Current top action cameras are extremely capable and versatile. From very hot or freezing conditions to shaky mounts, they can do it all. Even produce great underwater footage – if you know how to.
Because underwater filming is one of the most difficult environments for cameras like GoPros.
The challenges are similar to using a GoPro in snow when the image is mostly white. When diving, it’s mostly blue which leads to the camera doing all kinds of weird adjustments.
The key to getting around this is using very specific settings and accessories to get colorful, crisp underwater videos and pictures.
Recommended GoPro Hero 11 settings for underwater diving footage:
- Framerate: 30 or 24 FPS (personal preference)
- Resolution: 4K or 5.3K (personal preference)
- Lens (Field of View): Wide or HorizonLock
- HyperSmooth (Stabilization): AutoBoost
- Pro Controls: On
- 10-Bit Color: On
- Bit Rate: High
- Shutter speed: Auto
- EV Comp: -0.5
- White Balance: 4500K
- ISO min: 100
- ISO max: 1600
- Sharpness: Low or Medium (personal preference)
- Color: Flat (for editing) or Natural
- RAW Audio: Off
- Wind (noise reduction): Off
- Everything else: Off
- Video Mode: Highest Quality
- Display Settings:
- Screen Saver: Never
- Display Brightness: 50-100%
These are tweaked to work in underwater conditions when much of the scenery is blue. Mainly the White Balance and EV Compensation are different from what you’d use normally.
Using these settings, the camera will only adjust the shutter speed and ISO automatically to adjust the exposure on the fly. Everything else is in your control for consistently high-quality footage!
Don’t forget to save these as a custom preset, that you can get back to any time! You can even switch through setting presets underwater pressing and holding the power/mode button and then pressing the record button at the same time. Cycle through your custom presets using the mode button on the side.
For the divers among you, 360 cameras may be worth looking into. They can capture everything around you so you don’t have to worry about “getting the shot” with sudden movements – just reframe later. To learn more, the guys over at Divein got you covered when using the GoPro Max for diving.
Now let me explain the three most important GoPro settings for underwater shooting. I’ll not go into every single one here but would recommend another article explaining all GoPro Hero 11 Video settings.
And if you’re wondering how to activate Pro Controls (or Protune) on newer cameras, I’ll show you at the end of this article!
3 most important settings underwater
Recommended: 4500K – 6000K
This is the most critical one! If you only adjust one setting, this is it.
Incorrect or automatic White balance is the reason for underwater footage looking green or purple instead of blue. It’s a result of the camera trying to reduce all the blue tones. Even a strong blue hue can be reduced by using red filters to put on the lens of your GoPro.
When left on auto WB, the camera will constantly color correct by itself. Now imagine the camera seeing mostly blue water and trying to compensate and reduce all those blue tones. This is why colors can look completely wrong and even change throughout a clip. The trademark of amateur video.
Even when diving, you’re probably working with ambient light coming from the sun. And sunlight has a color temperature of around 5500 Kelvin. On a really cloudy day, 6500K may be okay too.
In fact, the deeper you go while diving, the less sunlight you’ll have as it gets diffracted by all that water. Similar to a cloud cover. The specific Kelvin number will depend on the depth, but hovering around the temperature of sunlight is a good anchor.
Unless you’re using additional mounted lights to illuminate the scene, that is. Then adjust to the color temperature of those.
Recommended: 100 – 1600 range
Too much ISO is the main culprit of grainy or noisy GoPro footage (here’s what to do about that).
Using the above settings, your GoPro is still adjusting exposure (brightness) automatically by adjusting ISO and shutter speed.
Setting one fixed ISO value is not recommended so to not limit the camera too much. To still prevent it from going too far and produce grainy, bad-looking footage you can set the ISO range.
Up to ISO 800 is recommended for a GoPro, but with underwater being low-light ISO 1600 or even 3200 may be necessary. With that being said, you may get away with lower ISO and turning stabilization off if you can film in a smooth fashion while diving.
Underwater scenes usually are beautifully colorful as it is. So, the “Normal” color profile may work well too, based on your personal preference. It provides the saturated colors and high contrast you’d expect from an action cam.
The huge benefit of using the desaturated Flat profile is the freedom it provides in color grading. Especially for underwater filming, this can make a huge difference! It allows saving otherwise ruined footage with incorrect colors or a strong green hue.
So you don’t have to get it perfect in-camera when filming. Which is hard to do as it is with the limitations of not being able to use settings and the small screen.
Here’s a direct comparison of the GoPro color profiles in normal daylight:
Set up presets
Underwater, the touchscreen on GoPro cameras cannot be used. But settings still can be changed when submerged using the “Mode button” on the side to switch between presets and between photo and video modes. Ideally, presets are set up to make adjustments for framerate, white balance, resolution and lens modes.
How to make your underwater video crisper
A blurry image underwater is caused by the light diffraction of the various mediums of water, air, and the lens cover. Especially the curved lens housings of older GoPros lead to blurry footage.
Note: sing the sharpness setting does not make your GoPro diving videos sharper as this is only a processing effect. The source of the problem happens before due to the physics of the various materials involved that light has to travel through until it hits the sensor.
Useful Underwater Accessories
Underwater housing or dome mount
Current GoPros are waterproof by themselves without an additional housing, like was needed in the past. But this isn’t going to do it for diving.
When going further than simply submerging the camera and diving at least a couple of meters deep, a pressure-resistant waterproof housing is a must.
This can either be the regular small waterproof housing (which used to be in the standard bundle but isn’t anymore) or a dedicated diving dome mount with the benefit of producing sharper footage by handling the light diffraction better.
Color filter (red and green)
As I said above, color filters are a big difference-maker for making diving videos! They’re mostly called red-filters but actually come in more tints than red. Namely red, purple and magenta for different diving depths to reduce specific tints in the water.
- Red: Deep sea diving
- Purple: Freshwater snorkeling
- Magenta: Deep sea diving
Those are usually slide-on filters that go over the lens cap, instead of replacing the actual lens cap. Which is very much recommended as there’s no way water, salt, or sand can get into the camera housing and on the lens. Aftermarket lens covers are not guaranteed to be 100% water-sealed.
HSU waterproof housing and filter kit, which includes 3 tempered-glass color filters in red, purple and magenta.
It’s also part of the HSU GoPro Kit I got, which includes even more helpful diving accessories like a floating hand grip, safety loops, floaty housings and a boatload of mounting adapters.
Besides getting good footage, it also helps not losing the GoPro during sea adventures. Wrist straps, floating hand grips and floating housings (from HSU) are a great way to do that. There’re also floating backpacks to stick on the rear, but then you’re relying on the glue in salt water.
How To Activate Pro Controls for GoPro Hero 11
- On the main screen swipe down to reveal the menu.
- Swipe left to get to the second menu page.
- Tap on the button “Controls” in the lower left corner.
- Switch it from Easy Mode to “Pro Controls”.
- Done, now all the option ProTune settings are unlocked for you.
In order to gain access to the full list of settings, you need to activate the PRO setting on the second page of the main menu. The detailed video settings are accessed through the bottom menu of the main screen (viewfinder).