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7 tips for taking your phone camera into the ocean


Here’s an off-the-wall idea for you: Take your phone into the ocean! Really. 

I have gone body surfing with my iPhone the day after a hurricane. I have let knock-you-down waves roll over me (and my phone) as I captured video of the frothy Atlantic. I handed my phone to my daughter, who was 8 years old at the time, to have her take snapshots of my own ocean hijinks. I’ve even edited images beachside using apps like AutoStitch and PictureShow, and then published them to my blog or Instagram, all without leaving the ocean. 

I’ve been gaga about photography for years, having pretty much spent my high school years breathing in the fixer fumes of the school darkroom, and yet I’ve never had as much fun with a camera as I have wading into a rough ocean with my iPhone and snapping away at the glory of the surf and the people enjoying it.

Yes, I’m obsessed. But, no, I’m not crazy.

I'm not just taking an expensive phone into the ocean without protecting it. I use an Aquapac case (available at for $30.). The Aquapac is very simple: it’s essentially a plastic pouch for your phone with two clips to secure it. It'll accomodate most smartphones. 

I use a $30 Acquapac pouch to secure my iPhone when shooting in the ocean. The phone camera's lens is covered with transparent plastic. 
The Case Marine is a very thin, waterproof sleeve, which waterproofs the phone down to 10 meters and is so thin that you can use your normal case over it, if you wish. It's not cheap though, at $79.
The DiCAPac sleeve is very similar to the Acquapack. The DiCAPac comes in different colors, and like the Acquapac will also cost you $30.

The iPhone’s touch interface works with it, and you can even make phone calls when you’ve got your phone secured in the Aquapac. Even if you don’t plan to go swimming with your phone, the Aquapac is handy for keeping sand and other beach hazards away from its delicate innards. Sand is second only to seawater in its destructive abilities. 

Is my Acquapac 100 percent safe? No, it’s not. (I doubt any waterproof enclosure is.) Ironically, as I was writing this article — after having used the Aquapac for two years without a hitch — I went into the pool with the my Aquapac-secured iPhone and somehow (the case wasn’t snapped shut properly? it’s seen too much action?) water got into the case, and into the innards of my iPhone. Bubbles of water appeared over the iPhone lens, the flash wouldn’t turn off, and assorted controls were erratic and glitchy. A trip to the Genius Bar at my local Apple Store and about $160 later, I had a new phone. But I don’t blame the Aquapac. I've had it for a long time, it’s served me well, and I plan to buy another - and head back into the ocean with it.

In this article, I want to share seven tips for ocean photography with your smartphone.

1: Catch the ocean spray

Having your iPhone—your camera—in a waterproof enclosure opens up possibilities for the types of images you can capture. Suddenly you’re unafraid to capture photos you wouldn’t even think about snapping without protective gear like the Aquapac. The ocean, especially when it’s spitting saltwater into the air in bubbles and whirls, provides plenty of visual excitement. T

make the most of it, get right into the surf, sinking to your knees or even bobbing in the water as the waves approach you. Have your finger at the shutter, prepared to snap, aiming for that moment when the wave is crashing right into you. Depending on your comfort level with the ocean, and the type of surf, practice finding a balance between keeping yourself steady in the water and your goal to snap an image at just the right moment.

2: Immerse your phone

To give your shots a real in-the-water feel, immerse your camera in the water—though not all the way. In general, try to keep the iPhone lens just above the waterline. The closer the lens is to the water, the more of submerged feel you’ll get.

Experiment to see what works for you. It’s sometimes challenging to judge what your iPhone is capturing if much of it’s under the murky ocean water and the screen is obscured. It may also prove difficult to engage the shutter button when it’s underwater. I’ve generally tried to get around this by keeping the shutter above water, too, or sometimes by keeping my finger on the shutter as I put the camera underwater and hoping for the best. Another option? Use the self-timer that’s available in many replacement camera apps, such as Camera+. Just turn on the self-timer, and then the shutter will fire even if your iPhone is completely immersed.

3: Freeze the action

Beachgoers are on the move: surfers heading out in wetsuits, kids clutching their boogie boards, families edging toward the surf with toddlers. Though the iPhone isn’t always a go-to choice for action shots, largely because you can’t set the shutter speed, you can typically freeze the action if it’s a brilliantly sunny beach day. Go for it, aiming to be close to the water—yes, you’ll need to get wet—to capture the churning surf with a liquid look.

4: Keep it rolling

Video adds another dimension to the iPhone-in-the-ocean experience. A certain amount of serendipity helps: You never know what sort of waves the ocean will be serving up next. If you’re comfortable in the water (and like to dive under the waves), start rolling, aim your iPhone at the approaching waves and dive under, emerging from the surf to catch the wave heading to shore. It’s wonderful fun, and worth it, especially when you capture the ocean spray sparkling in the sun. 

5: Don’t overlook the details

Beyond the surf, be on the lookout for the around-the-beach details. Feet sunk in the sand, a medley of shells, bright blankets and umbrellas—all of these are image-making fodder, and you won’t have to worry about splashes of surf or sand damaging your gear.

6: Capture a beach tableau with a panorama app

The panorama apps available for the iPhone -- including the new panorama function of the native camera on the iPhone 5 -- aren’t just for landscapes. Take a panorama from the ocean, and you can capture a one-of-a-kind tableau of the action not just in front of you, but also the beach beyond.  Apps to try:  AutoStitch, Pano and You Gotta See This.

7: Embrace the abstract

Water has long been a subject for photographers, but having your camera in the ocean allows you to see the water in new and unexpected ways. Embrace the forms of the waves and their opportunities for abstract photographic compositions.

Allan Hoffman is the technology columnist for The Star-Ledger and the author of “Create Great iPhone Photos.” He misses the smell of fixer in the darkroom, but he loves having a darkroom (and camera) in his pocket with the iPhone. He blogs about iPhone photography at What I See Now. 


Total comments: 11

In order to travel light(er) this trip, I plan to bring DSLR to leave in room safe while on beach for swimming and have waterproof housing for iphone 5. This is foremost so I can not leave it on the beach to be stolen while I'm in the water, but still have it available for snaps. I'll have the dslr for when I want to do some "real" shooting.
I want a better camera experience than aqua-pac which I've found causes focus issues with my lumix lx1 because the aquapac is not fitted so focuses often on water droplets on the loose case. Also would be, for me, a bit too unwieldy for swimming with.
I have it narrowed down to these options because they have good reviews and straps: Lifeproof, Watershot, Griffin catalyst+survivor.

Edited 2 times; latest 3 minutes since posting

When I'm on holiday and want to take pictures on the beach I leave my digital camera and phone in the hotel's safebox, and take only an old film SLR with an inexpensive but high-quality M42 lens to the beach. This combo is I) usually uninteresting to thieves (except for metal thieves but they tend not to operate on beaches), II) less prone to the attack of the elements and III) if the worst comes to the worst, I only lose a maximum of three dozen shots. Of course when we're out in the countryside or doing a city tour etc. I prefer the digital options but for beach snaps, the old film camera is the way to go.


Nice idea, but what happens when you lose grip of your phone while you're in the surf?


I see some folks as overly critical of the Iphone-photography connection. Hey, if it brings joy to someone and helps them share memories, then why not?

My lifelong sport is surfing. Growing up our landlubber friends had pictures from soccer, baseball, etc., but for we surfers photography was prohibitively expensive, so we weren't able to get pics of what we liked.

These Iphones aren't ideal for action, but think of how cool it is to take a photo while you're in the ocean and post it on Facebook while you're waiting for the next wave. That's stuff that's only supposed to happen in the future.

Or, you call a friend and say, "look," and swing your phone around so they can see the waves and their friends. Tell them, "The surf is great. See for yourself. Now come on down here."

That's only going to happen in the future, right? Wrong. It's now, and it's fun. So enjoy it.


I used a $12 knockoff I got on amazon when I went to the beach.

Before that I was using a ziplock bag but I figured $12 for some extra protection was worth it, even if just to keep the sand out.

Well the product is hit or miss. I could use the touch screen through the case which was surprising and great. I did get some beach shots I probably would not have braved with the ziplock bag but.....

One thing you fail to mention is that to use the iphone as a phone you need to take it out of these bags. On the beach that can lead to sand etc in the case and a strugle to get the phone back in once everything is not absolutely dry.

For taking it in and out of the enclosure and using it as a phone the 10 cent ziplock bag was much better.

How well does the original digipack that you used for the article fare when using the iphone as a phone? Was it useable or did you have to take out the iphone.


What is photographic value? Is the answer a clearly defined attribute that all photographic images should be held to? Aren't we talking about something so utterly subjective that it's almost meaningless to have a conversation, and in particular, on a post that is touting some fun gadgets for people that most likely could care less what people think of their images (true artist prerequisite). Clicking a filter to add atmosphere to an image is incredibly fun, it's an editorial decision (artistic intent), it's fun, it's personal, it gets people involved. Why are people so quick to make judgements? I can see these images in a family photo album, and I can see the family taking pride in their art, while having a living journal to remember and share a point in time.


I agree with the posts criticizing the photographically value of these pictures - most of all I do not like this use of fake frames and instant press-a-button-apply-art filters that at first make the photos look artsy, but really just ruin the picture and make them look like all the other Instagram photos.

1 upvote

1 tip for taking your phone camera in the ocean.

1. Don't

Get a waterproof P&S like a Lumix or Olympus.

Don't buy peripheral iPhone products.



All the pictures have a hazy look to them. Need to try some of the phones with a better camera.

1 upvote

It sure is a nice way to enjoy the camera.
Those watertight bags are reasonably safe, provided one takes care when closing them. There shouldn't be one hair nor one grit of sand in the sealing - it only works when absolutely clean.
Before using such a bag with your device, put something formed like a phone inside (a piece of styrofoam will do) and test-dunk it to see if it keeps the water out of the bag. It's cheaper that way.
Another tip, take care of the condensed water and air humidity. When you enter cold water with a sun-warmed casing (any casing!), there will be fogging. Put some small package of desiccant (silica-gel) inside with your device.
And bear in mind that, although the watertight bag may keep your phone dry down to -10 meters, the outside pressure there will be 1 Bar / Atm, or 1 kilogram per square centimeter. For some devices this crushing force could be too great!
Anyway, in the surf zone, and down to -1 meter it will be safe.
Main thing is, enjoy!


Hey Dad . Only got really crappy pictures from childhood - Why is that?

The answer for ocean is a GoPro.

Smartphones are slow, Picturequality good enough to scan barcode.

Total comments: 11
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