Beginner's Guide to GoPro for Underwater Video

Settings, Filters, Lights, Shooting Tips, Editing & more
By Brent Durand

GoPro video cameras have become incredibly popular with divers over the last couple years, set up in a variety of ways to capture fleeting moments underwater. Pole cams, selfie poles, housing mounts, handles, trigger grips, dome ports, tray/arm setups, mask mounts, spear gun mounts and all sorts of other accessories are allowing divers to capture their underwater visions and share them online.

Let’s take a look at the basic functions of the GoPro Hero cameras and how to capture beautiful underwater video. 

Note:  I've revised this article for the HERO5 Black, but it still applies to all GoPro models 3 and above.

Read our GoPro HERO5 Review or view all of our GoPro Tutorials & Articles.

 

How do I Start Shooting Underwater Video?

Preparing the Camera

 You can shoot video with your GoPro almost right out of the box. Step one is to charge the battery. This is done by inserting the battery into the camera and then connecting the camera to a USB plug via the supplied cable. You can also buy a GoPro dual battery charger (for Hero4, for Hero 3/3+).

A note on batteries: If you're a scuba diver and like to shoot a lot of video, then expect to change your battery in between each dive. So if you'll be doing 3x dives per day on your trip, then it probably makes sense to invest in 3 batteries (and the dual charger for faster charging of multiple batteries).

The camera is fully charged once the red charging light goes off. Insert the camera into the housing while paying special attention not to have any hair, lint, dust, sand or other debris on the housing’s white O-ring on the back cover, or the notch it fits into on the housing. The housing will flood and drown the camera if this seal is dirty! If you have a HERO5, which is already waterproof to 33ft, you will need to twist (left) and remove the lens cover before putting the camera inside the Super Suit housing.

 

Start Recording Underwater Video

Turn the camera on by holding the side mode button for 2 seconds and releasing (or front button on Hero4, Hero3/3+) and begin recording by pushing the top button. Stop recording with the same button. Small red LED lights will flash on front and back of the housing while actively recording video.

Framing your shot is as easy as pointing the camera in the right direction. If you have a built-in LCD screen (HERO5 Black, Hero4 silver) or GoPro LCD Touch Bacpac, then you'll be able to view the scene on the screen. This, of course, makes composition much easier, especially when shooting smaller subjects. Note that the more you use the screen, the faster you will drain the battery. By default, the GoPro screen will turn off after 1 minute, whether recording or not. If this is an inconvenience (e.g. losing the screen mid-filming), then you can adjust the timing in your GoPro's settings (see our specific camera reviews linked below).

 

 

What Video Resolution do I use?

The GoPro HERO5 default is set to a resolution of 1080p, framerate of 60fps and wide field of view. If this is your first time shooting video, know that this is great HD resolution / frame rate and you’re good to go. More advanced users will experiment with the video settings, perhaps choosing 30fps to match other camera footage or even faster frame rates in order to slow down clips in post processing for smooth slow motion scenes. Advanced users will also experiment with higher resolutions (like 4K), which allows you to show off your footage at that resolution or zoom/crop your footage.

One thing to keep in mind is that the higher resolution and framerate, the more demands you will be placing on your computer for editing. Make sure not to record 4K video for your entire trip only to learn that your laptop doesn’t have the processing power to work with the footage!

 

Best GoPro Settings for Underwater

 HERO5:  Be sure to check out our GoPro HERO5 Review and Best Settings for Underwater.

Hero4:  Be sure to read our GoPro HERO4 Review and Settings.

 

GoPro Studio for Underwater Video

Tutorial:  Editing underwater video with GoPro Studio 2.0.

 

When do I use a Red or Magenta Filter?

Filters are used in underwater video to bring red light back into the picture, providing more color and contrast for the scene. Red filters bring the red color back into blue water while magenta filters are for green water. You can even use different filters at different depths, we recommend the Flip5 filter pro pack.

To learn the specifics of using filters on the GoPro HERO5, HERO4, Hero 3+ and Hero 3, check out:

Guide to GoPro Underwater Filters

Video:  When to Use GoPro Filters Underwater

 

When do I use a Video Light and how do I Attach it?

A video light(s) is also used to bring color and contrast into underwater scenes. These lights, some of which are very powerful, can only reach a few feet, so they’re best used with a prominent subject close to the camera (a reef, school of fish, shark, coral, etc.).

To mount video lights, GoPro shooters must first purchase a tray and handles for their housing. The lights will attach to the ends of these handles either directly or with arm extensions and clamps.

Video lights can also be used to fill in shadows while shooting still photos, like in the sea lion photo below.

Learn more about lights for underwater video.

View more GoPro Underwater Mounts.

 

 

How do I Create a Time-lapse for my Dive Video?

I frequently hear folks asking how to make a time-lapse video in their GoPro. While this software update is probably not very far off, it’s just not possible today. GoPro makes it super simple to capture the images for the time-lapse, but the lapse itself must be created during post processing.

The most popular way to do this is by recording a series of images with the interval timer (in the HERO5 it's the 4th mode with a picture of a camera and clock. Your GoPro HERO5 has several different interval settings accessed via the settings menu, and each will be useful for different time-lapses depending on the intensity of the action. For example, using a .5s interval for a packing timelapse but a 5 or 10s interval for a sunset with moving clouds.

During post processing you can import this series of photos in order to turn it into a video. GoPro’s Studio software makes it as easy as possible.

 

Quick Shooting Tips

1)   If you’re not using a tray and handles, make sure your knuckle isn’t visible in the image! Yes, I know this from personal experience.

2)   We all love macro, however your GoPro HERO5 will only deliver a sharp image if 12 inches or further from the subject. To get closer, check out the PolarPro Macro & Red Switchblade Filter.

3)   Try to hold the camera as steady as possible. Sharp movement, shaking and vibration in your video will make even hearty sailors seasick. Make sure to be slow and smooth when panning the camera.

Want more tips? Read our 3 Tips for GoPro Underwater Video.

 

What’s Next?

All photographers and videographers develop their own personal styles over time. These will lead divers to some of the best underwater photo destinations while also requiring different accessories. Bluewater Photo has listed some of these GoPro underwater video accessories to help you take it to the next level, and check out their amazing holiday specials on video lights.

 

Most of all, stay aware while diving and have fun!

 

 

Manatees at Crystal River by Brent Durand. Filmed with GoPro Hero 3

 

Underwater Videos with the GoPro HERO4 Silver

Anilao, Philippines

 

La Paz, Mexico

 

View all of our GoPro Tutorials & Articles.

 

GoPro Camera Reviews

 

GoPro Tutorials

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Brent Durand is a weekend wanderer and story teller from California.
BrentDurand.com   |  Facebook  |  Instagram

Brent is a writer for the Underwater Photography Guide, an avid diver and adventure photographer, and shoots underwater any time he can get hands on a camera system. He can be reached at brent@uwphotographyguide.com.

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