When do you use Filters, Lights, and Manual Color Correction?
Great color can help take your underwater video from good to great. As divers, we learn (and then see firsthand) how color is lost as we descend in the water column. The light also becomes less intense and the contrasts near the surface become more muted. To bring back the rich colors of the reef and marine life, divers often shine a light or torch, photographers pop strobe flashes, and videographers use GoPro filters, video lights and/or manual color correction.
We use all three of these options to bring the red and other colors back into the scene, delivering a more interesting, color-accurate image. Accurate color balance renders whites as neutral… in other word, they will look white. Some might argue that the dull blue or green ambient tint is most-realistic since that’s the underwater view without artificial light or filters, but the majority of videographers prefer to use these tools to create more pop in the image.
So how does underwater color correction work? How do you choose between filters, lights and manual color correction when shooting GoPro video? Let’s break it down to the basics.
The most common GoPro filter is red in color, designed to be used in clear blue water. Red is the first color lost as we dive deeper into the water, and this filter adds red back into the scene as we descend past 15ft (5m). Magenta filters are generally used in green water.
The GoPro is always looking at the color in the scene and determining the white balance it determines most accurate. When the red filter is applied, the GoPro sees red and selects a warmer white balance (which is measured by kelvin temperature) that makes whites and grays actually look white and gray.
When to Use GoPro Filters
GoPro filters are best used below about 15ft (5m). Above this depth the sunlight can be really bright, with red already existing in the water. If you use a filter in this situation you’ll see a red tint in the image, especially when shooting towards the sun.
Shooting Tip: Shoot with the sun at your back when using a GoPro filter. By doing this, more of the scene is lit by the sun, is brighter, and will deliver better color through the filter.
GoPro Video Lights
Video lights are the best choice for shooting any scene where you’re within about 5ft of the subject (fish, reef, sharks, scuba diver, etc.). This is one of the few pieces of gear where spending more money will buy better results, since the stronger the light (the more lumens), the more vibrant color you can produce while shining through more water. On top of that, two lights is ideal with the GoPro unless you’re specifically shooting macro.
When the lights are on, the GoPro will detect all the color, delivering an accurate white balance for the scene. Ideally, you will mount your GoPro on a tray and handle system, which not only helps keep the GoPro steady, but provides a place to mount adjustable arms and clamps for the lights. This rig provides a comfortable and stable way to hold the camera, plus the flexibility to move the lights around to create the best lighting for the scene.
Learn how to position your video lights.
When to Use Underwater Video Lights
Video lights excel over filters anytime you’re within a 5ft range of the subject, as the color and contrasts really pop.
Manual Color Correction
Color correction refers to manually adjusting the white balance of the scene, whether in the camera itself or on the footage while editing on the computer, tablet or phone. The goal is to make the color white (or a neutral gray) look true to life with no blue or green tint.
Many serious videographers will rely on their camera’s manual white balance feature underwater, using a white slate or other object as a reference for the camera to adjust kelvin temperature until the slate looks like a true white. GoPro cameras don’t have an automated process like these more advanced compacts, mirrorless or DSLRs, so the best option is to get the color as accurate as possible through use of a filter or lights, and then address subtle color correction during post processing.
The goal is to get the color as accurate as possible in-camera, since image quality deteriorates when making big adjustments during post processing.
Most video editing software includes an easy-to-use white balance adjustment tool, often a dropper icon, that automatically adjusts white balance when you click on an area of white or neutral gray in the scene. I use Adobe Premiere Pro, however iMovie and Windows Movie Maker are great free alternatives.
After you make this initial white balance adjustment, you can play with color wheels to make small changes until the white balance looks good to your eye.
If you also shoot photos, read my Editing Tips for Underwater Photographers.
GoPro Filters Buyers Guide
There are quite a few choices of filters and lights for your GoPro. Filters are specific to the GoPro Super Suit, but luckily Backscatter’s kits below fit all the latest models. Smart. Video lights are available from many manufacturers with different features, lumens, and of course, prices.
All the gear below will help you take your GoPro footage to the next level.
Backscatter FLIP6 Single Filter
Simple, easy flip-on / flip-off filter for underwater video. The included DIVE filter is the best all-around filter for scuba diving. $39 – Learn more.
Backscatter FLIP6 Three Filter Kit
Set up your GoPro to handle all your dive conditions. This kit includes the DIVE filter, plus a shallow water and green water filter. They are interchangeable . $79 – Learn more.
Backscatter FLIP6 Pro with MacroMate
This kit includes the three filters above plus a +15 Macromate Mini. Your GoPro alone cannot focus closer than 12″, so even in Narrow FOV you still can’t really shoot macro. The Macromate Mini allows you to shoot at a closer distance, and magnifies the scene, so you can capture those macro critters! $159 – Learn more.
Backscatter Wide-Angle Filter Kit
Scuba Diving La Paz, Mexico – filmed with GoPro!
GoPro filters and underwater video lights are the best tools for creating vibrant images with white balance as close to accurate as possible. To take your color preferences one step further, you can make subtle color corrections while editing the footage.
- Filters are best used in clear water with subjects that are farther than 5ft away.
- Underwater video lights are best used for close subjects and a tray/handle system.
Still have questions about underwater color correction on your GoPro? Or any other camera? Send me an email and I’ll answer as best I can.