Shooting From The Saddle: 7 Tips for Filming a Bicycle Adventure
Interested in making a video of your next bikepacking trip? Here are a few tips, a gear list, and a wealth of inspiration from the filmmaker behind Megamoon.
Words and photos by Hannah Maia
Half of the fun on outdoor adventure trips for me is getting my camera out. I love filming! A couple of months ago I released my film, Megamoon, which was filmed during my honeymoon cycling the GDMBR from south to north. Since then a lot of people have asked about my film kit and any tips I may have for those wishing to capture their own adventure.
So I put pen to paper and I’ve come up with my seven top filmmaking tips. Feel free to ask me more questions in the comments below and I’ll do my best to answer them. You can follow me on instagram @maiamedia and facebook too.
1. Keep your camera handy.
The closer you are to your camera the more you’ll use it. Most of us aren’t as fit as we would like to be so it’s already a challenge to film whilst taking on a physical adventure. Make your life easy for yourself and keep your camera close. You want less excuses for not getting the shot or scaring off the wildlife as you delve into the bottom of your bag. For my own setup I kept my DSLR, two extra lenses, lense cloth, spare battery and SD card all within my Ortlieb handlebar bag. Before we left the UK I created a sponge interior to keep the camera safe. The camera would fit lens down into my DIY foam padding and the other essential kit could fit to the side. There was still a little room for snacks and a woolly hat on top.
2. Research your Camera Choices.
You could fill a website with info about camera gear but I’ll try to shed a little light on my choices. A lightweight filmmaking approach was essential. I had to focus on carrying minimal amounts of gear whilst still capturing varied, unusual and often handheld shots that didn’t compromise too much on quality. I opted for a micro 4/3 setup and used the Panasonic Lumix GH3 camera although I’ve since upgraded to a GH4. It saves a great deal of weight in comparison to a full frame camera. I also like the comfortable grip in my hand.
In terms of capturing footage the GH4 has a great dynamic range and high bitrate codecs that record up to 200mbps which is pretty awesome given the price. Other features I like include the ability to film at 96 frames per second for slow motion footage and even the ability to shoot 4K. It’s not a full frame sensor which will put a few photographers off but it wasn’t an issue for me. Taking photographs the GH4 can shoot 12 frames per second which is useful for capturing fast action.
As for lenses I took a tiny Panasonic 20mm 1.7 pancake lens which is my all round favourite ‘go to’ lens. A 7mm – 14mm ultra wide angle zoom lens which is wonderful for landscape shots (It’s worth noting that this is equivalent to a 14mm – 28mm lens for full sensor camera users). And I also took a versatile zoom 14mm – 140mm, f4 – f5.8 lens.
3. Keep it steady.
I like to take a tripod and it wasn’t a big problem givin we were hauling trailers and I was prepared to carry the weight. A tripod is particularly great for setting up timelapse shots. It can also be useful to capture a few memories with yourself in front of the camera. I took a Manfrotto 055CXPRO3 carbon fibre tripod with a video head but there are plenty of lighter weight options out there. Even a gorillapod could be a useful lightweight option. I kept the tripod in it’s own seperate dry bag (mud protector) on top of the trailer for easy access. Had it been buried in the main trailer bag it would only have been used at camp. Obviously you could just use a strategically placed rock but they can be a little more inflexible… and rock like.
Here’s an example of a fun timelapse I created using the tripod on the last night of our Great Divide trip near Banff. Megamoon Snowcamp Timelapse:
4. Back up your footage.
We were on the road for nine weeks and I wanted to keep that footage safe. I made sure it was always in at least three places. I used a Hyperdrive Colorspace SD Card reading 1TB hard drive which meant I didn’t have to take (and risk damaging my laptop). I then took two additional 1TB hard drives to create backups. Make sure to keep these in different bags so if one goes rolling down a hill you’ll have the other. I also took a small Hyperdrive USB on-the-go adapter which lets me sync between the Hyperdrive Colorspace and other hard drives.
5. Plan the film and capture multiple angles.
Before you even set off, make a plan. Keep focused on your main story and write down at least ten shots that you really want to capture. Tick them off as you travel. The more preparation and planning you do before hand, the happier you’ll be when it comes to the edit.
I also try to think about filming a shot three ways. I try to build up one shot into a sequence which will ultimately help tell the story. Let’s say someone is cooking dinner on a camp stove, rather than just grab the one shot think of it in terms of wide, medium and tight or alternatively beginning, middle and end. Working in this way will help you immensely in the edit room.
Here’s an example of this technique from my film. I’d just had a mechanical and wanted to illustrate how tired and frustrated I was having to push my bicycle back to the campsite I’d come from. Rather than just grabbing the one shot I made a 3 shot sequence:
6. Keeping switched on.
After much researching we took along a Goal Zero Nomad Solar Panel and a Power Gorilla battery by Power Traveller. The whole setup was particularly useful on our pre-biking Grand Canyon trip rafting down the Colorado River but given the amenities on the GDMBR route the solar panel wasn’t essential and we could have just charged up the Power Gorilla when we were in town.
The setup worked though. Above is the Power Gorilla battery and the Goal Zero Nomad Solar Panel folded up. The Power Gorilla has a 5V to 24V output voltage and 21000 milliamps hour. As well as charging up our camera batteries we used it to charge our Hyperdrive Colorspace hard drive, head torches, GPS and iphones.
7. Last, but not least, keep your eye on the story.
With 100 hours uploaded to Youtube every minute, video is a dime a dozen these days. What makes a film special, and keeps its maker passionate about the production, is the root story. Look for moments that can help shape your idea; or concepts about the place your traveling. It’s often the moments when you’re off the bike that are most interesting and help define the story. When you’re making friends with strangers, watching your tent get blown away, singing on top of a mountain pass, or finding yourself completely and utterly lost. Make the effort to record the lows as well as the highs and your film will be all the more rewarding. Stay inspired and the story will shape your film.
In case you missed Megamoon, check it our here.