GoPros are amazing in their versatility and ability to take a beating and keep on shooting. If you ever watch GoPro’s YouTube channel, you’ll know that they’ve put their cameras in, on, under, around, behind, and outside almost every conceivable place and surface imaginable. Professionals use GoPros to get angles they can’t get with their larger, more expensive cameras, or to get supplemental shots to cut in with their main camera. There have even been entire full-length movies shot completely on the GoPro, so even though it’s small, don’t underestimate it.
But you may be thinking, “Hey, ‘pro’ is right there in the name — how could you not shoot professional-quality footage when you’re using one?” Sure, it doesn’t hurt that the camera is relatively easy to use and has good image quality right out of the box, but with a few tweaks to your settings and proper technique, you can get yourself some choice shots that work even on the big screen.
Since the GoPro is so small and lightweight, it vibrates and shakes easily during use, which can lead to some frustrating or even unusably jittery footage. You should minimize the camera shake and “shutter roll” by using something to lock it down or minimize vibrations. Tripods, sticky mounts, handheld poles, and straps are obvious solutions to getting more stable, “locked down” footage, but companies are now starting to come out with (relatively) inexpensive 3-axis handheld gimbals.
The further you are from your subject, the less sharp your video will be when you’re using the GoPro. The biggest benefit to using the camera is being able to get insanely close to the action and fit in tight spaces, so make sure you take advantage by getting the lens as close to everything as possible, whether it’s with a mount, attaching it to a pole, or by wearing it. (You can also cover it with food and let lions eat it, which is what I’m guessing is happening in this clip.)
Camera Settings to Consider:
You have three settings options for field of view (FOV) on the GoPro 4 that change how close you can be to your subject (these are the same on the 3+ as well, but not all options are available for all resolutions). Take these focal length equivalents into account when you’re shooting a subject up close:
- Ultra Wide – 14 mm (available in all resolutions but 720p/240 fps)
- Medium – 21 mm (available in 2.7k/24, 30, 48, 60; 1080p/24, 30, 48, 60; 720p/30, 60, 120)
- Narrow – 28 mm (available in all 1080p except superview; and all 720p except superview)
Always stick to the basic principles of lighting when you’re shooting with any camera, but for the GoPro specifically, remember that you have a much smaller sensor, so low-light situations are tougher. Also, be mindful of the sun, since pointing the camera toward it will result in silhouettes (unless that’s what you’re going for, of course). There are also some excellent on-camera lights that attach directly to the GoPro (specifically the Qudos Action, Sidekick Duo, and Lume Cube), so do some research and see if those work for you.
Camera Settings to Consider:
There are a couple of basic settings that you can tweak for your available light. There are more if you’re shooting in Protune, but more on that below.
- Auto Low Light – This allows you to shoot in low-light environments or if you’re moving between bright and dim settings. The camera will automatically adjust the FPS to get the best exposure, (which isn’t really great if you want control over your image), but good if you don’t want to worry about changing your exposure a lot. It’s not available in 240 fps or 30 fps and below.
- Spot Meter – When spot metering is turned on, the camera exposes your image by measuring the light in the middle of the frame, not the scene as a whole. This is good for shooting in a dark space, when you want to see what’s outside in the brighter space, like looking out of the mouth of a cave.
Go Loud and Clear
GoPros have a lot of great qualities, but the built-in microphone is not one of them. Filmmakers normally record audio separately, but there are some external microphones you can buy and plug in directly to the camera. However, for about the same price, you could buy an external microphone setup that works for all cameras that takes up the same amount of space. If you’re using the GoPro just for b-roll though, don’t worry about audio at all.
Something else you’ll notice on GoPro’s YouTube channel: they use lots of cameras. And instead of physically running around and pushing the record button on every camera, they use the remote. Save yourself time and energy by doing this if you have multiple cameras or cameras that are mounted in hard-to-reach areas. Along those same lines, the GoPro app can help you immensely on your shoots. You can actually get a live feed from the camera, upload and download clips to your device, and change all the settings much more easily.
Camera (and Remote/App) Settings to Consider:
There aren’t a lot of settings for this method per se, but there are different ways to set up and run the camera wirelessly. To read full instructions on connecting your camera, check out the guide on GoPro’s website.
Setting the camera to run in Protune mode gives you the most control over your image; it’s really where the “pro” in GoPro starts to show itself. Shooting with Protune gives you manual control over white balance, color, ISO limit, sharpness, and exposure value compensation, so you can really get it dialed in on your editing system. It ends up being more work for you, since you’ll see flat, milky clips that don’t quite look right and need a lot of processing, so do what’s best for your time and energy and your knowledge of editing.
Camera Settings to Consider:
White Balance – this is the overall color tone of your video. Default is set to auto, but you’ve also got options for 3,000 Kelvin (K), 5500K, 6500K, and Native.
- 3000K – For use with “warm” light, like incandescent bulbs, sunrises, and sunsets.
- 5500K – For use with slightly cool light, like cool fluorescent or average daylight.
- 6500K – For use with cool light, like overcast/cloudy conditions.
- Native – This is the least color-corrected setting in the camera. It gives you the most control over the footage tone.
Color – this allows you to adjust the color profile of your footage. (This is different than white balance, even though it doesn’t seem like it.)
- GoPro Color – The default setting, where the color correction is processed in-camera.
- Flat – This is the same as a “neutral” color profile, and it captures more details in shadows and highlights, while giving you more flexibility with color correction in post-production.
ISO Limit – This is the camera adjusting itself to the ambient light. It can create image noise in low-light situations with the higher ISO, so keep that in mind.
- 400 – The minimum ISO. It gives the least amount of digital noise, but requires more light. Just for reference, the “native” ISO on most DSLR cameras is 800.
- 800 – This provides the image with a marginal amount of noise, but doesn’t require as much light as 400 ISO.
- 1600 – The default setting on the GoPro. It gives you fairly bright video in low light, but also adds a moderate amount of noise to the video.
- 3200 – This ISO will give you a much brighter image in lower light, but it will also give you more noise.
- 6400 – This setting gives you the brightest image, but also the noisiest image. I only recommend this as a last resort.
Sharpness – This is how sharp, crisp, and clear your image is.
- Low – The softest video. This gives you the ability to do the most in post-production.
- Medium – Moderately sharp video. A good middle ground for a little in-camera processing and a little leftover for post.
- High – This is the default setting, and makes the video the sharpest. I recommend it if you don’t want to do too much post processing.
Exposure Value Compensation (EV Comp) – This setting changes the brightness of your video. It’s best used in environments where your lighting conditions are contrasting, like in cars, shooting out of windows, or moving in and out of the water. Your settings are:
- -2.0 -1.5 -1.0 -0.5 0 (default) +0.5 +1.0 +1.5 +2.0
EV Comp only works within the set ISO limit, so if your brightness has already reached the limit, increasing the value won’t change anything.
The moment someone stuck a GoPro to a drone, the world changed. Now everyone can get aerial footage for their projects at a fraction of the cost, using just a GoPro (and a drone). Adding aerials to your production increases the quality exponentially and adds another trick to your filmmaking bag.
The only camera setting you really need to worry about when you’re shooting aerials is making sure to go wide to avoid lots of shaking/shutter roll. SuperView works well, too, but you may get a curved horizon line that could look strange on your video. (GoPro’s free editing software can remove fisheye, though!)
There is a somewhat large learning curve if you’re just starting out, so practice a lot before you do anything risky or over water. Once you start shooting with a drone, though, you won’t want to stop.
Disclaimer: Alwayscheck the local laws before shooting with drones, and register your drone (if you’re in the USA) to avoid any fines. They are illegal in all American National Parks, for starters.
One somewhat overlooked GoPro feature is its ability to shoot timelapses. Instead of halting production while you shoot a timelapse with your main camera, you can continue shooting and place a GoPro somewhere inconspicuous to capture your timelapse. If the GoPro is your main camera, however, no need to worry. Just make sure you get all your other footage covered before you set up for your timelapse.
Use the size and wide angle of the camera to your advantage. A huge open landscape shot is only good if you have a lot of action, and an extreme close up is only good if you have context for what is going on. This clip is a perfect use of the GoPro, because it’s somewhere a human can’t get, and it shows an interesting angle of a visually intriguing subject.
Settings to Consider:
With the GoPro Hero4, you have the option of shooting a timelapse based on a specific interval of frame captures. It’s available only in 4K and 2.7K 4:3 resolutions. It prohibits the use of Protune, Auto Low Light, and Spot Meter, so keep that in mind. (You can also shoot an “old school” timelapse in photo mode.)
Adjusting your frame rate, or “frames per second” (fps) can give you amazing results if used correctly. The faster the frame rate, the slower your footage will play back in editing. Slow-motion footage gives your video a more dramatic look, and makes any fast-moving action look great. Even putting hops into beer becomes amazing when it’s slowed down:
The hops clip is a good example of something that doesn’t have a lot of action becoming better with a slow-down, but your footage will be even better when the action moves faster. Take a look at this clip, which looks great with a high-speed treatment:
Settings to Consider:
The only setting you need to worry about for slow motion is frame rate, really. You have to at least shoot at 60 fps (NTSC) to get smooth slow motion, so anything under that will be choppy without a plugin like Twixtor. One added benefit to slow-motion footage is that any camera shake or jitters is minimized, since the clip is slowed down.
Once you get the hang of shooting with a GoPro, you’ll want to experiment more and more with unique locations and angles. The more you experiment, the better you’ll become at getting amazing shots to use in your productions.
Explore all of the media used in this post in the collection below: