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Turn GoPro Videos into Photos

Updated: Mar 4

A month ago I went on a trip to West Palm, Florida. I wasn't planning on being able to get in the water but I finally had the chance to join some friends and go meet the bull sharks out there so I gathered the equipment I cound find and definitely didn't have an underwater photography setup with me. I know. I should know better by now. But, although I usually work with a professional DSLR, I will always believe it’s the photographer and not the camera that makes the photo so I decided to show you how to save the day. If you don't have a fancy camera or your equipment decides to act up on the day of the shoot (I wish I wasn't speaking from experience here), you can take great quality photos with whatever camera you have available, even if a GoPro is all you brought on your adventure and you are shooting underwater videos. Editing your footage into stunning photos can take your content to the next level, even if you are not using the same gear as the pros. In this guide, I’ll explain step-by-step how to edit photos from GoPro footage, transforming raw video into polished images you can post or print.

Starting from the very beginning.

1. How to Take Your Video

Although GoPros are action cameras, the best underwater footage you can get from them is taken when you are as still as possible, ideally on a tripod. I'm perfectly aware that might not be possible when wildlife happens but try to keep your movements simple and slow. This will allow you to get better and sharper frames. I always recommend against the red filter that comes with some underwater kits. It’s one more thing between your sensor and the image you are trying to get. Instead, learning to work with available light or using lights will help you get that red wavelength back as much as possible, near the surface or at depth.

2. Choose the Right Software

The next step is choosing the right editing software for what you are trying to do. I work best with Adobe software, and for the sake of this post, I will stick with it.

3. Import Your GoPro Footage and Select

Transfer your GoPro footage to your computer and organize it in a dedicated folder. Most editing software allows you to import videos directly, but if you are new to this, simple is better. I open up my video in the automatic preview software your computer comes with, or even your phone. I find the best frame based on moment/pose, details, and sharpness. From here I screenshot my image (Command + Shift + 4 for Mac users). If you want to open your screenshots in Lightroom or Camera Raw you will have to change the format by double-clicking on the screengrab to open the preview, then click File > Export > Export and cjange your file format to Jpeg.

4. Adjust Exposure and Color:

Underwater images without any modification are dull by nature, no matter how good your camera is. The medium you are shooting in is thicker; visibility is not as good as on land, even in the clearest water. For this reason, GoPro footage and screen grabs both need adjustments to exposure and especially color balance. I prefer starting with a flat image versus letting the camera enhance the footage itself, and you can modify this in the camera settings. I find the overall quality better if you can start with as much information in your file as possible.

Once you have your frame opened in Lightroom or from Bridge to Camera Raw, you can do all the modifications you need to bring back contrast and color. Expand your “color” bar and click on the color picker. Use the color picker to select your gray, white, or black, and then fine-tune with your temperature and tint sliders (I usually add some blue back).

5. Crop and Straighten:

Once the color is where I want it to be, this is where I start. I fix my composition by cropping the image to eliminate distractions, straightening if there are vertical or horizontal elements I want to use as general grids, and helping focus on the main subject. Generally, I would experiment with different crop ratios for printing, but in this case, I would stick with the social media ratios for the best post quality.

6. Sharpness, Dehaze, and Clarity:

We have established GoPro underwater footage can sometimes lack sharpness due to the wide-angle lens. Use the sharpening and clarity tools in your editing software to enhance details and make your subject pop. Be cautious not to overdo it, as excessive sharpening can introduce artifacts.

7. Fine-Tune Details:

Dive into the details by adjusting individual elements like saturation, vibrance, and contrast. And more importantly, use mask layers. I often start with a black and white mask to add contrast in the background and make my subject pop. This step allows you to fine-tune the overall look and feel of your photo, so don’t hold back on some experimenting. That’s the best way to learn the software. I will go over my Photoshop process for underwater images in another blog post. Remember not to overpower the natural beauty of the scene. Less is always more!

8. Save and Export:

Once you're happy with your images, resize your image (example below), save your work, and export the final underwater photo. Consider saving a copy in a high-resolution format to preserve image quality, especially if you plan to print or share your photo on platforms that support higher resolutions. I also tend to always save a layered Photoshop file and a JPEG, just in case I want to modify something later on.

How to resize image photoshop tutorial

Learning how to turn GoPro videos into photos is a rewarding process that allows you to relive and share your adventures with the world. By following these steps and experimenting with different editing techniques, you'll be able to transform your raw footage into captivating images that tell a compelling story without having to buy expensive pro cameras and underwater housings. Embrace the creative possibilities, and let your GoPro adventures shine through your edited photos!

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