You’ve finally bought that incredible underwater camera. You’ve taken it to one of the most colorful and coolest dive sites on the globe. While submerged, you snap dozens — if not hundreds — of photos to capture the incredible scenery that can’t possibly be explained. A picture is worth a thousand words, after all, especially underwater photos!
But once you’ve returned and scrolled through your images, you notice that there’s something off — maybe they’re too dark, or the flash is blaring, or they’re fuzzy, or aren’t concentrated on your subject — the photos that you took are a noticeable digression from what you had hoped for.
It’s common, and it’s honestly hard to take those stunning underwater photos without professional equipment and years of practice.
By knowing a few things to do and look for in advance, you can capture underwater photos that are truly mantle-worthy and share-worthy.
You might have noticed that when you spotted that manta ray, lionfish, or that shelf of colorful corals, the details were crystal clear in person. However, in a photo, the subject seemed a little washed out and blended together.
Obviously, you don’t want to disturb the wildlife, but try moving a couple feet closer than you might think is necessary. Take multiple shots from this closer spot. Chances are you’ll capture a lot more details — like the individual tendrils of sea grass or the detailed fins of schools passing by — that are hard to capture from farther away.
The rule of thumb for on-the-surface photography is to take a photo with the sun behind you so your subject is illuminated, but you’re not shooting directly into the sunlight.
Under the water, however, it can be difficult to pinpoint where your light source is originating from, so cover all your bases and shoot a subject of interest from multiple angles. By focusing on the same point from different locations, you’ll increase your chances of having that perfect combination of natural lighting and perspective.
Arguably, the biggest issue with underwater photography is lighting. When you’re 20′, 50′, or even 80′ feet under the surface, it can be hard to achieve the sunny brightness required to take good natural, outdoor photos. This is especially true at wreck sites, where the hollowed-out rooms within a sunken ship may have minimal or no light filtering in at all.
The solution? Find the light source whenever possible, and focus your camera on the subject in its path — especially if you have an auto-flash that might cause excess brightness when it’s not needed.
And when in doubt, cheat.
There are a number of artificial lighting sources available for divers such as lights and strobes. These are necessary for capturing darkened scenes that are hard to see. It’s what the pros use to capture incredible photos, but there is no reason amateurs and budding professionals can’t learn to use them.
Relax. Make sure your movements are smooth and minimal so you don’t scare sea creatures or stir up sediment. You must have excellent buoyancy control, so master this before you indulge in your photography ambitions.
You’ll need patience too, because your subject will likely be moving away from you or darting back into a hiding spot. You might have to linger in one place for several minutes, much to the annoyance of your dive buddy!
Speaking of dive buddies, you’ll want to have frank conversations before you descend with your dive buddy. Your dive buddy needs to be a competent diver as you may be a little distracted, and not get bored or frustrated if you’re paying more attention to your photography subject instead of them. So if your dive buddy is your newly certified, slightly nervous girlfriend or boyfriend, maybe hold off on the photography!
You also need to watch your bottom time and your location. Many a underwater photographer has been so absorbed in getting that perfect shot that they run out of air or end up far from where they need to be to safely ascend.
Just remember, practice makes perfect. The more you play and experiment with your camera, the better you’ll be at creating gorgeous photos that truly encompass the experience of vibrant life underwater. What better reason to go diving more often?
Need some ideas for what to do with those great photos — check out our post on creative ways to use your underwater photos.
Need an underwater camera? Check out our selection of cameras, video cameras, lights and other accessories!
Do you have an underwater photography tips you can share? Let us know in the comments section below!