The selfie stick
Love it or hate it, the selfie stick does offer some useful filming opportunities over and above a simple shot of you and your grinning buddies. When used in conjunction with your camera it allows you to get great perspectives of yourself; or can be flipped around to get shots of others whilst you ski down a slope or just walk along a favourite clifftop path. The length of the selfie stick also acts as a damper to smooth out your video, because you are holding the stick, your own muscles actually work a little bit like a Steadicam.
It’s always been an issue that GoPro Hero cameras do like to chew through their batteries at an alarming rate so always make sure you carry a couple of spares with you. There can be nothing worse than arriving at some picture perfect location and having your only battery discharge in less than an hour.
Cold conditions are particularly tough on battery life; keep your spare batteries on you so they stay warm through your body heat, otherwise you may find that your spares last even shorter durations than your main one. Another option is to take a portable power pack with you that can recharge your GoPro camera up to four times.
If you are shooting video but without the need for any fancy post-production and editing, then you can keep your video frame rates down to 24 or 30 frames per second. This will still produce good quality footage but it will keep the file size of your videos down if memory card storage is a factor.
However, if you are looking to possibly do some slow motion video editing when you get back to your computer, then you will need to be shooting at 60-120 frames per second. This means that if you play back a 60fps video at 30fps, it will appear to be going at half the speed of the original. 120fps footage played at 30fps will appear to be four times slower than the original but still play back smoothly without stuttering.
If you’ve ever had to sit through someone’s old holiday videos, your abiding memory may well be that it is always shot from the same perspective and drags on for way too long and does not hold your interest. When you shoot your video, keep that in mind. Shorter duration shots edited together with different angles and perspectives, interspersed within the narrative make for a much more interesting video for your viewers.
Endless selfie closeup shots of your grinning face can be replaced with close, medium and wide shots of the action and the surroundings. You may not be the next Steven Spielberg but your friends and family will thank you for the variety in your footage.
To be fair, the microphone built into the GoPro is never going to be able to rival the quality of a good external one. This issue is exacerbated if the camera is in its protective housing, which effectively muffles the recording to the point of not being recognisable. If you want to capture good quality audio that you can then sync up with your footage during the post-production phase, then it’s worth investing in a good quality external mic and a protective housing that is designed to be microphone friendly so you can connect the two.
To protect your gear still further, microphone manufacturer Sennheiser have taken that a step further with the MKE 2 Elements, which is actually waterproof and comes with a bespoke backdoor that can attach to your current waterproof camera housing.
The GoPro range has a fixed focal length lens that behaves a lot like a fisheye lens. It has a very wide angle of view, which is great for capturing expansive views of big environments but is not so great if you are filming subjects at long range. They will appear tiny in the frame and that won’t make for compelling video. You will need to get in close to your subjects so they fill the frame as much as possible.
Bear in mind that if you get too close (around 200mm) the subjects will start to go out of focus. If you really want some extreme closeups, then you’ll need to invest in a macro lens attachment that alters the minimum focusing distance and brings close objects into sharp focus and blurs the background.
Helmet mounted footage
The helmet mount is a great asset if you want to film a scene from your own point of view and your hands are not free to hold the camera. The problem with this is that the footage that is captured is going to be shaky as vibrations travel through your body; and every time you turn your head to look this way and that as you move, it creates very disorienting video. This can actually be uncomfortable for the people watching and can even make some feel motion sick.
The GoPro 5 and later have built in electronic image stabilisation that can even out some of the less extreme lumps and bumps but be aware that head cam footage of any great duration might be uncomfortable for some to watch.
Keep it clean
This one might sound a little obvious but one issue with video capture is if there is dirt on the lens and the entire segment you’ve shot is ruined because of a big spot of dirt in the middle of the frame. If it were a still, you could Photoshop the offending dirt out of the picture, but with video, that becomes an issue.
Keep a clean microfibre cloth with you and always check the lens in between shots, particularly if you are shooting in wet or dirty environments. If you are shooting in snow and take a tumble, then check the lens after every spill and if you are quickly transitioning from very cold places to warmer ones, check for condensation on the lens or on its protective housing and any filters you might be using.
As mentioned elsewhere, the GoPro fixed focal length lens acts like an extremely wide angle fisheye lens on conventional DSLR cameras. This can sometimes make framing your shots a little more challenging, particularly if you are using an older model that doesn’t have an LCD screen.
When tracking a subject and wanting them to be captured full body, the urge may be to aim the lens at their head. The extreme wide angle of view will result in a large amount of sky to be visible in the shot and you run the risk of your subject’s feet not being in shot. Aim your camera lens at your subject’s waist rather than their head and you will capture more of your subject centred in the frame.
When shooting your videos, try to avoid overly long capture durations. You may have the urge to just turn the camera on and let it run in one long sequence. This will result in a massive video file to trawl through in order to find the exact bit you want for your edit. You’re better off shooting more frequent segments but of much shorter durations.
When capturing a sequence, hold the shot and let it run on a few more seconds before you stop the video capture. This gives you some buffer space when you are editing segments together and time to do transitions from one segment to another without a single frame jump-cut.
Shutter speed and fps
The frame rate (number of frames captured in a second) and its corresponding shutter speed dictates how crisp or blurry your action footage will be. With the auto shutter speed settings, action captured at 30fps may look ‘mushy’ due to motion blur because the shutter speed can be as slow as 1/30th of a second depending on light levels.
If you want sharper video, then you can opt to choose settings that give you video captured at 60fps minimum; this means that the shutter speed can never be slower than 1/60th of a second. You can also use the Protune settings to dial in an inverse multiple of the frame rate. At 30fps for example, you can use shutter speeds of 1/30th, 1/60th, 1/120th and 1/240th of a second.
If you are after the best video quality you can get from your GoPro, then the first thing you’ll want to do is turn on the Protune option. Protune unlocks certain advanced features within the camera. Even if you don’t necessarily want to explore the advanced features, the first thing Protune does is increase the bitrate of the video, whereby the video file has less compression applied and offers greater image quality.
If you want to though, you can alter the major settings such as white balance, ISO, colour profile, exposure compensation and sharpness. It also offers Flat Mode where the shadows and midtones are brightened, revealing more detail. Be aware that the highlights are not altered and you’ll need to dial in some negative exposure compensation to darken the image and retain detail in the highlights.
ISO and noise
If you are shooting your video out in bright daytime conditions and are looking for a good quality capture, then it might be worth setting your ISO limit so it never exceeds the minimum. ISO is a measure of how sensitive your camera sensor is to light. The smaller the ISO number, the less sensitive it is to light and the cleaner the image will be. As you increase the ISO value to make it more sensitive to light, the video will start to become grainy due to sensor noise.
You can shoot in low light conditions and attain brighter images but this is offset by image degradation. In video mode, the minimum ISO value is 400. Set this as your minimum and it will keep your footage crisp and clean.
Why not 4K?
You would imagine that shooting your videos at the maximum resolution would be a no-brainer. Whilst the ultra-high resolution is certainly appealing, it does have some drawbacks that are worth noting. First and foremost, you are going to be dealing with extremely large video files.
A 64GB memory card can hold about 3 hours of video shot at 1080p/30fps. Switch to 4K/30fps and you will only get about 2 hours of video on the same 64GB card. It’s also worth noting that at 30fps, your 4K video might start looking a bit ‘choppy’ if there is any fast action going on in the frame. You would need the 60fps ability of the new HERO6 Black. You’re better off dropping down to 2.7K/60fps for smoother action sequences. In 4K, a number of FOV features are not available such as Medium and Linear FOV modes.
If you are looking to edit and export your video and make it available on social media or other video streaming sites, you are likely to be creating videos in 1080p format (1920×1080 pixels). If you shoot your raw footage in the larger 2.7K 4:3 format (2704 x 2028 pixels), this actually gives you the flexibility to crop your video if needed to enlarge areas of the frame. It also enables you to add image stabilisation during postproduction without the loss of resolution that you would get if you tried to stabilise the 1080p footage.
Certain programs enlarge the footage slightly to be able to offset any movement in the footage. If you’re starting with higher resolution footage, then this is not a problem. The 4:3 format also means you have more image area top and bottom of frame to play with, within the 1920×1080 pixel frame of your final resolution.
If you are shooting underwater, there are a couple of tips to help you get the best footage. The first one is to keep the sun at your back when you shoot, this helps illuminate your subjects and make the most of the underwater colours. Try also to get down to the level of your subjects rather than shooting from above them. If you are shooting underwater with slow or static subjects and there is less light available, drop your frame rate down to 24/30 frames per second; the shutter speed will be slower, allowing more light to hit the sensor.
In brighter conditions with faster moving subjects, use higher frame rates such as 60 frames per second for smoother action. Make sure you have the latest firmware on your Hero 5 or 6 as it lets you alter settings underwater, whilst it is in its dive housing, by pressing the Mode and Record buttons.