Ten years ago, before my husband Paul started his high definition video business, he asked me to film him demo sailing a new boat design. In order to fill the frame without losing the top of the sail, I turned the camera sideways. Later I found him horizontal on the living room floor, watching my efforts (which appeared sideways on the TV) and shaking his head at my ignorance. I’m not sure I’ve picked up a video camera since, except when schlepping a bag of equipment for him.
But this week I’m inspired to try again, if only to capture the golden glow of September sailing. The crowds have gone, leaving behind the still-warm playground of Narragansett Bay. The boat is back in the water, now that the latest hurricane has dodged us. What better way to relive the last few adventures of summer than through a video clip – even if the footage quality isn’t up to Paul’s high standards?
Shooting video isn’t just for professionals these days. Many modern consumer electronics include a video camera, and YouTube gives people with little or no experience a place to show off their efforts. But a lot of unedited footage (especially anything taken from a boat) is painful to watch. Complete newbies like me can dramatically improve our attempts at marine video by following a few simple rules.
1. Brace yourself
The old salts’ rule was “one hand for yourself, one for the ship.” When balancing a video camera, the rule is “brace yourself and bend your knees.” Most cameras have image stabilizers that will reduce the motion; using your body as a shock absorber will further minimize the bobbing that can make viewers queasy.
Taking rock steady footage on the water can be a challenge, but keeping the camera steady lets the action speak for itself. Paul Cronin from whitecapvideo.com captures a Moth foiling through spectators at the 2010 Bermuda Race start.
2. Slow pans
Motion is what video is all about, but viewers need time to adjust to any change in perspective. To include a panoramic view, make sure the camera movement is slow and steady.
3. Keep it close
The human eye can identify details at a distance. Video and still cameras have a much more limited range of focus, so make sure what you’re trying to capture fills the frame. (“See that tiny speck, off to the left side of the picture? That’s the fish we caught – biggest one of the whole season!”)
4. Compress the action
A few seconds spent waiting for something to happen will seem like hours when playing it back later. If nothing’s going on, shut the camera off. And remember, five seconds of footage is all that’s necessary to capture a scene.
5. Change the perspective
On a few of his summer windsurfing adventures, Paul fastened a camera to the end of his boom for a unique point of view. With today’s tiny cameras, it’s possible to take video from odd angles. Bend down, stand on something tall, or stash the camera somewhere and let it run for a few minutes. Just make sure it’s waterproof, or in a protective case.
6. Include people
Although everyday folks either freeze or turn into complete goofballs when a camera is pointed in their direction, unpopulated scenery is pretty boring. That said, the longer a camera lingers on me, the more I wonder if I have something stuck in my teeth. Try to capture a quick smile, just as a still camera would – and then move on.
7. Leave perfection to the pros
Movies and TV have spoiled us with rich, carefully edited visual images, but that’s not what makes a personal video valuable. Capturing a memory will make it worth the effort, even if no one else ever sees it.
Next week I’ll put some of my ideas into action and share the result. In the meantime, upload a simple video about your own boating experience and you’ll be eligible to win a boat of your own. Rules and entry form at "Tap Into Summer".