Story and photos by Mike Stoll
I have been using a helmet camera system for years to record my whitewater rafting adventures. I like to use the waterproof system from Xtreme Recall on these trips, and it has always worked flawlessly.
Capturing the experience of rafting down the Upper Gauley in West Virginia from a paddler's point-of-view is exciting and having the right setup can get you unique exciting videos.
Camera angles have always played a major part in putting together an exciting video. I came up with a cool idea to capture a unique camera anglewhich I borrowed from the TV show Fear Factor. They mount a small camera on contestants to capture their facial expressions up close and personal – it makes for exciting video to see their faces scrunched in terror. Seeing this led me to develop what I call my Rear Factor Rig for Rafting.
I designed a camera rack system that would be placed in the front of the raft pointed back at the rafters. I had a friend make it out of electrical conduit with is cheap, rigid, and lightweight. It was easy enough to build though some bending and welding were required. To protect the rig from rusting and damage, I prepared the conduit with sandpaper and vinegar, and then applied two coats of Hurculiner truck bed coating. The coating has a nice textured finish, which helps prevent the rig from sliding around on the raft. The rig "clamps" onto the front of the raft tube, and has a simple compression fit.
Check out the “Rear Factor Rig” in action:
Gauley River Part 3
For mounting purposes, you have to deflate the front tube, position the rig in its proper position, and then re-inflate the tube. I always place rubber toolbox liner material between the rig and the raft before re-inflating (don't want to damage the $7,000 raft, eh?). Rafts usually have metal rings on them for securing stuff, so I used nylon webbing to help secure the rig to the raft.
On the rack there is a center post that extends out away from the raft, and at an incline. I mount the helmet camera onto the end of this post, and point it back toward the boat. The camera's field of view will determine the length of the center post. My intent is to mostly fill the video frame with the boat and paddlers and have only a little of the background in the picture. I find this helps reduce the sense of motion in the video – if you aren’t careful you can almost get sea sick watching the video as the camera sways back and forth.
The center post makes it a bit tricky for the raft guide who has to steer the boat and keep it away from camera crunching boulders or getting tangled in riverside bushes. I have found that most guides will gladly take part to get the lead role in your video masterpiece.
I added a car antenna "ball" (a tennis ball would work also) to the end of the post to help avoid poking out someone's eye, and zip tied a pirate flag to the post to give the raft some panache. I am currently working on a rear-mounted rig that will "shoot" up through the center of the raft for some different camera angles.
Incorporated into this rig will be a mechanism that will isolate the left-to-right rocking motion, so you have a stabilized horizontal line and cut down on the barf factor as the camera sways with the boats movement.
That new mechanism will debut on the river this spring….see you on the river.