GoPro Underwater Settings

The GoPro HERO6 is a great underwater camera. It shoots 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.

Note: This tutorial written for the HERO6 but applies to the HERO7 as well! I’ve written initial thoughts on the brand new HERO8 but won’t have one to test until it’s released in late 2019.


GoPro Modes Explained

Best GoPro Underwater Settings

Essential Gear & Accessories

Underwater Video Tips

GoPro Modes Explained

Here we discuss the different GoPro HERO6 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 button will navigate through the other three modes and then back to video.

Video Mode:  For recording your underwater video. There is a submode (looping) in video mode, but this isn’t ideal for underwater shooting, since we generally don’t want to keep the camera recording all dive. Pressing the side button while in video mode brings you to Photo Mode.

Photo Mode:  The default photo mode is single image capture. If you press the side button again, you activate Burst Mode.

Burst Mode:  This photo mode shoots a rapid sequence of shots between 1 and 30 seconds, which is useful for capturing fast action, like a back roll off a boat or a breaking wave. The GoPro HERO6 can shoot bursts of up to 30 frames in 1 second at full 12MP image quality! Press the side button again to access Time-lapse Mode.

Time Lapse Photo 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. Note that you cannot yet shoot RAW format images in time-lapse mode. That would be so rad!

Lastly, if your time lapse goal is to add the scene to your video, you can use the time lapse video mode in the GoPro to save yourself the step in converting the photo series into a video.

Press the side-button again and you’re back in Video Mode. Simple, right?!

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

Best GoPro Underwater Video Settings

The GoPro HERO6 has 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 (my demo GoPro HERO6 came out of the box with 3% battery).

gopro hero7 settings

GoPro HERO7 Shooters:

You can also read my dedicated HERO7 Settings tutorial.

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).
  • 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).

Field of View: Wide

  • The GoPro HERO6 introduces a zoom feature on the touch screen, which of course, isn’t useful underwater since we can’t use the touch screen. Wide FOV is now situated between Superview and Linear (narrow), which will provide the best versatility in focal length for your dives.
  • Feel free to experiment with other 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 (on the HERO6) to save battery.

I could write tens of articles on all the various GoPro settings, but will leave these for you to experiment with. If you’re a bit boggled, send me an email and we can set up a private session to get you using the best settings for your shooting style and desired finished product.

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 $33.75: GoPro Super Suit Dive Housing.

GoPro Filters & Video Lights

GoPro Underwater Filters, Video Lights and Color Correction.

The article features an in-depth buyer’s guide!

GoPro as Main Camera

gopro hero6 video tray handles

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 $59: 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.

gopro dual battery charger for hero6

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 $46.97: 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.

To mount your GoPro to an underwater housing, you’ll generally use a cold shoe adapter, a clamp and a GoPro ball mount. Check out my Camera Gear Advice page if you’d like help selecting the best gear.

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

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.

More GoPro Tutorials:
keep gopro stable thumbnail

How to Keep Your GoPro Steady

GoPro Filters, Video Lights & Color Correction

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.