7 GoPro Lessons I Learned from Pretending to Be a Videographer for a Week

October 16, 2014

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Dan Mills


Two things you need know before reading on:

First, my loving mother has conditioned me to believe that I am capable of doing anything I set my mind to (unless that “anything” is a potentially dangerous physical activity).

Second, although I work a lot in video, it’s very rare that I actually operate a camera without strict supervision from video pro Chris Lavigne.

Okay …  now here’s the story.

My fiancé (worst word ever, just puked typing it) is a professional photographer, and was recently hired to shoot a wedding on the beautiful Caribbean Island of St. Martin. I went along for the trip to help out.

However, it’s not in my nature to fully relax for more than 48 hours. Why not bring my GoPro and my iPhone and tell everyone at the wedding that I’m the videographer? This little “fake it till you make it” experiment taught me a few things I’d love to share about shooting with a GoPro.

First off, here’s what I brought with me:

Here’s what I learned:

Holy shaky video

Image stabilization. I mean, I get what the word “image” and the word “stabilize” mean, and I also get what it means when the two words are put next to each other… but, I know next to nothing about this technology. I shoot little fun videos for text messaging and Instagram all the time on my iPhone, and sort of assumed that’s how image stabilization works on all cameras. Right? Wrong.

A lot of times I folded up the Joby tripod, set the GoPro lens to a really wide setting, and just kind of threw the camera up in the air. Or, I’d set the GoPro more narrow and smoothly walk with it like it was a Steadicam or something.

I totally looked like I was a professional, but a lot of these shots are so shaky that they’re unusable. Throughout the week, I focused a lot more on finding surfaces to put the tripod on, or ways to firmly hold the camera steady. Also, I had to use way smaller motions with the camera than I expected.

Avoid coffee before shooting with a GoPro… you’re going to need some steady hands.

Get the shot, hold the shot, and keep holding the shot some more

So many shots were ruined because I just moved on to the next idea like a frantic goldfish. I was excited by all the beautiful scenery, overconfident that the clip lengths I shot would be easily grabbable in post production, and nervous about battery life. This rapid-fire style of shooting left me with a lot of unusable material, and more video clips to look through than I’d care to mention. Oh, and my battery never died once on either camera.

Towards the end of the week, I tried to be a bit more selective about what I was shooting, and made a conscious effort to calm down and let the camera roll longer than I initially thought it needed to. If you know me personally, I’m sure you can understand how difficult that was. Be sure to give yourself some breathing room for post production.

Strangers don’t like cameras in their face… friends do

I’m a pretty outgoing person, but that didn’t make me feel any less intrusive while carrying a camera around an intimate destination wedding with people I’d never met before. Most of the shots I took in the beginning of the week were wide, simply because I was scared to intrude on people. I started to get nervous that the video I was making would be nothing but 3 minutes of establishing shots. Once I came to my senses and spent a bit more time getting to know the guests at the wedding, the barriers began to break down, and the footage got more close-up, personal, and usable.

If I ever do this again, I will spend much more time keeping the camera away and getting to know the people first. One of my biggest regrets was not focusing on this aspect early on. I missed out on a lot of great opportunities during the first few days, which also happened to be the most visually interesting (sailing trip, snorkelling, the wedding.)

Test your gear! (The GoPro sucked at night)

I loved using the GoPro, so much that I made the mistake of using it for the entire outdoor reception of the wedding without checking how well it worked in the dark first. I put that sucker in low-light mode and just kind of went for it. Yikes!

The few shots I took that night with my iPhone were way better, and I wish I had known that earlier on. The first dance, the late night bonfire… all really noisy and weird-looking. The next night, I left the GoPro at home and captured some really great stuff with my iPhone.

Learn how to use your gear before the most important day of someone’s life.

Let people play with the GoPro

The GoPro in its case is pretty indestructible. Add on the floaty back door, and now you can’t even lose it in the water! Once I got to know people better, I started tossing that thing like a baseball and letting the footage come to me. People are interested in the GoPro! They see you playing with it in the water, and they give you that sort of kid-in-the-schoolyard look that shyly asks, “can I play too?”

Capitalize on that curiosity and let them shoot. I wouldn’t say I got a ton of amazing footage from people playing with the camera, but the shots I did get are way more up close and personal than I would’ve had the guts to go in for myself. Even when they would simply check to see if it was still rolling, I got a close up of a stranger!

Charge your batteries at night!

This is such simple concept, but since I’m new to video, and the GoPro is not my phone, keys, or wallet, I pretty much forgot about it. Every morning, my schedule was slightly derailed because I would start to leave, then remember that the GoPro still needed to be charged. This caused me to miss a lot of great brunch footage. Also, my room was really far from the poolside bar and walking back for it every day was a drag (poor me).

So: Den neh neh neh! neh neh! CHARGE!

Unfortunately, you need to think about storage

Memory cards aren’t cheap, and after I bought my GoPro I wasn’t too stoked about having to drop more money for a boring little memory card. However, I thought it through and decided to go big and buy a 64GB memory card. It turned out to be an AMAZING decision… I only had to some room on the card once.

The 16 GB iPhone was not enough. Especially one that contains nearly a year of uncleared text messages and tons of Paul Simon and Sean Kingston songs in preparation for a week in the Caribbean. I had to clear off my phone a number of times throughout the trip, and it was the worst to get the “not enough storage” notification when the groom and his best man are having a beautiful “I love you bro” moment at the beachside bar.

I guess “buy the most expensive memory card or iPhone” isn’t really the most practical advice. Just plan accordingly each day and make sure the room on your device before you walk out the door to shoot.

Take the GoPro out of the case when you can

Fueled by jealousy from my incredible St. Martin footage, Chris Lavigne left his 5D at home, and obnoxiously one-uped the hell out of me by shooting some footage with a GoPro at a wedding _he_ attended a few weeks later. The footage was obviously better than mine in terms of framing, steadiness, and general vision …  but hey, that’s to be expected. But what really grinded my gears was that his footage simply looked crisper.

Chris: “Yeah, I didn’t use the casing.” Dan: “Jerk.”

The casing that comes with the GoPro is amazing and turns a fancy camera into something you really don’t have to worry about breaking. However, it does make the shot less sharp. If you’re shooting with the GoPro and the situation is safe from water and drunkards, take it out of the case. It makes a night and day difference. GoPro even makes a mount called “the Frame” that is specifically made for this situation.

The GoPro can be an awesome camera for lots of situations, but it definitely has its idiosyncrasies. What tips do you have for making GoPro video a success?

Dan Mills


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