The Best Guide to Shooting Over-Unders/Split Shots

Split shots, often known as over-unders, are photographs taken half in and half out of the water. These photographs are particularly compelling because they connect our everyday environment with the underwater world, allowing non-divers to glimpse some of the stunning landscape and fauna that can be found just beneath the ocean's surface.

underwater camera image

When striving to produce an intriguing and successful split-shot image, several aspects come into play. For best results, you'll need the right conditions, some basic equipment, and a thorough understanding of various camera settings and controls.

Choosing the Right Tools

First and foremost, you'll need a wide-angle lens (if you are not using a GoPro Action Camera) with the widest possible field of view, which means fisheye lenses a 10 –17mm are great for this. This wide-angle lens will need to be housed under a dome port with the biggest diameter available. The larger the port, the easier it will be to keep the camera stable and set the dividing waterline across the image's center, separating the image into equal sections above and below the surface.

underwater camera housing

Attempting these shots with a camera with a flat lens with spacing of less than an inch between the camera lens and water is exceedingly challenging and should only be tried in calm conditions. A conventional 6-inch dome port will suffice for most DSLR users, but if you're shooting over-unders in rough seas and waves, you'll appreciate having as much surface area as possible. As a result, professional underwater photographers occasionally construct massive, custom-built dome ports to help alleviate the problem.

underwater split shot photos

Choosing an Appropriate Scene

Once you've gathered all of the essential gear, the next step is to choose a location that's ideal for this type of shot. For the underwater portion, you'll need a subject close to the surface that's worth photographing, as well as an in-focus and well-lit above-water image. Shallow coral reefs offer some of the best split-shot opportunities, but they're hard to come by because most coral grows at depths below 15 feet because it's too warm for them above that.

Available light and water visibility are other essential elements, and if the weather is foggy or the water is particularly murky, you will struggle to acquire excellent photographs. When the sun is shining brightly and visibility is good, the depth of your composition should be no more than 15 feet, and for the best results, between 3 and 10 feet, so that the sun can illuminate both portions of the image.

underwater photography

Camera Preferences

The next issue is to create a good overall exposure by balancing the often significantly changing lighting conditions above and below the water. Shooting with the sun behind you will help, but always expose for the upper half of the shot, which is above the water. This will usually underexpose the darker underwater region of your image, but you can repair this in post-production because bringing out details in the shadows is very easy, whereas blown-out areas are impossible to fix.

Another issue is that optical distortions make the image's above-water section appear further away than the underwater picture. Normally, for wide-angle underwater photography, an aperture of f/8 would be a reasonable starting point, but utilizing this setting for splits will likely result in half of the image being out of focus. Close the aperture to roughly f/16 or f/22, which will increase the depth of field enough to ensure the entire image is sharp. Also, make sure your focus point is below the waterline, as while some blur is okay on the topside, the underwater portion of the photograph must be clear for optimum attractiveness.

GDome XL Surf Housing


Because you'll be shooting with a narrow aperture, you need bump up the ISO to compensate. Just be careful not to push your camera beyond its capabilities and introduce unwanted noise. Some cameras are considerably better at dealing with this than others, so it's critical to recognize your gear's limitations. By increasing the ISO, you can utilize a quicker shutter time, which helps reduce camera shake and fuzzy results. When you combine a rapid shutter speed with your camera's burst mode, you'll have a better chance of obtaining at least one successful image.


Tricks and Tips

Once you've located the ideal scene and dialed in the correct settings, there's just one more thing to worry about: watermarks interfering with the image's above-water portion. The truth is that there is no perfect technique for removing water droplets from your dome port's top half. Products designed to remove residue on car windscreens are only modestly successful since they soon lose their efficacy when submerged in seawater. Spread a little saliva on the top half of the dome port, then wash it off, similar to how many divers spit in their masks before a dive to keep them from fogging up.

over under split shot for GoPro
Droplets can also be reduced by immediately submerging the entire port, then bringing it up to the desired level and swiftly pressing the shutter. If you don't want to spit on your gear, dunk regularly and keep shooting! This technique results in a thin film of water covering the entire dome port, which will start to condense into droplets after only a few seconds, so dunk constantly and keep firing!




When it comes to photographing successful over-unders, as with most underwater photography disciplines, practice makes perfect. Find a quiet body of water to practice in, such as a pool or a lake, and once you've mastered the fundamentals in these settings, you'll be ready to take your new talents to the wide ocean. It's not easy to obtain the ideal split shot, but the rewards are definitely worth the work when you do.
 

flat port surf image

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