The Glass Duffle Guide to Using a GoPro for Beginners

For the first few months that I operated a GoPro, I did almost nothing correctly. It’s now been almost three years of experimentation and creation. I’ve learned a lot and feel as though the mistakes I made could easily be avoided with a little explanation. This is the Glass Duffle Guide to Using a GoPro for Beginners (this part is very important) from a GoPro beginner’s perspective. This isn’t GoPro University, it’s more like GoPro kindergarten. Today, kindergarten covers: settings, accessories, travel, and projects.

What exactly did you just buy? For starters, GoPro cameras capture both photo and video. Oh, that’s obvious? I bought mine thinking it only captured video. Remember, GoPro kindergarten. I also used it, at first, as a point-and-shoot camera. Wrong again. It’s not as simple as that, despite its quaint appearance. It’s also no DSLR. You won’t be adjusting shutter speeds or aperture, unless you went directly for the newest model, the GoPro Hero 5 or GoPro Hero Session 5.

My weapon of choice is a GoPro Hero 4 Silver. The majority of what I know about these cameras comes from my experience using this model. Being the first model with built-in touchscreen navigation, this GoPro opened new worlds of customization for the on-the-go shooter. It is, however, a little daunting out of the box, and not quite recommended for beginners.

To fill this emerging market, GoPro recently released the GoPro Hero+ and the GoPro Hero Session, billed as entry-level options. Both produce trademark GoPro quality photo and video without a dizzying array of settings and options. If you’re reading this before or during your purchasing process, the Hero+ and Session should be at the top of your list.

GoPro Settings for Beginners

After powering up, scroll or tap your way through the menu to get acquainted with your options. The main menu shows your most basic and essential video settings: resolution, frames per second (FPS), and field of view (FOV). A few other settings to explore down the road are: protune, white balance, video clipping, and ISO limit. For now, keep them at default values. I highly encourage you to spend an hour sitting with your tiny new friend, at the very least, getting familiar with what options are listed where, and how they change the resulting photo or video.

Resolution

Shooting video, the higher the resolution, the quicker your battery and SD storage are consumed. Of course, the higher the resolution, the more mind blowingly crisp and rich the capture is. High resolution photos are also bigger files, but not big enough to worry about. You’re safe to keep the resolution for still shots as high as possible in most cases. 

FPS

Frames Per Second is exactly that, the number of still frames captured to create one second of video. Most videos you see are 24fps, so that should be your camera’s default setting. The larger number of frames captured per second, the better you can slow footage in post production without losing quality. Just like resolution, higher fps will mean quicker battery and memory usage. 

FOV

Field of view, for me, has been set as wide as possible from the onset. The only exception would be when shooting something up-close, at which time you should reconsider your camera choice. GoPros are all about grandiose, scale, and full immersion. 

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GoPro’s trademark wide field of view is no joke.

GoPro Accessories for Beginners

Whether you’re looking at a used camera or buying new, keep it simple with accessories. There are a handful of items I recommend buying no matter what. Since we’re all on a budget, they’re in order of necessity. 1) Micro SD card w/adapter: Because you need to get the files off of the camera. 2) Charging options: More than one. 3) A second battery: They die. 4) Case: Waterproof or not, most mounts need a case to screw into. 5) Mount: Although the 3-Way Mount is pictured below, my personal favorite is the Clamp Mount. Both are versatile and can keep you and your new toy busy for months.

Blackout case and 3-way mount.

Blackout case and 3-way mount.

Using a GoPro for Beginners

With the multitude of possible uses, I won’t pretend that this post will prepare you for everything. I can say, in general, using a GoPro will take some time to get used to. Its size allows it to go places that you’re not used to considering as a sight line. You’ll find yourself giggling as shot ideas pile up in your head. This is absolutely a new toy and should be treated as such.

GoPro WiFi App

This is a no-brainer. If you’re buying someone else’s camera, you may need to reset and recalibrate. This can be accomplished through GoPro dot com. Set up and name the wifi signal that your camera will emit and connect from any smart device. You’ll find that operating the camera on your phone kicks major ass on account of you being able to see what it sees in the palm of your hand, even if at a slight delay.

gopro for beginners driving

Use the Wifi app for group car selfies.

Travel

I’ve brought GoPros with me on a number of adventures in the past few years, with varying levels of success. I have three simple travel tips to share. 1) Get your settings right. 2) Get your tools right. 3) Get your mind right. Missing the video clipping setting rendered glorious footage taken from high above the Las Vegas strip unusable. Without the proper mounts, I was left without options at the visual wonderland that is Bonnaroo. Overzealous or otherwise lacking focus, I’ve acted both reckless and unnecessarily apprehensive with a GoPro in my hand. Ensure your settings are right for the occasion, accessorize, and put some thought into a plan of action before setting out.

For pro travel tips, hop over to the Glass Duffle Guide to Using a GoPro for Travel.

First frame of the Vegas timelapse that never happened.

The first frame of a Las Vegas timelapse that never happened.

Music festivals

Using your GoPro at festivals is hit or miss. Unfortunately, most music festivals won’t allow GoPros on the concert grounds. The tricky part is that the rules don’t often state this explicitly. They usually ban video equipment or high definition video equipment in particular. Granted, if caught, no one is going to jail. You’ll get warned or told to take it back to camp. It’s up to you to use it without bringing attention to yourself, which I’ve found limits opportunities for quality shots.

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Music festivals may require creative interpretation of the rules.

GoPro Projects for Beginners

Now that your memories are saved as things like G0013076.jpg and and GOPR63031.mp4, it would be a damn shame if they stayed that way. I suppose you could export everything into folders to watch on a rainy day, but… that would be anticlimactic. It’s a great pleasure to opening up the memory card, see what’s there, and plot what can be made of it. The high quality nature of everything you’ll capture makes the possibilities for post production endless.

Video

If you plan to arrange video clips, download GoPro Studio from GoPro dot com. Run your raw video files through the converter following the directions given in the software. To save time, select which segments of the raw files you will need rather than converting every moment. It converts at a 1:1 pace. Any number of programs edit the smaller more stable files GoPro studio delivers.

Photo

Photos can be snapped one at a time, in a burst, or on a timer. Since you aren’t working with a viewfinder, the burst setting is usually most useful. That way, you’re given a few seconds and up to 30 shots to get the perfect framing. The additional space taken on the memory card in this case is negligible, as still images account for a very small file size regardless of resolution.

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Get used to taking a photo and not seeing it for hours or days.

Social Media

The wifi app makes for smooth sharing to any social network. GoPro photo and video content make for rare social posts, the kind that manage to hold attention for longer than 3 seconds. GoPro also fosters a friendly and engaging online community, follow and “like” them for the most breathtaking visuals the internet has to offer.

gopro for beginners instagram

Join us and #roadtripmore on Instagram!

Timelapse

GoPro’s timelapse is a fun way to show a progression or tell a story. What you’re seeing below is my first timelapse gif. I’ll be playing with timelapse videos for an upcoming project that you will hear all about very soon. The Hero 4 and 5 models will capture a timelapse video automatically after assigning a timing interval. Other models are a bit more manual, simply storing a reel of still images you’ll need to run through GoPro Studio before seeing the flow-motion of a timelapse.

gopro for beginners timelapse

Timelapse, for when something …interesting is happening.

You’re ready! Strap that bad boy to a helmet and jump out of a helicopter! Well, calmly set it on your car’s dashboard, watch a few miles fly by with your wifi app and go from there. Helicopter tomorrow. For real though, good luck! You’re about to have so much fun. Keep Glass Duffle in the loop and tag us with anything you make with your new GoPro, we’d love to be part of your adventures!

Author: Wes R. Kasik

A life-long resident of Ohio, Wes relocated to sunny San Diego at the end of 2015 to find himself, challenge himself, freelance, and every other cliche a creative person could use as motivation to drive more than fifty hours across the country with their possesions perilously in tow. He has never been happier.

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