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10 Underwater Photography Techniques


If you are considering learning underwater photography, or you are already experienced, but want to discover new tips and tricks, we have put together 10 top techniques to help. Below water is not the natural environment for humans, and so photography beneath the surface is a medium we are not naturally familiar with. Understanding the properties and its specific needs will get you well on the way to some fantastic underwater photographic opportunities.


1, As underwater is not our natural environment, get as comfortable as you possibly can underwater. Get familiar with diving equipment, breathing techniques and the best ways to keep out of trouble. Once you are comfortable and familiar with diving, you will be able to concentrate entirely on your photography.


2, Water blurs images. It reduces colour and contrast, so it is essential to get close to your subject to maximise the impact. The best underwater photography is taken at a distance of about 30cm from the subject.


3, You have many more angles available to take your underwater shot. Use the water to move around your subject, and examine it. Look at it from below, above and all sides. A large proportion of underwater photographs look best when taken from below angling upwards which takes best advantage of the light above.


4, Light penetrates only a short distance into water. Change your camera setting to ‘force flash’ mode to counteract this and allow enough light for your photography.


5, If you are venturing even a short distance below the surface, consider investing in a strobe light – a specialised external flash to give you sufficient light below the water.


6, Keep your ISO as low as possible. Although you are shooting in relatively low light, which usually needs a higher ISO, the reflections and distortions in the water will cause digital noise in your photographs unless a low ISO is used.


7, Think about composition. Perhaps surprisingly, composition is closely aligned to above water photography. Don’t centralise your subject in the frame and fill the frame as much as possible with the subject. Think of the rule of thirds – mentally divide the frame into three both horizontally and vertically, giving you a grid of nine squares. Place the centre of your subject at one of the four intersections, increasing interest in the shot.


8, Look at the fine detail. Use a macro lens (try between 50mm and 200mm) and photograph from only a few centimetres away.


9, Alternatively, use a wide angle lens and capture a vista of action with a single point of interest.


10, Set the shutter speed to manual, and pick a fairly fast speed. In automatic mode, most cameras will pick a slow shutter speed to compensate for the lack of light. This results in blurred pictures.


Make sure you have tested all your equipment before you set out on your dive. There would be nothing worse than a waterproof housing which leaks, and a strobe light which fails to go off could really spoil the day. Test any new waterproof housing in a swimming pool with no camera inside just to make sure it is working properly. Then test all your equipment and practice taking some shots below water in the swimming pool. Small children are good subjects for this as they move quickly and unpredictably, in a similar way to marine life. Think what type of photography you are hoping to capture in your dive, and set your camera up accordingly. Quick settings changes are simply not possible underwater. Focus on perfecting one style of photography before moving on to another style.


Finally don’t forget that you are not in your natural environment. We are air breathing animals and need to return to the surface to breathe. Respect your diving equipment and don’t take any risks which may endanger either yourself, or other divers. Enjoy your photographic dive.