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.
Do I Need a GoPro Filter Underwater?
Yes, a GoPro filter will deliver the best color accuracy when shooting underwater. Scuba divers can also use video lights for close subjects instead of a filter (and sometimes in addition to a filter depending on criteria I discuss below). Learn why in this article + video tutorial.
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 we see 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, the whites will look white. Some might argue that the dull blue or green ambient tint is most-realistic since that’s the underwater scene we see 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 camera is always looking at the color in the scene and automatically 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). The result is more color and contrast in the scene.
When to Use GoPro Filters
GoPro filters are best used below about 15ft (5m). Place the filter over the dive housing port and you’re good to go. Easy!
In bright shallow water (above 15ft) you can often use a red filter if you’re shooting at a down angle, but I recommend using different compositions in order to film intriguing video. If you shoot horizontally or up into the water column using a red filter, especially aiming towards the sun, you may see a red tint in the scene. We want to avoid this red tint at all costs since it looks so unnatural.
One solution here is to use a shallow water filter, which has less red than a standard red dive filter. See my Best Filters guide below.
The Bottom Line: Use your GoPro filter at dive depths but be careful and experiment in the shallows to find the best combo that works for you.
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.
Many divers also opt for two video lights when shooting GoPro underwater video since two lights provide more coverage of wide scenes (like a reef or manta ray).
When the lights are on, the GoPro will detect all the color, delivering an accurate white balance for the scene. The colors will POP and contrast and texture will be added naturally through light and shadow.
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 position the lights to create the best lighting effects for each scene.
3 Tips for GoPro Light Positioning Underwater
When to Use Underwater Video Lights
Video lights often excel over filters anytime you’re within a 5ft range of the subject. They will light the subject, making it bright with nice color and contrast.
Can you Use GoPro Filters and Video Lights at the Same Time?
Yes, you can use GoPro filters and video lights at the same time as long as you keep the following tips in mind.
In most filming situations, especially with new GoPro models and correct GoPro settings, you will see nice results when pairing filters with video lights. This is because the filter will add color and some contrast back into the scene, while the light provides a touch of brightness.
The exception here is when you’re very close to your subject (within 3ft / 1m) and using strong lights with 2,000 or more lumens. In this case you may find that the power of the strobes is sufficient to produce bright, clean colors and that the filter may actually make the scene more drab.
Be sure to experiment since there are many variables, including your lights, composition style, dive conditions, and shooting situations!
Have questions? Let’s schedule a Virtual Private Lesson.
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.
WATCH THIS VIDEO TUTORIAL: Underwater Video Basics
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 compact, mirrorless or DSLR cameras, so the best option is to get the color as accurate as possible through use of a filter or lights, or manually selecting the white balance in the GoPro settings, and then addressing 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 the software’s various color correction tools to make small changes until the white balance looks good to your eye.
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 HERO 9 and HERO 8 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 HERO 9 and 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 GoPro HERO 9 and 8 Protective Dive Housing.
$29.99 | Amazon Prime
PolarPro DiveMaster Filter Kit for HERO 9 and 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 GoPro HERO 9 and 8 Protective Dive Housing.
$59 | Amazon Prime
Backscatter FLIP8/9 Single Filter (HERO 8-9)
Simple, easy flip-on / flip-off filter for underwater video. The included DIVE filter is the best all-around filter for scuba diving.
$39 | On Backscatter
For GoPro 7 and Below check out the Backscatter FLIP 7. This filter is compatible with the following GoPros: HERO+, HERO 3, HERO 3+, HERO4, HERO5, HERO6, HERO7. View it 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 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 GoPro HERO 8 Protective Dive Housing I do not believe it’s compatible with the HERO 9 housing due to the housing’s larger size, meaning the mount will not fit (but note that single filters and the double filters below do work on both since they aren’t limited by the mount).
$99 | On Amazon Prime
Backscatter FLIP8/9 Two Filter Kit (HERO 8-9)
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.
$79 | On Backscatter
For GoPro 7 and below check out the Backscatter FLIP7. This filter set is compatible with the following GoPros: HERO+, HERO 3, HERO 3+, HERO4, HERO5, HERO6, HERO7. See the FLIP7 on Backscatter.
Backscatter FLIP8/9 Pro with MacroMate (HERO 8-9)
This kit includes the three filters above plus a +15 Macromate Mini. Your GoPro alone cannot focus closer than 12″, so can’t really shoot macro even with the Narrow Lens. The Macromate Mini allows you to shoot at a closer distance, and magnifies the scene, so you can capture those macro critters!
This is THE KIT if you’re a scuba diver and want to shoot a wide array of scenes.
$159 | On Backscatter
For GoPro 7 and below check out the FLIP7 Pro. This filter set is compatible with the following GoPros: HERO+, HERO 3, HERO 3+, HERO4, HERO5, HERO6, HERO7. View the FLIP 8/9 Pro 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 HERO8 and newest HERO9.
RELATED: Best Underwater Video Lights of 2021
Kraken Sports Hydra 1000
This 1000 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 even lighting.
The Hydra 1000 is also a nice investment for divers who are interested in still photography, as it’s a fantastic macro focus light.
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.
Light & Motion Sola Video 3800 F
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.
*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 FLIP 8/9 GoPro Wide Angle Blue Water Package
This is the perfect kit 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 FLIP8/9 two filter kit is also included. All you need to add is the GoPro, Super Suit and optional video lights.
$169 | On Backscatter
Backscatter FLIP7 Package with Light & Motion GoBe 1000 Video Light (HERO 3-7)
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.
$369 | On Backscatter
Backscatter FLIP 8/9 GoPro Macro and Wide Package
This is a really nice way to build your GoPro kit as a scuba diver. You’ve got a nice tray and handle system, the FLIP 8/9 Pro filter kit and even a Joby tripod to help capture stable macro shots. The only thing needed here are flex arms and video lights.
$299 | Backscatter Photo
Mozaik Camera Dual Sola 2500 Video Light Package
This GoPro light kit uses two powerful lights for wide, even lighting in a small package. Mozaik has included a GoPro mount and two YS mounts for the lights so that you’re ready to go film.
$679 | Mozaik Camera
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 | Backscatter Photo
Mozaik Dual Big Blue Black Molly 3 Light + BTS Tray Kit
This compact kit features dual Black Molly 3 lights (2600 lumens each). The light bodies are small for the power and the boomerang style tray ensures the lights stay positioned behind the camera while also making it easy to flip filters on and off the GoPro.
$775 | Mozaik Camera
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.