What should you carry in a toolbox; an impossible question right? There’s no way you can carry the perfect tool for every situation. So what you do take is a selection of tools that can cope with any job. That’s exactly what our Adventure Travel Training at Off Road Skills is all about. From strapping your bike onto a makeshift raft, to riding off-road with a pillion and towing a broken down bike – we’ve been there, made the mistakes and learned from them. Hell, it wouldn’t be an adventure if you knew exactly what to expect. After a couple of days with us, you’ll be able to take any situation in your stride; camera in hand, confident smile on face. Give us a shout and take the stress out of that next unexpected river crossing. www.offroadskills.com
Cameras are everywhere. If you’re like us, you’ve got your phone camera, you’ve got an SLR or maybe two, a compact stuffed somewhere and quite possibly an epic collection of action cameras. There are people out there working hard to create great images and footage but they tend to be the exception to the norm. In this ever-expanding world of digital cameras there is an endless stream of unwatchable, badly-filmed content, with hour-long YouTube GoPro videos of endless tarmac miles. We know which we prefer.
Don’t get what we mean? Have you seen Long Way Round? Imagine if they’d put every minute of riding on the bitumen, shot with a GoPro to a generic piece of 90’s house music… It’s about as engaging and inspirational as Weetabix without milk.
With the aim of helping you capture, record and put together the finest moments of video, and turn you from a tourist into an artist we’ve put together a multi-piece feature on making the most of every moment you encounter. Adventure riding takes us to the most incredible places, where others simply can’t get. It’s something to be cherished, recorded and remembered. The aim of this guide is to put you on the path to creating videos and images to remember just how awesome those moments really were.
For the first of our multi-part series on making the very best of your epic adventures, we started with a Rhys Lawrey, fresh back from his World Record accumulating global epic. Rhys isn’t a pro cameraman; he’s a normal 23-year-old who picked up a GoPro or three and figured out how to get a cracking shot, film some exciting things and cut it all together into something pretty damn cool and engaging. Rhys sits as the simple, travel-friendly camera guy who really isn’t that far ahead of the rest of us. The purpose of this first installment is to show that with a little knowledge, thought and skill, the most versatile camera type ever invented can give you memories from your adventures like you couldn’t have dreamed of 10 years ago.
The action camera is this generation’s Polaroid. It’s the ultimate in point and shoot. Its lens angle is so wide you can’t miss anything…
The action camera is this generation’s Polaroid. It’s the ultimate in point and shoot. Its lens angle is so wide you can’t miss anything, the quality is good enough to be edited and it can take stunning video too. What more would you want? We didn’t put the video in there as a second option by mistake. The action camera is one of the best tools you can imagine for capturing those stunning vistas, images of yourself and all the incredible things you’ll see on the way.
Do you need a GoPro specifically? No, not in the slightest. There are stacks of great action camera’s; iON, Drift, Garmin, Sony all make strong options. The best part is that these cameras are comparatively low priced, incredibly versatile and infinitely portable.
The Action Camera Kit List
Kit appeals to the consumerist nature in all of us. GoPros and action cameras of all brands can be paired with more bits and bobs than you can imagine; from mounts to batteries, poles, memory cards with insane storage, microphones and maybe even a plug in toaster*. Most of it is cheap too and the flexibility to give you great images and video is really second to none.
Rhys’ kit list is longer than most will ever need to be. While we suggest you pick and choose the bits you like, his list is a good insight into what works. He’s got batteries and accessories coming out of every hole, he rocked three separate cameras and captured an immense 6TB of footage. But then again part of the reason behind his trip required photos and video, so he needed plenty. He’s a sponsored traveller and sponsors need content. His total kit list goes something like this:
V USB 12V (Cigarette plug type) charger.
USB power charger.
3 x cases.
3 x cameras.
4 x memory cards (one spare).
16 x mounts on his bike.
3 x mounts on his helmet.
1 x tank bag to carry it all in.
1 x laptop with Adobe Photoshop for editing.
*There is no toaster. Sorry.
The art of using an action camera effectively is all about having it set up well. By that we mean having settings that let the camera work to its potential whilst making it damn easy for you to actually use. If using your camera requires a ten-step process that involves summoning a god and doing a rain dance to get a shot, you’ll never use the thing.
This all starts with your camera settings. The evolution of action cameras means they are getting more and more user friendly, utilising Wi-Fi to get the angle right through your phone or sporting built-in screens. Most can record with one-touch operations, shoot multi-shot, capture epic time-lapses and more.
So make it as easy as possible to record. This is our first top tip. If you need to mess around with menus or to see if the red recording light is on and so on, it’ll quickly fall into the ‘too hard’ bin. Set your camera up for one touch recording, this way a quick press of the record button will switch the camera on and start filming without you doing anything. With the ‘auto off’ function, you can stop recording and the camera will turn off on its own. This way you’ll capture what you need to, quickly, reliably and more than likely have battery power left the next time you want it. Most of the brands can do this, but the ION Air Pro 3 has the easiest system with a slide to record, push to take photos system.
Multishot or burst functions are fantastic way to capture the action of a situation without relying on pushing the button on the camera at the exact moment.
Frame rates are easily one of the most complex things about video and ultimately they aren’t that important. Don’t care? Skip this bit. For those who do: video is essentially made up of lots of single images. One second of video can be made up of different amounts of images, 23.97, 24, 25, or 30. This relates to how you edit footage at the end. The typical FPS (Frames Per Second) is 30; it’s used for TV and many other applications. Films, they use 23.97. Does it matter? Not a massive amount but what does matter is that your frame rates match; it just makes things easier. So if you’re mixing video camera and GoPro footage, make sure you have the same frame rate across the board. Go Pro recommend 30p (30 FPS) as the best for their cameras.
Slow motion is also pretty damn cool. It’s like life, only slower. If you want to shoot any slow motion, shoot at multiples of the normal frame rate. So if you shoot 30p for normal video, then choose 60 or 120FPS. That way they can blend together easily and be slowed down afterward into lovely, smooth, slow motion. Just keep in mind, 60p uses double the space of 30p; it’s twice as much info for the memory card to store!
Two and half minutes of time-lapse gets you one second of actual video footage so set that camera down and enjoy the view while it records.
Resolution – mmm. The newest generations of action cameras are pumping 4K resolution, and capable of 12 million pixel images. That’s a lot of data, with memory getting eaten quicker than anyone likes to see. These cameras perform best when shot in their max resolution settings even when downsizing to normal HD. But when travelling it’s craziness to drop so much valuable memory space on pixels that we can’t make use of properly yet. Editing 4K footage takes a good computer, stacks of RAM and most screens in the world can’t output it in full resolution either. Shoot 2.4k or 1080p. For the images, make sure you use the highest resolution possible.
Metering matters. Turn spot metering off. It’s designed for hugely bright moments, in the snow and similar environments where the glare is high. Let your camera do what it’s good at by judging the general light of the situation.
Multi-shot or burst functions are fantastic ways to capture the action of a situation without relying on pushing the button at the exact moment. You can set most action cameras up to shoot a frame at pre-set intervals. For an action shot, anything from 0.5 to 2 seconds works superbly and will allow you to push the button and hold the camera in the position you desire.
When shooting an incredible time-lapse* of that view you can’t get enough of you need to do some minor maths. Are you looking for 10 seconds of footage for your video, 20 seconds? Each single photo will equate to one frame. Each second of video may have 30 frames per second. We generally use 5 second intervals for a time-lapse. At 5 second intervals you get 12 frames per minute. So two and half minutes of time-lapse gets you one second of actual video footage so set that camera down and enjoy the view while it records.
The Jello effect. Ever thought your video looks wobbly, jerky or hard to watch? It might even make you feel sick. That’s because of the ‘Jello Effect’. You have no control over the physical camera settings with action cameras, no shutter speed or aperture. It’s what makes these cameras so simple to use, but it can limit the end result. When in bright light the camera compensates by upping shutter speed. Without being too complex, this results in the video appearing very ‘wobbly’. The solution is a super cheap Neutral Density (ND) filter. It’s a pair of sunglasses for your camera, which will smooth out the footage and make it look like it does in the GoPro adverts.
Where to put your cameras.
The simple answer to this is everywhere except on the top of your helmet. Please, don’t put it on the top. It looks silly; it’s a bad position for making footage look exciting and it’s so easy to catch on things overhead.
Camera mounts are cheap and the angle of the cameras is so wide they can go everywhere. Buy a big old pack of mounts on Amazon and get sticking. The footage and images always look best when they have a reference point. Maybe the mounts are down low so you can see a wheel; maybe it’s the side of your helmet for a birds eye view; maybe it’s the rear shock movement. It’s horrid, but a pole or ‘selfie stick’ can get the camera in new places at incredible angles. Put that camera everywhere and anywhere odd to see what angles you can create.
Creating the Art
This part is all down to you. While a photographic and creative eye undoubtedly helps, the beauty of an action camera is that it requires no camera skill. There are some simple rules to follow though and Rhys batted them out each time:
Shoot the same thing several times and choose the best image.
Try different angles and please, don’t just hold a camera up to eye level.
Learn the rule of thirds. You can read about it here. Even with a wide angle lens, it really works.
Again, different angles.
If you’re riding together, take in your hand and point it at your friend for some video and photos. It’ll look really good.
Did we mention about the angles? Really do put that camera everywhere.
Don’t be afraid of the sun. Shooting into the sun can create incredible shots, just look at Rhys’ shot with the camels. The camera will deal with it and so will editing software.
Blue skies happen in the opposite direction to the sun.
Play around and have fun. Take the camera into all your experiences, but remember not to miss the moment because you’re playing with your camera.
Creating great video is all in the edit. Our first piece of advice is to watch some of GoPro’s own videos. Think about what makes them good. It’s constant action, short clips and decent music. Click on the ‘Video Material’ tab to view some.
The best advice for editing is to use the best of each moment. Keep the clips relatively short and vary them. Don’t put together 30-second clips from your helmet of a dead straight road. Mix it up with a helmet shot, a wheel shot, a shot of you jumping in a lake and drinking a beer. A few five-second clips are more effective than one fifty-second clip from a single view point.
Turn the wind noise off too. Action cameras do the job for sound, for capturing voice and such when you’re static but they are horrific when moving, so for the sake of everyone’s ears, mute the damn wind noise. Instead find a tune that fits what you like and match the video cuts to the music. It’ll flow so much better and start to give you an idea of what works.
For video editing software your options are endless. GoPro’s own software is really good and easy to use. It’s simple but it’ll more than do the job you need, plus it’s free. It comes with pre-made templates that include music choices, pre chosen edit cut points; all round it’s a great bit of kit. Likewise, you can do a great job with Apple’s iMovie and Windows Movie Maker isn’t bad either. All of those are free. Now if you want something more in-depth you can dive into pro-level editing with Final Cut X on Mac, it’s the simplest step for a new user and on PC Sony Vegas or Adobe’s Premier Pro (also on mac) are great options. Those all come at a fairly chunky price however.
For photo editing, Photos or iPhoto do a decent job, as does Adobe Photoshop Elements and plenty of other budget software. However the cream of the crop is Adobe Lightroom. It’s simply the most powerful, most user friendly program around and can be learnt in a couple of hours. It’s not so expensive either and will let you get the very best out of your images. We use it at Brake, Rhys uses it for all his GoPro images and so do our other two experts. It’s a game changer.
Storing the evidence
How do you store all those incredible images and video you’ve taken? With difficulty. The are a myriad of solutions, from endlessly buying memory cards to creating an epic three hard drive back-up system that is totally unfeasible whilst travelling on a bike. Hard drives are your friend; many, many hard drives.
Travelling for as long as Rhys did, he racked up the storage. 6TB in total. That’s not something you can fit on a memory card. Rhys’s solution was to buy portable hard drives, copying everything onto them and when each hard drive reached capacity, ship it home. It worked for him, he’s now got 6TB of footage to edit and sift through.
Traditional hard drives, whilst they’ve worked for years, are fragile. They have moving parts and are susceptible to suffering irreparable damage quite easily. We’ve suffered the crushing feeling of losing incredible moments. It’s unpleasant.
The ultimate solution is SSD or Solid State Drive. It’s like a giant version of a memory stick, faster, more reliable and a damn sight harder to break, what’s not to love? The price. They cost more, period. They’re also less available in big sizes and less available on the high street but they are the ideal travel option. The downside to the hard drive solution is that it requires a laptop of some sort to download the footage and whilst some of you may be into carrying a laptop it’s not always practical.
If you want to be laptop free, or carry a tablet of some description, fear not. We’re big fans of travelling light and there are some incredible solutions. Step up the jazzily named Sanho HyperDrive Colour Space. It’s essentially a very fancy case for hard drives. The total upside of a product like this is you can import and view all your media from your cards, computer free. Even better, when you’ve filled up one hard drive you can open the case, unplug the hard drive installed and put a new one in, opening access to a whole butt-load more storage without needing a laptop, a bulky charger, card readers and wasted space. We’ve even seen examples of SSD’s fitted in the enclosure, creating the ultimate travel back up. The biggest downside is the arm and leg you need to sell to buy one. There are swings and roundabouts to it all; there is no perfect solution.
The final option is to buy endless quantities of Micro SDs, fill them up and use them as your storage unit. SD cards are generally stable, very cheap and extremely portable but there is always a chance you’ll lose cards or run out of space just when you really wanted it.
The action camera is an incredibly travel-friendly option and can provide memorable results. The key is to get the camera out and use it in as many different ways as you can imagine. The more you do this, the more you’ll learn and the better images you’ll capture.
We are however, extremely big proponents of avoiding being the selfie guy. Capture each moment but don’t live through the lens because as humans we have two pretty good cameras on the front of our faces and on the whole a decent enough memory card hard-wired inside our skulls!
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