Underwater photography can be a very fulfilling activity, and getting started is not as difficult as many people think. But it requires some preparation.
If you are a fan of snorkeling or scuba diving, you’ve probably attempted underwater photography. The results can be stunning, particularly if you’ve got the right equipment and technique.
Underwater photos vary from landscape, wildlife to portraits, including abstracts and fashion photography. This guide will give you the basics on how to take beautiful shots and improve your underwater photography. You will learn how to set up your camera appropriately, and how to snap bright, crisp shots.
Let’s dive right in! 😉
Underwater Photography Tips
First of all here are some useful tips that will introduce you to the basics of underwater photography.
1. Improve Your Diving Skills
To take breathtaking underwater photos you must feel at ease in the water. The aquatic element should become a natural habitat for you.
You can go out with your snorkel and practice free-diving but as you can understand it’s when you scuba-dive that you’ll get home with the most amazing photos. That’s because being relaxed underwater is fundamental. If you are worried about air and your physical effort you won’t be able to concentrate on shooting amazing pictures.
You will need to work on your diving skills to allow you to remain still and maintain a standing stance while shooting.
2. Be Mindful of Light and Colors
Water enhances blue tonalities. That’s because yellow colors, orange and reds are absorbed. For this reason, you’ll need to use strobe lights or a flash.
Your camera should be on forced flash mode to ensure your subject receives the necessary lighting.
3. Get Closer
When possible, being as close as possible to your subject is essential. Water makes color, contrast, and sharpness less striking, so you will need to be within 20 inches (0.5 m) or closer to your subject if you want to obtain sharp shots.
4. Practice in Shallow Waters
Waves will make framing more difficult because they will likely cause your body and limbs to move while positioning the camera. Therefore, your first time, you may choose to practice in pools (or even lakes) or schedule your photographing time around a period of water stillness.
Even a great swimmer may want to start their underwater photography journey in shallow waters because it allows them to use the seafloor for stability and grounding while taking the pictures.
5. Shoot From a Low Angle
Taking underwater photos from above won’t give you the best results. Make an effort to get lower and try an eye-level shot.
6. Get Off Auto Mode
As I’ll explain below in the camera settings section, shooting in auto mode will result in poor control over your images. This is something you can apply to photography in general. For better results, start practicing with your camera set to aperture or shutter priority.
7. Get Inspired
Seek inspiration from expert photographers. Underwater photography is a beautiful art and there are many great photographers out there that can help you improve. Make a search on social media and see what angles and compositions they’re using. You’ll find it easier to get started.
As for other skills, the more you practice the more you’ll get closer to perfection. But shooting always the same subjects can be boring. Experiment with different styles and lenses. Explore different areas and try to dive with different partners to mix up the experience.
9. Keep Learning
Find a diving mate. This not only is a good practice for safety but you can learn from each other. Exchange information regarding new gear and techniques you’ve learned.
10. Safety first
Always, no matter what, put safety in the first place. Water is not your natural element, hence you need to be aware of the environment around you and the marine life that lives in that area. Know what to avoid and what is dangerous. Avoid diving close to boats and always have a diving buddy with you!
Types of Photography Underwater
The beauties and uniqueness of marine life are what attract the majority of people that want to start taking underwater pictures. Photographing an aquatic animal in its natural habitat can be definitely a challenging task. Use a wide-angle lens to have more room in your frame. Especially when moving fast subjects.
Underwater Fashion Photography
Being a creative photographer means thinking differently and experimenting with new styles. If you are interested you can find a complete guide on the subject: underwater fashion photography guide. In short, this type of underwater photography is a trend that’s becoming more and more famous thanks to social media and influencers. If you are looking to differentiate your portfolio and add something unique to attract potential clients you should take a look and learn how to shoot underwater fashion photography.
Underwater Portrait Photography
If you like portrait photography why not take it to a whole different dimension and try with underwater portrait photography? It’s n excellent exercise for learning how natural light affects your subjects and it’s easy to do especially in shallow waters or pools.
A Word of Advice for Beginner Underwater Photographers
Good training, knowledge of general photography techniques, and the right equipment can make a huge difference in your final pictures. This does not necessarily mean investing in a lot of expensive gear; instead, even a mobile phone in a plastic pouch can allow you to take great photos.
If you’re looking to enjoy your snorkeling experience simultaneously, you’ll want to choose a compact underwater camera that will make your shooting experience easier.
Underwater Photography Camera and Housing
When it comes to choosing your underwater photography equipment you have different options. Always consider that you also need a good camera housing. You can find some great resources here on Pixinfocus that will help you choose your underwater photography gears:
Underwater Photography Basics
Now that you know more about what gear to use and took note of some great tips, it’s time to discover some more important basics to improve your photos.
Plan Your Underwater Photography
No matter if you are a beginner or a pro, you will first need to plan your underwater shooting to ensure you have the best possible results. Here are the key things to consider:
- Water clarity
- The dangers of marine life
- The time of the day
- The position of the sun
When visiting sites you don’t know, you’ll want to look up the type of water they have. Calm seawater, for example, is usually the clearest. This type of water is ideal for amateur photographers, who won’t need to adjust the focus too much. Swimming pools often contain chemicals likely to compromise the water clarity and may coat the lens of your camera.
How to Take Underwater Photos
Shooting underwater is considerably more challenging than shooting above it. Human bodies are not designed to withstand prolonged under-water immersion, therefore framing may be compromised by inadvertent movements or the air bubbles caused by under-water breathing.
Dealing With Different Challenges
A strong current is likely to apply both a “push and pull” force on your body, which, like waves, can make you lose your position and gradually move in a specific direction. You will also want to be confident that the marine life around you isn’t dangerous or threatening to your ability to take crisp, framed shots. Depending on the time of the day, the sun will be positioned above, behind, or in front of you. Generally, you’ll want the brightest light to capture the most vibrant shots.
You will need to use a camera with an excellent live view, which makes your work of adjusting the camera through the thick housing much easier.
Moreover, the buoyancy is increased by the blur of the water and constant movement of both the model(s) and the photographer. Therefore, you may want to consider using diving weights. However, without careful planning and monitoring, this can be a risky process.
Timing Your Underwater Shots
You should time your shots before/sometime after exhaling, to avoid air bubbles ruining your shot. You should note that if you are doing an underwater portrait photoshoot, your model is likely to have a more strained face expression underwater, so you will need to help her relax.
Make sure to take your time; underwater shooting mistakes are very hard to rectify with editing apps. You will need to practice and experiment with your first shot, which will give you an insight on adjustments you need to make to take sharper pictures and help you relax and grow more comfortable in your environment. You will want to shoot at least 50 pictures your first time, to have at least five usable shots to work on.
You can find more useful tips here.
Underwater Photography Camera Settings
Shutter speed will need to be heightened slightly. It’s ideal to set it around 1/500 or faster, because it will be difficult for you to stay still underwater as you take your pictures.
The aperture will need to be decreased because your underwater photography is likely to entail close-ups mostly. If you’re looking to improve your picture focus, you are advised to set the aperture on F8, which generally provides crisper results.
Ideally, you should put your ISO as low as possible to minimize the amount of editing you will have to do. But not too low or your images will be too dark, depending on how deep in the water you are. Find the right balance.
You can decide on white balance based on your usual preferred setting, but make sure you shoot in RAW mode and perform the required color-correction as you edit.
Set your autofocus on continuous mode to prevent blurry shots when the current or waves make you or the subject of your photography move. You will also try to use burst mode, which will allow you to take more pictures at once. That way, you increase the likelihood of having usable shots, even when you are unable to stay still.
A Final Word
Underwater photography, like any other skill, requires extensive practice and a degree of confidence. You may want to begin by shooting immobile objects such as large rocks or any other underwater treasure that grasps your attention.
You can then move to wildlife subjects or even humans once you are more comfortable.
Don’t underestimate the importance of planning; without good weather, reliable tools, and proper timing, your underwater photography experience can be much less pleasant than you’d expect.
What’s your underwater photography experience? Let us know in the comments below.
Stefano Caioni is a photographer from Sydney, Australia. Founder and editor of Pixinfocus, his passion for photography helps him explore new places and live new adventures. Thanks to photography he reconnected with the outdoors and was able to travel the world and take photos of some of the most beautiful places on Earth.