GoPro Underwater Settings

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 syncs easily with the GoPro Quik mobile app and the body is even waterproof down to 33ft (10m) before adding the protective 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.

See my GoPro Underwater Accessory Guide below to ensure you have the best setup for scuba, freediving, or snorkeling.


Which GoPro is Best for Underwater Video?

The GoPro HERO12 Black is the newest camera, released in September 2023. It offers some key upgrades over the HERO11 that I detail in this article. Beginners will like the ability to rename custom presets and advance shooters will enjoy using improved GP-Log color space. The camera ships in Easy mode, which makes it, well, easy for beginners to start shooting right out of the box.

Should you purchase the HERO 12 , HERO 11 , or HERO 10?

I recommend the HERO12 Black or HERO11 Black due to the increased sensor size over the previous 10. And since the HERO12 is just a bit more than the 11, go with the HERO12 for the upgrades mentioned above.

Be sure to also consider a Smartphone Housing for your iOS or Android phone if you’re looking for an easy, compact way to shoot underwater photo and video.


Note: This tutorial has been rewritten for the GoPro HERO12 Black, however much of this applies to the HERO11, 10, and 9. I’ve included a section on settings for older GoPros or you can read my previous settings articles for the older GoPro HERO8, HERO7.


Sections:

GoPro Best Settings Video

Initial Setup + Quik App

Easy Controls + Basic Camera Settings

Pro Controls: Presets + Menu Setup

Best GoPro Underwater Settings

How to Change GoPro Presets in the Dive Housing

Video Settings for Older GoPros


Essential GoPro Gear

Best Filters and Video Lights

GoPro Tray & Handle Systems

Underwater Video Tips


Featured Video

GoPro Best Settings for Underwater Video

Initial GoPro Setup

GoPro’s Quik app has become essential for using the GoPro for a few reasons, but it’s now required to update the firmware on your HERO12 prior to use. It also guides you easily through the setup workflow.

Once you turn the GoPro on, select your language, agree to legal stuff no one reads, and you will be prompted to sync the camera to GoPro Quik. This is very intuitive – just follow the instructions in Quik once you open it. You will then be led through the firmware download and upload phases and prompted to subscribe to GoPro’s cloud (I decline) prior to using the camera. It takes about 5 minutes.

At this point you’re ready to take your GoPro HERO12 underwater! The camera is set to Easy Controls, which uses default settings that will already bring home great photo and video (4K, 30fps, wide lens, HyperSmooth image stabilization). You can start diving and shooting at this point, however if you’re interested in more custom settings you will want to enable Pro Controls for full access to menu settings and custom Presets for different shooting situations and more. Pros will want to go a step further with Protune.

We will discuss Easy Controls and Pro Controls in the Best GoPro Underwater Settings section of this article.

Should you Keep Using the Quik App?

After the initial GoPro setup you don’t need the Quik app, however I find it very useful for the following:

  1. Quickly review and share your footage on your phone or tablet, edit if desired, and share to social media. I love the ability to quickly transfer clips to my phone even though I still do a full SD card download at the end of the day.
  2. GoPro Quik lets you set and name custom presets, configure Protune settings, and adjust basically everything else on the camera. The app experience is nice, easy to understand and navigate, and much larger to see, so there’s no need to swipe around on the little camera LCD screen.
  3. Advanced editing, including adjusting Lens effects (e.g. changing from Wide to Linear lens to remove barrel distortion) and color correcting underwater footage.
  4. Customizing Preset names. Editing Preset names can only be done using Quik.

Surface users will find even more features in the app, particularly for controlling the camera for live streaming or other topside photo/video applications.

GoPro Quik app screens using HERO12 camera
Several screens showing the simple user interface of the GoPro Quik app with the HERO12 camera.

Easy Controls & Basic Camera Settings

Most recent GoPro cameras, including the HERO12 Black, have three modes: Video, Photo, and Timelapse.

By default, turning on your GoPro will enable video mode. There are two ways you can switch between modes. You can swipe sideways across the screen to scroll through the three modes or (if in the dive housing underwater) you can push the side button.

As mentioned above, the camera ships in Easy Controls mode, which effectively turns the GoPro into an automatic point and shoot camera. This is perfect for people who want great photos, videos, and/or time lapses with minimal worry about changing settings.

(If you’re looking for advanced settings, scroll to the Pro Controls section.)

Camera Preferences

Camera Preferences can be accessed using the Quik app or via the camera LCD. In the app, make sure you are connected to your HERO12 and then tap the cog icon to open the menu.

Below are a few recommendations worth highlighting:

Controls: Easy

Bit Rate: High

Bit Depth: 8-Bit (10-Bit is only recommended if you will be color grading a flat color profile)

Auto Off: 5 MIN (*change to 1 MIN if you only shoot occasionally and want maximum battery life)

Beeps: Mute

LCD Brightness: 100%

Voice Control: Off

Set Date & Time: Do this!

Video Mode

Video mode is the default shooting mode on the camera. When the camera is set to Easy Control the default video settings are 4K, 30fps, and Wide Lens, which are great for standard underwater shooting and quick editing on your phone.

You can adjust these settings using the Quik App or the back LCD of the camera.

Video: Standard Quality 4K can be changed to Highest Quality 5.3K for increased resolution. I recommend leaving this at 4K unless you want the ability to punch in while still exporting a final video in 4K resolution.

Lens: Wide lens (16-34mm) is the default, but you can also choose Superview (16mm), Hyperview (12mm), Linear (Rectilinear 19-39mm), and Linear + Horizon Lock.

For general wide angle underwater video I recommend the Wide lens. The fisheye effect this creates is beneficial underwater since we generally want to be close to our subject, even for wide compositions. You can always convert the Wide lens footage to Linear during post-processing if you don’t like the barrel distortion (e.g. if it bends kelp fronds or pier pilings).

For macro underwater video I recommend the Linear lens in order to magnify the scene as much as possible, while removing lens barrel distortion. The Linear lens, paired with the Backscatter FLIP12 Filter Kit, allows you to capture excellent macro video!

Other settings can also be changed but aren’t as relevant for underwater shooters, including Framing and Slow Motion (slow motion can’t be accessed in the dive housing when using Easy Controls).

Recent GoPro cameras default to Quikcapture, which means that if the camera is OFF and you press the shutter button, the camera will turn on and begin recording video immediately. This is really convenient underwater when scuba diving or freediving.

Photo Mode

The GoPro HERO12 shoots 27MP still photos. The default photo setting in Easy Controls mode is SuperPhoto, which is an automatic photo mode that allows the GoPro to pick the best settings and image processing options for your shot. Simple!

Photo mode offers two lens choices: Wide and Linear. Since these can’t be adjusted once the GoPro is in the dive housing, I recommend keeping the camera in Wide unless you really prefer the Linear view without barrel distortion. Note that you can always shoot in Wide and change the photo to Linear using the Quik app.

Time Lapse Mode

Time lapses are used to record a series of still images over a long interval, displayed as a short video. They’re a great way to show the passage of time, like condensing a sunset scene into a few seconds, or to show marine life movement over a long period of time, like how much a starfish or anemone moves during 30 minutes.

Underwater, I find the time lapse mode useful in capturing photos at the perfect moments without worrying about pushing the shutter at one precise moment. Since time lapse mode will keep shooting photos every half or full second, I can start the sequence by pushing the shutter button and pointing the camera at the moving subject. Later I’ll review the many images to find the one that captures the best moment.

The default time lapse setting in Easy Control mode is TimeWarp at ‘Real Speed’. This helps you capture basic time lapses that are saved on the GoPro as a video file. Other settings are more focused on land use.

My lens recommendations for time lapses vary. I would default to the Wide lens underwater, Linear for surface time lapses, and even Linear + Horizon Lock if shooting a time lapse from a moving boat or vehicle.

whale shark photo with gopro
A whale shark opens wide while feeding on plankton in the Sea of Cortez. Shot in time lapse mode on the GoPro HERO5 Black.

Pro Controls: Presets and Menu Setup

GoPro Pro Controls mode offers more settings choices than Easy Controls and allow you to create and toggle between several Presets (pre-configured settings for specific shots). While it may seem intimidating to use Pro Controls at first, once you create a couple Presets you’ll be able to capture footage that matches your vision with the same single button tap.

GoPro Presets must be created using the camera LCD screen. After that, you can update Preset settings and customize the Preset names in either the Quik app or on the camera LCD screen.

Camera Preferences

Camera Preferences are the same in Pro Controls as in Easy Controls, which are highlighted in the Preferences section above. The one exception is that those who plan to do some color correction or color grading during post-processing should change Bit Depth from 8-Bit to 10-Bit.

How to Create a New Preset

In video mode on your GoPro HERO12, tap the oval video Preset button at the bottom of the screen. A list of your Presets is displayed and at the bottom is an option to Create New Preset.

You can configure all the settings here or save the Preset, open it in Quik and tap the pencil icon to configure it and/or rename it using the app interface.

Standard, HDR, & Log Profiles

The HERO12 is the first GoPro to offer HDR video (High Dynamic Range), allowing you to maximize exposure in the brightest and darkest areas of the video scene. The HERO12 does this by shooting underexposed and overexposed video at the same time and combining them as the video is being recorded so that the scene contains more data from the light point to the dark point in the frame.

It’s important to note that GoPro’s HDR video imports into your video editing software in a standard color space (Rec709) for seamless compatibility while editing.

The HERO12 is also the first GoPro to offer GP-Log – a flat color profile that records more data on the sensor but must be color graded. This is a fantastic development for advanced GoPro shooters!

Choosing to create your Preset in a Standard, HDR, or Log profile is up to you as there are pros and cons to each. Below is a quick profile overview before I share my favorite Presets.

Standard Profiles: These have the most selection of resolution and frame rates (e.g. for creating slow motion).

HDR Profiles: Highlights and shadows may benefit from the HDR shooting, but you sacrifice resolution and frame rates. Because HDR requires a lot more processing power than standard video, I’ve found that image stabilization suffers on the Hero12 when shooting HDR video underwater where movement is inherent.

Log Profiles: These can help serious editors color grade footage for best exposure, colors, and color matching between multiple cameras.

The best GoPro settings for underwater video need to be organized into Presets based on specific shooting scenes. Below are my favorite settings Presets.

Note that I have not included GP-Log profiles because those are for divers with serious color grading skills.

General Underwater Video (ambient light near surface)

When to use this Preset: General underwater video while snorkeling, freediving, or scuba diving, shooting with ambient light (available sunlight) or video lights. This is an easy and versatile setting. 4K video is plenty of resolution while 60fps gives you the ability to create 50% slow motion while editing while still letting enough light into the camera to avoid a high ISO for most diving.

Profile: Standard

Aspect Ratio: 16:9

Resolution: 4K

Frames Per Second: 60

Lens: Wide

HyperSmooth: Auto Boost

Duration: No Limit

Scheduled Capture: Off

Timer: Off

White Balance: Auto

Sharpness: Medium

Color: Natural

RAW Audio: Off

Wind: Off

Shortcuts: Turn off all shortcuts (remove from the screen since we can’t use them in the housing)

Slow Motion

When to use this Preset: This setting uses a faster frame rate in order to create dramatic slow motion during post-processing.

Profile: Standard

Aspect Ratio: 16:9

Resolution: 4K

Frames Per Second: 120 (120fps allows you to create slow down the action 4x!)

Lens: Wide

HyperSmooth: Auto Boost

Duration: No Limit

Scheduled Capture: Off

Timer: Off

White Balance: Auto

Sharpness: Medium

Color: Natural

RAW Audio: Off

Wind: Off

Shortcuts: Turn off all shortcuts (remove from the screen since we can’t use them in the housing)

Selfies

When to use this Preset: This Preset changes the lens for those times when you can’t get the camera far enough from you for a wide selfie scene. You’ll get best results in open water where distortion around the edges of the frame isn’t noticeable. 60fps allows you to create slow motion if desired when editing.

Profile: Standard

Aspect Ratio: 16:9

Resolution: 4K

Frames Per Second: 60

Lens: Superview

HyperSmooth: Auto Boost

Duration: No Limit

Scheduled Capture: Off

Timer: Off

White Balance: Auto

Sharpness: Medium

Color: Natural

RAW Audio: Off

Wind: Off

Shortcuts: Turn off all shortcuts (remove from the screen since we can’t use them in the housing)

Macro Video

When to use this Preset: This Preset is meant for shooting small subjects when you’re as close as possible. We’ve removed barrel distortion from the lens by switching to Linear, reduced Hypersmooth since you should be very stable for these shots, and bumped up the resolution to 5.3K so that you have more flexibility to crop in while editing.

Profile: Standard

Aspect Ratio: 16:9

Resolution: 5.3K

Frames Per Second: 60

Lens: Linear

HyperSmooth: On

Duration: No Limit

Scheduled Capture: Off

Timer: Off

White Balance: Auto

Sharpness: Medium

Color: Natural

RAW Audio: Off

Wind: Off

Shortcuts: Turn off all shortcuts (remove from the screen since we can’t use them in the housing)

Change Presets in the Dive Housing

The great thing about GoPro Presets is that once they’re set up, and even fully customized, you can quickly toggle between them – even when using the dive housing.

How do you change Presets in the Dive Housing?

To change presets, click the mode and shutter buttons at the same time (or mode just before shutter). The presets menu will appear on the GoPro HERO12 rear and front LCD screens. Press the mode button to cycle between the Presets, then the shutter button to select the desired preset.

The GoPro HERO 11 Black and last few models have great default settings right out of the box. I generally recommend these settings but have included more logic, details and updates below. Be prepared to charge the camera before you use it – don’t assume your battery will have a full charge.

Underwater Video Settings

Resolution: 1080p

  • 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 unless you have a pro-level computer).
  • 1440 – 2.7K – 4K – 5K. Why not shoot these?  First, video at this resolution will most likely need to be scaled down to 1080 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 your computer is super duper suped up. When I shoot 4K (and now 5K video with the Hero 9), 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 and newer are the same thing as ‘Field of View’ on earlier GoPros.

  • I prefer using the GoPro’s Wide Lens for most video shooting, however there are certain scenes that benefit from Superview (big subjects and reefs) 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).
    • For focusing closer than 12″, check out my article on GoPro Filters.

Related Video Tutorial
Underwater Video Basics

Underwater Video Basics


GoPro Underwater Gear & Accessories

You need a small variety of accessories to take your GoPro underwater. I’ve created the list of essential accessories below as a starting point for any scuba diver, freediver or snorkeler who would like to spend some fun days filming in the ocean.

Below the essential accessories, I’ve shared links to several of my other GoPro guides, which each have their specific buyer’s guides for filters, lights, handles and trays and much more.


GoPro HERO12 Black
GoPro HERO12 Black Edition

The GoPro HERO12 includes some significant updates. These include new HDR video in 5.3k and 4k resolution, longer battery life (with Enduro battery), a timecode sync if you’re using multiple HERO12s at once, and as always, an update to HyperSmooth image stabilization. If you’re purchasing a new GoPro, I recommend the HERO12 Black and of course, the dive housing you’ll see in the guide below if scuba diving or freediving.

$399 | Backscatter | Amazon


GoPro HERO11 Black
GoPro HERO11 Black

The HERO11 features more megapixels, a larger image sensor, and more powerful image stabilization than the previous HERO 10. It also ships in Easy mode, making it easier for new divers to grab the camera and hop in the water without studying menu settings.

$299 | Backscatter | Amazon


GoPro HERO10 Black
GoPro HERO10 Black camera

The HERO10 is more powerful and features better image stabilization than the earlier HERO9 Black.

$249 on Amazon


GoPro HERO 12, 11, 10, 9 Protective Dive Housing

Anyone scuba diving or freediving past 30ft (10m) will need the dive housing. The GoPro HERO12, HERO11, HERO10 and HERO9 use the same dive housing, which means all filters are compatible. If you have a HERO9, 10, or 11 and are upgrading to the 12, you can simply pop the new camera into this same housing.

Retail $49.99 | Backscatter Photo | Amazon Prime


GoPro Dual Battery Charger + 2 Enduro Batteries
GoPro Dual Battery Charger with 2 Enduro Batteries

The GoPro battery will last one or two dives, depending how much you’re using it and if you have the camera set to turn off after a few minutes. This means you want several batteries if you plan to be out diving all day. While you could charge the batteries one at a time overnight, waking to switch them, I recommend getting this dual charger to charge two batteries at once, plus one in the camera.

The GoPro Enduro battery works in the HERO12, HERO11, HERO10 and HERO9.

Retail $59.99 | Backscatter | Amazon


GoPro Enduro Battery for HERO12, HERO11, 10, 9
GoPro Enduro Battery

This is the new Enduro battery compatible with the Hero 12, 11, 10, and 9. It has a longer battery life, particularly when shooting in cold conditions, which is great news for divers in cold water.

Retail $24.99 | Backscatter | Amazon


GoPro Battery for HERO12, HERO11, 10, 9
GoPro battery for HERO 11, 10, 9 Cameras

This is the regular battery that came with the HERO10 and HERO9 cameras. The HERO12 and HERO11 have switched to the Enduro battery (the 10 and 9 also can use the Enduro battery though). I highly recommend the dual charger and 2 Enduro battery kit above for underwater video, but am listing this regular battery just in case.

Retail $19.99 | Backscatter


GoPro Filters & Video Lights

GoPro filters are an easy way to bring great color into your underwater video and photos. These filters can be popped on and off of the Dive Housing, making them versatile in most dive situations.

Underwater video lights can deliver spectacular color for subjects that are relatively close to the camera. The article below discusses GoPro underwater filters, video lights, their differences, and even shares a Buyer’s Guide with my favorite filter and light combos.

Video Tutorial – Article – Buyer’s Guide

GoPro Underwater Filters

GoPro Tray & Handle Systems

The best way to carry your GoPro underwater is with a tray and handle system. If you hand-hold your GoPro or mount it to a selfie stick it becomes very difficult to keep the camera steady. The fact that you can use two hands with a tray enables you to smooth out this camera shake and capture crystal clear footage.

The article below shares tips to keep your GoPro steady underwater, plus a Buyer’s Guide with high-quality, affordable tray and handle systems.

Video Tutorial – Article – Buyer’s Guide

How to Keep Your GoPro Steady

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. Watch my video tutorial 5 Basic Composition Tips.

sea lion portrait with gopro
A sea lion pup smiles at the camera. Shot with the GoPro HERO5 Black in raw format.
More GoPro Tutorials

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.