Monday, February 13, 2012

Cool things to do with your GoPro

Or, for my kayaking audience:
Sweet ill stuff to do while yo leg is broke. Specially if you are ballin on a budget. Brown.

EDIT: I have written another article, featuring a newer stern mount, but also a short essay about my philosophy of GoPro filming. You can check it out here.

Well, as you all know, I recently broke my leg, so I can't kayak for a while. During my downtime, I have been playing around with my camera equipment, and I thought I would write a post about some of the cool things that you can do to your GoPro. The GoPro HD cameras have revolutionized action cinematography, because they are so accessible and yet so high quality. I am still learning, but here are a couple of tips and modifications that I have found that help you get even more professional looking results with a minimal investment.

I started this article by just writing about the time lapse tools, but then I just had to make a video showing them in action, and then it all spiraled out of control, and I made a full length video of a lot of different filming techniques that I have discovered for the GoPro. Check out the video here:

Most of the things in the video are described in more detail here, and I have a couple general tips here that are not in the video. I hope that these ideas help you enjoy your GoPro even more. If you don't have one, go buy one at Anyway, here are the tips:

Lick the lens.
Many kayak videos shot with GoPros show a lot of water droplets on the lens. Some people recommend rainx or other hydrophobic treatments, but these tend to make the droplets stand up tighter off the surface. The thing that you're seeing on the shot are the droplet edges. Instead of eliminating the droplets, embrace them. Lick the lens and give it a quick wipe, and the lens will have a constant thickness layer across it. There will be way fewer droplet edges.

Use some kind of de-fogging stuff on the inside of the case.
You will be using this camera near, in and around water. Temperatures will be changing, air will be moist, and you might get water droplets inside the case. Fog is hard to spot, but it will turn your gopro video into mud. I bought some smith anti-fog wipes from REI for about $2 each. I have used one so far, and it has solved all my fog problems.

Build a lens cap.
That front lens on your GoPro is made of plastic. The case is very durable, and you will be tempted to just toss the camera anywhere when not in use - on the floor of your car, into a backpack, etc. This usually won't break the case or anything, but it can scratch the lens easily. Random little scratches on the lens will degrade your image quality. Here is how to make a nice lens cap. I didn't come up with this idea. Get a ping-pong ball and cut it in half, then drill two little holes in it and pass a hairtie or rubber band through there. It should fit around the outer edge of your lens perfectly.

From GoPro equipment
From GoPro equipment
Those were the tips. Here are a couple fun things that I have built or re-purposed for my GoPro.

Stern mount!
Again, I didn't come up with this idea, I found it trolling the internet. The basic idea is pretty clever. You want a post that clamps on to another rod (the grabloop) at right angles. This is basically what a bicycle seat post does. I searched around until I found a post that would grab on to a grabloop, then monkeyed around with it a little, and attached a GoPro mount to the end of it. I like mine. The angle is adjustable, so you can lean it towards or away from yourself, and of course it attaches to the bow or the stern, without any modification to the boat itself.

If you build a protruding mount like this, use it with a little care, and think things through. I tried to make mine so that it would flex and break before breaking the boat, but even so, you're taking some extra risks having a giant narwhal horn sticking off one end of your boat. Not to mention the danger to your GoPro. However, you can get some entertaining shots with it. Just don't be tempted to overuse the footage. You probably love seeing your own funny faces as you paddle downstream, or reading the logos on the back of your lifejacket, but nobody else does, and you usually can't see much of the rapid that you're running.

From GoPro equipment
From GoPro equipment
From GoPro equipment
From GoPro equipment
From GoPro equipment
Stows easily in the stern when not in use. GoPro equipment
The other cool thing that I have been playing around with is the super-easy time lapse functionality of the GoPro Hero 2. Here are a couple cool internet ideas that I have stolen for getting interesting timelapses.

Egg timer!
A lot of videos have fake effects where it looks like the camera pans around at super slow speed during a time lapse. Usually this is just a software effect and the camera was stationary (the software crops the original clip, then uses some perspective distortion and moves the cropped area around). Here is a cheaper and easier solution: mount your GoPro on an egg timer. The egg timer takes a long time to swivel around, so over the course of your timelapse, your camera will pan around in a circle. This has some limitations, like the fact that all your timelapses will rotate at the same speed, and will always turn left (or right, whatever), but hey, it's cheap and easy. My friend Ty built this egg timer swivel for me. All you do is drill a hole in the top plate and put a screw through it that is the right size for a tripod mount. Tripod GoPro mounts can be bought from the GoPro website. Also, thanks to Ty Newton for building this particular egg timer mount for me.


A little update here: you could also buy an eggtimer with a flat top (I think Ikea sells them) and glue a flat mount on the top surface.

Furthermore, here is a short video showing a better demonstration of the eggtimer:

Spring Break Timelapse from Leif Anderson on Vimeo.

From GoPro equipment
This nut is glued to the bottom so that the egg timer can be connected to a tripod. GoPro equipment
Ready for action, one hour at a time. GoPro equipment

Here's the cool one. I am still perfecting this tool, but it's been fun so far. The big craze lately has been to have video shots that track side to side really smoothly and artistically on fancy rail systems. Here is how to get that same effect during a timelapse: Use a BBQ rotisserie motor to slowly wind up string and pull the GoPro along some tracks during a timelapse. I don't have any fancypants tracks, so I have been using a skateboard on our living room floor. The timelapses that I shoot that way are pretty boring, but the idea is sound.


Another note here: My latest version of this device is the same motor, but instead of a skateboard I have a toy truck that's about 4 inches wide. I chopped the top off, and put a bolt through it to attach the tripod mount onto. I carry the truck and motor around in a backpack, and use whatever flat surfaces I can. Usually either 2x4s, cement surfaces, hoods of cars, or the hull of an overturned boat. I'm still perfecting it even now. Sometimes the toy car isn't aimed right, and jumps a little during the timelapse. However, it's still cheap, and still portable. These two videos feature a couple timelapses using the toy car, although interspersed with a lot more kayaking:
Gore Race Video (The toy truck shot is near the end, at 1:50)
Summer 2012 roadtrip video (come for the gratuitous timelapses, stay for the nudity!)(there is no nudity. There are waterfalls, though. And as many creative GoPro mounts as I could manage.)
Rotisserie motor. It winds up the string and pulls the camera really slowly. GoPro equipment

Now for a couple tips for getting creative shots that don't involve much hardware.

Tie the GoPro to a long stick!
The really cool thing about the GoPro is that it produces really high quality video, but it is tiny. It's light enough to tie to the end of a long stick and do cool things with it. Sticks are usually easy to find near rivers, and you probably have an extra tether for your GoPro already, so it is incredibly easy to put two and two together. You can then wave the camera around artistically near the top and bottom of interesting rapids, or reach out closer to playwaves. The cool part of the tie-to-a-stick technique isn't just the new location that you can reach, it is the smooth way you can move the camera in ways that seem impossible. Take advantage of that.

Hang the GoPro on a rope!
Same basic idea here as with the stick - the GoPro is small enough and light enough to get to really strange places. At the Mwave in Colorado, there is a convenient bridge near the wave, and we have often used that bridge to run a pair of ropes across the river. We found a piece of wood nearby, and we tie the camera to the wood, which is in turn connected to both ropes. We connect to the two ropes so that we can steer where the camera is pointed. You can then raise and lower the camera, film from directly above the paddler, directly in front of the paddler, and just generally fly around having fun. Just like with the stick, the new locations are cool, but movement is the really sweet feature to take advantage of. You could imagine setting up a budget zipline shot quite easily, since a standard throwrope is strong enough to support the GoPro easily.

Wear the GoPro backwards!
Next time you are online watching a helmetcam video and you realize that it is really boring, ask yourself why. It is probably because the video is the standard view of someone's bow, while they paddle something average. Waves are cool to look at, but not worth making a video of. The cool part of paddling videos is the paddler. Whenever possible, I try to paddle incredibly close to someone while filming with the GoPro. This gives the rapids a sense of scale, and more importantly, it gives the audience someone to look at. Your bow is not very charismatic. The natural extension of this is to not just film someone by following them really closely, but to turn the camera around backward in its mount and film someone following you. Faces are more exciting than helmets.

Mix it up!
Never ever release a video composed entirely of the same type of shot (well, I guess there are some exceptions, but even then...). No matter how cool your angle is, it can always be made better by comparing it to a different angle.

Now go out there and have fun, because I can't until my leg heals.

For some more awesome boat-mounting ideas (some more expensive, some cheaper), check out They have made some very nice looking stern mounts, and they were the ones that came up with the idea of using the bicycle seat post as a mount.

Also, as mentioned at the beginning, I have written another article, featuring a newer stern mount and a whole lot more filming philosophy. You can check out that article here.

Also thanks to our housemate Shon for letting us use his skateboard for timelapses.