Monday, January 5, 2015

Tips and Advice for Videoing Your Fishing Trips

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Unless you are living on another planet, capturing all of you best catches has become the past-time inside the past-time for fishermen. Digital video cameras versatile, cheap and hardy enough to use have slowly become affordable to the every day fisherman. 

I love watching fishing videos, but at the time, most videos you would watch were instructional videos that were staged. If I wanted to see people catch fish, I had to watch one of the hour long shows on WFN. Nothing wrong with either of those options, but I wanted to see people like me catch fish, and if possible, lots of them. And, I loved to see the genuine reactions.

 I saw this as the next step in the evolution of my blog, which already was getting great reviews because of its realism and honesty. I felt like telling a story about my fishing trips and backing it up with an entertaining video would make it even more unique. After all, we fishermen are known for our renown story telling, right? There just weren't many people were doing videos like that. Now, I am not here to tell you that I am the first, because I wasn't. Nor will I tell you that I make the best videos, because I don't. But I set out to make videos that I wanted to see. Succinctly stated, I wanted to show a whole tournament's story in 5 minutes with all of it's art-in-action. I wanted to show how we failed or conquered and just how we did so...from the cast to the hookset...to the net. Or, various detours inside of those milestones. It would be real and raw...most importantly, it would be profoundly entertaining. Of course, that meant that I had to do a few things, all in order: come up with the equipment, learn how to use it, catch fish, get it on video, and edit it. 

You are only as good as your equipment.

I myself got on board years and years ago when my aunt bought me a Flip video camera circa 2011. While she thought it would be primarily used for family, and it was, it found a second use inside my fishing bag. Flips had just become popular on account of their price point and ease of operation. I found it easy to use. It was a 2 button operation that I could use to capture all of life's moments. Of course, there were some drawbacks. The most notable issue with the camera was, I couldn't use it on myself. I had to video someone else. The second drawback was that it was useful AFTER the hook set. After all, the batter and storage capacity wouldn't let me run it continuously. And, even if it did, I didn't want to sit and hold it on my partner, and I doubted they would want to do the same. Additionally, it had a narrow field of view and the digital resolution was not good when using the zoom function. 

GoPro hit the scene with its Hero cameras. Speaking for myself, the cost was pretty high, considering that I didn't own a decent still shot digital camera, other than a $200 point-and-shoot which wasn't much better than my cell phone. By the time you added a memory card and all of the mounts, you had $500 invested. Luckily, a friend of mine had an original Hero that he used for  drag racing, primarily. He didn't use it much and suggested that I give it a try. I took it on 3-4 trips. In the first few trips (January 2013), we couldn't get the fish to bite consistently. And, when they did, I was usually out of position, the camera battery was dead, or any of a handful of other technical glitches. It was infuriating, really. 

So, we were 3 or 4 trips deep before we hooked into the first good fish and I thought "Hey, I might actually have that one on video." I was really sweating it, as GoPro didn't have the ability to check the aim on the camera during setup, or to review the file afterwards. But, it was the first time that after landing a fish I looked down and saw that the camera was still recording. After getting home, I faced a new challenge: how to edit. I asked around and found Movie Maker, a free video editing software package. I downloaded, familiarized myself with it, and put it to work. The result? Well, you can see it below. It was one single fish. The angle wasn't very good. The lighting was terrible, but it was fun to do, it captured what I wanted, and I felt like it had good energy. 

I was hooked. The week that the Hero III came out was the weekend I received my tax refund. I ran to BestBuy with the intention of walking away with my own camera. Little did I know that there were actually 3 versions of the Hero III. After talking with the salesman, I walked away with the White version, which is the bottom of the line. With the 64 GB card, the suction mounts, and all that jazz, I was $500 dollars lighter. 

2 years and hundreds of videos (not all fishing). I have learned a lot of lessons. I have become fairly recognizable to locals through the blog and after asking me about local fishing advice (laughable, really, since I am a terrible fisherman) the very next thing many people ask is how I pull off these videos. Many of these guys have tried it and quickly given up. I encourage them, because it just isn't that easy to pull it off without a real camera man in the boat. Then, I give them a few of my tips. Which brings us to the reason of this blog post: Tips and Advice for Videoing Your Fishing Trips

Tips and Advice Before you Leave the Store
  • Borrow someone's equipment first and see if you like it, first. There is no need to impulse buy the top of the line EVERYTHING out there before you know what to expect. I am really glad that I had the opportunity to borrow a friends camera first. Honestly, I wish I would have bought it cheap when he offered it. But, I used it, thought I knew what I wanted, and bought the Hero III.
  • Know your price-points and features. When I bought my Hero III White, I looked at the features the Black and Silver offered, and at the time, I didn't need or want them. It seemed frivolous. Additionally, the more features that the models had, the more buggy they became, according to reviews. At the time, I wanted as simple as I could get and as cheap. So, I got the White, which had limited frame-rate and resolution combinations. Again, at the time, none of that mattered to me....and wouldn't for some time. 
  • When you buy your first camera, don't expect it to be your last. As I hinted above, for the first year, the White model was perfect. It was stupid simple and I really didn't know how to utilize the different options anyway. 2 years later, and I am preparing to buy a whole new setup because my needs and style has evolved from where it was 2 years ago. That's not a bad thing. You don't still have the same car you had as a teenager, do you? No. Because your needs have evolved.
  • Buy used units. Just hear me out. What are the reasons you wouldn't want to buy used? Because you can't get an extended warranty? Because you don't know if the previous owner destroyed it? Let me say this about GoPro. It has been indestructible for me. Additionally, checking to see if it works is as easy as shooting a short vid, throwing the micro-SD card in your smart phone, and checking the quality of the film. By the time you buy the camera, buy the necessities, and pay taxes, you will spend $500. Period. You can buy used or trade goods for a perfectly good camera for pennies on the dollar. For example, a few months ago, I scooped up an unused Hero for $75. Additionally, you will ALWAYS get a better deal on the accessories. Sure, they may ask the same price as the store..but it will undoubtedly come with a bag full of goodies. 
  • Know when to buy brand name and when not to. Buy good brand memory cards. I used the SanDisk brand almost exclusively and I have rarely had a problem (which was my own fault). That's good enough reason to buy their brand, because there is NO going back to get that footage you just lost. Do you need the GoPro brand mounts and batteries? No. GoPro wants over $25 PER BATTERY at the box stores. I bought the Wasabi Battery 2-Pack with charger for $19.99 on Amazon. I noticed no difference in battery life, but even if there was an issue, you can charge the batteries at will. 
  • On the topic of memory cards, go ahead and buy several. The upfront cost IS a lot, but...just with the batteries...you don't want to be out on the water and lose the ability to video. 
  • With all of the accessories, you are far better off to buy them online. The stores charge ridiculous amounts for them, and generally succeed in selling because people want it all RIGHT NOW. We are talking about a $100 or more difference.
  • Don't be afraid to make your own mounts and equipment. The mounts that are sold are usually not what fishermen are after. Simple as that. 
Tips and Advice On The Water
  • Go ahead and buy a case for all of your camera stuff. I have a pistol hard case that  in which I carry all of my stuff. It is much easier to carry just the case than all the stuff in a bag or pouch. Plus, it protects it. I originally carried my stuff in the soft GoPro pouch. I lost stuff CONSTANTLY. Believe me, with all the little nuts and bolts that only go ONE WAY...it's worth it. 
  • Keep in mind, greatness can happen at ANY moment. If you want to catch your big moment, the only way to do that is to make sure the camera is on and facing the right way. 
  • Buy multiple batteries. Just trust me. I wouldn't be afraid to have 5 or more. Better to have too many than not enough. And believe me, these cameras EAT batteries. 
  • If you are using battery power, limit your use of the WiFi capabilities. WiFi will drop the battery life to less than half the battery life it would otherwise have. 
  • On the topic of batteries, change often. Not only is it inconvenient for one to die in the middle of the shot, but running batteries all the way down is actually really bad on them. There is a very real relationship between how far your run them and how much you can then recharge them. 
  • Take lots of short videos. I try and take a new video every 15 minutes or between every fish. Why? Well, if you run a continuous video, your chances of losing all your footage due to a battery dying, data corruption, or an act of God goes up exponentially. Would you rather lose video of 1 fish, or all? Additionally, it makes video editing MUCH easier. 
  • Don't be afraid to carry ALL of your stuff with you. If you have a good case, this won't be an issue. What WILL be an issue is when you didn't bring something because you didn't think you needed it. 
  • If you have the chance, run off of a direct power source like Cam-Do rather than batteries. You can find my writeup of my Cam-Do setup here. Why? Well, the obvious reason is that you don't have the rely on batteries. That alone is worth the effort. But, the heat that is generated by the batteries can degrade the quality of your footage. Remember, these cameras are in water-proof cases. That heat doesn't dissipate. 
  • Fill up memory cards completely rather than deleting files off of them each trip. I use a 64MB card, which is good for around 2 solid days of fishing at standard 30 frames per second at 1080. It is very easy to fish for a day, transfer the footage, and clear the card. However, you want to use each and every data cell on the card equally. If you don't, the first half of the cells are ALWAYS used, the second half are not. If even one of those cells becomes corrupt, the card is finished. Marginalize this chance by filling it up before clearing it. 
  • It may be silly, but check your camera often. Sometimes you forget about it at critical times. For example, last year at the PEO tournament on Wheeler, we lifted the motor because we were fishing SUPER shallow. I forgot the camera was mounted on the back of the boat, so instead of getting footage of some great catches, I got a lot of footage of the back deck. Other times the suction cup may fail and you won't notice it. Perhaps the worst is when the camera dies and you didn't know it. During a tournament on Pickwick, a huge bug plastered itself onto the aperture. I didn't notice it until lunch and missed a ton of footage. Even rain can be a huge issue. Now, if you check it often, as per the advice above, that won't be an issue. 
  • Understand the different resolutions, how they work, and what each will give you. Obviously the first thing is, the higher resolution and frame-rate, the less minutes of footage you can take . Additionally, your battery life will be drastically reduced. Ok, So you can get around those. What you can't get around comes down what each resolution gives you. If you want to get a wide angle and ensure you don't get missed, you will sacrifice sharpness of the image past the front of the boat. That is, you can see YOU at all times in good resolution, but you will just see a blob of a fish jumping. On the flip side, if you tighten the image down, you may miss something because it is out of the frame. Basically, understand what the different resolutions mean and what they will offer you. In my case, the White is now not up to the task as it only offers a few select options that I *originally* didn't need. Now I would like a 90 FPS 1080 HD setting, which it doesn't have. 
  • Bring a tablet with a micro-SD port. You can check the quality of the videos or to see if you got the footage you hoped for. There is NOTHING more frustrating than getting home, expecting it to be there, and finding out it isn't. 
  • On the topic of the last point, don't be afraid to use multiple cameras. It isn't much harder to pull this off, and the multiple views really make video unique. Also, you may miss something with one angle that the other picks up. I frequently use 3 OR MORE cameras, all for different things.
  • Don't forget that you can pull still shots from your footage. Instead of stopping everything to get that camera phone out, just use the GoPro. It takes awesome pics. Some of those may be candid shots that have NOTHING to do with catching fish. Maybe it's a reaction. Maybe it's just something unique. 
  • Lastly, be creative. Don't be afraid to try some things. Having multiple cameras makes this easy. Keep on camera setup and have the other on an extendable rod. Remember, no one has to see the footage but you. If you don't like it, delete it. I like taking action shots of the boat while it's running. Or of fish in the livewell. 

Tips and Advice Off The Water
  • Buy an external storage device. Just trust me. They are cheap-ish. And, you don't want your computer bogging down during editing. 
  • Speaking of editing, remember we talked about evolving? Don't be surprised if that free editing software doesn't cut it for you anymore. I still use Movie Maker, but it is extremely limited and, honestly, buggy. But, my style is a very stripped down style and I don't need much. 
  • Edit your videos to show what YOU would want to see. For me, I don't want to see dead time. My first few videos might have 10 fish, but be 15 minutes long. I found myself getting bored of my own vids. So, I sped them up. 
  • Make a checklist of things you should do to EVERY video. I have had to do this because I might forget to check the lighting or mute the background sound. 
  • Come up with a file naming system. I know it sounds funny, but you will understand when you have a day where you video catching 30 fish, as I did on Logan-Martin this year. 
  • Don't rush your jobs. So many times I have spent all day on a video and I get antsy. I want to get it out there. So, i push the button. And...I find a typo, or think of something SO COOL that I should have added. 
  • Always watch the whole video before submitting. Sometimes the software I use is buggy. When I am editing, the video and the sound are matched up. When the software converts the video to .mp4 and I upload it, I find out that wasn't JUST RIGHT. 
  • Don't let the fishing be about the video. The video is about the fishing. Sometimes I let the success of the fishing trip be dictated by how much footage I took. That's the wrong approach. Having the footage is the top of the cake. Remember that you went out there to fish. 
Don't get me wrong. My videos aren't very good. That's partly because it's my past-time inside my past-time, partly because I am not a very creative person, and partly because I am still fairly new at it. But, I have learned a ton of lessons on how to avoid common issues. I enjoy making the videos and seeing everyone else's. The video camera industry is evolving and the products are becoming both affordable and versatile enough for everyone to use. However, the drawbacks that I have mentioned can scare many anglers from accomplishing their goal of producing quality videos. I want everyone to be able to put themselves out there. It makes for very entertaining and informative videos displaying tricks and tactics you may not otherwise utilize. Hopefully, this blog post has been able to help you through some of the common pitfalls I have experienced.