Ever since Nick Woodman sold his first GoPro camera way back in 2004, video and adrenaline junkies all over the globe have consistently flocked to the extremely durable and portable camera line. Perfect for strapping to one’s chest, helmet, snowboard, or otherwise, GoPro cameras became the go-to tool for POV videos, especially in the world of extreme sports. However, due in large part to their sheer portability, GoPros are popular for more casual uses, as well.
If you bought a GoPro to record the more adventurous portions of your life, whether that be a supersonic skydive from the stratosphere or simply your morning commute, chances are you’re pretty satisfied with it. But what about all those nifty GoPro videos you see online that have the production value of a Martin Scorcese film? While many of those might actually possess a bit of professional post-production, there’s still a few tips and tricks we recommend employing to turn your basic videos into masterpieces. These won’t necessarily make the Academy come calling but, hey, you need to start somewhere, right?
Mounting, filters, angles, and stabilization
Use a mount
This is perhaps the single easiest way to spice up a GoPro video, and can definitely make things more exciting. Fortunately, there are literally hundreds of different models available on the market, and a nearly infinite way to mount them. Whether you opt for a helmet or chest mount for filming mountain bike and snowboarding excursions, or decide to procure a tripod for stable stationary shots, a mount is always a good idea.
We also recommend testing out different places to mount the camera to determine which spots work best for producing smooth shots, correct angles (more on this below), and all of the desired action. Different mounts can provide different POVs, which can help tell the story you envisioned. For example, a camera mounted on a bike helmet can provide a view from the rider’s eyes, but a camera mounted on the bike to face the back can capture other riders trailing you – two different views from the same moment.
From clamps to suction cups, GoPro makes a variety of mounts (a reason why they are so popular), but there are plenty of third-party accessories, as well, so your options are wide.
Find a new angle
A GoPro offers a very wide angle of view that makes it easy to capture the action, but to create truly interesting videos, you should do more than simply set it and forget it. Change up the angle to give viewers a comprehensive view of what’s going on, rather than just sticking to one viewpoint. For example, when recording action, it’s most common to mount a forward-facing GoPro, but sometimes looking back at yourself can produce equally entertaining footage. If you’ll be repeating an action many times throughout the day, say for surfing or snowboarding, consider repositioning the camera on each run to capture a greater variety of shots.
Newer GoPro cameras even offer a selection of field of view crop modes such as the ultra-wide view (156-170 degrees), a medium view (127 degrees), and a narrow view (0 degrees). Making use of the built-in fields of view contributes greatly to allowing your videos to stand out, and it acts sort of like a zoom function.
Here’s an easy way to remember which FOV you should pick: If you want to capture everything in the frame, go for ultra-wide, but this will create that curved, fisheye effect. The narrow FOV crops out some of the frame, but it will look more like a “regular” image.
Use filters to improve video quality
Photographers and filmmakers alike utilize an array of filters — and we aren’t referring to the color-altering filters in Instagram — to improve the final version of any photos or videos. For instance, using a neutral density filter works wonders when filming in bright environments by allowing for a slower shutter speed, which keeps footage from looking too jarring like the beach landing scene in Saving Private Ryan. For filming underwater, use a red filter to help remove the blue-green colorcast. There exists a host of available filters to choose from, so the sky is the limit when it comes to giving your videos a unique look and feel.
Stabilize the camera
One of the best things about GoPro cameras being as ubiquitous as they are is that third-party accessories are equally common. For stationary shots, nothing beats a tripod when it comes to stability. As a GoPro is very lightweight, there’s no need to get a heavy duty set of sticks for it, but do consider a tripod with a fluid pan head. This will let you make smooth pans to follow a subject or reveal a landscape.
For stabilizing shots in motion, there’s nothing better than a powered gimbal. Gimbals use motors to counteract shaky hands and other motion, producing incredibly smooth footage in virtually any setting. Many camera drones often feature built-in gimbals in order to keep a steady shot when filming in turbulent air. These devices don’t exactly come cheap, however, so expect to spend at least a few hundred dollars to get something worthwhile.
Don’t have the cash for a gimbal or a tripod? While this next tip may seem a bit odd, it does allow you to keep some hard-earned dough in your pocket. To achieve a consistently stable shot, simply press your GoPro camera against your face – yes, your face – while tracking whatever it is you intend to film. Obviously this method of stabilization works best when your surroundings don’t require the use of both of your hands, as we wouldn’t recommend trying to pull this off while, say, mountain biking. Still, if you’re looking for a cheap, effective way to record stable video, sticking a GoPro against your face is as good as it gets. This tip works with any type of digital camera too.
If you’re up to the task, footage can also be stabilized in postproduction using software like Apple Final Cut Pro or Adobe Premiere. This will result in a slight crop of your footage, so it helps if the video was recorded in the highest resolution available. If you’re fortunate enough to have a GoPro Hero4 Black that shoots 4K at 30 frames-per-second, make sure you’re in this mode if you plan to stabilize footage in post and still want to end up with sharp results.