What is underwater photography?

underwater photography
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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 worldwide 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 loves it because it gives them the feel of being in the water themselves. The big sweeping images merely remind them of how tiny they are.

Underwater photography indeed comes with many challenges, especially when it comes to wide-angle photography. There is a lot of movement needed to capture a great shot, but it is all worth it in the end. 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 the 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, an underwater vehicle or submersible, and cameras lowered above.

sea turtle underwater photo

Underwater photography can also be called a form or method for recording and capturing data. For useful underwater imaging, you require specialized equipment and need to follow prescribed techniques.

If you follow the rules, you will be bequeathed with exciting and exceptional photographic opportunities.

You will witness and store images of marine mammals, shipwrecks, underwater landscapes, submerged cave systems, geological features, invertebrates, seaweeds, and 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 photos, especially those within 3-4ft, you will have to keep the flash. 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. Your photo has probably backscattered with the flash on, except if you are shooting in obvious water.

To solve this backscatter, either you should get closer to your subject or make use of an external strobe. If you take photos without flash by using ambient light, you must either capture them 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, 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 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.

gray shark underwater photo

If you have problems with the time lag 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.

Remember that the best model 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. So if you practice well indoors, focusing underwater will become easier. So do not wait till you get underwater to try out your settings.

Equipment

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.

It would help if you started with something compact and portable that will permit you to capture images underwater.

Garmin VIRB 360 Action Waterproof

Garmin VIRB 360 Action Waterproof <- Affiliate Link 🙂

Many amazing compact cameras will confuse you. Each will offer different specifications, 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 to download, tweak, and view your images and 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 longer

• 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 waterproof camera

Nikon COOLPIX W300 <- Affiliate Link 🙂

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

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 that focuses on smaller subjects like nudibranchs, scorpionfish, 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, then Macro photography is perfect for you. The subject usually stays still and allows you to get closer, 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. It 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!

Macro Hotspots

The best places that offer amazing sites for macro diving are Indonesia and Malaysia. They are home to many notable destinations like Lembeh Strait, 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 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 the right time of the year.

Tips for capturing 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 chance. I once came across this whale breach and had to beg the ship captain 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 became comfortable and allowed me to capture this image of her and the calf.

2) Respect the Underwater creatures

When diving underwater, the first thing to remember 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 you respect the creature, they will become comfortable and allow you to take a good shot.

3) Be Ready!

Remember, the 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 to take 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 reason 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 appearing like a dot far away. So get as close as you can so that the strobes can capture the subject’s natural detail.

Try to get within inches of the subject, fill the frame with it, and get an eye-level focus on the issue facing you.

jellyfish photo underwater

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 dim. 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. Please 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.

Much more info about the underwater photography

Summing it up

For both divers and photographers, the marine world has opened up a whole new region for discovery. It isn’t effortless to describe in words how utterly mind-blowing and expansive the oceanic world is!

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!

2 comments

  1. Thanks for pointing out that shallow waters would naturally be easier to navigate for underwater photography. A friend of mine might need to hire such services soon because she is interested in having an underwater photoshoot for her modeling endeavors. I hope that she can get some very dynamic shots and maybe even be able to capture herself with some marine life.

    1. Thanks Alice,
      It might be a good idea to read my other 2 posts about conceptual and fine arts photography.
      The conceptual part tips should help a lot 🙂 Use the search bar on the top right of my site, looking for “conceptual”
      Cheers

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