Updated: Dec 19, 2020
BASIC UNDERWATER PHOTOGRAPHY TIPS
By Brooke Lori from @OCEANIC.BROOKE
Above photo of me by Oliver Clarke @ollie_underwater
1. ARE YOU READY TO START TAKING PHOTOS?
Before attempting to begin underwater photography, make sure your dive skills are up to scratch. Just finished your PADI Open Water Course and want to take photos? How about getting some dive practice in first and make sure you have perfect buoyancy control. When in-experienced divers use a camera for the first time they will often experience that multi tasking is not easy, and may put themselves and the reef in peril! So let’s not break any corals just for a photo yeh? Perhaps think about doing your PADI Advanced Course or Peak Performance buoyancy speciality to get your skills ready. If you feel ready why not also get your PADI Underwater Photographer Speciality!
2. WHAT CAMERAS TO USE?
When starting out, get yourself a decent little compact camera which has basic manual features (examples: Olympus TG series or Canon G7X series). Get comfortable using the automatic UW settings and then move on to using manual features once you get your in water skills perfected. I don’t recommend to invest in an expensive full frame camera just yet as its better to gain experience with a compact camera for a year or so first.
For composition: Always shoot across or slightly up on your chosen subject. Never shoot down from above (your photos will… just generally be a bit shit) which means you need to get low and have good buoyancy control. If you cannot get the right position/composition without damaging the reef, choose a different subject. You can also get some awesome silhouette effects by shooting upwards having your subject block out the sun!
4. CAMERA SET UP AND CARE
Always clean your O rings before each day you use your camera. Make sure the O ring seal and groove it sits in are clean from hair, sand and dust which can cause dreaded flooding (and a watery death for your camera)! Lightly grease your O ring with lubricant. Use the torch on your phone to double check everything is clean before closing the housing. Only ever open up your camera in a dry place (never with wet hands on the boat) and make sure your camera is dried off properly before opening. Any tiny drops of water in the housing will cause your camera to fog. I advise sealing your camera only when in an air-conditioned room. This prevents humid air also causing fogging issues (if you’re in the tropics). Soak your camera housing after each dive in fresh water. Never leave it in the hot sun either. If fresh water is not available, keep the camera sitting in a bucket of seawater until you have access to a fresh water soak (this stops the salt crystallising inside your buttons and levers).
5. FLASH PHOTOGRAPHY
If using the cameras inbuilt flash, set the white balance to sunny or automatic mode, see what looks best. Set the ISO to the lowest setting and colour balance to natural. Get as close as you can to your subject to prevent the light capturing too many particles. If using strobes, position them far away from your camera and out to the sides to prevent back scatter. Shoot using AV (aperture priority) or TV (shutter priority) mode to that you can control the amount of light coming into your camera. Set the ISO to the lowest setting and colour balance to natural.
6. WHITE BALANCE
If you’re not using strobes or inbuilt flash, set your white balance on custom mode. Use a white slate to measure it at different depths so that your camera adjusts the amount of red colour loss associated with what depth you’re at. If you have a manual white balance option on your camera you don’t need a red filter! Avoid using them if you can as they limit the amount of light available and you will lose contrast. When photographing in ambient light above 10m depth you can achieve some really beautiful scenes using only sunlight. Have the sun at your back and again, set your what balance manually to adjust for the sunlight available.
I highly recommend using Adobe Lightroom to edit your photos. There is even a free version available from the App store on your phone. But never over edit! Make sure you don’t over do it by putting up your contrast, clarity or dehaze too high. Minimal editing is better. For spot removal you can use the bandaid option in Adobe Photoshop or on the phone, Photoshop Fix is a great app. For better ability to edit your photos, shoot in RAW instead of JPEG. This will greatly improve your ability to edit the colours in your photos during post processing.
8. EXTRA LENSES
If you’re considering getting additional wet lenses for your compact I can recommend a good fish eye lens for wide angle photography such as the UWL-04. This is what I use for all my wide angle shots of people, mantas and underwater scenes. For macro there are heaps of great diopters available such as the one I use called the Noodilab Moby. Different macro lenses vary in strength so it depends on what camera you have and what amount of magnification you require.
9. MACRO & WIDEANGLE PHOTOGRAPHY
When using a macro lens for the first time, be ready for a lot of new challenged regarding getting your subject in focus. With a macro lens you get a very narrow depth of field which basically means there is only a very small area of your subject which will be in focus. This gives your image a beautiful soft focus which is what we aim to achieve in macro photography. But is also menas you need to move your camera in and out very delicately to get the right part in focus. Doing this anywhere with current is almost impossible for super small stuff! You always want to make sure the eyes of your subject are in focus. If you have invested in a fisheye lens or a wide-angle wet lens for your compact camera. A good way to start practising is using simple manual controls such as custom white balance I mentioned earlier. Get as close to your subject as you can. The less water molecules and particles between camera and the subject the better. If you start moving up to using strobes, have 2 is better than 1 in order to achieve even lighting on both sides of your image.
10. BE AN ECO PHOTOGRAPHER
Remember that one of the most important things in diving is to care for the marine environment. Ensure that any photo you take does not involve the harassment of an animal or injury to any other aquatic organisms. Be careful not to hold onto coral or break it with your fins. Good buoyancy is a must!
Above photo of me by Oliver Clarke @ollie_underwater