Reference: StudentFilmmakers Magazine, February 2007. Mounting a DV Cam to a Motorcycle: For a Low-Angle/POV Action Shot by Brian Flees. Pages 36 – 40.
The key to getting the best action shot for your film is creativity. Materials can be found at most hardware stores for use as a camera support. When looking for materials, consider what tools you have available to work with. Electrical conduit, an affordable metal tubing, can work great but requires a metal saw to cut. An easy solution is a tubing cutter but can leave a sharp edge on the inside. Be sure and buy one rated for steel if you do. To take advantage of tools you may already have, look for 1 x 2 and 2 x 2 inch wood strips. They are easy to cut with a hand saw and can be connected with ordinary screws. It’s not so much what you use as it is how you use it that determines if the shot is a success or not.
While shooting a project for a client that involved dirt bikes, it was decided that a POV shot would give their audience a feeling of speed. The question was how to mount a DV camera to a dirt bike in a limited amount of time. The first step was to decide where on the bike to mount the camera. The reason for the shot was to make the audience feel like the rider, so a POV shot seemed like the best answer. The client also wanted to make sure the bike looked fast. Because the bike wasn’t going to get much faster than 60mph, we suggested mounting the camera lower to the ground to accentuate the speed. They liked the idea and the next step was to work out the details of mounting the camera to the bike.
When attaching materials to a motorcycle, it is important to consider all of the moving parts. When mounting to the front end of a bike, you are limited to areas around the frame and gas tank. The front forks on a bike are moved constantly for balance which can easily upset an audience. For this reason they should be avoided. Also be sure and turn the front tire fully in both directions to check for potential clearance issues. If you want a rear facing shot, you are limited to the rear seat and fairing in most cases as the rear tire and swing arm move in relation to the bike. This is also a consideration when attaching beneath the seat as the tire can come close to or make contact with the mount if it is too low. One trick to check clearance on a street bike with no dust boots on the shock is to place a zip tie around the inner shock tube. Send the rider out to make his run through the scene and check to see how far it was pushed up by the shock. This will show you how far up the front tire will travel in the scene.
To get started, the camera was placed in several positions on the bike. This can be accomplished with pieces of foam and duct tape. It gives the ability to check the image that will be recorded and if it will interfere with the rider. Another consideration for placement was exposure to heat because the engine was air cooled. Depending on how much footage will be recorded, it may be important to leave room to open and change the tape in the camera as well. Battery access might also be necessary. Once you have a position you like, it is also important to have the rider sit on the bike. This is a good opportunity to see if the camera position will interfere with the rider.
The environment the camera and bike will be used in is a big consideration. Because the road was smooth, there was no need to use a remote recording deck to isolate it from damaging vibrations and shock. It was a dirt road so we decided to keep the camera high enough so that rocks coming off the front tire would not be thrown directly at the lens while turning.
To stop dirt from getting into the small openings of the camera, a piece of fabric or plastic can be wrapped around the camera and taped just behind the lens. The biggest consideration when choosing a material to use is whether or not the audio from or near the camera will be used in the final product. If audio is important, a good solution is fleece which can be purchased at any fabric store by the yard. Be sure and wrap the camera entirely but leave a space to check the recording functions. This opening can be covered with gaffer tape while shooting.
With the camera’s position set, the next step was to choose three points to attach to. The reason is to triangulate the supports to the camera as much as possible so it doesn’t move while shooting. There’s nothing more distracting than a shaky camera. For the first mounting point, a short length of 1 x 2 inch wood strip was attached to the flat bottom of the gas tank using a tie-down strap. A small piece of foam was placed behind the ratchet to protect the gas tank from scratches. This became a perfect mount for the carrying handle atop the camera. Duct tape was used to secure it to the end. There are many options out there when choosing tape. My advice is to spend a little more. Cheap tape will either come off when you don’t want it to or leave adhesive behind when you do. Also be sure to wrap the tape from several directions and clean surfaces before attaching.
With the top of the camera secure, the next step was to attach the bottom. For this, a piece of aluminum angle was attached to the bottom of the camera. After drilling a hole in the angle, the camera was secured with a screw in the same way it is attached to a tripod. A 1/4 x 20 screw can be found at most hardware stores and fits the hole in the bottom of most cameras; just be sure not to over tighten the screw. The lens was then taped to the angle to stop the camera from rotating on the screw. The back of the angle was attached to the bike using a bolt from the battery cover. Motorcycles have a number of bolts that can be used as attachment points, but be careful as some should not be removed. Try and use ones securing cosmetic panels as they are less likely to interfere with the performance of the bike.
To secure the bottom of the camera horizontally in relation to the bike, a third support was used. A piece of ½ inch electrical conduit was cut as a support to be mounted between the front of the aluminum angle under the camera and the frame of the motorcycle. The round tube creates a very rigid support but the trick comes when creating a point to attach to. The ends of the tube were crushed flat in a vise to create a flat mounting point. Another solution is to hammer it flat on a hard surface. The ends were then bent ninety degrees to line up with the two points. Holes can then be drilled in the ends to match the attachment points. Though a drill press is nice to have, conduit can also be drilled on location with a drill gun. Whatever you use, be sure the piece is securely mounted in a vise because the drill bit can grab and spin the piece. For this reason, never hold it in your hands and always wear gloves.
When shooting from a vehicle, it is important to protect the camera. A good place to start is with the lens. A UV filter can be picked up for most cameras under ten dollars. It’s an affordable way to protect the lens from anything that might come in contact with it. Just like a small rock can crack a windshield, it can destroy a camera lens. I destroyed an expensive polarizer on a shoot, but it was far better than buying a new lens. In fact, the first thing I did when I bought the VX 2000 I used on this shoot was put a UV filter on it right out of the box. Another good idea is to put tape over the viewfinder. It not only protects it from debris, but some have a lens that will focus sunlight and damage the monitor inside.
The result of the camera being mounted to the dirt bike was well worth the time and materials. It added excitement and the client was more than satisfied with the finished product. Although not all bikes are the same, they all have similar places to mount to. Be sure to be safe and avoid placement or supports that interfere with the rider. The end result will be a shot that sets your film apart from others and brings your audience closer to the action.
(Photos by Brian Flees.)
Brian Flees is the president of Foresight Films, a Lakewood, Colorado-based film and video production company. His experience includes an AAS degree in film and video technology, certified and experienced metal fabrication background and extreme sports. Credits include television work for Fox Sports International and NBC, local award-winning short film, ‘Out of Time’ and commercial production for national clients. His website and contact information can be found at