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How to Take Amazing Underwater Photos With Your Smartphone

Updated on August 30, 2016
randomcreative profile image

Rose is a full-time freelance writer who frequently writes about education, special education, DIY projects, food, Milwaukee, and more.

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Taking underwater photos is a simple way to capture a few more of the best moments of summer with family and friends. From swimming laps in your backyard pool to relaxing in stunning turquoise Caribbean waters, your smartphone gives you the capacity to capture these moments from a unique perspective. Using your smartphone for underwater photography allows you to take pictures in a lake or ocean for a fraction of the price of a DSLR or diving camera. Learning the basics of underwater photography before pool season or your upcoming trip will help you take really great images you'll enjoy revisiting for years to come.

Buy waterproof housing

Most major smartphone manufacturers claim their phones are water-resistant or waterproof. Water-resistant means a phone will withstand a minor water spill or a brief stint in the rain or snow. It doesn't mean it will withstand a full submersion. If you don't have a waterproof phone, you'll have to purchase waterproof housing. Currently, Lifeproof offers some of the best, mid-range iPhone and Samsung Galaxy waterproof housing on the market, although there are quite a few other great models, too.

Lifeproof iPhone 6 Case Review | zollotech

Practicing with your smartphone camera underwater at home will help you get shots of wildlife, such as jellyfish, quickly so you don't spend the whole time fiddling with your phone.
Practicing with your smartphone camera underwater at home will help you get shots of wildlife, such as jellyfish, quickly so you don't spend the whole time fiddling with your phone. | Source

Familiarize yourself with your phone's underwater camera settings

It's really difficult, if not impossible, to see your phone screen clearly when you're completely submerged in water and your phone is equipped with waterproof housing. The water pressure forms a barrier that renders the on-screen shutter button useless, further complicating underwater shooting. Instead of using the on-screen button, use the volume buttons to control the shutter release. If you have an upcoming vacation, do a test run with your waterproof housing in a local pool or lake so you're comfortable using your equipment before you're on a snorkeling excursion.

You wouldn't be able to get this perspective of the swimmer from above the water.
You wouldn't be able to get this perspective of the swimmer from above the water. | Source

Seize the opportunity to take pictures while you're underwater

There's no question that waterproof housing is valuable for any trip to the pool or beach where you don't want to risk damaging or destroying your expensive technology. However, sitting at the side of the pool or ocean snapping pictures doesn't take full advantage of the waterproof housing's capacity. Getting into the water to document your dog paddling around or your daughter diving will give you a completely different perspective for some really vivid water imagery.

I love how the light is streaming directly into this image. The photographer has composed the image so the rays fill the whole shot.
I love how the light is streaming directly into this image. The photographer has composed the image so the rays fill the whole shot. | Source

Attempt shooting in varied lighting conditions

Typically when you're on vacation with your family, you'll shoot the majority of your images in full daylight with lots of direct sunlight. It's great to be able to get bright, well-lit, high-contrast photos. However, shooting early in the morning or during the evening will bring a whole new, often dramatic element to your photos, highlighting a different side of the trip. Keep your waterproof housing handy at all times so you can pull it out as needed and take advantage of multiple lighting conditions over the course of the trip.

Underwater portrait photography - first time tips | Matt Granger

Take a lot of pictures

When you're shooting with a digital camera, you should always feel free to take as many pictures as you like. You can delete the ones you don't want later. When you're underwater, it's really tough to see your phone screen, making it hard to evaluate your photos as you're taking them. While you're actively swimming in the pool or snorkeling in the ocean, keep snapping pictures. You'll be able to review them in detail once you're out of the water. You may end up with just a few keepers, which is fine. The more photos you take of the action while it's happening, the more likely it is that you'll have the few great shots. Photonaturalist has some great tips on this topic.

The photographer was ready to shoot as the scuba divers made their descent.
The photographer was ready to shoot as the scuba divers made their descent. | Source

Learn to plan for important moments

Preparing for a key moment before it happens increases your odds of creating a great photo. Before your husband and son jump into the water together or your daughter launches with her snorkeling gear, think about your composition so you're ready when the action takes place.

I love the black and white treatment of this image. It heightens the drama, which is perfect for the composition.
I love the black and white treatment of this image. It heightens the drama, which is perfect for the composition. | Source

Edit your pictures

When you're shooting people underwater, most of the time their skin tones look really blue, due to the fact that they're surrounded by blue water. A little post-process work will allow you to tone down the blue or get rid of it altogether by converting your images to black and white. A black and white edit also contributes to the drama of the images, giving your story more depth.

The blurred fish depict movement, which adds to the imagery.
The blurred fish depict movement, which adds to the imagery. | Source

Embrace images with blur or other distortion

As previously mentioned, it's tough to evaluate your images while you're underwater. Look at your lens periodically to make sure it's clear of water drops. However, when you're caught up in the action, you may forget and the water will go unnoticed for a stretch of shots. Water drops on the lens may lead to blurring or general distortion. Sometimes blurry faces or a distorted horizon ruins an image, but sometimes these elements create a unique effect that fits with the water imagery.

Like any type of photography or other creative pursuit, it takes time, practice, and patience to perfect your underwater smartphone photography skills. Over time, you'll become comfortable with your technique, allowing you to use specific lighting conditions, compositions, angles, and editing methods to create amazing images.

Underwater Photography - Point & Shoot - Ep 1/5 | Flow Synergy

Do you have any tips for underwater smartphone photography? Feel free to leave them in the comments!

© 2016 Rose Clearfield

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    • randomcreative profile imageAUTHOR

      Rose Clearfield 

      17 months ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

      Yep, there are underwater housing options for tablets!

    • profile image

      GalaxyRat 

      17 months ago

      This is cool! Can you do it with tablets as well?

    • Glenn Stok profile image

      Glenn Stok 

      2 years ago from Long Island, NY

      I found this hub through your Flipboard magazine. This is truly amazing how wonderful the results of underwater photography can be. And to think it's possible with a smartphone. The lighting conditions can really create interesting effects.

      As you said, one needs to take many pictures since you never know how something looks until you view it later. That's the nice thing about digital photography, you can always delete later.

    • rebeccamealey profile image

      Rebecca Mealey 

      2 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

      I would love to do that. Very cool.

    • cclitgirl profile image

      Cynthia Calhoun 

      2 years ago from Western NC

      This is awesome! And hello! Been itching to get back in the groove of hubbing.

      Anyways, these photos are really good shots and the info here is great. I've discovered that while I love taking photos with my DSLR, I *always* have my phone with me and it warrants learning as much as you can to take great photos with it. :)

    • randomcreative profile imageAUTHOR

      Rose Clearfield 

      2 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

      Glimmer Twin Fan, I hear you. It's really important to do your research and get a well-reviewed case from a reputable company. You don't want to buy the first thing you find or try to save a few bucks and then discover the housing doesn't work.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Oddly, it never dawned on me you could take underwater photos with a cell phone. LOL Shows you how little I know about technology. Thanks for the primer, Rose.

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image

      Claudia Mitchell 

      2 years ago

      Very cool tips! I would love to be able to take underwater pics. I need to get one of these cases, but I'll admit I'd still be nervous.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      2 years ago

      I never thought this possible but I see it can be done. It would be exciting to take photos underwater. As you say, even the distortions are interesting.

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