I had been frustrated to no end trying to use GoPros to capture professional quality photos. Obviously they aren’t going to be as refined as the images coming out of my DSLR, but I see photos all the time taken by non-professionals that are fantastic. And yet, I struggled to match the quality I see in my friends photos who know absolutely nothing about photography. Perhaps that’s the key; this is a camera designed to be used by the masses, so maybe I was overthinking it.
When I asked my friend Ken Hoeve how he gets such great shots with his GoPro, his response was simple. He said, “I take thousands of photos, and one will work.” I got to see it first hand when he mounted the camera to his paddle and shot Surftech athlete Kelly Potts on our recent trip to Utah.
About a year ago I purchased the Hero 4 Black, which shoots 12 megapixel images and 4K video, and, out of thousands of images taken, I’ve only added a few to my portfolio, but still I’ve come to see this camera as a necessary tool that stays in my kit for specialty shots.
The size, portability, and some of the shooting options like “burst mode” let me capture images that I wouldn’t be able to touch with a full size camera. It’s become a handy tool for adventure images, and it’s a great way to “set it and forget it” and not worry about draining my main camera’s battery and storage.
Here are a few tricks I’ve learned that help me get the most out of the camera, and that I hope will speed up the learning curve of any other adopter of this tiny camera.
When shooting stills on the GoPro, it’s tough to time the shots and near impossible to frame. I have my camera set to take 10 frames a second over a three-second period. That lets me start shooting a second before the action starts, and I’m sure that I won’t miss the moment that matters. It’s especially good for shooting in situations where I’m trying my best to keep myself safe and I can’t dedicate much thought to the camera. Situations like shooting surfing from in the waves or underwater shots while holding my breath.
Protune gives you way more control over your image, it lets you set white balance, max and minimum ISO among many other things. When you first see the image it will look flat and slightly soft, but that’s what you want. When not set to protune, contrast, saturation and sharpness are added to the image in camera. There’s no way that the camera can predict how you want your image to look for every shot, and the power of editing software like Photoshop will be better every time.
Sometimes the shot I want requires using a boom pole or mounting the camera somewhere that I can’t manage it from, like a climbing helmet or on the mast of a sailboat. In these situations I use the continuous shooting mode set to take a photo every two seconds, and I forget about it.
Invest in the Right Aftermarket Products
I say “invest” almost sarcastically because compared to the cost of typical photography gear this stuff is so cheap. The best brand that I’ve found for these aftermarket boom poles, triggers and mounting options is called KNEKT. They make trigger poles that are awesome for self portraits, pistol grips that solve the issue of how you hold on to the tiny camera and my favorite product: dome ports. The dome port is especially useful to me because it lets me shoot over/under shots that rival anything I can get with my $5,000 camera housing and DSLR. There’s no way I’d haul my 5D3 housing on a hike or paddle boarding session, but this thing is so light and small I can throw it in a pack and add next to nothing to my burden. By separating the waterline from the lens, you immediately make the GoPro shot look like it was taken with a pro camera.
Shoot in Strong Light
It may just be me, but so far I haven’t gotten anything good in low light or in backlit situations. The best light I’ve found is strong afternoon light that’s coming in from an angle.
As always, I’m still learning. I would love to hear what tips and tricks you’ve picked up along the way shooting with GoPro, and in particular with editing the photos you get!