Using Action Cameras for Bicycle Photography

Action cameras are excellent for bicycle photography.

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Action cameras such as the GoPro are very popular for sports photography.  Their small size and wide assortment of mounts allow the user to capture video and photos that would be impossible or impractical to get with other types of cameras.  Techniques discussed in this article will help you get the best videos and photos possible from your camera.

Basic Info About Action Cameras

Most action cameras have the following characteristics in common.

  • Wide field of view – up to 170 degrees.  The wide field of view is a huge advantage when taking videos.  It makes it easier to capture the action without missing anything.  In fact, the first action cameras didn’t have a viewing screen on the back.  You pointed the camera at the subject and generally got good video or photos.  With most of the cameras available now you can adjust the field of view but it is still wider than what you get with most other types of cameras.
  • Deep depth of field – the minimum focusing distance for these cameras is about 12 inches.  Beyond this distance, literally everything is in focus.  There’s no way to adjust this like there is on a 35mm camera.  The deep depth of field works to the user’s advantage.  There isn’t an auto focusing system or any need to fiddle with focus settings.  This makes it easier for the user to capture the action.
  • Waterproof camera housing – making these cameras good to use in wet conditions.  Even though you may not use your camera under water, being able to use it in the rain without worrying about destroying it is nice.  The GoPro Hero 5, Hero 6, Hero 2018, and GoPro Sessions don’t need the waterproof housing until you get down below 33 feet.
  • Audio quality – the worst feature of these cameras.  If the camera is in its waterproof housing the sound is muffled and it picks up the gear train noise from your bicycle through whatever it’s mounted to.  Outside the housing the camera picks up too much wind noise.  The newer GoPros that don’t need a waterproof housing have a little bit better audio quality.

Action Camera Mounting

There are several ways to mount these cameras on a bicycle.  The camera can be mounted directly to the bike or to your body.  Each type of mount has its own pros and cons.  Some mounting types and locations are meant more for special effects.  listed below are the most common basic ways of mounting these cameras.

Handlebar Mount

The handlebar mount gives a good view straight ahead in your travel path.  With good mounts you can get very good quality video footage.  If you’re going to use this mounting position I would do some testing prior to recording a once in a lifetime video and having it not turn out.  The overall quality of the video relies on having rock solid mount to the bike.  Otherwise, you end up with jittery video and a kind of Jello like appearance.  With the camera is mounted on the handlebars every turn or course correction shows up in the video.

Seat post Mount

The seat post mount adds a different perspective to a video.  This is a really neat effect if you’re riding with other riders.  It’s also pretty cool if you go over or through something like a bridge or tunnel.  Seat post mounting also relies on having a rock solid mount to the bike.

Helmet Mount

The helmet mount gives a high view of the road ahead.  It also gives a view of whatever the rider turns or tilts his head to look at.  Helmet mounting gives smoother video than with the camera mounted to the bicycle.  There are 2 ways to mount an action camera to a bicycle.  With a vented bicycle helmet you can mount the camera with a strap that goes through the vents.  You can also use an adhesive mount to stick the camera to the helmet.  The adhesive mount works best on helmets that aren’t vented.  The typical bicycle helmet for road riding usually doesn’t have enough flat surface area to use an adhesive mount.

Chest Mount

The chest mount gives a view of the road from the rider’s perspective.  With the chest mount you see the handlebars and your arms as well as the road ahead.  The chest mount is used frequently in mountain bike videos but it can be used in road bike videos as well.  It also gives a smoother video than you would get with the camera mounted to the bike.

Settings and Technique for Action Cameras

I usually shoot my bicycling videos in 1080p at 60 fps.  Shooting in higher resolutions will give huge files that are difficult to edit unless you have a computer with a lot of memory and processing power.  I’ve also shot quite a few videos in 720p at 60 fps with good results.

You’re limited by the abilities of your action camera.  One of my cameras – an off brand – is supposed to be able to shoot videos in 4k and 2.7k.  In reality anything above 1080p at 30 fps is too much for this camera.  It records really well in 720p at either 30 fps or 60 fps.  I usually shoot with this camera in 720p at 60 fps.

The basic settings listed above should be enough to get started shooting good quality video.  Most action cameras have many more settings than what I’ve listed here, such as shutter speed, ISO, white balance, etc.  It’s better to gain more experience before diving into those settings.

Experiment as much as possible with camera mounting, video resolution, etc.  I’ve taken several short videos riding around the block and on short rides changing camera positions or testing different mounts.  I’m sure my neighbors think I’m crazy riding my bike with camera mounted around the block repeatedly.  Testing, trial and error with action cameras is what will perfect your technique.

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About Greg Dickerson

I got my first 10-speed bike at the age of 14 and have been addicted to cycling ever since. Living in the Pacific Northwest, I've ridden the Seattle to Portland (STP) and Providence Bridge Pedal rides several times.  Due to having a traveling job, I've had the opportunity to ride in several states when away from home as well.

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