The GoPro’s unique size has led to a seemingly endless number of variations in which to mount and use a GoPro. If you are just starting out with a GoPro and rummaging through all the different mounts the camera comes without the box, or searching for aftermarket mounting options, it can leave you feeling a bit overwhelmed. To make things a bit easier for you, here are three of the most useful mounting options for your GoPro cameras.

This has become one of the most widely used mounting options for the GoPro. The basic idea is that by putting the camera at the end of a telescoping stick, the user can then get the camera closer to their intended subject without physically getting closer. I’ll be honest, this is not my favorite mounting option, as having the GoPro at the end of a four-foot pole doesn’t allow the user to access the camera’s buttons easily. Along with that, with the camera at the end of a stick, it doesn’t offer much in the way of stability or composition. Most people come back with very wobbly shots with the subject passing in and out of the camera’s field of view. However, if you are unable to duck dive down a few feet but still want to get close-up shots of the fish and reef that aren’t from six-feet away, then this method of mounting a GoPro would be a good option for you.

Floating Single Hand Grip
This is very similar to the GoPole style, however, as the significantly shorter grip allows the user to easily reach the different buttons on the camera, while also offering much more in the way of camera stability and more accurate composition. Another benefit a lot of these aftermarket grips offer is that they float, even with the camera attached. If you accidentally drop the camera there’s a good chance you’ll be able to find it floating on the surface. This is a good option for those who are able to duck-dive down to the reef.

Dual Handled Tray

This is by far my most preferred mount for GoPro cameras as the dual handles allow for maximum camera stability while also being able to easily reach the buttons. This is the way professional camera operators mount their cameras, and it’s a great option for those that want to really get into underwater film and photography. Another benefit of the dual handled tray is that most brands will include the ball mounts at the end of the handles where you can attach video lights.

Just about every camera nowadays has both a video and photo function, which provides us with a ton of opportunities for creatively capturing the underwater world. With so many options though, it can be a bit overwhelming when a unique underwater moment presents itself to you completely out of the blue. What do I do!? Should I film it or photograph it? As someone who spends a lot of time switching between video and photo, I’d like to share a few quick tips that have helped me decide whether I’m going to capture the moment with the camera’s video mode or the photo mode.

 1.  What is your ultimate goal?

If you know how to use editing software and plan to make a little highlight reel from your snorkeling adventure, then filming would be the way forward. Similarly, if your intent is to have a collection of photos to share with friends or to hang on your wall, you’d want to stick with the photo mode. This is a really important thing to think about as I know a lot of people who just film everything they see because in a lot of ways filming is easier and can be more gratifying at the moment, but then they find they don’t know how to edit videos or just don’t have the time to and then they end up with hours of footage just sitting on their hard drive.

Snorkeler photographing schooling fish

2.  A bit of Both

A lot of the underwater encounters we have can last for a while, which means you can do a bit of filming as well as photography. Remember to prioritize which of the two mediums is more important to you at the end of the day and start with that one.

3.  Video for fleeting moments

I always keep my camera set to video mode when I don’t have anything in particular to point my camera at. The reason being is that should a manta or whale shark suddenly turn up and I have only a couple of moments to capture the encounter, video is the fastest and most efficient way to do so as you can essentially point and shoot.

The over-under or split shot, where in a single image the photographer has managed to photograph something underwater while also capturing what’s happening above the water, is a real crowd pleaser. These types of photos look incredibly difficult to do, but actually they are quite simple if you follow a few simple steps.

5. Large Dome Port

Photographer photographing river scene

In order to capture what’s going on above and below the water we not only need a wide angle lens, but also a larger dome port to provide maximum surface area were we can really get that division of land and underwater. If you are using a smaller compact camera where the lens surface areas is about an inch in diameter the chances of capturing a split shot are not very good. However, if are using a camera housing that allows for a larger dome port than you just need to follow the next steps.

4. Shallow subject

split shot of hard coral reef and raja ampat islands

The best results will be when you have a subject in shallow shallow water, anywhere from a few inches in depth to a couple feet. Anything deeper than four feet or so makes it difficult to capture the subject in nice natural light, but also makes it challenging to include both the topside and underwater subject in the same frame.

3. Balancing the Natural Light

split shot of hard coral reef and raja ampat islands
An example of a correctly balanced image. Photo taken at mid day with full sun. 

Light is key for this type of photo as we rapidly run short of light underwater, even in just a few feet. If we want to have balanced light throughout the photo, where the topside and underwater subject share a similar exposure, we need a nice sunny day and also to remember to keep the sun behind us. If we start facing into the sun or shooting too early in the day or too late in the afternoon where the light not as strong ,our exposure throughout the frame won’t match, leaving us with a blown out landscape or a very dark underwater subject. Bright light in shallow water is best.

Over under with reefscape below and island above
An example of a photo where the light is incorrectly balanced. Photo taken at mid day but conditions were overcast and balancing the light was impossible with out artificial lighting.

2. Water Line

coral reef below blue sky

Aside from what you choose to include in the photos, getting the water line just right is one of the aspects of the image which will either make or break it. As the underwater subject will general be the stronger of the two subjects I try to favor it by giving it a bit more space in the frame. If you look at most over under shots you’ll see that roughly two-thirds of the frame are underwater, with the remaining third above water. Something else to consider with the water line is weather you want it to be a smooth water line or a bit wavy. Of course, a lot of this will depend on the surface conditions, but you can experiment a bit with this for some varied results of the same subjects. Also, something really important to note is that the longer you leave the lens/port out of the water, the more water droplets will form. For best results have your camera submerged until you’re ready to take the shot (have the composition already planned in your head) and then quickly but smoothly bring it out of the water until you have the composition you intended, and click the shutter. This whole process should take not much longer than a couple seconds. The final thing I’d like to add is that a healthy amount of spit spread over the lens and then rinsed off will keep water droplets from building up on your drying port.

1. Subject Selection

Mangrove scene with coral reef below

Subject selection is paramount here as we are now selecting two subjects which can be combined in a similar image. Many times I’ll find a fantastic shallow reefscape that would be ideal for including in a split shot, but then there’s nothing to include in the above portion. While I think it’s usually best to have both an interesting above water and underwater subject, there is a way to still get an interesting split shot with no above ground subject. If there is just nothing to include above the water, you can try to make an interesting water line by rocking the camera forward and back while still keeping it half submerged as I press the shutter. This way you’ll have a bit of blue sky and clouds, some turbulent water washing across the lens, and then a brilliant reefscape below.

Camera SD cards are massive now, and quite cheap. While all this extra data storage space should ensure that you always have room on your card for that magical underwater moment, it also tends to encourage people to adopt a ‘spray and pray’ approach to their underwater photography endeavors. As someone who leads underwater photography workshops I always urge those who do tend to have a heavy ‘trigger finger’ to plan their shots a bit more, not only to save themselves time later when organizing their photos, but also to give marine life a break from a rapid fire flash.

While I haven’t actually spoken to the fish and asked them their true opinions on being photographed, after years of working with a camera in the ocean and witnessing their reoccurring behavior when confronted with a camera, particularly when the flash is engaged, I feel confident when I say they “they don’t love it.” It is for this reason that we, the Snorkel Venture guides, have put together this little etiquette guide for photographing marine life. This little guide will not only give some respite to shy marine creatures, but should also help you get a better photo as consider your subject and how might want to approach it so as to get the best shot with the least number of attempts.

Large Marine Life: Flash Off

Snorkeler photographing whale shark

Larger marine creatures like turtles and mantas are basically too big to fully illuminate with a flash, particularly if you are using a smaller compact camera. Not only that, but it’s quite likely they will quickly disappear into the blue if you start to pester them with a flash. For the best interactions and photos of larger marine life we always suggest using the fish mode on your camera, or a custom white balance, and just turn off the flash and let the sun bathe them in that beautiful dapple light.

Larger Marine Life: Flash On

hawksbill turtle looking into camera lens

I’d be a big hypocrite if I said that you should only photograph larger subjects like mantas and turtles without a flash, as I regularly photograph subjects such as these with a flash. However, when I do approach a subject that I intend to photograph with my two large flashes, it’s not without considering the behavior of the individual I wish to photograph. Not all species or individuals within a species will be overly bothered by the camera’s flash. If the animal is clearly unbothered by my presence and allows me to photograph it at a reasonable distance with out my flashes, I will then turn my flash on and check the exposure on a rock to make sure that I have all my settings dialed in. This way I can take the two or three photos I need before moving on. Even the most complacent subjects will eventually get annoyed and disappear, so be sparing with your photos so others may enjoy the same wonderful creature.

Smaller Marine Life: Flash On

mandarin fish

Smaller reef fish tend to be a lot faster and just shy in general, which means that flash is almost necessary to get a nice clear picture as the blitz from the flash freezes any motion.  When you are photographing reef fish please keep in mind that they don’t have eye lids to block the bright light of the flash. We strongly urge those who love photographing smaller reef fish to keep your shots per individual fish to a minimum, two to three photos each is advised for the well being of our ocean friends. Also something to keep in mind is that the flash is only effective from a few inches to about two feet from the camera, so make sure that if you are using a flash that you get in close to the subject, with out bothering it, before you take your shot.

Photography workshops, more specifically photography workshops for snorkelers and freedivers, can be extremely the helpful for anyone wanting to improve their underwater images, no matter the skill level or type of camera. These types of tours provide you with constant exposure (no pun intended) to beautiful marine subjects, all while being led and assisted by accomplished underwater photographers. Not only that, with the jaw dropping destinations and luxurious resorts and liveaboards we select specifically for these tours, you can rest assured that it will be the trip of a lifetime and you’ll have the photos to prove it. Here’s a little look into what a Snorkel Venture snorkeling photography workshop looks like and also what you can expect to learn from one.

What is a Snorkeling and Freediving Photography Workshop

As the description says, a snorkeling and freedving photography workshop is a photography workshop that caters specifically to snorkelers and freedivers. Snorkel Venture has a select team of professional photographers who are not only accomplished with a camera, but also well versed in the the locations we’ll be traveling to and will be your group leader for the duration of the photographic tour. These tours will be based in locations where sea conditions are mild, but also home to some of the world’s most beautiful reefs where exciting encounters with some of the ocean’s most photogenic marine inhabitants are guaranteed. As with all of our snorkeling safaris, the resorts and liveaboards who will be hosting us are well equipped for tours such as these so you can expect five-star service and accommodations with the added benefit of tailor made camera rooms and media centers.

people in camera room in Lembeh resort

How a Photo Workshop Runs

Our photo tours will run in a very similar fashion to our normal snorkel safaris, however, the guide will also be a professional underwater photographer and well adept at translating the complexities of underwater photography into more simple terms. On most evening of the tour you can expect the photo pro to lead a series of discussions complete with critiques with plenty of examples and demonstrations to help you transform that days mistakes into beautiful images the next. The photo pro will of course be in the water with you so as to better answer any questions you may have on the spot. These are group workshops, which many people find to be very beneficial as you not only learn from the photo pro but also from those around you. Of course, if you do prefer a more one-on-one type of session there are plenty of opportunities to have more private critiques and lessons.

What you Can Expect to Learn

Over the course of these photography tours the Snorkel Venture photo pro will cover everything from the very basics like how to make use of the camera’s automatic settings, what makes a compelling composition, selecting photogenic marine life and how to approach them, to the more complex aspects of underwater photography like manual exposure, white balance, and how to shoot smaller subjects while snorkeling.

Also, as guides and photographers for Snorkel Venture, our photo pros are well versed in the nuances of snorkeling photography and he will not only coach you on the technical aspects of cameras and help train your eyes to select the most photogenic subjects, but also help you to prepare your lungs and cameras in advance so you can make the most of your brief dives to the deeper subjects.

The lessons don’t just stop at the camera either. With the abundance of editing software on the market, a lot of which is either free or offered at very affordable rates, touching up has become a very important part of the photographic experience. Using practical examples and demonstrations  we’ll explore the different ways of photo editing so you can get the most out of your photos with the aid of post production software.

In the end, these photo tours are an exceptional and fun way to help take your underwater photos to the next level. With the assistance of the Snorkel Venture Photo Pro’s constructive critiques and the near unlimited access to some of the best reefs in the world you’ll be able to quickly catch any mistakes you may have made in one snorkel session and correct them the next. No need to wait another year before your next snorkeling holiday or to or search though Google for photographic tips, for the duration of the tour you’ll have everything you need right under your nose.