Vlogging, is the art of taking an audience on a story journey through video and thanks to YouTube there has been an explosion of sailing videos and vlogs over the last few years. Some, such as SV Delos and Vagabond, are huge sensations, earning their crews’ serious money and sponsorship via their Patreon funding websites. We all need occasional inspiration from watching others sailing exotic climes, whilst doing adventurous activities and meeting interesting local characters but not all vlog content needs to be exclusive, expensive, highly produced or celebrity driven.
The YouTube videos of Creeksailor, Dylan Winter, Eyeinhand and Roger Barnes, for example, with their mix of home spun wisdom, reflection on life, small boat cruising tips and simply stunning sailing footage are equally pleasurable and as successful in their own way. Slow flowing waters in muddy creeks with their slumbering seals and wading birds; reed lined river channels with traditional boat traffic; open coastal scenery with swirling tidal currents and diving birds; in all honesty, this is more naturally where my interests lie. I am a dinghy cruiser, who has for several years been recording short video diaries and more recently vlogs of my cruises on board my self-built 14’ John Welsford designed standing lug yawl ‘Arwen’.
If you are thinking about filming your boating adventures, I would urge you to do so. Whilst steering, sail handling and trying to film content simultaneously isn’t always easy and on occasions can even get in the way of being present in the moment (the ‘here and now’ of the adventure), the benefits of videoing a voyage can be immense. There is nothing better than a short visual diary of your recent adventures afloat to help while away those cold winter evenings until the new sailing season starts.
However, I would caution you at this point. If you are going to film your exploits, make it a rule now, that you strive to produce high quality video, not just the ‘point and shoot a few minutes’ variety of film. So much material on YouTube is of a poor quality that fails to give a good viewing experience. The success of the aforementioned small boat cruising videos shows that there is an appetite for simple, well-crafted boating adventures. A few basic skills, done well, can elevate the quality of a short video.
In this series, aimed at those new or just starting to video and vlog, I share some tips on topics ranging from choice of camera equipment, story planning and taking creative shots through to editing footage and setting up and growing a YouTube channel. Self-taught, I am not a videographer expert, but I start with a simple premise, use what equipment you have got to hand and aim for higher quality, better crafted videos that are simple and enjoyable and which allow your passion, skills and experiences to shine through. Remember, YouTube can be a powerful force for education, insight, inspiration and change even at a modest level. Someone, somewhere, will appreciate your efforts because it will have inspired or encouraged them in their dreams and ventures.
So, let’s get going by starting with an obvious question: why do you want to video your sailing/boating adventures?
Readers of a ‘certain age’ will remember the exciting undersea world of Jacque Cousteau and his adventurous voyages, sharing with us the tantalising glimpses of a hitherto unknown world beneath the waves. On board Calypso with his camera in hand, he left an indelible impression on this easily enthralled eight-year-old. I so wanted to be one of the cameramen filming the reefs. I pleaded for some relative to knit me Cousteau’s familiar trademark red knitted hat, but alas, one never materialised and it wasn’t until I was in my forties that I got to swim over a coral reef with camera in hand.
Fast forward 50 years or so and I still want to be an amateur cameraman filming my sailing adventures. I’m no budding Spielberg or Dylan Winter, nor will I capture the glitz and glamour of the talented SV Delos team but after several years of creating 170 or so short sailing videos (of variable quality I confess), I have picked up a few ideas and tips on how to film in small boats.
So here is Tip 1: start with a clear rationale for why you want to make videos.
Aside of wanting to be the next Jacques Cousteau (oh how I wish…!) my real motivation for starting my ‘Arwen’s Meanderings’ blog and YouTube channel back in 2009 was threefold. Firstly, I wanted to create diary videos and blog content on my boat building and sailing adventure so siblings who were, at that time, scattered across the world could share in my ventures, travels and news. Second, was my desire for an online ‘visual memory bank’ for my future 80-year-old self; a reminder that I had followed my dreams by building a boat, learning to sail it and having micro adventures in it. Finally, if I could produce content that inspired others to do likewise and seek their own adventures on their own home waters, then that was a bonus. YouTube, being free to use, was the obvious and easiest place to store and share such content.
Right from the start, have your own clear rationale for why you want to video your sailing adventures because it will help shape what kind of videoing and story line planning you do. I’ve provided some guiding questions to prompt your thinking in figure 1.
Figure 1: working out your rationale for videoing your adventures:
Across my channel, you will find a cross-section of videos which I am slowly organising into play lists. Some focus on ‘How to’ e.g. build a galley box or use an anchor buddy. Some are about Arwen and her equipment e.g. what’s in your toolkit? What equipment do you carry on your sail boat? Many are simply about a day sailing adventure or a video diary of a three-day cruise to a local destination. Across most videos, I try to stay true to my original rationale – a dairy for my 80-year-old self to share with my siblings, parents and friends; which might inspire others to do similar things, but in a better way than me!
Once you have given thought to your rationale for video creation, the next question is surely: What video equipment do you have/need?
I dinghy camp/cruise the waters of Plymouth Sound and her tributary rivers, occasionally venturing along the coast for camp cruising trips to Falmouth, Fowey, Salcombe and Dartmouth. I use equipment that I have built up over many years of mountaineering and travelling.
So, tip 2, don’t rush out and buy camera gear. Start by taking a look at what you have. Will it do what you want with some adaptation, imagination and flair?
For small boat adventures I try to assemble equipment that fulfils some of the criteria in figure 2.
I am sure other small boaters could add more to the list. YouTube and the wider internet are great sources of information about recommendations, reviews and personal preferences as to what camera gear sailors and travellers like to carry.
I have personal preferences too. On Arwen, I routinely carry a compact camera for photography and vlogging; and four small action cameras for videoing. On longer trips, a drone for aerial footage and a small range of accessories such as solar battery chargers are also taken along.
My normal vlogging camera when land based is an old Panasonic Lumix DMC TZ40 compact point and shoot that has an array of intelligent functions, a x20 zoom and records 1080p AVI files. In a waterproof pouch when on Arwen, it has stood the test of time. Yes, it lacks an external mic attachment (so wind noise can be excessive when out and about) or a flip up screen (so essential for framing that perfect selfie vlogging shot). No, it isn’t particularly shockproof either but it is simple to use, compact and lightweight. Current popular vlogging cameras in 2017 seem to be the Sony RX 100 and the Canon G7x. Remember, you can just use your humble mobile phone as well. Many today take good 1080p footage, allow the use of a lapel microphone with it and come with editing apps that can produce worthwhile, high quality short videos. Whatever camera you use as your main vlogging piece, tip 3 is use a tripod with it to improve stability and reduce video shake. I carry two, occasionally three tripods of different sizes, from mini and medium sized Joby gorillas to a lightweight 5’ collapsible aluminium one with extending top.
I am a huge fan of action cams. Designed to be attached to helmet, car, surfboard, bike, boat, well practically anything frankly, most are small, tough, simple to operate and can catch some epic video footage. Their POV (point of view) footage is often valued by TV companies in situations where normal video cameras can’t be used. I have always gone for the market leader GoPro, out of personal preference, who describe themselves as an “experience-sharing company”. My Hero 5 Black lives up to this expectation. Small, light, tough with both 1080p and 4K video, voice control, image stabilization, photo-burst and time-lapse photography, it’s waterproof to 30m and is my on the water ‘go to’ vlog and video camera. Video quality is excellent given its diminutive size and it is inconspicuous when vlogging in public. With an array of mounts, it is exceptionally versatile. Teamed with a chest harness, head strap, selfie stick or flexi clamp and you can practically video most action on board a boat. In-built WIFI controlled from a phone app allows you to mount and control it in difficult to access places such as bowsprit or on the top of an upper gaff yard. It comes with Quik app which simplifies downloading and editing. My niggles? The touchscreen interface is fiddly with cold hands and is often slow. Audio quality is not good in windy conditions and fitting an external mic immediately stops it being waterproof.
However, today there are now some serious lower cost alternatives to Gopro on the action cam scene and they do just as good a job. If I was starting out now and budget was an issue, then I would take a serious look at some of these. After all, depending on what you want to do with it, do you really need all the bells and whistles like GPS, voice control, WIFI or even a rear screen? My first action cam was a Hero 2 which had none of these features and it is still in use now, giving me great footage at 1080p. If you are thinking of getting your first action cam, I have added some useful tech review websites on action cams in figure 3.
Figure 3: Technical review websites on action cams for 2017
Tip 4, when using an action cam, for that fully immersive experience, get up close to the subject you are shooting; and if using it for vlogging, be around 30 – 40cms away from it. If standing and you want a selfie of yourself, aim the camera at your thighs area to get all of you and some background in the shot. Keep it steady; being small they move around and vibrate wildly. Time lapse set to 1 second after pressing the shutter allows you to move the camera around and change your facial expressions. Remember too, it is not a distance shot camera. Distant shots on a GoPro or action cam will have a slightly curved horizon. It uses a fish eye lens!
I also carry an old GoPro Hero 2 and two SJCam 4000’s. Cheaper options than a GoPro, they still film in 1080p, are waterproof and can use Gopro mounts. Here is tip 5. Having two or three action cams gives you a major advantage in filming on board your boat. Play the angles by combining shots from different positions to get a more interesting overview of the action on board. After editing, the subject event videoed from those ‘blended’ alternative angles and perspectives leads to more visually interesting story telling. Your viewers will thank you for it! At the cheaper end of the action cam spectrum, I use the SJCam’s in high risk situations on small floating platforms to get out of the boat shots of Arwen sailing by!
And talking of visually interesting videoing, my best move was getting a small selfie drone. Compact, with an array of extraordinary technical features, and controlled via remote controller and/or mobile phone, the DJI Spark has given me the ability to take some stunning aerial shots of Arwen moored or anchored in upper river creeks. If you already shoot videos and have action cams, then perhaps investing in a small drone is a good thing. It elevates your video footage, excuse the pun! Whilst I have yet to master landing the drone on the boat whilst sailing in open waters (something that will take some bottle on my part), shots of Arwen in a hidden anchorage have added visual interest to my videos and been appreciated by some of my viewers.
If you want to find out more about the camera gear, mounts and drones I carry on Arwen, check out this video:
Some last tips (6) regarding equipment. Firstly, really get to grips with how your cameras work and what functions they can perform before using them onboard. Fiddling about and sailing at the same time is somewhat difficult and bound to lead to disaster! Secondly, carry lots of spare batteries and get into the habit of charging them at night and/or immediately after you come back from a trip. In that way they are ready to go next time. Finally, invest in some reputable 64 or 128 Gb class 10 90mbs memory cards (e.g. Sans Disk Extreme, Samsung EVO) and clear them at the end of every trip after editing so they are ready for the next adventure.
In the next article I explore how to mount your camera on a boat to great creative shots of your sailing/boating activity; discuss how to create a story line with appropriate footage and focus on recording high quality audio for your films.
The final article in the series will look at some post production editing tips and thoughts on how to set up and grow your YouTube channel. In the meantime, here are a favoured few of the many sailing channels I subscribe to. You will have your favourites too.
Two really big player vlogs:
Sailing La Vagabond: www.youtube.com/channel/UCZdQjaSoLjIzFnWsDQOv4ww
Sailing S/V Delos: www.youtube.com/channel/UCvLc83k5o11EIF1lEo0VmuQ
Favourite small boat vlogs:
Roger Barnes: www.youtube.com/channel/UCtzWwFEMaEVXejzRKgPjPNA
Keep turning Left (Dylan winter) : www.youtube.com/channel/UCt805KpevJzCICn1t2BtotQ
Enrico Franconi: www.youtube.com/channel/UCegYlHIxJiPXRDdJzul7LJw
For reflection on the importance of our oceans and waters:
Sailing Simplicity: www.youtube.com/channel/UCRMsFT-L15FxbwfIDa-eOOQ
My own channels:
Part One – Part Two – Part Three