June 13, 2012

Finding the Right Match

By Doug
Still shot taken from a Sail Pro video at the Aussie Nationals
Tillerman challenged bloggers to share their number one tip for capturing good water shots/video.  For me it came down to finding the right match between purpose, camera, mount, and software.

First came the purpose.  I began taking pictures and videos to teach Pam how to sail better.  Little did I know that she would become a full time project, not to mention my wife.  She still provides most of my motivation and purpose in the shots I take... 'get me a picture of this, take a video of that.'  Then she wanted to see what it was like to race along with me. And then she wanted a play by play color commentary. Pam constantly challenges me and my skills keep evolving.

Early on, I was simply using my Cannon PowerShot and Pam's waterproof Pentax Optio.  Both took decent shots and had some video capability, but there were some limitations with zooming the video and when cropping the shots later to capture more action and less boring background, I lost quality.  We liked the idea of having high definition video capability and saw this inexpensive little Kodak PlaySport that looked like a toy, but it took some impressive videos and pictures. We decided to give it a try, but the files brought both my laptop and iPad to their knees when editing.  So I upgraded my computer to an Intel I7 quad core (wicked fast processor) and tried again, but the editing was too crude. I bought some video editing software and got some help learning how to use it and presto, had the right match. I later bought a Sail Pro camera as well and we still switch between the Kodak and SailPro depending on the needs.

So after getting the right cameras, I had the challenge of how to mount them. Most people attach their cameras to the boat which, in my humble opinion, is interesting for about 30 seconds unless something really funny happens.  I'm more interested in the tactics, so I like to attach it to my hat. You can spend $25 for a fancy attachment but I use a 1/4" bolt, nut, and a few washers. But be careful because any attachment will point the camera too low, so I wedge in two bolts (in green) before I glue-gun everything.

The first thing that I noticed is that I moved my head around much more than I thought. A backwards glance off the starting line has no meaning to the viewer unless you hold your head still for a few seconds. Here are some early videos from Sunfish and Butterfly races with a video editor that I would not recommend. 

To sum up, here's what I use:
  • Kodak PlaySport with this sample. Pros: picture quality, good audio quality when not at certain angles to the wind, you can turn it on and off, price. Cons: sound interference from the wind at times. 
  • Sail Pro with this sample. Pros: much smaller, lighter, more professional, good video. Cons: very little audio, hard to turn on and off.
  • There are lots of good video editing programs around. So far my perfect match is Adobe Premiere Elements 10.
One word of caution:  if you use a hat cam, your hat is now worth money so you may want to tether it. But be careful when tethering since this almost cost me my life. I once tipped (before I started wearing a camera), was under my boat, and could not surface because I was being held down from behind. After a few very confusing seconds, I did something you should never do - I took off my lifejacket. And surfaced.  I had tied my hat to my life jacket and the hat had come off but the tether wrapped around a line that was holding me under. So, any tether must have a release clip.

Also, when you tack, you need to keep your head way down or you'll catch the main sheet. Say "kiss the floor" each time you tack.

For a more appealing video, cut out the parts that only grandma would like.  And a good audio track helps.  I've found that if I watch the raw footage and then come up with a song, I can then edit the video to fit the song and it all falls into place rather easily.

Once you get everything working properly, the results are a lot of fun.


  1. I have enough trouble sailing and will just look at your pictures and videos.

  2. The Photo looks awesome! This is very useful information!


    1. Thanks! That's 3-time Master World Champ Adam French ducking me and going on to win the race - very fast downwind!

  3. The GoPro cameras are very common now - have you tried one?

  4. No, and they look like a good camera as well.
    They are currently #1 on Amazon.


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