So you are ready to try underwater photography, that’s great. Having the ability to show your friends and family what you have seen in the underwater world is awesome. But first things first, you’ll want to invest in an underwater camera.
Using an underwater camera can be distracting, so it’s a good idea to make sure that you are comfortable with your diving skills and buoyancy. When you are concentrating on taking pictures underwater, it can be easy for a new diver to crash into the reef, or worse, start to float to the surface without knowing it.
The Ultimate Guide to Underwater Photography
Once you get your hands on one of the best scuba diving underwater cameras, you want to use it as soon as possible. Get started using the right techniques with this beginner’s guide to taking photos in the ocean.
Then, when you are comfortable with your new gear, you can try these awesome underwater photography tips for even better shots. Or, venture into using your GoPro for underwater video.
Required Gear for Underwater Photography
Obviously, you need a camera but which kind is most suitable for you depends on your familiarity with cameras and what kind of shots you want to take. The three general options are a small underwater action camera or recorder like a GoPro, a compact camera for point-and-shoot or an advanced DSLR with the appropriate waterproof casing.
The most important piece of underwater photography gear is housing. There are cameras that are already waterproof to a certain extent, usually around 33 feet, but proper divers need an additional casing to protect at much deeper depths.
The second piece of vital equipment is a strobe or flash. You get less sunlight the deeper you go which also impacts the contrast and color capture in your photos so you need an artificial light source to compensate for that.
Yes, certain cameras have a built-in flash but for more detailed and professional shots you will notice that the more light sources you have, the more control you have over what is captured.
Underwater Photography Lighting Tips
This is the aspect that you need the most knowledge on and also the aspect that you need to experiment with. Getting the right lighting when you are hundreds of feet down in the depths of the ocean requires skill and expertise.
Here are some basics that you need to know about underwater lighting.
1. Distance Fades Color
Both depth and horizontal distance from your subject. Compensate for this with your flash and/or filter.
2. Use Ambient Light
Using ambient lighting means using natural sunlight. This style is more suitable for capturing large scenes.
3. Invest in a Good Strobe Light
A strobe is one of the ways to prevent backscatter and blurry photos. This is because an internal flash or ambient light leads to slower shutter speed.
4. Try Different Strobe Angles
Different strobe angles create a focus on different aspects of the subject. This is one of the ways you can set a mood or focus on a specific detail.
5. Adjust White Balance to Your Light Source
Using one or two external flashes can cause a hotspot; a specific area that is over-illuminated. This is caused by reflective surfaces, silverfish or white rocks for example, but you can compensate for this by using a diffuser or re-positioning your lighting source. Don’t forget to adjust the white balance to your light source because this directly impacts the coloring in your photo.
6. Get the Right Distance
Distance is very important in underwater photography because it affects colors and focus. In general, the closer you get to the subject the clearer the photo and the more contrast you get. For close-ups, set your camera to macro mode and be very careful with you position your lighting. Macro mode is best for shots between 2 inches and 2 feet away from the subject.
However, with marine wildlife, getting nearby is not always possible. For larger scenes and greater distances, try shooting in wide-angle or even fisheye mode when only using ambient light. The ideal distance is less than 3 feet from the subject so you have more control over lighting. However, water also acts as a magnifying glass so your subject seems bigger and closer than they actually are.
Capturing Colors Underwater
Sometimes, the colors that you see do not translate to the actual picture. You need to understand which colors fade at which depth and which filters can compensate for that.
When in macro mode, try shooting subjects that are only 6 inches away to capture reds and orange colors. Also, don’t use a flash if there is enough ambient light because the flash will actually fade out the natural colors.
When in wide-angle mode, try getting within 1 foot or use the appropriate white balance if this is not possible. This style works better in shallow waters because you need as much ambient light as possible but you can also use filters to compensate for the color loss.
Finally, pay attention to the lighting angle. The wrong positioning can over illuminate which again, fades out the color.
Basic Camera Settings
Here is a quick overview of commonly used settings for different types of cameras.
- F8 aperture, 1/1000th shutter speed
- Macro mode
- Auto white balance
- ISO 100 or less
- Forced flash
- Small aperture for small subjects, large aperture for large subjects
- Macro for close-ups, wide-angle for larger distances
- Auto white balance
- ISO 200 or less
- Adjust shutter speed to color requirements