GoPro Underwater Photography – 10 Simple Tips to be a Professional
May 29, 2020
Are you looking to take underwater pictures or videos with your GoPro? Just a beginner and don’t know how it all really works? I have been struggling to get the right underwater footages ever since I got my hands on the GoPro Hero 7. Shooting underwater is a whole different ball game from your normal land photography. After countless experiments, I have summarised a list of the top 10 tips that everyone trying out GoPro underwater photography must know.
Table of Contents
THE CHALLENGES OF GOPRO UNDERWATER PHOTOGRAPHY
Being a big big fan of free-diving and scuba-diving, there are many photos or videos I tend to capture underwater. Learning GoPro underwater photography has been a new challenge I had to overcome when I travel. When taking photos in the water, you often meet with the shakiness of waves and poor lighting conditions. Furthermore, it is hard for you to pose and get into position underwater. Taking photos or videos with marine animals are an even bigger challenge as they move quickly. After the countless failed attempts with GoPro underwater photography, here are my top 10 useful tips & tricks to adopt while exploring the ocean.
10 IMPORTANT TIPS FOR GOPRO UNDERWATER PHOTOGRAPHY
1. Colour Correction Filters
This is probably the first and most basic rule in GoPro underwater photography. If you really want the colours of your images/videos to pop, invest in a red and/or magenta filter.
For shallow & bright waters
I’m not certain for the older models, but the GoPro Hero 7/8 have in-built colour-correcting technology. Hence, while snorkelling, there is no need to use a filter when taking shots in shallow and bright waters.
For deeper & dark waters
However, as you descend downwards during scuba diving, the first colour of the spectrum you will lose on your GoPro underwater is red. If you do not use a filter, you will realise that your pictures/videos taken will look very ‘blued’. Hence, placing a red filter will help you to bring the red back into your pictures/videos.
I use the ones by Kupton for my GoPro as the filter kit came with a GoPro waterproof casing and 3 different coloured filters. The product is also refundable if you face any issues with it, which is why I was confident of getting it online. In addition, a rule of thumb is to use a red filter in blue-ish ocean waters, while a magenta filter should be used in green-ish fresh waters.
2. Stabilisation – GoPro Mount / Lights
GoPro underwater photography is made so challenging because you’ll definitely meet with the forces of waves and currents. This makes holding onto your GoPro with your bare hands or a selfie stick insufficient for stability. Even with the new hyper-smooth stabilisation in-built technology of the GoPro Hero 7/8, it is inevitable that shakiness will be apparent for underwater videos.
Hence, investing in a two-handled tray to mount your GoPro onto will help to enable smoother captures. I use the Movo GB-U70 Underwater Diving Rig for my scuba diving adventures. Get it together with video lights for better quality footage with your GoPro. Filters only help to restore lost colours, but the lights bring about vibrance and detail to your images/videos. If you are currently on a budget and can’t purchase both the lights and filters, I’d recommend getting the lights on top of the filters. The lights are going to make a much larger difference to your GoPro underwater photography game than filters would.
3. Preset your Gopro Settings
After you have bought all the necessary GoPro accessories, now you’ll need to know how to use appropriate camera settings. Just like on land, GoPro underwater photography requires you to use the right ISO settings to achieve optimum results. Here is the rule of thumb you need to know:
1. Shallow bight waters: ISO to be set at a minimum and maximum of 100 2. Deep dark waters: ISO to me set at a minimum of 100 and a maximum of 1600.
For deep waters, the lighting is very poor and this will cause your GoPro to automatically increase its ISO settings. When this happens, more noise will be generated in your images/videos and the quality will decrease. Hence, by setting the ISO at a maximum of 1600, this maintains the quality of your underwater images/videos.
In addition, keep your white balance settings in auto. This is because you won’t know the conditions deep below and you will not be able to do adjustments underwater.
Always set your videos to Hypersmooth settings. It’s going to play a huge role in your video stability if you are going to be taking fast-moving footages.
I would recommend setting your shots to be taken in wide-angle. It gives a more natural underwater look and you’ll be able to cover more area in one frame.
Different settings in different situations
Note that hyper-smooth stabilisation for GoPro Hero 7 is only available at a resolution of 2.7K (24/30/60 FPS) but not at 4K. Hence, I usually stick to 2.7K in all underwater conditions but will adjust the FPS and ISO according to my needs. These are my default settings while snorkelling or diving.
In deeper waters with low lighting, change it to 30 FPS in order to bring out more light for your videos. At 30 FPS, you will also be able to create cinematic feel videos with slow-moving marine life. However, if you are looking to edit slow-motion in your videos, you will have to set it at 60 FPS so that slowing down your videos afterwards will not make it look choppy.
However, if you are just using your videos for sharing/uploading onto social media platforms purposes, and are not too concerned over the quality, taking in a lower resolution works well too. At 1080K / 60 FPS, you can easily transfer your videos online as the file size isn’t too big. 60 FPS also allows you to edit the video in slow-motion if needed.
4. Shoot with the Sun at your Back
Lighting in photography is just as important in water as it is on land. It is important to note that you should avoid shooting directly into the sun as this would give you overexposed images. Always shoot by keeping yourself in between the sun and your subject.
5. It’s All About the Angles
There are 2 main angle rules you should follow when it comes to GoPro underwater photography.
1. Don’t shoot downwards. This gives your images/videos a “flat” feel. You need to hold your breath and go downwards towards your subject and shoot from the side. Alternatively, shoot upwards (pointing your GoPro towards the surface) to bring out more colour of corals/reefs. See the pictures between to see how angles can make a big difference to GoPro underwater photography.
2. Use a GoPro Jaws Clamp for selfies. If you’re alone or there’s no one that can hold their breath long enough to help you take a good photo, this will be a very useful tip. Underwater shots, in my opinion, gives off a very tranquil and lightweight feel when you put yourself in the frame. You can stuff your jaws clamp in between rocks and face your GoPro upwards. Set your GoPro to take a photo every 0.5 seconds, and swim above it. You’ll be amazed at how nice your images can turn out.
6. Taking Photos with Wild Ocean Animals
When it comes to GoPro underwater photography, one of the biggest challenges I’ve face so far is to get a good shot with ocean animals. I’ve always wanted to take a good photo with a pod of dolphins or whale-sharks but none of these has been very successful. Marine animals don’t come by as and when you like, in addition, they usually only swim in one direction. Which is the direction away from you.
One trick we have learnt was to actually take a video instead of a photo. Take a video of yourself swimming with a pod of dolphins and screenshot the frame you like best. If you take the video in 4K resolution, the quality of your screenshot will still be pretty good (although not as great as a photo of course). Remember to set your FOV to wide as well.
7. Taking Half-land Half-water Photos
While it is possible to use just your GoPro, without a dome, to capture these half-land half-water shots, this is only feasible in still water. For example, a swimming pool or lake with no waves. However, you will have to hold your GoPro very steadily in order to get the shot.
However, for ocean half-half photos, you must use a GoPro Dome. This is because the waves will make it difficult for you to position your GoPro exactly at the line between land and sea. The dome creates a wider angle capture for your images and footages which makes it much easier to get both land and water in one frame. If you still can’t get the perfect shot, an added tip would be to take a video and screenshot it into a photo as per point 6 above.
8. Preventing water droplets
Water droplets on your lens is something everyone should try to avoid in GoPro underwater photography. You do not want a situation where you spend hours filming only to go back and find that half your images/videos were ruined by a water droplet. There are several ways for you to prevent this from happening.
1. Spit on the Lens. Be it on your GoPro directly or outside of your GoPro casing/dome. Saliva works great at repelling those water droplets. 2. Anti Fog Spray / Clear Soap. If you find it gross to spit on your GoPro, getting an anti fog spray or rubbing any clear soap will do the trick as well. 3. Anti Fog inserts. Using anti-fog inserts will help to prevent excess moisture forming on your lens and inside the underwater housing.
9. Stay 12 Inches/ 30cm away from Subject
GoPros are designed to film in wide angle. Hence, they are good for capturing bigger subjects that are further away. If you’re looking to take a close up shot, have your camera to be at least 12 inches away from the subject. This is the minimal focus distance that you need to keep in mind in order to get a clear shot.
10. Saving Battery
Last but definitely not the least, you will want to ensure that you have enough power in your GoPro to last your entire snorkelling / diving trip. Here are several ways you can extend your GoPro’s battery life:
1.Turn off Wi-Fi & Bluetooth 2. Update the firmware 3. Activate Auto Power-off Setting 4. Bring an Extra Battery (you can get one here)
GOPRO VS. CAMERA FOR UNDERWATER PHOTOGRAPHY
A GoPro is arguably the best and most well-known action camera in the market. It is light-weight and versatile, making it easy to travel with. With the improvements of the GoPro models over the years, you can now shoot in 4K with wide FOV and in-built hyper-smooth stabilisation. It is honestly, the cheapest and most convenient method of underwater photography.
Comparing Traditional Cameras to the GoPro Hero 7/8
It is all about light for underwater photography. A traditional camera with some white light may give you better colours compared to a GoPro, but the difference is only going to be slightly noticeable. In addition, using a traditional camera will not give you the amazing stability made possible by the GoPro Hero 7/8.
In terms of pricing, a GoPro together with it’s water proof casing, is going to cost you around $400 – $500 (depending on how many accessories you buy along with it). Whereas, buying a camera housing for your SONY camera is already going to cost you $350. And this is not even including the price of your SONY camera. So you can do the math from there.
However, there is one major flaw in the GoPro that you will have to take note of. In terms of reliability of a GoPro vs. a SONY camera, the SONY camera came out to be a better competitor. This is because I’ve met with freezing issues on my GoPro during a dive for every 4-5 videos that I took. Hence, I would have to restart my camera whenever this happened and this may result in me missing a shot of a beautiful stingray passing by.
Overall, the GoPro Hero 7/8 is still a great choice for underwater photography. I love everything about it, from it’s portability to the price point. Plus, it you’re a beginner and just started out in underwater photography, having a GoPro is probably the first and last thing you’d need.