Words: Taylor Boyd
With recent advances in equipment, it's now possible to capture professional caliber snowboard footage on a camera you can lose in your messy center console. It's still much easier, however, to create something that ranges from slightly nauseating to seizure-inducing. The latest GoPro with its gimbal attachment is a hell of a tool if you know what you're doing. There is a small handful of people out there who have the art mastered, and we talked to a couple of the pros--Matt Cook aka @skichef and Spencer Whiting aka @gimbalgod--as well as a hobbyist named Austin Smith, who's running a copycat Instagram account of his own, dedicated to his gimbaling exploits. Follow these tips, and you'll be hot on their trail. Just stay back three to four feet, but no further than ten.
What Equipment to Use:
Matt Cook: I use a GoPro 6 on a Karma Grip, and the Karma Grip comes with this little clip that allows it to attach to any GoPro mount, so I just put one of the new GoPro handlebar or seatpost pole mounts on the end of a boom pole. It's just this rubber gasket with a nice twisting clamp system, and it makes this really strong clamp on the end of the pole.
How to Avoid Snow on the Lens:
Austin Smith: The biggest factor to GoProing and gimbaling is snow conditions. They can make it or break it. If you have hot pow, like 33 degree snow or warmer, you're kind of doomed from the get-go cause it'll cake on the lens at every turn, and your odds of getting epic footage drastically decrease. You want to find the right snow conditions. The lighter the better, so it blows away.
Matt Cook: One of the things that helps a lot is using a longer pole, and when you do that, you're able to raise it up and get it up out of the spray of whoever you're filming. I rarely am directly behind someone when I'm filming in powder. When I'm in powder or in the backcountry I'm more often beside the subject or even in front of them doing those 45-degree lead-cam style shots. With those, the camera is always clean. It's all about placing yourself so you're out of their spray, and if you do get hit with snow, just wipe it with your finger and keep shooting. Don't call off the whole thing, 'cause a lot of the time you can get a clear wipe without even looking.
How Close to Follow:
Spencer Whiting: As long as you can stay within 5 feet of them, the shot will turn out decent. Wax or weigh more than everyone. It’s playing with fire. Stay close as you can, but don’t hit anyone.
Matt Cook: I think for park shooting, three to four feet back. No further than ten. For backcountry it's different. Park is acrobatic, not so much about the terrain. In the backcountry, I used to hit the booter with them, and I realized what's cool about it is the way the person is moving in their environment. It shows the scale of things. You can let go of being super close to a rider, so you can see the trees, cliffs, and snow flying up. I kind of blew my first month filming with [Chris] Benchetler by trying to film too close.
Best Angle For the Camera:
Matt Cook: When you're doing a true follow cam, the best angle is matched to the slope you're on. If you're in the park, and you know they're going to be doing some huge vertical movements in relation to you, you want it tilted just a little up. I see a lot of people setting the camera straight when they're filming beside somebody, but it should still be tilted slightly down when you're next to them, maybe ten degrees or twenty degrees. And if you do a lead cam, just tilt it up at the angle of the slope or slightly less. You don't want to tilt it up too far.
How to Keep the Rider in the Frame:
Austin Smith: That's sheer luck. I can't believe it works as often as it does. Whenever we do like follow cam stuff for the Rat Race or through the different banked slalom courses I'll get to the bottom and be like, "There is no way you're in frame 10 percent of the time." Then we watch the footage, and a lot of times it's spot on. I honestly don't know how you better your odds.
Spencer Whiting: The easiest way to keep the rider from going out of frame is to film in a tall 4:3 aspect ratio. If you’re filming in a fisheye it’s pretty wide and you can crop the footage to 16:9 in post.
Matt Cook: The long pole allows you to compensate if the subject is getting super high or if they're leaving the lip and you're too far behind them. You can move the pole from high to low, and it gives you ten feet of travel with the camera still in your hand. Once I figured that out, that was a game changer. On the run-in, the level of the stick should be parallel to the slope. As they get to the lip, start raising the pole so when they take off the pole is almost straight up, cause they're gaining a lot of vertical movement, and you're still on the ground. As soon as you're up in the air, start sweeping the pole downward because they're falling away from you at this point, and you're probably still rising up. It's a perfect sweeping motion, and if you do it right, it looks amazing.