5 Best Underwater Photography Tips

24th September 2013   |   Jackie Hutchings

Underwater Photography is amazing.  If you’re like me, you see great underwater photos on social media and start getting pumped for your next dive.  You start pre-visualizing the shots, ready to hop in the water and shoot away.  Dive day comes and you’re sure you’ve got some “National Geographic” shots, then load the images on the computer and send them into a deep folder never to see the light of day.  Sound familiar?

We’ve all been there, but let’s speed up the learning process. The 5 tips below are techniques I’ve learned from talented photographers and through years of experience:

  • Master Your Buoyancy. That’s right. If you’re flailing around there’s no way you can relax and compose a great shot. Divers need to have full control in order to hold the camera steady at the angle needed to create a nice composition.  Good buoyancy is also critical in protecting the reef, especially with the  distraction of a camera.

underwater photography skillsProper buoyancy allowed my dive buddy and I to capture this shot of Melibe Leonina nudibranchs while hovering mid-water.

- Shoot Up. Ever look down into deep water and see the light falloff? Your camera sees the same thing. When shooting up towards the surface, the water behind your subject will take a nice blue color and bring much-needed light into the image. Shooting up also eliminates distracting backgrounds, making the subject POP in the picture.

underwater photography tipsShooting up allows the camera to capture ambient light in the water

- Get Close. Great underwater photos have a distinct subject that often fills the frame. Getting close to the subject brings out intricate details and creates interest through eye contact, patterns, textures, colors, shadows and much more. Water also contains particulates that cause backscatter when lit with a flash or strobe, so the less water between the lens and subject the better. Just remember not to touch the reef!

nudibranchesGetting close is essential to create a compelling underwater composition,
especially when shooting macro.

- It’s All About Light. Light is lost quickly as we get deeper in the water, starting with the red spectrum. This is why it’s a great idea to carry a dive light – even on daytime dives. It brings color back into the reef. We need to do the same thing with cameras, either through the pop-up flash or (ideally) with an external strobe or two. The only time a photo will look great without artificial light is within 8 or so feet from the surface, where ambient light from the sun is still strong and no colors have been lost to the water.

underwater photography tipsThis was shot with a single strobe (right side) and you can see how much color is brought out on the right vs the left side of the frame.

- Review your Images In-Water. Use your camera’s image review function to immediately see what could be improved in the image – don’t wait until you’re back on the boat or at the resort when it’s too late. If the shot isn’t what you had imagined, try again!  This often involves changing settings and several additional shots until you’re happy with the result.

underwater photographyReviewing my images allowed me to find the best body position for capturing blue shark images.

Now that we’re equipped with these underwater photography tips, it’s time to go dive and shoot. For further reading, check out the Underwater Photography Guide, which is the ultimate resource for tips, tutorials and everything you need to know about improving your underwater photography.

Brent Durand - Underwater Photography GuideBrent Durand is an avid California beach diver, photographer and writer with a rapidly growing portfolio of unique underwater, ocean lifestyle and adventure images.

Brent is editor-in-chief of the Underwater Photography Guide and you can see more of his work at www.brentdimagery.com.

Follow the Underwater Photography Guide on Twitter.

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