Mastering the GoPro Mindset

By John Carucci

GoPro liberates your creativity without putting a strain on your wallet, but you have to play by its rules. That’s a small price to pay for such a uniquely affordable camera.

Not long ago, the idea of having an ultra-wide-angle video camera was as likely as eating ice cream every day and never gaining weight. Sure, plenty of third-party wide-angle adapters were available, but the footage looked as though Hollandaise sauce had been smeared over the lens. The DSLR (digital single lens reflex camera) changed the landscape by letting you shoot video with sharp photography lenses. But it was expensive to set up, and you couldn’t use it for any sort of extreme capture, so although it made video capture fun, the fun came at a price.

GoPro brings fun back into the equation by providing a perspective that simply wasn’t available to consumers before. It’s not your father’s all-in-one video camcorder or your sister’s DSLR. It has its own identity, so the faster you understand it, the sooner you can start shooting your masterpiece.

Beginning with an idea

GoPro allows you to think outside the box — that is, after you take it out of the box, gingerly. You may have some ideas about cool situations you want to capture. But there’s more to using a GoPro than coming up with ideas.

Here are some interesting ways to use the camera:

  • Walk through a crowd. Whether the camera is on a headband or harness mount, or worn like a wristwatch, it lets you shoot a scene up close and personal.

  • Use it for sports. Recording extreme events may be out of bounds, but you can still shoot a variety of sports situations. Mount it on a baseball bat at a Little League game. Put it on a skateboard. Attach it to the handlebars of your mountain bike.

  • Take weird portraits. Thanks to its ultra-wide-angle view, the GoPro captures beautifully distorted pictures of people (and most of them will love those pictures).

Using the right mount

Effectively capturing your idea for a GoPro movie begins with using the proper mount. Unlike regular cameras, which usually rest on tripods, GoPro cameras depend heavily on the right mounting options. Some mounts are more specific, such as the wrist housing or headband mount. Others are more versatile; examples include the adhesive mounts, clamp, gooseneck, and others.

Here are a few GoPro mounts:

  • Tripod adapter: For many cameras, a tripod works perfectly, and the GoPro is no exception. The only problem is that it doesn’t have a tripod mount on the bottom. The tripod adapter solves this problem.

  • Bar mount: Whether they’re handlebar, roll-bar, or Sportsman mounts, all bar mounts fit on any bar or pole with a diameter of 0.4 to 2.5 inches.

  • Adhesive mounts: These sticky quick-release mounts allow you to attach the camera to anything that has a flat or slightly curved surface.

  • Homemade mounts: By combining GoPro mounts with some gaffer’s tape, PVC pipe, bungee cords, or anything else you can think of, you can capture situations that the mount has not yet been invented for. For example, until the recent release of the GoPro Fetch Dog Harness mount, dog harnesses were improvised using a Chesty or some homemade rig that was attached to the dog’s collar.

Shooting effective footage

You can have a lot of fun with your GoPro, but looking at bad footage afterward dampens fun. Although GoPro is simple to operate and adjusts automatically to most situations, you still have to follow fundamental techniques such as these:

  • Make sure that the light is right. Just because you have a camera that captures a really cool perspective doesn’t mean that when the light is behind the subject, the scene will turn out well. Also, the GoPro’s wide-angle lens means that lens flare is common, especially in the middle of the day, when it’s hard to escape the sun.

  • Work the angles. Place the camera in different positions to capture the scene and create compelling angles to choose for your edit. Always get the straight-on shot, but then add other angles from the same place. If you’re producing a biking movie, for example, shoot the pedals turning and the front wheel going over the trail. The GoPro lets you get very close, so take advantage of this feature.

  • Compose the scene carefully. Never forget the visual aspects of moviemaking. Sometimes, it’s hard to compose a scene with this camera, especially when it’s mounted for action, but plenty of situations allow you to control the arrangement of objects in the scene.

  • Pay attention to sound. Part of the magic of motion pictures is the audio component. Good sound helps accentuate great footage. Although you can’t monitor the sound on a GoPro, you can be aware if it’s too close to the source.