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The best gopro settings for underwater photography

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Who doesn't know the GoPro? Ideal in and around the water, and of course when diving! The GoPro works very well right out of the box. You don't necessarily need to change your gopro settings for underwater photography, but it's still useful to have a few settings for the GoPro to adjust.

Is the GoPro suited for underwater photography?

Do you really want to focus more on underwater photography? Then the GoPro is not your best choice. (I'll write more about what you can choose then, later.)
This is because the GoPro performs best with video recording. The gopro is better with video than underwater photography, but of course that doesn't mean you can't shoot with it. I use the GoPro alongside my "big" underwater camera. Shooting underwater with the GoPro in between is great fun. I therefore use the GoPro not only to shoot video with, but also in photo mode. Sometimes you just have a situation where the GoPro comes in handy at that moment.

For example, when you are diving with your underwater camera in macro setup and a manta ray/dolphin/shark comes swimming by. Or you want to take a happy selfie with your buddy. You won't succeed with your macro lens, but you always do with your GoPro.
With a GoPro, you're always ready for action!

Is a gopro suitable for photography
Thanks to the gopro, I'm in the picture myself!

Which GoPro to choose?

We have a GoPro 10, meanwhile, the GoPro 12 has been out for a while now. And because the GoPro company never sits still, by the time you read this, a new version may already be out. In every new version, improvements have been made and sometimes the gopro settings for underwater photography are also slightly different.
Overall, though, it's pretty similar. I haven't found the need to switch to a newer type of GoPro at the moment.
We have a GoPro 10, meanwhile the GoPro 12 has been out for a while now. And because the GoPro company never sits still, by the time you read this, there may already be a new version out. In every new version, improvements have been made and sometimes the gopro settings for underwater photography are also slightly different.
Overall, though, it's pretty similar. I haven't found the need to switch to a newer type of GoPro at the moment.

Basic settings for the GoPro:

Almost all gopro settings for underwater photography you do once. You set them and can forget about them.

Go to the dashboard via your GoPro's settings: You get to the dashboard by swiping down. There you will find some general settings.
I change the following there and tell you directly why I do so:

  • Voice control off.
    You can use voice control to control the GoPro with your voice. You guessed it, you don't need it underwater.
  • Beeps off.
    I find beeps annoying, so I turn them off.
  • Quickcapture on.
    This feature is meant for video, but I'll give it to you anyway in this photography blog. After all, it is really handy! When the camera is off and you press the shutter button on top, the GoPro starts filming immediately. No need to wait. Handy for unexpected encounters.
  • Screen Lock off.
    You then don't have to keep swiping to activate the screen. Because you have your gopro in an underwater housing when you dive, you can't use your touchscreen. So it's a good one to set up.
  • Front screen options.
    with this, you control what can be seen on the little screen on the front of your GoPro. I do often have it off, because it saves battery. But I also really like it when it's on, because it's handy when you're filming or photographing yourself. A consideration before going into the water: do you opt for longer battery or do you want to take selfies?
  • Orientation.
    This determines whether your screen rotates with your GoPro. If you hold your GoPro sideways or upside down, your screen will rotate with it. I don't think this is important, so I have this turned off.

Connections and Preferences

Swipe right from the dashboard and you will get to Connections and Preferences. In connections, you can connect a remote or the GoPro Quick app, for instance. Under preferences, you can set all kinds of things like the date and time, the screensaver, the brightness and you will also find the grid.
That can help you with the composition of your photos, but after a few uses you'll get the idea and you can turn it off.
The most important among preferences is the: GPS -> turn it off! Because the GPS doesn't work during diving anyway and it saves your battery. If you have the GoPro 12, you don't need to look for the GPS. The GoPro 12 no longer has a GPS.

I leave other gopro settings for underwater photography at the factory settings, but feel free to walk through them with the manual attached. That way you'll know what they are used for, and maybe you just find it useful to make the display brighter, for example. To give just one example.

Saving battery life on your GoPro

Nothing more annoying than a dead battery during your dive! It always happens just when you really can't use it! Every second of extra battery life is an extra chance for that one unforgettable photo, so here are tips on how to extend the life of your GoPro battery.

  1. Turn on the GoPro as little as possible. Leave the camera off even while you are getting ready to dive. You can optionally specify in the preferences to turn the camera off after a while if you don't use it for a while.
  2. Turn on Quickcapture. See also above. This only works for video, but nevertheless very handy!
  3. Set the brightness of your screen as low as possible. Especially in dark water, you only need very little brightness. If you dive shallow in clear water, you might want to turn it up a little.
  4. Turn off the GPS and voice control. (Don't do it underwater anyway!)
  5. Turn off the display on the front of the GoPro if you don't intend to use it.
  6. Turn off your wireless connections. (you can find them in the preferences)
shooting with the gopro

Lens settings

In the lens settings, you can choose between
1. wide
2. linear
3. narrow
In video mode, you have an extra wide selection, which you don't have in photography mode. Choosing from these three determines how much you get in the picture.

  1. Wide
    With "wide" you see a lot of surroundings, like with a wide angle. You have distortion in the photo, all straight lines in the photo are bent like with a fish-eye lens. You can see this clearly when you take a picture with the horizon, that line is then bent. Subjects in the centre of the image appear larger, which is especially noticeable when shooting up close. Examples of things you want to photograph with this mode include:
    Underwater scenery
    Wrecks
    Big animals getting close
    Your buddy (also a big animal up close 😄)
    Or creative close-up photography where you also see a lot of the beautiful background.
  2. Linear
    With "linear", you don't see this distortion and have a much more natural perspective. The GoPro zooms in slightly, so to speak; the image you see in "wide" in the corners is now out of the picture. You'd be more likely to use this mode in situations where you don't want curved lines. You retain a more realistic image because you don't have the distortion of wide mode. For example, if you want to keep straight lines in your wreck or straight lines of walls or ledges. For large animals, you might not have enough reach, but average-sized animals do. For example, fish, anemones or parts of a reef. If you photograph your buddy, he/she will be rendered more realistically.
  3. Narrow
    In the "narrow" setting, you have even less image in your photo. This is ideal for smaller subjects. You have less surroundings in the photo and less background. You can't take true macro shots with the GoPro, it can't focus close enough for that. This mode does work well if you use an attachment lens for macro on your GoPro. I tell you more about that in the blog about accessories for your GoPro.

    In the pictures below, you can see the differences. The distance to the puppet and the gopro is always the same.
    First photo: narrow. The small scuba diver is the largest in the picture
    Second photo: linear. The lines in the background are straight
    Third photo: wide. The lines in the background become convex and the little diver looks even smaller despite the distance remaining the same.

Experiment with the settings on your gopro!

It's fun to experiment with these different modes. What happens to the background? What happens to someone's face? What distortions are you going to see?

Other settings for underwater photography with GoPro

  1. Burst
    That way, you won't miss a moment! With the burst, you can set the camera to take several photos in quick succession. This way you don't miss a moment, but once the GoPro has taken a number of photos in a row, the camera has to work for a while to process and save the photos. I usually prefer not to use that, because the GoPro then takes a little longer to save those photos, which means I can't take any photos during that time. The time and opportunities gained by taking several photos in a row, I lose again because I have to wait for the camera to save the photos.
    I do think burst is an ideal setting for when you roll backwards off the boat into the water. That way you have the perfect moment.
    But for an ordinary dive where you don't expect extremely fast animals like dolphins or sharks, you don't need to use the burst.
  2. Which image file do you choose?
    Op een GoPro-camera bieden de verschillende foto-opties elk verschillende voordelen en kenmerken. Hier zijn de verschillen tussen de belangrijkste foto-instellingen:
    – Superfoto
    – HDR
    – RAW
    – Standard

    Superfoto:
    This is an advanced function that automatically uses HDR (High Dynamic Range) and other algorithms to produce the best exposure and detail levels in a single photo. It is useful in situations with complex lighting, such as scenes with strong contrasts between light and shadow. Superfoto processes the photos in-camera to enhance details and reduce noise.

    HDR:
    This stands for High Dynamic Range. In HDR mode, the camera takes multiple exposures of the same scene with different exposure settings and then combines them into one photo. This helps preserve detail in both the light and dark areas of a scene, creating a more balanced and dynamic photo. HDR is useful in high-contrast situations, such as landscapes with bright skies and shadowy areas.

    RAW:
    In RAW mode, the camera captures raw sensor data without any processing or compression. This gives photographers maximum control over the post-processing of their images, as they can adjust and manipulate the raw data in software such as Adobe Lightroom. RAW files contain more information and offer more editing flexibility than JPEG files, but require extra time and skill to process. In RAW, you have most of the data in your photo to edit later. Most of the colour data remains in the photo, so you can recover your colours qualitatively better than with a jpg. Don't like editing and prefer to use them straight from the GoPro? Then shoot in JPG.

    Standard:
    Standard mode refers to the standard JPEG photos produced by the camera. These photos are processed and compressed in the camera before being saved. Standard photos generally have a good balance between image quality and file size and are suitable for general use.

    In summary, Super Photo and HDR both aim to capture high-contrast scenes, but Super Photo uses advanced algorithms for better results. RAW offers maximum flexibility in post-processing, while Standard mode offers a good balance between quality and file size.
    Again, experiment and critically examine the photos afterwards when they are on your computer.

Minimum distance from your GoPro to your subject:

Many people forget that you cannot shoot very close to your subject with the Gopro. There is some difference in model, but the minimum focus distance is between 30 and 50 cm. This means the camera can focus on subjects within this range.
For subjects closer to the lens than the minimum focus distance, your photos may look blurry.
GoPro cameras are just not designed for extreme close-up photography or macro photography of very small subjects, due to lens and sensor limitations. If you want to take close-up photos, consider using a dedicated macro lens or a camera with a macro mode. More on that in the blog about the accessories available for the GoPro. In underwater photography, you want to shoot as close to your subject as possible, but you can't get any closer than between 30 and 50 cm with the GoPro.

Light!

Always think about light. The deeper you dive the more light you lose, and you can imagine that in murky water you have less light than in clear water. You can adjust as many gopro settings for underwater photography as you want, but if you don't get the light right, you won't take as great photos.

The GoPro generally doesn't do as well in backlight. I try to keep the light from behind as much as possible. But if that's not possible, I also happily shoot against the light, you just get a different effect.

If you want to preserve colours in your photo, it is important to add light. You can do that with your dive light, but even more useful is a small tray with two arms on which you can attach your GoPro and two lights. Use a tray or a mount. Especially with a tray, you have extra stability for the camera. This is a big advantage when filming with your camera, so you get nice, steady footage. When shooting, of course, you have less camera movement, but it is ideal to put your lights on and aim properly.

Is a GoPro waterproof?

Yes indeed, a GoPro is waterproof up to 10 metres.
But beware! The old GoPro's are not waterproof at all!
So don't forget to buy a waterproof housing so you can still shoot deeper than ten metres. With that housing, the GoPro is waterproof up to 60 metres.

Just a few more practical tips :

Because you can't operate your camera so easily underwater, it's useful to include your camera in your dive planning. What kind of dive are you going to make? What settings do you want to set for it and do that before you insert the GoPro into the underwater housing. You will then still have dry hands and can immediately check the following:

  • Battery and storage card: Do you have a full battery? And still enough space on your storage card? Always try to charge your battery well in advance to avoid any surprises on the boat or just before the dive. I like having an extra battery so that I can change batteries between dives if necessary.
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