The Basics: What To Use For Underwater Photography

May 22, 2018




As someone who loves to constantly take pictures and work on improving my photography I follow a lot of professional photographers on Instagram to find inspiration and tips to incorporate into my upcoming trips. Recently I started to notice that many of my favorite photographers were not only taking incredible landscape photos, but they were also snapping some pretty amazing underwater photos that were not only vibrant and crisp, but also had lots of detail. I knew they weren't using just any old camera to capture such stellar photos. So after doing a lot of research and reaching out to a few photographers that I admire — who graciously gave me tips on what gear to use in order to get the best pictures — I decided to invest some time and money into figuring out underwater photography. 


What To Use For Underwater Photography:


While I know that some photographers purchase (VERY) expensive underwater housing units for their DSLRs I didn't want to go that route or risk ruining the camera I use for everyday photos. Plus all of the photographers that I spoke with said they use GoPros for their underwater photos, because they're lightweight and smaller than the palm of your hand. The newest version of the GoPro is the Hero 6 Black that goes for about $399, but I wasn't ready to spend that much on something that I wasn't sure I was going to use very often, so I opted for the older version the GoPro Hero 5 Black for $264. It's extremely small, has a touchscreen and is waterproof up to 33ft. The bundle I purchased came with a case, extra battery and GoPro head strap. (Here's a similar bundle for a GoPro Hero 4 if you want to check out another affordable option.)


I found the GoPro extremely easy to use and liked the fact that it has built-in WiFi that connects directly to your smartphone, which allows you to upload and look at pictures/videos immediately. It was also really nice to be able to have a camera around water and not have to worry about getting it wet — especially when I was on a boat and the spray from the waves soaked everything. Plus, you can use a GoPro for a lot more than just underwater photography. I loved using it for time-lapse videos of sunsets while I was in Aruba. 


Tip: Purchase a floating grip that fits your GoPro so if you drop it in the water the grip will keep it from sinking to the bottom of the ocean.

This was shot was taken with the GoPro at water level just as I surfaced from snorkeling. I loved the bubbles and ripples in the water with the sun's reflection.


To get clear underwater photos you'll need to purchase a color correcting filter for your GoPro. These filters are attachable and were created to help the camera white balance against the blueness of the water. If you'll be snorkeling or diving in water that's mostly blue you'll want to purchase a red correction filter and if you'll be swimming in water with a greenish tint then you'll want to purchase a magenta colored filter.

 Underwater GoPro color correcting filters

See how blue a photo is without a color correcting filter? 


I snagged a few photos underwater that are decent and aren't too blue, but they're a little too grainy for my personal taste —  I think maybe if I swim closer to my subject matter next time that would help quite a bit in regards to the sharpness of the photo. So I'll blame the photos not being perfect on user error and not the filter or camera. 

This was taken about 7 ft. above the sea sponge. The color turned out decent, but I personally prefer sharper images. 


To get split images where half of the photo is above water and the other half is below you'll need to purchase an underwater dome. I purchased an underwater dome port by Telesin. I chose this one because it came with a pistol grip, which allows me to pull a trigger to take a photo instead of trying to steady the camera while hitting the small button on the GoPro underwater. It's easy to put together and my GoPro fit perfectly. The dome's grip is a floating grip, which was another reason I chose this specific dome. 

 The water was extremely rough the entire week I was in Aruba, so it wasn't as clear as normal, which isn't ideal for split pictures.


Telesin Underwater Dome Port


If you don't want to spend the money on a GoPro, but want to be able to take pictures on your next vacation without worrying about dropping your phone or DSLR in the water it's worth checking out Sunnylife Underwater Cameras that are only $20 (some are actually less than $20 depending on the pattern you choose). 

Sunnylife Watermelon Underwater Camera 


I've got a lot more to learn about underwater photography and hope that the water conditions (again, it was too rough and windy) are better on my next trip, so I can actually get a decent amount of time in the water taking pictures. As I use the 
equipment more I'll continue to update this post. 



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