Type in the name of your favorite mountain bike trail, and you’re likely to see a few videos posted directly from someone’s action camera. Sometimes, they’re cool, but usually they suck. When they are edited, it’s usually to add long title screens, annoying music, or over the top transitions which only exacerbate the nausea you’re experiencing… that is if you’re still watching.

But action cameras are the easiest way to record your ride, hands down. So how can you use them to make videos that don’t suck?

  1. Get a good camera angle. Most action cameras have wifi, so you can view some sample clips and make sure you’re not recording your top tube for an entire day. Ideally you want a lot of the trail and a little bit of your bike. This gives the viewer a frame of reference and a true, first person view.
  2. Use the proper settings. On a GoPro you want to use superview for first person video. This usually has an “S” at the end. On other action cameras and older GoPros, you want to set the field of view as wide as possible. This helps the video look more stable, and mimic what you would be seeing through your eyes.
  3. Record some other stuff! Take your camera off its mount, or use your cell phone to get interesting clips. Show us what the trail head looks like, or what bike you’re riding. If you don’t mind bringing one of these bendy tripods around, you can even set up the camera to film yourself. These clips help break up the video, and give the viewer a break from dizzying first person footage.
  4. Edit your video. Most of us have access to some kind of editing software, whether it be iMovie, Windows Movie Maker, GoPro Studio, or even YouTube’s online video editor. There are tutorials out there for all of these platforms, and generally they’re all equipped with everything you need. Editing allows you to cram 3 hours of riding into an interesting 3 minute video.
  5. Choose your very best clips. Clip selection must be done emotionlessly and ruthlessly, which could mean rejecting moments that have personal significance. Look at this graph. As my video progresses, people continually drop off and watch something else, with an average view time of 73%. Every second that progresses is an opportunity to lose the viewer’s attention, so hit them with your best clips and leave them wanting more.
  6. Lose the title screen and crazy transitions. Jump into the action right away, and put your title in the corner. Especially on platforms like Facebook you have only milliseconds to grab someone’s attention as they scroll by. When you switch clips, you don’t always needs to use a transition. Transitions are useful when the scene is changing, or something significant is about to happen. Use subtle transitions like cross dissolve so your video doesn’t look like total garbage.
  7. Let us hear the trails. A lot of people put loud music over their ride and block out the trail sounds altogether, but I think this is a mistake. The sounds of the trail bring the viewer into the scene, and make everything more realistic. If you’re getting lots of wind noise, see if your software has noise reduction. Lowering the bass can also improve the sound tremendously.
  8. Edit to the music. If you decide to use music, pay attention to the waveform. You can switch clips exactly on a beat to keep the video moving along. Beats will usually be denoted by a large peak in the waveform. Subtly include the audio track from your action camera so the loud bumps and skidding are still audible. If someone is speaking in the video, reduce the volume of the music track for that moment. A good audio mix gives a really professional touch to your video.
  9. Get more angles. Your camera might be a $300 GoPro, but you could get 6 cheap knockoffs for that price. Pick up some “B” cameras so you can get other views besides your helmet. After you bomb a descent, you might want to cut to a rearward angle so the viewer can look back at it. Point a camera at yourself as well. Sometimes, putting a face to video makes it more personal and relatable, even if you’re ugly. If you have a friend with you, they can wear a camera on their bike or helmet, pointing towards you for a third person shot. This is how I filmed the descent on the New Jersey video.
  10. Tell a story. This doesn’t need a spoken narrative, but assembling your footage chronologically helps the viewer understand what’s going on. Show the entrance to the trail briefly before you ride it. If you crash, show it, followed by clips of the aftermath. If you stop to fix something, or session a feature, consider it video gold. Give the viewer the illusion that your day at the trails was purposeful and calculated. Stories are much easier to follow than random video clips.

So, those are my ten tips. You can use them with any camera, any software, or with other topics besides mountain biking. If you’re already making great videos, I need you to leave your tips in the comments. Tell us what editing software you use, and what your camera settings are. Thanks for riding with me today, and I’ll see you next time.