GoPro Cameras: Tips for Shooting Your Movie

By John Carucci

The success of your GoPro movie depends heavily on how effectively you capture each scene, and part of that process involves shooting enough variations of each scene. Having several angles and perspectives to choose among helps you alter the movie’s visual rhythm and give it a nice flow.

Deviations within shots make for powerful editing and help you pace the movie. It’s not unusual for a movie to have a 20:1 ratio (or greater) of shots captured to shots used.

But not being stingy about shooting variations of each shot doesn’t give you license to overshoot. If you do, you’ll spend too much time going through the footage and second-guessing what you included in the edit and what you put on the storyboard.

Shoot to edit with the GoPro

Rather than shoot everything that happens in front of the camera, it’s more effective to shoot to edit. Shooting to edit means having an idea about the structure of the movie — or the number of scenes you want to include — and then creating each scene with three or more variations. The simplest form of shooting to edit means getting a wide-angle, normal, and close-up view of each subject.

Shooting to edit is a little more complicated with the GoPro, however, because its fixed lens covers a very wide angle of view, making normal view hard and zoom impossible.

Here are some options for varying your shots:

  • Shoot variations of each shot in the scene. At the very least, include variations to subject size and angle. This makes it easier to choose shots in the editing process.

  • Change the Field of View. Altering the size of the subject in the frame provides de facto versions of wide, close-up, and normal views.

  • Shoot at different angles. Besides shooting at eye level, place the camera high and shoot down on the subject, or mount the camera low and shoot up at the subject.

  • Alter the composition. You have a lot of frame to play with, so use it to your advantage by incorporating various compositional devices such as the rule of thirds, subject placement, and framing.

    Framing the subject provides a nice option for your edit.

    Framing the subject provides a nice option for your edit.

Alternate shots, GoPro style

GoPro uses a single focal length to make movies, but that’s not so unusual. Often, feature films are shot with a single lens. Changing the camera-to-subject distance and perspective varies shots. But the big difference is that cinema cameras generally use a lens with a normal perspective. In the 35mm world, that would be the 50mm normal lens. Its perspective lies between being slightly wide and slightly telephoto.

GoPro makes alternating shots a little more challenging because it’s just wide. It’s still possible to get a good variation of shots with your GoPro; you just need to get a bit creative.

When to stop and start the camera

When to stop and start the camera is actually a practical question. You can’t peek through a viewfinder on most models and press the shutter at the right moment. Nor can you fully trust the GoPro App on your smartphone because it has a two-second delay. So here’s some advice on when to stop and start:

  • Use the GoPro App on your smartphone: Whenever possible, this provides the best way to record each scene, even with the two-second delay. Not only can you look at the shot, but also you don’t have to touch the camera, possibly overturning it. You can control up to 50 cameras. You can also use the GoPro remote.

  • Start early: No matter what kind of camera you’re using, it’s always best to pre-roll so that the action begins after you started recording. The same applies for stopping the record. Let it breathe a bit before ending the record.

  • Use the burst mode for stills: You can alter its setting to how many frames it captures as well as the duration. For moving scenes that you don’t want to miss, set the camera on burst and press the Shutter/Select button. You can always discard the outtakes.

Use multiple GoPros

You can control up to 50 cameras with the GoPro remote control, starting and stopping them remotely. Here are a few reasons to use more than one GoPro for a shoot:

  • Extreme action: Extreme action is the kind of thing you want to capture from different perspectives because you don’t know whether you’re going to be able to get it again.

  • Shoot multiple angles simultaneously: Filmmakers rarely shoot with multiple cameras because it’s too expensive. But when a camera capable of 4K capture costs less to own than a one-day rental of a camcorder, the choice is a no-brainer.

  • 3D moviemaking: GoPro makes it easy to make a 3D movie. All you need are a second camera and the DualHero System. That’s the tandem housing used for capturing 3D movies. The rest, you can put together in GoPro Studio Edit.