Unlock the Magic: 10 Tips for Capturing Stunning Travel Videos on Your Smartphone

By Ralph Velasco

In today’s digital age, our smartphones have become indispensable tools for capturing and sharing our travel adventures. Whether you’re exploring exotic landscapes or immersing yourself in local culture, your smartphone can help you create compelling videos that capture the essence of your journey. 

Here are 10 essential tips to help you unlock the magic of smartphone videography and capture unforgettable moments on your travels, whatever type of smartphone you’re using.

1. Know Your Camera Settings

Before you start filming, take a good amount of time to really familiarize yourself with your smartphone’s camera settings. Experiment with different modes, such as panorama, slow-motion, and time-lapse, to add variety to your videos. Adjusting settings like exposure, white balance, and resolution can also help you achieve professional-looking results.

Do this well in advance of that once-in-a-lifetime trip so that using these settings and any other accessories becomes natural for you. While on this trip is not the time to learn your device, it’s the time to get truly great video, so make your mistakes close to home first, when the stakes aren’t so high.

2. Stabilize Your Shots

To avoid shaky footage, invest in a smartphone stabilizer or gimbal. These handy accessories help minimize camera shake and ensure smooth, professional-looking videos, even when you’re on the move. Alternatively, you can stabilize your shots by bracing your elbows against your body or using nearby objects as makeshift tripods.

This is a tip that’s very close to my heart as I continue to create video for my YouTube channel The Continental DRIFTER®. I highly recommend the DJI Osmo family of gimbals and have personally used the DJI Osmo 3 and the DJI Osmo 6. They’re fairly small and can fit in a decent sized pocket. They’re also very reasonably priced at around US$150 for even the latest model, and they’re extremely powerful devices that will literally take your video to another level. If you’re serious about capturing quality video, a gimbal is an absolute must.

3. Optimize Lighting

Good lighting is essential for capturing high-quality video. Whenever possible, film during the golden hour—early morning or late afternoon—when the sun is low in the sky and the light is soft and flattering. Avoid midday sunlight, which can create harsh shadows and overexposure. If you’re shooting indoors or in low-light conditions, look for natural light sources such as open windows or use external lighting accessories to enhance visibility.

4. Frame Your Shots Thoughtfully

Composition plays a crucial role in creating visually engaging videos. Experiment with different angles, perspectives, and framing techniques to add depth and visual interest to your shots. Use the rule of thirds to create balanced compositions, and consider incorporating leading lines or points of interest to draw the viewer’s eye.

Don’t just concentrate on the subject you’re shooting but be very aware of what’s happening behind, and in front, of the subject.  There’s nothing worse that having that proverbial telephone pole coming out of someone’s head because you didn’t even notice it.  And avoid having the horizon cut through your subject’s neck when photographing people.

5. Tell a Story

Great travel videos go beyond mere visuals; they tell a compelling story that resonates with viewers. Think about the narrative you want to convey through your videos and plan your shots accordingly. Capture a mix of wide establishing shots, close-ups, details, and candid moments to create a dynamic and engaging storyline that captures the essence of your travel experience.

On this note, you may want to consider purchasing my book 52 Categories of a Shot List: Create Images that Tell a Story. This book is based on an iPhone app created called My Shot Lists for Travel (no longer available) and although it’s focused on photography these concepts can easily be modified for your videography, so do check it out.

6. Capture Authentic Moments

Some of the best travel moments are unplanned and spontaneous and they won’t wait too long for you. Be ready to capture authentic, candid moments as they unfold. Keep your smartphone and gimbal easily accessible, and be prepared to hit record at a moment’s notice. These genuine moments add authenticity and emotional depth to your videos, making them more relatable and impactful.

7. Experiment with Creative Techniques

Don’t be afraid to get creative with your smartphone videography. Experiment with different shooting techniques, such as slow-motion, time-lapse, or hyper-lapse, to add visual interest to your videos. Play with perspective, movement, and editing effects to create unique and memorable footage that stands out from the crowd.

Variety is essential and will keep your viewers’ attention for longer periods of time.

8. Use External Microphones for Better Audio

While smartphones are capable of capturing high-quality video, their built-in microphones may not always deliver the best audio quality, especially in noisy or windy environments. I highly recommend investing in an external microphone or lavalier mic to improve sound clarity and reduce background noise. Clear, crisp audio can significantly enhance the overall quality of your videos. People will watch a poor video with good sound quality a lot longer than a good video with poor audio quality.

My recommendation in this area, and the setup that I love and use is the Saramonic Blink 500, but be sure to choose the correct version depending on whether your phone uses a lightning (see link above) or USB-C connector.

9. Edit Like a Pro

Editing is where the magic happens in smartphone videography. Take advantage of editing apps like iMovie (for Apple devices) or Adobe Premiere Rush (available for both Android and Apple devices) to fine-tune your footage, add music, transitions, and visual effects, and create polished, professional-looking videos that showcase your travel adventures in the best possible light.

If you don’t fancy yourself an editor, or don’t have the patience to learn, then look to a site such as Upwork.com where you can hire freelancers to do this work for you (I do it all the time). Filter for the best candidates, check their reviews and ask for samples of their work. Then choose the right one for you on a trial basis. This can be a very inexpensive and efficient way to get the editing you need done quickly and professionally.

10. Practice, Practice, Practice

Like any skill, mastering smartphone videography takes time and practice. Take every opportunity to hone your skills, experiment with different techniques, and learn from your experiences. Don’t be discouraged by setbacks or imperfect footage—each video you create is an opportunity to learn and improve your craft.

Remember, you can’t get worse at photography (or videography)!

Unlock the full potential of your smartphone and capture stunning travel videos that inspire and delight! Share your adventures with friends and family, and encourage them to unlock their own magic with these 10 essential tips for smartphone videography.

Join me this summer (July 16 – 24, 2024) in Mexico’s Copper Canyon and we can work on your videography skills together!  Did you know that Copper Canyon is bigger, and deeper, than the Grand Canyon?  And it has one of the great train rides of the world right through, El Chepe (check out the video I created about this incredible journey).

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