Updated: Feb 16, 2021
I was recently mapping out my workflow for using GoPros just to visualise what I was doing to see if I could tweak my process a little. I thought I'd share it in case it helps anyone else doing the same thing.
It's broken out into three approaches, Easy and Fast, Flexible and Cinematic.
This idea here is the approach changes depending on how committed you want to be and what the outcome is you're trying at achieve. If you're just capturing a moment and you want to quickly share it on social for friend and family, the process needs to be straight forward and fast to implement.
However, if your intent is to create an amazing video for a creative outlet, then more time is allowed so therefore a process that makes the most out of your content is essential.
Easy and Fast
This method is what I use if I know I'm not going to take it back to my desk for editing but instead just cut something quick to share or store for the future. Just something a little more elevated than a few photos basically.
This also suits people who are new to GoPro and editing as it incorporates mostly out-of-the-box default settings.
The idea here is to shoot quick little clips of the event but "top and tail" it with some context for the audience. People watching need to understand what is going on in the video, even if those people are just yourself and the family a couple of years down the track.
Capturing in little short clips makes it easier to prioritise the good shots and dump the bad shots once you've got the clips into GoPros app.
Download the shots into the GoPro app
Go through each of the shots and highlight the good bits, delete the clips that aren't good enough.
Tap the button to create an Edit and then start tweaking.
Export and send to social
This method is then the polar opposite of the quick and easy. Every part of this takes more effort and time because we're basically telling the camera to do what we want it to do and not make any decisions for us. That way we can control it.
However, bear in mind that this is really in conflict with the purpose of the camera because it is built to capture the action rather than be a cinematic camera. Its intent is to automate as much as possible.
Video as well as photography is all about capturing light and using three things to control that light.
Shutter Speed, how quickly we expose the light to the sensor,
ISO, how sensitive the sensor will be to that light and then
Aperture, how big is the hole that lets the light in.
Now, a GoPro doesn't have aperture control, so instead of changing the size of the hole that lets the light in, we are throwing some sunglasses on, ND Filters.
Once we've limited the light getting into the camera, we can then control the light with Shutter Speed and ISO.
For my application, mostly riding a motorcycle, there is a particular amount of motion blur I'm wanting to show the movement and I found 1/96 is the best for that. 1/48 is just too slow and looks bad at anything over 80km/h and higher looks like you're not even moving, which is what it will look like out of the box with default settings.
Another option here, if you don't feel like swapping out ND filters as the day's light changes, you can set the Shutter Speed to Auto and then drop the EV Comp to -1. This way it won't over-expose the shot and keeps the speed down a little.
Once we have the shutter speed dialled in, I set the ISO range so that it can be the variable to control the light. I usually set this to a max of 800 because if the light is darker, I want to keep it that way rather than filling it with noise.
White Balance, if I'm out riding than I set it to 5500k. That was it suits mostly what a sunlight lit environment should look like but it also keeps it consistent so it's not changing from one shot to another. I've found that GoPros auto-balance is ok but there are certainly times where it doesn't handle things right. Grass for instance is somewhere between green and yellow and it kinda freaks out and doesn't know what to do. Particularly if there's nothing white or grey in the frame.
I set Sharpness to the lowest setting so I can change it at the end of my colour process. Anything higher in camera and it starts to look weird.
Lastly, colour is set to "Flat" so we can have more room to move when editing the colour to adjust contrast and saturation. By default, I'm usually upping the saturation overall but then dropping selected colours such as blue for the sky or red in taillights.
The top shot here is with basically standard settings and the colour is set to "GoPro" whereas the below is set to "Flat" and you can see in the waveform how much more we have the work with.
The top right of the waveform on the GoPro coloured version above shows that the information is lost and if I try and bring it down, there's a little colour there, but it's still a solid line that difficult to work with.
This also nicely demonstrates why the middle of the day is the harshest for light.
Since we're going to be taking the files back to the desk to edit, we may as well capture some good audio and edit the WAV files that accompany the MP4's when you turn on Audio in ProTunes. I set it to Low so I have the most room possible to edit the audio, which means the file is usually quiet when you load them up and need a fair amount of amplifying to get started. Having it set to low also means it captures all mics, all the time. The GoPro will internally shut off mics when it detects too much wind but I prefer to have control over that.
If you're using Davinci Resolve, the audio levels won't be enough to pump them up so you need to edit them externally and it's best to do this prior to importing so you're not dealing with cached files. Alternatively, if you've already imported them, name the new files something different, v2 for example and then "replace clips". I use Adobe Audition because I like its visuals but any audio editor will do the same thing.
Generally, they will need amplifying to +30-40db, then some compression for the loud bits and some EQ to make it sounds crispy.
The added advantage is that you can see where the talking is so much more easily because the camera tends to really pump up the surrounding noise to the same level as the vocals which makes it harder to find, and certainly harder to edit.
The whole point of all of that is control. It gives you control to capture the image you want to capture and more to work with in editing.
The Flexible mode is pretty much the compromise of the other two modes, which is why I'm mentioning it last.
Most image capture aspects are reverting to auto so you don't need to think too much about them while you're enjoying whatever it is you're doing. The whole point of a GoPro is to capture the fun, not get in the way of you having fun!
You can also then choose whether you want to do a quick edit in the GoPro app or take it back to the desk. If you've shot everything in full cinematic mode, the GoPro app doesn't have a colour option that you can apply to the whole timeline so it would be an annoying task to make colour adjusts to every clip, even if it is just basic contrast and saturation.
So, which to use? Well, it depends not on the camera but how you want to capture the day and what you're the definition of success is for your video. If success is capturing something and getting it shared the same day you had the experience, then you want a workflow that is easy and fast. If success for you is someone saying "wow, that looks like a movie" than you need to prepare, setup and make time for the Cinematic workflow.
Most importantly though of course, is that you're having fun doing it!