GoPro Movies: Tips for Using Light Effectively

By John Carucci

Like many things in life, shooting GoPro Movies under the right lighting conditions depends on the time of day, your ability to think on your feet, and recognizing the opportunity. It’s important to understand how light behaves so you’re ready to effectively capture the subject. Here’s how to use light effectively.

Wait for the right light for your movie

The sun flatters subjects early in the morning and early in the evening; in the middle of the day, it’s not as effective. Twilight is the narrow span of time between sundown and dusk; the sun is below the horizon but still emits some light. This time of night is a sweet spot, thanks to its rich blue or purple background (see the figure). But twilight lasts only 20 minutes or so, so you have to act fast.

If you have time, wait for the right light. You have only a short window of time to make the shot work.

GoPro twilight scene with a mix of artificial and natural light.

GoPro twilight scene with a mix of artificial and natural light.

Work with the light you have

Color casts aren’t intrinsically bad, and sometimes, they have a place. The normally unflattering cast of a mercury-vapor lamp can emulate an otherworldly experience, for example, just as a street scene lit with sodium-vapor can lend warmth to a subject.

When the sun goes down, artificial light dominates the scene. Sometimes it does so in an unflattering way, with each light source producing a dominant color of illumination.

Separately, this artificial light is problematic because it produces a single color cast. But when you combine artificial light sources, they collectively show various colors. Put artificial light against a twilight sky, and you have something unique and often beautiful.

Use colored gels

Gels work wonders when you want to adjust the color of a scene, do something creative, or make a statement. You can use a colored gel over a light to spice up the background.

Avoid light pollution

Pollution doesn’t apply just to dirty beaches and belching factory pipes; it also refers to the interplay among lights in a scene. One light can spill to the coverage area of the next, producing hot spots, color variations, and odd shadows. In addition, it’s likely to create lens flare because the GoPro captures such a wide view.

Lens-flare alert

Although it’s common for light from an unintended light source to shine into your lens, it’s even more common with the GoPro, due to its wide lens. Lens flare occurs when the axis of the lens gets too close to a light source. Sometimes, lens flare acts as an artistic device; more often, it makes you look like you’re not observant enough.

[Credit: cwistockphoto.com/piola666 Image #36308186]

Credit: cwistockphoto.com/piola666 Image #36308186

Here are a few ways to deal with lens flare:

  • Remain alert. Look at the light in the scene from the camera’s perspective, and double-check it in the GoPro App on your smartphone.

  • Adjust the camera’s position. Because you can’t use a lens hood or matte box with a GoPro (its angle of view is too wide), if you can’t move the light, your only option is to reposition the camera.

  • Accept it. Sometimes, you have no choice but to accept lens flare. It might even complement your movie. When you’re shooting a street scene at night, for example, flare from the lights of passing cars seems natural.

In a perfect world, having the light at your back is the ideal way to use a GoPro, but it’s not always possible to do so. That’s why it’s important to strategically place your camera and monitor the scene before recording to prevent light pollution.

Light the scene efficiently

Sometimes, a portion of the light source doesn’t reach the subject, either because it strays out of the way due to improper bouncing or isn’t bright enough. Make sure that the light is properly directed to the subject and close enough to be effective.

Deal with problematic ambient light

Whether it’s a window leaking bright light or a glaring streetlamp, stray light can ruin your shot. Combat it by repositioning the camera or blocking the offending light with a card, sheet, or anything else that prevents it from reaching your subject.