Things have changed quite a bit since GoPro shipped its first product — a wrist-mounted 35mm film camera — in 2005. Now, long after moving to digital and having gone through multiple generations of cameras, adrenaline junkies all over the world have flocked to GoPro for their video and photo needs. Perfect for strapping to one’s chest, helmet, snowboard, or otherwise, GoPro cameras have become the go-to tool for POV videos, especially in the world of extreme sports. Their sheer portability, however, makes the small action cameras popular for more casual uses, as well.
If you bought a GoPro to record the more adventurous portions of your life, whether that’s a supersonic skydive from the stratosphere or simply your morning bike 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 Planet Earth episode? While many of those might actually possess a bit of professional postproduction, there’s still a few GoPro 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?
Mounts, 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 mounts 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 rear-facing camera mounted to the frame can capture other riders trailing you — two different views from the same moment.
Beyond GoPro’s broad array of first-party mounts, there are plenty of third-party options, as well — you have no shortage of choices.
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. To illustrate a sense of speed, placing a GoPro closer to the action can really help. As mountain bike YouTube channel the Loam Ranger explains, a GoPro strapped to your chest can lead to much more dramatic footage than one mounted way up on your helmet, as it puts your perspective closer to the ground.
We also recommend trying a mix of different camera positions 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 that can be edited together later.
Newer GoPro cameras offer a selection of crop modes, such as an ultrawide 170-degree angle of view, a medium 127 degrees, and a narrow 79 degrees. The Hero6 Black and new Hero7 Black even have touch-to-zoom functions that mimic a traditional zoom lens. Making use of different fields of view is another way to mix up your shots. And don’t forget — you can even mount your GoPro upside down and it will automatically flip the footage to display it the right way.
Here’s an easy way to remember which field of view you should pick: If you’re unsure of your framing and want to know that you’re getting all the action, go for ultra-wide. The narrower fields of view are good when you have more control over your framing and want to hone in on a particular subject or area of the scene.
Use filters to improve video quality
Here, we aren’t talking about the color-altering filters in Instagram. We’re talking about actual physical filters that you can place in front of the lens to alter the light your GoPro sees. A host of GoPro filters are available to choose from, so the sky’s the limit when it comes to giving your videos a unique look and feel, but there are a few types worth drawing attention to.
For instance, a neutral density (ND) filter works wonders when filming in bright environments by allowing for a slower shutter speed, which keeps footage from looking too jarring like a Jason Bourne movie. Essentially sunglasses for your camera, an ND filter simply limits the light passing through to the lens.
A polarizing filter is useful for cutting out reflections on glass or water, and can help your GoPro see through the surface of a lake or the windshield of a car. And if you actually want to film underwater, a red filter will help remove the blue-green colorcast inherent to that environment.
The last few generations of GoPro have featured digital image stabilization, but it really got turned up in the Hero7 Black. As impressive as this feature is, using an external stabilizer still has its benefits, whether you need a static shot or a moving one.
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 good-old tripod when it comes to stability. As a GoPro is very light weight, 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 momvement, producing incredibly smooth footage in virtually any setting, from an easy handheld shot to an epic downhill mountain bike ride. These devices don’t exactly come cheap, however, so expect to spend at least a few hundred dollars to get something worth your while. GoPro’s own Karma Grip is probably the easiest handheld gimbal to use with the GoPro Hero5 Black or newer cameras, but many third party options also exist.
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, running. 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, combined with the digital stabilization feature makes for extra-smooth shots without dropping the dough on a gimbal rig.
If you’re up to the task, footage can also be stabilized in post-production 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 Hero6 Black that shoots 4K at 60 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.