Tips and Tricks from a Pro
An Interview with Steven Bull by Sarah Petrie
Do you ever wonder how the guys on Power Boat Television get some of the amazing shots they use in the show? Not only are they using high quality television cameras, but also complementing the big guys are little cameras that pack a punch.
The challenge with getting great shots on the water is the water itself – it’s wet, it’s unstable, and when on a boat, it’s bumpy. Technology and water aren’t typically compatible, either. All the moving parts in a camera tend to freeze up when moisture gets to them. Not to mention, droplets on the lens ruining great shots.
But, somehow these guys manage to pull it off!
In a digital age where posting photos and videos online is the thing to do, it makes sense that you not only want to capture your memories on the water, but share them too. That’s why Steven Bull – one member of the PBTV team – is letting us in on some of the tips and tricks the pros use to get the best shots.
Sarah: Steve, let’s start off with some of the difficulties you might encounter when shooting on a boat.
Steve: Well, the first is obviously that you’re not on dry land. Finding stability on the water is always the biggest challenge. When we’re using a chase boat for the show – the boat that runs along side the boat we’re shooting – we try to have one big enough to minimize the conditions on the water. Then the camera person tries to find the most stable part of the boat to set up. Keeping the camera zoomed out also helps steady the shot. Finding stability is definitely the number one challenge, but then you also have to deal with wind, waves, other boats, small boats – anything you find on the water.
SP: Some of your most successful shots are action shots. What makes a great action shot and what is the best way to capture it?
SB: Sometimes it’s a little bit of luck, but often it’s the equipment we use. We want to try to replicate what you experience when boating – which is fun! Remote destinations, fast speed, PWCs – you know, Sea-Doos and WaveRunners – they can be pretty tricky. So, GoPro shots, a camera person on a chase boat – we’re just trying to get the boats in their natural environment, if you will. It depends on the type of boat and water we’re shooting on to determine how we do that. Almost always GoPros are involved.
SP: You mentioned the GoPro – what other equipment are you using to get the best results?
SB: We have two different types of broadcast cameras. We’ve got the big, over-the-shoulder one you see used by news crews and a smaller one – both HD, broadcast ready. And with the GoPro, it’s not just the camera itself, we have the whole waterproof case and floating lifejacket. That means you can splash it, put it under water and the suction cup on the bottom means you can stick it to the side of a boat or a PWC. The camera is tiny and we can get it just about anywhere. It’s handy on the My Boat shoots, too. It’s full HD and really works well for the action shots. We also use still cameras. We like to experiment. The same thing the average person does at home. Try the cameras you have – see what works, see what doesn’t. Over the years we’ve perfected it, I’d like to say down to an art, but we’re always learning.
SP: Sometimes in the show, we see a bird’s eye view of the boats and some of the destinations – how are you getting those shots?
SB: Hawks and eagles mostly, and a staple gun. Nah, what we actually use is a drone. The DJI Phantom 2 is what we use. It’s a quad-copter. When all the blades are spinning, it can stabilize itself. On the drone is another GoPro for HD footage. It has a stabilizing gimbal that allows the camera to move. When it’s all fired up, the drone can hover, chase boats, and go really high up and really far out. We use it quite a bit. Back in the day, we’d have to rent a helicopter and have a camera person up in the helicopter chasing the boat around to get those types of shots. That’s expensive and a little more dangerous as well. We added the drone to our repertoire recently and the shots we get are just phenomenal.
SP: What are some general tips you can share for the average person trying to get the best from their camera at home?
SB: The most basic tip I can give is, like I mentioned earlier, to stay zoomed out. Your camera has a zoom, it has all these funky settings and that’s all well and good. You can use them to set up, but the wider, stable shots, though they may seem boring at the time, those are the best shots. The more stable it is from the camera perspective, the better it is. Let the action within the frame happen. So if you’re videotaping your friends or your kids wakeboarding or waterskiing, stay a little wider out. We’ve all seen those home videos that make you seasick on your couch – they’re painful to watch. Don’t do that.
Nowadays most cameras are digital, so you can have a look before you start shooting. Check the settings and take some time. If you have a GoPro, invest in the waterproof case and the GoPro lifejacket. Trust me, if we didn’t do that, we’d be on GoPro 25 or 30 by now.
Now that you’ve learned the basics, it’s time to put those skills to the test. We challenge you to capture your adventures on the water and share them with us! Find us on Facebook, Twitter or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.