Tips for shooting incredible underwater photos

Health warning

Underwater photography is addictive!

  • Get the right equipment.
    Snorkeling is a very cost effective and convenient way to see a lot of what is under the water. You will need a snorkel set,  and to spend a little time acquiring snorkelling skills before you begin. You will need either an underwater-capable camera or acquire an underwater camera housing for your DSLR camera.

  • Get as close as you can.
    Underwater composition is similar to landscape and wildlife portrait photography, except that it takes place underwater. It is best to  shoot underwater creatures from the side with a slight angle toward the camera. Full front perspectives are also useful – especially for large and wide creatures like mantas. Work out the direction your subject is moving, swim to get a good distance in front of it and dive early to meet it. Bear in mind that most sea creatures can swim much faster than you. Water clarity is very important for clear underwater photographs. The less water there is between the camera and the creature, the less effect water clarity has on image quality. Hence getting as  close as possible to what you want to shoot is critical. Very wide angle lenses are a huge help in this.  Even then, post processing adjustments will need to be made- often you will need to make a significant contrast increase and may need to increase the saturation adjustment.
  • Remember – the light changes all the time.
    Strobe lights can extend your shooting time. In underwater photography, we rely on the sun, especially when it is directly hitting the water and when it is at your back.  Waves on the surface fracture the light, and this can be difficult- as can your own shadow interfering with the light. This is when strobe lights can be very helpful. Strobes and flash are useful for adding the colour spectrum back into underwater photos, especially if you have been shooting deeper. Near camera flash can cause back-scatter though, so using a pair of strobes on articulating arms for dual side-lighting is the best answer to the problem. Many experts believe that 20′(6m) is the right depth to begin using a strobe. A strobe helps by introducing more light, and this in turn results in the true colours of your subject coming through. Green and blue light dominate most underwater images, and strobe helps to adjust for this.
  • Prepare well and be patient.
    Implementing the right camera settings for underwater photography is demanding. For example, when fish swim the settings should cater for action and need the correct shutter speeds. If you are shooting from the water surface, waves will make your camera shake, which can make subjects blur, as can shooting while swimming.  Additionally, changing light levels make a difference.  A strobe can also help to freeze motion, and generate higher shutter speeds from your camera, which is critically important when shooting action.
  • Post processing is your friend.
    Post processing can help with adjustments to brightness,  colour, and but mostly you will need to shoot a LOT of photos and hope for the best!

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Underwater photography is a journey and every time is different- it is physically demanding and always changing but in the end – the shots that worked are worth it!

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