Local photographer expands horizons into world of video
Jamestown’s Onne van der Wal is well known as one of the finest nautical photographers in the world. His photography books and annual sailing calendars can be found in many homes in Jamestown and well beyond.
Over the last few years, van der Wal has been expanding his artistic portfolio by adding video production to his resume.
He will present some of that work for the first time at the Jamestown Arts Center on Friday, Aug. 23.
Around 2010, van der Wal began getting requests for video from his existing clients, as well as inquiries about video from prospective customers. The photographer, who is sponsored by Canon, said his foray into video production was really sparked by a Canon representative. The colleague suggested the video realm was becoming popular and van der Wal shouldn’t miss the opportunity to get involved.
The rep told van der Wal that if he got on board, he would be able to run with it. He took the advice.
Van der Wal’s initial experience with video dates back to his time as a crew member on the winning yacht Flyer in the 1982 Whitbread Around the World Race, now the Volvo Ocean Race. He was initially asked to exclusively take photos, but the boat’s owner decided he wanted to expand to video. He asked van der Wal to film the race with a 16 mm Bolex camera.
“I had a little bit of a taste of what it was like,” van der Wal said. “That was kind of a start to it. It came out pretty well and I loved doing it. So that kind of stayed in my mind for many years.”
As technology evolved, van der Wal realized he would be able to use his existing digital single-lens reflex cameras for video use. He had a Canon 5D Mark II at the time and began shooting video with it. He was amazed at how good the results were. However, he realized he had to learn more about the technical aspects of digital video.
“It wasn’t by any means insurmountable,” he said, “but it was just something I had to put my head into.”
Van der Wal says he put his “thinking cap on,” make a few phone calls and began to figure out where to set up the cameras.
He soon realized he would need to purchase a good microphone, a solid tripod and a small monitor to execute effective video shoots. Meanwhile, he was already picking up clients for video work. He found the actually shooting easy, but the difficult part came in post production.
According to van der Wal, the trend these days is toward three- to five-minute movies that commercial clients like boatbuilders, ship owners and regatta sponsors can put on their websites or YouTube. That meant two or three days of shooting on a boat would have to be edited down to just a few short minutes.
Editing help came in the form of Michael Brown, whose father lives in Jamestown and suggested his son as a resource. Brown taught van der Wal how to set up a computer for editing. He also taught van der Wal how to use Final Cut Pro, software that is the standard in video production. These days van der Wal’s work is in such demand he employs a second editor, Halsey Fulton, who works in Bristol.
“I might go up and sit with them for a couple of hours and then they’ll carry on,” he said. “That way I can do what I do best, which is shoot.”
After shooting a couple of projects with the DSLR, van der Wal realized that despite the high quality of the picture, he would need a more professional camcorder. His key concern was the need for improved steadiness, particularly since he does a great deal of shooting from helicopters and chase boats. The new Canon camcorder came with a better image stabilizer, as well as a good quality stereo microphone. Later he added a gyroscope to the bottom of the camera for further stabilization.
“So I had a camera that worked beautifully in the air and I didn’t have to bolt on all of those accessories except for that one gyro.”
Van der Wal said the presentation at the arts center will be the first time the public will have a chance to show his video production. He waited until he had a number of projects under his belt so he could show a wide variety of subject matter and techniques. He also wants to demonstrate the ways his work has evolved.
While he hasn’t completely nailed down the selection for the evening yet, van der Wal said it would be a collection of seven to 10 movies, four to five minutes in length each, that show everything from commercial shipping operations to sailboat regattas in the Bahamas. There will be some racing in Newport as well. There will be a piece he did when he went out with commercial fisherman from Sakonnet Point, and another he filmed with a GoPro camera while kayaking around Conanicut Island.
“It’s a whole slew of different little films that I’ve made. Some are finished, others are just raw film that will be used for my own portfolio reel later on.”
Van der Wal said it’s a nice mixture of subjects, even thought it’s all nautical related.