Tide Pool Fun with GoPro 6 Time Lapse Video

Captivating time lapse videos of tide pools with active starfish and sea urchins
By Bryan Chu and Mary Chu

I had the great fortune of growing up on Vancouver Island where my parents used to take my sister and me up to Tofino every summer or two. They used to get us to the best intertidal zones at the lowest tides possible, which unfortunately tended to occur at ungodly morning hours. I’ll never forget being woken up at 3 am, putting on our boots, grabbing our flashlights, and going looking for things you couldn’t find higher up the water line: moon snails the size of dinner plates moving along just beneath the sand; giant gumboot chitons (well, giant for the chiton world) cunningly stuck to the undersides of rocky overhangs; crabs which were, according to my Dad, of edible size and very tasty looking.

But probably my most enduring memories from those trips were of the countless times (during normal daytime hours) that we clambered over mussel-encrusted rocks to peer into one tide pool after another, looking for our favourite denizens. Each pool was its own little wondrous world, full of starfish, anemones, sea urchins, sculpins, hermit crabs, barnacles, snails and limpets.

Some of the large tide pools at Botanical Beach. Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II, 12-100mm f/4.0 pro lens.

Tide Pool Expedition to Botanical Beach

I was recently back in Victoria, and my Mom and I decided to head out to Botanical Beach to relive some of our tide pool memories. But this time we were armed with my OM-D E-M1 in an underwater housing, a GoPro Hero 6 Black, a Sealife Aquapod and a GoPro Hero 5 Black. Our mission: take some time lapse videos of tide pool life.

We timed our visit for a decently low tide which did not require waking up at 2am. Once we got out to the beach, we found a lot of wide and deep tide pools. We started looking around in them, hoping to find some really cool action-packed ones. I thought about the amazing footage in Blue Planet II of a starfish chasing limpets around, but we could not really find more than a couple of colorful starfish wedged into cracks (and they did not appear to have any plans to move any time soon). So we combed back and forth over the rocks for awhile, keeping a few feet from the breaking waves and looking for the perfect tide pool. But they all seemed just…dead. Not dead in terms of life, but dead in terms of movement. A few anemones in some deep pools, just sitting there. Urchins at home inside crevices and crannies in the rocks. Nothing really moving.

I knew that we had to get started doing something, as we only had a couple of hours of low tide. So I put my GoPro Hero 5 onto my SeaLife Aquapod, set it for 4k video with a 1 second time lapse interval, and stuck it into a 3-4 foot deep tide pool in front of some anemones, hoping they would do something cool when we weren’t looking.  

Exploring the tide pools at Botanical Beach. Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II, 12-100mm f/4.0 pro lens.

Slowing Down…

Then, as we returned to browsing back and forth through the pools in the area, I realized that I needed to slow down my thinking – after all, we were looking for time lapse video opportunities, not super-quick action-packed sequences. I was standing by a shallow pool no more than a foot and a half deep that did not look particularly special. But I made myself sit still and stare at it for a bit, and I noticed a little brown starfish inching its way over the rocks.

I called my Mom over, and we sat down to watch. After sitting there for awhile, we realized it was moving quite a bit. And there were limpets in the pool, and we saw them move when the starfish came too close! And the starfish appeared to be chasing the limpets!

I quickly set up my GoPro 6 for 4K time lapse video, on a 2 second interval. I set it in the pool in a couple of inches of water, on a rock overlooking the drama, and then we left to look in some other pools. Not having done my research beforehand, and with no internet access, I was unsure as to what frame rate the GoPro would record at. I remembered my E-M1 would do 4K time lapse at 5 fps, so I assumed it would be something similar. So after 5 minutes I figured I would have a decent amount of footage. Not remembering how to get the GoPro to play back, I could not check how the video looked. But I decided I should probably take some shorter interval time lapses as well, for comparison later on, so I set it for 0.5 second intervals. 

Here is a video I made of the best footage of the starfish in its little tide pool.

Time lapse video taken of a starfish in a tide pool at Botanical Beach, on Vancouver Island, BC. GoPro Hero 6 Black using 4K time-lapse video mode.  

Note that in the third clip, there appears to be some small bubbles on the lens. I was just using the GoPro without a housing, and the little lens cover that comes with it must like to collect bubbles when taken out of the water and then put back in. There were a number of videos I had with these spots in them. I am surprised I did not notice the bubbles on the lens protector piece, so I guess they could have been caused by light reflecting off of the lens protector. But based on what I saw in my footage I think it’s most likely very small bubbles. Next time I will watch out for this, for better understanding!

GoPro Farming

With both GoPros collecting footage, we went back and forth between the two tide pools to keep an eye on things…"GoPro Farming" as my Mom called it. I repositioned the GoPro with the starfish to keep tracking its wanderings, did a couple of anemone shots, and then after staring intently at a pool full of immobile sea urchins, noticed one of them was moving! So I grabbed the GoPro on the Aquapod and followed the urchin around. We went back and forth between the two "farms" for maybe an hour and a half.

And I was very pleased when checking the footage afterwards to see that some of the anemone footage had urchins moving about as well. However boring they may look at normal speed sitting in a crevice in a tide pool, they look really cool when they are on the move and sped up with timelapse video! Here's a video of the best sea urchin footage.

Time lapse video taken of sea urchins moving about tide pools at Botanical Beach, on Vancouver Island, BC. GoPro Hero 6 Black using 4K time lapse video mode. 

At a few points it started to rain, sometimes getting quite torrential. Fortunately, as born and bred Pacific Northwesters, we were prepared: rain jackets, rain covers for our packs, quick dry pants, and old running shoes that could get soaked. Good thing, too, as at one point we were a bit too close to the incoming tide and had a particularly large wave splash our feet.

What happened with my OM-D E-M1 in the housing? It stayed in my pack. It was just much too big to fit into a tide pool and capture the action, without causing significant disturbance or damage. With the starfish pool, it was physically too big to even fully submerge. 

Towards the end of our visit, we noticed a clump of gooseneck barnacles sitting in a pool which were feeding. We had never seen that before, so I switched the GoPro on the AquaPod to 4K video and put it nice and close, moving it around to get a couple of angles, and leaving it still for long enough that the barnacles would emerge and feed. 

Shortly after that, as the tide was coming in, we decided to put an end to our very fun and very wet afternoon. After putting things on the computer, I was very happy with many of the results. The biggest disappointment though was probably the barnacles; I had placed the GoPro too close for every shot, and all of the feeding footage was quite blurry. 

Good thing we were ready for the rain! Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II, 12-100mm f/4.0 pro lens.

What I Learned

1. Time Lapse Interval Timing

It takes longer to collect 4K time lapse footage on my GoPro than on my OM-D E-M1, due to the higher frame rate. The GoPro takes images on a set interval of seconds, and outputs it at 30 fps. Here’s how long it takes to get 10 seconds of footage for each interval setting:

  • 0.5 s: 2.5 minutes
  • 1 s: 5 minutes
  • 2 s: 10 minutes
  • 5 s: 25 minutes
  • 10 s: 50 minutes
  • 30 s: 2.5 hours
  • 60 s: 5 hours

I like the footage that is around 0.5 s to 1 s intervals, while I find the 2 s interval too fast. So I think I will use the 0.5 s interval in the future, as I can always speed it up in post-processing to make it equivalent to a 0.75 s or a 1 s interval.

2. GoPro Minimum Focusing Distance

I learned the hard way that the GoPro cannot focus underewater on any subject closer than about 12”. I wish I had figured this out before some of the footage I tried to take. I wasted a lot of time on blurry starfish and sea urchins, and all of my videos of the gooseneck barnacles were blurry. Rats! I am going to have to go back sometime with a macro lens for my GoPro, and probably should have read this article by Todd before going on the outing. 

3. Bubbles on Lens Protector?

Next time I take the GoPro I will make sure I wipe the lens protector clean after submerging it. It's best to always be vigilant for bubbles intruding on the shot. I don't recall seeing them, but there must have been small ones on the lens protector during a number of the videos, as I saw a lot while looking through footage for post-processing. 

4. GoPro Size Advantage

GoPros really shine when it comes to revealing the secret lives of tidepool inhabitants. Their small size allows you to put them into shallow pools where nothing else would fit, without disturbing the marine life. Even better, they allow you to get a really cool perspective that a larger camera just can’t get; namely, being submerged in a tide pool that is only a few inches to a foot deep.

5. Slow Down!

The most important thing I learned was the best footage from tide pools comes from slowing down, and finding the subjects which you never see moving around when watching at “real life” speed. Yeah, hermit crabs and sculpins are fun to watch when you’re squatted over a tide pool. They are cool in time lapses too, but a video of just sculpins and crabs would become very boring and repetitive quite quickly. In my opinion it’s really all about the echinoderms – the starfish and sea urchins – as well as any barnacles if you can find them (and get them in focus!). Limpets are also neat if there are starfish to chase them around, and I imagine snails would be cool as well (though we didn’t find any to video).

Thanks for reading. If you have any questions, feel free to drop me a line at bryan@uwphotographyguide.com!

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Bryan is an editor and writer for the Underwater Photography Guide. He loves any activity that takes him out into nature, and is especially fond of multi-day hiking trips, road trips to National Parks, and diving. Any kind of diving. He discovered the joy of underwater photography on a Bluewater trip to the Sea of Cortez and has been hooked ever since. He recently finished a 1-year "radical sabbatical" with his partner Lisa (both of them quit their jobs), which included over 120 dives, mostly in Indonesia and the Philippines. His very favourite underwater experiences include swimming with humpbacks in Moorea, being smashed against the rocks next to marine iguanas in the Galapagos, marvelling at the riotously colourful reefs of Komodo, freezing his hands off under the ice in Greenland, and exploring the never-ending wonders of muck diving in Tulamben and Anilao (where he was a Bluewater photo workshop co-trip leader).

Fortunately, Bryan and Lisa managed to avoid killing each other during their year of traveling together (though at times it came close). Now they are back home in Canada, planning their wedding and doing their best to figure out what they want to be when they grow up. Their main concern at this point is finding a way to not run out of money, while avoiding returning back to their old 9-5  jobs (oil & gas, government). Oh, and also continuing to support their diving and underwater photo/video habits...

You can find more of Bryan's underwater photos on Instagram at @bryan_chu_photography and on his website at www.bryanchu.ca.


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