When you go snorkeling or scuba diving, you’re creating unforgettable memories… especially if you get to record them on film. Even if you’re an accomplished “dry land photographer”, to take photos underwater (or videos) has a whole new dimension to it.
There are 3 main aspects you need to keep in mind to take great pictures underwater:
- Safety: staying safe yourself + making sure your gear doesn’t get damaged or lost
- Results: knowing what to take pictures of, and how to take quality pictures
- Fun: the whole art is to enjoy the experience while taking pictures.
When it comes to choosing an underwater camera and other photo equipment, there are a lot of options, and the same goes for underwater video gear. It’s difficult to know what you need – and what would just weigh you down (pun intended).
After over 30 years as underwater filmmakers, we created this list of underwater photo must-haves: these items are the foundation for a great experience underwater – and unforgettable memories afterward.
Underwater Camera, Waterproof Casing or Housing
Can I use my Phone as an Underwater Camera?
A lot of beginners want to save money by taking their smartphone into the ocean as a camera.
And while you can use any smartphone as an underwater camera provided you get the right casing… we highly recommend against it.
An ocean adventure is no place for a tool you also use every day as a photo album, to answer emails and messages, to call people, etc.
We see many people each year bringing their phones onto boats and into the ocean… only to critically damage it or even lose it forever.
Which Submersible Camera should I use to Take Pictures Underwater?
The good news is that you don’t need to buy a special submersible camera. You can use (almost) any “dry land” camera, provided that you pair it with the perfect casing or housing.
Learning to use a regular camera with its underwater camera housing takes some time, and also requires regular maintenance. This is the most expensive option, however, some camera + casing combinations are more affordable than others.
Using a good camera with a good underwater housing also allows you to take the most professional pictures. It’s the option we would recommend if you’re an experienced photographer as well as an experienced diver.
I mostly use a GoPro and love it because of its simplicity, great picture/video quality, and lightweight – plus, I don’t have to carry bulky equipment.
That’s why we recommend them for beginners. Marine photo/videography is complex and often overwhelming; using a compact camera that is ready to go and simple to use makes it all easier.
You can be more successful faster, and we want you to do well and have fun!!
Plus, these cameras don’t require a lot of maintenance.
Whether you’re new at the camera bit, or not a good diver or snorkeler yet, compact cameras make it easy to learn and get some experience with both.
The one downside of using a smaller camera is that they are harder to hold still so the footage might be shakier in the beginning… but do not worry, it’s simply a matter of practicing – you might want to start training your steady hand now!
This is the compact camera we usually recommend to beginners.
Learn more about types of underwater cameras, their housing, and costly mistakes to avoid in our brand new online underwater photography/videography class – click here for access!
Diving Camera Accessories
Batteries and Charger for your Underwater Camera
Batteries are essential for any camera, and most underwater cameras come with a battery and charger included.
When you’re going on an underwater shoot, always bring a second (or third) battery in case the first one gets damaged or (accidentally?) depleted.
Store the extra battery in a dry and secure but easily accessible container or bag (like this one) that you leave on the shore or the boat.
This might sound like unnecessary advice but it helps you avoid ruining your camera when switching batteries! Think wet hands, water droplets from your hair and more …Electronics do not like any kind of water! Learn how to change your battery ahead of time (and practice it a bunch of times), so you can switch it out fast.
Learn the correct way to switch a battery when you’re shooting in the water in our online underwater photography class.
After each snorkel or dive, remember to charge your batteries right away so they’re ready for the next dive.
Memory Card for your Underwater Camera
As a general rule, we recommend taking videos under water for better results, rather than taking pictures under water.
However, video files are large and take a lot of storage!
Make sure your memory card is large enough – and confirm that it’s empty ahead of each dive.
Why it’s Nice to Have a Red Filter for Underwater Photography
Color changes at depth due to the density of water, and the first color to disappear is red. This happens at about 10-15 feet.
This cool video by Kendall Roberg shows how each of the colors in the spectrum transforms as you get deeper underwater.
If you’ve tried underwater photography before, you might have felt frustration when your images come out dull and monotone.
And the easiest way to re-introduce colors is by using a red filter in front of the camera lens.
This would be only necessary if you dive/submerge, as for snorkeling and being on the surface, you will enjoy all the colors in their natural state.
Attaching Your Camera to Your Body When Diving or Snorkeling
Using a neck lanyard, head mount or chest mount for underwater photography
We have seen cameras dropped to depth, float away, and be lost to the ocean. That is why you should always securely attach the camera to your body.
This reduces the risk of losing all your vacation photos in the ocean.
There are 4 ways to attach a camera to your body when you’re under water:
- head mount
- chest mount
- neck lanyard, or
- wrist lanyard.
Here’s why we don’t recommend the first three…
While head and chest mounts (usually used for a compact camera like a GoPro) are very useful for bike-riding or skiing, they just don’t work well under water.
First, the constant motion of your head and body due to the ocean movement makes for bad and shaky footage.
Second, you can’t see the back screen of the camera to make sure you are getting the photo or video you want… and in my opinion, shooting blind is a total waste of time and energy.
You just end up with hours and hours of useless footage to wade through once you’re back on land, and it can be frustrating to realize you just want to go back and experience it all again instead!
A neck lanyard is cumbersome when you wear a dive jacket (buoyancy control device or BCD) or a swim vest.
Why you need a wrist lanyard to keep your camera safe under water
A wrist lanyard is the least cumbersome way to keep your camera safe while snorkeling or scuba diving. We recommend adding a floater to it so the camera floats to the surface in case you lose it while diving, or stays on the surface and does not sink if you’re snorkeling.
An O-ring is a loop of elastic material that closes the gap between your camera and its underwater housing. It’s extremely important to keep these clean and greased – the life of your camera depends on it!
- Getting quality O-rings to start with – we recommend buying it from the same manufacturer as your camera casing
- Rinsing your camera immediately after saltwater use to avoid salt crystals from forming and damaging the o-rings
- Cleaning the O-rings before the next time you use it
- Inspecting them for nicks and scratches before you close the housing
- Greasing your O-rings regularly
More Underwater Photography & Videography Tips & Tricks
If you’re looking to learn how to enjoy your time under water while making beautiful memories AND staying safe, check out our underwater photography/videography class on this page. It teaches all the basics so you know exactly what to focus on before you dive in!
Not ready for a full class yet? Download our 10 tips for marine photography here!