Using a mini underwater tripod is a really easy way to get excellent close-up fish videos, that eliminates the annoying problem of shaky handheld 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.
The first video below was our first attempt at this, with a cheap action camera in Curacao. 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.
This video was our most recent attempt in Bonaire, using an Insta360 One X2 360 degree video camera in a housing, and a lead weighted tripod. You will notice in the last two clips of this video that the camera appears to pan, or change its perspective. That is a feature of a 360 degree camera.
How to Use a Mini Underwater Tripod for Underwater Video While Snorkeling
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 snorkeling camera.
- First, look for a place where lots of fish are hanging out, that is shallow enough for you to dive down to. Look for a good spot to put your tripod and camera that is on sand or rock, that will give a good view of the fish and background. Absolutely do not place your tripod on any live coral, even if it is stony coral with retracted polyps.
- Next dive down and place your camera and underwater tripod. I prefer to start my video before I dive down, so I don’t have to mess with that while holding my breath, because normally I need my breath to get the camera positioned correctly.
- Then swim far enough away you can still keep an eye on your camera, but you are not disturbing the fish. Do not let your camera out of your sight. You risk someone else picking it up, or losing it. Normally within about 30 seconds to a minute the fish will return. And they might grow more curious about the camera and come closer, and might even start circling around the tripod, which makes for great video.
- After 2-4 minutes collect your camera and turn it off. Rinse and repeat.
Pros and Cons of Using an Underwater Tripod
- Aquarium-like videos full of fish that are normally difficult for a snorkeler or even a diver to get.
- Very still video, with only the fish moving, which is very relaxing and enjoyable to watch, compared to shaky handheld video.
- Using an underwater tripod has a big caveat. You absolutely must not place your tripod on anything living. You will find videos of people putting tripods right on coral. Don’t be that turd! That means you must be able to recognize what live coral looks like, even stony coral that appears to be rock. We only place our camera on sand, or rock, or dead coral. The tripod only makes contact in three little tiny spots, and it leaves no damage.
- Hauling a little tripod around and maybe an extra camera adds a distraction to your snorkeling.
- On some guided snorkel trips, or at some resorts, you may not be allowed to use a tripod.
- You need to have basic freediving skills. You don’t have to go down deep, or for long, but you need to know how to be safe doing it.
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What Underwater Tripod to Buy?
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.
Next we bought a very small aluminum tripod, that is no longer available. It is a big improvement on the old tripod. It is not specifically made for underwater work and the center bolt was not stainless steel, and started to rust. It was easy to replace with a stainless one.
The legs are open on the back side, and we filled that space with lead, which worked great.
This tripod is now just about perfect for the job. But there is one thing we don’t like about it, and that is that the legs don’t have preset angle adjustments. If they are spread all the way out the tripod and camera are lower than we would like. So if we were buying again we would add that feature.
Based on our experience this is what you want:
- Small and simple
- No ball head
- Some weight is good, and you may need to add lead
- Adjustable leg angles is good
- Some place to attach a lanyard would be good
Recommended Underwater Tripods
You can spend big bucks on dedicated underwater tripods made for divers. Besides being unnecessarily expensive, they are not very compact when folded up.
The following tripods are what are currently available that fit our needs:
- Moman Tabletop Tripod – Probably what we would buy now
- CAMVATE Mini Tabletop Tripod – Cheapest, and simplest. But the legs don’t have preset angle adjustments
- ADAI Mini Tripod – Affordable, with two leg angles, but a little big for our tastes
You could use a GorillaPod, like their Action Pod, but we don’t recommend it. 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.
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.
Ball Heads and Other Angle Adjusters
As mentioned, our first underwater tripod had a simple ball head. But our new one does 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 now 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.
Get the Weight Right on Your Underwater Tripod
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.
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.
As mentioned, on our next tripod we filled the back of the legs with lead, and it worked perfectly. We tested it in a bucket of water before we left. You can buy lead wire in a variety of lengths and sizes. We just pounded it into the legs of the tripod with a hammer.
What Camera to Use?
We think a GoPro action camera or equivalent, with the widest angle lens possible, is ideal. 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.
We also tested an Insta360 One X2 360° video camera. While 360° cameras are really cool, because you can select what you want to show in the video after you have taken the footage, it did not work out that way underwater. We had hoped to be able to follow a fish all the way around the camera. But the camera housing made the footage at the edges of the lenses very soft. And the housing itself could be seen in much of the footage. So panning from one side of the camera to the other did not look good. We will use a regular wide angle action camera in the future.
Really you can use any camera. It would work well with an Olympus TG-6 type waterproof 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 TG-6 may be the best, because they both sink like a rock, so no extra weight will need to be added to the underwater tripod.
Where to Place the Underwater Tripod for a Pleasing Video Composition
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 underwater tripod is so low to the ocean floor, 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.