Kien Lam is a San Francisco based photographer, filmmaker and visual storyteller specializing in lifestyle and travel stories. His journey to becoming a professional photographer officially began when he decided to quit his cushy day job 6 years ago and follow his passion for travel and adventure. Kien’s desire to share his experiences on the road is fueled by the hope that he will inspire others to travel, essentially the same mindset of Passion Passport. In the film above, he shares his experiences from a trip he took last year to British Columbia where he expertly contrasts the beauty of its vast wildernesses and cosmopolitan cities.
How long were you in British Columbia and what was your itinerary?
I was in BC for one week split between Vancouver, Whistler and Victoria.
What about the destination inspired you to make this video?
This was part of a collaboration with Destination BC, the tourism board for British Columbia. They put together a wonderful itinerary to highlight the theme of these amazing “cities on the edge of nature.” And, they absolutely were. The Pacific Northwest is unique in that you have this beautiful wilderness and these amazing cities are just tucked right into them. I wanted to make a video that captured the feeling of what you might be able to see and taste in those cities. British Columbia has such a great selection of cuisine with access to fresh ingredients. I wanted to excite the viewer about exploring a place that was a perfect balance of urban and nature.
What were some of your favorite locations that you traveled to while in BC?
We went up Blackcomb on a morning when the mountain was mostly empty and it was just gorgeous with the fog and the snow. The Capilano Suspension bridge is a well-visited spot, but it’s still incredible to see and walk across. The harbor in Victoria was also such a lovely place to walk along. It’s hard to just pick a few spots because the entire region is picturesque. It’s no wonder that so many photographers love coming here to shoot.
Describe one of your most memorable experiences on this trip.
One of the first things we did after landing in Vancouver was head to a different part of the airport to take a helicopter ride up to Whistler, flying right through the mountains and over the glaciers. The pilot kept the door open and eventually my fingers were numb from holding the camera out of the helicopter and shooting, but I definitely didn’t notice or care. I just wanted to keep shooting and taking it in, wind chill and all.
Did you have any inspirational moments that you captured in this film?
There were a few shots that I especially loved. The deer shot (00:16) in the beginning was beautiful and I was able to film one of my friends getting a shot for Instagram with the iPhone, showing how close you were to this wildness. I also loved the aerial shot (01:02) flying from Vancouver to Victoria. The contrast between the blue of the water and the green of the trees and land was even more stunning in person, especially since we were flying so low.
Did you face any challenges while traveling and recording what you saw?
I often have a welcomed problem of having too much to capture. The light and atmosphere can change within minutes so I’ll be done capturing a scene and then it looks completely different. That problem is magnified when I’m back at home editing. When you are making a 3 minute video, you’re going to end up having to cut a lot of good scenes out simply because you don’t have the space for it and that’s a real shame.
What inspires you about creating still and moving images?
Experiences. I seriously want to experience almost everything the world has to offer. Creating these images and films is one way to capture those experience for posterity sake and to share with those who may not get to chance to do the same thing or haven’t had a chance to do it yet.
What type of gear did you use to capture your video & stills?
I shot with the Olympus EM-5 Mark II and their pro 12-40mm f/2.8 lens and the 50mm f/1.8 lens. I was testing it out because it was a very portable and compact system that was also weather-sealed. This turned out to be very important because we experienced a bit of snow, rain and fog while shooting and the equipment was solid.
Do you have any tips for getting the type of footage you got while shooting landscapes?
Shoot a lot and watch for scenes to develop. With landscapes, it’s a bit easier to just find a good location at a good time. When you can’t, you try to compose the scene to find the best available light and capture the feel of it.
What makes a good travel video in your opinion?
I think you need to keep people’s attention, especially nowadays when everyone has a shorter attention span and you’re competing against impactful imagery than can be shown in 6-15 seconds. I try not to stay on a scene too long unless there’s a good reason. You also need to give people a chance to breathe. It’s great to have scene after scene after scene of stunning visuals or action, but you also need to balance that with some transitional scenes or something that can allow you to slow down and deliver an impactful scene later.
What is your process for creating a narrative when shooting and piecing it all together later to tell a story?
I mostly just go with the flow and compile the narrative as I shoot. One thing might inspire me to shoot another for continuity and then I try to make everything flow as best as I can in post production. It’s different with every video, but you need to keep an eye out for scenes that capture your attention from an editor’s point of view. I try not to look at my footage for at least a few days, if not longer, to disassociate myself as an editor from the me as a shooter. If I had no personal vested interested in a shot because I shot it, what parts would still be meaningful and impactful.
What did you use to edit all your footage?
Final Cut Pro X and Color Finale.