The Time I Shot a Mini-Doc Entirely on a GoPro Hero 2 (and why I'd do it again)

A few years ago, I'd been asked by my employer to produce a travelogue segment in preparation for the coverage we were doing of an international trade show. I'd tried this a few times before out of my own interest, and I'd always been profoundly dissatisfied with the result. What you want out of a show like this is to have the audience feel like they're traveling right alongside you, catching all the moments, big and small. Together, they tell the whole story.

To do this, you need a small, unobtrusive camera capable or high quality recordings. If your camera is too large, or too complicated, it has too much inertia to get out of the camera bag and have it ready to capture a moment. At the time I was primarily shooting on the Sony FS-100, which meant hauling it out of the bag, attaching lenses and microphones, powering it up, setting exposure and white balance, and framing your shot. You were usually ready to shoot about 90 seconds after the moment you wanted to capture had passed.

I had been working with GoPro Hero 2 cameras quite a bit that year. I was already impressed with their ability to simplify time lapse captures, and they punched well above their weight as pocket B-Roll recorders. Their biggest shortfall has always been audio capture - there's no getting around it, their internal microphones are useless for anything other than scratch for audio sync. I was rummaging around our storage room and had found a small, powered condenser shotgun mic and a mounting bracket. After a few tests, I knew I was in business.

This was my shooting setup for the video. Functional, and a delight to use.

This was my shooting setup for the video. Functional, and a delight to use.

The beauty of this setup was its size and weight. It was lightweight enough to take with me everywhere, along with additional batteries and chargers, and it was small enough to always stay at the top of my bag. The Hero 2 powered up relatively quickly, so I was only 15-20 seconds from recording at any given moment. The ultra-wide FOV of the camera was both a blessing and a curse - I could be sure that if the camera was even roughly facing my subject, they would be in frame. But once I got to editing, I realized my compositions were always missing the mark, a drawback of not having a monitor for feedback. Fortunately, I was shooting in 1080p to deliver in 720p, so I always had some extra pixels to crop with, and was able to fix compositions in post.

The lack of a monitor presented another advantage that I hadn't anticipated. I knew that I wanted a camera that would disappear in situations with my travel mates. As such, I'd suppressed all of the recording lights on the camera. The only indicator that it was powered or recording was the LCD counter on the front panel. It also meant that I, as the camera operator wasn't distracted by the camera either. Because I wasn't worried about my composition, I was able to fully engage with my subjects in conversation. Because I was fully engaged, so were they, and the camera disappeared in both of our minds. I had a tool that enabled me to bring the audience the same intimacy that I had to any situation.

You can watch the video, Destination: Gamescom, below.

And, my shooting setup:

You can build a similar setup for a modern GoPro camera (I'd recommend it, the new cameras are a massive visual upgrade), but the Hero 3 and 4 cameras lack the 3.5mm audio jack. You will need to purchase the $20 adapter cable that plugs into the USB connector to use an external microphone.