Using a mini underwater tripod is a really easy way to get excellent close-up fish videos, that eliminates the annoying problem of shaky hand-held video.
We hate hauling extra gear around with us snorkeling, but the results are so good doing this that we will be using this often in the future. The video we captured is so relaxing and enjoyable to watch, and full of fish.
On this page you can see some sample video of how it works, tripod and camera suggestions, and some tips for success.
Watch the underwater tripod video tests below, from our last trip to Curacao in the Caribbean. You will see two different test spots, a clip showing how long it takes for the fish to return, and a fun clip of the fish swimming around the camera.
To do this we use a very small tripod, a small amount of added lead weight, and a GoPro type camera, although you could use any camera.
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We tested this method using a small tripod we had already owned for years, an Ultra Pod, but it was not great. It is uber-lightweight, mostly made of plastic, and has a built-in ball head and Velcro strap. We used the strap to attach a one pound dive weight.
But, we found that trying to adjust the camera angle was a little tricky with the built-in ball head, and the knob was difficult to work underwater. From that experience we decided we did not want a ball head, and would instead adjust the horizontal angle with the legs and vertical angle could be adjusted with the camera mount.
You can spend big bucks on dedicated underwater tripods made for divers. Besides being unnecessarily expensive, they are not very compact when folded up.
One option that costs less, that was designed by a diver for saltwater, is the innovative Packpod. Although it looks very versatile, for how we would use it snorkeling it is too big, and the sharp legs look like an accident waiting to happen.
A GorillaPod is commonly used. They are lightweight and their Action Pod is small enough for the job. But, it floats because of all the little air chambers in the legs. So you will need to use more weight. It's also not that compact when not in use, and adjusting the legs is always a bit of a struggle on these. So we decided to pass on that as well.
The unit we bought is the KingJoy KT-30, shown at right with an Olympus TG-6 camera on it.
It is not specifically made for underwater work. It is super affordable, and nicely made of aluminum, so it won't rust, and you can adjust the leg angles easily. We do expect to have to replace the center bolt with a stainless steel one, because the one it came with will likely rust. And we also expect the little rubber pads on the feet may come off in the water.
The legs are open on the back side, and we plan on filling that space with lead as needed to get the right weight.
The camera sits lower on it than on the previous unit we tested, giving it a more stable stance. We will likely drill a hole in one of the legs for a lanyard loop to attach it to our snorkel belt.
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Why not a bigger underwater tripod? The reason we are only interested in a mini tripod is because we know ourselves. If we had to haul a bigger tripod around with us, we would not take it. We dislike extra gear that much. And the action camera is not our primary camera. So the tripod and camera needs to be so small that it either fits in a pocket, or easily clips to our snorkel belt, and then becomes unnoticeable. We also like to keep our luggage lightweight. The other benefit of a really small tripod is that it has very little to no impact on the environment.
You could use a bigger tripod. But keep in mind that if the legs extend, and it has a ball head, all of those things will take more time to adjust underwater holding your breath. And there will be more parts that may corrode from the saltwater.
As mentioned, our first tripod had a simple ball head. But this one will not. We believe that less complexity is better when holding our breath to place the tripod. We are also concerned about corrosion issues with ball heads in saltwater.
We are going to try and use the legs on the tripod to adjust the angle of the tripod, as well as the vertical adjustment that the camera mount provides. You could also add another 90° GoPro type mount, like in the picture, so that you have both vertical and horizontal adjustments.
We happened to have a cylindrical shaped one pound dive weight that we attached to our Ultra Pod with the Velcro strap. It worked, but was not ideal. It was more weight than needed, and enough to be annoying to haul around on a snorkel. We think the ideal weight is the very minimum necessary to keep the camera on the ocean floor, in a moderate amount of current or surge. As mentioned above we are going to fill the legs of the KingJoy tripod with lead as needed.
We have seen one YouTuber who uses a big rubber band to attach a rock under the tripod, which he gathers on location. You could also hang a lead fishing weight from your tripod.
Probably the ideal camera to use is a GoPro action camera or equivalent. They are very small, lightweight, are designed for video, and they have a very wide angle lens with lots of depth of field so that when the fish get close they will be in focus. For these tests we used an Akaso V50 Pro camera mostly because it was what we had on hand. The entire setup is small and lightweight enough that we can clip it to our snorkel belts without it being too cumbersome.
But you could use any camera. It would work well with an Olympus TG6 type camera, or even a point and shoot in a housing. Although keep in mind the rig must not float, so you may need a good bit of additional weight if there is a big housing that is very buoyant. For that reason using one of the newer GoPro cameras that does not require a waterproof housing, or the above mentioned Olympus TG6 may be the best, because they both sink like a rock, so no extra weight will need to be added to the tripod.
As you snorkel keep your eyes open for congregations of fish, the ideal subject for this type of video. Normally fish who are doing this will come back to the same spot after being scared away when you place the camera. They are very habitual.
Because the tripod is so low to the ground, you will likely need to angle it up, to record the fish. Doing this will often give you a nice uncluttered blue background of sea for the fish to cross in front of. But also think about what other elements will be nice to have in the background, like a nice coral head, or even a snorkeler on the surface. Avoid cluttered backgrounds if possible.