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10 Unspoken Rules for the Underwater Photographer

Being a great underwater photographer is not just about the pictures you take, but also about how you go about getting them.

After making some rookie mistakes myself, I have decided long ago that I never wanted to be ‘that photographer’. Therefore, I made these rules to dive by.

What do I mean by 'that photographer'?
Well, we have had some really bad experiences on dives with underwater photographers. This is by no means all of them, after all, I am one too 😉

It seems that some think having a camera in their hands somehow qualifies them as being more important, or gives them a ticket to see whatever is pointed out, first. Others have really taken their sweet time with a subject that they know other divers are waiting to see. As well as bumping divers out of their way getting to a subject.

One thing that every good DM would tell you in a dive briefing is to not chase after the sea animals. This usually frightens them away. If you calmly hang around, they would most likely stay a little longer and even interact with the divers. But lo and behold, there’s that photographer chasing after the sea turtle like a motorboat. Claiming the sighting for themselves and spoiling it for everyone else who only got to see the tail end of the sea turtle moving away in the murky distance.

So, here are my 10 Unspoken Rules.

“Manners are the sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use.”
- Emily Post

1. Always have Good Underwater Manners

Showing good manners underwater can be difficult since you’re unable to talk to others, but there are some universally understood hand gestures that will take you a long way. Give others the right of way, make space for them, apologize if you bump someone, be respectful of others.

2. Keep your Dive Buddy in Mind

Be considerate of your dive buddy. If they are not taking pictures with you, keep that in mind. A good idea is to chat to them before the dive about what your and their expectations are for the dive so that there are no misunderstandings underwater. For instance, if you have a macro lens on and intend to spend a lot of time in one spot, run that by your buddy and plan your dive accordingly.

3. Keep Up!

When you are focused on taking pictures or video, you can easily get carried away. Before you know it, you have moved too far from your buddy or fallen way behind, which can potentially be a dangerous situation. Especially on lower visibility dives you really need to keep track of the group. Keeping track of time underwater can be very challenging sometimes, so to help yourself, remember to look up frequently keeping an eye on your buddy and the group.

4. The Animals and Environment Always comes First

Never take a shot where you will damage the reef or frighten marine life. By controlling my buoyancy as best I can, and not going into spaces where I might cause damage with my fins. Don’t have a never-mind attitude towards the underwater world, conservation starts with you.

5. Some Shots are Better Left not Taken

Don’t touch, fiddle with, or agitate marine animals to get a better shot. If you want the nudibranch to face a different direction, you have to move to its other side. If that is not possible, then that shot wasn’t meant to be taken today. Maybe next time. Or, if it would look great if the turtle was swimming off into the blue but it’s just sleeping on the reef, too bad.

Many marine animals are very sensitive to touch and it can be detrimental to them as well as yourself if they turn out to be poisonous.

6. Always be Kind and Show Other Divers what you Find

People are usually interested in what you are photographing, so when you’ve taken your shot turn around and show the other divers. Share your special experiences, great satisfaction comes from sharing with others.

“Happiness is not so much in having as sharing. We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”
- Norman MacEwan

7. Never Hog a Great Find

Take your shots and move on, everyone wants to see, even if they don’t have cameras. Here I have found that going last is a good option for the photographer, then you can spend time with the subject without being ill‐mannered. With this approach, depending on the type of sea animal, you run the chance of missing it since it may move away. But I have found this to work best for me.

8. Always Have Fun! Don’t be too Serious

Have fun! Underwater photography is a special hobby that few have the opportunity to pursue. Do it for the enjoyment of nature and the love of photography. This will keep your attitude positive and bring you many unforgettable experiences.

9. Don’t Forget to Connect

There are great moments that nature offers us, small windows of connection through special interactions. Some of these are once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Don’t miss out on them because you were too busy trying to ‘get a shot’. Remember to stop and just breathe, open yourself up to notice and take in these moments. Lower the camera to interact with the animals if that is what they are offering you. You never know what special experience is waiting to happen.

10. Inspire to Protect

Inspire others with your beautiful underwater photographs and most of all, with your model behavior. How we act speaks much louder than our words.

“The greatest danger to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it.”
- Robert Swan

We Protect what we Love. Join the movement!

Madelein Wolfaardt Author

by Madelein Wolfaardt

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