Struggling to get good footage with your action camera? Read these essential tips.
Like many people who have seen various GoPro style videos on YouTube and Vimeo, I will often switch off immediately. If I am to be fair, much of what we see produced by these cameras online is made by people who aren’t really trying to create masterpieces. However, I do know that some people would like to know how to make their action cam videos a little more interesting. Regardless of the camera you use, it can be made to sing, if you use it right.
The rules of the game
It won’t come as any surprise to read that one of the core elements of making your action camera videos more interesting to watch is the same as that for any other video. Whether you are shooting on an Arri Alexa or a Fisher Price camera, it really helps if you have something interesting to film in the first place. A good number of people who use these types of camera are involved in adventure sports such as mountain biking, skiing, diving, climbing, kayaking, etc. Therefore much of the time interesting subject matter shouldn’t be hard to come by. Of course this isn’t a hard and fast rule, as attested by GoPro, which has stated that general lifestyle videos are now a growing area of focus.
But that doesn’t mean that you should just film any old stuff. Think of it like this, even a film that is wall to wall action needs some sort of plot, even if it is basic, an angle to take, or a theme. For example, not everybody is a world class athlete in their chosen sport or activity. Yet some of the more compelling action cam videos I have seen are when the filmmakers know they are a bit rubbish and use this to make a funny, and entertaining video to watch.
If you are pretty good at what you do, make the most of it. But still try to find an interesting theme rather than just “Our trip out one day”. The edit below is by white water kayaking ace Bren Orton. Using a deft mix of drone footage mixed in with some ground based helmet cam shots, he has based his theme around summertime playboating, pulling off tricks as they go down river. Bren is an ambassador for the companies that he represents, and yes, he is a world class kayaker, but he is not a professional filmmaker, and so this makes a good example to show here.
Getting the shots
An action cam is not as versatile as a normal camera. But that’s not necessarily a limitation. Instead it is a catalyst for your creativity. After all, what is video if it isn’t creative? Therefore what can be done with such a small camera?
Creative shots are certainly one aspect of things, but raw coverage is another. An action cam is not as easy to set up for incredible quick grab shots as a ‘proper’ video camera. I realise that by saying that I might have committed the readership of RedShark to question what substances I am taking. After all such cameras are supposed to be the easiest cameras around to use for grabbing fast, off the cuff moments. They are. But to get good shots, really good shots, takes a bit of effort. There is nothing to differentiate an action camera from any other in this regard.
In order to get the type of shot you want, you will need a bit of anticipation of the kind of thing you are after. Without some idea of what you want to shoot you will be left with hour upon hour of footage to sift through without any direction.
On the beneficial side, such cameras can be mounted in all sorts of weird and wonderful positions and angles, and as with most adventure sports, you can pretty much guarantee that whoever you are with also owns some sort of similar camera. Granted, the reality is that many of them will be of different makes and models, so if picture matching is your thing, then you might be at a loss. But if coverage is what you want, and need, then take full advantage of the abundance of angles you may be able to obtain.
Remember, that you need variety, from overviews of the action, first person perspectives, all the way through to facial and emotional reactions. So if Peter is skiing with a camera on the end of a pole, Jane should be capturing the action from another angle. And don’t worry about the fisheye effect. We’ll deal with that later. Without variety an interesting edit will be tricky. Will this take some effort? Of course. But then nothing worthwhile is ever easy to do. While you’re at it, have a think about the kind of shot you’d like to open and close your final edit with. Nothing draws your intended audience in more than a really cool looking intro shot. Think about other texture shots too, to give a feeling of the environment you are in.
A small tip is that on cameras such as the GoPro, if something interesting happens, you can press the settings button on the Hero4 and up while recording to lay down a highlight tag. On the Hero 5 and above you can shout “GoPro, that was sick!” and it will lay down a tag for you. Although if you are not naturally a ‘dude’ you might be a bit conscious of doing this!
One last factor to consider about all of this is the people you are with. Make sure that anybody involved is willing to take part. There’s nothing worse than trying to obtain good shots when some or all of the group don’t care about video, and don’t have the patience to allow you to set anything up.