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Backpacker Magazine – June 2008

Field School: Make a Movie

Take your new tools to the trail to master the skills you'll need to navigate, record, and share your best adventures.

by: Evelyn Spence, Jason Stevenson, Kris Wagner

Photograph/Record | Make a Movie | Essential Tips | High Tech Gear

1. Create action

Don't treat your video camera like a still camera: Physically moving it (while walking) rather than zooming or panning makes your shots more dynamic.

2. Shoot B-roll (Extra video footage–landscapes, second takes, alternate angles–that you can later weave into the action)
You'll want footage that adds texture. Film people chatting at breaks–and bugs crawling on a rainfly, boots slopping through mud, streams gurgling, even food prep.

3. Get variety
Approach subjects from different angles and distances, and vary how you frame and zoom them. Note: It takes about an hour of raw footage to create a good 5-minute movie.

4. Capture motion
Lead the action a bit–it's aesthetically pleasing to see where someone is going. Want a frenetic feel? Let the action leave the frame for a few seconds.

5. Establish scale
Create ooh-ahh scenics by panning from an object (your tent) to an epic view (the Grand Canyon), or by slowly zooming out from a tight shot of a distant peak.

6. Improve sound
For crisp audio, you need to invade personal space: Get close, and try your camera's wind reduction or sound sensitivity modes. Or invest in a wireless mic like Audio-Technica's ATR288W ($130 on

7. Make peaks pop
Video has a low contrast ratio–which means it can't capture extreme light (sky) and dark (mountains) at the same time. Your best bets: Bring a low-contrast filter, or expose for a person or object closer in.

8. Dial in color
Improve exposure by adjusting white balance for your light conditions: Select the custom white balance setting, put a true white object in the field of view, and click to calibrate (some cameras adjust manually).

9. Get narration
Ask friends to recap highlights each night for voice-over material when editing.

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