About Me

Wells, BC, Canada
Richard is a working photographer and writer in B.C. His camera focuses on natural history. archeology, travel, and documentary photography. His photography blog may be found at: http://richardtwright.blogspot.com/

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

GoPro Hero familiarization, Vancouver to Barkerville

It has always been my photographic wont to seek new perspectives, to put cameras where we normally don't imagine them.  Back in the days of film cameras it could be a difficult task.  This was before infrared triggering, small Point of View cameras (POV), the ability to take hundreds of frames and quick retrieval of images.
When I mounted a camera on the bow of a whitewater raft to make the second descent of the Chilko River back in 1970 it was weeks before we returned to town, processed the film, spilled the slides onto a color-corrected light box and checked the 36 frames hopefully. Often there was nothing usable.
In the case of the Chilko trip I had rigged up a waterproof housing for my motorized Nikon F2 using a surplus 20 cal. ammo box. Foam held the camera tight, a remote wire ran from the camera along the frame and up the right oar to a pressure switch which my thumb could press. I had built several switches from Radio shack parts. Two would fasten to the oar. One burned up a whole roll of 36 with one press and another took one frame at a time.

With a motor drive set at 6 frames-per-second that gave me 6 seconds of shooting on a 36-exposure roll.  How I dreamed of buying a 100-foot film back for the Nikon. I don't remember how long it took us to run Bidwell Canyon, which my brother Edd and I had swum a couple of years before in a novice attack on the river, a first descent, that saw us drown - well, almost - but I did get a couple of good shots of the camera looking down at me rowing, the bow crunched up as it hit a huge rooster tail, and another of the bottom of Dave's runners as he was launched skyward.  The exposure was bang on, the image sharp and they were usable shots for several magazines.

On assignment for BC Outdoors at a Car ice-racing event, about 1975, I again wanted something more than the usual track-side shots. I mounted a 24mm wide angle and placed a motorized Nikon at a pylon on the inside edge of the track, with the remote wire running back to a safe position. I was willing to risk the camera but not my head.  I then asked the drivers to steer (on ice mind you) as close to the pylon as they could, but please, try not to hit it.  It worked and we got some great shots. (One day I will scan and post them.)

Point being, I like remote cameras. So on my recent trip to the metropolis of Vancouver I picked up a GoPro Hero camera, sometimes referred to as a helmet cam or POV cam. If you watch closely you will see these cameras mounted in various spots in reality shows such as Ice Road Truckers and Alaska Gold. Small, compact, with a 170-degree lens (about 5mm) they are great for unusual shots or placements.

One of the things I have learned over the years is to really try and focus on using one lens or camera when it is new.  Bought a new 80mm? Stick it on for a day or three and use only it until you are really familiar with what it sees and how it responds to your left eye.

So with the GoPro I did the same. However, I was somewhat hampered by two things, a new left eye (well okay new lens) and not being able to shoot for several days, and the LCD screen of the GoPro Hero.  Being old school I am more familiar with dials and buttons. I don't do well with LCDs, and the GoPro LCD is just .5 by .75 inches. So some of the messages are cryptic to say the least.  In talking to a youing snow boarder on the weekend he said they had bought one for snowboarding and spent the first week trying to figure out how to turn it on.
The only way is to keep using it.  One of the first issues I had was that it seemed to turn on randomly and drain the battery. Also, sometimes I thought it was on and it was not.  The power on/off switch seems to be very sensitive, so rather than keep it in soft case attached to my pack I now keep it in a hard shell case where the switch cannot be pressed inadvertently.
So, once I had the off/on and mode selection down to some degree I decided to try and use it wherever I could.  I wanted to replace a non-working security light at my partner Amy's place (which did not stop the cops from calling us two nights later to say her car was broken into) so I put on the head strap, mounted the camera, put it on the "1 photo every 30 sec" mode and went to work.

Now this is really wide angle. It would be great for a demo video. Exposure was reasonable as was the shutter speed, neither of which can be adjusted. Testing and familiarization, I should point out, is important, as the camera has no viewfinder. At 170 degrees you just guess.
But guessing is not necessarily the best solution. Amy was heading out on errands on her bicycle so we mounted the camera on her handle bars, set it for one photo every 60 sec. (you can choose 1 sec, 2, 5 10, 30 or 60) and sent her off.  A couple of hundred photos later she was back with some interesting shots, and several of the inside of her pocket when she took it off the bike to shop.

Interesting shots for a first time effort.  Then the clamp came loose.  The assortment of harnesses and mounting for the GoPro are versatile but with some restrictions.  The mounts only move one way. To get an up and down and left to right movement you need two right angle mounts. There is no swivel mount to you need to adapt an after-market mount or use a ball head.  And, the knobs are strong, but small, so hard to tighten.  I am going to make up a wrench for tightening. Which all goes to say that on her way home the mount slipped and the next 50 pics were similar to this one.
What about a shot of the cyclist? Well, Amy had to go singing with her Christmas Revelers and I was not allowed to drive, so I assumed that meant no riding a bike, so I headed for the hardware store, bought a short adjustable painters pole, rad or gear clamped it to the frame, extended it forward and shot backwards, while still in Amy's apartment.  Not the best environment, but it worked and gave me the perspective I was after.
I will be able to use this for biking this summer.

Then one evening I thought about trying to photograph the streets in Hong Kong last year, where people block much of your view, so I fastened the cam to a D ring on my jacket and went for a walk on Commercial drive. No one noticed it, even in stores, but for the first half it had turned off.  I set it for one shot every 10 sec. Shows possibilites though.

Gradually I became more familiar with the cam and it's potential. On the drive home to Cariboo I tried it as a dash cam, hoping for a shot of a moose on the road. No luck there, but with some adjustments to frame out the dash it will work.  Here again I used one frame per 60 sec.

Back at home in Wells I played some more, trying to learn all the functions. While photographing Barnards's Express at Barkerville's Victorian Christmas, I wanted to mount the cam on the horse for a different view. 

The hames were the only place to mount so we tried that.

The GoPro on a ball head attached to a Manfrotto Magic Clamp - the best clamp you can find.  It worked. But, not quite what we had in mind - horses butts and a wide angle view.
Teamster Glen Escott, standing next to me on the boardwalk, suggested we get the camera higher. "We need a pole or a monopod," he said.  There on my pack was my monopod.  We clamped it to the hame with some difficulty and with more effort lined up the shot.  it held for about two steps and then with the horses movement it swung to the right. But it gave us the idea and we will try again this week.

We will use two clamps, try to get the pole forward a little more and also try some shots from the rear of the sleigh.  I can tell you it sure does attract attention. The horses comments were unrecorded.

Finally, some of the limitations were resolved by buying a second battery Bac Pak and a Bac Pak LCD screen that slips on the back of the Hero for easier viewing. It does suck power but could be used just to set up and then turned off or removed to attach the second battery it the setup was going to be used for a long period, such as a bicycle race or dog sledding. Camera, extra batter, LCD, mounts, case, HST tax, all totaled about $600. Now I better make it pay.
The GoPro Hero is 5 megapixels.  Of course, now there is a new 11 megapixel model, the GoPro Hero 2. That is next.
Should you want to see more of the Barkerville Victorian Christmas and Barnard's sleigh shots go my Flickr page at:

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All photos and this blog are copyright © 2011 Richard Wright

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