How are split-underwater photographs made?

What equipment is needed? Does it exist for various types of cameras?

Bonus for hints on how to use the said equipment.

  • I could have sworn we had this question somewhere else on the site already, but I can't seem to find it now.
    – AJ Henderson
    May 21, 2013 at 19:49
  • Are there such things as graduated filters that compensate for the difference in WB between above and below water?
    – Michael C
    May 21, 2013 at 19:58
  • It seems worse than this. Focus is different. This article mentions split diopter filters which I have never seen. This one says to use a large dome but I have no idea if that is instead or with the said filter.
    – Itai
    May 21, 2013 at 20:16
  • @Itai - if the dome is well made, it should help correct for the diopter issues. Basically the interface between water and air is the source of the problem. When the light changes medium, it gets bent based on the angle of incidence. The dome makes it so that the distortion is more regular and causes a better overall quality. A diopter would also help adjust for this with a split diopter missing half of it where it isn't needed. The nice thing about a dome port is that since the interface is air to air, it won't have too much distortion while it will greatly help with distortion below.
    – AJ Henderson
    May 21, 2013 at 20:58
  • I wonder, if the „focus stacking“ (or „stepping“, just 2 steps needed) as a feature of Magic Lantern a special firmware to load onto Canon DSLRs with extra features could be any good. If those shots with different focus set happen quickly enough, one could have two pictures with near-identical standing to easily do the transistion in postproduction... (0 practical experience on my end. Just a thought I will try on my next dive trip)
    – user48640
    Mar 28, 2016 at 18:06

2 Answers 2


This should help - it's an article written by National Geographic's David Doubilet all about getting split shots.

  • Indeed that explains the material and the technicalities. Do wish you could add an outline of the article here as we never know when such article may be taken down.
    – Itai
    May 28, 2013 at 4:22

The same equipment that is used for underwater photography will work. You simply put a portion of the shutter above and a portion of the shutter below. You can refine it a little more in post if you want by taking one photo above, one below and one in between (that way you can independently adjust the white balancing between the top and bottom when taking the images.)

Some companies, such as SeaLife, make cameras dedicated for underwater use. GoPro also has an enclosure that can be used for this purpose though the small lens could make a shot like this difficult and you would need a screen with applicable underwater enclosure to be able to have any hope of composing the shot.

There are also full size underwater enclosures for DSLRs (From companies like Ikelite, Equinox or Aquatica) but they tend to be VERY expensive (like in the neighborhood of $1,500 to $3,500.) They will produce the overall best result, but are cost prohibitive for most people unless they want to do underwater photography as well.

As far as lens ports go for an underwater enclosure, it would depend on what kind of line you wanted from the transition between water and air. A flat port will give you a straight line but more distortion underwater due to the way light bends when going from water to air. A domed port will give you less distortion underwater, but will likely distort the line made by the water some unless you are careful to line it up right in the middle of the dome (due to the curvature of the dome).

A water resistant camera bag is also a "low" cost option, but is still around $100 to $150 for one that I would trust. It also is only good for a few feet usually, so be sure to be careful with it. Water pressure increases extremely fast.

  • You can easily add a screen to most if not all current GoPro models. That caveat no longer exists.
    – dpollitt
    May 21, 2013 at 20:07
  • @dpollitt - I see I stand corrected. For a while after they first introduced screens, I don't think there was an option to use said screens underwater, but it seems like they have now addressed that.
    – AJ Henderson
    May 21, 2013 at 20:21
  • 1
    Are you sure about that first paragraph? From what I've been reading so far, a lens cannot focus above and below water at the same time.
    – Itai
    May 21, 2013 at 22:25
  • A lens can focus both above and below water at the same time, as long as you don't mind that the point-of-focus distance will be different for each medium. That's not necessarily a bad thing. You can use it to your advantage in some situations.
    – Michael C
    May 21, 2013 at 22:38
  • 1
    @Leandro - that's the point of the dome lens port. Basically as the light comes in, the dome causes the angle of incidence to be varied and thus the dome itself (combined with the water/air transition) acts as a lens to correct for much of the refraction. Think about how at a lot of aquariums they have the big dome windows. When you get near the center of the dome, you can see a nice wide field of view clearly underwater. The same principal is at work there.
    – AJ Henderson
    May 22, 2013 at 14:36

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