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ADV PreppingMaking Moto Videos: Pro Tips For Shooting Better Video

Making Moto Videos: Pro Tips For Shooting Better Video

 Follow these simple tips to make more professional looking moto videos.

Published on 07.18.2014
Pro videographer Jim Downs shares his secret tips anyone can use to dramatically improve their moto videos.

If you are like a lot of Adventure Riders, you enjoy capturing video of your trips to share your experience with family and friends. All too often though, you return from the road with memories of adventure still fresh in your mind eager to see the video you captured. You transfer your moto videos to your computer as expectations soar. You imagine reliving those stunning vistas and canyons in eye popping HD video, only to be let down by shaky, washed out video of the ground zooming by for an hour.

It’s a far cry from what you experienced when you were out there. Why the hell doesn’t it look like the clips from a GoPro commercial? They shoot those on GoPro cameras don’t they?

This scenario has happened to me more than once before. After shooting hundreds of hours on the road and experimenting with camera positions, settings and learning what to film, I’ve learned how to get better results with my moto videos —and so can you!


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I have a bit of an advantage as I’ve been working as a television producer in Hollywood for nearly 15 years. I’ve been involved at nearly every level of non-fiction television production, from being a production assistant to executive producer. I’ve also been very involved in the technical arts of TV making, focusing on camera, lighting, post production and web streaming. That said, I’m still always a student of the art.

I work primarily with GoPro cameras when shooting moto videos and they are a popular choice for other adventure riders as well, so I will use the GoPro as a reference for the rest of this article. I’m not sponsored by GoPro and don’t have any brand allegiance to them, but they do take great video and there are a wide variety of accessories available for them.

Whether your goal is to have a personal video archive of your journey or you plan to share specific clips from your adventure, these basic guidelines will help you make better looking moto videos.

Let’s look at a few short video clips that play to the strengths of most action cameras, as well as some clips that fell short. This will give you some applied examples to see how the different shooting factors affect your moto videos.

An Example Clip That Works!

Here’s a bike-to-bike clip of my friend Kurt Yaeger and I scratching in the canyons of Southern California on two BMW R1200GS Adventures.

Putting aside the fact that this moto video includes a transition and slow motion replay, it’s basically a continuous shot. This shot works on its own without the effects and is a good example for my first three tips.

Have a Good Subject: The things you point the camera toward make all the difference. Videos of a scenic vista or twisty canyon don’t usually work as well without a foreground subject to relate to. Kurt, looking super boss on a 2014 BMW R1200 GS Adventure gives the clip a sense of scale and speed. Now Kurt is an actor who knows how to “hit a mark” as we say in the business. Kurt does a fantastic job tucking in behind me for a nice tight action shot.

Use a Stable Camera Mount: The camera is mounted in a stable position on my helmet. Helmet mounted positions can be great for this, because your body naturally stabilizes your head as you move around. However, you have to pay attention not to move your head around too much when using a helmet mount or it makes it hard for the viewer to focus on the subject. If your camera is mounted to a vibrating surface or a place on the bike that’s whipping around, you’re going to get a crappy shot.

Keep the Camera Aligned with the Horizon: Action cameras have a wide angle lens that makes it easier to capture the scene while in motion. It is important to keep your action camera parallel with the horizon while you are filming. If the camera is rotated left or right or tilted up or down relative to the horizon, it creates a warping effect at the edges of the shot. In the video clip, the GoPro is mounted on my head with the camera pointed backwards. This ensures the camera stays aligned with the horizon and stable from vibration.

backward mounted helmet cam
A backwards mounted helmet cam is a stable mount that allows you to shoot your subject from the front and keep your camera aligned with the horizon.

An Example Clip That Falls Short

Here’s an example of the warping effect that occurs with a wide angle lens if the camera angle is not parallel to the horizon.

While I manage to have myself squarely in the middle of the frame, the camera placement is below my eye-line and tilted up too high, creating a distortion effect at the edges of the frame. This is made even worse when the bike leans into turns out of alignment with the horizon.

You can also see the effects of an unstable mount. The vibration is distracting and makes an irritating noise. When I began using GoPro Cameras a few years ago, I’d mount the camera on one of my mirrors. Mirrors are just a bad place to mount a camera. They vibrate too much and require long multi-link mounting attachments to align the camera angle. The longer the mount, the less stable the camera.

Now let’s look at another clip that demonstrates the importance of keeping the camera angled correctly.

This Clip Could Have Been So Much Better

What’s a better subject for a moto video than East Side Moto Babes, MC President, Stacie B. London? Stacie B. London riding an Adventure Bike through a river crossing in Baja Mexico.

This shot has good action, but it could have been so much better if I hadn’t made a few simple mistakes. Recalling some of the lessons we’ve covered so far: We have a great subject in the frame, we’re close enough to our subject to feel like we’re there and we have the camera mount on a stable platform. So what went wrong?

Double Check Your Camera Angle: The camera is pointed too far down causing the horizon to warp downward at the corners. Even worse, the unique mesa tops that outline the river valley got cut out of the top of the frame. While the camera angle may have been correct when my helmet was sitting on my motorcycle seat, my head tilts downward while I’m riding. Always check the angle on your helmet mount with your head in your natural riding position.

The best way to check your shooting angle is to download the free GoPro App. The app will show you a preview of your shooting angle on your smartphone. You can also use GoPro’s LCD Viewfinder accessory that snaps onto the back of the camera, but this will only work for checking non-helmet mounts.

Keep Your Lens Clean: Another problem with this clip is dirt on the lens! There’s no excuse for a dirty lens. Always carry a microfiber cloth and wipe that thing down regulary.

Don’t Shoot Into the Sun: The next issue here is that we’re shooting into the Sun. GoPro’s don’t deliver good results when they are angled toward the sun. It gives the shots a milky, washed-out quality. So if at all possible, make like a fighter pilot and shoot ’em with the sun at your back. If you do find yourself riding into the sun, it doesn’t mean you have to stop filming. You can simply turn your camera around to face backwards on your helmet and ride in front of your subject with the proper lighting.

More Moto Video Pro Tips To Come
If you follow the guidelines outlined in this article, you should start seeing better results with your moto videos right away. In the next part of this “Making Moto Videos” series, we’ll get into more advanced shooting tips and managing your equipment during the ride. We’ll also cover editing your videos and we’ll look at some example clips that bring it all together.

Other Stories In This Series

Making Moto Videos: Advanced GoPro Shooting Tips

Author: Jim Downs
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17 thoughts on “Making Moto Videos: Pro Tips For Shooting Better Video

  1. Great share – thanks for the excellent tips. I’ve got a GoPro 3+ Black which produces some excellent footage but find my biggest problem is with condensation in the protective case around the lens, particularly on cold mornings. I’ve tried using anti-fog inserts but that doesn’t seem to make any difference. Do you have any suggestions?

    • Hi Martin, living in Southern California and doing a lot of riding here in the Southwest, I don’t usually have condensation problems. But have faced them in more humid climates. Couple possibilities. 1. Close the camera in the housing with the waterproof back before you leave the house. Presuming that it’s dryer there and you won’t be sealing in all that water vapor. 2. If the weather conditions are not to inclement and you’re not planning water crossings and mud slogs, you could try the frame housing. http://gopro.com/camera-mounts/the-frame it’s lighter and doesn’t seal in the water vapor. The down side is that it doesn’t protect the camera very well.

  2. Great tips. Another thing (you may cover next) is that with these fish eye type GoPro lenses, you really need your subject close to get a good shot. Your eye may see your friend across the stream but it’s going to look really small on-screen. You can zoom in in post production but it’s never the same.

    • Great point Eric. The video I included with my friend Kurt on my wheel works because he is REALLY CLOSE. If he was way back, he’s just look like a speck.

    • Alberto – Great Video! It really tells a story about what your moto vacation in Greece was like. You do a great job mixing up camera shots on and off the bike. Also, nice choice on the video thumbnail. 😉 Makes me want to go for a rise.

      The one technical issue which you already know about is the condensation over the lens of the Gopro when you climbed to altitude in the mountains. When temperatures drop, moisture trapped in the Gopro case can condense and fog up your shot. If you can remember, a quick stop to open up the housing to dry it out with a soft cloth will usually clear that up. Then again, riding on some those trails must have required your full attention! After all, your on vacation, not producing a TV show.

      Great work, I love your video.

  3. Pingback: Along the River in the Rain