Underwater Photography - 5 Simple Tips
-by Abe Rolick
Here are a few simple tips to improve your underwater photography regardless of your skill level and what equipment you use.
1. Proper buoyancy
Proper buoyancy is the most important skill for any diver, not just underwater photographers. With it you will reduce air consumption, swim faster and with less effort, and overall be a much safer diver. The importance of being able to hold a safety or decompression stop and not go below a maximum operating depth can never be overstated.
Specifically for photographers, being able to maintain a constant depth means that you can get close to the reef or your subject without touching and possibly hurting or damaging it. Being able to maintain certain body positions in the water column means that you will have more flexibility to get the photo that you’re trying to make.
2. Get close, and then get even closer!
That is, get as close as you safely can for both you and your subject. The water we dive in is often full of tiny little particles floating around that will degrade the color and sharpness of your photograph. Getting close eliminates the amount of particulate between you and your subject to mitigate this effect.
Additionally, when light travels through water it loses certain wavelengths to absorption starting with red followed by orange, yellow, and then green, so the less distance the light has to travel the better your photos will look. Strobes can be added to restore color but are still subject to the light fall off over relatively short distances. So get close!
3. Shoot up
There are no real rules when it comes to photography; it is art, after all. However, there are some general guidelines. Shooting up is one of them. Shooting down generally creates less pleasing images with distracting backgrounds and no sense of depth. Shooting up, on the other hand, allows you to separate your subject from the background and add depth to the photograph.
Of course, there are always exceptions. Examples might include shooting down on a chevron morphed oceanic manta ray that is swimming below you or any one of a million patterns that would make for a good abstract photograph. Only you can decide how the photo should look but there’s a good chance you’ll have more keepers if you try to remember this: shoot up.
4. Know before you go (be prepared)
It is very rare that a great or even just good photograph is made on a whim. More often than not, getting something you will want to show to your family and friends involves a good deal of preparation and possibly more than one attempt. With this in mind, do your research ahead of time and know what kind of shot you want to walk (or swim) away with.
For example, when shooting living subjects, you should know where they are or may be hiding, how to approach them, what kind of behaviors to watch for, etc. When shooting large structures such as shipwrecks or oil platforms, knowing the position of the sun in the sky can help you use ambient light to show detail on the structure or you can sit in its shadow to capture its silhouette with some sunrays shooting down around it.
5. Practice, practice, practice!
As you’re swimming along the sandy bottom taking photos of tiny fish and nudibranchs, you look up and see a beautiful blue shark swimming straight toward you! You panic, but not because you’re a silly goose and afraid of sharks. You panic because your camera is set for macro and you don’t know how to change your settings quickly enough to capture a photo of the blue shark before it swims away.
Using your camera underwater should be as second nature as using your BCD and breathing from a regulator. Familiarize yourself with the settings and controls and practice them regularly in a swimming pool or even just on land. The less you have to think about operating the camera, the more you can concentrate on taking beautiful photos.