Last update: October 2020
At some point, you will probably want to use your GoPro after sunset. Or maybe before sunrise if you are a morning person like myself.
Like most other cameras, GoPro doesn’t really like low light scenes. It’s simply how all cameras work.
Luckily, we are not completely helpless.
So if you are looking for the best and most practical GoPro low light tips, this post will go right down your alley.
We get to do plenty of GoPro edits for clients that use our video editing services, and I can tell you right off the bat that GoPro is not a great camera for low light situations.
Since GoPro cameras adjust pretty much everything automatically when you turn them on you would expect that it isn’t much you can do to improve the quality of the footage or photos shot in low light situations, right?
But there is. And I am not talking only about the auto low light mode inside the menu of your GoPro.
Let’s start with the beginning, shall we?
Factors that influence low light performance
The basics of shooting videos in low light are the same regardless of the camera you are using. So why don’t we start with that?
Using a wide aperture will let in as much as possible. The smaller the number, the brighter the image. So an f/2.8 will get you a brighter image than an f/4, for example.
The opening of the lens will also determine the depth of the field. Lenses with a smaller f-stop (bigger aperture) will give you a shallow depth of field, while lenses with a bigger f-stop (smaller aperture) will give you a larger depth of field.
Lenses with a big aperture are more expensive than lenses with a smaller aperture and it will make it harder for you to keep things in focus.
So, that’s all there is to know about the aperture in a nutshell. If you want to know more about aperture you can check out this article.
The GoPro comes with a fixed f/2.8 lens. So from that point of view, it’s pretty good for low light situations because it allows plenty of light into the sensor.
ISO is the next parameter you can tweak to improve your low light videos. But this is a two-edged sword.
It might get you better results, but it can also go terribly wrong.
ISO digitally brightens the image, but it is not something you want to use unless there’s nothing else you can do. So it’s kind of a solution of last resort if you ask me.
The higher the number, the brighter the image will get….but it will also become grainy or noisy.
So an ISO of 400 will get you a brighter image than an ISO 100, for example.
Personally, I like to keep the ISO as low as possible and brighten up the footage using a video editing software. This leaves you more room to play around with the video in post-production.
If you crank up the ISO too much when you are shooting, you might end up with terrible looking raw footage. And at that point, there’s not much you can do in post-production.
ISO basically makes the camera super-sensitive to every bit of light it “sees”.
For more info on ISO, you can check out this article.
Here’s how different ISO settings will affect the quality of a picture:
Frame rate, or FPS, will determine how many frames your camera will capture in 1 second. The higher the FPS rate, the lower the amount of light that reaches the sensor will be.
It makes perfect sense if you think about it. Each frame will cause the shutter to open and close. When the shutter is opened, the light reaches the sensor and that’s how the image/frame is being recorded by the camera.
So if the camera needs to record at a higher FPS, it means that the shutter will be opened for a shorter period, which means less light coming in.
If there’s not enough light in the scene you are shooting anyway, even less light will reach the sensor when you are using a high frame rate. Therefore you will get really dark or grainy footage (if you crank up the frame rate).
Here’s how it works.
Lastly, but not least, the actual size of the sensor will have a big impact on your camera’s low light performance. The bigger the sensor, the brighter the image it will capture, as there’s a bigger surface to capture the light.
Of course, you can’t do anything to control the size of the sensor. It is what it is.
What are the best GoPro low light settings
OK, now that we know a little bit of the basics, let’s see which of all these parameters we can control with a GoPro, and what would be the best settings to use in low light situations.
I’m sure you love that about your GoPro. After all, you don’t want to be worrying about changing up settings while you are skydive, right?
Nevertheless, there are a few GoPro tweaks that will improve low light performance.
Use 24 or 30 FPS
The most important thing you can adjust on your GoPro in order to improve your low light shots is the FPS – Frame Per Second.
GoPro cameras can shoot in 30, 60, 120 and even 240 fps if you lower the resolution. That’s great for slow-motion shoots if there’s good lighting.
But if the lighting sucks, you will need to lower the frame rate.
So instead of using 60 fps or more use 24 fps. As mentioned above a slower shutter speed will allow more light to come it. Yeah, so much for those nice slow-mo shots, but that’s a compromise you need to make if you want decent looking low light footage.
You can still use the 1080p resolution, just go with 1080 @ 24 fps instead of 1080 @ 60 fps.
You can go out and film the same scene at 60 fps and then at 24 fps and look at the difference.
The 60 fps one will be significantly darker. It may also lack colors because there’s less light reaching the sensor.
Use the “Low Light” mode
GoPro comes with a built-in low light setting which will let the camera decide what adjustments it needs to make in order to make your shot look as good as possible given the light conditions.
Now, as mentioned at the beginning of this post, the GoPro uses a fixed aperture lens of f/2.8, so it can’t do anything about that. What it can do though is to lower the FPS and increase the ISO.
So when you are using the low light setting on your GoPro, even if you have set the frame rate to 60 fps the camera can decide on its own if it needs to lower it at 30 fps, for example.
So when you edit your video, even if you will have selected 60 fps on the menu, you will notice that you have 2 frames that are duplicated.
So that’s actually a 30 fps shoot.
Boost the ISO
I use the ISO to bright my shoots as a last resort solution. And when I use it I don’t like to go higher than ISO 1600 for videos and ISO 800 for pictures.
Otherwise, I find the shots to look too grainy. So I’d rather not shot at all or have them shot in a brighter place. Which brings us to the next tip.
Find a light source
Sometimes you are better off by simply finding a place where there’s more light.
Maybe there are some street lights you can get closer to or maybe you can shoot when there’s a full moon.
Either way, experience has taught me that most of the times there are ways to find a spot with better lighting. So instead of making the image brighter “inside the camera”, work on picking a better spot.
This might seem like a “daaaa” advice, but hey, it works.
If you can, lit your scene using an external light source. No matter how bad your lighting setup is, it will make the scene look better than if you would use a higher ISO for example.
Here’s an example of an external on-camera light for GoPro.
Here’s how to make it buttery smooth.
How to edit low light GoPro videos
Okay, so now that we got all that out of the way, let’s talk a little bit about the post-production part. Video editing.
There are a number of things you can do to improve low light videos in the post-production stage.
Now, this is not going to be an in-depth video editing lesson because there’s so much to cover, but here are a few things that will help:
If you can’t figure it out feel free to reach out to my video editing agency and we might help.
To recap everything, here’s your step by step checklist when you shot in low light with a GoPro:
- Find a brighter spot if you can and shot in that spot instead.
- Lit your scene with any lights that you have on hand.
- Lower the frame rate to 24 fps.
- If the shot is still too dark, increase the ISO a little bit.
- Or let GoPro do its thing by selecting the “Low light” auto mode.
That’s pretty much it. If you feel that I left something out, feel free to let me know using the comment form below.
Cristian Stanciu is a freelance video editor, owner, and post-production coordinator of Veedyou Media – a company offering video editing services to videographers, marketing agencies, video production studios, or brands all over the globe.