One of my friends who I've been on a few dive trips with is big into his underwater photography; you name it he has it on his set-up. With all of his pose-able strobes and expensive camera he does take some incredible pictures, but as he pointed out to me recently; it used to be a matter of you get what you pay for in underwater photography and the price of a good underwater camera used to be a good deterrent for novice divers who need to concentrate on their diving more than taking a photograph.
Nowadays underwater cameras are easily accessible and in-expensive. I'd wager more people now buy an underwater camera before they buy a set of regs. This is good and bad in my books as there are more opportunities to record amazing views, animal and events underwater to try and promote our hobby and the quality of pictures and videos coming from GoPro style cameras and the small point and shoot cameras is outstanding. Unfortunately in my experience I've found that that picture isn't always worth the danger or damage it can cost.
When you advance to the stage of dSLR cameras and external strobes etc. you've invested a lot of time and money setting it up for the type of picture you're looking to take and you are, hopefully, an experienced diver who can control their buoyancy and is aware of how fragile your surroundings are underwater.
When I used to teach I used to teach a lot with another Instructor called Dave, now we both have a very firm stance on students taking cameras; no cameras, at all, whatsoever. We found that when students bring cameras with them they
- get distracted taking photos and don't pay attention to what you are asking them or their surroundings
- hold onto objects like wrecks or reefs to take a photo
- hold their breath to take a picture
The first one is both annoying and dangerous as you can easily get separated from your group if you stop to take a picture, concentrating on nothing other than your camera. When a diver is so focused on their viewfinder they will often drift into nearby objects like divers or corals, neither of which respond well to being bumped into.
Holding onto a wreck or reef is dangerous for yourself and the ecosystem, as wrecks corrode slowly underwater the edges can become razor sharp, this combined with soft wet skin makes for an easy cut which won't clot underwater. Reefs are fragile ecosystems and damaged coral can easily take decades to regrow, many corals are also venomous; causing nasty rashes and painful stings.
I've seen too many pieces of coral snapped off because people don't realise how fragile they are or pay attention to where fins are. Most of the life on reef systems are microscopic so even placing a finger on a reef can actually affect the ecosystem, you just can't see it.
The worst however is watching divers start to line up a photo and then float off because they unconsciously hold their breath to steady the shot. This of course breaks the golden rule of SCUBA; never hold your breath, but I've seen a diver go from 14m to about 4m as the initial rise created a runaway ascent and he couldn't reach a pull-dump as his hands were full of camera.
There's a reason why training agencies like PADI have courses concentrating purely on underwater photography; you will be taught all about taking photographs underwater so they don't all come out blue and you're not going to damage yourself or the underwater environment. Unfortunately many students tend to bypass the course, stumble into coral, knock your regulator out and end up with blue pictures.
It's hard to enforce any kind of requirement, especially all around the world, where you need to produce a certification card to buy an underwater camera or take it underwater. I wouldn't mind a bit more education during beginner courses on the complexity of taking photographs underwater, but more self-assessment and awareness is required by divers who haven't grasped control of their buoyancy yet.
For Chris' useful tips and techniques look here
Torben has a great Blog on Manual White Balance here