Chesapeake Bay Morning - removing handheld video shake

A few weeks back I ventured out on a sunrise Chesapeake Bay trip with friends to chase rockfish. We arrived to zero wind and glassy water surface conditions. As the sun started to rise I pulled out the Samsung Galaxy S8 to document the scenery in 4k. All the footage was taken on the water while catching up to the group using the Torqueedo EVOLVE electric motor. While I did my best to keep the camera steady, there was no way to keep things perfectly smooth. Here's the first pass without any stabilization in post...

first video pass with no removal of camera shake

While the color pass in Premiere Pro turned out well in version one, the handheld shakiness of the footage was quite distracting. I turned attention to researching tools to address and delved into After Effect's Warp Stabilization VFX feature. With just a few clicks the result was impressive and noticeable handheld camera shake was dialed way back. The only tweak made to the initial stabilization pass was the addition of a pre-comp mask alpha to the water ("pre-comp" is a term for a standard way of working in After Effects that is similar to adding a layer in Photoshop). The reason to exclude the water is that it essentially adds confusing motion to the stabilize computation. The more After Effects could be steered towards the more motionless sky then the smoother the footage turned out.

Tracking points in After Effect's Warp Stabilization VFX (with mask on lower 1/3 to exclude water motion)

Tracking points in After Effect's Warp Stabilization VFX (with mask on lower 1/3 to exclude water motion)


Here's take two, using much of the the same handheld footage, but with each clip smoothed out with Warp Stabilization VFX...

second pass with After Effects' Warp Stabilization VFX applied to reduce handheld shake

It turned out quite nice IMHO, and moving forward I intend to be a lot less fearful of capturing moments via handheld. 

Below you can see a side by side of my good friend John Hostalka (and if you haven't seen his outstanding '17 kayak fishing highlight reel, click here and GO SEE IT NOW). On the left is stabilized footage with the right being raw from camera...

left side stabilized, right side raw footage

In the render pass below you get a sense of how After Effects zooms, pushes, pulls, and warps the footage in order to steady it. Normally the footage is zoomed-in in order to hide the moving edges, but in this case I forced a bit of zoom-out so one could better understand how it all is being manipulated... 

zoomed out in After Effects

Here's another example of stabilized footage on the left with raw footage on the right. Keep a close eye on the sky on the right for handheld jumpiness and jitters, then compare it to the smoothed out sky on the left...

left side stabilized, right side raw footage

For those interested in how to do this kinda thing on their own, here's a good tutorial that breaks down the process...