest possible audio, especially for dialogue. Take a tip from the New York Film Academy: You aren’t limited to capturing sounds that match your video. Don’t be afraid to experiment with contrasting or evocative sounds that can add extra interest to your story.
Decide if you want to capture audio and video together, or as separate elements using different equipment. It’s easier to record simultaneously, but any errors in your filming can impact your audio (and vice versa). Recording separately will require more editing in post-production, but it will protect your audio and video’s integrity.
As you get your audio together, think beyond the basics, like using music to set the mood for a scene or including first-person narration. Consider also recording ambient noises in your environment — like the distant sound of a train, the crunch of autumn leaves under your feet, or the slicing of your skis through fresh snow — to create an unforgettable atmosphere. Or try different formats, like interviews or everyday conversation, to add an element of interest.
Notice what sounds and audio styles pique your interest and let that be your guide.
Filter, refine, and adjust.
The adventure doesn’t end until you’re back home with memory cards full of pictures and video. Start building your narrative by reviewing your footage, organizing your shots, and looking for your best clips. Don’t hesitate to set aside anything that didn’t turn out right or that you know you won’t use in your story.
With the help of the right software, begin editing everything you captured. Fine-tune any audio, color, special effects, and other details. From there, it’s all about choosing what you’re going to share. Make sure that your pictures or video tell the story that you envisioned — or keep refining your work until it does.
Once you’ve applied the finishing touches to your exciting adventure narrative, share it with others. Post your video and photos on social media, send them to your family, or host an outdoor screening with all your friends. Even if your loved ones couldn’t join you on the adventure, your photos and videos will make them feel like they’re part of the story — and they’ll be eager to see all of your future adventures, too.
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