Underwater photography with the iPhone?

It doesn’t seem that long ago that we tried to revive wet smartphones by sticking them in a bag of rice and hoping for the best.

Now, most modern smartphones are “water-resistant.” If water gets into them, they won’t be destroyed, like in years past. Still, we’re not supposed to dunk them in the water. But try telling that to kids.

Underwater iPhone images

My friend Alex called me recently, excited about the underwater shots his daughters were getting on the iPhone. He was right, the footage and photos were incredible. But the idea of putting a naked iPhone into the water struck me as a little, well, scary. A few years ago my iPhone wouldn’t charge due to “water damage” in the charging port. So I’d be wary about putting a $1,000 device that runs my life into the water for an extended period of time.

Alex and his 13-year-old daughter Zadie had no such qualms, and just happened to be “staycationing” near me at a local resort. So, I stopped by to chat with Zadie about it recently and gave her one of my old phones to get footage with. You can watch the interview by clicking on this YouTube link or listening to the complete chat on the latest episode of the iPhone Photo Show podcast.

Underwater photography “shows the type of pictures that you can’t normally take but you’d like to take when you’re having fun,” Zadie tells me.

It brings you to an underworld where the sky is usually always blue. Sometimes there are bubbles and it’s always dreamlike. Yup, it’s just too much fun.

But is your iPhone safe?

I have had fun shooting videos and photos with the iPhone in the rain. While the shots were great, the LCD screen became totally nonresponsive. I had to dry it out to get it to respond to my commands. Zadie agreed that the LCD screen doesn’t like water. To get around this, Zadie said she used the volume button to snap the shutter instead of the on-screen button. For video, she started it before the phone went into the water.

And what happened after Zadie took my old phone for a swim? Did it stop recharging? Did the screen get ruined? Were there any problems? None.

However, Apple doesn’t approve. The Apple website says that in no uncertain terms are we to take the phone into the drink.

“To prevent liquid damage, avoid these:

  • Swimming or bathing with your iPhone
  • Using your iPhone in a sauna or steam room
  • Intentionally submerging your iPhone in water.”

Samsung is less sanguine about going underwater with recent Galaxy devices than Apple, saying they are rated IP68, which means they can be submerged for up to 30 minutes no more than 1.5 meters. The iPhones have the same rating, just a different warning to customers.

Results underwater

There’s no question that Zadie got fantastic results from the underwater iPhone. But at such a hefty price for the device, one that many of us use to run our businesses and personal lives, I still don’t think the potential risk is worth it. I do have a solution, however.

When my son was growing up, I used to fork over $20 for a Kodak one-time-use cardboard camera that could be taken underwater, and then spend another $20 on developing the film. In other words, each shoot cost $50 or so. They didn’t shoot video, and you only got 24 shots per camera.

Thankfully, we all live in the digital age. So if the kids or spouse is comfortable with the iPhone, why not buy a used iPhone for the exclusive use of the pool and rain shots? You don’t need a top-of-the-line model either, as you won’t be making use of multiple lenses. A great wide shot under the water is all you need.


A used iPhone SE can be picked up for under $250. Good recent Google Pixel and Samsung Galaxy phones are also available in the same price range. If they mess up, due to all the water play, you’re not out that much.

Or spend $200 or so on a waterproof point-and-shoot, or better, $200 to $300 on a used GoPro, which can do double duty, with a swimming pool and ocean footage.

Keep the expensive phone for the important stuff, and the secondary phone, (sans wireless service, of course, why pay for that?) as the wet phone.

Last resort: buy a waterproof case for the iPhone, like the Hitcase. Its case is both “drop-proof” and waterproof up to 10 feet, and with protection, you could potentially take it into the ocean. However, I’d still be wary of putting my work/life phone into the deep blue sea, and would rather do it with the SE. How about you?