How to Shoot Vacation Videos like a Pro (Almost…)

Disclaimer: The following post really has nothing to do with hiking, photography or the natural world, but its intent is to improve the quality of videos for future travels, so we hope you will allow us to indulge…


Do you ever find yourself innocently clicking on articles on the internet only to find yourself wondering what happened to the last eight hours of your life? Personally, I seem to fall down this rabbit hole more often than I care to admit, and this weekend I found myself victim to this bad habit once again. Here is what happened:

I was browsing The New York Times Travel section online when I stumbled across an article entitled “Shooting Vacation Videos like a Pro.” It featured an interview with Daniel Kline of The Perennial Plate, an online documentary series produced by Kline and his girlfriend Mirra Fine about growing sustainable foods around the world. He explained how using simple DSLR cameras to shoot their footage gives their videos the look of film and avoids the soap opera look often associated with video shot with video cameras. Naturally, I followed the links to their website, where I spent several hours entranced by the visually-stunning videos the team has produced. While their first two seasons focused on food in the United States, they have just begun a worldwide trip and are visiting a variety of exotic locales like Japan, China and India. I was mesmerized by videos like this one:

A Day in India from The Perennial Plate on Vimeo.

Like Kline said, the images in their videos have a wonderful film-like quality, and I loved the quick cuts, the fantastic soundtracks and the variety of action-packed shots. We have always used video cameras for our travels, and I wondered if it was time that we tried making a switch to shooting on our DSLR. (My friend York has been trying to convince me of this for years now.) My mind started reeling of what this might mean for our summer trip to Tanzania: what equipment should we bring? how would we transfer and store large video files on the road, especially knowing that we will have long stretches with little access to power? how many batteries would we need? would we need to buy anything new? On and on, it went.

After convincing myself that DSLR shooting was worth a go, I decided that I had better practice this new medium before hitting the road. It would be awful to shoot in Africa for a month and come home with terabytes worth of material destined for the cutting room floor.

As luck would have it, we had planned on making homemade pasta for dinner. As we pulled out all the ingredients and equipment necessary, I decided that this could be the perfect subject for our very first DSLR video shoot. What you see below is the answer to the question of what happened to the last eight hours of my life:

The pasta-making and filming were both a lot of fun. While we could still use a lot of practice in both areas, here is what we learned:

  • In all, we shot just under 7 minutes of video which amounted to 10.87 GB of storage space.
  • Those 7 minutes chewed through nearly half a fully-charged battery!
  • Transferring that footage from a Sandisk Extreme III Card with an ordinary card reader took over 3 hours!
  • Working with the video files proved very difficult for Final Cut Pro. Apparently, it is better to convert them to a friendlier type of file first.
  • I love being able to use a shallow depth of field, but refocusing in the middle of a shot doesn’t seem to be an option, hence the out-of-focus artsy kneading shots.
  • Having some kind of steadying system (a shoulder harness?) would be very beneficial.
  • A “gay tarantella” is a lively folk dance popular in southern Italy, believed to be a cure for the bite of a tarantula.
  • York is always right.
  • Everything is a lot more fun if you open a nice bottle of wine.

All in all, it was a fun learning process. There are still a lot of obstacles to figure out between now and June, but I am hoping that we might be able to work them out and have some beautiful footage to work with from our summer travels. Special thanks to Matt for doing all of the hard work while I got to document the process. Meanwhile, I had better get back to the schoolwork that I was supposed to be doing this weekend…

2 thoughts on “How to Shoot Vacation Videos like a Pro (Almost…)

  1. Great job, Alison! I have always loved pasta, and your homemade fettuccine looked very yummy! Now I am craving Mia Francesca my favorite pasta place in Chicago. You are always trying new ways to get better, and I applaud you for that. I am looking forward to your travel videos. Buonissima!

    1. Thanks for watching, Andy. I agree–it’s always best to watch food videos on a full stomach, but I am up for a trip to Mia Francesca any time that you are. Ciao!

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