10 film-making mistakes to avoid

Since Alastair Humphreys began filming his trips with a DSLR three years ago he has learned a lot about camera work, editing and film making...

7 mins

I may have learned a lot about making my own travel videos but every time I sit at my computer and begin processing the footage from my latest project, I will grow annoyed at myself for the latest stupid mistakes I have made. Here are some of the things I did wrong on a trip to Greenland. I’m listing them here so you don’t make the same mistakes with your films.

1. Details

I did not film enough close-up details of things, such as equipment or ice formations. I therefore have to rely too much on quite repetitive long shots.

2. Cutaways

Detail shots are usually used as cutaways (need an explanation of cutaways? Click here). However, when shooting longer scenes I should have thought at the time about specific cutaways. Instead I had to do quite a bit of bodging in my edit! The opening scene with Martin packing the bags would have benefited from some cutaways.

3. Faces

It’s all very well having pretty shots of big mountains, but the best part of films is the people. I wish I had filmed more close ups of our faces, particularly when we were tired and cold.

4. Empathy

The best parts of expedition films are when the viewer can relate to the human side of the people out on the ice. I should have done more interviews, more pieces to camera, and given the camera to the other guys more often to record their own thoughts.

5. Story

I went off to Greenland, had a brilliant time, came home, uploaded all my footage, and then thought to myself “what’s the story here?” I then had to cobble together a story from the footage and audio that I had, working around all the limitations from the mistakes outlined in this post. A better way of doing it would have been to have thought of the story I wanted to tell before I even began shooting.

6. Audio

Our microphone snapped due to the cold in Greenland. This made capturing good audio even more difficult. I really regret the occasions when I couldn’t be bothered to do it right and just relied on the camera’s in-built microphone. Good audio is at least as important as good video when creating a film.

7. Film the hard times

From the impression given by my film, Greenland looks like a lovely place for a sunshine break. I’m kicking myself for being weak and lazy and not getting my camera out when things were grim. The time to film things is when your face mask is crusty with ice, your hands are freezing cold, the wind is screaming, you are hungry, and everyone is in such a foul mood that if you start filming them they might thump you. That is what you need to record.

8. Honesty

The stiff upper-lip, it-wasn’t-so-bad-really attitude is very British. Unfortunately it makes for very dull viewing. Honesty is far more raw and interesting. Next time I need to document far more tears and whinging and self-doubt!

9. Exposure

I do not know anything about post-processing video (fiddling with it on the computer to make it look prettier). I am deliberately not learning about it either. I simply don’t have enough time. I therefore have to depend on shooting things properly out in the field, in particular getting the exposure of my clips right. This was hard to do in Greenland, particularly in very bright light or at times when I needed to be wearing goggles. There are a few moments in the film when it is either overexposed or underexposed. There are moments too where I got the exposure just right and the landscape looks stunning, without the need for any post-processing at all.

10. Tripod

The oldest, laziest, easiest-to-remedy of all. Don’t be lazy, Humphreys. Use a bloody tripod more next time.

Now, if that long list of cock-ups has not dissuaded you completely, here is the 10-minute story of our Greenland Expedition. I’d appreciate your honest thoughts on it…

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