Underwater photography is an addictive world of challenges and rewards. A particular set of skills and knowledge are required to master the technique of taking good photographs underwater. This paired with excellent diving skills, a creative eye and of course a waterproof camera, can lead to some inspiring photography. But do you know how to take great pictures underwater?
In this article, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know to capture your memories while diving.
TIP #1: Know the differences between shooting underwater and on land
One of the biggest challenges with shooting underwater is getting the right light and color. Underwater, light is affected by depth, the distance of your subject as well weather and surface conditions. Let’s talk about each factor in more detail.
Water absorbs light differently than air does. This means that as you go deeper, certain colors begin to disappear. Red is the first color to disappear underwater. This is why pictures that were taken underwater without a flash look blue or greenwashed. If not using a flash, it is recommended to use manual white balance in order to try and restore some color. Remember to adjust this every 5-10 ft.
To get a more detailed explanation of exactly how light is affected underwater, check out this informative post from LeisurePro.
- Subject distance
The closer you are to your subject, the better light and focus you will get in your image. If you take a photo of a subject that is far away, the photo will mostly appear foggy or blurry. Get as close as possible to your subject.
- Weather and surface condition
The amount of light underwater is determined by the sun. On a dark and gloomy day, the light underwater will be limited. To get the most out of natural light, tilt yourself and shoot upwards. This will allow pictures to capture more light from the sun.
TIP #2 : Hold Still
Avoid shaky movements. Sounds easy, right? After all, your camera is surrounded by water and should be nice and stable. While it’s true that most underwater footage isn’t prone to the kind of rapid shake that handheld cameras usually produce topside, any amount of wobble can be extremely distracting to your viewers. Hold the housing as close to your body as possible to help stabilize it, or use a tripod.
TIP #3 : Make trips dedicated to one animal you want to photograph
The more time spent with the animals on a trip, the better you’ll know their behavior and the better you can anticipate the shot you want. Spending multiple days in the presence of one species also gives you plenty of opportunities to shoot with different light (cloudy, sunny, ambient, strobes) or even with different lenses. At the end of the day you only need to charge your batteries, download your memory card, review images to check what you can do better or differently, and do it all over the next day. — Ellen Cuylaerts, professional underwater photographer
TIP #4 : Be a good diver
Having to think about all the factors that make a great photo is hard enough on land, now imagine doing this underwater! Being an expert diver is the first step in being a good UW photographer.
Perfect buoyancy is crucial and must be second nature. The last thing you want is to crash into a coral bommie because you couldn’t control your buoyancy as you were changing your camera settings. Also, holding onto a piece of coral while you try and position yourself for a good shot is a BIG no! Good buoyancy control will allow you to get close and personal with your subjects without causing a disturbance.
TIP #5 : Move Around a Little
Videos are more interesting if they contain a variety of shots. So along with all your nice, steady, still clips, you probably want to have a few taken while moving.
Practice panning the camera by twisting at the waist to aim the camera all the way to one side, hitting record, and then slowly unraveling yourself back to the other side (don’t try to turn your whole body using your fins as this will introduce more shaking).
Each kick of your fins makes the camera wobble for a moment, so try panning over or past your subject by frog-kicking. If you get a strong enough start, you can film a nice long, stable shot while coasting after each kick.
TIP #6 : Follow the Action
When shooting a moving subject, keep it in frame and with plenty of “headroom” – just like shooting stills, you want to make it look like your subject still has room to move.
You can’t follow any critter forever, though, and if you try you wind up with a wobbly shot trying to “catch up” with it. After you’ve captured some amount of motion, hold the camera still and let the subject swim out of frame to “end” the shot gracefully.
TIP #7 : White Balance
Get familiar with your camera’s white balance functions. If you’re shooting macro with lights, you can probably just leave it on ‘auto.’ But if you’re using ambient light, even with a red filter, manual white balance is going to be your friend.
Manual white balance normally entails pointing the camera at something white (or close to white) and hitting a button, or an annoying series of buttons. Sand usually works, though in some locations the sand has too much red or yellow in it to make a good white card. Dive slates can work, but may need to be held at a bit of a distance and slanted so they aren’t glaringly reflective. If all else fails, point straight up towards the sun (or make your buddy wear white fins).
It’s often tempting to stop fiddling with white balance and just “fix it in post.” But trust me: fixing it in the camera will look much better!
TIP 8 :Don’t forget your stabilizer stick
When photographing in current, carry a stabilizer stick; that way, you can use it to anchor yourself into the sand or rock without disturbing the coral or animal life.
TIP #9: Patience is the key
Brian Skerry, one of the world’s most renowned UW photographers, says patience is key to getting a great photo.
As every diver knows, no sighting is guaranteed underwater. Be patient and wait for your subject. If your subject is already there, wait for the perfect conditions to shoot the image. Allow divers to swim away if they are in the background of the image or wait for your subject to assume an interesting position. The results will be worth it.
Don’t get too frustrated if things aren’t turning out the way the wanted them too. If things are not going as planned, consider adjusting your equipment set up or trying again another day. Remember, underwater photography is meant to be fun!
TIP #10 : Be Ready!
When possible, assess the situation before you get in the water and be ready for anything (i.e: dolphins jumping INTO the water).
TIP #11 : Use the Sun to your Advantage
TIP #12 : Safety first
The first rule of underwater photography is safety – you’re dealing with an entirely different set of issues as soon as you step off dry land and you need to be aware of how to keep yourself and the wildlife around you safe.
Richard Carey is a certified PADI diving instructor and an award-winning underwater photographer. He says that buoyancy control is key, and that diving skills are more important to learn than photography skills, at least in the beginning. “You will need to get close to your subjects without touching and harming marine life such as corals, so learning how to hover is a good start.”
TIP #13 : Pack the right lens
Lens wise, it’s important to know what you want to shoot. You’ll need a wide angle lens for larger subjects and a macro lens for the small stuff as distortion in the water means that the closer you are to your subject, the clearer the shot. Waterproof housing means you’ll be unable to switch out lenses, so know you’re photographing and what shot you want before you get in the water.
TIP #14 : Know your dive zone
How you dive is up to you. In some places you’ll be able to simply walk into the water from the beach, but other locations will require you to dive from a boat. Check in with local underwater photographers and divers if you’re in a new location to find out about the safest places to dive. Remember, reading about a location and diving there are two different things – talking to someone with experience is always best.
TIP #15 : Be unique
Depending on the type of creature, there will already be thousands of images of them. Matt Draper recommends trying to capture a feature of the animal that hasn’t been seen before. To do this you’ll need to research the animal and as Pier Mane says: “At the end the day creating really outstanding images is really difficult because they need to be innovative. All subjects have been photographed so finding a unique perspective is key.”
- Aventure Junkies