GoPros are the ultimate camera for active adventurers that want to capture memories underwater, on top of mountains, and everything in between. Although GoPro cameras are known for being quite indestructible, there are plenty of factors that could ruin your shot. You’ve seen the shaky video content that was poorly shot. This is often due to lack of knowledge when it comes to filters, resolution, and stabilization.
To get great underwater photos and videos with your GoPro, focus on the following:
- Setting Up Your GoPro
- How to Film Underwater
- Stabilization – Your Largest Obstacle
- Where to Put a GoPro When Diving?
- Frames Per Second
- Photography Tips
- Which GoPro Models Are Best for Scuba Diving?
- How Deep Can You Dive with a GoPro?
- And much more.
Photography is a complex subject that people can spend years learning. On the other hand, diving is considered a ‘high-risk activity’ that should not be attempted unless you are certified. Combining these two intricate passions will take a bit more forethought than just showing up. Use this guide to understand the basics of filming underwater, techniques used by the pros to get the best shots, and how to make memories that you’ll cherish for a lifetime!
How to Scuba with a GoPro: Best tips
The GoPro is a budget-friendly action camera that allows people to shoot all over the world in rugged outdoor activities and sports. Consistently thought of as the standard in action-cameras, this camera is constantly used by professional and recreational divers alike.
A few selling points of the GoPro series for those that want to film underwater are that GoPros are:
- Attachable/Clampable to your body or an object
- Waterproof (not all are, but the HERO series are waterproof, always read product descriptions to confirm this as older models are not waterproof)
This product proves that you don’t need to pay for an entire underwater equipment set-up to create beautiful footage. You’re already spending money on diving, (which is not a cheap hobby by any means), so the Go Pro is one way to cut costs while capturing beautiful memories.
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Which GoPro Models Are Best for Scuba Diving?
The best GoPros, based on their having:
- 1080 resolution +
- Wide Lenses
- High in Sharpness and clarity
- Offering at least 60 frames per second for increased clarity and resolution
- Highly rated
- Of course, waterproof
The models that meet these specified criteria for shooting quality underwater photographer are:
- GoPro HERO 4 Silver older version:
- The largest depth of any Go Pro (a staggering 131-feet of depth, compared to most only being capable of 33-feet without a house)
- Wi-Fi is built-in
- Night Photo functionality
- Slow-motion capabilities
- GoPro HERO 6 Black:
- 4K Ultra HD Video
- Touch Screen
- Refurbished Option Link above
- Waterproof up to 33-feet of depth without housing
- GoPro HERO 7 Black:
- 4K Ultra HD Video
- Live Streaming Stabilization
When purchasing a GoPro, be careful not to overspend on a package deal. The new Hero 7 listed above on Amazon has 2 batteries and a charger, essential for diving videos or even vacation use in my opinion.
But many bundles cost a lot more and contain multiple optional brackets, filters, and accessories you may never need. You can buy the camera itself, and then buy just the few accessories you need instead of overpaying for a large bundle.
Also in the list above, I’ve linked the older models and refurbished units, which can save you decent money and still gives you all the functionality of a new camera. This isn’t a bad way to go for a camera that will be seeing heavy use.
If you want to take great action videos but don’t want to budget for a GoPro, see our review of the best budget underwater cameras.
Setting Up Your GoPro for Scuba
Now – Let’s skip forward and assume you’re well-studied in the art of diving. Since this guide is about GoPro and filming, that will be our focus until some final tips for diving safety while filming.
The steps to follow are:
- Purchase your selected GoPro
- Charge the battery by inserting a battery or plugging in the USB with a USB-C cable that should come included.
- Charge between every dive to ensure you have enough power to film a complete piece. You can also purchase back-up batteries for your models and keep them charged above the surface (re-inserting fresh batteries as needed on filming days).
- Turn the setting and screen brightness:
- From ‘Auto’ to ‘Never’
- Set the screensaver to, ‘Never’
Both of these will increase your battery life by reducing the LCD screen time, and also making it easier to see underwater. Without changing the screensaver, you could have a black screen in 30-seconds and lose sight of your subject-matter.
- Select a memory card that is compatible with your favorite Go Pro. Any videographer will recommend purchasing a memory card with at least 32 GB, but for very long films at high resolutions, you should aim for closer to 64 GB.
As a point of reference:
- 4 GB is great for minimal for normal cameras
- 16 – 32 GB is average
- 64 – 200+ GB is professional (ideal for videos which will harbor larger resolutions and file-sizes)
Keep in mind that:
- You can’t purchase just any memory card (also known as a memory chip) it must be compatible to your GoPro model. Speed and capacity matter.
- A popular memory card that suits many Go Pro models is the SanDisk Extreme Pro 64 GB UHS/U3.
- If you are filming frequently, you will own many memory cards in your lifetime. Your memory will fill up quickly with faster frame rates and increased resolution. Have a system in place to transfer files to an external hard drive and maybe a cloud backup as well.
- You can save different movies on different cards, but memory cards are reusable and external drives are inexpensive these days. We are fond of Seagate products. My daughter uses the Seagate 2 TB USB 3 for her college photography and videography class and projects. I use a 4 TB version for all the family photos and videos. If you need the new USB-C connection, you can buy an adapter for that drive. USB-C drives are hitting the market, but prices are high and you can’t share your files with family or friends using USB 3 or earlier.
Download the Go Pro App
The GoPro App allows you to edit the film you’ve shot, backing your footage up to an external source.
There are many Go Pro editing apps to choose from, so experiment with a few to discover the interface that suites your editing style best. Alternatives to the Go Pro App (that are functional with Go Pro film) are:
- Pinnacle Studio Pro
- Camera MX
- Myk for Go Pro Control & Audio
- PowerDirector (Android)
All of these software programs are GoPro compatible and will offer different aesthetic features and styles to have fun with while discovering your editing style.
Final Steps Before Diving
- Clean your lenses
- Test all equipment to ensure they are correctly working and there is enough battery to film
- Practice carrying all equipment along with the Go Pro in a pool before open-diving
- Before you lower yourself into the water with a camera, you should have some idea of what you plan to capture on film.
Have a game plan of sorts. Knowing this will assist you in preparing correctly with all necessary film, oxygen, and other essential equipment.
How to Film Underwater with a GoPro
You cannot expect to show up and immediately take high-quality shots. Learn from rookie mistakes and follow these photography instructions for your GoPro as well as adaptions to improve the clarity of your underwater shots.
To Turn on Your GoPro
- Simply charge and then hold down the side button for two seconds.
- Let this go, and the video mode will display a red recording button on the front, small red lights that will flash on both the front and back while the Go Pro is actively filming.
- Regard the battery level throughout to ensure sufficient power.
Filming and Stabilization – Your Largest Obstacle
Stabilizing your shot is the most difficult competent of filming underwater. You’re not only diving and filming simultaneously, but you are up against buoyancy and water pressure that wants to inch your body towards the surface at every inhaled breath.
The reason that stabilization will be so difficult is that you are:
- Using more force underwater to propel yourself forward than you would usually be using above the surface. This causes a more side-to-side action.
- Battling buoyancy and oxygen in your breath which rises you to the surface slightly
- Currents and tides that also combat your stability while attempting to swim and film
So there is more against you than meets the eye. It can make for a terrible shot so to stabilize your shot underwater; you will need to maintain a neutral buoyancy.
You can increase the stability of your GoPro by doing the following:
- Purchase an Arm Attachment – Such as the Wrist Strap Mount Glove for GoPro (or equivalent accessory that is suited to your Go Pro model)
- Purchase a Head Belt for your Go Pro – Such as the Basic Strap for Head GoPro Camera (this version should suit most Go Pro model types)
- Purchase a Stabilizer Tray – Such as the SHOOT Aluminum Handheld Stabilizer for GoPro
You can also attach lighting accessories to these which are optional but ideal for filming at greater depths.
Why Shallow Waters are Optimal
Another major factor that will influence your shot is lighting.
Just as with any form of photography, lighting is everything. While underwater, you will have less light, and it will be refracted through water molecules that bend light.
The deeper you go, the less lighting you will have; therefore the darker your images will be.
The best lighting for a GoPro will be filmed:
- In clearer waters if possible
- On sunny days (as cloudy ones will make for dark shots that could require back-up lighting attachments)
- At any depth above 5 meters (about 15-33 feet) is suited to most Go Pro models
These are the ideal conditions for top-quality photographs with vibrant color and accurate tones that will be easily edited. Anything deeper than this with bad lighting will make editing quite tricky as the exposure to contract balance will never quite align.
Experiment with Your Settings
There are countless settings to experiment with on your Go Pro (as well as your later involvement of collaborative editing software). We will cover these setting tips throughout this article, but a few basics to keep in mind are:
- During Deep-Dives – When filming shipwrecks or dives that are very deep, you will have less light available. On these occasions, you should lower the ‘Number of Frames Per Second,‘ or shutter speed because this will increase the amount of exposure (or light) in the shot.
- During Shallow Dives – If there is plenty of light and sunshine seeping through beneath the surface, you are likely in a shallow spot. This is where many coral fish and marine life are quickly moving, which means that you can use a higher ‘Number of Frames Per Second,’ which will increase the detail captured with such fast-moving creatures. (Somewhere between 60 to 120 FPS)
- Turn audio off as there shouldn’t be any sound worth hearing underwater. There could be bubble and gurgle noises, but you will probably cover the sound with music anyways.
Where to Put a GoPro When Diving?
One of the hardest steps while filming is to know where to put your GoPro.
Luckily for you as a diver, you should not be using your hands too extensively since divers use their feet to paddle forward. While diving, your hands are relaxed your sides, which frees them up for filming. With free hands, you will have more options than many action-sports that require all four limbs.
A few of your clamping options are to attach it to:
- Your Body – As linked above, there are many attachments for:
- And other unique angles to shoot from
- Dead Rock – Always a dead rock or surface that does not show signs of marine life living inside. Many divers will clamp the GoPro to a lower position and shoot upwards, capturing the beautiful sunlight dancing on the water’s surface.
- The Ocean Bed – Similarly to the dead rock option, you can simply set it on the ocean’s ground or direct sand. Shooting upwards will create the best shot, which leads us into –
Why Angles Matter
You don’t want to aim your shot downwards. This causes your shot to look like muddy flat ground and blue grit. Shooting directly to the ground will appear (on film) like:
- Muddy ground
- Green blobs
- Flat blueish earth that is unclear
By filming upwards from the ground and facing your lenses towards the surface – You will create:
- And much more interesting angles to look at
The lower you can get the camera – The more dimensional, colorful, and large the coral will look.
Shooting with angles is a great technique to utilize primarily if diving alone. You won’t have anyone to film for you, so it’s nice to include yourself in your shots. Doing so adds a human-element that can bring your film to life and cause others to relate to these adventures.
Look up photography of underwater shots and you will notice they are often shot:
- Out in front of the diver
- Slightly angled underneath the diver pointing upwards
- At eye-level with the fish and coral reefs
- Lower than their subject
- Fully placed on the ocean’s floor
You can make a truly beautiful film shot of dancing sun rays as you swim across a school of fish. Compare this to a flat earth picture of blobby rocks that are unable to be depicted.
Why You Need Dive Filters
If you thought it was that simple, think again. Not only can your images look like greenish-blue blobs when shot from the wrong angle, but the same is true for shooting with the wrong filters. Since the reds, yellows, and warmer tones will disappear from view through a camera, you must re-introduce them through an appropriate dive filter.
Coloration and lighting go hand-in-hand. Having the incorrect filters against the overflow of cool greenish-blue tones will make your image look very washed out. You must counterbalance the blueish ocean tones with a warmer color palette to equalize and offset the tonal variation. This will remove unnecessary colors and help to distinguish your subject matter.
The dive filters you will require are:
- For Salt Water – Use the red dive filter, which will minimize the amount of blue that is flooding in. The red filter will enhance other colors besides blue, enhancing reds, yellows, and greens.
- For Freshwater – Use the magenta filter, which will make the brackish water appear much clearer. This is ideal for water that is more greenish than blue.
Your film will not look pink or red; they will come out balance and significantly clearer than if you did not attach these filter enhancements.
An excellent filter pack which will include these color variations for both salt and freshwater is the SOONSUN 3 Pack Dive Filter for Go Pro 5, 6, and 7 (Red and magenta). Always seek out a filter (and any additional accessories) that match your selected Go Pro model.
Notes on Using Dive Filters
- Do not combine filters with extensive lighting. This can cause the red tones to be overbearing and too dominant, erasing any balance achieved by the filter alone.
- Most filters and GoPros work best between 10-80 feet of depth (about 3-25 meters) because lighting is optimal at these depths. Beyond this, lighting may be required, which is not usually suitable to filters.
- GoPros that use RAW formatting (which offers high quality and editability in Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Lightroom) are the models of:
- GoPro Hero 5
- GoPro Hero 6
- GoPros that will not require any filters (because they already come established with these underwater filming options) include the more recently updated models of:
- GoPro Hero 6 Black
- GoPro Hero 7 Black
- GoPro Hero 8 Black
Strobes are lighting to be attached to your Go Pro, are very necessary if diving deeper. If you can barely see the sunlight, your shot is even darker on film than you’re seeing it in real life.
Water will filter out colors which can allow most shades to go unnoticed, the last color you’ll lose in the shadows will be blue. Purchase a Waterproof LED Video Light Compatible to Go Pros (or equivalent that matches your Go Pro) to counteract this and offer additional illumination.
Realize that while filming underwater, lighting is necessary because without it you will have film that is:
Resolution While Filming Underwater
The resolution minimum you should aim for while using a Go Pro is at least 1080P (which is Full HD quality for high-dimensional film). Newer models such as the Hero5 and Hero6 can shoot up to 4K which allows for:
- Clearer images
- Longer videos
- Increased storage capabilities
1080P (which is 1920×1080 in its entirety) allows for 60 FPS (frames per second), which will be the default setting. This is one frame per second, for optimal clarity.
Tips for each are:
- When Snorkeling – You can use a lower resolution such as 2,700K or 1,440K. This allows you to use a higher frame rate, which leads to slow-motion.
- When Diving or Filming Professionally – Always aim for a higher resolution as this will be clearer in the deeper depths that occur in diving. You can keep the resolution between 4K and 30 frames per second. This will increase your stabilization for a non-blurry shot.
Shooting up to 4K in resolution should be done at aspect ratios of:
- Or 16:9 – The wider shot being best because this increases stabilization
How to Set the Frames Per Second
Related to the resolution, you should know a few factors regarding the FPS, including:
- The slower you can make your shot, the more detail your camera will be able to process.
- The more frame you add (the slower you shoot it), the larger the resolution will be.
- 60 FPS is an excellent range for clear images
- Experiment with higher FPS, such as popular underwater settings for slow-motion, such as:
- And up
- Slow-motion shots are larger files with more detail (compared to faster shots that don’t have time to collect as much data). This will fill up your memory cards very quickly so have back-up memory cards if you plan to shoot many slow-motion videos at higher FPSs.
Telling a Story Through Your Shots
Many suggest that while shooting your underwater film, attempt to tell a story. This will engage the viewers even more while taking them through the series of your adventures.
Ideas to contribute to an overall story-arch are:
- Depict everyone excited to go out to sea, perhaps a few shots of everyone practicing on land or in a pool first
- Shots of everyone getting dressed in their gear
- Fun music along with the boat ride out there (softer music once you go underneath the water’s surface)
- Show the descent and the shallow waters
- Following the tour group through to deeper waters
- Weaving through schools of fish
- Getting close-ups on marine life, coral, flora, or whatever your subject matter is
- Shots at different angles, most pointing upwards towards the sun
Making it a chronological narrative for you to watch back later and relive the day.
Go Pro Photography Tips
A few tips used by professional photographers on land and underwater alike include:
- For Greater Depths, Get a GoPro House – This is a plastic bracket that protects your Go Pro from deeper elevations and higher water pressure. Most Go Pros cannot go beneath 33-feet, so any dives beyond this will require an appropriate and compatible house.
- Utilize Go Pro’s Wide-Angle – Since the Go Pro will offer a wider shot, this will cause objects to appear further back than they naturally are. Due to this, you will have to get even closer to your subject and really hone-in on what you’re shooting.
- Stay Safe – Don’t get so close that you injure yourself on sharp coral or tampering with a wildlife creature’s habitat. Many use the rule of being able to clearly see the animal’s eyes as an indication that they are close enough.
- Experiment with Dome Shots – By seeking a dome port that attaches to your Go Pro model. This will cause a fish-eye effect.
- Experiment with Orientation – Shots can be made either:
- Landscape – This is like a landscape painting, shorter on the sides and long top and bottom frames. For Landscape Orientation especially, your subject must be closer to the camera and the forefront of the shot to be easily depicted.
- Portrait – This is like a sheet of paper, wider on the sides with shorter top and bottom frames.
GoPro offers incredible underwater cameras that can offer beautiful results. Experiment with different filters and settings to find the effect you’re looking for. Be sure to always read the description and confirm that the GoPro is waterproof.