5 Underwater Photography Tips for Beginners

As many photographers who have made it past the point and shoot phase of their journey will confirm, photography is tough! Exposure, lighting, and composition are important components in successful photos and they’re all challenging to master and control. With this being the case on land, it’s not surprising that many photographers who snorkel or scuba dive shy away from taking a camera underwater, where light tends to be a challenge and subjects are constantly on the move. Fortunately, there are ways to simplify underwater photography and make it accessible to photographers of all abilities. Here are a few tips to help you get started:


Keep it simple

When it comes to underwater photo gear, I recommend keeping it simple, especially when you’re starting out. For example, while you might be used to a more complicated set-up with a DSLR or mirrorless camera on the surface, underwater, a point and shoot should be a sufficient starting point. The advantage of a point and shoot is that it allows you to rely on some of your camera’s controls while you learn the ropes of shooting under water. This way, you can focus on composition rather than the technical aspect of shooting. A point and shoot also gives you the opportunity to experience underwater photography and find out if you enjoy it before you invest in a larger, more expensive rig.


Cameras like the Olympus Tough and Nikon Coolpix are a great investment. These cameras can be submerged to a certain depth on their own, and can also be paired with an appropriate underwater camera housing to achieve even greater depths. In short, they’re great starter cameras for the budding underwater photographer but can also grow with you.


Get close

Hungarian war photographer and photojournalist Robert Capa once said, “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough.” When it comes to underwater photography, this quote couldn’t be more accurate. Ideally, you should aim to be no more than 2-3 feet from your subject. This will help you to get the most out of your composition while helping you to avoid backscatter. If you can get even closer than 2-3 feet, I guarantee that you’ll capture more compelling photos.


It’s also worth mentioning that backgrounds under water can be very distracting. There’s a lot going on down there when it comes to textures and colours! Getting close can help you isolate your subject get a shallower depth of field, achieving a blurred and less distracting background.


Bring a dive light

Focusing in photography can be tough, especially in low light conditions. With water being denser than air and absorbing light at a much faster rate, it’s no wonder that focusing your camera under water can be even more challenging. Beginners can benefit from autofocus but even this can be challenging in low light. For this reason, I recommend carrying a dive light to help create light and contrast. After all, your camera needs both light and contrast to achieve focus and internal flash and strobes generally aren’t sufficient to create this, unless they have a modeling light feature. Similar to a flashlight, a dive light can offer the continuous light you need to focus your shots.


Invest in strobes

As I mentioned, water absorbs light at a much faster rate than air. This means that even on a sunny day, you’ll need significantly more light to achieve properly exposed shots. In addition to making exposure trickier, the light absorption under water also tends to create desaturated photos. I recommend investing in strobes to help achieve proper exposure and bring contrast back into your photos. While strobes can be pricy, the general rule is that two are better than one and one is better than none. In short, even if you can only afford one strobe, I recommend springing for it.


Shoot in RAW

Point and shoot cameras generally store photos in the JPEG format. While JPEGS take up less space on your computer and are easy to transmit via messages or email, they’re also limiting when it comes to editing.


When cameras capture JPEG photos, they compress image information. This compression results in a loss of information that makes it more difficult to edit your photos in software such as Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop. For this reason, I recommend shooting in RAW whenever possible. Familiarize yourself with your camera’s settings and figure out how to shoot in RAW—you can always convert your photos to JPEG after the fact. Some cameras even give you option of shooting in both, offering the best of both worlds.

By Mike Agerbo

April 10, 2018