GoPro Filters and Color Correction

The wide range of GoPro accessories marketed to underwater video shooters can seem daunting at first. Should you use GoPro filters? Video lights? Both? And what about editing to change the color of your footage… that’s what the pros do, right?

This article will explain filters, video lights, color correction and when to use each technique for underwater GoPro video.

SECTIONS:

Using GoPro Filters

Using GoPro Video Lights

Manual Color Correction

Best GoPro Filters

Best GoPro Video Lights

GoPro Filter & Light Kits

Conclusion


Do I Need a GoPro Filter Underwater?

Yes, a GoPro filter will deliver the best color accuracy when shooting underwater. A diver can also use video lights for close subjects instead of a filter. Learn why in this article + video tutorial.


Featured Video

All About GoPro Filters Underwater

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.

GoPro Filters

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.

sea lion portrait with gopro
A playful sea lion poses for the camera. Shot on a GoPro HERO6 with video lights and no 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.


Featured Video

3 Tips for GoPro Light Positioning Underwater

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.

Can you Use GoPro Filters and Video Lights at the Same Time?

No, you can’t use a GoPro filter and video light at the same time. You can use filters for wide underwater scenes and lights for subjects close to the camera, but if you use both at the same time, the footage will appear red. This is because the white light is already bringing color back into the frame, and if you then apply the red filter, it’s like looking through the filter on the surface.

Manual Color Correction with GoPro

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.

RELATED: Underwater Video Basics (video tutorial + article)

scuba diver and sea lion shot on gopro
A scuba diver captures a shot of a sea lion pup in La Paz, Mexico. Shot on a GoPro HERO6 with video lights and no filter.

Best GoPro Filters

There are quite a few choices when selecting the best GoPro filters for underwater video. Filters are specific to the GoPro version you’re using, with the HERO8 using a different filter than the 7, 6, and 5. Be sure to double-check that the filter you select will fit the Protective Dive Housing or Super Suit you’re using with the GoPro.

We’ll discuss Single GoPro Filters and Double GoPro Filters.

Do you need a housing to use GoPro filters?

Yes, I recommend using a dive housing any time you’re thinking about using underwater filters. This is because the filters become more useful at depth, often at or below the depth rating of the GoPro when not using a housing.

Single GoPro Filter Kits

Single GoPro Filter kits are perfect for those that want a single filter. This could be a red filter for blue water, a shallow filter, deep filter, or others.

Most filter kits allow you to swap out the filter, so while you are limited to one filter on a dive, you can change them out based on dive conditions and dive profile. If you’re looking for versatility and/or being able to shoot large scenes and small subjects, then skip down to the double filters.


PolarPro Red Filter for GoPro HERO8
PolarPro Red Filter for GoPro HERO 8

This red filter is the most commonly used for filming GoPro underwater video. PolarPro has made high quality products for years, so you can’t go wrong with this filter.

This will only fit the HERO8 Protective Dive Housing.

$29.99 | On Amazon Prime


PolarPro DiveMaster Filter Kit for HERO8
PolarPro DiveMaster Filter Kit for GoPro HERO 8

Simple, affordable and best of all – 3 different filters. The PolarPro DiveMaster filter kit will have you ready for any dive conditions. The included filters are snorkel, red (for blue water), and magenta (for green water).

This DiveMaster filter kit will only fit the HERO8 Protective Dive Housing.

$59 | On Amazon Prime


Backscatter FLIP7 Single Filter (HERO 3-7)
Backscatter Flip7 GoPro Filter

Simple, easy flip-on / flip-off filter for underwater video. The included DIVE filter is the best all-around filter for scuba diving.

This filter (and mount) is compatible with the following GoPros: HERO+, HERO 3, HERO 3+, HERO4, HERO5, HERO6, HERO7.

$59 | On Backscatter


Double GoPro Filter Kits

Double filter kits provide the versatility to alternate between two different filters during a dive by flipping them over or away from the lens. Flipping a filter on or of is much easier than popping a single filter on and off, plus you don’t need to worry about where to keep it when not using it.

In addition, all filters should be burped underwater (learn more in my Wet Lenses video tutorial). The hinges on double filters make it very easy to burp the filter after entering the water.

You can gear up with a shallow and deep filter, red and magenta filter, or even a red filter plus macro lens for subjects closer than GoPro’s 12″ minimum focus distance.

While it’s possible to use a colored filter and macro lens at the same time, you’ll get best results from using a dedicated video light with the macro lens instead of the filter.


PolarPro SwitchBlade Filter for GoPro HERO8
PolarPro Switchblade Filter for GoPro HERO 8

High-quality and versatile, the SwitchBlade is a great filter set for the GoPro Protective Dive housing. Add a red or magenta filter to the top hinge, a macro lens to the left hinge for small subjects and you’re good to go. The kit also mounts directly to the GoPro base, meaning it can’t get bumped off and lost. The padded case is rad too, making you feel like a pro!

This filter kit is compatible with the HERO8 Protective Dive Housing.

$99 | Visit PolarPro website


Backscatter FLIP7 Three Filter Kit (HERO 3-7)
Backscatter FLIP7 GoPro 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. Flip either of the two filters you choose on and off during the dive as needed.

This filter (and mount) is compatible with the following GoPros: HERO+, HERO 3, HERO 3+, HERO4, HERO5, HERO6, HERO7.

Great for freedivers and snorkelers shooting large open water scenes.

$99 | On Backscatter


Backscatter FLIP7 Pro with MacroMate (HERO 3-7)
Backscatter FLIP7 Pro GoPro Filter Kit

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!

This filter (and mount) is compatible with the following GoPros: HERO+, HERO 3, HERO 3+, HERO4, HERO5, HERO6, HERO7.

Great for Scuba Divers shooting both large scenes and small scenes like fish and macro.

$218 | On Backscatter


Best GoPro Video Lights

GoPro video lights bring the color back into your underwater footage – at least with subjects that are within 3 feet (1m). A single light is great for fish portraits and smaller subjects, but two lights is ideal for reefscapes, big animals and other large scenes.

Video lights are one of the few items where I recommend spending more. This is because a higher budget simply buys more lumens. The more powerful light will better light your scene, especially if further away.

Underwater GoPro Lights are also better to use with a macro filter than a red filter, because you’ll see much brighter and more vivid color, plus contrasts and shadows created by the angle of your light to the scene or subject.

Here are some great GoPro video lights at various price points. These will work great for all GoPros, including the latest HERO8.

RELATED: Best Underwater Video Lights of 2020


Kraken Hydra 1200+ WSR
kraken hydra 1000+ WSR Focus Light

This 1200 lumen light is a great starting point for underwater video shooters either as a single light or double light system. The light features a wide flood beam for video, spot beam for use as a regular dive light, and red light used with shy marine life at night.

The Hydra 1200+ WSR is also a nice investment for divers who are interested in still photography, as it’s a fantastic macro focus light.

Retail: $189: Backscatter


Light & Motion Sola Video 2000 S/F
light & motion sola video 2000 s/f

The Sola Video 2000 delivers high quality light in a small package. The switch on top is very easy to operate, while colored LEDs tell you how much battery life is left. Toggle easily between Flood and Spot beams.

Retail: $379.99: Backscatter


Light & Motion Sola Video 3800 F
light & motion sola video pro 3800

Bring on the power in this 3800 lumen video light. A dome provides even lighting with soft falloff for the meticulous video shooter. The control button is very easy to flip on and off. I use these lights with my GoPro and love them.

Retail: $449.99: Backscatter

*In my camera bag!


GoPro Filter & Light Kits

Below are some great filter and light kits. Keep in mind that you may only need a tray and handles with filters, or maybe you need that plus two video lights. Maybe you want no filters and a single video light.

If you have questions, you can contact me through the Camera Questions page.


Backscatter FLIP7 GoPro Wide Angle Blue Water Package (HERO 3-7)
Backscatter FLIP7 GoPro Wide Angle Blue Water Package

This is the perfect kits to get started filming GoPro underwater video. The tray and handle system is machined from a single piece of aluminum (no extra parts to corrode). It’s small, lightweight, and very affordable. The FLIP7 filter kit is also included. All you need to add is the GoPro and Super Suit.

$169 | On Backscatter


Backscatter FLIP7 Package with Light & Motion GoBe 1000 Video Light (HERO 3-7)
Backscatter FLIP7 Package with Light & Motion GoBe 1000 Video Light

This is a great way to learn the basics of filming underwater GoPro video using both filters and a video light. The kit is the same as above but also includes a flex-arm and 1000 lumen Light & Motion GoBe light. This light will be great for subjects within 3-4 feet of the camera.

I highly recommend this kit for scuba divers interested in learning how to shoot great GoPro video on a budget. All you need to add is the GoPro and Super Suit.

$399 | On Backscatter


Backscatter Sola 2500 Dual Video Light Package

This GoPro light kit is compact, efficient and powerful. No filter is included, so you will rely on the dual 2500 lumen Light & Motion video lights (or add filters separately).

I highly recommend this kit for divers interested in seriously pursuing GoPro underwater video. Those who graduate to a higher-end camera system can use these lights with the new system, making them a nice investment in underwater video.

This kit can be used with any GoPro or small action camera.

$699 | On Backscatter


In Conclusion

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.

I hope this article helps you pick out the perfect filter set for your underwater GoPro video.

More GoPro Tutorials

Best GoPro Underwater Settings

How to Keep Your GoPro Steady

GoPro HERO7 Underwater Video Settings

3 Tips for GoPro Underwater Video

Brent Durand

Professional writer and underwater photo instructor. Brent is an avid diver and surfer, and has led many intensive photo workshops around the world. BrentDurand.com.