A big part of the video shooting I do is moving vehicle based, and to achieve this as best I can, I have watched LOTS of Top Gear and The Grand Tour in particular to try and understand their techniques and tricks to get the best possible
At its most basic, I use a GoPro Hero 4 for windscreen-based shots using standard GoPro mounts. Depending on the vehicle (we have a Suzuki Grand Vitara and a Holden Monaro, as well as a 5 metre Quintrex tinnie), the camera is forward facing shooting through the windscreen or facing backwards, using the wide angle to capture the driver and passenger(s).
And herein lies lesson number 1. Make sure your windscreen is scrupulously clean! Yes, the GoPro tends not to focus on any splats or marks but other cameras where you have auto focus left on certainly will.
If I need a bit more variety or control, I bought a Hague headrest mount quite a few years back now (and no, the company is absolutely no relation), letting me put a standard camcorder or camera or camera on it.
I found early in the piece you do need to have someone sitting in the seat though, as even with the best of cars, there is a vibration, especially in 2 door cars such as the Monaro where the seat has the ability to tilt. That extra weight gives a much more stable picture, getting rid of the need for any post shooting stabilisation such as supplied by ProDAD’s ProDrenalin or Mercalli products.
In my case, I have the headrest mount on the driver’s seat.
One problem that does arise from this type of mount however, depending is you have it set centrally or offset to the left or right-hand side of the car, is any windscreen obstructions such as the rear view mirror, a dash cam or of course, a windscreen mounted GoPro – or indeed just the mount.
So be aware of this.
If I want to get REALLY fancy, I also have a Hague suction mount. I first acquired this way back in around 2007 when after I watched a particular episode of Top Gear, featuring the “Best Driving Road In The Road” from Davos to Stelio in Italy.
A year after that I was lucky enough to be able to do this drive using the mount, and it was here using a Canon XHA1 on the mount attached to the right-hand passenger window and facing forward I discovered the issue of the dirty windscreen!
A lesson hard learned.
(Another lesson I learned from this particular mount is that the French police are not amused by its shape when it is broken down and packed, as on an x-ray of baggage at the Gard du Nor (the railway station for the train from Paris to London via the Channel Tunnel) it looks like a land mine and they acted accordingly! Not fun I assure you!)
But it is super solid and can be used equally inside and outside the vehicle without fear of it falling off. In fact, if you don’t know how to remove it when finished, you might think it is stuck there forever.
Another useful piece of equipment, and not just as a car mount, is the venerable Joby GorillaPod.
I have attached these to all manner of objects but found it especially useful to get a 360Fly 360 degree camera above the plane f the car roof when shooting in 360 degrees while travelling Nullarbor Plain stretch of the Eyre Highway.
In the past, I have also rear mounted on the spoiler of the Monaro a Sony Action cam using a special little mount I found in Vanuatu of all places – a G-Clamp with a rotating head that can be mounted at all sorts of angles. I used this mount with a Sony TRV10E on Norfolk Island pointing downwards to capture the reef through a glass bottom boat.
I would love to get another one, but sadly haven’t seen one before or since, so if anyone knows where they are available, I’d love to know!
For the boat, I use the standard GoPro mount on the outside of the windscreen to get forward motion recorded, but also have a semi flexible mount on the inside to capture either the skipper, or to point backwards to the deck to capture any fishing action. Additionally, there is a sticky standard mount on the Honda engine to attach the 360Fly to if I want (or any other camera with a standard tripod mount of course).
As mentioned, I generally use a GoPro Hero 4 on the car windscreen mounts, but one major drawback, especially if travelling alone, is the act of starting and stopping recording. Leaning over and pressing the button is not a monstrous issue depending on where it is mounted, but of course, doing that when driving is not recommended procedure and I suspect Mr Plod would frown upon such an act. It may even be an offence under the banner of “not fully in control of the vehicle” or something similar.
Thankfully, GoPro has solved this problem with the Hero 5 and 6 and the Fusion.
There are 12 basic recording commands:
- GoPro Start Recording
- GoPro HiLight*
- GoPro Stop Recording
- GoPro Take a Photo
- GoPro Shoot Burst
- GoPro Start Time Lapse
- GoPro Stop Time Lapse
- GoPro Video Mode
- GoPro Photo Mode
- GoPro Time Lapse Mode
- GoPro Burst Mode
- GoPro Turn Off
- GoPro Turn On (only with HERO6 Black, & Remo + HERO5 Black)
… plus, one extra letting you add a highlight tag when recording. These are available in 13 languages for most of the GoPro range.
Voice commands on the new cameras aren’t enabled out of the box. To turn the feature on, you can swipe down from the main screen on the back of the camera and tap on the voice command icon.
As well as recording when driving a car, these obviously are also useful when riding a mountain bike, perhaps skiing and other sports, but I suspect snorkelling might have a few issues!
One challenge when recording video in this way, is getting decent audio, especially if you are trying to do a meaningful voice over or travelogue on-the-go. As well as the dreaded road noise, every other rattle, squeak and bang will be picked up (or as I had on one piece of road in Italy, the noise of potato chips being crunched).
My solution has been a RØDELink radio mic system, an inexpensive and very effective way of getting around the problem. With a lav (lapel) mic placed appropriately, clean and clear diction is picked up, and external noise is at a minimum, and any particular nasties (Italian drivers blaring their horns at idiot Australian drivers for example) can be reasonably easily removed using the tools in most decent video editing packages.
Failing that, Audacity as an audio sweetening package is well respected and is a freebie, or others from MAGIX say, are inexpensive.
Remember, you can get away with the occasional video glitch, but your viewers will NEVER forgive bad audio! Spend time on it.
The most difficult parts of recording video in this way is judging the best places for camera locations inside and outside the vehicle. Due to the different nature of different cars (and boats), this is all really a trial and error thing and I can only recommend giving a location a shot, taking some test footage and reviewing it BEFORE placing the GoPro (or whatever) mount in situ.
GoPro and similar mounts with their sticky contact material tend to be very difficult to later remove, so I use Blue-tac as a temporary option when “sighting” cameras.
And don’t forget to check the field of view on both wide angle and close up.
Complete List of Kit
My complete list of equipment used for capturing automotive (and marine) video is:
- GoPro Hero 4
- GoPro Hero 5 (normally in GoPro Karma Drone)
- GoPro Hero 6
- 360Fly 360˚ Virtual Camera
- Panasonic VC180 camcorder
- Hague Suction Mount
- Hague Headrest Mount
- G-Clamp Mount
- RØDELink Wireless Microphone Kit
- Associated GoPro sticky mounts
- Joby GorillaPod