Latest posts by Alexander Vandewalle (see all)
- Inferno (2016): When A Success Formula Wears Off - August 20, 2018
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- Travel Videos: How Do They Work? - May 21, 2018
This post is a modified version of an essay I wrote for a university course in visual aesthetics and analysis.
Over the past couple of years, professional and amateur photographers alike have started sharing their work on popular social media such as Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook and more. Parallel to this evolution runs the emergence of so-called ‘travel videos’: most often shared on YouTube or Vimeo, the travel video is a cinematic set of impressions of a particular city, region or country aimed at aestheticizing the location, rather than giving a detailed touristic account of it. Over the span of a mere couple of minutes, travel videos try to transmit the ‘feeling’ of a particular destination—both natural and urban areas are represented—and to convey a specific experiential ‘meaning’ associated with the location itself. This blog post will therefore be focused on trying to understand how these videos work. We’ll specifically look at travel videos depicting the Faroe Islands: more and more, the appealing Faroese landscape is attracting photographers and videographers from all over the world, despite being relatively ‘unknown’ as a country. There is a great amount of travel videos about the Faroe Islands to be found online, which makes it a nice and useful case-in-point.
Important to note is the cinematic nature of the travel video image: different from travel photography, these videos evidently involve a (sub)sequence of various images, and in the end, the combined result is more than the sum of its individual parts. Travel videos are, essentially, a form of documentary filmmaking/videography: they document a specific feeling about a specific location during a specific moment. To the casual eye, travel videos might appear to be devoid of narrative, while they are in fact very expressive if looked at in the right way. Admittedly, they do not share any factual information about the locations they depict, and shot like these (from this video by Rob Strok), depicting four people dancing near the lighthouse of Trøllanes, might initially seem meaningless and silly:
When you realize, however, that the primary purpose of shots like these is to convey, depict and eventually ‘document’ a certain emotion or feeling (of freedom, for example), their meaning becomes clear and their documentary value becomes justified. These shots cannot be seen outside of their context, and have to be made at exactly the right moment. Retakes are possible, though this has to be nuanced since, oftentimes, missing one crucial shot might mean the moment cannot be recaptured later. An example of this is the following shot (from this video by Evolumina), depicting a group of sheep near Saksun:
Sheep abound in the Faroes, but getting one to look the camera in the eye, together with having the Saksun church on the left third line of shot composition is no easy task.
Travel videos are very aestheticizing artistic practices, so let’s go over some of their aesthetic qualities. First off, as already indicated by the two previous stills, there is a tangibly heavy reliance on color grading and the manipulation of color saturation. Compare, for example, these two shots of the famous Drangarnir arch (from the Rob Strok video vs. my own work):
The two are visibly different from one another. Strok’s uses a filter, ‘adding’ a definite sense of a serene and wonderful feeling to the image. While the second one admittedly looks more bland and considerably less interesting, the first one expresses a sense of nostalgia, as well as pride and accomplishment after a two-hour hike, which seems to be evoked by the depicted leg. The second one shows you the arch as it is, while the first one succeeds in aestheticizing it and the feeling around it.
Light also plays an important role. Consider the following shot (from a promotional video by the country’s biggest ferry line, Smyril Line FO):
It does not reveal much: the object is unrecognizable and the location cannot be identified. Its main reason for existence, however, is precisely the feeling it evokes in the bigger narrative of the video. It plays upon a ‘symbolic meaning’ that goes with the contrasting of light and dark. The power of the impression and expression of light is enhanced when combined with intentionally blurry shots (again from the Rob Strok video):
The sunset becomes the main point of focus, as the image contains not a lot of other information.
Slow-motion is also important. The following still is part of shot depicting the rolling of the waves near Tjørnuvík (from a video by Benjamin Hardman):
The still is part of a 13-second shot, and it takes eight seconds for the wave to crash into the water. This is a distortion of reality that finds an explanation in the creation of a sense of tranquility, as well as adding a definite timeless dimension to the image.
Drone shots are ubiquitous, such as this shot of Tindhólmur (also from the Hardman video):
Evidently, these drone shots express an idea of immeasurable vastness that effectively speaks to the imagination.
As opposed to these eye-catching drone shots, there are many shots that are small in scope and depict more or less everyday travel situations, that most likely wouldn’t make it into the finalized version of your photo album. Consider these two shots (from another Rob Strok video and one by Erlangga Muljadi):
Neither of these match the ‘epic’ qualities of the Tindhólmur drone shot or the Trøllanes dance shot shown earlier, but they are nevertheless functional in creating an atmosphere centered around the idea of infinitely numerous possibilities to experience a country.
A final typical quality is a considerable emphasis on music. Specifically to the Faroe Islands travel videos, music seems to be either classical, acoustic, orchestral or mildly electronic (chillout, deep house, etc.). In this way, the score serves as a musical reinforcement of the tranquil character of the image that we talked about above. The nature of the image therefore does not limit itself to the purely visual, but is continually in interplay with an additional audible dimension.
One other question we could ask ourselves here is why we make travel videos. I think that the following video illustrates it quite well:
The video talks about how the Instagram Generation experiences the present as an ‘anticipated memory’: when living through a moment, we now value how that moment will be remembered and ‘take it upon ourselves to design what that later moment is going to feel like’. If we think back to our fondest (travel) memories, they are but small excerpts of an experienced reality that is no longer there. The same could be said for the travel video: they are memories made cinematic and documents of our own previous experiences. By applying filters and by modifying images, we add certain personally important values to these experiences. Doing this, we can adequately express the feelings we have in certain spectacular situations and aestheticize our experiences of them.
I personally really like watching travel videos, and I’ve seen my fair share of New York centered ones in preparation for my travels this summer (I’m planning on creating a travel video there as well). They are, I believe, one of the most expressive and interesting things to do on YouTube, and deserve to be featured in a blog post of their own.