• Getting ready for those splash shots (Steve Thomas)Source: Steve Thomas
Technophobe to film maker in a day, Steve Thomas gets to grips with the absolute basics of an action camera and produces a selfie ride movie.
Steve Thomas

13 Dec 2017 - 11:19 AM 

Hi, my name’s Steve, and I am a technophobe. I’m one of those guys who sees the adds for technologically pimped and gimped gadgets and then who goes out and buys them, and then leaves them to mature on a dusty shelf before they fade into and obsolete state.

This mostly comes from a technical freeze and abandonment which comes when I see the manuals and realise that that dream I bought into was not quite as advertised. This all comes despite the fact that many box loads of experience, piled up wires and remote ideals have taught me to know not to be seduced by the latest and greatest Wifi enabled flying 3D GPS sunny side up magic camera.

Somewhere down the evolutionary line I do occasionally get to grips with the basics of at lease some of these goods. This is usually when I try to justify (to myself) buying the latest 4th generation of said dusty box of tricks – and, I guess that I’m not alone in this.

Hi, my name’s Steve, and I am a technophobe.

Almost all of us have some form of video capable device close to hand; be that a phone, an action camera or a regular digital camera, and a good number of us do have these to hand on our regular rides, and a few may even  quick-draw on them to capture those ride precious moments to reflect on later - or share on social media. Others take the whole thing a step further and edit together movies for YouTube.

The thing is, much of the time these clips tend to rattle out worse than a drunken snake in a dark alley, and when viewed by others there is a distinct flashback to those once laboriously endured holiday slideshows. Nowadays these often take the form of over indulgent Facebook friends, but your ride videos really don’t have to be that way.

Somewhere just about a month after the GoPro Hero 4 hit the shelves (around 3 years ago) I rushed out with great intent and bought one, to replace the original first generation version that I’d never used.

Racked with enthusiasm and a handful of mounts I immediately went out and cut my first video, a selfie of me riding. Next up, I sat down to figure out how to edit this into a view-able clip. Following a couple of day’s worth of tedious frustration and knowledge limitation I posted my first-ever YouTube video. 

That was it; and despite having carried the GoPro halfway around the world since, the editing process and results had effectively killed my (semi-existent) aspirations of becoming the next great action filmmaker.

Fast forward to 2 weeks ago and I had the insatiable lure of a new flying camera. I was armed with great intent and a large overdose of YouTube instruction and research, so I gave myself the task of knocking out a watchable and presentable GoPro video within a day.

It was to be a bike mounted selfie movie of a regular ride out, with the side-aim of finally trying out various camera mounts, film formats, and filming methodology. This was all to be done without impacting too much on the enjoyment and duration of my ride – which was a concept I figured may well be useful to others out there.

The storyboard

Okay, we’ve all seen those hand Hollywood-like, hand sketched film storyboards – and no, I didn’t succumb to that level of grandeur and serious intention. I guess that most of us would prefer not to go to such levels. I did have a vague plan, which I noted on paper for the sake of making the whole process easier on myself.

That plan was to use a series of short clips to tell an interesting and fairly packed narrative story of a ride out, a ride which was just about 1.5 hours long, and had lots of variation, hopefully enough to make the final video at least a little bit varied.

Next up was to figure out the shots and mounts I wanted, and also to compromise on these based around reducing the hassle and time in switching the camera between mounts, video formats and roadside lags in connecting it to the iPhone app (which I used to line up shots and press the buttons).

This process actually took up a staggering number of hours, spread over a few days. Luckily, once the lights came on and I got a base plan it was all quite easy – and now that I have a better idea of what works, those key mounts stay on the bike. I now also know which buttons to press, and the whole thing is almost seamless – which means that initial step has now been levelled for future projects.

Now, I know that there are many out there who have a vague mastery of editing software such as Final Cut Pro, Adobe Premiere, After Effects and so on, and some who do love to spend hours working with them; I’m just not one of those people. Keeping it as simple and fast as possible, and coming away with a personally usable result was my aim.

If you’re like me and want to keep it simple then I’d suggest that you don’t get drawn into too much of that baffling online info about film logs, 4K and multi level editing and just get to grips with the basics. Otherwise that whole great barrier of techno fear may well kill your enthusiasm and consign your aspirations back to that dusty and dark shelf, just as it did with me – and it really does not need to be like that.

Knowing that I did not want to delve into all of that editing toil and wizardry meant that I shot accordingly; full HD, using the camera default 27fps and keeping the shots short as possible – just 10-20 seconds a time, with the intent of trimming those down to around half of that duration.

The tiny screens on action cameras (if you have a screen) are really tough to see when the camera is mounted, and the buttons are often fiddly too, so if you have the option of using a phone app to control it then this is definitely the way to go. I managed to shoot some more stuff over the following days by only using the app and without even having to stop.

For a short ride it’s easier to leave the camera powered – so as not to lose the phone app connection. This also allows you to keep the logged into a set function and format, which interferes a lot less with the fun of the ride, which, after all, is what matters the most.

Mounts and shots

Stabilisation and an interesting perspective are vital, unless you like the shaky half cut look that is. Now, of course there are stabilizers and gimbals out there, but that’s whole new level of commitment and investment, and for now I’m not even going to go there (but do stay tuned).

I’d got hold of a number of different clamps, mounts and straps, and to be honest most were simply not worth the wait time for delivery – and so I decided to keep things simple and as stable as possible.

For the opener I stuck a mount to my helmet and then used a short extension arm to position the camera right in front of my face. Sure enough I must have looked like some kind of cyborg on a bike, and I felt really self-conscious; but it just took a couple of minutes and the result and level of neck aided stabilisation made for a nice (and trippy) scene setter.

Whipping the arm off my lid and I very loosely hand-held the camera for a couple of shadowy riding shots, which were quite nice, and reasonably stable.

Heading off-road (with a number of water splashes) and I went for the inverted chest mount (flipping the camera upside down to give a better angle). The trail was super rocky, and it did vibrate a lot, but in some ways it did helps to give a feel for the ride.

Putting the camera into its waterproof housing I clamped it to the through axle skewer for some splash shots, then flipped it upwards for a short clip and then sideways for a shadow clip.

To finish up I again chest mounted the camera and used the app to film a short single track section and also in camera time lapse of the spin back into town. I tried a few other angles along the way but found these staples to work best.

The (not so sick) edit

Somewhere just short of 2 minutes of as a final output was my initial intent, although with attention spans being so short these days I decided to strip the whole thing right down to beat the 1-minute Instagram time clock limit, meaning that the clips were tightly snipped to 3-6 seconds a piece.

I used the basic (and free) GoPro Suite to load, trim and render the clips. It’s limited, but is also super fast and very easy to use. Plus, it requires almost no editing experience, and can be used with any video clips or time lapse. From here you can also put all of these individual clips together with relative ease.

I did make a couple of simple intros and outros (which I would not bother with for Instagram), and by using iMovie or the free online YouTube editor you can add royalty-free music and cut and shunt clips however you want (there are also free basic and also better paid online editors out there too).

All in, I was happy enough with the result – and after getting to grips with the basics of the phone app, figuring on 4 basic mount points and then using simple editing software as a novice), I managed to do this in much less than a day. All of this came with adding just 20 minutes or so to my ride, which I could now half with ease.

It may not be so polished, and seasoned film makers may well scoff at it, but heading along the road that leads to never reached cinematic perfection is not what this was about. This was all about conquering my techno fear, pressing the right buttons and learning to cook up an edible bite while also encouraging those other lonely and dust covered devices off their shelves.

Pull it back to basics; shut out the noise and go make a mini-movie; it really it can be fun.

The end product