Underwater photography is fun and rewarding, allowing you to capture stunning nature shots and memories. And the much-improved water resistance of current iPhones mean you can enjoy this hobby without having to spend lots of money on specialised equipment.
In this article we explain which models of iPhone are suitable for underwater photography (and which accessories to buy if yours isn’t), and offer tips on setup, lighting, lenses and more. For more handy aquatic tips, see How to dry out a wet iPhone.
Do you need a waterproof case?
Today’s iPhones have excellent water resistance, but that hasn’t always been the case. Do you need to buy a waterproof case to indulge in underwater photography?
The iPhone 7, released in September 2016, was the first of Apple’s phones to be publicly rated as water-resistant, with an IP rating of IP67 and a pledge that it will survive for 30 minutes at a water depth of up to 1m.
All iPhones since then have been as water-resistant as the 7 or more so – the XS and XS Max are rated as IP68, which increases the survivable depth to 2m.
If you’ve got an older iPhone than this you’re not guaranteed any water resistance at all, although it is believed – unofficially, and according to iFixit’s report – that the iPhone 6s could also withstand a quick plunge.
- iPhone 6s, iPhone SE and earlier – not rated
- iPhone 7 & 7 Plus – IP67
- iPhone 8 & 8 Plus – IP67
- iPhone X – IP67
- iPhone XR – IP67
- iPhone XS & XS Max – IP68
We would, fairly obviously, recommend that owners of pre-7 iPhones buy a waterproof case for these purposes. And even an IP67 phone should not be confused with professional waterproof equipment: it’s not a good idea to take an iPhone X for a lengthy scuba diving outing at a range of depths.
If you’re looking to use your iPhone for longer photography sessions or have an older non-water resistant iPhone, then we would strongly advise you to buy a waterproof case, which will provide extra protection and let you take underwater shots without having to constantly worry about it malfunctioning.
See a range of recommendations in our dedicated best waterproof iPhone cases article. We especially like the Optrix by Body Glove (£64.95), which is available for various models including the iPhone 6s and SE and provides good protection and various lenses.
How to set up for underwater photography
Before going underwater, make sure you’ve set up your iPhone properly to take photos with ease.
When you’re underwater, it will be hard for you to use the touchscreen of your phone. However, you can use the volume keys to take photos – just ensure you know which button to press or go into your Camera app and configure the settings, including the resolution you wish to shoot at, the filters you want to apply and the video resolution (if you intend on taking any).
When you’re underwater you should not hold back in taking multiple photos. You’re bound to get photos that turn out horrendously, from the wrong focus to bad lighting. There’s a lot that can go wrong underwater – no matter your level of photography skills, when you’re underwater it’s a whole different ball game.
It also might sound like common sense, but make sure you’re fully charged up before entering the water. Taking a lot of photos and videos can consume a lot of battery, and the last thing you’ll want is to run out of juice.
Apple state that you should not attempt to charge a wet iPhone, and we would agree. If you need your phone after taking underwater shots, we would recommend letting it dry for several hours, before connecting it to any power source – this also applies when wanting to extract photos from your iPhone!
Which lenses should you choose?
For underwater work we would recommend looking into additional lenses – these can often be bought as a simple clip-on for your iPhone.
There are lots of options on Amazon. These aren’t usually meant for underwater photography, but they should work fine; if in doubt (and particularly if you’re using a waterproof case, which may be harder for a lens to clip to), contact the manufacturer and ask.
Try experimenting with different lenses, as you might find a wide angle or fisheye lens can result in a drastically different result. Our roundup of the best iPhone camera lenses has plenty of options.
Lighting is one of the most important aspects of photography; it’s not easy to master and takes patience getting the right light in for your shots. As you’ll be underwater, you will have to remember that water refracts light in different ways, so there might be times where a shot comes out poorly due to the odd lighting conditions.
We would recommend taking photos in sunlight, as you have natural light shining through. Of course, if you’re in an indoor swimming pool, it should already be lit. We wouldn’t advise taking night-time underwater shots, as you’ll be greeted with dark scenes and very poor-quality photos. Smartphones, including the iPhones, struggle in low-light conditions without flash, so underwater low-light photography is practically impossible.
The flash can be used underwater, but we would advise against this as it can disturb the focus and colours of your shots. If you really need extra light, you can buy a diving flashlight torch, such as this one on Amazon for £32.99. Or do a search on Amazon UK or Amazon US.
Do remember that a flashlight will give you an unnatural light source, resulting in odd colours, even underwater. With a flashlight beaming at your subject (say an underwater plant), the plant’s colour will not be natural.
How to make sure you’re stable
Taking a photo when moving around a lot can be hard, let alone when you’re underwater. Stability is very important, and you should have a steady hand when taking an underwater photo, while making sure your subject isn’t moving too fast.
To help with stability you can try locking your arms when taking a photo, or buy a selfie stick/monopod such as the Optrix by Body Glove Monopod. This accessory will help you keep a steady hand and create beautiful pan shots, both for video or panorama underwater shots.
Read our guide to the best iPhone camera tripods & gimbals for more buying advice.
What clothing is suitable?
The final consideration is clothing.
It’s useful to have pockets to store your iPhone and accessories; equally you want to make sure your clothes won’t get in the way of your shots, so close-fitting garments make sense. If you start getting serious about photography, blending into the scenery might be something to take into account, whether this is to avoid spooking the wildlife or because you’re worried that you might catch sight of your own image in a reflective surface.
You’re taking tech underwater, so you should also consider how you can protect and store it. A wrist strap around your iPhone is a good idea, as is a float.