Guide to Becoming a Backpack and Traveling Filmmaker

Introduction

Backpacking and traveling the world as a one-man-crew sounds exciting. You travel to exotic locales and meet interesting people. But that’s just one side of the story as there is a lot more to travel filmmaking. This line of business is not easy and requires specific skills and gear.

Gone are the days when we were totally dependent on commercial broadcasters. Now anyone can become a traveling filmmaker and show the world their creations through online platforms. The internet provides enthusiastic filmmakers with new opportunities to showcase their talent in form of real-life traveling films/documentaries.

This guide covers the fundamentals of backpack filmmaking. Instead of covering all the backpacking essentials (which have already been covered in detail here), we have tried to stay focused on travel filmmaking.

However, there is no such thing as one-size-fits-all in travel filmmaking. Since all travel films are different, you have to consider a variety of factors that can affect your work. This includes geographical, social and political conditions as well as your own skillset and experience.

Why Travel Filmmaking?

Most celebrity-driven shows and travel programs revolve around fancy hotels (usually sponsors) and lavish lifestyles. Such commercial travel shows fail to show us how the ‘real’ everyday life feels like. This creates an opportunity for aspiring filmmakers to show us the world around in a more natural way.

As a backpack filmmaker you can get under the surface, meet locals and experience the real world around us. Travel filmmaking works best for people who like to explore and share their experiences with others. Travel filmmakers can also be the ones to break regional stereotypes created by the mass media and show diversity of different cultures.

Challenges of Backpack Filmmaking

The biggest challenge in backpack filmmaking is perhaps finding an interesting story. That’s a challenge you have to deal with within a few days of arriving at a particular location. Sometimes you’ll have something in your mind to film, but many times you’ll be clueless about the story. Many filmmakers like to leave everything on chance and experience the story as it unfolds.

Communicating with locals who don’t understand your language is another challenge as your stories will depend a lot on communication. One way to deal with this challenge is to meet as many people as possible and try to get the real sense of the story. You can also get help from different sites such as hospitalityclub, which bring visitors and locals closer.

Can You Make Money as a Backpack Filmmaker?

The internet and advancements in technology have made it possible for almost anyone to try making money through travel videos. All you need is an internet connection to reach a global audience instantly. Whether you want to cover local stories, like fishing or like to film local cuisine, there is no reason why you should not share your experiences with the world.

The best thing about backpack filmmaking is that it’s still a fairly new concept and not saturated like other areas such as blogging. People have started leaving their bedrooms and abandoning vlog-style content in favor of travel videos and covering stories in their neighborhoods.

Gaining Traction and Turning Videos into Money

Video sharing platforms such as YouTube like serial content providers and can also feature your content if it’s worth it. If you have a passion and are willing to add some creativity into your work, it should not take long before people start to notice you. You can trim down hours-long videos into smaller 3-5 minute chunks and upload them regularly (at least once a week).

Social media can also be of great help in gaining traction and building up a strong following. The good thing about online video sharing platforms is that you’ll know right away if your content is performing well (by user comments and ratings). Comments and feedback can also be used as a source for more ideas and future stories.

YouTube being the largest and most popular video sharing platform allows you to monetize your content and serves as a litmus test for your films. In addition to video monetization, you can also seek sponsored trips and deals, but first you need to prove your ideas and films are worth it.

Stay Safe and Be Aware of Your Surroundings

Being aware of the local customs and geo-political situation is very important before pulling out your camera and starting filming. You won’t face issues filming government buildings in most western countries, but things might not be the same in other regions such as the middle east and China. Many countries require written permission before you can start filming and talking to locals.

Be Discreet

People start acting unnatural when they know they are being filmed. Being discrete helps you film people in a natural way. That’s why many professional travel filmmakers don’t want people to know they are being filmed and use long zoom lenses on a tripod to shoot from a distance. However, you also need to keep in mind that many regions do not allow you to film others without their consent.

Consider Legal Requirements

It’s best to get the release form signed by people you want to interview, allowing you to use the interview as you see fit. You can find free templates of such forms from the internet and make necessary changes as required. You also need to make sure that you are either using royalty-free music or have permission if using proprietary music.

Similarly, you might also have to get a release form or written permission to film certain locations such as museums and other government buildings (or at least confirm about restrictions prior to filming).

Practice Makes a Man Perfect (or at least better)

There is no magical formula for being successful as a backpack or travel filmmaker. You need to put time and effort into your ideas and be ready to take advantage of every filming opportunity. Although you can also record during holidays, it might affect your holidays and annoy friends/family members traveling with you. Travel filmmaking is a serious business and should be taken as work, not just some glamorous fun-job.

Travel and Backpack Filmmaking Checklist

Although you can start filming with your smartphone in the beginning and experiment with different ideas, you’ll soon need serious filmmaking and video production gear. You get what you pay for holds ground in this context, but that does not mean you should not get started without investing thousands of dollars in expensive filmmaking equipment.

The last thing any travel filmmaker wants when backpacking in remote areas is leaving behind an essential piece of filmmaking gear. It’s better to keep extra supplies in case you need to spend more time than anticipated.

  • Extra batteries and storage cards (weigh less and don’t take a lot of space)
  • A solar-powered power bank or battery charger
  • A headlamp
  • Some extra lights, preferable LED panels

If you are planning on doing one-man-shows, you might want to stick with the lightest and smallest kits. A laptop, video editing software and internet connectivity are the common denominators, regardless of the type of stories you are covering. Some prefer hardware such as MacBook and software such as Final Cut Pro, but the choice of hardware platform and video editing software is entirely up to you.

Video Camera

The camera/camcorder is the most important piece of hardware in your filmmaking arsenal. With so many options available, it can be difficult to name one that works perfectly for everybody. While your budget dictates the kind of camera you can buy, you also need to consider other factors such as action vs. static shooting and other factors.

You might not be able to take all the recording equipment such as lighting kits, shock mounts and gimbals to remote areas. That’s why you need to pick the right camera that offers a great balance between features, portability and price. Here are our recommendations for camcorders and cameras.

Product
Visual
Where to Buy
Canon VIXIA HF R800 Camcorder
Panasonic Full HD Camcorder HC-V770
PANASONIC LUMIX GH5 4K Digital Camera

 

Canon VIXIA Camcorder (Entry level)

Key features and specifications

  • 32X optical and 57x advanced/digital zoom
  • Full HD CMOS 3.28 MP sensor
  • Optical image stabilization
  • Lightweight and portable
  • Touch-enabled LCD

Panasonic FHD Camcorder with 20X Optical Zoom (1080P, suitable for starters)

Key features and specifications

  • Also available as a 4K + viewfinder and with 128GB memory card
  • 20X optical zoom
  • 4.08-81.6mm focal length
  • 1/2.3-Inch BSI Sensor
  • 5-Axis HYBRID O.I.S
  • Wi-Fi connectivity

PANASONIC LUMIX GH5 (Expensive, more suitable for intermediate to expert users)

Key Features and Specifications

  • Can also be purchased with 12-60mm/12-35mm and other accessories
  • 4K recording, 20.3 MP, 10-bit video
  • Mirrorless
  • Digital Live MOS Sensor
  • Full0size HDMI out for connecting with compatible TVs/projectors
  • 3.2-inch LCD
  • 5-axis Dual Image Stabilization
  • Splash resistant and durable

General Tips for Traveling Filmmakers

  • Keep a checklist of all your gear when traveling
  • Don’t trust the staff at airports to handle your cameras and other expensive equipment with care, carry-on and keep such items along with you
  • Keep expensive equipment insured
  • Plan ahead and scout locations online before leaving
  • Always keep spare batteries and memory cards
  • Keep documents ready and in order, including the passport, visa, medical and emergency information and immunization records
  • Plan your production, create a schedule and follow it
  • Understand your gear and study the inner working of different equipment and technical stuff. For example, the ISO (camera’s sensitivity to light, the higher the number, the more sensitive the camera is to light), shutter speed (exposure time of each frame) and F-stop (a measure of lens speed).
  • Be prepared for cold calling and get subjects to say (preferably spell) their names in the beginning of recordings
  • Be prepared for things that can go wrong (weather, late arrival, bad lighting and so on)
  • Maintain strong work ethics
  • Choose fps (frames per seconds) carefully, 60 fps works well for travel videos as the motion is smoother and less blurry than 24/30 fps, but requires more storage space. Switch to lower resolution and fps when you are getting short of battery/storage space
  • 4K videos offer better quality but can be a problem in the editing phase (you need a capable GPU to handle such high resolution). 1080p offers a great balance between file size and quality and is the sweet spot for travel videos. 1080p @ 60fps can be a better option than 4K @ 30fps in most travel situations
  • Pick a topic/theme and stick to it
  • Create follow up videos to keep the audience engaged
  • Keep transitions in mind when shooting e.g. you can use a certain transition to switch between different locations, but be consistent in using a transition
  • Start small with affordable tripods, challenge yourself with the minimum amount of gear
  • Ideas can make you a good filmmaker, not expensive gadgets and gizmos
  • Upload 2-5 minute travel videos
  • Invest in a quality mic if you don’t plan on using background music for your videos
  • It’s hard work. One has to be passionate about traveling and filming otherwise it will quickly become just another job you hate
  • Observe successful travel v-loggers and learn from their work, YouTube is your best friend
  • Shoot as much as you can, hone your art and practice a lot
  • Reach out to experienced videographers and see if they need a helping hand aka internship, you’ll learn faster and may even get paid for your assistance
  • Establish your own brand
  • Focus on your story and content required to build it, avoid getting distracted from things that surround the story
  • Stay active on the social media and start sharing your creations with family and friends
  • Stay fit and exercise regularly, you need endurance in your outdoor adventures

Conclusion

Filming while traveling is a great way of sharing your experiences with the world and getting paid for your adventures. However, it’s easier said than done and you need to consider a lot of variables involved in solo film making. You got to have a passion for traveling, meeting new people and sharing your stories with the world. Starting small and upgrading equipment as your audience grows is the best strategy beginners can follow. You may have all the fancy equipment money can buy, but it’s the story that really matters in the end.