GoPro Underwater Photography Guide
Article by Thomas Gronfeldt
Housing, Filters and Hardware
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 make your GoPro into a lean, mean, dive footage-creating machine.
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, it’s recommended that if you routinely dive to 60 feet or deeper (18 meters+), you get the dive-specific housing to reduce the risk of flooding. 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.
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, a red filter is a highly useful for 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. Other filters are made 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, and along with a photo light, 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.
In its most basic configuration, the GoPro works pretty well as an underwater camera, in particular for snorkeling and shallow dives. But to take it up a notch, requires a little more of an investment, including lights, filters, and possibly a dedicated dive housing. With these, you’re ready to take your underwater photo and video to the next level.
The Fish That Goes Fishing
Courtesy of Wakatobi Dive Resort
When you think of a predator, what attributes come to mind? Streamlined speed, explosive agility, aggressive strength… and then there’s the frogfish. Slow, reclusive and lacking in both offensive and defensive weaponry—not to mention being far from streamlined—the frogfish wouldn’t seem to have the tools needed to become a lethal predator. Yet despite some seeming shortcomings in the attack department, these enigmatic little creatures have developed a unique strategy to capture prey: they hide in plain sight and go fishing. Truly, frogfish are one of nature’s most unusual creatures. The frogfish’s fishing rod is actually a modified dorsal fin with a fleshy appendage at its end, which serves as bait. To attract a meal, it flicks the bait up and down, just like a fisherman working a lure. If a potential target did manage to dart in and steal the bait, the frogfish is able to grow a new appendage to replace what was bitten off. To bring its prey closer, the frogfish uses camouflage and blends into its surroundings. That’s why you’ll have to look very closely among the sponges and corals on the reef to find a frogfish; they often look more like a sponge or a chunk of rock than a fish. Their coloration varies from species to species, and within the same species, while an individual frogfish is able to change its skin color and pattern to better match its surroundings. Skin textures can range from velvety-smooth to algae-covered warts, and even spots that match those of their habitat.
If a frogfish were to change its hiding spot, it could alter its coloration to hatch the new surroundings. But this doesn’t happen often, as these lurkers don’t move around much. Instead, they like to park themselves in concealment and wait for a meal to come their way. When they do move, they are as likely to walk as to swim. Frogfish often use their pectoral and pelvic fins to push themselves along the sea bottom. Of course, they can swim reasonably well when the need arises, and can also pump water out their gill openings to create a sort of jet propulsion effect. The frogfish diet includes crustaceans, fish, and even other frogfish on occasion. When a potential meal gets within six to seven body lengths, the frogfish begins its fishing routine, moving its lure to mimic a swimming or drifting morsel. If the potential prey becomes interested, the frogfish may make a slow, stealthy advance, or it may just lie in wait while working the lure. Once the victim is lured within striking range, the frogfish attacks. But this is no lighting-fast pounce—though it does take places in less than 100th of a second. Rather than move in on the prey, the frogfish literally sucks dinner into its mouth by opening its jaw with near instantaneous speed. This rapid expansion enlarges the mouth to more than ten times its resting size, creating a powerful suction that pulls the meal in. Super-sizing the bite also allows the frogfish to gobble up catches nearly as large as themselves, and its stomach can also expand to accommodate big meals. Their bizarre appearances, unique colorations and unusual hunting tactics make frogfish prized by photographers and fish watchers alike. It takes a sharp eye to spot one amid the colors and patterns of the reef, but because they tend to stay in one place, it’s often possible to return to the same spot and find the same frogfish working the same favorite fishing hole. Truly, frogfish are one of nature’s most unusual creatures.
Underwater Video 101
By: Megan c/o PADI
With underwater cameras getting cheaper and more accessible, many divers have taken a giant stride into the world of underwater video. Here are some useful tips.
Tip #1 Get the right accessories
Don’t use the generic GoPro accessories like the head or chest strap. Strap a camera to your head and you’re bound to get jerky footage with poor composition.
A red filter or a dive light made for photos/video is a must. Call your dive center and get one of these items before you put one toe in the water. If you get a red filter, don’t forget to take it off when shooting topside (see photo below).
A “tray” with a handle will also serve you well. The goal is to get as steady of a shot as possible. Being able to hold a large object with two hands (versus a teeny camera with one hand) will improve the steadiness of your shot and make your video look more professional. Not to mention, a tray with a handle makes for a more secure hand-off to the Divemaster. An extending pole is another useful item as it allows you to get closer to marine life such as eels slowly and from a respectful distance.
Tip #2 Tell a Story
Do you have any goals for the trip? Tell us upfront either as a video testimonial or using subtitles. That final scene with a whale shark, or 1,000th dive celebration will make your video more meaningful.
Collect shots of the boat, your hotel, interesting topside life or interesting buildings. Use these to create an intro montage to establish a sense of place.
Tip #3 Dive and Shoot Within Your Limits
When you’re just starting out: choose stationary or slow-moving subjects. Film tires, coral heads, wrecks, a turtle scratching its butt, etc.
Good buoyancy skills are essential. If your buoyancy is poor, your video viewers will know – your footage will be uneven. You also won’t be able to film interesting creatures that require a slow and steady approach. If you feel the least bit in doubt about your skills, enroll in a buoyancy class (you won’t regret it).
Tip #4 Include Other Divers – Most Importantly Yourself!
Other divers can both make and mess up your videos. If diving in a herd, try to get in front. Divers swimming toward you are more interesting than those swimming away. Bonus: you’re more likely to get the cool critter shot before someone else scares it away.
If you encounter a large critter or sponge of remarkable size, try to film your dive buddy next to it. Lastly, keep in mind the main audience for your video will be friends and family; and to them, you are a star. They want to see footage of you. Have your buddy capture you swimming near some cool marine life, or if you’re diving from a dinghy, go for the back-roll selfie!
Tip #5 Post-production
If you’re interested in some royalty-free music, Youtube has libraries of free music. If your video takes place in another country, ask your dive crew or taxi driver about popular local bands and spice up your video with local sounds.
Less is more! Trim each clip to about five seconds – unless your shot is really, really amazing (like a whale shark or a seahorse giving birth). Aim for a total video length of no more than three minutes. Two minutes is ideal.
If you’ve got a long clip where something interesting happens in the beginning and the end, the best thing to do is to break them up into two clips. If this isn’t possible, break up a lackluster middle section by throwing in some interesting facts or trivia about where you’re diving. This can be done in iMovie or in youtube.
Do have problems with the colors in your underwater photographs and videos - everything green or blue - no bright colors?
Polar Pro Filter's red filter is designed for the GoPro Hero3 camera. The red filter color corrects for the GoPro's auto white balance. When filming underwater, red light is not present and the GoPro does not take the lack of red light loss into account. This can often cause videos to be too green or too blue. Just snap on a Polar Pro red filter which will reduce excess blues and greens therefore reinstating vibrant reef colors back into your GoPro dive videos!
Check out our site for comparison videos and see how our simple $29.99 filter can turn your GoPro into a production quality scuba camera.
Here is the detailed product information:
- constructed with strong optically correct Acrylic;
- filter snaps on and off seamlessly; and
- includes filter, tether, and storage bag
For more information go to: