Exploring GoPro Photo Modes

It can be argued that the GoPro range of cameras are video capture devices first and stills photography devices second. That could certainly be seen as the case with the range up to, and including, the HERO4 Black. The quality of stills images were considered on a par with camera phones. It was a useful feature but for many it was never going to match DSLR quality. Not so with the HERO5 and later models.

Since the release of the HERO5, the quality of stills capture has taken an important step forward with its ability to shoot stills in Raw format. Raw format is a data readout off the camera sensor with no compression and processing applied. It gives you its maximum image quality and a fair amount of leeway when it comes to working with the images in programs like Lightroom or other Raw editing programs. Suddenly the quality of the images is good enough to consider having it as another option in your camera bag, for those tricky shots where a DSLR is just not able to go.

GoPro Photo Modes

Photo modes are broken down into three capture options: Photo, Night and Burst modes. The three modes each have their own settings which can be altered. On older models of camera, the various modes and field of view settings often meant a drop in maximum resolution from 12MP to 7MP or even 5MP. On newer GoPro cameras, still photos can be captured at full resolution.

Photo Mode – This mode allows you to capture stills as a single shot or continuous capture. Press the shutter button once to take a single still or hold the shutter button down to capture up to 30 photos at 4 photos per second. Like its video counterpart, Photo mode has a number of field of view options (FOV). Wide is its largest FOV, behaving a bit like a fisheye lens. You also have Medium, Linear and Narrow FOV options just like in Video mode.

Photo mode has the option to use the following advanced settings: FOV, Wide Dynamic Range (WDR), Raw Format and Protune. Some settings are only available in certain FOVs and Raw Format and WDR cannot be used at the same time.


Night Photo – This mode enables the capture of images in low light conditions from dusk to night. As in conventional DSLR photography, the shutter is left open for longer durations to gather more light on the sensor. Given the long exposures required, mounting your camera on a tripod is recommended. Handheld shots are going to be very blurry due to unwanted camera shake. The choice of settings is: FOV, Shutter, Raw Format and Protune. Some settings are only available in certain FOVs.

Burst Mode – The Burst capture mode is great for capturing fast action events. It works a little like the burst mode on a DSLR. You can capture at a rate of up to 30 photos in one second and this is its default setting but you can alter settings for: FOV, Rate and Protune. Some settings are only available in certain FOVs and Frame Rates.

Time Lapse Modes

The Time Lapse modes are also broken down into three options: Time Lapse Video, Time Lapse Photo and Night Lapse Photo. A time lapse is an event that is captured over a period of time at a specific rate. For instance, you could shoot a time lapse sequence of the sunrise where you take one still photo every 30 seconds for an hour. You can pick out favourite stills or combine them to make a high-speed motion video of the sunrise. Just like the Photo modes, the Time Lapse modes have their own settings.


Time Lapse Video – This mode captures stills at a default rate of one still every 0.5 seconds. These are then combined and converted into a video file at the default resolution of 4K. You can alter settings for: Video Resolution, FOV and Interval.

Time Lapse Photo – Like the Video option, Time Lapse Photo captures a series of stills at specified intervals. This can be used to capture an activity or event over a period of time. You can pick out your favourite shots or you can manually combine them to make a time lapse video, using video editing software such as GoPro Studio or Premiere Pro. Editable settings for Time Lapse Mode are: Interval, Raw Format, FOV and Protune. Options like Raw Format are settings dependent.

Night Lapse Photo – In this mode, it behaves similar to Time Lapse Photo but the shutter remains open for longer in order to capture more light in dark environments. The editable settings for Night Lapse Photo are: Shutter, Raw Format FOV and Protune. Options like Raw Format are settings dependent.

Photo Mode Settings

Here’s a quick breakdown of the settings available in the photo modes.

Field of View Options

Wide – Good for action shots to capture as much as possible within the frame. Does have the look of a fisheye lens but can be corrected in post-production. Captured at 12MP.

Medium – A form of digital zoom that enlarges the view to fill the frame slightly more. Creates a mid-range field of view. Captured at 12MP

Linear – The same as Medium FOV but corrects any fisheye distortion. Good for shots where there are strong vertical or horizontal lines and you want to remove the curved distortion. Captured at 12MP.

Narrow – The narrowest field of view with minimal distortion. Good for bringing more distant subjects closer to the viewer. Zooms into the centre of the shot. Captured at 12MP.


Rate Settings

30/1 – Shoots 30 stills in 1 second
30/2 – Shoots 30 stills in 2 seconds
30/3 – Shoots 30 stills in 3 seconds
30/6 – Shoots 30 stills in 6 seconds
10/1 – Shoots 10 stills in 1 second
10/2 – Shoots 10 stills in 2 seconds
10/3 – Shoots 10 stills in 3 seconds
5/1 – Shoots 5 stills in 1 second
3/1 – Shoots 3 stills in 1 second

Advanced: Wide Dynamic Range (WDR)

WDR allows for a greater level of tonal detail to be captured. It retains detail in the brighter highlights and darker shadows of a high contrast image. Available only in the Photo mode, it cannot be used in conjunction with Raw mode, which will have to be turned off to enable its use.

Advanced: Raw Format (RAW)

When this option is enabled, images are captured in 12MP in the GPR format which is a version of Adobe’s DNG format. A JPG file is also created at the same time to allow immediate viewing on your camera. The GPR files can be opened and post-worked in Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) v9.7 onwards and Lightroom 6.7 onwards. Raw format is available in certain Photo modes in Wide FOV and Time Lapse Photo mode where the interval is set 5 seconds or longer. If Raw is enabled, WDR cannot be turned on. Raw is not available when shooting continuous photos.

Advanced: Protune (PT)

When turned on, Protune enables you to access more manual control of certain settings, to optimise your images.


Allows you to access and alter the colour profile of your captures. You can choose either the GoPro Colour default or Flat which keeps all colours neutral and captures more detail particularly in the shadow areas.

White Balance

Change the colour temperature of your video and photos. Lower values such as 3000K will give your shots a much warmer tone. Higher values like 6500K will give cooler tones.


This determines how sensitive your camera is to light. It allows you to shoot high ISO in darker situations with greater image noise, or with low ISO in brighter areas with less image noise. In video the range is ISO 400-6400, for Photo modes it is ISO100-1600. In Photo mode you can specify a maximum and minimum ISO used by the camera.


This allows you to manually choose a shutter speed from the available list. Values such as 1/30 for video and 1/125 for photos mean the shutter is open for longer than values such as 1/240 for video and 1/2000 for photos.

Exposure Compensation (EV Comp)

This affects the brightest of your video or photo. The default EV Comp is 0 EV but you can make negative adjustments down to -2.0 to make the image darker, or up to +2.0 to make the image brighter.


Sharpness is set to High by default, but you can change it to Low or Medium. This adds pre-sharpening to your photos or video and can control the sharpness of details in the scene. If you are keen to edit your photos in postproduction, then it is better to keep the value set at Low.

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Mark Frost

Mark started work as a commercial artist during the good old days of Letraset, spray mount and having to process your photos at a local chemist. Having discovered his passion for photography, Photoshop and the wonders of digital image manipulation, he has not looked back. He is well on his way to owning more cameras than he’s had hot dinners.

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