With outstanding video and image quality in a BCD-pocket-sized package, GoPro cameras and comparable action camera models are incredibly popular in scuba diving.
Although they’re ready to be used underwater as soon as you get them out of the box, they’re designed for shallower environments - when exploring deeper waters and scuba diving with your GoPro there are a few tips and tricks you will want to learn, as well as accessories to consider adding, in order to make the most of your camera.
Read on to learn the basics you need to know about housings, handles and filters, check out our GTS recommendations for editing, and pick up some top tips to get that Instagram-worthy GoPro scuba shot!
Quick tips for instant impact
Know your subject
GoPro cameras shoot wide angle footage, meaning they’re much better for capturing bigger things from slightly further away (their minimum focus distance is 12 inches, so you must be at least 12 inches away from your subject). For this reason, they’re perfect if you’re scuba diving with bigger creatures, videoing gorgeous underwater topography, or wanting to get yourself in the frame alongside your fishy pals. If you’ll be doing lots of macro dives and wanting to film frogfish or catch crustacean close-ups, you may be better off investing in a different underwater camera.
Bear this knowledge in mind when setting up your shots; you may need to be further away from your subject than you might think, but not so far away that the visibility affects your video.
Keep it steady
As well as setting up your shot, one of the most important considerations which sets apart great GoPro footage from terrible video is steadiness. Great buoyancy will help you out here; you will struggle to achieve clean video and crisp photos if you’re moving too much in the water.
The biggest tip for this is to move slowly – unhurried movements will prevent jerky footage, so focus on your subject and slowly track it whilst holding the camera as steady as possible. Newer GoPro models, such as the Hero7 and Hero8, have fantastic built-in stabilisation which will aid in this but still won’t compensate for excessive camera movements.
Think about the lighting
It’s unlikely you’ll be using video lights when starting out with a GoPro, so using natural lighting to your advantage will really elevate your footage and photos. Keep the sun behind you in order to naturally light up your subject as much as possible and avoid ending up with a dull, silhouetted version of what you were trying to capture.
Capture longer clips
If you’re planning on editing your clips together into a longer video, film a little more than you think you need. When you’re cutting your clips together you’ll end up losing a few seconds either side to get the perfect transition, so film a few seconds more at the beginning and the end of whatever action you’re trying to capture in order to compensate.
Keep it charged
It sounds obvious but it’s so easily forgotten when thinking about all of your other scuba diving equipment! Charge your battery the night before, and if your GoPro is a model with a removable battery, consider investing in a second battery to be able to carry a fully charged spare and change it on your surface interval if you’re diving more than once.
Diving with a fully charged battery will mean you can keep your camera on standby the entire dive, as opposed to turning it off and risking missing the action, which will also help you capture the longer clips mentioned above.
Keep it clean
Nothing is more frustrating than filming a “perfect” clip, then reviewing the footage on a bigger screen and realising there was a hair in your housing the entire time blurring a portion of your shot! Carry a lint-free cloth such as a glasses cleaning cloth, store it in a dry place (mask boxes are great for this) and ensure you carefully wipe the lens of your camera, as well as the inside AND outside of the housing lens, when you put your camera inside.
Adding accessories to your GoPro
As they’re already waterproof straight out of the box, it’s easy to be fooled into thinking that you can just scuba dive with your GoPro without a housing; dependent on the model they can be taken to around 10m without any additional protection. However, when you’re diving deeper and there’s pressure added into the mix as well as water you’ll need to purchase a housing. Bonus – your camera will also be more protected back on land.
For peace of mind, invest in the official GoPro Super Suit which is depth rated to 60m and offers full functionality of your camera. If you’re going for one of the countless off-brand versions, ensure you read listings and reviews carefully to make sure it’s the correct version for your model and rated to the depth you’ll be taking it to.
You now know that steadiness is super important when capturing video, and a handle can help hugely with this. Look for one which is specifically designed for use underwater, and if you’d like to be able to get yourself into the frame selfie-style then consider investing in a telescopic handle.
If you want to take your GoPro footage to the next level, check out tray and handle style set-ups – these will offer much better stability and give you space to add video lights in the future if you so wish (but bear in mind you will lose the pocket-friendly appeal of a GoPro).
One of the most popular additions to an underwater GoPro setup is a red filter. Red is the first colour we start to lose as we go deeper underwater, so photos and videos end up washed out in blue tones and lacking warmth. A red filter helps to add this back in without requiring editing afterwards.
If you’re only diving in shallow water (less than 10m) on well-lit days, you may find a red filter is excessive and gives your photos and videos a pink-tinge which is harder to edit out. If your usual dive site is more green than blue, a magenta filter might be better suited to your needs.
How to edit underwater GoPro footage
To make your GoPro footage as engaging as possible to watch, you will want to edit clips together and perhaps add some colour correction (depending on whether you’ve used the aforementioned red filter).
The Dive+ app is a firm favourite amongst the Girls that Scuba Facebook group, and offers instant colour-correcting edits. If you’re after fast, simple cuts to share clips on mobile, GoPro offers their own Quick app. For more customisable editing options, it’s also worth checking out their Splice app which is available on iOS.
iMovie is another great free option on any Apple device – the iPhone version is simple but effective, whilst the iPad and Mac versions have a few more features to play with. For editing on a PC, VSDC is another fantastic free offering.
If you’re editing underwater photos shot on your GoPro, make sure you check out our Girls that Scuba Underwater Preset pack which is compatible with the Lightroom app. These one-touch edits change the individual tones in your images, so they work much better than simply placing a filter over the whole photo. You’ll also get an additional two presets for use above water on your surface intervals, too!
Keeping safe when diving with your GoPro
As excited as you might be to share your underwater adventures with your friends when you’re first certified, don’t be tempted to take your GoPro scuba diving until you’re ready. Your safety should always be your number one priority, and adding a camera into the mix too soon can mean you have too many things to focus on – it can distract you from important elements such as your air, depth, and no-decompression limit.
Build up your confidence in your general dive skills and ensure you have your buoyancy under control before taking your GoPro along on a dive with you. Not only will you be ensuring you’re safe underwater, ultimately you’ll get much better footage and be able to snap that perfect shark selfie if you’re in control of your positioning!
On the subject of shark selfies, remember that as scuba divers we’re responsible for being considerate of underwater inhabitants in their home environment. Be respectful of the wildlife; don’t be the diver who’s chasing after turtles, kneeling on the reef, or poking at an octopus. Also remember to be respectful of other divers, particularly if using a telescopic handle for your GoPro, and allow everyone in your group their turn admiring at the marine life regardless of whether or not they have a camera.