Is a GoPro a dive camera? For sure!
The GoPro system is an affordable and easy way to capture amazing underwater pictures without investing as much money. In fact, most underwater photographers start out with a small compact camera or a mobile phone in a waterproof housing. And, the truth is, when it comes to shooting great photos underwater, you don’t necessarily need the latest camera on the market. Practice, lighting, composition, and post-processing can help you a lot to get that perfect shot.
If you are a new underwater photographer or you want to better understand your GoPro, this is for you!
Here are 10 different ways that you can improve your underwater photography and get the most out of your GoPro. I separated them into three different categories: before diving, in the water and post-diving. Paying attention to each of these three categories is essential in getting the best possible photos out of your GoPro!
Always make sure everything is clean!
Obvious, right? Not always. Don’t forget to make sure there is no dirt on your housing or on the lens.
If your housing is dirty, it can cause a leak. So always make sure your O-ring is perfectly clean before you use it. It also helps to put a little lubricant on it, so it is never dry. Also, always make sure that the backdoor is completely sealed before going in the water.
Regarding your lens, check that there are no fingerprints or dust on it. You don’t want a foggy picture later because you didn’t check.
Depending on the GoPro you have, the touchscreen options you may be accustomed to using above water won’t work for you underwater, so make sure to keep this in mind!
We have 3 things we want to check in the settings: Resolution, FOV (Field of View), and the type of image file format you want (JPEG or RAW).
This refers to the pixel dimensions that the camera will capture. I always choose the highest resolution option when I’m shooting underwater.
FOV (Field of View)
There are no rules here. You can experiment to see the difference between these ones and which one you prefer.
You have 3 options: Wide, Medium or Narrow.
I usually use a Wide FOV underwater, so I can get everything in my frame and a more immersive view, and also for smoother footage.
If you are not sure what kind of shot you want, you can try Narrow or Medium—but if in doubt, I recommend starting with Wide!
RAW & JPEG
You can choose between these two depending on how much space you have on your memory card and how experienced you are at editing photos (more on that later). RAW photos are uncompressed files that are easier to edit later and allow for greater shadow and color recovery. I always prefer RAW, especially underwater, where color manipulation is critical when shooting without strobes.
Use Filters to correct color
As a diver, you should know that we start losing colors the deeper we go, especially reds and magentas. But, we can replace them with add-on filters! Otherwise, your colors will look washed out or tinted in unnatural ways.
A red lens will often make your underwater footage look better.
But, it will depend how deep you are diving and where for the exact color filter. For example, you want a red filter in blue water, but a magenta in green water.
You can either set this up before your dive or during your dive. Just make sure to check that there are no trapped air bubbles when you put your filter on. That is why I prefer to do this on the surface.
Also, since we also have different filters depending how deep we go, if you start with a red filter for 10 meters and then you descend to 20 meters and want to change your lens, you can do it underwater.
Use a tray, camera rig or selfie stick
We want to avoid any shaky movements. It is not as easy as it sounds because we are surrounded by water movement and that can make our shot unstable.
A tray can help, and there are a lot of options for GoPro trays. You can even make your own if you’re handy.
Rigs will make it easier for you to get stable shots, but I would never recommend a chest or mask mount because you have no idea what you are getting in your pictures and all your footage could be useless.
Even a simple selfie stick can work and it can get you closer to wildlife, but remember never to bother marine life or other divers.
The first thing we need for taking underwater pictures is good buoyancy. If you are not there yet, dive more before you start using any kind of camera.
The number one way to improve your underwater photography skills, no matter which camera you are using, is to be an experienced diver.
Controlling your buoyancy and moving slowly is the most important element of a good photographer and diver, but this takes time.
For me, it took a couple of years and a ton of dives to get there. Don’t rush it! Take your time!
Get close, even closer!
As you know, when you have a perfect buoyancy while scuba diving, you can get close to marine life without disturbing it.
Make sure you keep your camera steady on your subject to get a good shot.
GoPros are wide angle cameras. That is why anything you shoot will look further than it actually is.
If you want to get a small fish in the picture, you will need to get close to it. Try to always focus on the subject’s eye to make sure the eyes are in focus.
This is important in animal pictures as well as pictures of people.
Keep your subject at least 12 inches away. So, no social distancing under water. Any closer than this will create a blurry picture with GoPro cameras. You can measure this using your arm.
If you are shooting a landscape, something composed in the front part of the picture (or, the ‘foreground’) can help make a more compelling image; so, get close to that point. If not, your landscape will look a little flat with nothing standing out.
Dive in shallow waters
It is no secret that light and colors get lost the deeper you dive, as we discussed when talking about filters.
If you do not have filters or light for your GoPro, then I recommend you stay in shallow waters where you will have better light. Staying at a depth above five meters works amazing at retaining almost all of the vibrant colors.
Try a Dome
Taking a great half-and-half shot (or ‘split shot’) with your GoPro is easy, but it involves investing in a dome that moves the water away from the lens, therefore, increasing the field of view. This is so much fun! It is not necessary, but you will get some cool shots.
By positioning your lens at the waterline, you get a picture showing both above and below the water.
Some of these domes are just for that, half-and-half pictures, and some can also be used underwater. Check which one you have before taking it on your dive because if you have a surface dome, it will get leaks during your dive and won’t allow you to keep getting good pictures.
One thing to keep in mind when shooting these shots is to try not to get the top of the port wet. If you do, then you will have droplets on the lens. To avoid this, you can spit on the dome or even rub a potato on it before!
Shoot with the sun at your back
Photography is all about lighting.
Always think about the light. Shooting directly into the sun can cause your photos to be overexposed, if you don’t have strobes. Shooting images without strobes is a much different strategy compared to shooting with them—often, shooting directly at the sun is a useful compositional tool with a more advanced underwater rig including external light, as you can create cool sun balls underwater without losing all of the details in the shadows.
However, with a GoPro, always try to keep yourself between the sun and your subject. This means you need to have the sun on your back.
After your dive
Rinse everything after use
As boring as it sounds, just like you rinse your dive gear after each dive, we have to do the same with our camera, especially after saltwater diving.
Salt can have a corrosive effect and the last thing you want is to have damaged housing.
So, after using it, it is essential to thoroughly wash the housing and all other accessories in freshwater.
This will also extend the life of your GoPro and accessories.
I hope you enjoy my tips and recommendations and you can use them on your next scuba diving adventure! I sure have some great memories thanks to them!
- Top 10 Tips for Shooting Underwater Photos with a GoPro – April 30, 2021
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- 7 Reasons Why… Curaçao is the Best Diving for Underwater Photographers – August 6, 2019