A Hero’s Journey | Build Your Own GoPro PFD

A couple of years ago, a friend and I were tossing around ideas to more effectively capture the vibrant aquatic life and color residing in the creeks and streams of our area (the Blue Ridge mountain region of SW Virginia). After a little brainstorming, within minutes we had a prototype PFD (Personal Flotation Device) in-hand and quickly found ourselves headed out to a local mountain stream for a quick test.

Our hull, as it were, for this project is a simple, inverted cooler lid with a 1-inch thick layer of Styrofoam trimmed to fit the recessed inner-side. We added a piece of duct tape to the top, secured a flat GoPro mount and wrapped the works in duct tape. Saving a few air holes that slowly took on water over time, the maiden effort performed amazingly well.

To combat taking on excess water, we’ve since added a strip of duct tape to the perimeter edges to fill any gaps in the Styrofoam, allowing water to shed more cleanly from the deck. The cooler lid works well in that it is double-walled, with a pocket of air between two layers of durable plastic, providing more than adequate buoyancy for a compact action camera, such as the GoPro Hero 3 used here. The rectangular, ark-like shape of the boat is ideal for tracking and stability at higher volumes.

In our experience, we found a surface-level PFD proved to be far lass invasive to the ecosystem and considerably more effective in capturing aquatic life than the former mono-pod probings of old. For an enhanced rotating effect, one can always choose to replace the cooler lid with a round object, such as an old Frisbee (or something similar) and attempt to contain the footage rotation speed in post. Either way you go, both methods can provide an equally satisfying result.

Be mindful that light dissipates quickly below the surface. The more shallow the water and the higher the angle of the sun, the better and more interesting the result. Unless one is providing additional (continuous) lighting, get started by rock hopping in smaller streams and tributaries.

It also helps to take along a friend or assistant – one to release the rig upstream, and one to catch downstream – just in case.

For a few tips in regard to processing aquatic images, stop by and check out my article on the subject over at Photofocus.com. Feel free to click thru the (somewhat lengthy) video clip above for a little sample footage as to what to expect as you go.

Thanks for visiting, as always. Hope you find the information useful; have fun experimenting and happy underwater shooting! Be careful out there and do be warned — this kind of thing can become quite addictive..


backinthesaddle2016Mark Morrow is a practicing Virginia-based amateur photographer, podcaster and writer specializing in a variety of domestic and commercial projects.

To view more of Mark’s work, please click here.

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