Gopro Tips

Note: This is a continuation of a series of pages on shooting video underwater. The first page is here.

CLOSE UP and general wide angle Video/Photos with a Gopro?  YOU BET!  These were taken with a Hero 3 Black but the Hero 4 black has a lot more features. More toys to play with! These are just samples and are not finished or stabilized.

WHAT CAN A GOPR0 DO with Close up adapters? Go here to see.

WHAT CAN A GOPR0 DO without any adapters but close to the subject?  Go here to see.

Disclaimer: NOTHING WAS FREE! Okay, before I go any further I want to make this perfectly clear. I bought everything that I am recommending and received no products for free from any supplier or wholesaler. Paid the same bucks you will.


CRAP IN=CRAP OUT. Every photographer or videographer I've ever met who qualifies for this award never took the time to learn the basics of what they were doing. It's almost impossible to get a good photo or video without knowing a little bit about what you're doing. All it takes is a little reading and thinking. Even if you buy expensive closeup lens, Attachments, trays, arms, filters, etc. if you generally SUCK at taking videos, holding the camera still, don't read directions, etc., nothing stated here will improve what you do very much! 


You have to spend more money. Don't let this scare you very much considering that you paid between $300–500 for a Gopro camera or something similar. After doing a lot of research and using a prototype set up for over a year and a half I have designed a small compact system that you won't spend more than $250 for a complete tray, arms, connectors and video light system that will fit any Gopro 3, 3+, or 4.


DO YOU NEED A VIDEO LIGHT? If you're NOT going to shoot close-up video or photos you don't absolutely have to use a video light. But if you ARE going to shoot closeup or macro you will need a video light to get really good. I'll explain why in the close-up section.


VIDEO SETTINGS: The Gopro cameras have a lot of video settings and here are the most important ones. I've also tried to give you a brief explanation of what each setting is on a layman's standards.

Resolution, or clarity of the picture as seen on a large screen TV, is usually expressed by a number (720, 1080, 2K, 4K). Each camera has a part called a sensor and inside the sensor are tiny little squares or rectangles called pixels. They are sensitive to light. These pixels are represented by a number. Each of these pixels represents a certain tiny spot in the overall picture and it interprets both the color and the intensity in that tiny spot. Then the sensor combines them all.

Don't let this scare you as it's actually pretty simple to figure out. If you have an area that's 8 inches wide and 6 inches high the more pixels that you can put in this area the clearer the picture will be and the better the color will be. Almost all large screen TVs have a resolution of 1080.

So......what setting do you use? Use the 1080 setting. Although there are higher settings in the camera they eat up an awful lot of memory and are almost exclusively use for production or special effects. After editing they are almost always reduced to 1080.

Frame rate This is expressed by a number and the letters FPS after it (10, 15, 24, 30, 60, 120, 240). I previously told you that video is nothing more then a whole series of still photos that are placed end to end and crammed into a one second time frame. The rate that the camera takes each specific picture is called the frame rate and as you can see it goes from 10 frames per second all the way up to 240 frames per second.

To give you an idea of what you're used to seeing a normal television show has a frame rate of approximately 30 frames per second. Almost all movies are either 24 or 25 frames per second. They tend to have a slightly "softer" look to them. When you see video and it shows "stuttering" or "jerky" movement this is almost always due to a frame rate lower than 24.

Still don't understand frame rates? Substitute "blinks" per second instead of frames per second.

Usually anything above 30 fps is used for slow-motion video. Using any setting above 60fps will also result in using a pretty dramatic increase in the amount of memory used at the same time.

Here's what I recommend:

-If you're NOT using an editor and just showing your video right from the camera or the card I would set it at 30fps.

-If you're going to use an editor, which I highly recommend, you should set it at 60fps. This allows you to bring the footage into a 30fps timeliness and show the slow motion effect very smoothly.


FOV Field of view. This is the area that we see through the lens and it's expressed in degrees in front of the lens. Remember that the Gopro only has one wide lens on it. When you take a video or a picture you are using a portion of the field of view of that wide-angle lens.

The 3, 3+ and 4 cameras feature a super wide lens fov setting, perfect for shooting action shots, as the wide lens provides a huge field of view. It's fisheye effect enhances action shots but it also introduces quite a bit of distortion. If you want to reduce the field of view to a more normal presentation use the MEDUIM (127 degree) wide angle mode. This is very good for u/w videography.


Use the NARROW (90 degree) setting for closeup videos. When you choose the NARROW setting all you are seeing is the center 30% of the wide angle lens. This is good for closeup video BUT because of the sensors limitations it can result in "softer" edges" so use a video light with a wide beam angle. This spreads the light out evenly over the subject. No matter what any of the filter suppliers claim a filter reduces the light level coming into the lens which adds more noise, etc.

Using a video light (it doesn't have to be one of the big super lights) does two things. The extra light, which is very close to the subject, forces the sensor to operate as it does in a bright sunny day. Second, once you have the light basically aimed at the subject, it's wide beam means you don't have to keep adjusting the light and you can concentrate on the subject. See more info below.

FOCUSING THE LENS One of the really neat things about small video cameras like the Gopro is that it has a fixed focus lens which simply means you can't adjust the lens to focus on a particular place. Basically everything from 8 inches in front of the lens to infinity will be in focus. This applies to almost everything you do with the singular exception being close-up video. The in focus area (called depth of field) is altered because we will add more glass filters in front of the lens that magnify the subject. More on this later.

BATTERY LIFE: These cameras eat batteries (3+ and 4 models have much better battery life) so here's some tips. This might be long but these work.

1. Make sure you have the latest firmware installed on the camera. Very important. Repeat: very important. Go to the Gopro website here and follow the directions.

2. When you're not filming and don’t plan on filming turn the camera off. If you leave the camera in stand by mode it will shorten the battery life relatively quick. Try to think about what you are going to shoot, how you're going to shoot it, and then turn the camera on.

3. Use the lowest power consumption setting. That setting would be the (1080-30 or 60) setting. This will use less battery because the camera is not having to work as hard to take and store the footage you are capturing. Higher resolution and frame rates demand more power from the camera for processing.

4. Don’t use the remote. If you are using it above water (which sometimes is a lot of fun) you also have to have the wi-fi turned on.

5. Turn the wi-fi off. It does not turn off when you power off the camera. If the blue light is blinking it's ON.

6.The LCD screen also eats battery life. But it's damned nice to have.

7. Use the “Auto Power off Setting” Did you know that your camera has that setting? You can set the Gopro to shut off after 60, 120, or 300 seconds. When I’m filming I usually just manually turn the camera off as soon as I’m done. But if you forget to turn it off this setting will do it for you.

8. Buy more batteries and a dual charger.

WHITE BALANCE With protune off it's automatically set to AUTO and this works quite well for 98% of everything you'll shoot. It's called Gopro color in the 3+.

PROTUNE Set this to OFF. Yes I know that you can turned it on but this for those that are at the level of photography that know all about sharpness, ISO settings, etc. You can certainly read about this at the Gopro website as there's a lot of information there.

COLOR The brighter the colors we can get entering into the lens the more pleasing the video will be. Realistically at normal diving depths you won't get any real color from fish or other divers below 10' unless they are within 3–4 feet in front of the lens. Why? If you don't understand this go back and read the underwater photo section. It's all there.

There are a variety of "colorizing" filters on the market so let me try to explain what they each do. There are two basic types, red (clear blue waters) and magenta (green, murky) water filters. A red filter compensates for the loss of red(ish) colors. The magenta filter does the same thing for green water. The filters mount easily on the front of the Gopro.

Good: They can greatly improve your shots without costing you a ton of money. Should be considered a must have unless you love everything blue in your video.

Not so good: Any colorizing filter reduces the light by 33-50%. For general reef videography this doesn't have much of an effect but it sure does for night diving and very low light situations. It's also very important that you understand that these filters do very little in the top 15 feet of water and usually below 60-70 feet or so. There are one or two companies that sell filters to compensate in these shallower depths but these are mainly designed for snorkelers.

LIGHT We have some control over the light with the Gopro's but certainly not controls like shutter and aperture adjustments. Frame rates and what you put in front of the lens limit light.

Shooting wide angle When you have a relatively bright sky the normal 1080 / 60 or 30 FPS settings are fine. If it's too bright then you can put a neutral density filter in front of the lens and they will reduce the amount of light that's actually coming in the lens. We certainly don't need to do this diving as we want as much light as possible illuminating are subject and entering the camera.

Shooting closeup photography using an external magnification filter. A small powerful video light mounted on an easily adjusted flexible arm will greatly improve, repeat greatly improve, your shots. Some manufacturers have "combo" clip-on filters that rotate over the lens. One is usually a color correction filter, the other a magnifying filter. If you use both and shoot closeup you are severely limiting your "in focus area". This will drive you nuts. Why?

The normal lens on the camera has a focus area from approx 8" to infinity so you don't need to focus at all. Just don't make the mistake that an awful lot of divers do by putting the camera very close to a subject without a close-up lens on it. The result is a really out of focus subject. Best bet is to stay about a foot away from your subject.

However, a closeup filter or adapter put in front of that same lens is trying to focus inside that 8" area so the "in focus" area becomes very small. It could be as small as a 1/2"! Because the Gopro has a fixed aperature (f 2.8) it's lens will focus on the same points all the time. If you add a color correction filter your shots might become grainy if the light is low. The fish in this closeup photo is only about 1 1/2" long.

Adding the brightness from a wide angle video light and removing the red filter lets the camera see a lot more light so you get more benefits like detail and bright colors. Because you are shooting subjects close to the lens you want to have a video light that has a minimum coverage (beam angle) of at least 75-80 degrees. This wider beam should spread out an even amount of light on the subject.

There are now small video lights on the market that use either AA or other rechargeable batteries that have beam widths of 110-120 degrees with outputs between 600-1000 lumens. They also make very good dive lights.

The next section (coming very soon) will have a ton of "how-to's" and my recommendations for very good and economical systems including trays, arms, connectors, lights, closeup and colorization filters for the Gopro. We'll call em "Scubaguam Specials" and they'll be available for sale right here on Guam.

Click here to go to the camera systems page.