Right out of the box, your action cam is:

  • Lightweight and tiny, with high-quality video capabilities
  • Wireless, allowing you to snap photos or record video from a distance
  • Waterproof, up to a certain depth

In addition, it is probably also

  • Housed in durable plastic, in case the camera falls
  • 60+ fps enabled, for some slow-motion effects in post.

So what can you do with a camera that has all of these qualities?

1. Hook it up to a cable over your action and let it soar.

Action cams are very lightweight, so you won’t need a thick cable to get a stable shot. Some vendors sell steel cable housed in soft tubing, which can cut down on the bumps the camera may experience while careening over your scene. You will need a carabiner or pulley for the main traveling unit. Your traveling unit also needs to have place onto which your camera can be attached. The whole rig could be as simple as a steel cable, rope for the carabiner, tape and PVC pipe, which would be a clamping pole for your action cam. Every action cam is different, so you will need to experiment with various counterweights for your traveling unit, as well as anchors for your steel cable. The more taught you can make your line, the more stable your shot will be. Make sure you have enough clearance overhead for any action that happens under the rig before you shoot.

2. Take advantage of the small size and make a stop-motion video.

Because the camera is so small and lightweight, it can fit in the tiniest of places. This means your set could be smaller than it would be if you were using a full-sized camcorder, which could cut down on production costs. And if you have a wireless remote control for your camera, you can minimize the amount you move it by remotely triggering the next photo.

3. Use the waterproof housing to shoot your scene from inside a clear, water-filled tub or bowl.

This way, you can drop dye into the water for some interesting practical effects over a simple title or backdrop. The water and tub could also act as a filter; your subject will wobble and warp if the water is disturbed and, if the water is somewhat murky, it can catch rays of light that would otherwise not be noticed.

4. Attach the camera to the bottom of a clear glass or bottle and have it move throughout your scene.

You can use the waterproof housing and fill the glass with the camera inside. Developing a point of view using an object can be a creative way to tie together a lot of people across time and space.

5. Just toss it – down a hill, into the water or just from one place to another.

Obviously, you should check to see if your camera has been rated to withstand a fall before trying this, but most action cams are built to survive blunders from daring stunts. A light toss after hitting record provides a disorienting whirl of colors and sounds that can be further distorted in post or added to your project as-is. Just be sure to attach a flotation device if you ever want to get your footage out of the lake.

Action cameras afford us with unique opportunities to capture perspectives otherwise unreachable by ordinary camcorders. Tossing the camera into a creek is a prime example, giving your viewer a glimpse at the scene from underwater.

6. Attach the camera to the front end of a speaker.

With the camera attached to the speaker, turn it up loud enough so that the deep bass vibrations influence the shot. It could be the extra buzz your party scene needs.

Zittery image of a drummer.
Attaching your action camera to a powerful speaker or subwoofer can create an interesting in-camera effect, giving your shot some extra energy. Vibrations in the image can be timed to match the music within your scene.

7. Take advantage of any slow-motion capabilities.

When you’re shooting something that moves quickly, whether it’s a fight, a chase, or another high-stakes scene, it may help if you’re shooting in a higher frame rate. This way, if you happen to get a great action shot or catch a breath-taking close call, you can showcase your work by slowing down the clip in post. When any clip that is shot in a frame rate higher than 30 fps, it can be slowed down to 30 fps without much loss to the illusion of movement. In other words, your shot won’t look jumpy because the human eye can only recognize around 24 frames per second; any more than that, and it’s just extra information that gets lost on our senses. Shooting in a higher frame rate does take up more memory though, so be sure to have an extra memory card or hard drive handy for those long shooting days.

Get Creative!

When you’re shooting a narrative with an action cam, you can follow the action further: If a character is doing dishes, then put the waterproof camera into the dishwasher and start the rinse cycle, or plunge it into a sink filled with bubbles. If a character throwing something into a body of water, then swim out to the spot and capture the object sinking. If you have an action, these cameras can capture it. They are great for developing extra point-of-view shots to enhance your storytelling. Whether you are shooting people or objects, these cameras have them covered.

Anthony M. Renteria is an digital media artist and freelance writer.

Anthony is currently a 4th year student at UCSC, set to graduate with a degree in Film and Digital Media. He is fascinated with the use of video cameras as legal evidence, and the effects of surveillance on society.