Through most of February into March I traveled to Mexico on a 20 day shoot for the U.S Soccer Federation. I’ve been shooting for them for over 2 years now and most of the trips require the same kind of shooting routine. I’m dealing with mostly natural light in terms of interview set ups and it’s really just about placing the subject in a place where they are back lit and then exposing properly for the skin tones. In post I can tone down the highlights and push up the mids to smooth things out but I’ve found that when shooting in an uncontrolled environment, back lighting the subject always looks the best. I brought along my GoPro Hero 3 on this trip and it allowed me some time to experiment/play. We had members of the Mexican police force escort us to and from games and practice every day so I was able to get some really interesting/dynamic angles by attaching my GoPro to the back of their motorcycles/vehicles (ABOVE LEFT). I was able to control the camera via the wireless remote from the team bus. I got some pretty unique shots as the police officers swerved in and out of traffic on the cobblestone streets.
At training, I was able to get some really cool angles with the GoPro by attaching it to the bottom of one of the extra training poles that the players use to run in and out of during warm ups. I was able to run along side players with the camera less than an inch off the ground and follow them through drills etc. I got some really cool shots where I would spin the camera 360 degrees around a player from an extremely low angle (ABOVE LEFT). I liked this a lot because the low angle and the wide lens really gave the players a “heroic” sort of feel. Lens flares also add a lot to GoPro footage and after reviewing the footage I actually preferred the angles that were shot directly into the sun as apposed to away from it. Having such a small, shockproof little camera on a pole really allows you to get unique angles and movements that you couldn’t otherwise. I taped the camera high inside the goal and got some cool perspectives on goalie’s diving and balls hitting the back of the net (BELOW LEFT). It was really interesting cutting together a highlight with a mix of GoPro footage and footage from the Sony ENG cam I was shooting with because after a while I was throwing out more and more ENG footage because it just seems so conventional. The GoPro footage always had more movement in terms of the operating and the shots were all much more dynamic and eye catching. The super wide angle lens also makes for a distorted perspective of elements that come close to the camera like cleats or the soccer ball in my case. Having the camera low to the ground on the end of the pole works really well for soccer because that’s where all the action is. Everything is about footwork and ball control and having that angle really puts you right there in the action.
The camera always feel like an extension of my own body when I’m shooting, but I feel a lot less restricted and confined when it’s a GoPro pole rig. I feel much more free to experiment and just let my instincts take over when operating without having to worry about an expensive heavy cinema camera etc. However, I know the image isn’t nearly as good and it took a lot of grading to get the GoPro footage to look acceptable. It obviously just doesn’t have a good dynamic range and sometimes the highlights go green a bit which is odd but for the piece I put together I just CC’d the footage to make it look super dirty and contrasty, letting the highlights go nuclear and crushing the blacks way below 0 IRE. You can see from the stills that I went for a gritty, desaturated look and I think the team liked it. Working with the GoPro so much really gave me a renewed appreciation for dynamic camera movement and how important hand held operating is to the look and feel of certain pieces. I think a lot of good cinematography is about finding perspective and angles that are unique and appropriate to the subject matter or the message/feeling that a particular piece or scene is trying to convey. Mexico was a fun shoot and I learned some pretty valuable lessons from just messing around with my GoPro. Hopefully I can take these lessons and apply them to the next narrative piece I work on.