Why We Need to Use Color Filters Underwater
Topside, the GoPro is a no-brainer for capturing stunning wide-angle UHD/HD footage in good lighting conditions. But underwater is a very different story, with the camera needing the addition of a red filter or magenta filter to help correct your images from being all blue or all green.
Comparison of Actual Images Using No Filter, Red Filter, Red Filter and Lights in Blue Water
Comparison of Actual Images Using No Filter, Magenta Filter, and Magenta Filter and Lights in Green Water
Every diver has noticed that the underwater environment is one of monochromatic hues rather than distinct colors. Depending on your location, objects will take on a blue or green cast at the expense of all things yellow, orange, red, and so on. This is because water acts as a filter of red light. The deeper you dive, the more the red spectrum is filtered from the ambient light in your underwater scene. You can, however, emphasize the existing red light by filtering out the blue spectrum with a red filter.
GoPro Hero4 Underwater Video Footage without and with Filters… and Lights
Here’s a video shot with the GoPro Hero4 that shows different depths of footage and the benefits of using color correction filters and even video lights.
What’s Needed to Get Amazing Underwater Color with a GoPro Hero4
There are three critical things that need to be implemented to get good underwater color:
- sun position & lights
- shooting angle
Color Correction Filters Get You in the Ball Park
For blue-water diving, you’ll want to use a red filter like those from Backscatter in their FLIP3.1 system. They have three different strengths of red filters based on the desired correction you need. For example, the SHALLOW filter corrects the least amount and is optimized for 5–20 feet. The DIVE filter is fine-tuned for 20–50 feet. For deeper diving, from 50–70 feet and beyond, there’s a DEEP filter. If you do any cold-water diving in green water, we recommend the GREENWATER magenta filter that is compatible with the Flip3.1 system.
Sun Position and Video Lights Help Dramatically with White Balancing
GoPro cameras can acquire the closest proper white balance underwater when they have plenty of light. With the sun always behind your back, you’ll get the best light on your subject for excellent color reproducibility. We also highly recommend the use of video lights along with a red filter.
Traditionally, a red filter should not be used with lights or strobes. However, during early testing of the red filter for the GoPro Hero2, we found that the camera performed “auto white balance” much better with the addition of video lights. Since then, we’ve always recommended running lights at all times along with your red filter. Another benefit is that the lights provide additional clarity and contrast to your GoPro footage. This is probably in part due to the camera using a lower ISO to properly expose because of the additional light shined on the subject.
The third critical step to getting good color is the camera shooting angle. The GoPro lens is extremely wide and the vertical width allows a great amount of distance up and down the water column to be captured within one frame. For example, while shooting at a depth of 40 feet, you might capture a 20-foot depth at the top and a 60-foot depth at the bottom of your frame. Shooting at a slight downward angle will allow for better, richer colors.
Why do colors look better? Blue water has a tendency to look deeper and darker blue the deeper you shoot. However, when shooting from 30 feet up to the surface, the water color will push toward orange and red. We find that you end up with a more pleasing video capture when shooting slightly downward when using GoPro cameras.
Stable High-Definition Underwater Video with Great Color
It is possible to achieve broadcast quality underwater videos with your GoPro Hero4 camera! Check out this video shot with the Hero4 Black while on assignment in Bonaire and Honduras. This video shows footage from all depths, using red color correction filters along with video lights.
Get the Best Underwater Color with Your Gopro Hero4
In summary, here are our recommendations for getting the best underwater color with your GoPro Hero4 camera:
- Use color correction filters. Backscatter’s FLIP3.1 system allows two different filters to be used interchangeably depending on your dive profile, and the combo system comes with SHALLOW, DIVE and DEEP red filters. You’ll be ready for all your blue-water adventures!
- When shooting between 5–20 feet in blue water, use the FLIP3.1 SHALLOW filter along with video lights in flood mode.
- When shooting between 20–50 feet in blue water, we recommend using the FLIP3.1 DIVE filter along with video lights in flood mode.
- When shooting between 50–70+ feet in blue water, we recommend using the FLIP3.1 DIVE filter along with video lights. If you don’t have video lights, we recommend using the FLIP3.1 DEEP filter.
- When shooting in green-water or freshwater environments, use the FLIP3.1 GREENWATER filter with video lights.
Future installments of our “Underwater Photographer’s Guide to GoPro” will include wide-angle shooting techniques, macro shooting techniques, post-production color correction, and much more! In case you missed it, start from the beginning of the guide with the first article in the series, Which GoPro Hero4 Is Best for Me?
About the Authors: Joel and Jennifer Penner are avid scuba divers and award-winning underwater image-makers. Their images have been published in many magazines, such as Scuba Diving, Sport Diver, Underwater Journal and Scuba Diver. Joel and Jennifer are frequent presenters at scuba industry trade shows, and they are also staff at the annual Digital Shootout and Monterey Shootout events. When the ocean is not their office, they run a multimedia company called Newmediasoup, specializing in design and development for the Web.
When purchasing underwater photography equipment like the products mentioned in this article, please support DPG by supporting our retail partner—Backscatter.com.