Last updated: 29 July, 2016
GoPro has completely revolutionized the photography & video world.
I’ve been using one to record my adventure travel experiences for the past three years – it’s gone scuba diving with me, surfing, on public transportation, trekking up mountains, volcano boarding, skydiving, boating, rock climbing, snorkeling, hitchhiking and more. Two of my images have even been featured on GoPro’s website as their “Photo of the Day”.
With a bit of practice, a GoPro allows anyone to get incredible action shots that were once only reserved for pros with very expensive gear. To maximize your success, I wanted to share a few tips to help you get the most out of this amazing camera.
Save Battery Life
GoPro cameras are incredibly small, but so are their batteries. To reduce your camera’s power drain and extend battery life, remember to turn off WiFi when not in use.
I also recommend turning off the camera’s sound and red LED indicator lights when not absolutely needed – you can still tell when the camera is on by looking at its LCD screen. You should have at least 2 batteries with you, and always remember to charge them up the night before.
Fog will develop inside the plastic housing if your camera is exposed to changing temperatures and humid environments. When using it on a sunny day while surfing, for example, moisture/fog can build up inside the housing due to the warm battery.
To help prevent this phenomenon GoPro makes special no-fog inserts that can be purchased, but a few grains of dry rice or slivers of toilet paper will also work in an emergency.
If you know you’ll be using it in a fog-inducing environment, I also recommend storing the camera and case inside a plastic ziplock bag with desiccant packs made from silica gel to further dry everything out the night before.
With its underwater housing a GoPro will survive down to 180 ft/60 meters deep, but image quality suffers without external lighting below a certain depth. Generally I find that once you go deeper than 40-50 feet on a sunny day, you’ll start to have problems.
The camera’s shutter speed slows down to capture enough light underwater, and slight movements will result in blurry photos. Holding it as steady as possible is important.
Red light also gets absorbed underwater the deeper you go, giving a blue hue to all your images/video. This can be reduced with a red filter, as well as underwater color correction in post-processing.
As a dedicated action & adventure camera, your GoPro can handle a lot of abuse. To keep it aimed where you want, though, make sure to tighten all mounting screws with a small screwdriver so the camera doesn’t suddenly move around at the wrong moment.
Pack Plenty of Mounts
I’ve experimented a lot with mounting options for my GoPro. To keep weight down but allow the camera to be mounted in many different situations, these are my favorites:
- The Pedco Ultra Clamp is a quick and easy way to clamp your GoPro down onto almost anything. You’ll need the GoPro tripod adapter too.
- The Chest Mount is nice, but it’s a bit big and bulky for me, so I use the Vented Helmet strap to attach my GoPro to a backpack shoulder strap for biking & hiking.
- A collection of assorted curved and flat sticky mounts is also good to have with you. When done using one, you can remove the mount with a hair dryer and a knife (for example when renting helmets, kayaks, or other equipment).
- Some kind of camera extender will help with selfie photos, plus you can get perspectives that aren’t possible otherwise. I’ve tried most of the options out there, and my favorite is the QuickPod. It’s more rugged than others, but still packs down pretty small.
- I’ve also put together my own custom RAM Mount system. It’s a bit complicated to explain, but you can read more about it here.
- The regular head strap mount is a favorite too, great for all kinds of activities. Just make sure to keep it tight on your head, and try not to move around too much or the footage will be unusable.
Prevent Water Droplets
Water droplets resting on the outside of a GoPro housing can ruin photos and video if you’re not careful. This is a problem when you’re involved in watersports with splashing water – jetskiing, swimming, surfing, etc.
One way to minimize rain droplets is to squirt the outside of your housing with RainX. Another fix is to just lick the droplets off once in a while, which works great!
Super Slow Motion
Recording at high frame rates will allow you to slow down video footage later. Slow motion is smoother at higher rates because there’s more information (frames) to work with – you’ll want at least 60fps for decent slow-mo, but the newest GoPro models can go up to 240fps.
Reduce File Size
Unless you’re shooting footage for a Hollywood movie, you probably don’t need to store full-size files on your computer. Use a free video editor like MPEG Streamclip to shrink your files down with Apple ProRes 422 for faster editing and more space on your hard drive.
You can upload the ProRes codec to edit these files with PC based software too.
The Locking Plug
Ever wonder what that little white rubber piece is that came with your GoPro camera? It’s called a locking plug, and you insert it after you’ve mounted the camera to lock everything in place and prevent unwanted vibrations. Use it.
Shooting from the Hip
Because a GoPro doesn’t come with an LCD screen or viewfinder, it can be hard to figure out what you’re aiming at. You could purchase an LCD Bacpac, or use the GoPro App on your smartphone, but with some practice you’ll get pretty good at pointing the camera and “shooting from the hip”.
The key is to practice. Remember that the field of view is pretty wide. So for example, if you turn the camera around at yourself, it’s better to aim the center of the lens at your chest rather than your face. Otherwise the composition will be off and you’ll have a bunch of empty sky above your head in the shot.
Always Use a Leash/Tether
A GoPro camera is not exactly a cheap investment. Mounts can sometimes fail, and shit happens. To prevent losing your camera, always use a leash of some kind. It’s possible to make a cheap tether with some thin but strong 3mm accessory climbing cord.
I even use a tether when swimming by stringing accessory cord from the GoPro head strap to my swim trunks, and it’s saved me a few times. Some people prefer the Floaty Back Door instead.
Play with Different Angles
Tell a story with your camera. Shooting an activity from only one angle is boring – remember that you can stop whatever you’re doing, re-mount the camera somewhere else and repeat the activity.
Later when you are ready to edit together the video, combine the multiple shots to make it look like you had 3 or 4 different cameras shooting the same activity from separate angles. This makes for a much more interesting and exciting video! It takes more time and planning, but it’s worth it.
Hold it Steady!
Finally, because the GoPro is so small it can be difficult to keep it steady. This is one of the biggest problems new owners have – shaky video footage is tough to watch, and quickly gets annoying.
If possible, attempt to hold the camera with two hands, make sure all mounts are tightened down properly, and just pay attention to your movements. Slow and steady pans are preferable to flailing around like a maniac.
If you’re looking for a unique way to share your travel adventures with friends and family, you can’t go wrong with a GoPro. It’s small, light, powerful, and can take the kind of abuse that other cameras can’t. The possibilities are only limited by your imagination.
Want more? Check out this review of our favorite (and least-favorite) GoPro accessories.
All images courtesy of author.