Split Photography. 50/50 Shots. Over-Under Pictures. Lots of different terms but one pretty amazing photography technique. Enter the GoPro Dome!
GoPro Split Domes or Dome Ports have risen rapidly in popularity among GoPro enthusiasts and photographers in general wanting to capture unique perspectives that perfectly divide air and water.
Before I being, let me address one of the most frequently asked questions:
Do you still need a GoPro Dome to achieve these shots if you already have a GoPro?
In a word…YES!
Try as you may without a dome port, your GoPro in its waterproof casing simply cannot replicate these shots.
Don’t worry though. GoPro Split Domes aren’t outrageously expensive. In fact, you can get very high quality ones for around the $50 mark like this one which has a 4 star rating on Amazon.
PS: if you want to skip all of the reading and just purchase a top-rated GoPro Split Dome, click that link above!^^^
Here’s what I’m going to cover in this article.
- How do Split Domes work?
- GoPro Settings & how to capture the perfect over-under shot
- Which Split Dome should you buy?
How do these GoPro Dome Ports work?
The secret is in pushing the waterline away from the lens of the GoPro. This is something a GoPro by itself cannot do.
A GoPro in its housing only puts a few mm between the lens and waterline so you won’t get that exaggerated effect. It’s also incredible frustrating and nearly impossible trying to maintain the waterline dead smack in the middle of the lens (which is crucial). Even if you do happen to snap a perfectly timed shot, there’s going to be a massive horizontal line thanks to the proximity of the waterline to the lens.
With a split dome, the waterline is pushed away from the lens more than a few mm…try more like 2-3 inches. That added distance combined with the fisheye lens allows you to capture these half-and-half shots with ease.
And the large spherical lens is much more forgiving in terms of where the waterline ends up being. It can be higher or lower than the center and you’ll still end up with something worth posting up on your social media channels.
All of the GoPro Split Domes that I’ve come across use a waterproof housing so even if the dome itself cracks or breaks, yo
ur GoPro is never exposed to water. It is well protected.
GoPro Settings & How to Capture the Perfect Over-Under Shot
Once you have your Split Dome and GoPro, it’s time to choose your settings, prepare for the shot and capture!
Ask any photographer and they’ll say for every 100 shots you take, you’ll get a few good ones. You will rarely capture the perfect shot on the first try so don’t take that chance!
This is why you should be using 1 of 2 modes: Time Lapse or Burst.
And make sure your camera is set to capture pictures in WIDE ANGLE.
It’s personal preference and situation-dependent which mode you prefer to use but the bottom line is that you don’t want to use single shot mode. You want to capture several images at a time.
When using time lapse mode, you can set it to take pictures every 0.5 or 1 second let’s say. The time lapse mode would be preferred in calmer conditions capturing an image without a fast-moving subject.
If you’re shooting in rougher conditions or you want to capture a surfer coming by (i.e. time sensitive and not a big time window to work with), burst mode will be your best choice. You can capture up to 30 frames per second depending on the GoPro model you have. You also have a better chance of capturing a shot where the waterline appears right in the middle if there are big waves.
As with anything, practice makes perfect and you should always capture more photos than you think. It’s better to choose from 100 photos vs 10 since you have a greater probability of finding that perfect shot.
As for capturing the shot itself, here are a few things to think about.
FLOAT ON: Wearing a life jacket or using some sort of body board or even a pool noodle will help you stay buoyant and stable which will make it easier for you to capture the shot especially in rougher conditions. If you can tread water for 20 minutes and stabilize a camera, by all means forget the pool noodle. 🙂
GET CLOSE: Since you’ll be shooting in wide mode, the objects in your shot will appear further than they actually are. Get within 1-3 meters if possible without putting yourself in danger (I’m talking about a surfer or kiteboarder getting too close to you, the photographer). Use your judgment but realize that the closer you are to the action, the better the shot is going to be!
THINK FIRST, SHOOT LATER: Think about how you want the shot to look. Is your subject underwater, above water or split between the 2? This answer will help you determine where the waterline should be on the dome. If most of the action is happening below water, aim for an 80/20 or 70/30 split favoring the water.
In almost any situation, you can bet on a 50/50 split yielding a sweet shot so no need to think about this too much.
REPEL WATER: The day before shooting, apply some windex to the dome itself. This will ensure that water will bead off of it. Why you ask? Because you don’t want any water droplets on the portion of the dome that is above water. Here’s another product made specifically for GoPro camera housings to prevent water spots.
GET SIDEWAYS: try rotating your camera 90 degrees when capturing the shot. This will give you much taller images and exaggerate the vertical dimension.
MAKE IT INTERESTING: sometimes you’re limited by the environment you’re shooting in, but if ever you can, frame the shot so that you have something interesting below water and above it. Below is a great example of what I mean. You can see the scuba divers below the surface and the boat above. If the camera would have been pointed towards the diver with the photographer’s back to the boat, it still would have been a good shot but much less interesting, especially if there was nothing on the horizon.
Which GoPro Dome Should You Buy?
Before I go on recommending which Split Dome to purchase, let me go over Dome Diameters.
GoPro Dome Diameters
Typically, GoPro Split Domes come in 4″ or 6″ diameter varieties. The only time I would recommend going with a 4″ option is if space is limited for traveling. But honestly, I would go for the 6″ option. The reason is that bigger IS better in this case.
The distance between the GoPro lens and the dome port lens will be greater on the 6″ version compared to the 4″.
The further the distance, the smaller the waterline will appear and the easier it will be to line up the waterline to the dome. A 4″ dome will be a little less forgiving as far as getting the waterline where you want it.
I’ll use a quick little example to better demonstrate what I mean:
Let’s say you want the waterline right in the middle.
If you’re 1 inch too low in the water with the 4″ dome, the picture will be 70/30.
If you’re 1 inch too low in the water with the 6″ dome, the picture will be 60/40.
Don’t let that discourage you though. A 4″ split dome is still very capable of capturing epic half-and-half underwater shots.
In both scenarios, you’re not at your desired 50/50 split but with the 6″ dome, you’re closer to your desired ratio than with the 4″ one. That’s it.
GoPro Dome Options
Shoot 6″ Split Dome
The Shoot 6″ GoPro Dome is one of the top-rated ones on Amazon, I own this one and this is our #1 recommended choice based on quality, value and reviews. Coming in at a price of $65.99, it currently has a 4.1 star rating from 200+ reviews. It features a 6″ high grade acrylic dome with a lens hood to help reduce lens flare and also provides some additional insurance against damage to the dome itself. It is waterproof to 30m below the surface.
Shoot offers a solid 12 month warranty. Although replacement parts aren’t indicated, perhaps Shoot’s customer service does offer replacement parts if you reach out to them directly. Worst case is you spend another $65 and get another one.
They make several models including one compatible with the Hero 5, Hero 6 and HERO 2018 as well as another model compatible with the older Hero 3, Hero 3+ and Hero 4 models.
- Shoot 6″ GoPro Dome
- Shoot non-slip EVA textured floaty handle grip
- 30m detachable waterproof case
- x12 anti-fog inserts
- Dome Travel Bag
- Lens Cleaning Cloth
Amazon Basics 7.2″ Underwater Dome
Yes, Amazon has their own GoPro Dome! The Amazon Basics GoPro Dome port has a diameter of 7.2″ making it the largest option in our list. It is also made from a high grade scratch-resistant acrylic and comes with a 12 month warranty.
It’s a newer player so it only has 15 reviews but a solid 4.1 rating. Unlike the Shoot option above, it does not come with a hood lens. Pricing ranges from $33 to $60.
- Amazon Basics 7.2″ GoPro Dome
- Floating Handle with rubberized grip and Thumbscrew
- Wrist Strap
- Cleaning Cloth
- Wrench (for tightening)
- User Manual
GoPole 6″ Over/Under Dome
Next up is the GoPole 6″ Dome. GoPole is a big player in the GoPro Accessories market and they’ve got a great option. However, their Dome does NOT include a grip. At $65 for the Hero 5/Hero 6/HERO 2018 option, the price is in line with the others mentioned so far but you’re missing a hand grip. GoPole has their Bobber Floating Hand Grip which is around the $20-22 price mark although any other hand grip will work.
This comes with an optically correct acrylic lens which removes lens distortion. Slightly more impressive than some of the other options is the 40m depth rating beating the competition by 10m.
GoPole offers a lifetime warranty as well! This is the case for all of their products.
The reviews on Amazon are sparse…none at the time of writing. However, on GoPole’s website, they list 86 reviews with 72 of them coming in at 5 stars. GoPole makes solid accessories so no surprise there.
- GoPole 6″ Over-Under GoPro Dome
- Detachable waterproof housing good to 40m / 130ft
- Soft Travel Bag
Polar Pro FiftyFifty Dome for GoPro Hero 5, 6, HERO 2018
The last GoPro Dome in our list comes from Polar Pro dubbed the FiftyFifty. When checking Amazon, they had 13 reviews with an average rating of 3.8. Lower numbers compared to what others are showing but don’t count this one out yet.
This particular GoPro Dome features a unique latch system making it literally a snap to install and remove your GoPro from this mount. Check out this video to see what I mean:
The FiftyFifty is priced at $49.99 which is a great price. However, there’s no mention of the dome diameter (I would guess 6″) and the FiftyFifty is only tested to 11 meters (33 feet) compared to the others which is 30m. The Polar Pro GoPro Dome does come with a lifetime warranty though and replacement lenses can be purchased separately! This is the only GoPro Dome that actually mentions this.
- FiftyFifty Dome
- Floating Hand Grip
- Neoprene Protective Cover