GoPro Cameras: Time-Honored Visual Basics

By John Carucci

Composition in the GoPro is the same as for good photography anywhere: “What happens in the frame stays in the frame.” More accurately, what happens in the frame is all that people can see. Take the time to provide essential visual content, but do it economically enough that you don’t clutter the frame.

How you choose to occupy the frame plays a big part in the success of your movie. No matter what technology you use, what happens in each shot stands on its own but also influences other shot.

Not sure what this is all about? Check out the shower scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s classic thriller Psycho or the “Here’s Johnny” close-up of Jack Nicholson in The Shining. There’s nothing random about these shots; they were strategically arranged. The directors understood how to fill the frame.

Creating an effective composition has its challenges, especially with a camera that captures the world with an ultra-wide angle view. But that doesn’t mean you can’t find a happy medium. Besides, each of us sees the world a little differently, so here’s a breakdown of the components of visual technique.

Proper composition with the GoPro

As in Fight Club, the first rule of composition is that there are no rules. Composition is about understanding how to fill the frame in a way that effectively and efficiently communicates your intention to the viewer. There’s psychology behind arrangement of scenes.

Normally, people look from left to right and top to bottom. That mechanism works for reading and for effectively arranging a scene to capture video or a still frame.

Here are two examples of how a viewer can interpret a scene, based on the way it’s arranged:

  • Positioning the subject at bottom right: This arrangement draws viewers to the subject as they look across and down at the frame.

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  • Positioning the subject at top left: When the subject is in the top-left corner of the frame, the viewer can share the perspective of the subject in the scene.

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Take some tips from the movies

The next time you’re watching a movie, analyze the shot structure. Feature films include the following shots:

  • Establishing shot: Generally, this shot is a wide-angle shot that lets the viewer get a sense of the landscape, place, or logistics of a scene. An establishing shot usually is the opening shot of a movie, but it can also depict location or time changes.

  • Wide: A wide shot is an expansive view of the scene that shows the subject in relation to his or her environment.

  • Medium: A medium shot is an average perspective, not too close and not too far. It’s excellent for shots that include dialogue.

  • Close-up: A close-up is a magnified view of a scene. Sometimes, it brings distant objects closer or emphasizes important details.

  • Pan: A pan is a sweeping motion over a scene, from side to side.

  • Tilt: A tilt is the camera’s way of looking up, down, or up and down.

  • Tracking shot: A tracking shot uses focal length to draw the subject closer or farther away in a scene.