Scuba diving is an amazing experience and being able to capture the beauty that lies below and the memories of you and your dive buddies can make it even more enjoyable. Here are some underwater photography tips for those just getting into taking photos underwater.
Get To Know Your Camera
Yes, this sounds obvious, but if you don’t know how your camera works on land, you won’t know how it works underwater. Spend time practicing topside. Read the manual (I know, no one does that, but do it!) Learn where all the buttons are and how to change to settings you might want to use underwater. After that, put the camera in the housing and practice with that (while still on land.) It might sound silly but sometimes buttons are in different places on the housing than the camera. Learn where everything is and how the settings and functions work and can be changed.
Before Getting in the Water
Floods happen. Develop a routine when setting up your gear so you don’t miss any steps which might cause issues. Check your O-rings for hair or particles and be sure to grease them with silicon grease (don’t use too much, it should look shiny, not covered in globs.) Also make sure the battery is in and fully charged, don’t forget a memory card with lots of free space, and that the lens cap off. If using strobes or lights make sure they are charged and properly attached.
Once everything is put together, do a test shot to make sure everything is working (you might also realize something you forgot at this point and it will still be easy to fix it.) Before diving, do a fresh water test by submerging completely to look for leaks or bubbles coming out of a seal. I like to do a test shot here too because it’s still easy to fix a problem before getting underwater.
Try to get as low on your subjects as possible. If you shoot down into the reef or sand while swimming over it, your subject may get lost in the colors and textures of the reef or sand. By getting low and shooting up you can make the subject appear large and on the same plane as the viewer. You can also try to get water in the background of the image to help show your viewers the animal is underwater.
Get close, get closer, and get even closer. (But don’t get so close you damage the reef.) Also be sure the eyes are in focus as it can be difficult to make out a marine animal that viewers are not familiar with if they can’t see the eyes. The eyes can also help draw a viewer into your photo. Getting close is also important if you are shooting with strobes or lights as the light will only reach so far due to the absorption of light in water. The closer you are the more light will reflect to help bring out color and detail in an image.
Keep the Ocean Safe (from Underwater Photographers)
It is easy to get a camera and suddenly forget everything you learned during your certification class. You still need to have good buoyancy and make sure you aren’t trampling the reef while taking photos. Never touch anything or move any creatures to get a better photo (we don’t want to hurt the things we want to take photos of.) Also be careful not to grab coral or anything alive while steading yourself as you may harm it (and it might sting you back.)
Keep yourself safe too. It’s easy to be taking photos and forget to check how much air you have or how much no deco time you have left. We often go much slower when we have a camera, so be aware of where you are and don’t lose your dive buddy, dive guide, or get left behind.
Choosing your Lens
Some cameras have interchangeable lenses which forces a photographer to ask the question: wide angle or Macro? Because the lenses are inside the housing you have to choose before the dive which can be a very difficult decision. I highly recommend talking to your excellent dive guides about what the next dive site is and what you might see to help your decision. The more you know, the better prepared you can be to choose one lens or another. (However, I can almost promise at some point you’ll be diving with a macro lens and a whale shark will swim by.)
For cameras without interchangeable lenses, a wide variety of wet-mount lenses are available that can increase the range of photographic options for compact cameras. These are great because you attach them outside the housing and can change them throughout the dive. There are fisheye and wide angle attachments as well as macro and diopters to allow for capturing the tiniest critters.
The More You Know
Learn about the critters you want to capture. An animal may have unique behaviors that would make for interesting images, but if you don’t know about it, you won’t know what to look for. There are plenty of fish and creature books (we have lots onboard) that can inform you of interesting things like if a fish is a different color when it is a juvenile or special behaviors like male seahorse get pregnant, or where something lives which can help you to find them.
Also enlist a dive guide to help. Your guides spend hours underwater and often know where to find certain animals and can spot behaviors. They are an endless wealth of knowledge (and if you took a photo of an animal you couldn’t identify, chances are your dive guides know what it is, so show them your photos and ask.)
There is Always Something to Shoot
No really, there is! Whenever I hear someone say they didn’t see anything on that last dive my eyes go wide with shock because there is always something to photograph. Sometimes we go to a certain place or dive site to see one creature and it doesn’t show up (it’s the ocean, not a zoo) and it’s easy to get disappointed. But don’t stop shooting, get creative and take photos of whatever is there, even if it’s just your buddy. Or look closely at the reef, check out the amazing colors and patterns you may not have noticed before. These can make for great images.
Editing Underwater Photos After the Dive
Back up your photos. Even if you’re only taking photos for fun, they are memories of your dive vacation. Bring an adapter and download them to your tablet, or if you have your computer back them up there or on an external drive. Memory cards fail, cameras flood (with memory cards in them), and things get lost or corrupted. Have a backup somewhere just in case.
Using photo editing programs can often greatly improve your images with just a few alterations. Most cameras come with a basic program or your computer may have one too. For those planning on editing a lot, invest in a program like Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop.
Break the Rules
Get creative! You can read every photography book out there and listen to all the advice and tips, but in the end it’s your art and your documentation of your personal experiences. Take photos of what makes you happy, of what you see and how you see it. Then share it! We are some of the few privileged people on Earth who get to see these beautiful underwater ecosystems. Show your friends, family, and even strangers. And don’t forget to tag All Star Liveaboards in your posts – we love to see your images and we may even feature you on our Facebook or Instagram!