From the Shop: “Where We Canoe.”

I’ve very fortunate to have some very talented filmmakers on the Blackfly team and I’m excited to launch a new video series this week.  It’s fairly easy to shoot eye catching video of canoes running big drops and hard rapids and drop a music track over it, but we’ve heard the criticism time and time again that it doesn’t really connect with people or inspire them to go canoeing.  There’s nothing wrong with those sorts of videos, I like watching them, but the fact of the matter is, while I love running big, hard rapids, most of the time, that’s not the sort of water I’m running.  That realization was the genesis of “Where We Canoe.”  Let’s look at the rivers we run the most often; the challenge then becomes, can we make compelling videos about the ‘everyday’ runs we take for granted?  I think so.

It seemed appropriate to start close to home, close to the Blackfly Shop.  The Winnipesaukee is our local “go-to” run;  it runs a lot, it’s where we go when nothing else is running.  They fall drawdown was going on last week, so we had good water levels, but it worked out that the rest of the team wasn’t available to help out, so I decided to take a stab at it myself.  That proved to be a bit of a challenge.  I used to shoot a fair amount of video, but I’ve sort of neglected it over the past few years, and it showed in the state of my equipment.  My dinosaur of a wide angle lens crapped out over the summer, so I shot everything with a 50mm prime lens.  That was an interesting experience, I found myself accepting the limitations of the composition of the shots and focusing on getting the most out of what I could get with what I had.  A life lesson perhaps.    Since I was soloing most of the shots, I had to set up the camera on my tripod, hit record, run back to the boat, run the rapid, scramble back to the camera, reset and repeat.  And my tripod is also pretty haggard; two of the legs wouldn’t lock out completely.  That was a challenge on uneven terrain along the river.  I also couldn’t find my GoPro.  It’s probably here on my desk somewhere, but I sure can’t find it.  It was an original Hero HD (no number after it) so it was about due for an upgrade anyway, so I bought a new one.  If you watched all the way to the very, very end, you’ll see that on the second day of filming, I set the camera on a rock, framed a really cool shot, and as I was running the rapid, the camera took a tumble and ended up at the bottom of the river.  I had to run home, grab a pair of goggles, come back, run the river again, and found it in about 4 feet of water, right on the eddy line.  I got about an hour of really great close-up footage of the river bottom before the memory card filled up.  So as these things go, it was a fun but challenging project.

This was a learning experience for me, in large part due to the limitations of what I was working with.  I played with light, exposure, and focus a bit more to accentuate the subject of the shot than I might have if I’d just been able to zoom in.  Along with shooting from a fixed tripod, I think that lends more of a sense of place- after all, this is more about the river, not necessarily about the boats or the boaters.  When I’ve shot video over the past few years, I usually just hand the footage off to one of the other guys to edit.  Actually sitting down and editing it and watching over and over and over forces me to see the small deficiencies in the shots, and go back and improve them, but overall, I’m really pleased with how it all came together.

But the thing that surprised me most about doing this was realizing just how neat this river is.  I have to admit I’d started taking it for granted.  I’m never bored on the Winni, but I’ve run it enough times at enough water levels it started to feel like “just running the Winni again.”  I’ve run this stretch 13 times this month.  Stepping back and trying to look at it from the perspective of “I want to show you most of the really cool stuff on this river,” made me realize… there’s a lot of cool stuff on this river!  It’s a beautiful, resilient place filled with history.  In the course of 150 years, the mills were built, operated, closed, demolished and were largely taken back over by nature and the river.  There’s so much potential here… but I think I’ll save that for next week.

A Confession:  I put out “Episode 1” without a firm plan for “Episode 2,” so it might be a while before the next video.  But it’s a concept I’m committed to working on as I travel and paddle in different places over the next few year.  (But I am going to get another lens and a new tripod).  I hope it connects with people and connects people with the rivers.  I guess I’ll know if it works based on how many people come paddle the Winni with me.  If you’re ever in New Hampshire, you should.  It’s where we canoe.