Artist Spotlight, Pro Tips

Working on Both Sides of the Camera With Travel Channel’s Ryan Van Duzer

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These days, it’s fairly common to see a shreditor who does it all on both sides of the camera, but very few have been doing it quite as long as Ryan Van Duzer. As an adventure filmmaker and now a “lifestyle expert” for the Travel Channel, he has been telling stories both in front of and behind the camera for over ten years.

From documenting himself running the Burning Man Ultramarathon to riding his bike on a vineyard tour and starring on Discovery Channel’s Out of the Wild series, Van Duzer has had lots of experience with being on camera, as well as sitting in an editing room. Here are some of his biggest lessons for occupying both roles.
 

1. Play to Your Strengths

Understanding yourself is the first step to knowing what you want to do in your filmmaking, but knowing how to channel what you’re good at into your passion is equally important. “I’ve always been a bit of a ham in front of the camera, and that began as a kid with our family’s old VHS recorder,” Van Duzer says. That led him to keep making videos of himself, and to eventually get something meaningful published. “I rode my bike from Honduras to Boulder after my stint in the Peace Corps,” he says. “I documented that incredible journey with my tiny Sony Handycam, filming all the wonderful people I met along the way. I edited together a short documentary and managed to get it on the Travel Channel.”

 

2. Be Flexible and Inquisitive

You never know what will happen on your shoots, so you need to be ready for anything to change at any time. The better you are with amending your plans on the fly, the more versatile of a storyteller you’ll become. “The best adventures keep you on your toes,” explains Ryan. “If they were easy, it wouldn’t be much of an adventure.”

Ryan Van Duzer behind the camera in Guatemala

It would also be pretty hard to make videos without indulging curiosity. “I wanted to see how the world works,” Van Duzer cites as a reason for his thirst for adventure. By that same token, if you don’t care about your subject, your audience will notice. Ryan mentions Steve Irwin and Mike Rowe as some of his biggest influences, because they had the passion and goofiness for their on-camera personalities, while genuinely caring for the people and subjects they spotlighted. “It’s not about me, it’s about the story,” he explains. “I’m just an avenue to help direct the flow of the story.”

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3. Be Prepared and Travel Light

There’s a lot to get ready when you’re a shreditor or vlogger, including finding people to interview, setting up shots, making sure equipment is working, and checking that you’re framed properly. Always remember have backup batteries and memory cards on you at all times. Additionally, you need to dress appropriately. Ryan is constantly running around on his shoots. “I always wear running shoes while filming,” he reveals. “Comfortable clothes goes a long way.”

Ryan Van Duzer behind the camera in Nepal

If you’re on both sides of the camera, including doing the editing, you know that you can only carry so much to a shoot, especially when you’re out in the field. Try to go as light, but high-quality, as possible. “I’m not your average producer with giant duffle bags full of lights, tripods, and lenses,” says Ryan. “Everything I have fits into a small backpack. One camera (Sony A6500), a small action cam, a Mavic drone, and a mini tripod. I just focus on small, lightweight gear that also produces a professional look.”

Photographer Packing Camera Backpack in Hotel Room by Vnik
 

4. Up Your Production Value

Van Duzer points to his DJI Mavic Drone as a big step up for his videos, allowing him to add aerials he never had before. He can now document himself and his projects from the sky, giving him another angle for his vlogs and on-camera shots. But you don’t always have to buy something to up your production value; you can also experiment with different camera angles, various points of view, or editing techniques to really give your projects that extra edge.

 

5. Shoot to Edit

You can save yourself a lot of time in your edit by shooting fewer, better shots, and by having some patience up front to get a sense of what’s happening around you. “I don’t turn the camera on at the beginning of the experience and just let it spray everything,” says Van Duzer. “That makes for a long edit. I’m an economical shooter.” He also knows when to call it a day. “Once I know that I have the shots I need, I usually chill out on the record button and enjoy the experience.”

 

6. Let Things Play Out Naturally

This is especially true if you’re doing more documentary or journalism-based videos, but trying to force a story or putting someone on camera who is uncomfortable can make your job tougher. Do what feels natural with the camera, and make it casual and personal. “I let things play out naturally, and try my best to address the camera as if I’m talking to my friends. I always tell people to simply talk in a genuine way and address the camera in both the triumphant and uncomfortable moments.”

Hardly anyone shoots the perfect video they want right off the bat, so a lot of growth comes from practice. Van Duzer’s advice is to not think you need to use the fanciest gear, but “to just start filming, editing, and talking to your camera. Practice will help you find your voice, and your own style. The content will slowly evolve into something genuine and inspiring.”
 

7. Don’t Be Afraid to Be Vulnerable

A lot of Van Duzer’s videos are centered around grueling, intense athletic events, which can be challenging to just participate in, let alone while also shooting video of yourself. But it’s in those moments of pain that a lot of the most genuine moments can arise, so you should document them even if it’s not easy. “It sucks to turn the camera on and film when I’m in the pits of despair, but it’s necessary to get those ‘ugly’ moments,” he explains. “Be cool with being vulnerable, it doesn’t have to be perfect.”

A lot of the strength in your filmmaking comes from the passion you have for your project. This can be evident in the music you put on your video; it can came through by showing your feelings and emotions on camera; or it can show in the subjects you choose to highlight in your work. “At the end of the day, create content that makes you proud and happy,” says Ryan. “People will appreciate your view on the world if it comes from the heart.”

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8. Take a Step Back

There will ultimately come a time in your editing process when you may need a break. It’s actually a great time to get someone else to look at what you’re doing and give some critique, or just get some fresh air. Whenever Van Duzer is stuck or needs to walk away from a project for a bit, he does some outdoor therapy. “I always turn to Mother Nature to reset me,” he says. “If I’m all stressed out about an edit, I usually go for a run, or even sit in the grass and stare at the sky.”

 

9. Work Hard, But Have Fun

This is really the simplest advice, but also the most crucial. Van Duzer points out the millions of hours of content that are uploaded to the web every day as a reason you need to work to create something that engages with the audience. “Telling a good story is hard work. I put a lot of heart and soul into everything I create, and that usually involves many re-edits and late night work sessions. In the end though, it’s always worth it. I always have a huge sense of accomplishment when I hit the export button.”