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Nine Tips for Underwater Photos with Your Smartphone

June 17, 2019

Documenting the Everyday

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One area of photography that I have been wanting to dive into (see what I did there? Wink!) is underwater photography and this was the year to do it. While I am not moving into the fine art arena anytime soon, I have loved using my iPhone to create portraits of my kids in their summer element. Because this is a newer approach in my documenting endeavors and I have already caught on to quite a bit, I wanted to make sure and pass on my top nine tips for underwater photography with your smartphone.

I use the iPhone 8 Plus, but most of what I am going to talk about is pretty universal no matter the smartphone you are working with. With the newer phone models coming out, the technology is helping with water situations. However, a bare iPhone is not waterproof. They are only water resistant. And because these smartphones are the price of a laptop, I would prefer to keep them as safe as possible, know what I mean?

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First off, get yourself some underwater equipment:

Because this is my first rodeo, I wanted to go with something simple to test the waters (man – again with the pun! I am killing it!). I have two cases that I purchased and use in different situations. The first one, an underwater housing for my iPhone, is no longer available. However, I did find this case on Amazon as well which has great reviews. I use the underwater housing as my main case due to the fact that it can be submerged underwater for longer periods of time. It also guarantees your phone to be safe up to 130 feet deep.

The second case I purchased was the YOSH waterproof case and this one I will put on my phone and use for above water photos or around a splash pad – situations like that. It is not meant to be an underwater case but merely able to protect your phone around water.

Nine tips for shooting underwater photography with your smartphone! Catch it all on Haus of Layne! #iPhonePhotographyTips #UnderwaterPhotography #SmartphonePhotographyTips

A few tips of the trade when it comes to underwater photos and using specialty cases with your iPhone:

Tip Number One:

You have to make sure and read the instructions thoroughly on the case you purchase. Everywhere that I researched instructs you to test it out with a tissue or piece of paper before using your phone. It will help minimize the anxiety when you first put it in the water. You want to place the tissue or piece of paper in the case, close it, submerge it in water for up to 60 seconds and if it comes out dry, then your case is good to go.

Tip Number Two:

You actually won’t be able to use your touch screen features while underwater because of the water pressure and the barrier from it. You have to adjust some of the settings on your mobile phone to ensure that you can get the job done. First, you will want to turn the auto-lock feature on your mobile phone settings to “never.” This makes it so your screen will not lock on you because you will not have the ability to swipe and turn it back on. Second, turn your phone to “airplane mode.” You don’t want to be receiving notifications on your screen since you won’t have the ability to close them out and go back to shooting. And lastly, you have to enable your camera app BEFORE placing your phone in the case.

Tip Number Three:

Always remember to clean the front of your mobile camera BEFORE putting it into your case to ensure that your photos will be as crystal clear as possible.

Nine tips for shooting underwater photography with your smartphone! Catch it all on Haus of Layne! #iPhonePhotographyTips #UnderwaterPhotography #SmartphonePhotographyTips

Tip Number Four: 

Get used to your equipment and the limitations before taking it for a spin. One of the things I was shocked by is how much of a hindrance seeing what you are actually shooting would be. I’m sure it’s different for an underwater housing for a DSLR, but for smartphone cases, there are definite limitations. You actually won’t be able to see your screen very well while shooting. I know – sounds crazy right? Of course, direct sunlight also adds or takes away from this issue. You know how when you go out into the sun and it is near impossible to see your phone screen? It’s the same thing with your phone in a case and underwater.

Getting used to that is a bit different and can make shooting harder, but when you know the equipment and what button to push to activate the camera shutter, it will make things easier. You will be able to keep up with what is happening in front of you. And with everything, you always want to make sure and practice.

Nine tips for shooting underwater photography with your smartphone! Catch it all on Haus of Layne! #iPhonePhotographyTips #UnderwaterPhotography #SmartphonePhotographyTips

Tip Number Five:

Get used to and comfortable with natural lighting and available sun. Because of the light and the way it bounces from reflections, you will want to play around with what time of day you are shooting and how you work with the lighting at that specific time. One thing that will affect the mood of your photos will be the available sun you have to work with. For example, shooting in the middle of the day when the sun is at its highest point and right above you will give you well-lit photos under the surface at every angle. However, earlier in the day or later in the day, the sun will act as more of a spotlight and you will have a more dramatic look to your images.

Lighting can be just a tad more difficult at these times, but again… practice, practice, practice.

Tip Number Six:

Pay attention to your distance from your subject. No, I have only experimented in a swimming pool so this might be different depending on the type of water you are in. I have noticed that there is a fine light between my subject is clear and in focus on being just a touch too far away and my subject looking cloudy. The water doesn’t have much give in this area so make sure you work with shooting up close, a little farther away and then even farther away. By experimenting, you will be able to find your sweet spots and what types of looks you prefer.

Tip Number Seven:

Rapid fire shooting will be your best friend. I have loved getting the sequence of action shots as my kids jump into the pool. The effects can be so fun, however, you want to make sure you shoot rapid fire. Why? Because remember that your viewing will be handicapped a bit due to the case, sun, and water. By pressing and holding down your camera shutter button, you can ensure that you will catch every photo opp in the sequence and then choose your favorites later.

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Tip Number Eight: 

Shoot, shoot, shoot and then shoot some more. Because you are combatting so many elements – the visibility of your screen being low, motion in the water can be tricky – you want to make sure and shoot more than you normally would. This will help you walk away with a handful of really great photo ops instead of shooting just a few and winding up with none. And as I have mentioned, the more you work with it, the better it will get and you will find your rhythm.

Tip Number Nine: 

Experiment and play to find your style. As with all photography, the only way you will find your groove is by experimenting with it and playing around. Be sure to give yourself time to do this and try out different things. I have noticed that I love the images that show above the water and below at the same time. And when you can catch the sun flare while under the water it’s a really beautiful feel to the photo.

Nine tips for shooting underwater photography with your smartphone! Catch it all on Haus of Layne! #iPhonePhotographyTips #UnderwaterPhotography #SmartphonePhotographyTips

And of course, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to add to our home movie collection. I figured I would share it with you all so you can see it in action so enjoy that below. And be sure to head over to my YouTube channel and subscribe – I will not only be adding to my home movie reel, but also posting a lot more video content in the very near future. Big plans for that space so stay tuned!

And as always, thanks for being here!

My top nine tips for using your smartphone to shoot underwater photographs this summer


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  1. The Devil Corp

    July 15th, 2016 at 11:32 am

    Good post.

  2. Kara Layne

    July 26th, 2016 at 9:32 pm

    Thank you so much!


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