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  • Dan Schofield

Picture This: A Beginners Guide to Underwater Photography

Maybe you're excited to put your newly earned dive certification to good use and explore Cayman's famous marine life. Or perhaps you've been diving for years and have just decided to invest in a new underwater toy (we all know there's no such thing as too much dive gear). Either way, you’ve got an underwater camera and now you're keen to share your underwater footage with everyone you know, especially after watching Blue Planet for the 1000th time. For some reason though, your pictures and video don't come out quite as you imagined them. National Geographic hasn't been in touch and even your best David Attenborough narration isn't helping.


Underwater photography is a finicky game to get into. Adding more equipment into an already equipment-heavy hobby can be a financial drain and capturing the perfect shot underwater can be incredibly frustrating. Having said that, we love it all the same and find it can be incredibly rewarding! So here are some recommendations to improve your underwater video clips and photos.


How many cameras is too many? I use an Olympus EM5 with Nauticam housing,strobe, and video light (left) and an Olympus TG6 with Ikelite housing and strobe (right)
How many cameras is too many? I use an Olympus EM5 with Nauticam housing,strobe, and video light (left) and an Olympus TG6 with Ikelite housing and strobe (right)

Know your camera settings!

As with dive computers, make sure to read the manual and familiarise yourself with the camera's basic functions before you start trying to use it underwater. Taking the time to go over the settings on land can save you a lot of frustration on your dive - no one wants to be fiddling with buttons while an eagle ray is swimming past! Check out YouTube for videos running through basic camera settings for your particular model, there are heaps of helpful clips available with just a quick search.


Not sure what camera is right for you? Websites like backscatter.com are a great resource for all your underwater camera needs, including reviews and blog posts for different cameras, lights, etc.


Refine dive skills BEFORE adding a camera

Unsurprisingly, adding extra gadgets underwater will make everything else harder. Basic dive skills such as checking gauges and maintaining good trim and buoyancy should be second nature before adding a camera to the mix. We can’t tell you how many times we’ve seen new photographers get so focused on their camera that they struggle with their buoyancy and end up bouncing all over the reef like a ping pong ball. Do yourself (and the coral!) a favor and get comfortable with your dive skills before taking the leap into underwater photography.


Approach low and slow

Ever tried taking a picture of a fish, only to have it immediately dart away leaving you with a blurry picture of its tail? Approach marine life with care to avoid spooking them. Getting closer to the critter will result in a better image and the best way to do that is to get low in trim and approach slowly. After all, the Beastie Boys said it best:

“Let it flow, let yourself go
Slow and low, that is the tempo”



Shooting angle

As a general rule, try to avoid taking 'top-down' pictures which can appear two-dimensional. Getting low or shooting upwards will open up your picture with a foreground and a background. For example, I took my time getting low into position for this side shot of a sailfin blenny displaying. Note getting the eye in focus!


Colours

Perhaps the most frustrating thing for a new underwater photographer is looking at your photographs on the surface, only to find out that your images appear washed out or green/blue looking. As you may remember from your dive training, when you descend underwater you will lose colours, starting with red. You can:

  • Opt to stay shallower!

  • Add a red filter if you're using something like a GoPro.

  • White balance. A vital setting to understand for most cameras. You can use pre-set settings or white balance your camera manually underwater. Basically, you tell the camera what white looks like at a given depth and it will adjust the colours accordingly.

  • Light it up! More on this in the next point...


Lighting, lighting, lighting

The deeper you descend, the less light will penetrate. You have two main options to counteract this effect; using natural light and/or external lighting. Shallow water is better to utilise natural light. Pay attention to lighting conditions on your dives and notice how the time of day and weather conditions have an impact.


External lighting can take your pictures to the next level! A video light will produce an evenly spread cone of light rather than the focused beam of a flashlight to light up the entire scene. If you’re feeling particularly ambitious, strobes will really make the colours pop!


Editing is your new best friend

Think about some of your favorite underwater photos you’ve seen - most (if not all) of them have gone through some form of editing to clean up the raw footage. Editing software may seem intimidating and time-consuming at first, but it really is worth the extra effort and will take your underwater photos to the next level. Adjusting lighting, removing backscatter, bringing out colours and more can all be achieved with the help of a simple app or program. There’s many options out there, including some with free trial versions. Dive+ is great for quickly colour-adjusting underwater footage, and Adobe’s Lightroom and Photoshop are continuously ranked top choices by passionate photographers. Lightroom is particularly good because the smartphone app is free to use and is a great editing tool!


A fingerprint cyphoma before and after editing. I used the free phone app version of Lightroom to make small adjustments to exposure, contrast and colour to get this result.


Follow other photographers

There are plenty of divers posting their images online, whether on social media, personal blogs, websites and more. Find some photographers you like and check out their photos. Think about something you like about each of their pictures and how you could achieve the same effect. It’s a small community, and sometimes underwater photographers are happy to share what equipment they use, or tips and tricks that work for them. It never hurts to reach out and ask!


Consider your motivation

What's your purpose for taking the pictures? Your motivation will impact the kind of shots you take, whether you want to post them to social media, keep a personal record of your dives, or use the pictures to identify different species of marine life. For example, if you are taking pictures of marine life to identify the species, it might be more important for you to get multiple angles and features of the creature close-up rather than taking a funky artistic shot.


Sharing is caring!

Did you take a photo you're proud of while diving with DiveTech? We'd love to see it, send it to info@divetech.com and you may see it on our Facebook or Instagram! Alternatively, upload photos to the citizen science database at inaturalist.org to contribute to scientific research and get your marine creature observations identified!

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