The Inertia

Editor’s Note: We’re excited to partner with longtime contributor and esteemed photographer Tom Woods of ST Images on the release of his new water photography course. If you’re interested in improving your surf and water photography chops, check it out here.

Aloha, water photographers! In this tutorial, I’ll show you how to get crystal clear pictures while shooting through your dome port with a wide-angle lens. This is just one segment I cover in my full Water Photographer course for all levels of surf photographers.

These beautiful big dome ports are designed to shoot with wide-angle lenses 20mm and below. I generally use the Canon 8-15mm fisheye lens with this port or my 17-40mm wide-angle (normally set at 17mm).


If you are using a lens longer than 24mm, definitely get yourself a flat port that will work much better.

The goal when shooting through a dome port is to have a thin, even sheet of water sucking perfectly against the entire port. This method is called “Wet Port Shooting,” and is the most effective method when shooting surface work from the water and split level shots.

If you don’t have this perfectly even film of water covering your dome port then you will get water drops forming that will ruin your shots. There’s nothing worse than nailing that hero shot in the barrel to find out later that a water drop is covering the subject’s face.

Now there are a few methods that some photographers swear by like rubbing a fresh potato and other types of fruit and veggies, but most water photogs will agree that the best method is your own saliva.

Surf Water Photographer Lick Lens

Yup. Get in there. Photo: ST Images

Yep, it’s a bit gross spitting all over your lens port and then licking it, but you are going to have to drop any reservations you may have and get in there and make some sweet love to that dome port.

While it’s widely known to use saliva to prevent water drops on your lens port, there are a few steps that are often overlooked – even by professional shooters.

First, the quality of your saliva matters. Make sure you haven’t just downed an ice coffee or any milky products, they are the worst for spitting on your lens. It’s actually better not to have anything to eat or drink for at least 20 minutes before you do the deed.

Second and most important is the timing of you licking your lens port. Many just give their lens port a lick only seconds before they dive into the water. This is a mistake many well-meaning photographers make. Don’t get me wrong, it will still be effective, but you will have to constantly lick the port throughout the session to keep it working well.

If you instead lick the port around five to ten minutes before entering the water, that makes a huge difference. It lets the good stuff from your saliva seep into the Perspex to keep that even film of water over the port and prevent water drops from forming.

I normally get my port all licked up and then put the housing out of the sun while I get into my wetsuit. By the time I’ve walked down to the beach got my fins on and launched into the ocean its has given it enough time.

Note that on ultra-hot sunny days, you might want to shorten the time of five to ten minutes back to about three minutes as it can get a little too crusty with a hot dry wind.

There are a few more things you have to be mindful of as well.

You want to keep that port under the water as much as possible. Only bring it to the surface when you are about to take the shot.

The thin layer of water will only stay intact so long, so either keep the port submerged in between shots or be constantly dipping under to get the best effect.

Clear Surf Underwater

Crystal clear from a well-licked port. Photo: ST Images

With this system, I never really have to lick my port while I’m out shooting. That initial lick a few minutes before does the trick for hours. Which is good because once you’re out in the saltwater, your mouth goes kind of dry.

It is, of course, a good idea to keep checking port throughout the session. If the layer falls off within 20 to 30 seconds, give it some more saliva.

Things like oils from your skin or sun cream will interfere with the wet port clarity so do your best to keep everything away from that precious Perspex.

One mistake I’ve seen with water photographers both online and in the ocean is that they spit on their lens port and then proceed to rub in the saliva with their fingers. This can be a crucial mistake as your fingers often have oils that will reverse the effect of what you are trying to achieve. The oils from your fingers and skin will repel the water when you are trying to suck an even film of water on to your lens port. So keep your hands off it. That place is reserved only for your tongue.

Also, make sure there are no scratches on your port. No amount of licking will help if your port is not totally smooth. We have a video on housing care in our full-length course that goes into detail about all that.

This method will ensure you get all of your wide-angle water shots water drop free and looking A-grade! Now, go make some magic.

Dive deeper into the process of water and surf photography in Tom’s new Water Photographer course here. The enrollment window ends April 20th.  


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