How to Take Underwater Photos with Your Phone

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Going snorkeling or swimming but don’t have an underwater camera? Just because you don’t have one doesn’t mean that you can no longer capture the beauty of the marine life you see before you. There are ways to take underwater pictures using your mobile phone camera without ruining it.


How can you take underwater photos with your phone? You can take underwater photos – and videos – with your cellphone by getting a protective pouch or a hard shell case for it. Even if your phone is labeled water-resistant, it is not waterproof, so you’d need a case to keep water from getting in.


However, other than the need to get a waterproof pouch or case, there are other things you have to know before you take your phone for a spin under the water.



Why Take Photos Underwater When All You Have is Your Phone?


People take photos underwater for the same reason they take photos of anything on land. Underwater scenes are beautiful and breathtaking, especially when there are colorful corals, fishes, turtles, and other sea creatures. And if all you have is your phone, it shouldn’t stop you from capturing this scenery so that you have something to remember your underwater experience.


Moreover, some people are in their element when they’re in the water. So even if you are just in a pool, you would want photos of your friends and family swimming, taking a dive, and having fun. Underwater pictures will add to the fun factor as you pose beneath the water. Such photos will also show some people in a different way than they usually are when they’re not in the water.



Taking Underwater Photos Don’t Have to Cost Too Much


You don’t have to get a GoPro or any of the year’s best waterproof cameras to be able to take photos in the water. These specialized gadgets are expensive. So, if you are just on a one-time trip to the beach or a snorkeling adventure that doesn’t happen often, you don’t have to make this kind of investment. Having a smartphone with a good camera to capture what’s beneath the water’s surface should be enough.


You can make your smartphone work for an underwater photoshoot by simply getting a waterproof housing or case that would keep the water out. There are different types of waterproof housing available in the market, and you can even get one depending on your phone’s model. And while these protective cases are priced differently, everyone can agree that they’re way more affordable than underwater cameras.


Of course, you’d have to temper your expectations. Photos taken using your phone won’t be as clear and crisp as the ones taken with a GoPro. Underwater shots with your smartphone are only as good as its camera. And even if you have a really good one, the protective case, the lack of lighting, and the water would diminish the photo’s quality.



What If Your Phone is Water-Resistant?


Others think that because the manufacturer has labeled their smartphone as water-resistant, they can just take it underwater.


By water-resistant, it means that your phone can resist water penetration and corrosion, but only to a certain degree. Water-resistant phones can withstand splashes of water and does not get easily damaged when it gets wet. Waterproof, on the other hand, means that water cannot penetrate it, regardless of the amount of time it spends in the water.


So, while some phones may be able to survive a quick plunge, they are not truly waterproof. No phone is.


What Does IP Water-Resistance Rating Mean?

Many models claim to be water-resistant and even indicate their IP ratings. These IP ratings define the level of a unit’s water resistance with regard to the depth of the water, and the time it can be submerged without being damaged.


The most common water-resistance level for smartphones is IP67 and IP68. Phones that are rated IP67 are fully dust-resistant and can survive in water one meter deep for up to 30 minutes. Meanwhile, IP68-rated phones can be safely submerged in water two meters deep for up to 30 minutes.


However, if you want to be practical, you may not want to test your phone’s limits and take it underwater without any protective pouch of case. Remember that water and any other liquid can still damage your phone, and, for most brands, this type of damage is generally not covered under warranty.



Choosing a Waterproof Case for Your Phone


Waterproof housings are transparent on both sides to allow camera use and screen preview. They are also made of materials that allow for screen sensitivity, which means that you could still operate the touchscreen functions of your phone even if it is inside the case. Most of all, the seams of these waterproof housings can be sealed tight to keep the water out.


However, not all waterproof phone cases are created equal. So, don’t just buy the first one you see in a gadget shop. You have to pick the right one for your phone model, do some research and check which ones have high ratings, and look for one that has an opt-in or free warranty for water damage.


You should also take the time to read a product’s description. There are phone cases that claim to be waterproof but are just water- or splash-resistant. This means that you can take your phone and snap some shots while strolling by the beach or lounging by the poolside and not worry about sand or drops of water getting in, but you will still have to leave it when you go for a dip.


Hard Case or Pouch?

If you have the budget for it, get a hard case that is made of an impact-resistant polycarbonate shell with a rubberized surface. There are also cases with heavy-duty metal, TPU, or silicone frame. Most hard cases are made to fit specific phone models.


Now, if you want the most budget-friendly option, there are very affordable plastic pouches that are designed to withstand extreme conditions underwater. These pouches are universal and would accommodate most phone models. The best thing about most pouches is that they come with a lanyard so you could just wear them around your neck and leave your hands free when you’re not taking pictures.



Things to Do Before Taking Underwater Photos with Your Phone


You already have a waterproof housing for your phone, so should you now grab your snorkel and head to the beach? Not too fast. There are a few things you may want to do first:

  1. Test your phone and waterproof case. Before you subject your phone to harsh underwater conditions, take it for a test drive in the tub or perhaps in a basin of water. See if the product is sealed well and effectively keeps the water from getting inside. In case it fails, at least freshwater is easier on phones than saltwater.
  2. Water leaks either mean you didn’t seal the housing properly or the product is defective. If it’s the latter, you should get a replacement or an entirely different product.

  3. Study your equipment and experiment with underwater shots. Go to an outdoor pool and try taking underwater pictures. See which phone and camera settings would work best for your underwater photos, know which angles are comfortable for you while you swim and hold your phone, and acquaint yourself with your phone’s limitations underwater. By studying your equipment and practicing, you would be able to take perfect underwater shots in no time.

  4. Charge your phone before you shoot. Once you are already at the location, make sure your phone is fully charged before you jump into the water. You wouldn’t want your phone to die on you just as you are finally ready to take a close-up shot of a sea turtle.

  5. Clean the front of your phone’s camera. Wipe the camera before you put it inside the case or pouch. This would ensure clearer and brighter images.

  6. Consider your surroundings. Read up on local weather forecasts before you hit the open waters. Make sure it’s going to be nice and sunny outside while you’re on your underwater adventure, but above all, make sure it’s going to be safe. No rains, no riptide advisories, no strong waves.

  7. You may also want to get a feel of your immediate surroundings first, such as the number of swimmers and boaters. You wouldn’t want any random swimmer’s feet showing up in several of your photos.



Tips on How to Take Good Underwater Photos with Your Phone


The quality of your underwater photos may be compromised or affected by certain factors. Even if your phone has the latest built-in camera, your photos may not be as crisp and clear as they would be above water. This is due to the additional layer of glass or plastic covering the lens of your camera, the poor lighting conditions underwater, the limited touchscreen functionality, and your lack of flexibility when it comes to taking the perfect angle.

Here are a few tips on how you can take good photos underwater using your phone:


  • Schedule your swim or underwater activity for mid-morning to mid-afternoon. During this time, the sun is bright, and you will have absolute underwater visibility. You will be able to optimize natural light coming into the water.

  • Going underwater at around 10 a.m. or 2 p.m. means that the sun’s rays are coming from behind you or from a slanted angle, so you wouldn’t have as much problem with glare as when you’re shooting at noontime. On the other hand, sunlight penetrates the water deeper at noon, so shooting underwater at this time will give you more light.

  • Open the camera before you go underwater. The moment your phone goes beneath the water’s surface, your touchscreen functions will be useless. So, make sure to open your camera app before taking a dive and use the volume buttons on the side as shutter release or to click the camera.
    And when you are shooting fast-moving subjects underwater, take photos in burst mode. You can do this by holding the volume button down.

  • Get creative with your shots. For example, try positioning yourself beneath your subject to capture the reflection of the water. You can also experiment with shots taken half above the surface of the water and half under, to show the interesting contrast between the two.
  • Moreover, you should take close-up shots of your subject, whether they are fishes, corals, turtles, and shells. Getting close to your subject would help you maintain the sharpness and the color of your shot. You wouldn’t want to waste your shots on what would appear to be mere specks of dust under the sea.
  • Have fun, but don’t harm sea creatures. Don’t chase and scare the fishes away. Also, keep in mind that not all creatures want to be touched by humans. If you are not sure about whether your presence is appreciated by marine life in a particular spot, just move to another area.


Other Things to Consider


If you want to photograph marine wildlife with natural lighting, you should also check on these things:


Water clarity. Calm saltwater tends to be the clearest, while freshwater tends to have the least clarity. While an outdoor swimming pool appears to be clear, you may find your photos blurry or saturated. That’s because pool water contains chemicals that your naked eyes couldn’t see.


Harmful or unfriendly marine life. Find out in advance whether there are marine creatures that can be harmful, and if there are, better not go underwater at all. For example, in some places, and during certain times of the year, there could be jellyfish whose stings can be fatal. You should also watch out for sea urchins. While they are not dangerous, stepping on one is not a pleasant experience.


Waves. To take great underwater photos, you would ideally want the water to be as calm as possible. However, you should bear in mind that while the water’s surface can appear calm when viewed from the shore, it may actually be quite rough.


Currents. It is in your best interest to avoid currents, especially rip currents, as they can be very strong and dangerous. You can find out in advance where you can expect them.


Seafloor. Is the seafloor sandy or rocky? Knowing which portion of the waters has sandy and rocky bottoms would help you decide how to approach your photoshoot. A sandy seafloor can reflect sunlight better. However, there will be more silt floating in the water. A rocky seafloor, on the other hand, reflects less sunlight, but it will give you clearer water. A rocky bottom would also be harder to stand on.



Other Accessories You Might Need


Aside from the waterproof housing, you may want to get a few more accessories to help with your photoshoot. Investing in additional accessories might be practical if you intend to do similar shoots in the future or if you are in an extended vacation that involves plenty of beach and water-related activities.


You can get a selfie stick or monopod that is compatible with your waterproof phone housing. It will be hard to keep your hand steady while you’re swimming, floating, or walking underwater, and this accessory will help with that. A monopod of selfie stick will keep your hand and phone stable as you create pan shots under the water.


It is also crucial that you choose a waterproof housing with a lanyard or a wrist strap, or at least a slot for you to attach a strap. This is because you would need to protect your phone from falling into the deep, especially if you are snorkeling and don’t have a diver with you. As an alternative, you can get a floating hand strap.


Of course, you would also have to consider your clothing. It only makes sense for you to wear a wetsuit or close-fitting garments. Anything loose could get in the way of your shots as it tends to float around you when you’re underwater.



Final Note


Now that you are equipped to take underwater photos as planned, one last thing you need to do is to learn how to anticipate key moments. And there’s no better to do this than through practice. The more you take photos, the better you will become at knowing when to expect a key moment, allowing you enough time to point your camera and shoot your subject right when the action happens.


And because we are talking about underwater photos, you should learn to embrace distorted, blurry, or dark images. These photos may not be perfect in your eyes, but they would look raw and real.


Underwater photography, no matter what camera you are using, would take time, patience, and practice to master. The more you get comfortable with your equipment – which, in this case, is your smartphone – the better images you’ll take. Experience will teach you about lighting conditions, composition, and angles. And perhaps when you have more time, you will get to master editing techniques, too.

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