Most divers will have a photo that ignited their journey into the underwater realm. From thumb-worn issues of National Geographic to the 'Underwater Photographer of the Year' competition, underwater photos provide a lens into the delicate beauty beneath the waves, and act as a reminder of why it's so important to protect the ocean. Yet underwater photography can be tricky at times. Before we dive in, remember that good divers take great photos, so be sure to nail your diving technique before you even consider adding a camera to the mix. Once you've ticked that box, read on to discover our top underwater photography tips to perfect your skills for your next underwater adventure.
1. Master Your Buoyancy
There is nothing worse than seeing a camera-clad diver mowing into a coral reef while chasing their shot. No photo is worth destroying the reef for, so make sure you are comfortable being neutrally buoyant before wielding a camera. Nailing the techniques for buoyancy control will also improve your underwater photography in other ways. For instance, practicing controlled breathing will also minimize bubbles that can disrupt your shot.
2. Choosing Your Underwater Camera
Now that you've perfected your diving skills, you will need a dedicated underwater camera or waterproof housing. Waterproof housings, or waterproof casings, have O-rings, creating a waterproof seal that protects your camera from water damage. Divers who want to step it up a notch might also consider buying an external strobe or flash to give the full spectrum of light.
A wide-angle lens - like a fisheye lens - is another popular piece of kit. This lens increases the field of view, meaning you can get very close to your subject while maintaining an expansive background. On the other hand, a macro lens allows you to capture the smallest critters in the ocean (think: nudibranchs, pygmy seahorses and frogfish). You might also want to consider using a polarizing filter to reduce glare and improve colour saturation.
This might seem like an obvious underwater photography tip, but once you've got your kit, read the manual. Starting with the camera, take photos above water to get familiar with the settings, then add the housing and snap some more.
3. Plan Your Shots
Dive planning is the foundation of every dive. Before your fins touch the water, you should have a thorough understanding of the dive site, including the topography, marine life, maximum depth and time limits. Have a dive buddy and research the weather and water conditions. Knowing the marine life and environment you'll be photographing will allow you to plan your shots and compositions in advance.
4. Take Good Care of Your Equipment
You've planned your dive meticulously and can see your underwater photography award on the horizon. Then you giant stride into the water... only to have your camera flood. Don't end your photography career before it's even started. When getting ready for your dive, take the proper precautions. If you're using a camera housing, make sure every O-ring is properly in place and debris-free to avoid the camera flooding. Post-dive, rinse your camera gear off with fresh water and dry it carefully with a microfibre towel or cloth.
5. Shoot During Golden Hour
Shoot during the golden hours (early morning or late afternoon) for the best natural light. Underwater, natural light diminishes quickly, so it's also important to get as close to the surface as possible for better lighting. As the sun's rays pierce the water, shoot upwards using a close focus, wide-angle shot to illuminate your subject in a warm, soft light.
6. Get Close and Fill the Frame
As a general rule, there are two types of underwater photography: wide-angle and close-up. Both techniques will require getting as close to the subject as possible. Water acts as a blue filter, so closing the distance between your camera and subject will increase the colour, contrast and sharpness. You should also set your camera's white balance to match the underwater conditions or use custom white balance settings to maintain accurate colours.
7. Get Out and Shoot!
Underwater photography requires patience and practice, so don't get discouraged if your first shots aren't perfect. Experiment with angles and perspectives. Shoot from above, below and at eye level to capture different views of your subject. If your photos are coming out blurry, consider using a tripod or stabilizing yourself against a solid object underwater - like rock or the seabed - to reduce camera shake. Remember: practice makes perfect!
8. Respect the Environment
This one is not really an underwater photography tip but a must: be respectful. It's easy to get overzealous when snapping away underwater. However, no photo is worth destroying the underwater environment for. We are guests in the underwater world, so never touch, harass or stress marine life. Approach your subject slowly and carefully, and if it appears skittish, back off. We like to approach marine life head on, so they can always see us. Once you've taken your shots, give the animal some space.
9. Enjoy the Dive
A final underwater photography tip from us: make sure to enjoy the dive and not hide behind the lens the entire time you're underwater. While of course you want to snap as much as you can with your new found skills, if you spend the whole dive looking through your lens, you'll miss some spectacular sights around you. Try to strike up a balance between getting the perfect shot and also making the most of your dive.