How to shoot videos and travel the world

For this camera-wielding adrenaline junkie, adventure's all in a day's work.
The top of Mt. Kinabalu © Melissa Findley
By Red Bull Australia

To the casual passer-by, Lucy Piper's job seems pretty normal. She works, most of the time, in an office. She rides her bike to work every day and eats a packed lunch. She writes and responds to emails, goes to meetings and has performance reviews. Just like any other 9-5 office worker.

But Lucy's job as video producer at Intrepid Travel (a travel company specialising in small group tours) isn't that normal at all. It's not normal because it's seen her visit Antarctica, Peru, Guatemala, Mexico, Argentina, Borneo, Brazil and Uluru in the past year alone. Not a bad haul.

Peruvian boy © Lucy Piper

Lucy Piper! Who are you, where do you live and what do you do?

I’m originally from London, but I moved to Australia for the never-ending sunshine and blue skies. So some days I question how I ended up in Melbourne. I am a video producer for an adventure travel company.

What does your role at Intrepid entail? What are you responsible for?

Essentially, it’s the best job in the world. I’m responsible for producing all of the content that is designed to inspire people to get out there and see the world.

Sounds awful. How did you get into the role?

I started out as a camera trainee and camera assistant back in London within a traditional film crew model. At the same time, I was studying for my film degree at university. I spent a few years splitting my time between backpacking and working in Australia, snowboarding in France and working on movies in London.

When I finally moved to Australia permanently in 2008, the film industry was pretty small in Melbourne, and I found it difficult to make a living as a clapper loader (camera assistant). So I went to AWARD School (a creative advertising course) and worked in a couple of ad agencies for the next two years before landing a job as a content manager at Intrepid Travel.

As the business started venturing into the world of video content, I found myself in a unique position of having a background in both technical film production as well as creative advertising and content, so the business created the role to define what I was already starting to do anyway. I think that the career stars basically just aligned, and the perfect job-storm emerged around me.

Shooting in Antarctica © Lucy Piper

What’s the best thing about your job?

I’d be lying if I didn’t say that the travel opportunities have been game changing; last year I got to visit Uluru, Argentina, Antarctica, Borneo, Brazil, Peru, Mexico and Guatemala. But the travel experiences are just one part, because even when I am back in the office at my desk, I get to work with the most passionate and creative team.

The best thing, if I had to single out one part though, is the collaboration, and having the ability to give people opportunities to not only travel the world and film content for us, but also to push themselves as creative individuals and to make videos that are the best thing they’ve ever created. That sounds really earnest, I apologise, but it’s true.

What’s the worst thing about your job?

I think the hardest thing is that there is always something newer and shinier on the internet; it takes us months to plan and develop the content for every brand video, and it feels so fulfilling to finally see it through to completion and get great feedback from staff and travellers online.

But in a heartbeat the internet moves on, and there is something bigger and better and staff are coming to me saying: “WHY CAN’T WE GET A MAN TO PARACHUTE FROM SPACE AND MAKE A KICK-ASS VIDEO?” (laughs).

Shooting at Uluru © Lucy Piper

Your proudest moment at work?

About six months ago, our PR manager in North America called and asked if I was busy the following month, and if not, could I do some filming to make a video along the Inca Trail. Of course I said yes immediately, before finding out that I would be running/trekking-extremely-fast to complete the entire Inca Trail in a single day, filming Dan Berlin – a blind athlete who was attempting to be the first blind man to complete the challenge.

It was physically and mentally the toughest, and most humbling experience of my life, and I still well-up at the thought of what we went through that day. Dan Berlin is an epic human being, and I am so grateful to have been gifted the opportunity to tell his story.

What kind of gear do you shoot on?

Personally I shoot stills and video on a combination of equipment, depending on the project; I own a Canon 6D, and we have a Canon C100 and Panasonic Lumix LX100 in our studio at Intrepid Group.

Do you have any tips for budding travel photographers?

My number one tip is get up early – before sunrise. It’s totally different to sunset – you have to earn your sunrises, they are not something that you can just hang around waiting for all day. And you’ll be rewarded not only by the light, but also by the activity; the people who are up and about as the sun rises show you a special side of a destination that tourists and travellers rarely get to see.

My second tip is that my style of travel photography is more a people skill than it is a technical skill – so if you aspire to document the people in a place (as opposed to specialising as a landscape photographer) you need to be able to connect with people first, and take their picture second. Or if you take their picture without forming a connection, get good at building the rapport afterwards and showing them the photo. Learn how to say “I think you’re beautiful/handsome” in the language before you go. It will get you the photo every time.

Friendly locals © Lucy Piper

What’s your favourite photo from your travels?

It’s of a deserted Machu Picchu with the sun already set below the horizon… We woke up at 3.30am and started the run along the Inca Trail at 4.30am with only a few hours sleep. It was pitch black when we started and it took us thirteen hours to make it along the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. By this point, all of the tourists had emptied out for the day, but they kept the site open specifically for us.

It was totally deserted, and there had been a bush fire that day that had made the skies really smoky, and it created a unique light over the mountains. We were supported by a crew of porters (who were there in case we didn’t make it to the Sun Gate within the cut-off time and would have had to camp overnight), and most of them had never seen Machu Picchu before, despite hiking the Inca Trail for a living – as they usually depart form the last campsite down into the town instead of trekking on the additional two hours. They sat on the ground, resting their heads on their hands, in total silence. Dan Berlin, the blind athlete who had just completed this epic achievement, stood there taking it all in – without being able to see a single thing.

So when I took this photograph, there was a lot more happening in this moment than Machu Picchu by itself. It was a culmination of a day of physical and mental hell and digging deeper than ever before, mixed with the silent awe of the porters, and of course Dan’s unbelievable achievement. I don’t think I will ever experience a feeling quite like the one I had at this moment – and a deserted Machu Picchu after sunset is just the tip of the iceberg to that day.

Machu Picchu at dusk © Lucy Piper

What do you like most about travelling?

Having been lucky enough to see a lot of the world in a very short space of time, I love that I get to see patterns in nature, and glimpses of how everything is connected. I also love airplane food.

Do you have any tips for those who might want to find themselves in a similar position to you?

I’m not sure about how to get into a similar position to me, as I kind of think that it has all just been a lucky accident that I’m here, and a bit of a fusion of different random skillsets. But one thing I have noticed about the filmmakers that I have built good collaborations with is that firstly, your work has to be good enough – so get out there and practice and master your craft. But secondly, and maybe even more importantly, everything is about relationships when it comes to collaboration. So take the plunge and reach out to people.

The first time they will always say ‘no’.

But the people who keep themselves on your radar, and invest the time and effort involved to nurture your working relationships, are the ones who you learn to trust and work with in an ongoing way.

So don’t let ‘no’ be the end of it. Ask for feedback on your work. And then take that feedback, refine your edit, send it back and say ‘hey, thanks so much for your feedback, I took it on-board and just wanted to show you this’.

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