How to Use Almost Any GoPro as an Underwater Camera

GoPro underwater

Are you thinking about shooting photos and videos while snorkeling or scuba diving? You don’t need to buy an expensive professional equipment to do this! Your GoPro and a few other accessories will be just enough to take some nice underwater footage. You just need to know how to use GoPro as an underwater camera in the right way.

If you have a newer GoPro you probably know that it’s a waterproof camera. You can use it near the water surface or in water and still get good photos and videos. But if you want to use it during a bit more challenging underwater activity (like snorkeling or scuba diving) naked GoPro won’t be enough.

In this post, we will outline 7 essentials you need to have. Also, you will learn how to take fantastic underwater photos and videos, how to set it up before the shooting, as well as things you should pay attention to during and after the shooting. 

In the end, we will share some nice underwater photos and footage made with GoPro for your inspiration before your first underwater shooting.

Table of Contents

7 Essentials You Should Have to Use Almost Any GoPro as an Underwater Camera

GoPro is one of the best options for an underwater camera. Especially if you want to keep a single-action camera with all kinds of action photography and videography. 

However, if you have newer GoPro models (Hero 7 or later) which are waterproofed to some depth, you should make sure to pay attention to several things. That said, preparation for underwater photography is not only underwater housing. 

Below, we outlined what you need to have in order to use GoPro as an underwater camera:

1. Underwater Housing

GoPro - Underwater housing

Image source: GoPro

No matter if you use a newer GoPro which is waterproof to 33 ft (10 m), underwater housing is a recommended piece of gear. Especially if you use GoPro in saltwater. 

It’s mainly because of 2 things: 

First, even on waterproof GoPro’s if you accidentally keep the battery or memory card doors (not close enough) open, the water will get inside and break the camera. We wouldn’t advise you to risk it. 

Second, once you first get your GoPro in saltwater you will see how much harder it will be for you to wash it and to remove the rest of sea salt from displays, edges of battery/memory card/USB doors.

However, if you want to dive deeper than 33 ft (10 m) or have a GoPro that is not waterproof underwater housing is a must.

2. Filters

If you just snorkel near the surface you shouldn’t mount filters because all colors appear up to 15 ft (4.5 m). 

You probably saw underwater footages and photos with colors that are too blue or too green. The reason for these unnatural colors is because below 15 ft (4.5 m) some wavelengths will disappear (first red, then orange, yellow, green, blue).

Filters are necessary to add color which disappears to make colors on your photos or videos natural.

So. if you are going to dive deeper you should have a filter mounted on the lens. You will mainly use red (in blue water) or magenta filters (in green waters).

You can also use “lighter” snorkeling filters which are not as strong as “classic” red filters, so you can get natural colors between 10 ft (3 m) and 15 ft (4.5 m).

3. Memory Card That is Large Enough

One of the worst things that can happen when you take underwater photos and videos is running out of memory. 

Don’t forget that you won’t be able to switch memory cards when you are in the middle of your underwater adventure. So a large enough memory card is a must.

4. Video Light or Photo Strobe

If you are going to dive deeper into far better videos and photos you will need to get additional lighting. 

Video lights will work for you if you are primarily going to shoot videos, but strobes will work better for photos. 

Pay attention when using additional lights with filters.

Samples for videos made with additional light:

Video source: Areamare Diving Center

Video source: Bluewater Photo Store

5. Handlers

For snorkeling, you can use a simple Floating Hand Grip, but for diving we recommend using specialized underwater trays. 

These trays will give you a more comfortable way of holding in hands while diving.

6. Close-Up / Macro Lens

If you want to take macro photos, you need to buy an additional close-up filter that will emulate a macro lens.

7. Floaty

And the last essential you should have for your GoPro is floaty. With this cover, your GoPro won’t be able to sink. 

Don’t try your luck even if you are in shallow water because you will have a hard time finding your GoPro if it falls down to the bottom.

How to Take Fantastic Underwater Photos and Videos with a GoPro?

To get great underwater photos and videos with GoPro you first need to practice it a lot. But before that, you need to know where to start. 

It all starts with a good preparation, followed by a few things you will need to have in mind during your photo/video session while diving, and in the end, a few other things you should pay attention to after the dive.

Before/Preparation

GoPro 7 on the beach

Step 1: Set resolution, FOV, FPS, and HyperSmooth stabilization

4K, 2.7K, or 1080? Are you going to use wide, linear, SuperView, or maybe narrow FOV? Also, are you going to use 30 FPS or 60 FPS? Are you turning on HyperSmooth stabilization?

Don’t forget that you won’t be able to use the touchscreen underwater. It’s essential to set all 3 things before diving in. 

Our recommendation is to use 4K or 2.7K @60 FPS for videos. Wide or linear FOV – according to your taste. In any case, we prefer to use wide while underwater. HyperSmooth stabilization should always be turned on.

Step 2: Adjust all other shooting options before entering the water

If you don’t want to rely on auto white balance and ISO min/max, shutter speed, and EV you should set them all before you dive in. 

However, our recommendation is to keep the white balance in auto mode and the ISO max should be up to 800 to avoid a too grainy look. 

Also, we recommend you shoot photos in RAW (combination of RAW+JPEG) in order to get more information on the file if you need to post-process it in photo editing software.

Step 3: Lock the screen and the orientation

You should also consider locking the screen to disable the touchscreen and orientation to disable screen rotation. 

Touchscreen can sometimes react underwater with false touches and might eventually break your setup.

Step 4: Anti-fog preparation

If you use underwater housing you should do some preparation to prevent fogging on the lens. 

There are a few options for this: GoPro’s reusable anti-fog inserts or specialized sprays/liquids to prevent fogging.

Step 5: Mount accessories (floaty, housing, filters, handler, tray, close-up...)

No matter if you are using underwater housing or not, there are at least a few more accessories you should prepare and mount on your GoPro before you dive in. 

If you are snorkeling or using GoPro on the surface, make sure you mount it on a floaty or floating handler to prevent accidental sinks. If you dive deeper than 5-6 m make sure you mount the filters. 

Don’t forget the handler or tray. And once again we recommend you to use underwater housing whenever you are in saltwater in order to prevent you from cleaning your camera of salt later.

Step 6: Check if all doors are closed if you don’t use underwater housing

If you don’t use underwater housing check if all doors are closed and fixed because no matter the waterproof claim for the camera. 

If doors for USB/HDMI and battery/SD card are not fixed properly the water will get inside and it will damage your camera permanently. If the doors are broken and don’t fit well for any reason, it’s better to avoid going into the water at all.

During The Photo/Video Session

GoPro underwater

Photo by Luca Ambrosi on Unsplash

#1 Don’t be in a hurry

You will probably be very excited. Especially if you take underwater photos and videos for the first time. But this excitement can ruin the quality of your final photos and videos. 

So, try to be as patient as possible.

#2 Make one longer footage instead of a few short ones

For videos, it’s better to have one footage and then edit it instead of getting multiple footages whenever you are in the right scene. Especially considering that some GoPro’s can become “crazy” from time to time. In these situations, the only solution is to reset it by unplugging the battery which you can not do underwater.

#3 While in photo mode, don’t move the camera too quickly

For photos, make sure you don’t move the camera too quickly to prevent blurring if the exposure is longer, especially if you activated SuperPhoto/HDR mode.

#4 Pay attention to minimum focus distance

If you are using GoPro without a close-up/macro additional lens you should know that the minimum focus distance for GoPro cameras is between 8-12 inches (20-30 cm). You should pay attention to it if you don’t want to get blurry photos.

#5 Pay attention to water drops

Water drops on the lens will be your worst enemy if you use GoPro on the surface or if you snorkel and go back to the surface from time to time. If you use an anti-fog spray it should make the lens softer so drops will fall out quicker. 

However, this is something that you probably won’t be able to fix permanently but make sure to get rid of bigger drops at least with your hand and see if it will make things better.

After

GoPro in underwater housing

#1 Check if everything's there

When you pack your GoPro and accessories check if everything is there. Plenty of accessories for GoPro are small and relatively easy to forget.

#2 Clean the camera

Don’t forget to clean the camera after shooting, especially if you use it in saltwater and especially if you use it without underwater housing. If salt becomes dry you will struggle to clean lenses and screens, and you will be at risk of scratching them during cleaning. 

For regular cleaning, we use wet wipes (without alcohol). You shouldn’t use any abrasive product because it can leave scratches on the case, lens, or screens.

#3 Charge the batteries

It seems obvious, of course, but you can’t imagine how often people forget to charge the batteries and later found out the spare batteries are also empty.

The rule of thumb for us is to charge batteries after every shooting. The good thing to have is an external charger that is able to charge 2 batteries at the same time, so with this setup, you can charge 3 batteries (2 in external charger + 1 internally in GoPro).

Find Some Inspiration on Instagram and Pinterest

Here are some inspirations for great photos and videos:

Instagram Hashtags

Pinterest Collections

Conclusion

GoPro cameras are one of the most popular action cameras nowadays. When it comes to underwater photography, GoPro is one of the most powerful action cameras you can use, especially if you count the number of accessories.

There are few accessories you should have in order to get the maximum of the camera’s photo and video quality (with filters, close-up lenses, and additional light if you go in deeper water) and also few accessories which give you a much comfortable and secure experience (as underwater housing, floaty, handlers, and trays).

In order to get fantastic photos and videos, you should do some preparation and pay attention to a few things during the photo/video sessions. In the end, you can find some inspiration on Instagram and this will be a great start for your diving adventure.

Do you have any other tips for using GoPro while diving or snorkeling? Share them with us in the comments below.

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