Hold Steady: Be Your Own Travel Video Tripod (VIDEO)

Two of the most important tips I can recommend to help people shoot better travel videos are holding the camera steady and not zooming. So here's how to hold steady.
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Two of the most important tips I can recommend to help people shoot better travel videos are holding the camera steady and not zooming. Yes, as I say in my book Ready, Steady, Shoot: The Guide to Great Home Video, "zooming is death." It'll almost guaranteed to kill your video. Zooming, well not zooming, will be the subject of my next blog post. For now, I'll concentrate on how to hold steady.

Most home video makers don't carry a tripod when they travel, although I highly recommend it if you're in a world of beautiful landscapes. People are more commonly using smartphones or small cameras that fit in their pockets. It doesn't matter what your device -- smartphone, digital still camera that shoots video or camcorder -- nothing matters more than holding a shot steady. When I watch vacation footage, videos on YouTube and especially major world events captured by amateurs, the camera is usually moving all over the place. A shaky-cam makes the video very hard to watch. That's a recipe for losing your audience. Learning how to hold the camera steady takes a little practice and mindfulness. If you're thinking "steady" when you hit the record button, your shot will be steadier.

So, how do the pros do it? First, always set the frame full wide -- no zooming. Hold your camera, even a smartphone, with two hands. Hold the camera with a relaxed grip and body position: knees slightly bent, back straight, legs about shoulder wide. If my feet are too close together, I can't hold a shot steady. Too wide apart and my thighs will start to burn and then my hands will shake. If you're leaning over, if you're so tense that your shoulders are pressed up against your neck, the shot will shake.

It may seem counter intuitive but the smaller and lighter the camera, the harder it is to hold it steady. It's easier with some weight in your hand. I use different steadying techniques depending on the circumstances. One method is to press your shooting elbow into your gut. To be even steadier, tuck both elbows against your ribcage or your stomach.

Another method I use a lot is to hold my shooting elbow in my hand which is pressed against my stomach.

If there's a tree or a wall nearby, lean against it for extra support. You can also place the camera on a stable surface like a table, a backpack or even on the ground. That's the only time I zoom: when my hands are not responsible for steadiness.

It's harder to steady the camera if you're holding it above your head or low, like at waist of knee level. Look for a step or chair to step up onto or sit so you're not straining. In the attached "Love Locks, Paris," a 10 Shot Video (based on the easy learning system in my book) I got down on one knee, an easier and more stable position.

As I push RECORD, I exhale slowly, longer than normal. It steadies my hand, which steadies the camera and reminds me to slow down. Gently press the record button to begin and end the recording. I notice some people push down hard, with a jerk. This will cause the camera to bounce, which will show up on screen. The last thing you want is to have every shot end with a bump.

If you're shooting with the iPhone 4S (or 4 with software upgrade), you can start and stop recording by pressing the volume button. This is better than tapping the screen, which can also cause your shot to bump. However, the lens is dangerously close to the top left of the phone. I have to be extra careful not to get my finger in the shot. As far as I know, none of the Android phones has this feature yet.

We all want our travel videos to be great. Holding our shots steady is a major first step. Practice before you head on the cruise, to the beach or hike. When that once-in-a lifetime moment happens, you'll be ready for it. And, best of all, your friends and family will want to watch your video not run away.

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