I am fortunate enough to pursue my two passions together: scuba diving and photography through the art of underwater photography.
I had the opportunity to dive all around the globe with my camera, and have been lucky enough to learn throughout my travels and capture amazing marine life from various parts of the world.
As I am in the water most of the time, I know that missing a single dive can mean that you lose the perfect shot. From my expeditions, I have learned many things that I will share with you.
The most important thing is to shoot at wide angles, as the viewer love it because it gives them the feel of being in the water themselves. The big sweeping images merely remind them that how tiny they are.
It’s true that underwater photography comes with many challenges especially when it comes to wide-angle photography as there is a lot of movement needed to capture a great shot- but in the end, it is all worth it. When the results come together, you can feel the ocean, and the payoff is breathtaking.
Here are a few insights from my experience as an underwater photographer:
What is Underwater Photography?
Underwater photography is an art of taking photographs while below water. It is mostly done with scuba diving but can be conducted while snorkeling, diving on surface supply, swimming, from an underwater vehicle or submersible and cameras lowered from above.
Underwater photography can also be called a form or method for recording and capturing data. For useful underwater imaging, you require specialized equipment – see on eBay – and need to follow prescribed techniques.
If you follow the rules, you will be bequeathed with exciting and exceptional photographic opportunities.
You will be able to witness and store images of marine mammals, shipwrecks, underwater landscapes, submerged cave systems, geological features, invertebrates, seaweeds, and also portraits of fellow divers.
Advice for First time UW photographers
When you are ready to embark on this adventure, you should at least know the basics. Here are a few things which you should be familiar with initially:
To capture most images most photos especially those within 3-4ft, you will have to keep the flash on. Ensure that your flash is not set on auto-flash but set to forced flash.
This is necessary because it adds color to your pictures or else they will look only blue. With the flash on, it is probable that your photo has backscattered, except if you are shooting in very clear water.
To solve this backscatter either you should get closer to your subject, or make use of an external strobe. If you are taking photos without flash by making use of ambient light, then you must either capture it in underwater mode or use a custom white balance
Secondly, for most of the shooting period, you should be in macro mode, so it is necessary to learn how to switch macro mode on and off. You also need to know the range of your macro mode.
For many cameras the range is 1-2 inches to 2 feet; so if you get closer than that you won’t be able to take the photo and if you move further away than you should turn the macro mode off.
Also, make sure you are zoomed out. The reason behind this is that it is essential because it affects your focus, specifically in macro mode.
If you are zoomed in, you won’t be able to focus strictly on the subject, thus defeating the purpose of macro mode. So instead of zooming in it is better to get closer to the subject.
If you have problems with the time lag that occurs between focusing and taking the shot, you should try locking focus. This can be done by pressing the shutter button halfway down on, fine-tweaking the composition and by making sure that your camera stays very still.
Also remember that the best mode to work underwater is full manual mode because you can set the aperture and shutter speed independently. Furthermore, you can think about purchasing an external strobe, which can enhance your photos effectively.
Before going for the big shot and diving in the ocean practice first by setting up your camera, strobe, and housing indoors. Test your equipment and settings by taking some shots indoors and make yourself comfortable.
If everything works out correctly, then be confident as it will work similarly underwater as. So if you practice well indoors, focusing underwater will become easier. So do not wait till you get underwater to try out your settings.
In every profession having the right stuff makes a huge difference, but with it comes the complexity of knowing how to use it well! So if you’re planning to dive into the world of underwater photography, you should get the right equipment first.
You should start with something compact and portable that will permit you to capture images underwater.
Garmin VIRB 360 Action Waterproof
Many amazing compact cameras will confuse you. Each will offer different specification, but all will not be good value for money.
So research thoroughly before buying a camera and ensure that it gives you manual control of settings so that you can adjust the white balance, aperture as well as the shutter speed and ISO as you progress forward with your photography.
After using the basic camera, you’ll need more advanced equipment for downloading, tweaking, and viewing your images and also other accessories to support your camera system.
So before diving in, it is necessary to ensure that you have everything you require for the underwater photography adventures that await.
The qualities to look for when selecting a camera for underwater photography:
• Full manual mode should be available. It is vital
• High-quality UW housing should be available
• Close macro mode
• Able to take macro and wide angle
• Low shutter lag
• Battery life should be long
• Histogram could be viewed
• Manual white balance can be done
• Raw mode should be available.
• Able to fire strobes through sync cord.
• Should have excellent autofocus capability.
• Aperture and shutter speed should be easy to adjust underwater.
Nikon COOLPIX W300
Once you understood the basics and mastered the techniques for underwater photography, you can then start looking for other accessories to support your underwater camera.
You can begin investing in equipment like strobes, advanced lenses, and lights that will enhance your photography.
This is the beauty of underwater photography; that it never ends and you keep on learning new things and never get bored.
Choosing the subject and the best hotspots
So now you have your gear prepared and are familiar with all the tips and techniques now it’s time to go dive and begin the play. You have to decide which types of underwater photography you wish to do.
You can choose from, a macro which focuses on the smaller subject like nudibranchs, scorpion fish, frogfish, and seahorses or full angle photography which focuses on the abundant marine life for example sharks, manta rays, whale sharks, etc…
If you’re just a beginner than Macro photography is perfect for you as the subject usually stays still and allow you to get closer; thus reducing the number of particles between your camera and the subject.
Full angle photography is excellent for those who wish to capture the bigger picture and is more challenging because of factors like visibility currents, and the animals are swimming away which causes problems. But it’s part of the adventure and is undoubtedly fun!
The best places that offer amazing sites for macro diving are Indonesia and Malaysia. They are home to many notable destinations like Lembeh Strait which is known for the volcanic black sand and critters such as hairy frogfish.
Another destination is Ambon, which is a habitat of the Ambon Scorpionfish. Malaysia has macro diving spots on the Borneo side.
Kapalai and Mabul are excellent sites for critters and amazing artificial reefs which are covered in frogfish, and ghost pipefish.
Wide Angle Hotspots
If you want to capture the big stuff, then you should visit the Galapagos. It is known for whale sharks, schooling hammerheads, playful sea lions and many more large marine animals which will be a delight for a wide-angle photographer! Nothing can go wrong here.
Another Wide Angle hot spot is in Mexico. The Socorro’s are the habitat of the world’s friendliest manta rays that welcome divers within 1m/3ft. You will also discover schooling hammerheads and humpback whales if you visit at the right time of the year.
Tips to capture amazing underwater images:
Here are nine tips and techniques that will help you achieve unique underwater images effectively:
1) Take Chances!
If you want a great picture, you have to take the chances. I once came across this whale breach and had to beg the Captain of the ship to bring me closer to that area.
He was a bit hesitant as he knows that the mother wouldn’t let me come close enough to click the picture, but I was persistent and grabbed my mask and snorkel.
Although it took a lot of time eventually the mother become comfortable and allowed me to capture this image of both her and the calf.
2) Respect the Underwater creatures
The first thing to remember when diving underwater is that we are only visitors to the underworld, so we should leave the stuff as we found it when we arrived.
This means we should not touch and harass the ocean life. So no holding the reef or plucking things to get the ‘perfect’ shot. If your respect the creature they will become comfortable and allow you to take a good shot.
3) Be Ready!
Remember underworld is spontaneous. Nothing is predictable so keep your eyes open you might get a perfect shot at the most unexpected time, or you might as well get in danger without knowing.
So look out and assess the situation when possible and also prepare well before diving in the water.
4) Good buoyancy control
This is the key to getting amazing photos. If you keep practicing using your breath to gradually and calmly rise and fall, you will be able to reduce the shaky movements when capturing photos and avoid kicking sand which can inevitably ruin your shot.
Also, hold your camera with both hands as it helps in taking the images with clarity and focus.
5) Get close
Remember what the Basic scuba theory teaches; the objects are magnified underwater and appear further away. So after mastering your buoyancy, you have to get closer to the subject for better color, sharpness, and contrast.
Closing up is good for several reasons, one of those reasons is that the closer you, there is less water between your camera lens and the subject; thus fewer particles are showing up on your image.
Another reason is that the subject will fill the frame rather than of appearing like a dot far away. So get as close as you can so that the strobes can capture the natural detail of the subject.
Try to get within inches of the subject, fill the frame with it, and get an eye-level focus with the issue facing you.
6) Start shallow
If you want more light in your results, stay shallow. When you go deeper, you will lose color as the lights get dims. So if you wish to capture vibrant shots remain in the first 10m / 33f of water as there is the most light there.
If you cannot afford expensive strobes, then stay shallow, and this will do the trick. Make use of the ambient light; it will produce great results.
7) Don’t get distracted
Pay attention to your surroundings and don’t forget to keep in touch with your diving buddy! It is easy to become absorbed in your work when it is so beautiful but always remember that trying to capture the perfect shot is important but so is your safety!
So don’t get distracted and keep track of time, area and your partner. Also ensure that other safety factors, like air, no-deco time, and depth are in line. Keep your eyes open all the time, not just literally but also figuratively.
Summing it up
For both divers and photographers, the marine world has opened up a whole new region for discovery. It is complicated to describe in words how utterly mind-blowing and expansive the oceanic world is!
So as the saying goes, it is easier to explain it via visuals as photography can speak better than words.
Underwater photography is indeed an addictive hobby if you know your trade well. Just diving is not completely fun in itself, but if you mix it with underwater photography, your dives transform to a whole new level.
You can not only view the manta ray gliding next to you, but now you can capture it. You will feel entirely satisfied when you will be able to bring out the vibrant colors of that nudibranch you come across.
You only need to master the art of visibility, light, current, and purchase the right equipment and you are good to go.
Go ahead and capture mesmerizing images while discovering new underwater arenas!