Who dares films: Why extreme-sports fans love helmet-mounted cameras

They're capable of recording your every move. Will Coldwell gets a high-def heads-up.

One sunny day in California, way back in 1987, a young film-maker called Mark Schulze taped a camera to his motorcycle helmet, wired it up to a microphone, got on his bike and pressed "record". Two decades later and thousands of people around the world are making films using high-definition cameras to depict their adventures exactly as they see them.

But unlike Schulze's original contraption, a DIY affair that was crude, bulky and heavy, helmet cameras are now mass-produced by global brands such as GoPro, Contour and Drift. Consequently, clipping a camera to yourself and filming has become surprisingly straightforward.

Unfortunately for Schulze, he's not the one cashing in on its success. "I didn't patent the combination," he says, "I was young and I just used this invention for the videos I was creating; the first mountain-biking videos. I really didn't think about the future applications and possibilities of something like this."

Unsurprisingly for a pastime that has always attracted big egos, the cameras have been taken up by the extreme-sports community with the gusto normally reserved for a 7m half-pipe – YouTube is now flooded with clips showing footage from seemingly impossible perspectives.

Without being paid for by the manufacturers, the clips act as advertisements in themselves, the videos inspire people to take their stunts further, explore new angles and, probably most significantly, purchase one.

GoPro, the body-mounted camera market leader, is estimated to have sold 800,000 units in 2011,making it around $250m (£158m). West London-based Action Camera – one of Europe's leading retailers in specialist sport cameras – saw growth of around 30 per cent last year.

"Before it was more like CCTV systems, so you would need a remote pack with the camera but as soon as they went HD everyone wanted them," explains Matt Taylor, marketing manager for Action Camera.

Patrick Rynne, studying for a PhD in Applied Marine Physics at Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, is using GoPro cameras to shoot his extreme sports and wildlife project; Waterlust. Working with a bigger camera, he explains, would be a "disaster".

"It certainly has changed the extreme-sports experience. You're no longer the lone hunter going out, killing the bear and not having anybody to tell about it. Now you can ride alone, do something rad, and share it with all your buddies online."

The ease at which cameras like the GoPro allow the user to shoot, edit and upload has also been utilised by Jump4Heros, the Royal British Legion Extreme Human Flight Team. They perform base jumps and skydives to raise money for charities supporting the armed forces.

"Being able to strap a few cameras on really changes how we can go about our business," explains Major Alastair Macartney, who has done more than 6,500 skydives. "We're now able to get into every household showing the extremes that we go to."

Since the cameras shoot constantly as you go, the unpredictability of the end footage is another intriguing aspect of this type of filming. One YouTube video shot with a GoPro, seen 13 million times, shows the moment cyclist Evan van der Spuy collides with a galloping antelope in South Africa.

Even Schulze can recall similar experiences when he was experimenting with his original helmet cam: "One time I saw a rattlesnake right in the middle of the trail and I had to jump my bike over the top so as not to hurt the snake. Little things like that were kind of neat. It was nice to be able to show what it was like afterwards."

Patrick Rynne explains how shooting in this way means that all the work is in the planning: "Shooting with a regular camera is like hunting with a gun, whereas shooting with a GoPro is like hunting with a snare. You have to 'trap' your shots. You need to think about where to put the camera, how to mount it and try to anticipate what things will look like before they happen."

His team demonstrated this to excess when they strapped a camera to the dorsal fin of a tiger shark.

But it's not just adrenalin junkies who are using these cameras. Increasingly they have been reaching a wider audience – most notably urban cyclists. Although they are unlikely to encounter antelopes, rattlesnakes or sharks on their daily commute, some would argue they face rather more dangerous threats in the form of bad drivers.

Gareth Williams, better known as Gaz, runs sillycyclists.com, a blog dedicated to highlighting mistakes cyclists can make on the road, as well as poor driving. He is part of a small but growing community of around 300 cyclists in the UK who regularly upload and blog about videos they have made using helmet cameras.

Using a Countour Roam camera, Williams began filming in 2009 after having an accident on the road that resulted in a drawn-out battle with his insurers: "With the helmet cam there's no debate – they just pay up".

But, as Williams explains, it's not just about capturing calamitous crashes: "Sometimes we put up a video to show a really nice ride. Like a journey where it's green lights all the way."

Meanwhile, Schulze is content to know that his idea has spread, while the motivation driving people to make such films remains unchanged: "The point of view aspect is what it was all about then and it's what it's all about now – people just want to show off what they do."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave long-running series
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Voices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
voices
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
Sport
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
athletics
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Arts and Entertainment
Gregory Porter learnt about his father’s voice at his funeral
music
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
Children at the Leytonstone branch of the Homeless Children's Aid and Adoption Society tuck into their harvest festival gifts, in October 1936
food + drinkThe harvest festival is back, but forget cans of tuna and packets of instant mash
Sport
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Graduate BI Consultant (Business Intelligence) - London

    £24000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Graduate BI Consultant (B...

    Service Delivery Manager (Product Manager, Test and Deployment)

    £40000 - £55000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Service Delivery Manager (Product Ma...

    Technical Product Marketing Specialist - London - £70,000

    £50000 - £70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Cloud Product and Solutions Marketin...

    Trainee Helpdesk Analyst / 1st Line Application Support Analyst

    £18000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

    Day In a Page

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam