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Camera Rig For The Side Of A Canoe

Published : 3rd April 2010

Next week, I have to rig a 35mm camera off the side of a canoe to shoot a paddle dipping into the water. I'd like to have the camera as close to the water surface as possible. I'm prepared with a Hydroflex splash bag for protection. Wondering if anyone has ever rigged such a camera support off the side of a small boat before? I don't want to use a fluid head (no jokes please) to support the camera...just the sliding dovetail baseplate. BTW, the camera weighs about 27lbs. I plan to have a second canoe (?) tethered/clamped behind the "picture canoe" for the operator and AC.

Any thoughts are greatly appreciated!

Regards,
Chris Hart


>>Next week, I have to rig a 35mm camera off the side of a canoe to shoot a paddle dipping into the >>water. I'd like to have the camera as close to the water surface as possible.

I am assuming camera is behind the paddler looking forwards. I assume that when you say "no head" that the frame is locked off If I were doing this, I would probably be using speedrail across the canoe

Note: Having fallen out of innumerable canoes in my wet life (not shooting, mind you, just trying to get from somewhere to somewhere else) Be aware that you will want to counterbalance the camera with a counterweight off the other side of the canoe.

Now, if you have sixty pounds of camera on one side and sixty pounds of counterweight on the other side, both behind centre of canoe, it is like putting a person in the back. If you don’t have a person in the back, you are probably OK

If you do have a person in the back (to control the canoe, for instance) then you might want to rig the counterweight on the opposite side but forward of the centre line, this does put some torsional stress on the canoe - if it is a bark skinned canoe, this could break it.

You might think that you could make this all more stable with a lighter counterweight further out from the centerline, but you need to be very careful that it doesn’t stick out too far and catch in the
water which could cause problems

You could also rig an outrigger on the off-camera side with weight and floatation which would make the canoe very stable but add a lot of drag on the off-camera side and change the steering a bit.

Get long battery cables so you can move the battery around to help trim the boat

Have fun

Mark Weingartner
LA based


With that much weight and an expensive camera added to the side of the canoe, I would build an outrigger or attach a second canoe to the non-camera side of the picture canoe for stability.

Randy "had the merit badge way back when" Miller, DP in LA


>>Next week, I have to rig a 35mm camera off the side of a canoe to shoot a paddle dipping into the >>water. I'd like to have the camera as close to the water surface as possible.

You may want to consider using a snorkel lens to get the lens close to the water surface and paddle. This may help in rigging so that the camera does not have to be down so close to the water. Just a thought...

Jim Sofranko
NY/DP


>>You may want to consider using a snorkel lens to get the lens close to the water surface and >>paddle. This may help in rigging so that the camera does not have to be down so close to the >>water. Just a thought...

I did this recently with a Kayak and attached the kayak to a pontoon boat and rigged the camera off the side of the pontoon boat. It was all very stable and we had lots of room to work. Used a Ronford head, under-slung, and put the lens a few inches off the surface of the water. (obviously we
had calm surface conditions on the lake and the crew couldn't shift their weight)

Also, the pontoon boat driver could set the speed of the shot with the motor. This enabled the canoe to be At Speed, without the Kayaker paddling and flipping droplets on the lens before the shot was at speed.

Jim Dollarhide
Director/Cinematographer


Regarding a camera rig for the side of a canoe, I would definitely use a out rigger or if possible tie 2 canoes together. Stability is key. I have done this rig a few summers ago on a doc about the I&M canal. I would also suggest having an electric trolling motor on back. Don't rely on talent to steer you!

Best

Andy Cook

www.chicagogaffer.com


 

Sounds like it could get pretty ugly ... I think the outrigger is the best bet and if you can mount the camera between the boats, or as Mitch said, use a snorkel/ periscope lens, I think you'll get a useable shot much more quickly. Canoes are tippy ;-) Sounds fun either way tho'...

Good luck,


Anders Uhl
cinematographer
ICG, New York


There are canoes that have boat transom backs for mounting motors and they are usually wider and more stable. Plus definitely use outriggers. Maybe a snorkel lens w/45 angle?

Sean Harris

www.harristelevisionproductions.com


Without knowing much more about the parameters of the shoot -($100million feature, PSA, low budget commercial etc) and the real specifics of the shot, I think it is hard to make definitive calls about gear, but if it is all about the way the water acts where it touches the canoe and the paddle etc and if that precludes mounting the canoe on a rig (or cutting a canoe in half and using the side that you need mounted on a rowboat, for instance) in other words, if you are going to end up with a real canoe floating in real water... anything close enough to the water to get your shot WILL get wet at some point. With this in mind, I would probably favour a camera in a shallow water (surf or splash) housing vs a snorkel - mainly in terms of keeping the center of gravity of the system lower...but the devil (and the angels) are totally in the details on a shot like this. If you can control the game enough, a snorkel might be good if it is one of the ones with a condom etc.

You mentioned that you weren't going to work with a head, but you might want to rig on a low rocker or a tango or a "dickhead" (four way levelling lock-off head used by us visual effects nerds) or a 150mm bowl and a ball leveller or something like that because otherwise you will carefully set up the shot and then the actor will get in or something like that and the balance will shift and the framing will be off and you won't be able to change it on the rig easily and then you will be losing light or it's lunch time or something like that.

You can also do this with a pair of L plates with a 3/8" bolt pinning them together and a c clamp to lock the tilt - there are a bunch of approaches, depending on what is at hand. Tying two boats loosely together will not provide enough stability to effect what you want to do - either rig them together hard or rig your solo canoe with a counterweight/outrigger combo or use a totally submersible housing, depending on what you need to have happen.

Enough ramble from me - it is time for a martini...

Mark Weingartner
finally old enough to drink classic martinis

LA based


Chris,

I'd think about making a catamaran out of 2 canoes, with the camera slung between the two.
Or you could think about a periscope lens. Can’t remember the name of it but you can rotate the image within the lens etc. (Boroscope maybe?) Allowing you to mount the camera in the boat and poke the lens out. If you want to see the rocking of the boat when the person paddles (without capsizing) you could build out riggers like the stabilizers on a kids bike. A couple of big water bottles would probably do it...

Maybe you could build an outrigger to put the camera on (out of something that floats the camera just above the surface) and connect it to the canoe so that it floats / bobs independently to the canoe...... you might see a stable water horizon and the oar and the canoe rocking...
Let me know how you get on.

Rob Barlow
Grip
London


Thanks to all for your great suggestions!

Because of the logistics of shooting on small ponds, the pontoon boat idea was out of the question. Though, it would have been great to have the kayak powered by a motored craft, as well as, the crew relaxing in the comfort of the pontoon boat. (Doesn’t sound much like work.) BTW, the production was a low budget shoot, so any other costs were going to be shot down like clay pigeons.

The grips made a very low-tech rig out of 2x4 and 2x6 lumber and plywood. The 2x6 was clamped to the bow or stern of either a canoe or kayak and a camera platform with a dovetail plate slid up or down on two upright 2x4s. Furniture clamps held the platform to the uprights, which gave me variable height adjustable for the camera. A plastic jug served as a flotation device to keep the camera platform from dipping too much into the water. A shot bag was used for ballast on the opposite end of the 2x6. For other angles, the grips made the 2x4 section quite tall in order to reposition (invert) the camera platform to go high and behind the kayaker. The camera that I used was an Arri 235 and was placed in a Hydroflex splash bag. It was a bit cumbersome to get inside the bag once we were out in the water; the zippers are pretty tough to open.

The talent was an experienced kayaker who could manoeuvre the boat without too much struggle even when the rig snagged on some lily pads. A canoe was tethered behind the kayak with about six feet of rope. Strung along the rope, we had the power cable for a remote on/off and coax cable for an on-board monitor in my lap. To keep the camera level, I had to instruct the talent to shift his weight slightly to the right or left. Considering everything, the rig worked out pretty well...but I haven't seen the dailies yet!

To check out some images of the rig, go to:

http://www.kodakgallery.com/BrowsePhotos.jsp?&collid=401894027203

Chris Hart
Cinematographer
New York


>>The grips made a very low-tech rig out of 2x4 and 2x6 lumber and plywood.

Ahha... those crafty grips. Looks like a nice simple rig which often works out to be the best.

I always try to leave the rigging up to the person ultimately responsible for it. But it is best to communicate your needs for the shot in regards to operating, angles, adjustability, geographic spacial requirements, and such before the rigging starts.

Please let us know how the footage turned out. What lensing did you use??

Jim Sofranko
NY/DP


>>Please let us know how the footage turned out. What lensing did you use??

I only used a 24mm lens for these shots which was plenty wide to see the side of the kayak and the paddle. Expect to see the footage in the next day or so. I'll let you know how it looks.

I saw the video dailies yesterday and the shots were just what I wanted. "I love it when a plan comes together." The horizon was reasonably level. A slight bit of the kayak or canoe rocking looked natural. I found that unless I had something moving passed the canoe that it appeared that the boat was standing still. We paddled over to some lily pads along the edge of pond and they helped to enhance the sense of movement through the water. I'll post some frame grabs soon.

FYI, I've uploaded some frame grabs from the kayak/canoe rig shoot.

Find them at :

http://www.kodakgallery.com/BrowsePhotos.jsp?&collid=401894027203

Chris Hart
Cinematographer
New York


[[ FYI, I've uploaded some frame grabs from the kayak/canoe rig shoot. ]]

That's an awesome rig, all right. But didn't it require a lot of asymmetrical paddling due to the additional drag on the camera side of the boat?? Was that a liability in terms of realism? (Or did the guy just paddle in circles?)

Dan Drasin
Producer/DP
Marin County, CA


The actor was an experienced paddler, so he didn't have much trouble keeping either the kayak or canoe heading straight. The only real hassles were the rope and cabling that connected the two boats would often snag on pond weeds and lily pads.

Of course, the edit only has about three seconds of this footage, but it was worth the fun of getting the shot.

Chris Hart
NY DoP