Anyone on the planet can strap a camera to his helmet, wrist, or chest, go for a ride, and throw the footage on YouTube, but unless you happen to capture an antelope taking down a biker or a skier sparking an avalanche before parachuting off a cliff, the clip is unlikely to find an audience. In the interest of improving our film-making skills (and better entertaining our family) we asked Davis Paul, a former pro soccer player who now leads the cadre of athletes churning out jaw-dropping videos for the San Mateo-based company, for some advice on creating engaging video.
Paul, a self-taught filmmaker (known to steal his parents' camcorder back in the VHS days), is a GoPro pro and sometimes uses as many as sixty separate cameras to capture a clean, adrenaline-packed clip perfect for use as a commercial. Still, he says that he's frequently outdone by creative users pushing boundaries on their own time. "Anyone who rides a bike or surf board can make great videos," he says. "They've become producers of content without having to book planes and hire all these professionals."
Pro or amateur footage, Paul has seen it all. Below, he shares seven tricks from the company that's colonizing YouTube.
Tell a Story
Paul recommends capturing everything before, during, and after the climactic moment so that when it's time to edit, there's context behind that high-altitude triumph or epic descent. "What's really engaging to people is the story," says Paul. "When you're just shooting action, people can be pretty disconnected with your content." Remember, a good story needs a setting, plot, and characters. This isn't Shakespeare, but it isn't Funniest Home Videos either.
Utilize Slow-Mo Video
GoPros come with several settings that allow videographers to manipulate the speed and size of the frames. By setting your camera to 1080p at 60 frames per second, you'll capture video that you can later slow down to dramatic effect. Mixing in these segments gives depth to the story and can help match any corresponding background music. There's also very little sacrifice to video quality, as the setting above can still be shown on all large-screen HD televisions. Even the super slow-motion mode at 720p (at a ridiculous 120 frames per second) is web-HD and sharp enough for most reasonably-sized monitors. Unless you're planning an IMAX film, it's a no-risk situation. "You can always play it back in real time, but you have the option to slow it down if you need to," says Paul.
Use the GoPro Software
Serious GoPro users used to rely on expensive editing programs like Final Cut Pro. Excellent editing programs are still excellent, but GoPro's new, free editing software can got the job done if that job isn't creating something for the Super Bowl. "It streamlines the process for users and can handle a lot of different formats," says Paul. That includes 12 pre-set editing templates that allow you to drop in different segments of your own footage. Even better, viewing the templates in advance can help you plan out your stunt.
Use the Frame Housing
GoPros come with several accessories, including a frame housing and a waterproof housing. Most people rely on the latter because it looks tougher, but Paul recommends the former in nearly all instances that don't involve water or massive amounts of dirt. "The biggest difference is sound," he says. "It's night and day compared to the waterproof case." Using ambient sound is especially key in emotional situations with dialogue (or that "Hell, yeah!" on a memorable powder run). Another bonus: The frame housing makes the overall camera lighter, which reduces shake for more stable video.
Less Is More
There might be 90 minutes of footage to choose from in the editing process, but the best videos find a way to distill that into 90 seconds. One person even reduced his average work day into one entertaining minute. "A lot of user-generated content, they have this great adventure, but then it's six minutes long," says Paul. "Our attention spans are too short for that. You can tell a good story in two minutes."
Use the Camera Function
A short burst of rapid still-shots can introduce strobe light-like variety during a particularly nifty trick. GoPros shoot at 30 frames per second, faster than most cameras on the market. Looking to set the scene, use the time-lapse feature to give a sense of scale.
Look Around the House
Some of the most innovative shooters use everyday items from around the house to capture unique angles. "We've had people use the bottom of shoes, brooms, even frying pans," Paul says. The latest invention to catch on was a roller-blade wheel affixed to a helmet and connected to a three-foot-long pole with a GoPro camera at both ends. The swivel keeps the point of view changing constantly – yet always aimed at your head – and the two angles can later be edited to complement each other for a fast-moving Trainspotting-style cut.