Becoming a YouTuber
How we fell into becoming Youtube creators
After five years of being a YouTuber, I thought I'd write about the experiences so far, in the hopes that we can share a little of what we've learned. We'll discuss what's been good, what hasn't, and our plan going forward. I hope this will be useful to someone out there, whether you're considering becoming a YouTuber or if you already create videos and upload them to YouTube but feel like you're struggling to progress. We've been in that position before, and I'm sure we'll find ourselves there again (and again). However, here's what we've come to realize after nearly half a decade working in this fascinating new space.
How and Why we became YouTubers
As an older millennial, it's safe to say that when I was in school and teachers asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up (at 42, I still don't really know), being a YouTube content creator wasn't even a remote consideration. YouTube didn't even exist back then.
Truth be told, I had no aspirations of working in any media-related field at all. In fact, I left school and trained as a chef, although I quickly realized that the fast-paced, hot-tempered kitchen environment wasn't the right fit for me. It was a short-lived career.
Fast forward a few years, I found myself in my early 20s, a passionate and competitive martial artist. As a kid, I always dreamt of traveling to Thailand and competing against the best fighters in the world. Perhaps I had watched one too many Jean-Claude Van Damme movies (an understatement of epic proportions), but it remained a childhood dream.
One day, sitting in a massive glass office in London, working yet another job that didn't feel right (although it was a decent job), I made a decision. I didn't want to keep wondering "what if?" anymore. In what can only be described as a quarter-life crisis, I resigned and booked the first flight to Thailand. I was determined to chase my dream and find out if I could at least hold my own among the real deal fighters of the Far East.
(Above & Below) me competing in Thailand in 2005
The reason I'm sharing this story is to provide some context. Did I turn out to be the greatest fighter on earth? Not even close. It turns out that this was another job that wasn't meant for me. But regardless, I pursued that little boy's dream, experiencing firsthand what it looked and felt like beyond my imagination, and that was worth it. Moreover, I embarked on the most incredible adventure of my life, with only a handful of grainy pictures and an endless supply of stories that I recount whenever nostalgia strikes after a few beers. Sadly, YouTube either didn't exist at that time or was in such early stages that I hadn't even heard of it yet. Social media, in general, was just emerging when I found myself in the midst of my grandest adventure, and I captured very little of it. It feels like such a missed opportunity, even if only for my personal memories.
If this adventure had taken place ten years later, armed with the knowledge I have now, I would have documented every single moment. From the incredible people I met and shared adventures with, to accidentally swimming with sharks, launching a nightclub for a group of wild German DJs on a Thai island, climbing mountains, jumping into waterfalls, embarking on crazy moped journeys, getting lost in the jungle, and so much more. It would have made an epic YouTube reality series (a vlog).
That's why, when life presented me with a new adventure, I couldn't let it slip away without capturing it. I wanted to immortalize those memories and share them with others who might enjoy them too.
Accidentally Becoming YouTubers
Fast forward another 15 years, and my now-wife and I made the decision to purchase a sailing boat and embark on our own adventures. Neither of us had a sailing background, and being landlubbers, this was a thrilling and unique experience not only for us but also for our friends and family.
From the very beginning, we started capturing everything on film. Although I had no idea how to edit a video, I knew that it shouldn't be "too boring" for our loved ones to watch. It needed to be condensed to the most interesting parts, and of course, we needed music. That was the extent of my creativity at the time, so you can imagine how amateur those early videos turned out. I'll spare you the agony of watching them by not providing a link; just trust me, they were bad.
Even though I had an intuitive sense to keep the videos concise and engaging, so as not to bore the handful of people interested in our adventures, the reality was that the file sizes were still too large to email. I had to resort to paid services to send the files, and I wasn't sure if it was worth the hassle. Another option was to store all these videos on a hard drive and show them to people in person, like an old-school photo album that your mom always brings out when introducing someone new. We were leaning toward that approach until it dawned on me: YouTube allowed free video uploads! Our friends and family could stream the videos, again, for free. It was amazing!
And so, our YouTube channel came to life!
Lessons Learned in 5yrs creating YouTube Videos
If I could go back and talk to myself five yeas ago, this is the advice I would give him to make life much easier. Instead these are hard earned lessons and perhaps they'll help some of you out here too? 🙏🏻
Less IS More (too many cameras)
I remember back in the 90s as a kid, walking into a café and being faced with a simple choice when ordering coffee: black or white, with or without sugar. That was it! There were no fancy, convoluted options like mocha-frapper-capper-latte-grandeismoning. It was straightforward, and you didn't have to waste time and mental energy contemplating how your caffeine fix should be delivered into your system that day.
Okay, perhaps I'm exaggerating the coffee ordering process a bit, but the same principle applies to cameras. Having too many can become a real hassle. Unless your YouTube channel focuses specifically on filming equipment (which would justify having a variety of cameras), or unless you're as eccentric and nostalgic as Casey Neistat, you don't need 30 cameras.
Yes, that is actually my camera collection in the picture. Thankfully, I have given some of them away to friends and other YouTubers now, but boy, did I try to use almost every one of those cameras in a video. And what a nightmare that ended up being.
Let me explain why shooting with so many cameras becomes a huge pain:
1. Color profile: Each camera has a slightly different color profile, and when it's time to edit, matching the colors of all your footage becomes really hard and time-consuming.
2. Learning how to use them all: Bruce Lee once said that he fears the man who has practiced a kick 1000 times more than the man who has practiced 1000 different kicks once each (I'm paraphrasing, or perhaps even totally making that quote up, but still, it works).
It's better to master the use of 1-3 cameras than to only be able to use 30 cameras on "automatic." You'll have so much more creative control knowing how to use a single camera perfectly. Perhaps you want to fix your white balance and not have it change mid-shot, or maybe you want to manually pull focus more slowly, rather than having the sounds of an electric autofocus ruining your shot and needing to be edited out later. There are so many other aspects to consider, but in short, I've found that mastering my drone and a single Canon camera has greatly improved my video production quality compared to having lots of different shots from different cameras just for the sake of it.
3. Organizing your editing timeline: Having fewer cameras makes organizing and editing your timeline much easier and faster. With 95% of my footage shot on one camera, and shooting in linear order, chopping up my footage and laying it out on my editing software timeline becomes a breeze. When I had 15 memory cards to sort out and import into the software, I could easily spend hours (HOURS!) just putting everything in the right order.
4. Charging & Memory Cards: Just the hassle alone of organizing all those SD cards and charging the plethora of different batteries became migraine-inducing. Now, I have basically three groups of batteries: for the Canon, drone, and GoPro. Bliss! The deeper you go into becoming a YouTube creator, the more you'll realize how long it takes to make these videos. So, learning to be more efficient with your time is essential to being as productive as possible.
5. So many reasons, but how about just MONEY? There are indeed many good reasons to perfect the use of one camera rather than having lots of them. You have less to think about when packing your camera bag, and it also saves you money. Decent-quality cameras can be quite expensive. Even the latest GoPro costs close to £400. So why not keep costs low and have one or two really good options?
Pacing (keep it moving)
This rule, of course, has caveats and can be broken. However, when I look back on many of my older videos, one thing that really stands out is the presence of "lingering shots." Shots that go on for too long are common, and I must admit I was guilty of it as well. I understand that there are times and places where you may intentionally want to prolong a shot, but often when I see it, I think, "This shot should have been cut already. I'm bored of this drone shot now" (or something to that effect).
In many cases, there's an "action window," and in numerous shots, the moment just before or after the action in a sequence often feels awkward to me, at least. I'm just speaking to myself here, recognizing that the creative endeavor is inherently subjective. But if I could talk to myself five years ago, that would be the advice I'd give: cut, cut, cut! (Again, I guess less is more.)
Not all YouTube videos need to have music, but for many of us, including myself, music plays a significant role in capturing the moment and setting the desired mood. However, I understand that this may not be the same for everyone. Often, music is treated as an afterthought rather than something carefully sought out and researched, and this lack of attention to music selection is evident in the final product.
Choosing the right music is a skill that improves with practice and focus. In my opinion, the absolute masters of this art are the incredible team behind David Attenborough's documentary series. They have consistently demonstrated their ability to create the perfect mood and capture the magnificence of a moment with their choice of classical music. As a lifelong fan of their work, I draw inspiration from their expertise. If I could become even 5% as skilled as they are in matching music to a moment, I would consider myself fulfilled.
So, my advice is to choose music that matches the pace and atmosphere of your video. Think about editing your footage in a way that aligns with the rhythm and feel of the selected track. Avoid abrupt scene changes that conflict with the music's pace. When scenes and music are mismatched, it gives the impression that the music was lazily added on top of unrelated video clips. I must admit that I was guilty of this in our first few videos, but luckily, I'm my own harshest critic, and I recognized the need for improvement right away.
You will find greater satisfaction in your YouTube creations when you invest a little more time to ensure that the music is in perfect sync with your video clips.
Another tip that has helped me is dedicating time to sit and listen to songs on my preferred music platform. I skip through thousands of songs, and occasionally, I'll come across a song that sparks an image or a scene in my mind. It could be a scary scene, a running scene, a chilled scene, a moment of wonder or enchantment—whatever it may be, I envision it fitting somewhere in my videos. When I discover such a song, I immediately add it to a playlist for future use.
For example, I have over 100 songs in my "dramatic sailing playlist" that perfectly evoke the mood I aim for in my sailing videos. I have similar playlists for tranquil sunsets and other themes. Taking the time to put on headphones, relax, and spend an hour or two each week browsing through hundreds of songs can be an enjoyable activity. Moreover, I hope that the music I use conveys the impression that it is not an afterthought but a deliberate choice that perfectly complements the moment, as I had curated it weeks, months, or even years in advance.
Do we still enjoy being YouTubers?
Becoming YouTubers certainly wasn't something we expected or intended to become but it's something we still very much enjoy doing, if for no other reason than to get better at capturing and saving memories of the awesome adventures we've been on together that later in life we can look back on fondly.
We also get to work from and share so many amazing places that we get to go to, such as: Hope Cove, Salcombe, Studland Bay, Mupe Bay, Worbarrow Bay, Porthcurno, Porthscatho, Lantic Bay and so many more. It feels good to not only enjoy these places ourselves, but to shine a light on so many natural wonders that we have right on our doorstep which others can enjoy too.
At this point in proceedings we also make a living on Youtube too, so what started as just a hobby eventually grew into the ability to work remotely and live comfortably. It was a lot of work and I'm sure a healthy dose of luck played a hand in that, but it's a testament to the interesting times we live in that we are able to have this as an option at all.
Becoming YouTubers has been one of life's happy accidents. We never saw it becoming what it is today and we're both really excited about what that's going to look like in the future. We have no idea on how big this will ultimately get, but what's more important than subscriber count, likes, shares or any of that is loving what you do and always being a student of the art. As soon as you think you know it all is the day you'll likely start to go stale.
Stay humble, stay active, stay hungry, keep learning (especially from others) and most importantly make sure you love what you do, because if you don't that will surely come across in your creative endeavours.
Good luck fellow YouTubers, the world really can still be your oyster!