Action cameras are great devices for capturing moments of exhilaration, drama and wonder. In the last few years they have become a “go-to” resource in video storytelling. But when, and how, should you use them?
You want your viewer to connect to your story. Really, you want them to feel they are there, experiencing the moment. That is the beauty of these cameras. But it only works if they have context.
Simply shooting the action won’t cut it. That means you need to capture everything before, during and after an event. Shoot more than you think you will need so you can pick and choose the best moments in editing.
These cameras, maybe more than any other, can transport a viewer to someplace fanciful, imagined or hard to get to. The beauty of a GoPro is they tell stories that are of the moment, unrehearsed, spontaneous. But that also means they are not the right camera for every story. Frankly, they are not the right camera for most shots.
I think of it this way, paprika is a unique spice, but it is not the main course of a meal. Use these cameras to spice up your story with unique points of view. And rely on a normal video camera or DSLR to capture the bulk of your footage. Capture unexpected angles that bring your viewer deeper into the story, but don’t make it the main meal.
We love these cameras because we can put them in unexpected places. They are tiny. We can mount them in spots where we could never attach a DSL or video camera. That means you need to use your imagination, asking yourself, “where can I put the camera to give my viewer an unexpected perspective on my story?” The lazy way to shoot is shoulder high, 5 feet off the ground. Get high, get low, get close. What will capture the moment?
No one wants to watch a video that is randomly shaking and moving. It is too much work for the viewer and they give up. Stabilization is critical for good video. Use a monopod, a flexible tripod or one of the gazillion mounts that are out there. When using a monopod of selfie stick don’t use a “death grip”. Relax your hand and try to absorb any shaking with your wrist. If you have to hold your camera by hand, move slowly and steady your hand as much as possible.
These cameras are phenomenal at capturing events that happen in the blink of an eye. Especially when you slow them down. There is inherent drama when you use slow-mo to give insight to your story. It can feel dreamlike, otherworldly. Most shots don’t lend themselves to slow-mo. But one well-placed shot that reveals something special can act as the climax of your story.
The shape of a camera’s lens directly affects the image. We describe different lenses by identifying their field of view, for example telephoto, normal, wide and fisheye. This really impacts interviews. A good talking head is usually framed head-and-shoulders, using a normal or telephoto lens.
By design, action cameras leverage a lens that captures everything. It is more forgiving when you have to guess at your framing. That’s why shooting an interview with a GoPro distorts the face when you fill the frame. The shot’s not very flattering to say the least.
On most action cameras you can adjust the field of view. Wide captures about 130 degrees of what’s in front of you. It is great for Point of View shots. Medium is about 110 degrees and while still a wide angle field of view, it is less distorted. Narrow covers only about 75 degrees, and uses only a portion of the image sensor. None of the settings are ideal for interviews. That’s why an action camera is my last resort for shooting an interview. I’ll use my smartphone before I use my GoPro.
The audio captured with a GoPro, blows. These cameras are optimized for capturing amazing images and audio is, well, more of an afterthought. If you need to capture audio that is critical to your story you need to come up with an alternative to the in-camera microphone. There is no mic input on the camera so you will need to use a mic adapter cable, but only if you take it out of the waterproof housing which probably defeats the purpose of using the camera in the first place.
My recommendation is to use an external audio recorder and then synchronize the sound in editing. You can use a professional solution like this Zoom H4N, or go simple and use your smartphone. My favorite combination is the MXL MM-160 lavalier and Zoom Handy Recorder app for the iPhone. I like the MXL because I can monitor the audio while recording, and the Handy Recorder app does a decent job of recording the audio with minimal drift. That means when you sync up the audio later on the picture and sound will stay in sync for more than a few seconds.
Enjoying the view from above at winter wonderland in the Austrian Alps with my Karma =& Hero 6. I'm always shooting in RAW mode to have absolute control over the image parameters in post production.