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8 Handy Tips for Improving your Underwater Photography

We have made a handy list of tips for you to improve your underwater photography skills.

1. Keep Still

Try to keep your camera as still as possible in order to prevent camera shake. The underwater environment can sometimes make this a big challenge and even impossible in surge or strong currents. Using a faster shutter speed will also help, but you are not always able to set the shutter speed too high without getting a photo that is too dark. To compensate for this, you can bump up your ISO to lighten up your image.

2. Get Close

To get sharp photos it helps to get as close as possible to the subject because there is less water between your camera lens and the subject.  The further you are away from the subject, the more green and blue will show up in your picture. In the picture below I was too far from the diver and the light of my strobes did not reach him, look how blue the picture ended up being.

underwater photography color loss distance

Not enough light - too far from the subject.

Getting closer also allows your strobe/s to light up a scene with enough light, having less distance between you and the reef allows the light to reach the part of the scene that you want to have lit. Which leads to the next point

3. Lighting

You need enough light. It is a well-known saying that photography is to paint with light and therefore you need enough of it. You don’t necessarily need to use a strobe or flashlight, especially on shallower dives with sunny weather. Underwater photography especially benefits from strobe light when you need to restore the colors that are lost underwater and the contrast lost from absorption. Without extra lighting, your pictures will mostly have green and blue hues.

Have a look at the chart below to see which colors are lost at which depths. This chart applies to a sunny day where the sunlight is shining brightly through the water surface. The reach of the colors will be even shallower on rainy or overcast days when the clouds are blocking the sunlight from penetrating the water column.

underwater photography color loss at depth

A strobe will also allow you to use faster shutter speeds in order to freeze motion, this is especially handy when trying to get a shot of a fast-moving marine animal.

4. Try different angles

Give your pictures an interesting point of view. It is a good rule to follow to get at eye level with your subject or even below your subject when possible. This gives the viewer an interesting perspective of the subject. For this image of the pink sea fan I had to get really close because it was actually quite small (+- 20cm), and I had to move my camera right up against the reef in order to make the sea fan stand out from the reef and to get the plain background.

pink coral seafan underwater photography

Seafan standing out from the rest of the reef.

Getting beside or below your subject will also place your subject against a different background. Reefs can look especially busy, if you photograph a fish against the reef, the reef background will swallow up the fish but if you get at eye level or below the fish it allows the fish to be photographed with the clear water in the background, making it more visible and stand out.

bannerfish underwater photography reef            bannerfish underwater photography water
Bannerfish photographed against the reef.                             Bannerfish photographed with blue water background.

5. Know your gear

Get to know your camera and housing well. Know how the settings on your camera work and how to use the functions through your housing. Get used to your gear before even taking it underwater. You don’t want to be fiddling with buttons and miss out on some amazing shots.

6. Think before you approach

When you spot a potential subject to photograph, think about the possible picture/s you want even before approaching the subject. Check which angle will work best, from which side do you need to approach and check for possible dangers around your subject to look out for. I also try to position my strobes before approaching my subjects, especially if it’s a skittish animal that will likely move away quickly. You don’t want to be fidgeting with your gear and by the time you look up the fishy is long gone.

7. Be patient

Patience is the key to becoming a better photographer. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Sometimes all the variables just don’t come together on a dive and you don’t get great shots. Photography needs to be practised to improve, especially in an unusual environment like underwater. Practice a lot, above and below the water. And remember, getting the picture is not more important than enjoying the experience and connection with nature and it's amazing creatures.

8. Master your buoyancy

Your buoyancy is something that plays a big part in your underwater photography. Having good buoyancy will help you to keep still and steady when taking pictures. Being an underwater photographer means that you will sometimes need to get very close to the reef and having good buoyancy will assist you in this. You can hover in one place by using your breathing. Having good buoyancy will go a very long way in helping you get beautiful shots without damaging the reef or being injured by stings or bites from marine animals. 

Remember to always put the marine animals and environment first. Be a conservation-conscious diver.

We protect what we love, join the movement!

Madelein Wolfaardt Author

by Madelein Wolfaardt

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