The 270 Project – Scott Aichner to GoPro Hero 3

Fisheye photography has always interested me, I got a snap on wide angle adapter for my video camera as soon as I could, at the time I was influenced by skate videos like Misled Youth and the water footage in bodyboarding videos like No Friends, I like the distortion, the extreme close-up nature of the action, there’s something very appealing to me about being right there in the centre of what’s happening.

Scott Aichner is a legendary proponent of the fisheye lens in surf photography, and one of his ideas from way back struck me as something I could actually try myself, so I did.

Recently I have been reminded of Scott Aichner’s idea and my experiment by two images, one from the latest Movement magazine by Rod Owen:

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(frame grab from the Video teaser for the current issue of Movement, those following along at home can turn to page 73) This is his favourite image that he shot for the magazine and features Alex Bunting in the barrel, amazing light and the classic out of the barrel view.

It’s a re-print of the image which was originally in an earlier issue, it was shot on film.

The second image is from the latest issue of Riptide (page 62/63) by Lee Kelly and features Dave Hubbard drop kneeing, another fisheye photog’ and a nice looking beachie tube.

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What they have in common is that they were shot using two cameras with fisheye lenses arranged pointing in perpendicular directions in a specialist housing. Pioneer of the technique Scott Aichner drew a diagram to make it easier to understand:

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This effectively gives you 270 degrees of coverage, you simply blend the two images in post and you get a panoramic photo of one moment capturing the view into and out of the same tube.

It’s a bit of a one trick set-up, all the good shots you see using this type of rig have the photographer looking towards the beach with a guy in the barrel, not that this isn’t a great subject, but I can see why not many people, especially in the film days, bothered to go out of their way to get this kind of rig (not to mention the expense of two cameras and fisheye lenses and the custom housing itself).

Here’s a few pictures I have found of various 270 degree housings:

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Notice the GoPro 3D set-up on Lee Kelly’s (Dale Kobetich designed) housing, there’s another two Kobetich designs there at the bottom too, the green one is from Kristofor Gellert and the top left is Scott Aichner himself with the original film version complete with manual dual trigger release.

As you can see they’re all pretty ungainly, swimming around in waves hollow and big enough to get a worthwhile shot with this rig must be a nightmare.

So in mid 2010 I decided I’d try and get the same style of shot without the bulky housings or expensive cameras, I got hold of two original GoPro HD heros, (since superseded a couple of times but still capable of a respectable 5 MP still image and 1080p video) and botched up a simple mount to enable me to mount two cameras perpendicular to each other.

As the original GoPro HD suffered from a bit of lag between pressing the shutter and the shots being taken, which could vary significantly depending on which SD card you happened to be using, I decided shooting video then matching frames in post would be the best way to ensure capturing the same moment with both cameras simultaneously.

BMX 270 degree GoPro photo

I tried it out on the back of my BMX which worked OK, then I took it out on a small day at an exposed reef, the waves were too small to get any of the really good in the barrel shots but I stitched together a few frames as a proof of concept.

Here’s Dan Hunter about to take off, shot from the top of a pole:

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The stitching process is a bit of a palaver, it’s nearly always possible to tell where the stitch happens and matching colours is especially hard with the original GoPro HD as you can’t control exposure or white balance to make it consistent between the two cameras.

I think there’s definitely scope to get a GoPro Hero 3 Black edition 270 degree rig set up, assuming the 30 shots per second mode can be triggered simultaneously via the WiFi remote you could guarantee a good match, the white balance can be set up manually on each camera for consistency, the 12 MP resolution gives you plenty of resolution to play with when stitching and the new smaller, lighter weight, underwater friendly housing will allow some spectacular shots using this set-up.

I just need to get the money to buy one myself, then convince someone else to get one too, then just stick it on my existing board-mount rig and I’m pretty confident I could shoot an awesome, unique, in-out barrel shot with the whole of me in the frame too looking towards the wave instead of away.

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