Hills in video look flat

I went riding this past weekend and set up my camera at the base of several hills to capture my mad skillz for future generations to enjoy.
But of course I watch my videos at home only to find the hills don’t look so crazy. As most of us muni riders know, the camera flattens the hills.

I found this thread from 2003 where joemarshall sums up these tips:

I followed tip 1, keeping my camera level to flat ground. But that alone didn’t help enough. I’ll try some of his other tips next time.

I’m using a GoPro camera, which has a wide angle. I’m not sure if that is helping or hurting.
Maybe wearing it as a helmet cam would help?

Does anyone have any downhill video that actually portrays the slope the way it looks in reality? How did you do it?

Hopefully I’ll post my video soon. I gotta find time for editing.

First I think that a wide angle cam is bad for showing steepness and I think using it as a helmet cam would be even worse.

Here is one of my vids where I think some sections look quite steep:

(I will refer to this vid)

In my opinion the best angles to show steepness is to position the camera at the top of the section at the highest point you can reach (0:20 and 3:03 in my vid) or at the lowest point (0:28 and 3:07). You can compare it to a different camera position where the same section looks quite flat (3:02).
In addition to that it is useful to fake a little bit (it may be recognized but I think it is ok as long as you make it just look as steep as it really is and not more :wink: )
One way to do this is to film yourself climbing up that section and lean more into the hill than necessary (as far as I can remember I have done this at 3:03). The advantage of this “fake” technique is that it can’t be recognized.

The other fake is to put the camera to one side of the section and rotate the camera a bit to the side to make it look steeper. I did this in the following vid at 1:32 (I think I used the previous fake here too :D) :

This one can be recognized a lot easier when there are things in the picture that should be straight (like the trees in my example)

I hoped this helped a little bit :wink:

The problem (besides film being a 2-D medium) is that our perceptual systems over-estimate slopes. A 20% grade really isn’t very steep; draw it on a piece of paper and it’s not very impressive. But try to climb it on a unicycle and it’s a different matter. Similarly with downhills; when you’re riding it, you have your bodily systems telling you to avoid going down that thing, so it seems really steep. “The way it looks in reality” is actually the part that’s wrong; film is true to the scene, but it lacks the feeling of vertigo.

All you can do is cheat.

Thanks guys!

@FtW, you’re videos do portray the downhills better than mine. Though they’re significantly steeper than what I’m currently riding.
I think you typo’ed there where you say 3:02 looks flat. But I did see some sections that looked flatter, but could tell weren’t.

And looking at your videos I now realize I need to video closer. I put my camera at the bottom of a hill, and I look too small. You can’t see the roots and rocks I’m dealing with along the way. (Though they aren’t the caliber you’re riding, but still good progress for me) That means videoing smaller sections.
It’s hard enough to stop and set up a camera for one run down a hill. To do it multiple times will take even more patience. But I’ll give it a try next time.

@tholub, I agree I won’t be able to recreate the perception I experienced. But I can come closer than I’m doing so far. FtW has proven that to me.

I’m embarrassed to even post my video now. :o I’ll have to work on it some more. Maybe I can do some digital zooming in my editor or something.

I’ll accept that, provided I can base it on concepts of “more true” and “less true”. Wow, this could get really deep really fast.

Note for what follows: I do not have experience making unicycle videos.

The impressive thing about climbing hills to me is effort and strength of the rider. I really think that’s more important than making the hill itself look impressive. As such, I’d try to choose shots that emphasize this. Here’s what I’d use as general rules:

Composition
Stay kind of wide, but nothing crazy.
Keep the camera low. This will make the rider look bigger, along with:
Stay close to the rider. Being close, in combination with a wide lens can make small things look huge.
Definitely keep the camera level or if anything very slightly tilted to make the hill steeper. If there are trees, stay level.
Don’t point uphill, unless you can make the rider almost completely fill the frame. There is nothing in the scene to reference the slope if you point up.

Action
Don’t use a tripod. Bring the audience into the scene with you:
move the camera. Build a Steadycam and get someone to follow beside or behind. Pans on a tripod might be able to work, but make sure the tripod, not just the camera, is level.

Sequence
Cut back to some shots from far away during the climb, if it’s really epic. Composition rules above don’t apply here:
Shoot up the hill, but really wide so you can see clear sky after the top, make sure nothing behind the hill shows up. Either go right to the beginning and get it close to the ground, or from far away so the hill looks like a big wall. Either way, the rider should not be close, but should be visible. Make them look small here.
Shoot down the hill, in such a way that a lot of the flat land after the hill seems to almost rise, and go to the top of the frame. Don’t show any sky if you can, but cut close to it. Again, the rider should be small. If you’re alone or don’t want to ride a lot of times, you could exclude the rider from these shots. You’d lose a lot.

Shots looking up where the rider disappears over the crest would be good.
Shots from the top held level where the road drops out (and hopefully nothing but sky is visible after the road/trail) would be cool where the rider rides up into the shot.

Just some ideas. There is an insane hill right by me right now, I may do a sequence of me riding it to test some of these shots. Again, all of this is untested, I’ve never even really made unicycling videos before.

I have this great poster of a shirtless Kris Holm riding down what looks like an impossibly steep rock. It’s tricky though: if you pay attention to the background, there are some trees for reference. If you tip the picture to where the trees are straight-up, Kris’ descent starts to look believable, if still very impressive.