If you own an underwater housing for your camera, I hope you are well versed as to how to use it properly to prevent any leaks. But this is usually all the instructions that you get with it tell you. I now have a little experience with underwater photography and am the proud owner of an Aquatech Elite I housing, so I’d like to share some tips with you that I’ve picked up through trial and error over the last couple of years.
FYI you can no longer purchase the Elite I housing from Aquatech since the newer model (Elite II) has been released, but these tips should all still apply to housings from any brand.
Tip #1 - how to clean your housing ports
I’m going to admit something quite embarrassing here. For a long time, I didn’t clean my housing. More specifically, my dome port. I was so fragile with it, I treated it like an egg, and I didn’t know what you could actually clean it with. So I’d rinse everything in fresh water and dry it off. Which is exactly what Aquatech tell you to do. But that’s all. It turns out that everyone else is cleaning their ports with lens cleaner, and it makes SUCH a difference. Just make sure the area is fully clear of any grit to prevent scratching and be sure to use a soft clean cloth.
BONUS TIP: Use a hairdryer with a concentrator nozzle to remove any bits of dirt from those hard to reach edges of your dome port.
Tip #2 - how to keep your port free from water drops
You probably already know that the best thing to use on your dome port to prevent water droplets forming is your own saliva. But if you use your hands to rub the saliva around the port, then you are reversing the effect of the saliva in the first place because your hands have lots of oils on them. Make sure you spread your saliva round the entire dome port with your tongue. Yum!
I’d also recommend leaving a few minutes between licking the port and getting in the water, as it’ll be more effective than doing it moments before getting wet.
I’ve read a lot about using wax on your flat port to allow water drops to run right off but I’m just not convinced yet that I’m prepared to do that to my equipment. I’m also not sure how a layer of wax over your port doesn’t affect the quality of your image. So I’ve been testing other methods and the one I’ve found that works the best is simply to clean your port with lens cleaner before your shoot. Which is something you should be doing regularly anyway but I have found that when I have a freshly cleaned port, the water just drips right off. I also cut a tiny piece of chamois leather that I keep down the sleeve of my wetsuit or tucked into my watch strap to wipe off any stubborn droplets should they form, and this works really well. Also, lifting your camera out of the water at a slight downward angle encourages the water to fall off quicker.
On a side note…. ever wondered what the difference actually is between wet and dry ports? Surely they’re both wet ports because they both get wet, right? That’s exactly what I thought for a long time. Turns out, they have different names for a reason…
A dome port is called a wet port because it is designed to take a photo while there is a very thin film of water over the port - as in while it’s still wet. Whereas a flat port is referred to as a dry port because the water is supposed to fall off the port before you take a photo, leaving it “dry”.
Tip #3 - how to clean your housing body
Use white vinegar to clean any salt residue off the buckles of your housing. Apply with a cotton bud and leave it on for a few minutes to work it’s magic and then rinse. Not only will this limit any salt damage, it’ll also keep your housing looking shiny and new :)
Also, if you shoot with a pistol grip, it’s a very good idea to take it off quite frequently, as salt builds up really quickly behind the screws and the trigger, so that will all need a little TLC every now and again as well.
Tip #4 - if you’re having trouble gripping your dials
This might happen if you’ve had your housing for a while or if you just have butter fingers. A simple (but not so glamorous) way to fix this is to apply a rough grip fabric plaster around the edges of the dials. That will provide a better surface to grip. Just make sure that they are really sticky plasters so they don’t come off in the ocean!
Tip #5 - if you’re having trouble using your focus ring
If you’re using a zoom lens inside your housing, you’ll have to put a zoom ring around your lens before placing it in, so that the zoom dial on the outside of your housing is able to grip your lens. Sometimes, you might find that you’ve put everything in correctly but it’s still not changing focal lengths. Like the dial on your housing is catching on something and missing the zoom ring on your lens. If this happens, it’s likely to be due to how you put the zoom ring attachment on your lens. There should be a tiny gap in the ring attachment which allows the ring to expand enough to easily put it on your lens. If this gap is close to where the zoom dial is on your housing, then it might just be catching this gap, thereby having nothing to grip onto. Try placing the gap on the opposite side of the lens to where the zoom dial will touch the lens inside your housing.
Tip #6 - if you don’t own a wrist strap
Just buy one. I actually didn’t get one when I first purchased my housing, purely because it wasn’t recommended to me to have one. But trust me, it relieves so much stress knowing that you can let go of your housing completely when swimming under waves or putting on your fins and it will still be attached to you. You can see the Aquatech version here however, there are lots of other options out there too.
With regards to other accessories, if you’re shooting surfing I would definitely get a pistol grip. It means that you can shoot one-handed so you can get those last extra frames while your body is already safely under the wave.
Also, Aquatech have just brought out a range of caps for their ports. They’ll help to keep dust and dirt off your equipment when it’s stored or when travelling with it. I think they’re great but I don’t have any yet…. if anyone from Aquatech is reading this and would like to send me some, I’ll happily let you know my address :)
Tip #7 - get your housing serviced by the pros
Although this article is about at-home DIY-style tips and tricks, I can’t write this without recommending that you do occasionally get your housing serviced by the professionals. How often really depends on how often you use it but think of it like your car - an annual service is a good idea for it to run smoothly. Unless you use your housing much less frequently, in which case I highly recommend getting wet more often!
That’s all folks. If you have any tips for me, PLEASE do share. There’s far too little of this sort of useful information out there, and I’m a firm believer that sharing is caring :)