As a surf photographer I’m naturally an earlier adopter of technology … to a point it practically bankrupts me on a regular basis. As cameras get better and more expensive I naturally burn all profit on the eternal hunt for a better image. So imagine the confusion, the resentment when the GoPro came along.
In a watery domain once exclusive to the surf photog there was suddenly people capable of getting epic shots. Naturally I dissed the first few generations due to terrible image quality, but now, now that quality has gone up I have to concede shooting pics with a GoPro is a great way to get into surf photography. They are not perfect, the small sensor size means they will never have the low light or high end quality of a DLSR but they are getting into a position where they are good enough for most. Getting a shot requires a few techniques which are natural to a photog but not to the average user. First off get a pistol grip, if you have the cash get one with a trigger, the biggest drawback of the GoPro is its size, you try shooting in a barrel with your meat hooks wrapped round the little box and there will inevitably be fingers and thumbs in shot, a pistol grip eradicates this totally and you’ll nail shots all day long.
Set the GoPro on Protune, to the highest quality and fastest burst mode, there is no way around it more frames per second equals way more chance of getting the shot. It’s the machine gun shot reality of shooting water, there is no skill in it, things move quick out there and speed is the only answer. With the GoPro 4 think about the size of the lens you use, essentially the three crop options allow you to shoot almost fisheye at the widest to around 35mm at the medium setting to about 50mm at the narrow. This gives you amazing versatility, and I love shooting with the longer lens options. Finally keep that GoPro straight, it’s the hardest thing in the water, but you need that horizon as level as is humanly possible, last thing you want to do is to start straightening and cropping in Photoshop.
The final tip is to swim deep and as big as your courage can handle, a GoPro like other wide angle lenses make things appear smaller than they are. A four foot barrel looks way smaller than it really is, so to get that epic fisheye shot you need to go big! Although I was an early hater of the small plastic cam, I have today I love it, as soon as I have the spare sheckles I’ll be adding one to my camera bag.
Swimming with something so small is fun, you get get into some crazy places and get good shots. One drawback to think of though, especially for us Northern Europeans is light, when you see epic GoPro shots they are almost always in pristine light, as I mentioned that small sensor still struggles in low light so pick your moments to shoot. I did toy with adding a screen on the back as well, not having a viewfinder, especially for longer lens shots makes life tricky, sadly this sucks too much battery at the moment, but sure those clever fellows will have that sorted soon as well. The best thing is it gets you in the water for way less cash, the joy of shooting no longer needs a loan or possibly illegal organ sale to become a reality…
Words by Tim Nunn