A lot of kayakers these days are videoing their adventures. Sites like Vimeo and YouTube have allowed all sorts of cool stuff to be shown by anyone who wants to. There is a lot of chaff out there, but there is also a select group of people who consistently come up with some really nice videos.
Not everyone is the next Anson Fogel or Rush Sturges, but your video can be improved in so many ways. I am well aware of the problems of shooting video while going on a kayaking trip. It’s a ball ache to be frank! Quite often it is raining, and if it isn’t the sun is creating hideous contrasts of light that would challenge even the best cameras. Most of all, quite often you would actually rather just be paddling and being involved in all the fun rather than being ‘the outsider looking in’. Indeed one of the first things you need if you want to make a quality video are subjects who are patient. Anyone can shoot wobbly handheld and move on, but not everyone has the patience to make a quality watchable video.
A question that arises a lot on kayaking forums relates to what camera to buy. I cannot answer that here. The best one you can afford and not be afraid to get trashed on a trip is probably the best advice I can give. Most cameras of a similar price point will generally perform very similarly. You get what you pay for in short.
What I can tell you though is that the camera that you use will not be the defining reason as to whether your video will be any good however. Ask yourself what separates professional video from amateur video? What makes a professional video watchable and compelling while a large majority of amateur videos are painful to be put through? To be truthful it is a whole collection of factors, but one of the most important ones is the story that you tell.
Your story might evolve as the trip takes place, but it is important that you have one and show it through in the editing. Most aspects of professional video production cannot be carried through or applied to a kayak trip with a load of mates, and it would be stupid to suggest ideas for doing so. Aspects such as good sound require good quality mics, the knowledge of how to use them and record proper levels, as well as attention to detail over the background.
What you can do is improve the quality of your shots. The wobbly handheld thing is one of the big separators between amateur and professional. Handheld is fine if done properly, but it is really bad if not. A tripod may well be too bulky to carry in a kayak with lots of other gear (but not impossible). For quick trip videos get yourself a Gorillapod. This will allow a good static mounting on all sorts of surfaces. Use it as a low down tripod on flat surfaces, or wrap its legs around tree branches, small logs etc for other shots. A good monopod will also improve things drastically. It won’t be as good as a tripod, but it will make a big difference, and is fast to deploy and use to boot.
When you take shots, take a variety. If you are filming multiple runs of a rapid, film from as many angles as you can to give variety in the edit. If you are using a DSLR with a zoom lens, get some good telephoto closeups. Too many people are shooting wide all the time. If you are filming a waterfall drop, don’t make the mistake of thinking that you have to show the entirety of the water fall ‘to show the height’. Tilting down with the kayak filling most of the screen as it falls will create an impression of height just as well, and the viewer will be much more engaged in what they see. Seeing a small coloured dot falling down in the distance does not get an audience emotionally involved. Tilting down with the kayak mid screen creates anticipation because the audience cannot see the bottom of the drop until it appears. You can get an establishing shot showing the entire waterfall before hand so the audience has some point of reference.
Stop using headcam so much. Try some more inventive mounting positions for the GoPro. My personal preference is mounted on the front of the kayak looking back at the paddler. This is because I like to see the reactions of the persons face. But there are other angles other than simply square on facing back.
There are other aspects too. Incidental shots are a big part of getting the viewer involved in watching. Establish your location. Why not tell the audience something about it, and where it is? I have heard of the North Fork of the Payette many a time. I think it is in Idaho, but even then I have no idea where Idaho is unless I look it up on a map. See what I mean? Why not tell the audience something about the rapid you are running? The dangers to look out for, the line you will be taking and why etc. It is all content.
Here are a few examples of videos, both ‘trips with mates’ style, and also more thoughtful in design.
This first one is a trip video. I think it is a good example of how to set yourself apart without having to make the trip all about the video making. These guys comment on what is happening as they move between rivers. They may not be the top paddlers in the world, but it shows people just out on the river having fun. Actual river running instead of just people falling off cliffs!
This next one is really clever. Just so different from pretty much any other paddling movie.