Near or far?
You may have noticed that the lens on a GoPro camera behaves a lot like a fisheye lens with some distortion making horizons curve and straight verticals appear to bend outwards. It also means that its wide field of view makes objects appear small in the frame.
If you are shooting a large landscape and want to get as much detail in as possible, this is not such a concern; but if you have a subject that is your point of interest in the shot, then unless you get in close, they will appear very small and insignificant in the final composition. That’s when you need to get in closer to your subject. Even from a short distance, you’ll be surprised just how much background you can still get in the shot.
Use the GoPro app
Good photography is all about framing and composition. If you are using an older Hero3 Black or Hero4 Black, then you won’t have an LCD screen that you can use as an aid to composing your shot. Just pointing roughly in the direction you’re trying to capture is likely to result in badly framed shots.
This is where the GoPro app comes in very handy. It lets you tether your camera to your phone via a Bluetooth connection and can show you a live view of what the camera sees. This is invaluable to nailing that shot and not chopping the top of your subject’s head off or missing them entirely.
LCD touch display
Whilst we are talking about framing and composition, there may be situations where tethering your phone to your camera may prove tricky. If you are scaling a steep hill and want to take some shots or you’re on your surfboard without your phone etc. That’s where having a LCD display on your GoPro is a bonus.
The Hero range now comes with a touch screen built in as standard. Other models like the Hero3 and Hero4 Black do not have one, but you can purchase a touch display that will let you see what the camera sees and frame your shots with confidence. You can even review and play back photos and videos. Adjusting camera settings is also a lot easier using the screen interface.
Seeing as we’ve just mentioned the GoPro app, Bluetooth connections and LCD touchscreen, we have to mention the battery life of the GoPro. All these features and tools will make the framing and composition of your shots so much easier, but it will place a higher drain on your battery. Given that battery life is a bit of an Achilles heel for the camera, you need to shoot smart to avoid running out of juice at a key moment. Keep checking your battery indicator to see how it’s doing and always turn the camera off when you’re not using it. If you are using a touch screen rather than the GoPro app, make sure the wireless connection is switched off.
When shooting stills, keep in mind how they will eventually be used. This can dictate what settings you use for the camera’s Photo mode. If you are only going to be sharing at low resolutions on social media sites, then the camera’s default Photo mode settings will be perfect.
If you want more control and the highest possible image quality for post work and editing back on your computer, then depending on your model of camera you have some options. On the Hero4 model, you have the Protune option that lets you control settings such as white balance, ISO limit, sharpness and exposure compensation. It also means your jpeg files will have less compression on them. Try to avoid FOV options that limit your megapixel size and always shoot at the maximum 12MP.
The GoPro Hero5 Black and later uses Protune to let you access and customise your Photo capture settings. In addition, it also lets you shoot in Raw mode. This is a big deal as it lets you capture data straight off the camera’s sensor with no compression or processing done to the image. DLSR photographers have had this option for a long time and now you have it on your Hero5 Black (and later) too.
Raw mode is for those a bit more serious about editing their photos to get as much detail out of them as possible, using programs such as Adobe Camera Raw and Lightroom. Raw files contain more data and give you the chance to recover detail in the bright highlights and dark shadows of your shots.
A new angle
The size of the GoPro means it has an edge over larger, bulkier, DSLR cameras in that it can fit in places that its larger DSLR cousins can’t. This opens up a whole new set of creative possibilities. The GoPro is small enough and light enough to be placed or mounted at some extreme angles to get perspectives that you couldn’t match with anything else.
Rather than shooting from the usual eye level, get the camera down low or up high to change up the viewing angle a little. From the end of your ski pole as you glide down powdered slopes, getting an unusual angle of your dog, to the headstock of your guitar as you chock out some power chords at a local gig, the GoPro assists you in new and interesting ways.
For the most part, your GoPro camera can automatically meter the scene and come up with the correct exposure so your shots are bright and well exposed. There may be times however, when you need a little more control. This is where exposure control comes in. Press and hold the screen and the exposure control reticule will appear as a small white box. Whatever part of your scene is under this box is what the camera will use to attain a meter reading.
As an example, if you are shooting inside a car and want the outside to be correctly exposed, move the move to a part of the image containing the view outside. If you want the inside of the car to be correctly exposed, then move the box over an area that is inside the car and it will mater that area and adjust the exposure so the interior is correctly lit.
As the GoPro has rocketed in popularity, third party manufacturers have been busy creating various photographic accessories that give you some creative options when shooting your stills and videos. Using filters to affect the nature of the light falling on the camera sensor has been employed by DSLR photographers for a long time. Now, you can do the same.
You can use neutral density filters that block the light and let you use slower shutter speeds in bright conditions, as well as graduated neutral density filters that can help balance the overexposure issues of a bright sky and a darker foreground. The filter is dark at the top and fades to transparent near the middle so the sky is darkened, but your foreground remains unaffected.
On very bright days, you need to be aware that the GoPro can easily be overwhelmed and overexpose images to the point of being rendered useless. If the scene is evenly lit from the sun behind you, this is less of a problem, but if you are shooting and the sun is ether in the frame or very close, you are likely to blow all detail in the sky.
To keep the sky properly exposed, use the Flat colour mode and Exposure Compensation in the Protune settings of your camera and dial in at least -1.0 EV to darken the shot overall. Be aware that your foreground will be darker too but the Flat colour mode helps prevent it from being solid black.
It might look a little silly attaching your tiny GoPro to a large tripod but if you want to try and shoot some rock steady photos, then a tripod is essential. It also gives you a chance to explore some very creative options like HDR photography. Using the Exposure Compensation option from the Protune menu, you can shoot a 1 or 2 stop underexposed image, a 1 or 2 stop overexposed image and one middle exposure, and blend them in Photoshop or HDR program to produce an image that has a much great range of tones than if you’d just shot one photo on its own.
Most photographers will tell you that the best times to take photos are around sunrise (the golden hour) or sunset (the blue hour), when the sun is obviously less intense; long shadows reveal detail in the land that is lost when the sun is high in the sky and the colours can be amazing. One of the easiest things you can do to improve your photos, is to shoot during these times.
12 essential tips to help you get the most out of your GoPro camera’s photo mode.
Keep the previous tip in mind though and make sure you either have some solid mounting options for those slower shutter speeds or use a tripod to avoid shaky photos. One tip if you are shooting wide landscapes is to put the horizon in the middle of the frame to avoid the pronounced fisheye curvature and then crop it using your favourite editing program to adhere to the rule of thirds as mentioned previously.