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How to Use a GoPro Properly – Our Top 10 Tips

Improve Your Edits

  1. How to Use a GoPro Properly – Our Top 10 Tips
  2. Filming With A DSLR
  3. Getting The Best Shots
  4. Editing Basics
  5. Advanced Editing

As the online world develops, so must the world of snowboarding. Online content is becoming the way forward for most brands with a new pro’s/brand’s web series out almost every week and major companies like Burton moving to produce drip-fed web episodes in place of full length movies. Content is king, but the king of kings is the ‘edit.’

They’re everywhere, short and sweet, from Torstein Horgmo’s successful online videos in the winter through to the barrage of Mount Hood edits in the summer. Plus season edits, dome edits, holiday edits, park edits, pow edits; the list goes on. From pros to amateurs, everyone seems to be up to it these days.

But how can you make yours stand out? Our ‘Improve Your Edits‘ series (of which how to use a GoPro properly is the first part) will aim to help you get yours to stand out from amongst the crowd; from the basics of filming to some crafty editing tricks, we’ll aim to give you as much advice as you can take but without blowing your mind with technical jargon. Getting in to the world of filming and editing can get a bit nerdy, so we’ll aim to steer clear of that!

The current explosion of online content is mostly due to improvements in technology; with iPhones and digital cameras leading the way, it is estimated that around ten percent of all photos ever taken were taken last year. A similar trend is happening with video, and what better advancement in technology do we have as snowboarders than the current crop of super-versatile and tough mini action cams: GoPros, Drift HDs, Ions and Contours, so for now we’ll start off by giving you the top-ten tips to make the most out of your GoPro.

For advice on what to kit your GoPro out with, check out this list of the top 10 GoPro accessories here.

How not to do it…

Wear It Well

If you want to consider the ‘radical unicorn’ look (thanks again Chris Moran) you can stick them on to your helmet or goggles but be aware, it’s not quite as simple as simply just whacking it on and pressing ‘on.’ I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen hordes of ‘goprosapiens’ cruising around, cameras blissfully pointing at the sky; I can only wonder at how stoked their relatives will be when they get the chance to watch hours of cloud-cam when they’re home after the holidays.

A good tip is to mount the camera on your helmet before you put it on your head. Get the mount near the front, not bang on the top like a teletubby. When you’re filming helmet-cam the most exciting action will be happening roughly two-to-three metres in front of you, so angle the camera down so that a straight line drawn from the centre of the lens will intersect a similar line drawn from your eyes a couple of metres away. That way, you’ll be recording what you’re looking at, easy!

N.B. Seeing as we’re snowboarders and spend most of the time standing sideways, chest mounts aren’t always the best option for getting those point of view (P.O.V.) shots. Unless you’re going to spend most of your time practising falling leaf, in which case go for it!

Remember the fisheye will capture a lot around you.

Framing

If you’re filming someone else, you have to realise the differences between using action cams for P.O.V. and more traditional filming. Most of the mini cameras use either a wide to ultra-wide or fisheye lens. This gives a wide field of view, essentially allowing more of the scene in front of the lens to be captured.

This is great for getting in as much of the action as possible on a head cam, but one side effect is that it magnifies stuff happening close to the camera, whilst shrinking the background. When you’re using your mini-cam to film your friend shredding park its best to get as close as possible to the action to avoid losing them into the background, a good rule is to have the camera no more than a couple of metres away from the centre of the action.

And keep it there. Following your mate and keeping him within range ensures that the viewer will stay involved with the footage and won’t miss anything. A stick or ski pole with a mount helps you get in that little bit closer.

The latest GoPros come with a variety of ‘field of views’ – essentially how much of the surroundings will fit into your frame. There’s wide (the classic GoPro view where you get roughly 130 degrees of what’s in front of you), medium (roughly 110 degrees) and narrow (75 degrees) which cuts out the wide angle aspect and gives more of a tradition camcorder look. Be sure to stay further back when using this mode as the footage will seem like it’s been zoomed in much more than usual.

There’s also Superview: essentially a setting that takes a taller video but then stretches the edges out to give a widescreen look. It’s great for capturing landscapes or even selfies as it fits much more in, but if there’s any detail around the edge of your shot it will end up looking distorted.

Get your framing right – you don’t want your shots to be the film equivalent of this.

Stay On Point

There’s nothing worse than getting home to check out your day’s footage and finding that you’ve cropped out everyone’s heads and/or boards, easy to do when you’re trying to keep close and concentrate on riding at the same time. To make things simple, just follow this top tip: focus on your friend’s crotch.

Strange but true, if you aim the lens at your subject’s junk it helps you keep the camera focused roughly at their middle, keeping head-to-toe within shot. But if you have to compromise, it’s best to aim to give a little more screen time to the bottom half; it’s frustrating watching rail edits where you can’t see the board because then you probably can’t make out the trick.

And whilst we’re talking about crotches… Again as we spend our time sideways on to the hill it’s worth giving a little thought to how your subject is orientated with the rail. Think of how the riders’ stance and trick choice will affect which way they’re facing, much better to have their face in shot than their ass.


Steady Hands Make Light Work

Shaky footage is just as annoying to watch as only having half the action. Check out this edit of Lewis Sonvico – great riding but after a while the possibly caffeine-induced camera shake gets more than a little off-putting.

Again a pole helps, just loosen your grip a little and try and absorb any shaking in your hand and wrist. I once did some filming with a guy who literally couldn’t stop his hands from shaking when he got excited watching someone’s riding. To try and help I built my own glide-cam rig with a few DIY gimbal joints; you don’t have to go to such extreme lengths but try and keep it in mind when filming.


Get Good at Mounting Stuff

We’ve already covered plonking your camera on your head and on the end of a stick, but the only limit to how versatile your toy is is your imagination. Turning the camera around to face yourself is a classic option. It’s very effective for bringing the viewer into something as fun as a powder run: It sort of lets them share the stoke.

The host of adaptors and mounts that are readily available are also perfect for sticking it to your board or a park feature, but why not try using the snow itself to make a temporary tripod for those hard to get angles on park features and kickers. And if you really want to go all out you could always get super-tech and mount it on the bottom of an RC helicopter, like above.

For a whole range of different mounts and accessories you can check out our special list here.

Portable cameras often struggle in low light.

Get The Light Right

Action cameras are so good at what they do. They’re convenient, rugged and versatile. But once they are taken out of the conditions they’re optimised for they may not provide such great footage. One important factor to consider is lighting, especially when it comes to on snow. Whilst snowdomes provide pretty consistent lighting conditions, the ever-changing mountains do not. In flat light (cloudy or foggy conditions) where there are no features, buildings or trees to provide shadows and contrast a lot of visual information can get lost. This can lead to shots where it looks like the riders are just floating about in a cloud. But if you’re up the hill in those kinds of conditions, filming is likely to be one of your last priorities.

The latest GoPros come with a range of settings for different lighting conditions – if you’re filming in low light it is probably to your advantage that you select that very option in the settings menu. There’s also an option labelled ‘spot metering’, this only uses information from the centre of the frame to get the right settings so it’s useful if you’re filming through a window from a dark room, or through a hole into a bright space.

Another thing mini-action cams find difficult to deal with is being pointed directly at the sun. As well as silhouetting whatever you’re filming at the time, it can lead to side effects such as lens flare and/or vertical purple lines on-screen (the digital version of lens flare). Sometimes these effects can be desirable to create an atmosphere in an edit, but if they’re not for you quite yet think about where the sun is whilst setting up to film.

N.B. – pointing your camera at the sun for extended periods of time, i.e. while filming a time lapse, can permanently damage its sensor.

Frame rates are important. Just ask Muybridge.

Get The Numbers Right

You may notice the whole host of different settings your new camera comes with and it is important to get to grips with what they mean if you want to make the most of them. When it comes to resolution or frame rate for instance, the instinct is to go for the “bigger is better” approach, but it will save you an unbelievable amount of time in the editing stage if you make sure as much of the footage as possible is shot with the same settings. So which is best?

We’re now going to have to get nerdy I’m afraid, but this is as nerdy as this article gets, I promise! 720p, 1080p and now 2k and 4k are different resolution sizes. They refer to the number of pixels on the vertical axis of your square frame to be exact. 1080 is officially HD, but in actual fact 720 is good enough for most computers and is still the standard for web players like Vimeo. You’d only notice the difference on a pretty substantial TV screen and if you film on 720 you’ll save yourself a whole heap of memory.

GoPros now go even as high as 4k which is cinema resolution, but unless you’re actually shooting for a feature film this is probably a bit excessive. The frame rate is the other number you need to worry about. It refers to the number of pictures taken per second by the sensor. Most humans find it hard to detect any frame speeds higher thanaround 25fps with the naked eye, so unless you’re planning to go slo-mo, you won’t need anything faster. But when it comes to slo-mo, the higher the frame rate the more you can slow it down before the footage starts going juddery. So 50fps or 60 fps will be the standard slo-mo setting, while filming at 100 or 120 will allow you to slow everything right down. The newly released 240 fps setting can be slowed down to 10% (one second of footage becomes ten) without it getting juddery. Simple really.

The best use of a kite ever?

There’s More To Life Than Snowboarding!

One thing snowboarders tend to forget is how versatile action cams are, and how good they are at shooting stuff that’s not snowboarding. One thing that can really help make an edit stand out from the crowd is some well thought out ‘lifestyle’ footage. If your camera’s waterproof, why not chuck it in the holiday hot tub and see what happens?

If it’s reasonably shock proof you can hang it out a car window and reach other angles you wouldn’t trust a more expensive camera to get to. Check out this photo taken with a GoPro hanging off a toy kite by a good friend of mine: Tom Akass. It’s a cool different angle, and certainly a hell of a lot cheaper than buying a helicopter!

Working some amusing – or just plain silly – lifestyle shots into your edits is a good way to make them stand out from the crowd.

Be selective

As discussed in the intro, there are A LOT of photos and videos in the world today. If you want yours to stand out, the best way is to have standout footage. Try saving the camera for those prime shred moments rather than just wapping it on for the whole day. Think of what you’d want to watch, it’s unlikely to be ten minutes of someone side-slipping runs outside of their ability level (although admittedly that exact scenario did lead to one of the funniest snowboard videos of 2013).

If you’re planning to edit your footage down (and we’ll touch on the best way to do that later in the ‘Improve Your Edits’ series) you’re probably going to want to make this process as easy as possible for yourself.

Another great tip is to try and keep actual recording time down to a minimum, i.e. turning the camera on only a few seconds before the moment you want to capture, like your friend attempting that jump that’s just a little too big for him. Not only will you save on memory card space, but you’ll also save time and computer power whilst editing. Oh and also, don’t forget to make sure it’s definitely turned off when you put it away or you’ll be left with hours of pocket cam footage!

The latest range of GoPros – the Hero 4s – have a couple of handy features for those who just can’t resist keeping the camera running for hours. There’s the ‘HiLight Tag’ option where you can tap the side button whilst filming, the places a marker in the video’s information file that makes it easier to find whilst editing. There’s also a setting where the camera can be left running, but only the final five or ten minutes leading up to the camera turning off will be saved, handy for saving space if you leave your GoPro running whilst you hike up and ride past.

Get Creative!

The best thing about these cameras is how easily you can get creative with them; as we’ll get on to in later articles, once you start using more advanced equipment and techniques you may start to see them as quite limiting, but being limited only fuels your imagination.

Check out this mini-edit from Eric Willet and Sage Kotsenburg for an idea of a new way to utilise yours. Or Tim Humphreys, master of the selfie. The sky’s the limit so get out there and get filming!

For advice on what to kit your GoPro out with, check out this list of the top 10 GoPro accessories here.

THIS ARTICLE IS PART OF A SERIES ON HOW TO IMPROVE YOUR EDITS, YOU CAN FIND THE REST OF THE ARTICLES HERE:

Improve Your Edits

  1. How to Use a GoPro Properly – Our Top 10 Tips
  2. Filming With A DSLR
  3. Getting The Best Shots
  4. Editing Basics
  5. Advanced Editing

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