How to Shoot a Desert Video

PART 1: Planning and Shooting

Mark Darnell

Videos can tell stories, convey ideas and immerse the viewer into an environment in ways that are difficult to achieve with photographs or the written word. And, with many video cameras becoming better and more affordable and a number of free editing programs available, creating videos has become increasingly accessible.
Perhaps you’d like to create a video about your experience in Oregon’s high desert? This post, which is part one of a two-part series, offers pointers to get you started.

Planning

1. Prep your video equipment

To make a video about Oregon’s public lands, all the gear you really need is a digital video camera and access to some type of video editing software. If you have access to them, a tripod and a variety of lenses and filters will add significantly to your production.

Whatever gear you use, make sure it’s ready to go before you head off into the desert. Fully charge all batteries, and pack any spare batteries you have. Make sure you have enough memory, then bring some extra memory cards just in case. You’ll also need to pack bags to keep your gear dry and clean and enable you to carry it all across the landscape.

2. Decide what kind of video you want to make

Before you hit the road, think through the type of video you want to make. Will it be a video about you and your friends sharing an adventure in the Oregon Outback?  Or, a video focused on desert plants and animals? Do you want to educate people about a specific topic, or tell a particular story? Knowing what kind of movie you want to make will help you get the right kind of footage when you’re out in the field.

Consider the narrative arc of your video: the beginning, middle, end. Your narrative will keep viewers engaged. A video focused on one particular day might begin at sunrise, cover the events of the day in the middle, and wrap up after sunset. If your narrative is geographic, the start of the video might be when you enter into a specific place and the ending could be when you leave that place. Eventually, you’ll have to arrange your footage in some way; if you come up with a plan first, you’ll have the shots to tell the story you want. This is filmmaking 101. I’ll touch on it again when I talk about shooting on location and also about editing your footage. 

3. Do some research

To create a video about a wild place, start by pulling out a good map and familiarizing yourself with the area. Are there any particular environments or landmarks you’d like to get footage of? Look for photos or videos from others that might tip you off to particularly picturesque or interesting locations.

If your video intended to teach your audience a new skill or convey specific information, researching these topics before your trip will enable you to catch the appropriate footage to impart these lessons.

voices

Helen Harbin, ONDA Board Member

Helen Harbin, ONDA Board Member

“I connect with Oregon’s high desert through my feet, my eyes, my sense of smell, and all the things I hear. Getting out there is a whole body experience.” Supporting ONDA, Helen says, not only connects her with wild landscapes, but is also a good investment. “I felt like if I gave them $20, they might squeeze $23 out of it.”

voices

Durlin Hicock, Alice Elshoff Award winner

Durlin Hicock, Alice Elshoff Award winner

“Protecting public land is part of my spiritual being. It’s central to my identity to be in wilderness and to see it protected.” Durlin is proud to protect public lands for future generations, saying, “The highlight of my childhood was our family’s weekend outdoor trips. I look forward to my grandchildren having similar experiences outside in their lifetimes, and it wouldn’t be possible without ONDA.”

fact

Badger

Badger

Badgers are generally nocturnal, but, in remote areas with no human encroachment, they are routinely observed foraging during the day. They prefer open areas with grasslands, which can include parklands, farms, and treeless areas with crumbly soil and a supply of rodent prey.

Badgers are born blind, furred, and helpless. Their eyes open at four to six weeks.

Latin name: Taxidea taxus

Shooting

1. Remember your narrative

When you’re out in the field, it’s easy to get distracted by all the beauty you’ll be surrounded by. Remember the video type you’re going for and what kind of shape you want your video to take. Keep this in the front of mind during the course of your trip to the desert to ensure your footage fits in with what you’re trying to do.

Haven’t settled on a narrative yet? Seek inspiration in the sights you see and the events that happen during your trip. Consider how the footage you’re taking might be arranged when you get back home.

2. Shoot plenty of good-looking footage

I’ve found that only about 10 percent of what I shoot ends up looking nice; most is mediocre at best. Thus, I try to shoot a lot of footage so I’m more likely to have some good stuff when I get back home. Memory is cheap, so why not?

That said, you won’t just get the 10 percent of the good stuff without effort, so keep these tips in mind.

Follow the rules

Many of the rules of composition that apply to photography (such as the rule of thirds, appropriate framing, symmetry, depth) also apply to shooting video footage, with good lighting becoming  especially important.

Capture motion

What separates videography from photography is motion. Capturing motion is the main strength of video, so take advantage of it. Shoot while you are walking or riding in a vehicle, or keep your camera stationary and film something – animals, people, leaves , water – that is in motion. Steady footage always looks better than shaky footage, so make sure your shots are as smooth as possible. Tripods are quite handy, but, lacking a tripod, you can use the landscape to your advantage by setting your camera on a fence post or a flat rock, or bracing yourself against a tree.

Keep focused on your subjects

A foreground subject will make your footage vastly more interesting. Put your friend, your dog, wildlife, a wildflower, a cloud, or even a feature of the terrain into your scene. Always be able to answer “what is my subject?” and compose your shots accordingly. Be intentional about making the entire landscape your subject.

Take a variety of shots

Keep your video interesting by incorporating a variety of types of shots and perspectives. Take some moving shots and some stationary. Take close-ups and wide-angle shots. Take shots with all different types of subjects. The more variety you capture out in the field, the more you’ll have to work with you start editing.


Quick Tech Tips From Chris

  • 1080 will do: Tempting as it is to shoot in the highest resolution possible, 4k has many drawbacks, mostly related to the size of the files created. 4K video clips are quite a bit larger than the same footage shot in 1080, so you’ll need more memory, and, unless you have a powerful computer, editing will be slower. In my opinion, shooting in 1080 strikes the best balance between quality of footage and ease of use.
  • Shoot in the highest frame rate possible: Shooting at a high frame rate will let you play around with the speed of the clip when you edit. Maybe you want to slow a clip down and not have it look all choppy. If you shoot at 60 frames per second and you’re making a movie that will eventually become 24 fps, you can slow down your shots to over 50% without noticeable choppiness.
  • Go manual if you can: If your camera allows, manually control the aperture, ISO, white balance, and shutter speed.
  • Set the right shutter speed: Your shutter speed should always be set at double your frame rate. I couldn’t tell you why, but that’s what everybody says. That gives you only aperture and ISO to play with to control your exposure.
  • Don’t use your camera’s color presets: If your camera has built-in color settings, stuff like “Vivid” or “Sunset,” it’s best not to use these. Instead, have your camera at the flattest, plainest color setting (you may have a setting called “Neutral”) and save your color tweaking for editing.
  • Learn editing software as you go: If you’re new to video editing, start with basic (and free) software like Windows Movie Maker or iMovie. Fairly straightforward to use, their programs will help you understand basic video editing. You can upgrade to software with more features later. I currently use Adobe Premiere Pro when I edit my short films. It’s somewhat complicated to use, but there are tons of tutorials on YouTube to show you how to use its many powerful features. As subscription-based software, paying every month to use it can add up, but the software is also constantly updated.

 

Check out How to Shoot a Desert Video – Part 2 for more editing tips!