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How to make great action-cam videos: GoPro gives us some tips

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Every new GoPro release is usually accompanied with some sort of showreel demonstrating just what the camera can do. In the case of the just launched HD Hero 3+ Black Edition, you have this surfer/snowboarder filled mind-bender.

If we're honest, these videos annoy us. Partly because not all GoPro users are tanned surfers living in Hawaii, but also because the chances are that we won't ever manage to film ourselves backflipping down mountains in the French Alps. Not everyone is as 'extreme' as GoPro makes out.


As such, we started to feel slightly left out from the action. There is a reason why GoPro's cameras are so widely used, and it's because they are fantastic. We however aren't fantastic (at any sports), so when it came to testing the latest model in its range, we felt at a loose end.

The result was an interview with GoPro's Travis Pynn, part of the company's research and development wing, and plenty of pointers as to how we too can make something exciting using one of its cameras. You don't need miles of Californian surf to make a great action-cam video. Instead, just plenty of imagination, a dog and a muddy park in North London.

Our first attempt

Browsing through GoPro's YouTube channel we happened upon this video of 'Chicken' the dog chasing a stick. It was quite unlike any GoPro video we had seen before, and we felt inspired to try our hand at something similar.

You can see the results below. While they might not match what GoPro mustered, we are still fairly proud of our attempt. But you don't even need a dog to make an exciting action-cam video, just plenty of imagination.


So how did we do it? The setup was as simple as taking some duct tape and a stick, then hitting record and letting the dog do the rest. Unfortunately we didn't really listen to Travis's advice, so if you do want things to look better, take note of the below.

"I came up with the idea of using a stick that was shaped like the letter 'Y'," he explains. "I attached a camera to the single end and noticed that when Chicken picked up the stick, she avoided the camera and bit down on the end of the stick with the two fingers. This helped keep the camera level and aimed at her face instead of the beach, sky or ground."

How to edit?

GoPro has its own downloadable 'Studio' app for easy video editing. Included with the software is a free download for the template used to make the 'Chicken' the dog video, should you fancy doing the same yourself.

However, we prefer to keep things even less complicated. The latest HD Hero features a built in Wi-Fi network that allows you to not only control the camera remotely using your mobile, but also download and save videos from it. As such, we just ripped our attempt at the dog and stick video straight from the GoPro and saved it straight onto our iPhone.

GoPro HERO3 Black Edition camera

© GoPro

GoPro HERO3 camera


From there, we loaded it into the iMovie app on an iPhone, cut it down, then exported it. With the video saved in the smartphone's camera roll, it was then possible to upload it to Instagram and Facebook. Impressive when you think all of this has been done without going beyond a simple smartphone.

Make your own

So what if you don't have a dog? Or how about if you are just opening up a GoPro for the first time? Here are some tips to get started. Travis Pynn explains that some people rush things when they first get going with their cameras.

"Most people get the GoPro and quickly pull it out of the box and instantly start shooting," he says. "This is great, but having a basic understanding of the camera, the different modes, frame rates and resolution options can make a real difference as it can be overwhelming at first glance.

"Starting off by doing even a few minutes of footwork will pay off instantly."

Once you are familiar with your GoPro, then you want to start coming up with ideas. Take something ordinary or everyday, and then try and do it differently. Travis's dog idea came simply out of the fact he spotted not only the excitement the stick gave his pet, but how easy it was for him to attach a GoPro camera to it.

GoPro 'Chicken the dog'

A still from GoPro's 'Chicken the dog' movie


Using some of our other attempts as an example, a recent video we shot for Christmas saw us cooking using iPads and a professional chef. We wanted to know what it looked like for him when he was cooking, so we attached a GoPro to his head - which brings us onto another big tip.

When it comes to GoPro shooting, duct tape is definitely your friend, as you can attach the camera to anything. It might also be worth investing in a few accessories.

Chances are, if there is a sport you are into, then there will be a camera mount for it. Travis, however, does things a bit differently, and suggests investing in one mount and a monopod.

"My favourite accessory has to be either the tripod attachment or the Handlebar/Roll Bar mount," he says. "Both are great for attaching our camera to a grip or monopod.

"The wide-angle lens likes side-to-side, up and down and forward and backward movement, but doesn't look great when there is too much roll in the frame.

"The monopod helps avoid the wobble that can come from trying to hand hold the camera. [It] also allows you to get fairly close to the subject without having to step directly in front of them."

Think before you shoot

Once you are set up and ready to go, make sure you use the GoPro app to check positioning of the camera. We once filmed ourselves out at a go-kart track with a head-mounted GoPro, only to find the footage we had was all of our chin.

"Use a preview device so that you can see what the camera is filming," Travis advises. "I like the LCD Touch BacPac that we make, but it can be small and hard to use in some situations."

GoPro HD Hero 3+ test

© Digital Spy

GoPro HD Hero 3+ ready for filming


"I frequently walk around a potential subject looking at the back of our camera's LCD Touch BacPac experimenting with different angles, positions, and most importantly different field of views with the many different settings our camera is capable of."

So take advantage of the HDMI output to an external monitor, or use the camera's built in Wi-Fi to stream to a hand-held device with the GoPro app.

While the Touch BacPac is great, we found GoPro's own smartphone app paired with a camera over Wi-Fi was more than sufficient.

That's the lot. The key to doing something great with an action camera is in keeping an open mind about the way you use it. These cameras are so small and portable that if you can tape it to something, you can film with ease.

GoPro does cheat slightly with its showreels, having teams of cameramen and multiple cameras to hand, but you can still make things exciting with just one of your own cameras. All you need to do next is become a world-class surfer, grow your hair and get some muscles - then the job will be complete.

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