Arwen's meanderings

Hi everyone and welcome to my dinghy cruising blog about my John Welsford designed 'navigator' named Arwen. Built over three years, Arwen was launched in August 2007. She is a standing lug yawl 14' 6" in length. This blog records our dinghy cruising voyages together around the coastal waters of SW England.
Arwen has an associated YouTube channel so visit to find our most recent cruises and click subscribe.
On this blog you will find posts about dinghy cruising locations, accounts of our voyages, maintenance tips and 'How to's' ranging from rigging standing lug sails and building galley boxes to using 'anchor buddies' and creating 'pilotage notes'. I hope you find something that inspires you to get out on the water in your boat. Drop us a comment and happy sailing.
Steve and Arwen

Thursday, 7 December 2017

Dinghy cruising: Creating sailing videos

So, you want to create sailing or boating videos?

Part two: getting interesting shots, creating a story line, recording good sound and using a drone.

In my last post, I discussed having a clear rationale for your videos, useful camera and what gear I carry on my John Welsford designed ‘Navigator’ called ‘Arwen’. Now I share tips on creating interesting camera angles, getting a simple story line and recording higher quality sound on an external microphone.

Let’s start by taking a look at How can you get the ‘interesting’ shot angles on board your boat using mounts and clamps?
Good YouTube videos have many ‘creative’ shot angles that grab the viewers’ attention peppered through them. These are the result of spending time thinking about a) where best to mount their action cams on their boat and b) drawing up a daily ‘shooting list’ as part of their routine passage planning for a trip. 
Give some thought to where you could position some sticky mounts on your boat to get those interesting perspective shots (tip 1). I use GoPro sticky mount pads fixed unobtrusively to Arwen’s bowsprit, mainsail top yard, sprit boom, mid hull position under rub rail and on the centreboard case top, to name a few locations. Such positions get ‘interesting’ perspective shots of me in the boat working the sails, the hull moving through the water, or the whole boat with raised full sails. They also provide some good positions from which to vlog (talk to camera directly) as they not only include me in the shot but also either part of the boat or a view out over the transom as well. 
If you dislike the idea of sticky mounts then try using SJCam strap mounts for securing cameras to mizzen and main masts. Easy to use, these give me overhead shots into the cockpit; great for filming me tacking, reefing sails, or frantically bailing out water! On one occasion they even caught shots of a porpoise alongside Arwen.
Photo 1: strap mount with tether and Gopro clip inserted. For more details about mounts I use on Arwen

Using clamps and mounts eliminates the need to hand hold the camera (tip 2) allowing you to keep both hands for the boat. One of my best clamps, a very strong bulldog clip affair with a long bendy neck, can be clamped to coamings and thwart edges and bent into whatever camera angle I require. Cheap wire tethers (tip 3) bought off the internet secure action cameras and clamps to convenient deck eyes, cleats or stanchion rails so that I don’t lose cameras overboard during any sudden violent pitching of the boat.
Photo 3: a range of selfie sticks 
Photo 2: bendy neck clamp. Note the insertion of 3mm neoprene tape within clamp to help muffle the sounds transmitted through the boat wood.
Love them or hate them, a waterproof extendable selfie stick with long safety tether to your wrist is perfect for those ‘bow or rudder slicing through water’ shots, for those overhead shots of you at the tiller and even shots from outside the boat that look back to you in your cockpit (tip 5).  YouTube viewer feedback told me that one of the most successful shots I did in Arwen was when I was upfront alongside the mast, allowing Arwen to sail herself. The selfie stick shot looking back at me and the entire length of a self-sailing small wooden yawl dinghy raised much subsequent discussion about sail trimming, the use of tiller tamers and the trim qualities of my boat! And yes, there was some discussion as well about the wisdom or otherwise of leaving the tiller unmanned under full sail. 
Remember, the wider variety of shot angles you have, taken from a variety of height and side perspectives, the visually better and more interesting your final edited video will look (tip 6).  As a rule of thumb go for a mixture of close up, medium and wider shots of boat, objects and views.  
Finally, one useful gadget I always carry with me is a ‘SLOPES’. It allows me to angle a GoPro camera on different surfaces to get great ‘unusual’ perspective shots; particularly useful when shore side.
Photo 4: SLOPES – a clever gizmo of lightweight plastic giving you a variety of angles on which to mount your GoPro
On the subject of getting interesting camera shots, don’t forget to use tripods to steady shots and take a suction clamp with you (tip 7). Mine doesn’t adhere well to Arwen’s surfaces but it’s great for attaching to the car to get shots of launches, retrievals, journey to launch site details or me vlogging inside the car at the start or end of a sailing trip.  Tie on a 3mm cord tether which attaches to roof rack or is held in place by your side window so you don’t lose the camera if the clamp un-attaches (I learnt the hard way!)

How do you plan a story line and ensure you get the right video shots to bring it to life? 
How much depth of planning you do for a story line is an individual choice. The simple approach (tip 8) is to just jump on board, have fun shooting random footage during the day and then edit it into a short video showing the day’s highlights to share with friends. Frequently, I have just gone off with no particular plan in mind, shot everything and edited as a short video diary of the day. Spontaneous, the sheer joy and simplicity of the day comes across to the viewer. No longer than 3 or 4 minutes maximum in length and packed with various shots (see later tips on shooting and editing), short, well filmed video clips help build your audience viewing figures and often generate discussion and comment from viewers. I’ve received many a ‘better sail setting’ tip from my YouTube viewers watching a shorter video such as this one 
The alternative approach is to do some pre-planning (tip 9) to develop a storyline and a list of the key shots needed for a video. I always start by identifying the purpose of the video. Is it a location share, a ‘how-to’, a ‘video diary’, a vlog about an aspect of sailing, or a ‘get out there and do’ video to inspire others?  My first article reflected more on the rationale for your video(s).  
I keep a list of possible storylines on my mobile phone. When inspiration strikes, I immediately note it. A few ‘list ideas’ can be seen in Figure 1
Figure 1: ideas for future videos 
·        How to get the crease out of my main sail
·        The contents of a good sailboat toolkit
·        Building a galley box
·        Designing a boat tent from a tarp
·        Using an anchor buddy for beach stops
        Drying out on the mud for an overnight camp
·        Coastal sailing around Start Point tidal race
·        Reefing my standing lug yawl
·        Using a redesigned floaty action cam platform

My most viewed YouTube videos have a well thought out plan or a storyline to them.  I think about the story alongside my normal passage planning work (tip 10), trying to anticipate what the day will bring and simple story lines that might emerge. A good story has a beginning, a middle and an end; or a before, during and after and I use these simple ‘plot’ divisions to think about what footage I need in order to tell the story. For example, I may introduce a day’s storyline through shots of the launch trolley emerging from the water; or the hands freeing the mooring warp at the pontoon; or frying the bacon for the breakfast bacon butty with steaming mug of tea in hand. Maybe, some shots from within the car on the way to the launch ramp will do e.g. reflection of my eyes in rear view mirror; filming what is in drivers wing mirror; a quick shot of passing road signs or a brief vlog to camera introducing the plans for the day.   I then draw up a ‘shots’ list of footage (tip 11) to avoid the frustration of returning from a good day boating without some of the main video I needed for a good story line.  Planning storyline alongside passage planning also allows me to know when the weather fronts might be arriving or when there might be tidal races off headlands, so I can have cameras in place pointing in the right direction before the event happens. Such footage can add drama to a video, especially if it is followed by some bow shots punching through a few waves! Anticipation and walking the day in my head I find is a crucial part of getting the good video footage for those videos longer than 4 minutes. Crucially though, don’t make story planning onerous; I never spend more than around 20 minutes on it.  If you have time, do it in conjunction with perusing Google Earth (tip 12) for some stunning location footage opportunities and at the same time think about where the sun will be during the day. Try to avoid shooting in to the sun as it can cause overexposure and dark shadows in video shots.
Some successful YouTube videographers argue that in your first few videos stick to the same recipe (tip 13).  In your introduction show who you are and what you are after in your ‘story’, how you are going to get there, what gear you are getting ready. In the middle bit tell the bulk of your story but insert a ‘climax’ moment (I’d advise not the ‘when Harry met Sally’ kind, but please don’t think I’m boring, I’m just thinking of the possible trauma on your viewers or relatives); it’s the ‘aah’ moment that elicits some emotion from the viewer. Interweave it with showing the unexpected, the hard to get to places, the spontaneous stuff. The final part of the story, the ending, explains the change that has occurred as a result of that ‘aah’ moment, the ‘victory’! 
If you ever lack inspiration for a video, watch the ones that inspire you and try and note down what it is they do that inspires you so much. (tip14). 
After all the effort of planning a story line and shooting list, it would be tragic to go out and then shoot some poor-quality footage. So, how can you ensure the footage you shoot will be good quality and interesting to watch? 
At my level, a beginner, I am less interested in frame rates or video speeds and more interested in just getting the ‘right’ kind of shots that will be good to view. So, I try to follow some basic rules when shooting video to making my post shoot editing easier and more successful. For example, (tip 15) for each story segment I try to get wide scene setting shoots, medium close ups of things such as sails, sheets, boat interior and close up shots of details, the compass bearing, hand on a tiller, a water bottle rolling along a thwart. 
I have grids set on all my camera screens (tip 16) so that I can apply the simple principles of thirds, having key objects at intersection points of the lines (see YouTube for some good simple video tutorials about using rule of thirds in photography and videography) to give my footage a more professional cinematography feel to it. 
Always, start videoing 5 secs before your main action and then 5 seconds after it has finished (tip 17). It helps give you options when editing later. 
Never wave the camera around and avoid zooming where possible. It usually looks wrong (watch TV and you will see how infrequently they use a zoom shot).  Pan only occasionally, to establish a scene, to film people on the move or to get close up movement of an object (tip 18). A good pan of a great panoramic view is always acceptable. Whenever you pan, always use a steady tripod and pan in one direction only. If videoing something moving, resist the urge to follow it and allow the moving object to run into shot and then out of shot. Continue videoing for several seconds after it has left shot. Where possible, anticipate the arrival of the moving object, videoing the empty scene for several seconds before the object arrives. This extra ‘before and after’ footage allows more creative freedom during the editing process. Panning is good for revealing something interesting, a landmark or a passing boat and remember you can pan up and down as well. 
Some other tips are shared in figure 2
Figure 2: some other tips for taking good video footage
·        Video at 60 frames per second or higher to allow slo-mo editing of spray over the bow
·        If walking and using a GoPro or action cam – stick it on a selfie stick – helps smooth shakiness out
·        Don’t move camera unless you absolutely have to
·        Try to have something in a shot for viewers to focus on
·        If videoing people, focus on the eyes and get close up
·        Check lens before every shot and wipe it clean – one water droplet can ruin a shot!
·        Resist the urge to just leave a camera running – an editing nightmare!

What other footage should you take on the day?
Always get some ‘lead the scene’ or ‘transition’ shots (tip 19). These are shots that move from something related to the main subject you are about to shoot to the actual main subject itself e.g. from a bow wave, pan through the turbulent water to focus on the dolphin swimming alongside; go from the mast top wind indicator down the sail to finish with a look to the horizon and the approaching weather front. Transitional shots add a professional feel to videos and reduce abrupt subject changes which can interrupt the flow of the video for a viewer. Be creative with your transition footage e.g. shoot the yard or sail lowering into the boat from the yard or sail top itself as the lead into arriving alongside a pontoon. Part of the fun for me is finding those creative video shots, from an unusual perspective, that weave the story elements together. 
Point of view shots (POV), using Gopro cameras on head and chest straps, to capture what hands are doing (such as weighing anchor, controlling tiller and mainsheet or bailing out the cockpit) help drawer viewers into the action and your story (tip 20).  But be careful, many a time I have failed to position the camera so that I have missed out my hands or cropped off the anchor as it splashes down. A good rule of thumb is to stand straight and tilt a headcam so that it is pointing at the thighs of a person in front of you of similar size; and then have settings on the action cam at wide or superwide view. In this way, you should catch lower and upper vertical segments of action. 
Many boaters forget this next point at their peril and when they get to editing discover it’s too late. Make sure on the day you get B roll footage (tip 21).  This is the additional footage outside of your main story shots e.g.  the rudder and its wake; wind indicators flapping; the compass bearing; a flapping sail; the wheeling seabird overhead. Don’t forget little things like the harbour bollard you tied up to or the signs you past. B footage is the ordinary moments between exciting ones. It helps create good story in video by putting significant events into a context that makes them stand out more dramatically.  Some call this footage ‘cutaways’. They are 2 or 3 second clips of finer details that break up longer sequences. Remember the shooting rules when filming B roll, video for several seconds more than you need to give you editing ‘wiggle room’. Remember it is B footage that helps break up those boring 20-minute clips of you sailing the same direction with the same unchanging horizon and view. It may have been exciting for you but it can be a big yawn for your potential viewers! 
Take the opportunity to do some time-lapse videoing (tip 21). I converted an egg timer for time lapse panoramic shots by sticking a GoPro mount on it and carefully drilling a hole in the base so that it could thread onto a small Joby Gorilla tripod. Most action cameras have a time-lapse function that you can use for photos and the final edited time-lapse can look stunning and is a great way of portraying the passage of time in your story e.g. the passing clouds, the setting of the sun; the boat at anchor settling onto the mud as the tide retreats.
Photo 5: an IKEA egg timer converted to a panoramic time lapse tool 
Photo 6: The handy Z1 microphone with lapel mic and windsock muff
Finally, not all video is planned, is it? If you see something cool or extraordinary, just shoot it. The moment you were surrounded by porpoise, or that sunfish popping up alongside you drifted along may never happen again. Drop everything, forget the shot list and get the shot of the extraordinary, remembering, of course, to stay safely in control of your boat at the same time!

So, what about improving sound quality in your videos?
My experiences suggest that people will forgive slightly dodgy video footage but rarely forgive poor quality sound. You can produce videos with just the ambient sounds recorded on your camera overlaid with captions and background music added during editing. Many of my videos are like this and have amassed good viewing figures on YouTube.  However, I cannot begin to describe the frustration of finding wind noise on video clips which drowns out everything else. So, for this reason more than most I would recommend that would-be vloggers, in particular, invest in a separate microphone (tip 22). If you have a camera with an external shoe fitting, and you can afford it, invest in a RODE extension shotgun mic. 
If like me, your camera doesn’t have this facility, then try the Zoom H1 and lapel mic which always records good audio. Mounted on a small Joby Gorilla tripod or kept in a plastic freezer zip lock bag in my pocket, it allows me to record the commentary or ambient sounds separately to the video, a great advantage when it comes to editing. I can then run the recorded commentary or sound track across several clips of different video, making the finished video instantly more pleasurable to view as a result, and far shorter in length too! 
Always stop and take time to listen to your surroundings onboard (tip 23). That creak of wood, flap of halyards against mast or gurgle of water racing under the hull are valuable clips when it comes to editing because you can overlay them against video sequences, immediately improving the ambiance of your clip. 
Don’t forget to record yourself being self-reflective. Interview others and get their views and stories.  Record your tears and tribulations as well as the fun times like falling in, laughing over spilt drinks or being covered in spray. Record the seasickness, the frantic sounds of bailing pump. It all helps build the soundscape in your video.

What about filming with drones? 
I fly a Xiro Xplorer Mini (and have just upgraded to a DJI Spark) on occasions around Arwen, normally when she is anchored a little offshore and I’m on the beach! It adds a great aerial perspective to my footage and is great for location setting. There are many YouTube tutorials online about using drones from boats and frankly I am still a novice at it.  
There are a few things to remember when using drones around boats. Firstly, follow the safe drone flying rules for your country (if sailing abroad, know the drone laws for your destination – tip 24).  Secondly, if your drone uses a GPS ‘return to home’ function, remember, you are on a moving boat and so your ‘return to home’ destination could be well astern of where you originally launched the drone. Don’t land it by accident in the water (tip 25)! Obviously watch out for mast, lazy jacks, sails flapping as you approach to land on the boat, drones have a tendency to drift when you least want them to! If capturing it by hand, don’t lean out to snatch it from the air or both of you will go for a swim! 
Go high with the drone but not too high. Altitude brings more details in to view but too high and you lose the detail of movement below. Where possible, stay at 30m max. Drone footage is best during golden hour, those hours just before sunrise and sunset when the angle of the sun produces shadows and texture and the sky gains those lovely hues (tip 26).  Small drones such as the DJI Spark operate best in light winds. They are more stable and battery life is longer. If you need to film in stronger winds, a larger drone with a 3-way gimbal such as the DJI Mavic may well be a better bet for you but the bigger you go, the more storage space they need on board. 
Photo 7: The DJI Spark drone and accessories

Practice, practice, practice in the middle of the countryside before you approach any coastline. Know all the functions of your drone and how to control it. You don’t want to panic and see it ditch suddenly out to sea!  Store batteries in a LiPo fireproof bag, wrapping each battery in a plastic bag before putting them in the bag as this prevents contacts shorting with each other and stops moisture ingress. Carry extra props, gimbal covers and a powerbank for charging on the drone and/or your mobile phone and remote controller on the go. Carry spare SD cards for both cameras and your drone. Go for a high-quality card such as Sans Extreme or Samsung EVO class 10 90mbs. 
In the third and final post of the series I will explore some tips on editing and growing your YouTube channel. In the meantime, below are some web links related to aspects of this article.

Videos good for atmosphere, shot variety, storytelling:  


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