More and more scuba divers are finding that they can create vibrant and beautiful underwater video with GoPro. GoPros are small, affordable, and simple to use. When we think of good underwater filming, we have images of expensive equipment and highly skilled videographers.
The truth is that a good diver can produce amazing underwater videos with some basic skills, a little practice, and a GoPro. Our guide reviews the basics of stabilization, settings, filters, angles, and shots, equipment, and lighting. And we’ll share some pro tips for taking your video up to epic levels.
The basics of GoPro underwater filming
GoPros have become very popular with divers, and you’ll find they set up their cameras in many ways to capture those quick and fleeting moments under the sea. Divers use pole cams, selfie poles, handles, dome ports, spear gun mounts, and other accessories to help them capture those special moments for sharing later.
It’s easy to use your GoPro right out of the box. Just charge it up. But you should start every dive with a fully charged battery and may want to consider bringing extras. The last thing you want is to miss that epic moment as our battery dies. Keep your screen at 100% brightness at all times and set the “Auto Off” and “Screensaver” to never so your LCD screen does not go dark after 1 minute.
Your memory card is going to fill up quickly with high resolutions and frame rates so use a minimum of 32Gb to 64Gb memory card. This should last you for a couple of dives. On longer dives, download your files each day.
Be sure that you understand the properties of your GoPro. Models vary in terms of waterproofing, image quality, image stabilization, settings, lighting, and more. The Hero5, Hero6, and Hero7 are all waterproof up to 33 feet, while the older models are not.
If you are using other models or exceeding 33 feet, you’ll need to use a dive housing. You may want to keep your camera in the housing even above the surface to protect it from accidents on the boat or dock.
Resolution and Frames per second
Those just starting out should use the default settings of 1080 resolution (HD), 60 frames per second (FPS), and a wide field of view. This is easier to edit and postable on social media. You can experiment with higher resolutions as you get more experience.
Frames per second (FPS) is the number of frames you are creating per second. The more FPS you are creating, the smoother the video and the better the result. You should be using 60 FPS for underwater. A high FPS like 120 or 240 works for fast action events like a fish feeding. Just remember that higher frame rates fill up your memory card quickly.
Some GoPro models do not require filters. Filters are used to bring red lighting to the film, making for better contrast and color. Red filters are used in blue water and magenta filters in green water. Avoid filters in shallow water and rely upon the natural sunlight.
Low lighting can lead to dull, blue, and colorless videos. The proper lighting will bring out those vibrant colors you want to capture. Water absorbs light, starting with red, then orange, and then yellow. After passing through 15 feet of water, light loses lots of colors.
Underwater video lights will bring you the results you want in rendering your subject in vibrant colors and are highly recommended. White light from video light adds back the missing wavelengths that are absorbed by the water.
There is a vast range of lighting options available across many price points and levels of sophistication. The key is to practice, practice, practice. Underwater lights are good for about 5 to 6 feet, depending on water visibility.
Higher lumens on lights mean better lighting. You’ll have the best result when your subject is close to the light. Experiment with different angles with your light as it will produce different results, such as more shadow, less shadow, or softer or harder light.
Tips for using your GoPro underwater
Your GoPro will sink fast! They are small and hard to find on the bottom of the ocean. Consider adding some type of float to avoid losing your camera and possibly your precious footage. Options are a floaty grip, floating wrist straps, or floaty casings. The simple option is to use a wrist strap without any flotation. It will still sink if it comes loose, but there is less chance of that with a strap.
When you’re swimming, the camera won’t be staying level and the right way up. Lock the orientation to avoid automatic rotation is enabled. Also, lock your screen. Even though your touch screen will not work underwater, it will work when you surface, and water or something else drops on it. Try to set up your shooting options before you get in the water.
Experienced divers have the edge
The best tip to getting great underwater photography is to be an experienced diver. You’ll need to have full control of your buoyancy and be able to move slowly and smoothly to get excellent footage.
Use a stabilizing tray
The first sign of a rooky underwater photographer is shaky footage. Remember, you are fighting buoyancy, currents and tides, and depth. It can be tough to remain stable. A useful tool is a double-handled stabilizing tray. It helps produce smooth underwater footage and gives you a point to attach lighting or arm options.
Avoid dirty housing and lenses
Obvious, but not! Be sure to keep your camera squeaky clean. Avoid water smears and salt stains by thoroughly cleaning inside and outside of your lenses and housing after each use. Cleaning will also extend the life of your equipment.
Shoot in the shallows
You already know that light and color disappear in the water as you go deeper. When you’re shooting with a strobeless GoPro, stay above 16 feet to retain vibrant colors. You should also strive to keep the sun at your back to help light your subject unless you are going for a silhouette.
This does not mean you should stay close to the surface. If you want to go deeper, invest in some basic lighting. One light will help when shooting close-ups, but two are better, especially for wide-angle stuff where you need to position the lights further back.
Try a split shot
Merge the wonder of the land and sea by capturing them in a single frame. You’ll need a dome port that will move the water away from the lens to increase the field of view if you want to create over/under imagery.
Pro Tip: Don’t get your dome wet, as it can be tough to remove a water droplet on the lens. Add to the separation by having a focal point in the foreground underwater. This can create stunning imagery and footage.
Capturing that epic footage
Capturing those fantastic underwater experiences will help memorialize some of your best dives. Composition, perspective, framing, and the overall subject and lighting are critical elements of any good photography. Shorten your learning curve by watching and appreciating what other leading underwater photographers are doing.
Look for all of those elements, study what they are using for settings, and then look at your videos in the same critical way. Keep a log of your shoots, capturing locations, subjects, and any techniques or settings you experimented with. Keep your distance and respect the underwater life, and try to capture the subjects and the action that make you love being underwater with your camera.