How I film my plein air painting videos

A lot of people ask me how I film my plein air painting videos (like this one). I tend to avoid answering because here’s the thing. Each time I go out to make a video, it’s almost NEVER the same process. I use a wide variety of cameras and setups depending on my mood, how far I’m hiking, and so many other variables. So, to answer this requires me to address very specific scenerios.

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1. Hand-Held Camera

The laziest way to film a plein air video (or for very forgetful people who forget their nice camera and/or tripod) you can hold your phone and film your painting. I do this for about 1/2 of my video content. Yep. Half of the videos I post were filmed this way. It’s as hard as it sounds. Keeping the camera steady, focused on my painting with my left hand while painting or drawing with my right hand.

I use a Samsung Galaxy Note S10+ but honestly whenever I upgrade, I just get whatever phone has the best camera at that time.

Pros

  • Easy to get closeups
  • Easy to pan around and show your surroundings (good for context)
  • Usually the mic will pick up your voice really well because it’s close to your face (even in wind)
  • Footage looks great straight out of the camera.

Cons

  • Challenging to hold it steady
  • Challenging to make sure it’s capturing my brush (sometimes I let it lean away too much and I miss my painting completely)
  • It’s more mentally draining because you’re basically multitasking

2. GoPro on Shoulder or Chest Mount

I have a love-hate relationship with my GoPro. On one hand, it’s really useful for certain shots. It does a few things really well, but most of the times I’m not super happy with the footage. I guess it’s because mine is a bit older? I use a GoPro Hero 4 with a SUREWO Shoulder Mount. There are newer GoPros that seem to have some really fancy settings that might make this easier.

Pros

  • Once it’s recording you can just forget about it and paint. Huge convenience points.
  • Battery life is decent. One or two batteries gets me through a whole painting session.

Cons

  • It’s also a pain in the butt when lighting is harsh. Recording with the correct settings is challenging.
  • Making sure the GoPro is facing the painting at all times is also challenging. You can use the GoPro app on your phone to make sure it’s centered but I rarely do this because it takes more battery power.
  • I have to color correct the footage.

3. Phone or Small Camera on JOBY GorillaPod

The JOBY GorillaPod makes my life much easier in many situations. It’s really strong and stays in whatever position you put it. You can get it with a variety of camera mounts (including phones). They make them in different weight categories so make sure you get one that can support your cameras.

I often use my Sony ZV-1 with this tripod.

Pros

  • Strong and reliable. Some of the off-brands are not well made and will wear out faster.

Cons

  • It’s short. So…you have to get creative with placement. Easy option: You can put it on a picnic table facing down at your sketchbook. Or stand or sit near a tree and wrap it around a branch.

4. Small Camera Recommendations

I often paint during my hikes. Lightweight, easy to use, high quality video (at least 60 fps). These three things are what I look for in a small camera.

My current favorite:

Sony ZV-1

This is my go-to camera for vlogging. The flip screen makes this much easier. I usually shoot in 60 fps but edit my videos in 30 fps, which means I can do some slow motion and it looks really smooth.

Cons: battery life sucks. Buy lots of batteries. At least three. Also you can’t change lenses.

Recommended Accessories

5. Old Reliable

It’s difficult to beat a camera on a tripod when It comes to stability and quality. Just set it up and paint. But…which tripod should you get?

Cheap but decent

Amazon Basics Tripod

Carbon Fiber (strong and light)

K&F Concept SA255C1 Lightweight Compact Tripod

As for what camera you put on the tripod…that’s far too personal. I’m a photographer, so I have lots of options. I sometimes use my Canon 6D Mark II with a 16-35mm f/4 lens, but it’s extremely heavy with my lenses. The Sony ZV-1 is also a great option, or just a phone! Basically..use what you have, or upgrade when it’s convenient.

6. Extras for Fun

These aren’t necessary but they sure are fun!

Post Production (Editing)

I edit with Adobe Premier Pro CC. It requires a monthly (or annual) subscription. I’ve been using it for over 10 years so it’s pretty much a normal part of my workflow. However there are plenty of youtube videos about how to use it. I recommend Premiere Gal for the best tutorials.

Basically here’s how it goes:

  1. Get home and immediately transfer memory cards to my computer (external hard drive). I organize my folders to keep everything easy to find.

2. When I have time, I edit them. My file settings are made for youtube. 1920×1080 with 30fps.

Usually one video takes me 1-2 days to edit.

How it looks while I edit:

When it’s time to export, I use the optimal settings for high-quality youtube videos which is H.264 file type. How it looks when I export:

And…you can watch my plein air videos to get an idea of my style. Everyone’s editing style is different. It has taken me many years of practice to figure out a good workflow.

Conclusion

And finally…I want to emphasize that it’s not just about the gear. No matter how you film your videos, it still takes a lot of effort. It’s more tiring than just going out and painting. The extra element of camera placement, batteries, memory cards can weigh on you and I find that it’s more mentally exhausting. I rarely do my best work when I film myself because I’m just distracted. However, this is the trade-off that I accept when I film my paintings. Is it worth it? You be the judge.

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I'm an independent artist living in Scotland. Always chasing the light, and painting the beautiful highlands.

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