GoPro cameras are awesome! No doubt about that. They work great above water and produce stunning video and cool wide angle photos. The problem starts underwater…
As you all know, colors fade away the deeper you dive underwater. This proves difficult for photographers, as the essence of photography is capturing light and color. Even at a shallow depth of 15ft/5m, your GoPro starts producing blue-green footage, which end up being boring and lifeless.
Sure, filters help. A red filter brings back some of the red hues and produces a nicer result, but it doesn’t really produce natural colors. For that, you will need to introduce artificial light!
Since the GoPro is a fairly basic camera, it suffers from limited dynamic range and WB range. This makes it even more important to provide the GoPro’s sensor with good lighting, and only then does it really shine! But choosing the right light could be a daunting process. With so many options out there, what’s the best video light for your GoPro?
We’ll start with a video light’s most dominant feature – Lumens! In the end, it all boils down to power. Light intensity is measured by lumens and the more the more the merrier. Contrary to common belief, you cannot have too much light. A GoPro is used to working in bright sunlight conditions, which produces far brighter light than anything you can generate with an LED light. It will adjust to the amount of light you produce.
However, it is a factor of distance as well, and if you shine a really bright light from a very close distance, such as when shooting macro, you may reach the limit of the GoPro and wash out (overexpose) the scene. The good thing is that all lights can be dimmed – set to a lower power mode for macro situations, so it’s not really a limitation.
The more lumens you have, the better, and the further away you will be able to light up a subject.
So how many lumens do you really need? as I mentioned before, the more lumens you have, the better, and the further away you will be able to light up a subject.
LED technology is advancing very fast, so what I’m writing right now may not be relevant in two years time, but at this point in the market, 1000-2000 lumens would be a nice basic light, 3000-5000 would be a medium range light, and 8000-12000 would be some serious lighting power.
Remember that beam angle and whether you’re using one or two lights is also an important consideration.
You can read more about beam angle in the Ultimate Guide to Underwater Video Lights, but here I will only mention that since the GoPro has a wide angle fisheye lens, it’s best to use 2 lights over one, so that you can light up the entire frame and get nice coverage. If you’re using 1 light, then make sure it’s a very wide beam. You may still get fairly dark corners, but the majority of the frame and your subject will be well lit.
As opposed to video lights for regular cameras such as compact, mirrorless or DSLR, with a GoPro you will likely need just one mode on your light – Flood. This would be the main mode for shooting either photos or videos.
That being said, Spot mode can come in handy, when using it as a dive light to spot marine life. I usually like to dive with my spot light on, checking little crevices and hideouts to find cool critters. When I start shooting, I would switch to flood mode, record and then back to spot light when I’m done. This would also conserve battery life, as spot feature uses less power than flood.
Another cool mode that you might want to experiment with is UV / Blue light, AKA fluorescence photography. With this mode, you will also need a yellow filter on your GoPro, and a yellow mask filter, to witness and record the cool effect of fluorescence underwater.
Red mode, which is usually used as a focus light on night dives for compact cameras, isn’t really needed with a GoPro.
Tray and mounts
There’s a variety of ways to mount lights to your GoPro:
- Mount GoPro directly to light
- Create some distance between the light and the GoPro
- Use a tray and arm set – single or dual
Mount GoPro directly to light
This method is quick, easy, compact and cheap. The actual adapters you need depend on the mount of the light you chose to use, but the most common method is to get a ball mount for your GoPro, add a standard 1″ ball clamp, then mount the light on the other side of it. If the light has a ball mount – great! If it has a YS mount, use this YS to Ball adapter to connect it to the clamp.
The problem with this method is backscatter. Your light will be very close to the actual lens, resulting in unavoidable backscatter in your frame from the little particles in the water. That’s why I wouldn’t recommend it with strong lights, or with poor visibility. Use this method with an 1000 lumen light in Cozumel-visibility or similar.
Create Distance between the Light and the GoPro
This method involves using the above ball mount and clamp method, but adding another arm segment and clamp between the light and GoPro. This is still relatively cheap and easy, usually solves the problem of backscatter as your light is further away from the lens, and highly customizable, as you can use any length or arm segment that works for you.
The difficulty here is that the rig becomes a bit messy, and there’s no real shape to the whole thing.
Use a tray and arm set
This would be the preferred method to mount a light on your GoPro. There are plenty of trays out there, most consist of a base tray, where you mount your GoPro, and an arm of some sort on which you mount the light.
Here are several popular trays you can consider:
Beneath The Surface – Dual Boomerang Tray with YS Locline Arms
The BTS boomerang tray is one of the most popular GoPro trays in the market. It’s made of high quality materials, features fantastic ergonomics and compatible with most of the lights in the market. The locline arms can be quickly disconnected with a twist-and-pull method, for easy packing and traveling. This model includes YS mounts on the ends of the arms, but other mounts are available for any type of light.MORE INFO
Beneath The Surface – Single Boomerang Tray with YS Locline Arm
For those of you who are looking for a compact rig, BTS also offers a single tray, which is great for mounting one powerful light to your GoPro, featuring a comfortable grip, quick disconnect arm and a GoPro quick-release mount.MORE INFO
Ikelite Dual Action GoPro Tray
The Ikelite action tray for GoPro features a boomerang shaped tray, to get the arms out of the GoPro’s line of sight. It comes with two Ikelite signature quick release grips, which are the same type used on their Mirrorless and DSLR housings.
This tray features a comfy pistol grip, making it excellent for fast action shots and easy to handle whether using one or two lights, or no light at all. Standard Ikelite ball mounts can be inserted in the grips, or locline flex arms for mounting your lights.MORE INFO
Big Blue Dual GoPro Tray with Ball Mounts
The Big Blue tray is a nice and affordable option. Solid design, GoPro compatible with standard 1″ ball mounts, with padded grips and made of durable materials.MORE INFO
Best Underwater Video Lights for GoPro (Updated June 2019)
Big Blue VL4200P
The Big Blue VL4200P is one of the best value for money lights you can get. Producing over 4000 lumens with a retail price of just under $400! It’s also easy to handle underwater, since it is slightly positive, so it won’t weigh you down.
Big Blue lights are reliable and very popular among divers. In our opinion, the 4200 model is just right for action camera shooters, in terms of size, price and output.
Another fun bonus – all Big Blue lights are now being shipped in a dry bag, instead of the regular packaging!MORE INFO
Light and Motion Sola 2000 Flood
The Sola lights are well known in the market, with their distinct spring loaded control lever, factory sealed body and high quality beam. With a beam angle of 60 degrees, we recommend getting two of these to cover the entire GoPro frame.MORE INFO
Big Blue Black Molly
The Black Molly is one of the best value lights in the market, with a very high ratio of lumens per dollar. It comes with an integrated ball mount, yellow filter for warming up the light and long battery life.MORE INFO
Sealife 2300 Auto Light
The Sealife 2300 produces a nice and clean 2300 lumens beam at a 100 degree beam angle. Sealife’s unique design is user friendly and highly reliable. The light operates on 4 x AA batteries.
The best thing about this light is the Auto Power feature. The light will automatically dim itself when approaching a subject to prevent overexposure, and increase power when you back up. Very useful!MORE INFO
Big Blue CB6500P
For those of you who value quality, Big Blue recently released a new line of CB lights, which feature a high CRI (85) LED for the best quality of light possible and true color rendering.
The CB6500 is very compact compared to the strong output it can produce, and remains quite affordable with a price tag of just under $500 USD.MORE INFO
Kraken Solar Flare Mini
The Solar Flare Mini is a beautiful light! Beautifully designed, with a very quality body, it can produce a powerful 8000 lumens beam of flood light, emitted by a single LED at a 120 degree beam angle. The extra wide angle beam is possible due to the dome element on the front of the light (don’t worry, it comes with a neoprene cover!).
Control the power output with two buttons on the top, left button to increase power and the right one to decrease.
The light head is water resistant! So even in the rare case of a flood, your main investment is fully protected.MORE INFO
Light and Motion SOLA Video Pro 9600 FC
Sola video pro 9600 is the ultimate imaging light for the serious pro with a new patented cooling system to deliver the best performance in the industry and ushering a new era of constant lighting for underwater imaging specialists.
9600 lumens at a 90 degree beam angle, with a floodproof design and OLED Dashboard Display for monitoring settings, battery life, etc.
Integrated Li-ion battery charges completely in 1hr 45 min!MORE INFO
Getting quality footage from your GoPro depends on the quality of lights you get and how easy it is to control your setup underwater. Remember that a GoPro is a great base for a setup, but to get really good results, lights are crucial.
If you still can’t decide on the right light and tray for your needs, contact us via the online chat of over the phone. We’d love to help!
Make the decision even easier with our Ready-To-Dive GoPro light packages! Determine your budget and pick the bundle that works best for you!
Visit his personal portfolio at www.ranmorphoto.com.
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