An Expert’s Opinion: Capturing Earth Day with GoPro
Today marks the 50th anniversary for Earth Day. To celebrate, we’ve enlisted the help of GoPro Engineering Tools Specialist and landscape photography expert Shreenivasan Manievannan to provide some tips to action camera photography with less action and more Earth.
As a landscape and travel photographer I take great pleasure in celebrating Earth Day’s 50th anniversary this year. Celebrated worldwide on April 22, Earth Day encourages everyone to take climate action and preserve our surroundings for future generations.
“The enormous challenge—but also the vast opportunities—of action on climate change have distinguished the issue as the most pressing topic” according to the Earth Day Network. “Climate change represents the biggest challenge to the future of humanity and the life-support systems that make our world habitable.”
Our beautiful blue planet is incredibly diverse with different types of landscape, natural phenomenon and weather patterns. Yet, it’s more fragile than we often realize. I believe in both showcasing the Earth’s natural beauty and, at the same time, educating others on how to protect it for future generations. As a nature photographer, I strive to capture and document Earth in its abundant variety. I believe it is important to portray its needs and to protect it from the harmful effects of an unsustainably changing climate.
With Earth Day going virtual this year due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, I would like to take this opportunity to showcase some of the beautiful landscapes of Earth that I shot with GoPro’s HERO8 Black and MAX cameras. Along with some of the tips and tricks I have developed over the years.
Some of the key features I love about the cameras are: the ability to shoot in RAW format for photos, super wide angle lenses, foolproof infinite focus, very short hyperfocal distance, pre-stitched 360 photos, super stabilized TimeWarp videos and, most importantly for me, the unbelievably smooth transition for time lapse photos to videos, which is discussed in detail below.
The power of RAW’s uncompressed DNG-style format allows one to capture a high dynamic range scene and use post processing it to extract highlights and shadow details. It is also useful for low-light night photos captured with a high ISO because it enables efficient post processing for heightened detail with comparatively low noise.
PRO TIP: RAW format can be enabled under presets on all Photo and most Time Lapse modes.
The digital lens feature on GoPro ranges from Narrow (comparable to a standard smartphone view) to SuperWide (GoPro’s patented ultra-wide view). The two widest settings, SuperView and Wide, enable super wide-angle lenses with infinite focus and a short hyperfocal distance. This is a game changer, especially when shooting a close foreground. It allows me to get fine details and, at the same time, not worry about focus or aperture values when shooting in a hurry. It also enables the capture of interesting perspectives that are hard to obtain using a regular camera, like photos close to wet environments and 50/50 split water shots without expensive accessories.
PRO TIP: Set the EV Comp to -1 to get maximum dynamic range and preserve highlights.
Burst Mode with RAW Capture
Combining RAW with Burst Mode on HERO8 was another game changer for my photography. It allows me to capture images that have high contrast with ease; this happens, for example, when shooting against light or underwater. I can then extract details in post to enhance shadows and highlights, which makes for a more balanced image.
PRO TIP: Keep EV Comp to -1 to not overexpose highlights, especially when shooting 50/50 split water shots.
Also, pick a burst speed based on the speed of the subject. For Example, a person jumping would only require a couple of seconds, so use 10/3, or 10 frames per 3 seconds. Whereas capturing an over-under split shot might require 10 seconds, like 30/10.
When shooting in Burst Mode + RAW remember that it will take a longer for the camera to write the files to the SD card.
Night Lapse Mode
Night Lapse Photo Mode is my go-to mode for shooting a time lapse. The smooth transitions between light to dark exposure are stunning. The sunrise and sunset transitions match high-end DSLRs and mirrorless cameras. Also, with the new addition of video being rendered automatically, users now have the option to easily create a compiled night lapse video when using HERO8 Black.
PRO TIP: I prefer to let the camera do its job by using the following settings when capturing night-to-day or day-to-night transitions, which allows the camera to ramp up the exposure to 10s durations at ISO 800.
- Auto Shutter
- Auto IntervalAuto White Balance
- ISO Min 100
- ISO Max 800
When shooting sunrise or sunset, I set ISO Min and Max to 100. Or, when shooting high-contrast scenes, I set EV Comp to -0.5 or -1 to preserve highlights.
Long Exposure Photography with ND Filters
I am also a fan of using ND filters to achieve a smooth, fluid look with moving water from automatic long exposures up to 10s, depending on lighting conditions and the filter’s ND rating, and manual exposures up to 30s. The greater the number of stops on the filter, the more it will cut the light, allowing the camera to automatically capture a much longer exposure. This compensates for the loss of light coming through the filter.
PRO TIP: Shooting long exposure is as easy as snapping on a filter—I prefer Polar Pro—and setting the camera to Auto Shutter with Min and Max ISO as low as 100.
Stabilized TimeWarps on HERO8 Black + MAX
TimeWarps (a.k.a. super-stabilized hyperlapses) have become much easier and unbelievably stable on both HERO8 and MAX. Also, with MAX, reframing these creatively is as fun as it is easy using the GoPro app on mobile. I use this often, and I find it is a great tool for creating stories during landscape photography sessions.
PRO TIP: TimeWarp speed ramping was introduced on HERO8 and MAX HERO mode and allows you to slow to real time by just tapping on the screen and speeds up again after another tap. In general, the longer the amount of time you plan to shoot, the faster you should set your TimeWarp speed.
360 Stitched MAX Photos
With the GoPro MAX, all 360 footage is stitched within the camera, which saves an immense amount of post-processing time and makes it easier to shoot good quality JPGs.
PRO TIP: Keep ISO set to 100 and EV Comp to -1 to get maximum image quality when dealing with high-contrast scenes.
I’ve learned through experience that GoPro cameras are built to take a beating in extreme environments. Whether I’m shooting from an open-door helicopter with rain spraying all around, in a hot desert, under raging waterfalls, in a heavy downpour or on a frozen lake, GoPro captures the stunning scenes without me having to worry about the action camera surviving.
Small + Mighty
With size as its advantage, I love taking this pocket-size camera everywhere with me and experimenting with different angles. Some of my favorite shots are those where I’ve simply put the GoPro on the ground and turned on a Time Lapse. Wooden Slabs and the compact tripod Shorty mount are also good alternatives. The beauty is that I barely notice I have my GoPro until I want to capture a moment I’m in with ease.
I hope you’ve had a good time viewing some of the beautiful scenes our beloved planet has to offer through my GoPro lens. And now so more than ever, it is important to focus on keeping our planet beautiful, so I’d like to conclude with a message that the President of Earth Day Network Kathleen Rogers shared with me in the midst of a virtually celebrated Earth Day 50th Anniversary.
“While we collectively take action as individuals to bend the curve and reduce the spread of coronavirus, we cannot lose sight of the bigger picture—our global climate crisis,” Kathleen says. “The intrinsic connections between human health and planetary health sparked the first Earth Day in 1970, and today, we must rise to meet these dual crises again as Earth Day marks 50 years.”
In 1970, Kathleen explains that Earth Day mobilized over 20 million citizens to demand action on the environmental challenges of the time. Today, Earth Day is observed in around 190 countries and close to 100,000 organizations. More than 1 billion people now participate in Earth Day activities each year, making it the largest civic observance in the world. To learn more and support the cause visit earthday.org.