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How To Take Great Underwater Pictures Using Compact Cameras: Manual White Balance

Previously we’ve covered the basics in how to take better pictures using your compact camera underwater and we’ve seen how you can use a strobe to improve your pictures greatly. Now it’s time for you to learn how to really use your camera, and not just clicking on the shoot button. The two previous guides covered how you could get more light in your picture, either by staying in the light or bringing artificial light. In this quick guide we’ll look at how you can get the warm color into your pictures without having the light there at all. 

Underwater Photographer scuba diving with camera


Most compact cameras have an underwater mode you can choose. Basically this mode adds a red layer on top of your pictures. It will make your pictures look a bit warmer and add some of the missing color in your pictures, but as this is a static filter it won’t work at all depths. It will definitely work better that shooting in auto mode, but this is not your greatest solution to the perfect underwater picture.



Instead of using the presets and the auto mode you can step up the game a notch by going manual. If you find the setting White Balance set it to Manual – this will allow you to be in charge of the light settings in a quick and easy way. During configuration, you will take an adjustment shot of an object with neutral colours. Underwater, the perfect subject for this is your slate board, if you didn’t bring one you can use the palm of your hand or the white sandy bottom. As long as it’s a white surface or as close as white as you can get, it will work. Point the camera at the white surface and press adjust. This allows your camera to figure-out the neutral colours from the other shades in the spectrum. Most photographers configure their white balance every 1 to 2 meters (3 to 6 feet) in order for the camera to adapt to the changes in depth and light. After only a few dives you’ll get a hang of this and it will become a natural part of taking the pictures.



As with everything new: You need to practice. The more you dive the better diver you become. The more pictures you take underwater the better underwater photographer you will become. If you have a new camera or you don’t know how to use the cameras settings fully, try going through the user manual. They often give great understanding of how to use your camera. Practice on land as well. Use the manual settings while you are on land to practice adjusting the cameras white balance. Take as many test shots as possible and look them through to see the difference in the light. Once you start using this underwater you’ll get some really horrible pictures at first and after your first dive you might only have one good picture. That is the reality of taking pictures underwater, you really need to do it a lot before you become good, but once you get a hold of it you’ll slowly start mastering the different aspects and soon after you’ll see the results in the picture quality. 

Clown fish swimming in coral garden, beautiful undersea nature,


Taking underwater pictures with a configured white balance needs some attention. Here are some of the common mistakes:
  • Forgetting to switch back to auto-white balance mode from manual white balance. If this happens and you are using flash or strobes, the resulting picture will be full of red colors.
  • On the other hand, leaving the white balance on auto mode while taking pictures deeper than 3-5 meters (10-15 feet) will give you a monotone of bluish picture.
  • The last picture in the surface has a tendency to look very red if you forget to set the white balance once back at the surface. A good idea is to shift to auto mode so you can focus on your dive group and exiting the water safely.
Have you tried the Manual White balance yet? What was you experience taking pictures like this? Leave a comment below, I would love to hear your thoughts and tips.

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