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Shooting Missions Trips and Tours

Summer time seems to be prime time for people to go on mission trips and with more trips including someone who is sent to bring back some good video documentation, I found the following tips to be quite timely! If you, or someone you know, are heading out to capture video on a mission trip, this is a great map shoot by. Special thanks to Dave Schwarz from Prolifik Films for permission to re-post this great information here.

You know the drill… a member of the church production staff goes along to document the (mission) trip.  Of course, there’s no “standard” for doing this, and a big part of the challenge is that most people end up doing it so infrequently (and with no real goal in mind) that we end up with a lot of footage we don’t need—and a lot of missed opportunities.

Even as a church video professional, the day-to-day work of directing IMAG, shooting announcements, or creating a camp promo may not qualify us to shoot footage that can tell a story, communicate a need, and ultimately help change people’s lives.  We’re hopeful that these tips can help us avoid the most common mistakes that we’re all prone to make.

With all of the tapes and drives that we’re going through, we’re seeing a number of common challenges that I’m hoping we can collectively improve upon in the future.  So, here are five tips for shooting missions/tours:

1. Shoot clean. Even as production professionals, all too often our footage ends up looking like a vacation shot on the family camcorder.  Yeah, there’s a lot of walking.  And a lot of standing.  And it’s hot.  And it’s just us.  But that’s no excuse to not shoot clean, intentional shots.  I’d take static, well-framed shots over an hour of pushing, pulling, panning and bobbling.  Who wouldn’t?

2. Move around. If you’re part of a group, do your best to not be IN the group.  Walking down a trail?  Get out in front & shoot a clean shot of people coming towards you.  Hearing from a local pastor?  Get out of the gaggle and get the angles that help illustrate how your church delegates spent their time.  Getting yourself out of the crowd gives you a lot more framing options (including cropping your people OUT of certain shots).

3. Shoot the environment. I’m scrubbing through hours of footage right now looking for a single shot of a dusty road.  Of a goat tied to a tree.  Any exterior of the shanty town.  Seems simple enough, but sometimes it can be hard to think “outside” of the situation we’re in.  You won’t need a high percentage of shots with your own people in them.  In fact, when you get home, the fanny packs and floppy hats will look comical.  Shoot the tour, but once you’ve got it, spend as much time as possible getting clean shots of the environment and it’s people.  If you’re with a SERVING team, that it’s a different story, but don’t forget to capture what that place is like when you’re NOT there.

4. Get illustrative shots. A cross on the side of the road.  A student at a computer.  A mother making a meal.  Workers fixing a bridge.  Someone getting water from a well.  It might not be exactly what you’re there to see, but there are things happening all around you that’ll be a lot more useful than what amounts to a group of tourists standing in a semi-circle looking at something.

5. Don’t be distracted by “the show” A missions tour can have a lot of planned events.  Local song & dance numbers by schoolchildren wearing traditional outfits, etc.  And it’s awesome to see a community put together a program to entertain guests—and we honor them by enjoying it.  But from a shooting perspective, a little bit of that footage will go a long way in the future.  

Under most circumstances, I set up my pocket audio recorder to capture good options for background & transitional music.  I roll a few minutes of video (from several angles) of the singing, dancing & the audience, then I take the opportunity to shoot the environment outside the school or church or hall.  

I’ve been in post-production situations where I’d trade 99% of the “show” footage for a single shot of barbed wire or a farmer in a nearby field.

Is there anything else that you have learned after shooting a mission trip? Feel free to leave a comment so that we can all learn from each other!

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