Adventure filming

By Justin Walker October 8, 2014
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To make a good adventure video you need a plan, the right equipment and a few skills

THE FLOOD OF relatively cheap compact action cameras, which began with GoPro and now includes variants from Garmin, Sony, Contour and others, has made High Definition action footage easily accessible to the masses.

Add in the fact most DSLR cameras now come equipped (to varying degrees) with HD video filming capabilities, returning from your adventure with enough footage to make your own action documentary would seem a foregone conclusion.

However, as with top-notch still photography, creating the final – and hopefully captivating – result is dependent not only on having the best/most appropriate equipment for the job, but also possessing the knowledge and skills necessary to capture the ideal mix of footage that will ensure your final film stands out from the (literally) millions that are available to view on YouTube and Vimeo.

Look at some of the most memorable and exciting adventure videos online to get an idea of the job you have ahead of you; there are very few that only use one point of view – most are tightly edited with a mix of viewpoints and angles, all of which is accompanied by a catchy soundtrack of both music and voiceovers.

Yep, making a top action video ain’t easy  – and there’s a tough audience out there…

Adventure video: choosing your subject

The single best piece of advice regarding taking those first steps into adventure video creation is to stick with what you know in regards to subject matter.

If you’re an experienced climber, then a vertical adventure is your best choice for getting it right, because you know what you like, and what countless thousands of other climbers will be excited to watch.

You will also have the skills/fitness to keep up with the action. This obviously applies for any and all types of adventures, from that weekend mountain bike trip through to that two-week trek in the Himalayas.

By sticking to what you know, you will be able to envisage what shots will work best for your chosen audience, and also how you will be able to achieve those shots in the least amount of time.

Along with the technical skills required to shoot video, being able to successfully manage your time will be the biggest pointer to your success. Shooting video is akin to running a marathon compared to shooting still images.

And, again, this is where your experience and knowledge of the subject will come to the fore: by knowing the shot types you want – and how difficult or easy they will be to shoot – you will save a lot of time. Preparation is key – as is envisaging what your end result will look like, well before you start filming.

Creating a video: tell a story 

Hollywood directors use a storyboard to roughly nut out how they want their upcoming feature film to look from a visual standpoint, and adventure videographers should do the same.

There’s nothing more boring than watching a video that goes nowhere, such as just following a mountain bike trail, or the front-end of a kayak for five or 10 minutes. If you head into the field without a story plan, you will be continually slowed by moments of “should I shoot this” and “I wonder if this will work”, etc.

Trying ideas in the field and realising that you don’t have the right equipment for a particular piece of footage, or you’re in the wrong location at the wrong time of day, can be a huge waste of time and extremely frustrating.

Plan your story first and you will eliminate potential time wastage on the adventure. More importantly, you will also ensure it is fun, which is what your adventure should be.

You won’t have to rush out and brush up on your script-writing skills – your story idea should include an envisaged final running time but be mainly focused on ensuring that the end result includes a clear beginning, an exciting middle, and an end; a journey to a certain location, with that destination as the final “goal” of the movie, is an ideal story plan. Keep it nice and simple and it will allow you to visualise the types of shots you need to capture along the way, and how you want them to flow in the finished result.

Finally, you need to pack the gear appropriate to the footage you require.

Adventure filming: the essentials

Australian Geographic Adventure’s video kit is relatively bare bones.

This is mainly due to the fact most of our assignments are expedition-based and generally cover trekking, paddling, camping and MTB/cycle touring.

A kit such as ours is the epitome of the “light and fast” ethos that we adhere to during assignment.

However, even though it looks sparse, the kit allows us to capture all the essential footage and audio to produce a short two- to five-minute adventure video, for use in the VIEWA in-mag app, as well as on our website.

And, importantly, this kit is relatively cheap. The use of a DSLR for both stills and moving images cuts down on weight and cost.

That doesn’t mean we don’t recommend a handheld digital video recorder – we do, if you have the space and carrying capacity it makes a fantastic addition to the kit below.

Action Camera  

Hot pick: GoPro Hero3+ Black Edition.


GoPro has been under a bit of pressure lately, with the advent of some formidable competing products from Garmin, Sony and Contour.

The company’s response was to release the GoPro Hero3+ Black Edition, which has become the latest addition to AGA’s kit.

The Hero3+ Black Edition offers formidable specs (as stated earlier), plus it is now a claimed 30 percent smaller than the previous model, and also offers improved battery life (one of the main complaints of the GoPro cams has been the underpowered batteries).

On top of this, there are myriad accessories for GoPro cams on the market – everything from waterproof cases through to a number of clamps to attach the camera to pretty much anything.

The GoPro takes a little while to get used to; having no inbuilt screen (there’s an accessory one available) and rudimentary on/off buttons means we opted for the Wi-Fi remote to operate ours.

The remote allows you to quickly toggle through settings and, most importantly, allows you to check easily that the camera is actually on.


Hot pick: Canon EOS 70D $1275

DSLR cameras have become the go-to video option for adventurers due to their ability to shoot both still images and video footage – both with a larger sensor than that available in most handheld video cameras.

Initially, during operation, DSLR videographers had to focus the lens manually, which meant some up-skilling was needed. This has changed somewhat with the release of Canon’s 70D DSLR, which features touch-screen autofocus capabilities, using the rear display screen.

This makes effects such as pull-focus (where the foreground subject is initially in focus, then the focus shifts smoothly to the background subject) a lot easier to accomplish.

The 70D’s robust construction and excellent still images – as well as the huge number of Canon EOS lenses available – make it a must-pack on expeditions.


Hot pick: RODE Stereo VideoMic Pro RRP$349

Compact, easy to use and robust (it comes with a 10-year warranty), the SVMP is the Aussie company’s best mic – in our opinion – for outdoor use.

It uses an integrated shock mounting system to reduce the effects of mechanical noise and vibrations – ideal for outdoors – and also has a cool +20dB level boost feature, designed to lower a DSLR camera’s inherent low-quality preamp level.

In layman’s terms, this mic offers excellent audio! We’ve been impressed with its performance to date.


Hot pick: Adobe Premiere Pro. $19.95/month subscription
Adobe’s Premiere Pro is a hell of a lot of software (if you’re daunted by its complexity, you can start with Premiere Pro Elements) but the results are brilliant.

Some of the many features of this software include being able to edit multiple camera footage at once, and editing and splicing in footage (and even different frame rates) from different cameras.

The colour grading facility is awesome, allowing for excellent colour matching across all your footage, audio is easily separated and then edited by section, you can smooth-out shaky footage and also change film speed easily.

All of this means Premiere Pro is complex, so we’d recommend attending a course focused on learning the basics first.

Make an engaging video

An engaging adventure video will have multiple angles of view to maintain viewer interest and keep the story telling fresh.

Be careful not to shoot everything from the same plane, such as eye level, or from the same fixed point on your bike/kayak; if you get down low, you can create more unique/interesting perspective on the action.

Wide angle landscape photography looks awesome on a printed page, but when shooting video, these shots should only be used to help “locate” the adventure for the viewer; too much wide-angle footage means the viewer gets lost as the action – and the people involved – become too small and hard to see.

A good adventure film will have a mix of close-up shots of both action and what is termed “piece to camera”, where a person is talking directly at the camera.

Medium close-ups involve the participants being in the frame but with some background to portray their current location/surroundings.

And don’t forget to shoot plenty of mood footage. This could be a time-lapse of a sunrise/sunset, a long shot of a big river, or a really close-up shot of someone fixing a rope or a paddle dipping in a river.

The moving image is all about just that – moving. Any action should be shot from both the perspective of the participant, via an attached action cam and, if possible, also from a mid-distance point, to put the up-close footage into perspective; if the viewer can only see the kayaker’s face/arms getting splashed – and not the huge set of rapids they are paddling down – it might look staged or even fake.

By showing both close-up point-of-view footage and the more distant footage, viewers get a real feel for what the kayaker is doing – and going through, emotionally!

Sound advice for videos

Ever watched a film with no sound? Boring, ain’t it? A carefully matched soundtrack – how you edit in background music, natural sound (audio recorded on location), and a smattering of on-camera interviews and voice-over narrative, will make or break a film.

Speaking of breaking, don’t rely on your DSLR’s inbuilt microphone to record in the field; operational noises, such as button clicks, etc., plus wind noise, can render the recorded footage useless.

For a reasonable sum (around $150-300) you can pick up a camera-mounted microphone (the RODE range of camera-mount mics are excellent) or you can opt for a lapel mike. There are also mics available for GoPro and other action cams.

Being able to do sound grabs or interviews to camera is a must; it adds another dimension to the look and feel of the final video and ensures the viewer remains connected with the adventurer(s).

Recording plenty of audio during the trip also means you can use the audio track as a voice-over narration instead, if you find that suits the film during the editing stages, where you make your final decisions.

And they – along with the editing process itself – won’t be easy.

Making a video: the final word

Sitting down to edit your hours of footage into a five- to 10-minute adventure video is probably the least enjoyable but most important part of the documentary making process.

Editing also involves a huge amount of skill, not only in terms of the technical expertise needed to use some of the higher-end editing software, but also in merging the different types of footage; a captivating video not only has a cool storyline, but also uses a variety of camera angles and audio/soundtrack combinations to keep viewers intrigued.

If you’re starting out, Apple’s iMovie software is a great introduction to video editing. For a more complex editing process, that allows you to cut and tweak the visual and audio footage in more detail, Adobe’s Premiere Pro and After Effects, along with Apple’s Final Cut Pro, are the big ones.

These programs are big – and take some time to master – but persevere and the end results will reflect your hard work.

Learning to create a watchable, enjoyable adventure video will take time but, along the way, it will also be amazing fun.

It’s important not to get too caught up in the seriousness of it all; even if you only end up with one sole minute of decent edited footage at the end, that 60 seconds will still remind you of why you get out there and chase adventure.