Are you diving or snorkling with a GoPro? Good choice! It is an awesome little camera and will allow you to show off your underwater experiences. I love to take my GoPro underwater. It is compact, features incredible resolution allowing you to shoot the most stunning underwater footage if you know the right settings.

GoPro action cameras have become popular with divers and snorklers over the last years. You can use it in many different ways; just in your hand, on a selfie-stick, on your mask or with the full set of handles, lights and macro lenses.

Is your GoPro ready to go for a dive with you? Check it out – how to use a GoPro underwater

While these accessories might help you to get better footage, the most important is your technique to capture the underwater world.


Get the GoPro underwater ready

You can start to shoot video underwater with your GoPro right out of the box. At least almost, you might wanna charge the battery first. A word about the batteries; you might need to buy some spare batteries and an external charger if you plan to use the GoPro intensively during your dives. Expect to change the battery after each dive.

The GoPro is fully charged when the red light switches off. Next you need a micro SD card. Make sure to use one with a class 10 rating.

Now carefully insert the camera into the housing. Make sure all lids are closed on the camera. Before closing the housing check the white O-ring and the opposite side to make sure no hair, sand or other small particles are in between to avoid leaking.

To be honest, with GoPro HERO5 and HERO6 you don’t have to be as careful anymore. These cameras are waterproof down to a few meters. So even a leaking housing or sleeve will not kill the camera. Make sure to use a housing or sleeve for scuba diving.

More details you will find in the article on how to get your GoPro underwater ready.


Start recording with your GoPro underwater

Now you are ready to switch the GoPro on and start recording.

In general GoPro action cameras do have two buttons. The side button which is On/Off as well as switching modes (video, camera, multi-shot and so on) while the button on the top starts and stops recording

You’ll see a small red LED light on the front (and for some models on the back as well) of the housing blinking while you are recording.

One of the hardest things when starting to use a GoPro compared to other digital cameras is to point it in the right direction. While the older models did not have a LCD display, newer ones have, still you won’t see too much on the display underwater. The most important is to get a feeling in which direction to point the camera.

If you are taking wide-angle footage you will most probably get everything you would like to in the frame.

The screen will switch itself off after one minute. If you would like to have it on for a longer time change it in the settings. Keep in mind that this will drain your battery much faster. Maybe you’ll try not using it too much when shooting wide-angle.

If you start recording smaller objects you might want to use the screen to allow for better composition of the video.


Can I shoot stills using my GoPro

You can, with the older models I would not have recommended doing this. Alternatively you can take stills out of your footage later on.

The newest models are great for taking stills as well if there is enough light and contrast. If you are mainly going to take photos I would recommend getting a different camera. If you record video and take photos get a GoPro 5 or higher and you will be fine.

Also look into shooting RAW and post-process your photos using lightroom, photoshop or similar.


Underwater GoPro video resolution

Depending on the model of your GoPro HERO you have different resolution and frame rates to choose from. Default is 1080p (full HD), which is a great resolution. Go ahead and try the default setting first.

Newer models like GoPro HERO5 and HERO6 allow to shoot in 4K. This is a resolution you won’t need when watching your videos on a laptop and upload it to YouTube. You might still wanna shoot in the highest possible resolution. Make sure you do have a computer that can cope with the data. If you are using an older model you might struggle to work with the footage afterwards if it is in 4K.

4K makes sense if you would like to crop or zoom the footage in the processing later on.


The best GoPro underwater settings

When you turn your GoPro on underwater it defaults to video mode. This is usually what you want. If you would like to take stills you have to switch to photo or multi-shot mode (side button). Remember, if you would like to have some stills as a memory afterwards – you can pull these out of your footage later on.

To start with, use the following settings:

  • Video
  • Resolution: 1080p
  • Frames per Second: 60
  • Field of View: Wide (wide-angle mode)
  • EIS: on (electronic video stabilisation)
  • everything else off or auto

While you could also use a higher resolution the above settings have several advantages; the footage does not require post-processing, these are the perfect setting for YouTube or Facebook and your computer might struggle to handle the post-processing of 4K videos.

If you would like to watch your footage on a large TV screen or plan to crop, use 4K and 30 fps. Just keep in mind that the files can get much bigger, you will need a larger SD card and a lot of storage space on your hard drive.

Large screen or crop/zoom in post-processing

  • Video
  • Resolution: 4K
  • Frames per Second: 30
  • Field of View: Wide (wide-angle mode)
  • EIS: on (electronic video stabilisation)
  • everything else off or auto

If you can’t get a smooth replay or struggle with the post-processing on your computer you might have to upgrade it or alternatively change to 30 fps or lower the resolution.

Is your computer powerful enough you can also try to use a faster video frame rate (120 fps) to create a slow motion video afterwards. This is also a good choice if you would like to pull still images from the footage.

Slow motion videos or pull out stills

Resolution: 1080p
Frames per Second: 120
Field of View: Wide (wide-angle mode)
EIS: on (electronic video stabilisation)
everything else off or auto

Usually you would want to use a wide field of view, which is wide-angle, but if you either want to shoot something small close by or something big far away you might wanna change this setting. Use either Medium or Narrow.

Shoot something small close to the camera or something big far away
Resolution: 1080p
Frames per Second: 60
Field of View: Medium or Narrow
EIS: on (electronic video stabilisation)
everything else off or auto


Manual Settings

Newer GoPro models (HERO4 and up) allow manual control of some camera settings. The mode is called Protune and it allows to choose white balance, color, ISO, sharpness, shutter speed and exposure compensation.

So quite a lot. If you are not familiar with these settings you might just wanna keep on using standard settings.


How to change settings

Download the GoPro app. To change settings you best use the GoPro app “Capture”. On land you can alternatively use the touch screen if your camera has one.

Now what underwater? Don’t bring your phone, the app won’t work underwater. The side button will let you change the settings as well, which show on the front display. In the menus the shutter release button can be used to select a choice.

In general the GoPro menu is quite intuitive to use.


Get the GoPro app and GoPro Studio

GoPro is offering an awesome app and video editing software for free. Use them.
The app allows to update settings of your GoPro, control the camera remotely (not really underwater, sorry) and to view the videos. It is much easier to change the setting through the app than on the camera. To watch your footage through the app you don’t even need to remove the camera from the housing.

GoPro Studio allows you to post-process the videos you take. You can trim, edit color and white balance using this software. Besides improving your footage you can create your movies only using this software.


Using a Red or Magenta Filter

Red is the first color you lose underwater. The filters bring it back into the footage, so the footage will look more vivid and this also provides more contrast. If you neither use red filters nor a light your footage will be all green or blue.

Use red filters in blue water and magenta filters in green water.

The only time when you do not want to use a filter is close to the surface on a sunny day. Then your footage might end up to be red. Anything deeper than 5 m will need either light or a red/magenta filter.


Video Lights

Lights bring color to the underwater world. While photographers usually use strobes (flash) you will use a light (torch) with your GoPro.

Use the lights for animals that are close to you as the lights won’t reach far underwater even they are very strong. Plus particles in the water become better visible when you shine at them with a light.

The more water there is between you and the subject, the more particles will be visible. In not very clear waters it might even look like it is snowing.
To attach the lights you need to get a tray and handles. This will make the camera more bulky.

Read more about the trays and handles here: GoPro Underwater Accessories


Now go find your favorite destination and go shooting all the amazing marine animals with your GoPro.