Photography has changed the way we look at the world. The ability to capture a moment instantly and preserve it forever is something that was previously reserved only for artists. Modern cameras are able to capture the world in startling, real-as-life quality. And photo editing allows us to create beautiful scenes from our snaps.
One of the areas of our world that remains vastly unphotographed was the depths of the ocean. That is until innovation caught up. We are now blessed with a vast array of waterproof cameras. And not just the industrial-grade cameras used to explore shipwrecks. Anyone can take their photography passions to the depths below.
There are so many reasons to get into underwater photography. Perhaps you are keen to capture your holiday memories. Maybe you want to document the wonders of your local beach. Maybe you have a passion for aquatic life.
How Deep Will You Go?
Before we look at equipment and practical tips for your photographing sessions, you need to know just how far underwater you are going to go. There are a few reasons for this.
Firstly, you need to make sure the camera you purchase is able to function at the depths you will descend to. Not all waterproof cameras are waterproof at every depth. As pressure increases the sealing can compress and break. This is less than ideal and can be costly.
Secondly, and most importantly, you need to make sure you have the right diving knowledge and experience to handle the depths. It might seem as simple as slapping on a wet suit and swimming down, and for some shallow pools, it is! But if you want to brave the deeper depths, you will need to be equipped, prepared, and physically fit.
If you are planning to go any deeper than 20ft, you will need to make decompression stops. So if you are planning to go this deep, you will need to read up on diving, get the right gear, and undergo some training.
We are just going to quickly go over some of the gear you will need for diving. If you are taking pictures in the shallows, or at a beach, you won’t need more than a snorkel kit, gloves, and perhaps a wet/drysuit, but if you are going deeper we recommend one of the best dive watches under $1500.
But for full diving you would need:
- Full Diving Suit
- Diving Gloves
- Scuba Tank
- Depth Gauge
- Diving Computer
- Diving Mask
- Diving Regulator
The main thing you need for underwater photography is, of course, a camera! But what one to get? There are a few options here.
First, you could purchase a powerful camera and then a separate underwater housing unit for it. This is the better option for those who are serious about their art and have a bit of extra money to sink into this. The biggest advantage is a normal camera is going to be much more powerful and chock full of additional features that will enhance your photos. The housing unit will need to be robust and secure though, and there is more risk involved with this method.
If you do take this method, make sure you fit the camera to the housing in a dry place. You do not want sand or debris getting in there. You have to properly clean the port before every use, as you won’t be able to once you are submerged.
It is also worth putting some desiccant pouches into the housing with the camera. This will stop the lens from fogging up.
Second, you could buy a waterproof camera, like a GoPro. This option is better for casual use, such as on holiday swims or resort snorkeling sessions. On average, these cameras can handle some depth, but not much.
If you go this route, make sure you know what depth your camera can handle, and don’t go below it.
For deeper dives, you will want a powerful diving torch to find your subject easier. But you won’t be using this torch as light during the shot, as we will explain below.
Top Tips For The Perfect Shot
So you have a camera. You’ve taken to the water. You know your subject. How do you capture that perfect shot?
Firstly, you want to think about Framing. This means you imagine how the subject is going to look at the photo, without the rest of the world around it. Do you want your subject to be central? Do you want them to be vertical or horizontal? Planning ahead will vastly improve your photography game.
Focus is important. Cameras are able to adjust their focus on different subjects in the foreground or background. With underwater subjects, it can be tricky to keep the focus. Some cameras have a focus-lock feature. If so, make sure to use it.
If your subject is close to you, say a few feet away, you will want to have flash on. Even if it’s sunny. This will improve the cameras’ focus and avoid any distortion caused by the natural light refracting through the water.
Some housing units come with a flash diffuser. This will make the flash weaker, yet still effective enough to work. This will vastly improve your photo quality.
For subjects further away from you, you’ll have to rely on the natural light. If you use flash for in this instance you could end up with backscatter, which reflects the light into the camera and ruins the picture.
Luckily there are a couple of setting in most cameras you can alter to improve this. Firstly, run a white balance on the camera. Some cameras also come with an underwater mode
For closer shots, you will want to have macro mode turned on. This is great for small objects or just for enlarging the size of the subject. Anything more than a few feet away from you will need macro mode off.
A quick side note, if you are taking photos of aquatic life, please don’t physically handle any of them trying to get a shot. It is dangerous to you, and more so to them. If you are patient and respectful, the perfect shot will come to you.
Practice Makes Perfect
Underwater photography is a very technical art form. There is so much more that goes into it than regular photography. You can read all the guides in the world, buy all the most powerful tech, and find the perfect spot. But there is never any guarantee you will get that perfect shot.
Like anything, perfection comes with practice. Don’t be disheartened if your first few shots aren’t that great. Instead, look back on how much fun you had. And you have a memory of it. And keep at it! The more photos you take and the more you experiment, the better your art will become.
Above all else, stay safe and enjoy yourself!