The GoPro opened up underwater imaging for a lot of people with its ease of use, price and portability. Unfortunately, this didn’t necessarily translate into stellar results underwater. Over the last several years, improvements in the camera itself along with the development of more dedicated underwater accessories such as color correction filters and LED lights mean the GoPro is becoming a more capable underwater camera.
So, for one of our recent trips to Raja Ampat, Indonesia, we decided to leave the bulky DSLR on the boat and see what results we could get shooting with a GoPro Hero 4 Silver. We paired the camera with Backscatter’s FLIP4 filter system and Double Handle and Tray, as well as a set of Keldan Luna 8 and FIX Neo 2000 LED video lights.
In this article, we describe the tips and tricks we employed to create a compelling five-minute wide-angle video of Misool’s reefscapes and marine life. As well as covering recommended settings, we discuss how to use filters and lights in concert to get great color rendition. Our starting point was the excellent GoPro tutorials by Joel and Jennifer Penner, as found in DPG’s Underwater Photographer’s Guide to GoPro, and then the experimentation began…
Getting Good, Consistent Color
With the Hero 4, GoPro has improved the ProTune options, turning the camera’s customization capabilities up a notch and allowing for more control over white balance and ISO, two essential parameters when taking a GoPro underwater.
One of the main issues we experienced in the first few dives was the GoPro shifting white balance during a scene when set to “Auto.” We’d start with perfect Raja Ampat blue water and end up with Fjordland green as the subject shifted—not good and not easy to fix in post either without cutting up the scene.
GoPro auto white balance: Blue one frame…
… green the next!
It's best to lock out the GoPro’s white balance by changing it from “Auto” to “3000K” in ProTune options. Combining this fixed white balance, a filter system, and a good set of video lights helps to add back the missing colors of the reefscape while ensuring a nice blue background.
The power of your lights will determine how much color and contrast you get in the image. With less powerful lights, it may be necessary to add back more contrast and saturation in post-production. Thanks to the relatively small sensor size and constant fixed aperture of f/2.8, the GoPro does not require as many lumens of light as a DSLR or Micro Four Thirds camera to achieve good results. That said, using more powerful lights allows the camera to use a lower ISO, resulting in a better image quality.
With color-correction filters and good-quality video lights, your GoPro colors should pop!
Focus and Exposure
The camera’s auto exposure does a pretty fantastic job of seamlessly adjusting exposure throughout a scene. You can use Exposure Compensation to fine-tune the camera’s exposure as well. We set the Exposure Compensation to –0.5EV for normal scenes and –1.0EV for shallow scenes, and disabled Spot Metering to minimize damage to the highlights.
The hyperfocal lens keeps everything from about 10 feet to infinity fairly sharp, as long as you don’t get too close. This is especially important to remember when using the “Medium” and “Narrow” field of view settings, as these do not change the closest focus distance.
The GoPro handles shooting directly into the sun well, and quickly adjusts exposure without gross overcompensation
The battery life of the GoPro Silver edition is impressive, especially if Quick Capture is enabled. We prefer to have the camera on continuously, but some shooters may prefer Quick Capture, which turns on the camera and activates recording with the press of the record button, shutting down after recording stops. We still recommend changing the battery after every dive, but we did manage to make it last two dives when needed.
Field of View and Resolution
When shooting 1080p at 30fps, it is possible to use the full range of field of view options: “SuperView,” “Wide,” “Medium,” and “Narrow.” The “SuperView” mode will cause corner distortion if the camera is moved, such as when panning or trucking. The wide mode is essentially distortion free and has a great field of view for most wide-angle scenes. The Silver model only allows for 4K UHD at 15fps, so we stuck to 1080p HD.
Using “Wide” mode limits distortion and still provides a great angle of view for wide-angle underwater videography
You can capture a good variety of macro subjects using the “Narrow” or “Medium” modes and a suitable close-up lens designed for GoPro, like the Backscatter +15 MacroMate Mini.
It is imperative, due to the fixed focus nature of the lens, to use the provided framer until you get the hang of the working distance, as focus is difficult to judge accurately from the LCD. It’s best to shoot the subject at a variety of angles and with small variations in distance to ensure sharp video.
A still frame shot using the MacroMate Mini and the “Narrow” field of view mode
Nobody wants to watch shaky video. Keeping the camera stable is key to producing good footage and seeing what you are shooting is crucial. The Hero 4 Silver edition has a built-in touch LCD display, but if you are using the Hero 4 Black edition, the LCD Touch BacPac accessory is a must.
The camera does not have optical or digital stabilization so using a good tray and tripod combination such as the Backscatter Double Handle and Tray, with tripod mount, and a Joby Gorillapod will help achieve steady shooting and less need for post-processing.
Other Recommended Settings
- Auto Low Light: Disable
- Spot Meter: Disable
- Wireless: Turn off while diving to save power
- Monitor Brightness: High
- Beeps: Turn off—or you will quickly become very unpopular!
- Video Format: NTSC (for USA) or PAL (Europe)
- On Screen Display (OSD): Turn on to keep an eye on settings
- Auto Off: Disable; just change the battery between every dive
- ProTune Color: GoPro Color
- Sharpness: High
- ISO: 400
The final video, shot on a GoPro Hero 4 Silver edition with Backscatter FLIP4 filters and Keldan Luna 8 video lights
The current incarnations of the GoPro have come a long way, especially when it comes to usability underwater. However, it still has to overcome the same obstacles caused by taking a camera underwater—loss of light and color. If the size of the setup is a concern, a complete setup of a GoPro Hero 4, tray and handles, a good set of LED lights, and a set of Backscatter’s FLIP4 filters will get you excellent results with something that will fit in your carry-on—and your budget.
When purchasing underwater photography equipment like the products mentioned in this article, please support DPG by supporting our retail partner—Backscatter.com.
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