The ideal GoPro HERO9 setup with filter system and video lights
The GoPro HERO9 Black is a capable, affordable camera for underwater video, but you’ll need the help of some essential accessories to get the most out of it. Most importantly, you are going to need some extra equipment to get the best possible color in your underwater films. Adding red filters and video lights to your GoPro setup will transform your footage and produce professional results that you would normally expect from much more expensive cameras.
Backscatter’s filter system is a crucial accesory for shooting video with a GoPro
Bringing Color Back
Above the surface, the GoPro HERO9 is capable of capturing excellent colors in sunny and well-lit conditions, but underwater things get a little more complicated. As all scuba divers know, the deeper you go, the darker it gets and the bluer and more washed-out your images become. This is because water acts like a filter of red light. A red correction filter, which attaches easily to the front of the GoPro lens, compensates for this, resulting in more-accurate color that requires little or no adjustment in post-production.
Backscatter’s FLIP filter system, which works with every generation of GoPro from the HERO5 onwards, is available in various configurations: a single-filter Kit, a dual filter kit, and the Pro Package, which offers two filters and adds the company’s macro +15-diopter wet lens, the Macromate Mini. Backscatter has been producing and refining this system for years and have perfected the filters for use at recreational dive depths. The Shallow filter is intended for use between 10 and 25 feet, while the Dive filter has you covered for anything below that. It takes seconds to swap filters as you change depth, or to remove them completely if you don’t need them.
The complete rig ready for action: GoPro HERO9, Backscatter FLIP9 filter system, Backscatter Macro Wide 4300 video lights, dual handle tray and flex arms
Red filters will help adjust the color spectrum of your image, but the best way to see the true color of your subjects is to add continuous lights, especially at depths below 50 to 60 feet or in overcast conditions when it is dark. Artificial light will also provide more clarity and contrast to your image, and make it easier for your GoPro to capture vibrant colors and get the correct white balance. Another reason that adding artificial light helps with cameras like the GoPro with a very small sensor is that it enables you to use much lower ISO settings, which results in much better quality video footage.
The Backscatter Macro Wide 4300 video light pairs perfectly with the GoPro HERO9. These lights are compact for travel, have a spot beam for macro work, and boast three different power settings, so you have complete control of how much light you want to add to each scene.
Adding a pair of video lights like Backscatter’s Macro Wide 4300 to your GoPro rig will allow you to maximize the color accuracy and contrast of your footage
Below is a comparison of frames from video footage captured without using a filter, with the addition of a red filter, and then with a combination of red filter and video lights—all at the same depth and with the same subject. As you can see, with no filter, the image is awash with blues and greens, while the use of the red filter immediately brings out the red hues of the fish school and removes the green color cast. Adding the lights produces the most pleasing image: the water is a deep blue and the fish are a vibrant red color.
Similar frames captured at the same depth (65 feet), showing the difference between having no filter (top), using a red filter (middle), and adding a filter and video lights (bottom)
In the video below, you can see how these effects are progressively more pronounced as you go deeper, starting at 15 feet, then 25, 35, 45, 55, 65, and 75 feet. The Shallow filter was used at 15 and 25 feet, while the Dive filter was used between 35 and 75 feet. As you can see, even using filters alone makes all the difference, while the video lights add that extra color saturation and contrast to really make the footage pop.
Keep in mind that the two different filters are optimized to work well for a range of depths that are typical for the average GoPro user. They won’t necessarily provide results at every depth to please everyone, but crucially filters bring back enough color to allow anyone to use their post-production software to tweak the color to taste.
A comparison video showing the effects of filters and lights at depths between 15 and 75 feet
Techniques to Improve Color and Other Observations
Once your GoPro rig is set up and ready to go, it is time to consider different shooting techniques and when best to use each accessory for optimum results. After hours of playing around with the camera filters and lights, I now have a fairly routine workflow that seems to work well in most conditions.
First and foremost, it is important to have plenty of natural light if you want to capture the best possible color. There is no denying that conditions play a big part in getting good video footage, no matter what camera you use, but this is especially true for the GoPro and its small sensor. It is a great camera, but it will struggle in low-light conditions, so it is important to understand its limitations and use filters and lights to compensate for this whenever necessary.
Filming schooling fish with the GoPro HERO9 Black
If it is sunny and bright, and the water is clear, then you will likely get the best color in your video by using a red filter on its own and shooting with the sun at your back. Below 10 feet, you will always want to use one of the filters, so anyone who plans on using a GoPro while diving should consider these an essential purchase. Consider your depth and follow the filter guideline depths: Above 10 feet, don’t use a filter; between 10 and 25 feet, use the Shallow filter; and below that, use the Dive filter.
Now that we know when to use each filter, it is time to decide when to use video lights to improve the images further. Generally, the deeper you go, the more likely you are to need to use lights, but there are a number of other factors to consider before doing so. First of all, how is the visibility on the day? Lights will illuminate backscatter as well as the subject, so think about that if the conditions aren’t great.
- Above 10 feet: Let the GoPro do its thing and you should have decent color most of the time.
- 10–25 feet: Use the Shallow filter on its own in most conditions, only turning on the video lights on low power if it is particularly dark or when shooting a stationary subject on the reef.
- 25–50 feet: Switch to the Dive filter and use video lights for small and medium-sized subjects. Be careful to position the lights properly and experiment with different power settings. If shooting wide-angle scenes, leave the lights off.
- 50–90 feet: Continue using the Dive filter and focus on portraits or close-focus wide angle work using your video lights. You won’t be able to light an entire reef scene like this, but if you get close enough to your subject, the light and filter together will work best. Without the lights, the filters will struggle and footage will still have a blue color cast.
It can also sometimes be hard to see the small screen of the GoPro when you are shooting, so it can be difficult to know if you have your lights correctly positioned; if they’re not, you could get hotspots or unnatural shadows. When shooting wide-angle reef scenes, most video lights will not be powerful enough to effectively light anything anyway, so turn them off and use the appropriate filter on its own. If, however, you have cooperative subjects such as sea turtles, sharks and friendly schools of fish, this is the time to get close and turn your lights on. Try to fill the frame so that the entire scene is covered by the lights.
It is really up to you to decide what will works best for any given scene, so experiment and if in doubt, shoot the same clip with and without the lights on, and decide later in post what one looks best. Whatever you do, don’t just swim around shooting everything with the lights on full power and the same red filter attached. Take time to think about what you are doing and adjust your lighting and filter choice depending on depth, brightness and water clarity, and you will see immediate improvements in your work. If you dive in cold temperate seas or freshwater lakes, Backscatter also produces a Greenwater filter that has a similar effect in these conditions.
Finally, it is worth remembering that sometimes, the conditions are just not right for capturing decent underwater video footage. In these instances, it is better to just go with the flow and focus on still photography or macro video instead. We will discuss these and other uses for your GoPro later in this series.
A finished film shot with the GoPro HERO9, featuring footage captured at various depths with a combination of filters and lights
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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