GoPro Underwater Shoots: The Ultimate Guide For Beginners

Your GoPro Underwater Photography Guide

The wildly popular GoPro camera seems ubiquitous these days, having made its way into most active sports from surfing to mountain biking to rock climbing, and, of course, to scuba diving. And for good reason. The small cameras deliver high quality, full-HD footage in a travel-friendly, fairly inexpensive package.

However, as most people who’ve bought one have discovered, buying the camera is only half the battle. Learning to use it, along with purchasing a range of extra accessories, will help you get the best footage possible during your sport of choice. In this article series, we’ll cover all you need to know to turn you into a lean, mean, GoPro underwater photography machine.

Housing

First and foremost we must look at the housing. The original GoPros came with a durable housing, rated to 60 meters (197 feet). It was somewhat large and cumbersome, though, and had a few diving-related problems, such as a moderate wide-angle effect intended for land-based shooting. GoPro subsequently redesigned their housing and camera to be smaller, lighter and more suited to diving. The current version, the GoPro Hero3+, features a much slimmer housing, but it’s only rated for 40 meters (131 feet).

GoPro has also produced a separate, dive-specific housing, rated to 60 meters. Although recreational dive limits top out at 40 meters, because of the difference in dynamic and static pressure, you should get the dive-specific housing if you routinely dive to 60 feet or deeper (18 meters+) to reduce flooding risk. The good news about the new version is that the wide-angle capabilities are much better than on previous versions, allowing divers to move very close to the motif of the photo, while still capturing all of, say, a reef shark. We’ll get into shooting practices in a later article.

Filters

Light starts to fade away as we descend, but we don’t lose light equally across the spectrum. Normal light contains all the primary colors, which fade away one by one as we get deeper. The first to go is red; the last is blue. Because of this, underwater photography and film footage often seems blue, a tendency that increases the deeper we go. To remedy this effect, use a red filter for most underwater photography. There are filters for all types of cameras, including the GoPro. Some filters simply click on over the lens; other, multiple filters allow divers to switch between them on a multilevel dive.

The latter configuration makes it possible to account for the lighting conditions at any given depth. But these filters are typically more expensive and bulkier, and determining which filter goes with which depth takes some training. Manufacturers have designed other filters for specific lighting conditions, such as the greenish hue of freshwater, or for night diving. In any case, a red filter will greatly enhance your photos. Along with a photo light, it make the colors and details pop, ending the age of blue or green dive photos.

Photo and video lights

Which brings us to lights. Again, light disappears as we descend, and while compensating for this with a filter is important, so too can be compensating for the general loss of light. Powerful photo and/or video lights can help. Think of photo lights as underwater flashes that shoot off a burst of light as you take a picture, helping to illuminate the scene. Video lights are more like flashlights or dive torches that shine continuously, illuminating the scene as you film. When using either, instead of being directly beneath or directly above the lens — as in a traditional camera flash — it helps to put the light at an angle to help reduce backscatter. Our next article will cover more on light placement and mounting options.