The GoPro HERO is a great underwater camera. All the recent models shoot beautiful video and photos in a number of different formats and useful underwater settings. The camera integrates easily with the GoPro mobile app and the body is even waterproof down to 33ft (10m) before adding the Super Suit dive housing.
I recommend GoPros to a range of scuba divers: those looking for affordable one-button video, pros looking for multiple camera angles, and divers with macro rigs who also want to be ready for that passing manta ray. But what are the best GoPro underwater settings? Naturally, this depends on the diver, and I’ve written the recommendations below with beginner videographers in mind.
Which GoPro is Best for Underwater Video?
The GoPro HERO8 is the newest camera and includes some great new features, however it uses the same sensor and processor as the HERO7 Black and HERO6 Black. All three of these cameras will do great underwater!
Note: This tutorial has been rewritten for the HERO8 and includes important settings for the HERO7 and HERO6 when notably different from the HERO8. If you’re curious about the newest GoPro features, check out my HERO8 for Underwater Video article.
GoPro Modes Explained
Here we discuss the different GoPro HERO8 modes and how they can be used for underwater video, photos and other content during your dive trip.
By default, turning on your GoPro will enable video mode. Pressing the side Mode Button will navigate to the Photo capture mode, Time Lapse capture mode and then back to video.
Note that the HERO6 includes a dedicated Burst photo mode (which has become a Preset within Photo Mode on the HERO8).
For recording your underwater video. The video presets within this mode include Standard, Activity, Cinematic and Slo-Mo. Generally we will use the Standard preset for underwater video. Shooting in Standard allows you to customize the settings based on my recommendations in the next section.
Many divers will find the new GoPro Presets useful since you can now adjust settings while underwater with the Dive Housing. This allows you to film various scenes where you would want these different settings all on the same dive. Note that this hasn’t been possible in the last couple models.
Activity Preset: Films at 2.7K and 60fps with SuperView lens (SuperWide field of view in older models).
Cinematic Preset: Films at 4K and 30fps with Linear lens (Linear field of view in older models).
Slo-Mo Preset: Films at 1080p and 240fps.
Changing GoPro Settings
A nice thing about the GoPro HERO8 Presets is that they can be changed inside the dive housing. This is a huge advantage, since the last couple models did not allow for settings changes underwater. Why does this matter? Because you might want one preset for regular filming and another for fast action (e.g. using a faster frame rate) or for more shaky shooting situations (e.g. shooting at 2.7K for a scene, knowing you’ll crop in to 1080p for you final edit).
Check out my recommended settings below, since you’ll want to get your GoPro set up before you jump in the ocean.
Outside of the dive housing, you can use the full GoPro touchscreen menu to change all the settings, lenses and more.
Additional GoPro Video Settings
The GoPro HERO8 has a number of other video settings, most of which we will not use for filming underwater. These include interval (looping), low light (on by default but should be turned off by experienced video shooters), zoom, clips shooting, and Protune (off by default but should be used by experienced video shooters).
The default photo mode is single image capture – the Photo preset. Other presets include LiveBurst, Burst, and Night.
LiveBurst is new for the HERO8 and records 1.5 seconds before and after your shot. The idea is that you don’t miss the critical moment you’re trying to capture.
LiveBurst will prove useful for things like marine life behavior (think yawning frogfish), although I’d say that anyone interested in still photos of this sort of quick behavior will be shooting a regular camera with strobes.
I recommend shooting with the Photo preset, which captures one frame at a time. This allows you to really think about capturing each image. That said, if you’re capturing fast action, like a back roll off a boat or a breaking wave, then Burst is the way to go. The GoPro HERO6, 7 and 8 capture 30-photo bursts in just 1 second at full 12MP image quality!
Time Lapse Mode
Time-lapses can be used in two ways. The most popular is to record a series of still images over a long interval (during a sunset, for instance) that are then used as a time-lapse transition in a dive vacation video. Time-lapses are a nice way to incorporate the landscape and show the passage of time.
I love using time-lapse mode to help capture photos at the perfect moments without worrying about specific GoPro underwater settings. Time-lapse mode will keep shooting photos every half or full second, which is ideal when freediving down to swim alongside a quick subject like a manta or whale shark. With this method, you can simply keep the camera pointed at the subject and capture all the movements and angles at full photo resolution.
The GoPro will record a photo at the interval you have preset (0.5 seconds by default) while also immediately creating a time lapse video sequence in 1080p resolution. This allows you to build your own time lapse in an editing sequence or to simply use the time lapse clip that the GoPro software creates (great for quick sharing).
Best GoPro Underwater Video Settings
The GoPro HERO8, HERO7 and HERO6 have great default settings right out of the box, which I recommend below with supporting information. Be prepared to charge the camera before you use it – don’t assume your battery will have a full charge.
GoPro HERO7 Shooters:
You can also read my dedicated HERO7 Settings tutorial.
Underwater Video Settings
- 1080p (referred to as Full HD), is the digital standard and the perfect resolution for sharing your videos on social media, YouTube, and other platforms. Most video editing software can also play this back while editing with no issues (versus jumpy, frustrating playback that hinders your ability to see what you’re doing while editing).
- 1440 – 2.7K – 4K. Why not shoot these? First, video at this resolution will most likely be scaled down to 1080 or 720p when uploaded to share with your friends. Second, depending on your mobile phone, you might run into compatibility issues trying to play back the footage (your phone must support HEVC). Third, these higher resolutions make editing very difficult unless you’re computer is super duper suped up. When I shoot 4K, I convert all footage into 1080p proxy files just so I can see and edit them. This is complicated and takes time.
- Note: Of course there are many benefits to the higher resolutions, but stick with 1080p unless you’re a savvy editor.
Frames Per Second: 60
- I recommend 60fps if you’re not interested in editing your footage; if you prefer to simply post the clips from your dive online for friends. 60fps is easy to work with and also allows you to slow down the footage by 50% for slow motion if desired.
- I recommend shooting up to 240fps (at 1080p) for anyone who understands and doesn’t mind editing. The reason is that you can still render video at 30 or 60fps, but with the ability to slow down that 240fps footage for amazing slow motion. You might as well shoot this high frame rate so that you’re ready for any fast action that might create a great slow motion clips (e.g. a sea lion jumping out of the water).
Digital Lens: Wide
Note that GoPro ‘Lenses’ on the HERO8 are the same thing as Field of View on previous camera models.
- The GoPro HERO6 introduced a zoom feature on the touch screen, which of course, isn’t useful underwater since we can’t use the touch screen. The HERO7 and HERO8 keep this feature. I prefer using the Wide Lens for GoPro for most shooting, however there are certain scenes that benefit from SuperWide (previously SuperView) and Linear (macro and small scenes).
- Feel free to experiment with other Lenses / fields of view for specific subjects. Superview is very wide and would be nice for shipwrecks, kelp forests and other large subjects where you’re close. Linear is best for smaller scenes like fish and sea fans. Try zooming in with Linear for even smaller subjects (but remember not to be any closer than 12″ or the GoPro won’t be able to focus).
Additional Underwater Settings
All the other GoPro settings can be adjusted based on personal preference. Video Stabilization is very useful if you find your video a bit shaky. It works well, although it does crop the field of view by 10%. Auto Low Light is useful underwater if you’re not concerned about manually controlling frame rates for editing. QuikCapture allows you to power on and begin recording underwater video with a single button push. The screensaver is set to 1 minute by default to save battery.
This video + articles discusses more essential video settings and tips!
Underwater Gear & Accessories
This is a breakdown of the gear I recommend based on two different ways to use your GoPro underwater. Of course, the GoPro is waterproof even without the housing, but you’ll get much better footage using the accessories below instead of hand-holding the camera. I haven’t embellished either – these are the bare essentials.
Super Suit Dive Housing
Anyone scuba diving or freediving past 30ft (10m) will need the dive housing. All the underwater filters are designed to work on this as well.
Retail $37.35: GoPro Super Suit Dive Housing.
GoPro Filters & Video Lights
The article features an in-depth buyer’s guide!
GoPro as Main Camera
Backscatter Double Handle & Tray: This is a great tray/handle setup so you can hold the GoPro steady with two hands. You can even add Ball Adapter or Flex Arms to the handles in order to use video lights.
Retail $69: Backscatter Double Handle & Tray.
Backscatter Sola 2500 Dual Video Light Package: Make it easy on yourself. This is one of the best setups for a GoPro kit with a compact handle system and powerful lighting.
Retail: $669. Dual Video Light Package.
Spare Battery: The GoPro battery lasts about one dive if you’re actively using it, so I recommend owning one battery per dive during the day. You could pick up an extra single battery and charge each one using the GoPro, or get this handy Dual Battery Charger + Battery for quicker charging workflow.
Retail $37.99: GoPro Dual Battery Charger.
GoPro Mounted to a Larger Housing
A lot of serious photographers like to keep the GoPro mounted to the top of their housing. It’s great for capturing a rare wide-angle moment when shooting macro, or for those who are more comfortable shooting only stills with their big camera and using the GoPro for video.
GoPro Underwater Video Tips
Ready to head out on your next scuba or freedive with your GoPro? Try to be cognizant of these three tips to help bring home some great underwater video.
Hold the Camera Steady
This sounds much easier than it actually is. We’re trying to create video, so that should be our number one thought. Each time we press record, we should be stable in the water and breathing calmly. This will help to keep the GoPro as steady as possible while filming the scene. Even gentle swimming will result in a sway back and forth with each fin kick. Learn more in my article on how to keep your GoPro steady.
Get Close to Your Subject
As we film through more water, subjects become more hazy and smaller in the frame. By getting as close as possible to the subject (but no closer than GoPro’s 12″ minimum focus distance), we fill more of the frame with the subject. Since we’re shooting through less water, the image appears crisper. The HERO6 has a built-in LCD display, which greatly helps with composition.
If you’re interested in marine life, be sure to read my Tips for Underwater Portraits.
Shoot with the Sun at Your Back
This tip is to take advantage of the ambient sunlight on the reef. If you shoot into the sun, everything will be a dark shadow (backlit). With the sun at your back, that light illuminates the reef, resulting in a much better image.