If you go snorkeling a GoPro is one of the best camera options to capture amazing underwater footage. Having used other underwater point and shoots, dive casings or waterproof disposable cameras I can only recommend to skip them and just go with a GoPro camera. Out of the different GoPro cameras the latest GoPro Hero 5 is our favorite camera. If you have a lower budget the previous model GoPro Hero 4 Silver edition is still a great pick because of the built in screen (compared to the GoPro Hero 4 black) and the included dive housing. If you are looking for the most compact option the GoPro Hero Session or GoPro Hero5 Session might be for you, but since you can't change the battery we usually don't recommend it since it will restrict how much time you can spend in the water before having to recharge it.
Below are your best tips and lessons learned from my own experience to to help you get the most out of your GoPro while using it in the water for snorkeling, scuba diving and other activities.
Get familiar with the GoPro
Not limited to the GoPro but I believe one of the most important things is to get familiar with your equipment before your trip (not necessarily memorizing the manual but just getting a feel for the camera even if you shoot in automatic!). It might sound obvious but I have met travellers literally unpacking a brand new DSLR on the boat not knowing anything about how to use it. Most of the time they would have been better of using the camera they are familiar with.
Get an extendable pole handle
There are many different mounts and handles for snorkeling (Wrist, Snorkel Mask, BCD, Chest). We found a pole mount with a wrist strap to be the best option giving you the most flexibility. The handle helps to stabilize the camera to get better footage. If you get an extendable version it allows you to get closer to things and reach areas you wouldn’t be able to get to otherwise. It can even serve as a selfie stick if you wish to. Make sure it comes with a wrist strap so you have to worry less about losing your camera and can focus on your own safety (I have seen somebody almost drowning trying to save his camera equipment while diving). There are other pole handles with flotation capability though they usually don’t extend and can't be used for diving because of the air pocket. A pole mount will also give you more movement flexibility than the other mounts.
Get REALLY close
Because of the ultra wide view of the GoPro camera it’s very important to get up close to animals and other things you want to capture so you don’t end up with a tiny unrecognizable spot moving around. You can zoom in digitally afterwards with the software but this will greatly impact the quality of your video.
Keep it powered on
Start filming as soon as you get into the water! It takes a few seconds for the GoPro to startup if it isn’t on already. When snorkeling this often is far too much time and whatever you wanted to capture is long gone already. If you disable WiFi and set the screen to auto turn off you should be able to continuously shoot video for over 1 hour 30 minutes.
Stay on the subject longer
In the beginning I made the mistake of not keeping the camera on the subject long enough. I ended up with footage that’s often too short to use. Usually you see something and there is a gap until you actually start filming or you are close enough. You also might realize later that the first few seconds of your footage are still shaky. So once you think you filmed long enough keep the camera on for a bit longer.
Keep the camera steady
Since the GoPro is so small it’s not that easy to keep it steady and nobody enjoy to watch shaky videos. I actually felt motion sick after reviewing the footage from my first snorkeling trip! There are different techniques to keep the camera steady. I’d highly recommend a small GoPro pole as this is a very simple way to get more stable videos. Alternatively you could get some more professional scuba rigs/handles for the GoPro to hold it with two hands.
Even though the GoPro housing is waterproof moisture can get trapped inside while you are charging the battery or changing the memory card. Since you usually can’t see this when you are putting your camera in I highly recommend to get some Anti-Fog inserts (silica gel inserts) to trap any moisture. Unfortunately the condensation always appears to form in the lens ruining your footage (probably since the camera body itself gets warm itself when the camera is on). Once you are in the water and you see condensation in the lens there isn’t anything you can do besides getting out of the water to take care of the problem.
Avoid water droplets
When you are snorkeling you’ll probably also end up poking your camera out of the water to capture the scenery outside or a sea lion that’s sticking it’s head out of the water in front of you. Unfortunately you might end up with water droplets on your lens ruining your video (you’ll usually realize this only once you review the video later). One simple solution to help avoid this problem is to treat the lens of the GoPro housing with Rain-X (the same stuff you put on your car windshield for water to run off better). This is even recommended in the GoPro manual.
Use QuickCapture feature
GoPro allows you to configure the preferred camera mode for the QuickCapture feature. With the QuickCapture feature you to start recording with the push of one button, even if the camera is turned off. This allows you to get going without having to fiddle around with your settings. By default it’s already set to video mode but make sure you adjust your settings as needed.
Use HiLight feature
When you leave your camera on to record everything you’ll end up with hours of video to review later. The GoPro comes with a highlight feature allowing you to tag a spot when you encountered something amazing making it easier to find it later. All you need is to press the Settings/Tag button on the side of the camera once.
Review footage afterwards
If you go on a multi day trip I highly recommend to review your footage every day on a bigger screen. Especially in the beginning this will help you to learn and improve your results (too shaky, out of focus, moved to fast, subject too far away…).
Get quality mounts
A GoPro is a considerable investment. To avoid losing it because a mount breaks I recommend to be selective of the accessories and the merchants you buy from. Some plastic can be of low quality and it might break or snap easier than others. With the GoPro being extremely popular you might also encounter many counterfeits. Of course there is no guarantee for quality mounts not to break so you should use another backup to secure your camera (e. g. tether your camera to something, use a floaty backdoor.
Use quality original SD Memory cards
After spending all the money on your new GoPro you don’t want to lose your photos because of a faulty memory card. Counterfeit memory cards are a widespread problem. Make sure you buy from a reputable merchant to reduce your chances of getting a low quality memory card. I’d recommend to order from vendors like Adorama or Amazon directly.
Waterproof SD Memory cards
Nowadays you can get waterproof memory cards often for almost the same price as non waterproof cards. Considering the proximity of your camera and equipment to water why not have the additional peace of mind of a waterproof memory card should something go wrong.
Bring a Laptop/Hard Disk
If you go on a multi day snorkeling tip it is extremely useful to have access to a laptop so you can review and backup your video data rather than having to keep track of many memory cards. You can quickly fill up your memory cards with the huge storage demand quality video have. Even if you bring enough memory cards backing up your data for safety is a good idea.
Carefully close the housing
When you put your GoPro in its housing make sure you always check the seal to ensure there isn’t any hair, sand or other dirt on it as this can compromise the seal underwater. Also use some light pressure when closing the back as this will help to close evenly without relying solely on the black hatch.
Get extra batteries and a wall charger
The GoPro only comes with a USB cable to charge the battery. So even if you already got a spare battery you wouldn’t be able to charge it without the camera. I got a cheap triple charger and spare batteries from Wasabi power which seem to last the same time as my original GoPro Batteries.
Attach a “Floaty”
To avoid your GoPro sinking to the ocean floor if you drop the camera or a mount malfunctions you can attach a Floaty to the back of your GoPro. I used it for all my snorkeling in the Galapagos. If you are using a different pole handle it might not totally prevent it from sinking but it usually slows it down considerably so you can catch your camera if you let go of it for a bit. One drawback is though that you’ll not be able to see your GoPro screen anymore with this setup. Nevertheless I have to say you’ll not really need to use the screen once you played around with your camera and know the approximate field of view.
Here is one of our GoPro videos shot while snorkeling with Galapagos Sea Lions. It was a great experience but the fast movement of wildlife and the excitement sometimes make you forget to keep the camera steady to avoid shaky footage.
To find the gear mentioned in this article continue check out our Must have GoPro Gear article.
We hope these tips are useful for your next snorkeling or diving adventure. If you have other valuable tips please comment or send us a message!