Shots From the Deep Blue: 8 Tips on Underwater Photography
What is underwater photography?
Underwater photography is photography done underwater. Yes, shocking, I know. You usually do the photography while scuba diving, snorkeling, or swimming, but it can also be done using submersible vehicles.
Underwater photography is usually done with two purposes in mind. Either for the beautiful pictures, you can take or for research purposes.
Before you start your journey to the deep blue, you should know how to handle a camera. Read our article on the basics of photography to refresh or improve your skills.
How to take underwater photos
Underwater photography isn't just something you can jump right into. So here's a thorough guide on how to do underwater photography.
1. Learn to get comfortable underwater
The first thing you have to do is learn to move around underwater. You have to be comfortable in the sea and practice swimming religiously.
You have to remember that your tasks will usually consist of following marine life around, requiring you to either be sneaky or swim fast to catch up with them.
This is probably one of the most physically demanding genres of photography. It will require you to swim fast and maneuver around in the water. It could even require you to be comfortable with scuba diving, to spend a long time in deeper water.
You also have to learn how to float if you want to catch the marine life that likes to come to the surface. This could be whales, dolphins, or even sharks!
2. Understand marine life
Speaking of marine life, you can't just jump in and expect to find the perfect fish right away. You have to actually know what you're going into.
Just like with war photography, you wouldn't just go to a random country without knowing what you're going into. The same goes for underwater photography.
You have to know where your subjects live, how deep they usually live, and where they are at this time of year.
When it comes to larger fish like sharks, are they aggressive by nature or more passive? Those are the questions you need to answer before going underwater for your own safety and marine life. You have to remember that you're entering their natural habitat and be as respectful as you can.
Understanding marine life is also great for finding good photo ops. If you're on holiday and want to take your equipment for a stroll, it's nice to know what you can expect and should look out for. If you're a deep-diving fanatic, you have to remember that the further down you go, the less light and color will be available to the naked eye.
You can learn more about how colors work underwater here.
3. Find the right gear
You probably guessed it, but most cameras are unequipped to be taken underwater. So are most electronics, in case you didn't know.
You can actually get some cameras designed for underwater photography. These are known as amphibious cameras.
If you want to learn more about the specific choices, you can check out our article on the best underwater cameras.
We have compiled a list of the camera equipment necessities for underwater photography.
Waterproof digital camera
First of all, you need an amphibious camera. You need to take your camera underwater without it breaking on you.
When looking at the options, you should understand the difference between waterproof and water-resistant.
Waterproof means it's safe to use in water (at the depths advertised). Whereas water-resistant simply means that it will probably survive if you drop it in the water.
You have to pay attention to the advertised depth for the camera and make sure that you're not diving below that range. If you're fine with mostly surface-level photography, you can probably find one that doesn't have the deepest range.
You could also buy underwater housing for your current camera if you prefer. Make sure that you get something of good quality. So it doesn't leak or break all of a sudden.
Cameras like the Sony A7S III and GoPro Hero 9 have underwater housing available for them, as do many other digital cameras.
You would probably be best off with a DSLR camera because it allows you to control all of the settings that you need to control.
Another piece of equipment you need is an underwater flash. Lighting is a problem underwater, and you have to control it to get the best pictures.
The further down you go, the less lighting there will be. And the less color there will be as well. You would usually use a strobe and a flash to recreate this lighting.
Depending on what lens you use, different lights are preferred. Using a macro will definitely lead you to use a strobe light to create more exposure.
You would usually light the strobe away from the camera's lens. This way, it doesn't cause glare or interfere with the picture but still illuminates the subject.
Remember that when you're shooting marine life, they're not used to someone coming in and flashing lights in their face, so try to keep it limited.
Another lighting equipment you can use is modeling light, which illuminates the surrounding area. It is essentially a low-intensity light that you can use to illuminate the areas your flash is lighting up.
It is a continuous light source that will help you frame and compose your picture. When it's on, you can see what will be lit up, and you will know if you're in the right spot.
Video lights are for when you want to shoot underwater videos. This could be with an action camera or other types of cameras.
When shooting videos, your camera will not light up the water by itself, so it's a good idea to have a video light attached to you or your camera to light up what it's filming.
Or else you might just come home with video files full of dark footage that is unsalvageable.
4. Become familiar with the camera settings
You should know the different camera settings on your camera and how to configure it on the go. These are things like White Balance, ISO, and Aperture.
White Balance should be set at daylight mode because you're using a flash or strobe as your lighting source.
ISO is used to control the noise on your images. You should keep it low and use your flash to negate the lighting loss.
The aperture you use is typically in the higher ends, as it helps with your depth of field.
5. Exploit any available light
You only get a certain amount of light for your pictures, so you have to be creative with it. You should always exploit the available lighting, which usually consists of the sunlight that comes through the water's surface.
You can use this lighting to take pictures near the surface, without using an additional light source. You can also use it as three-point lighting, taking photos from underneath with the sun as a backlight. It will create a neat effect for your photos.
6. Rehearse your skills in a pool
If you want to know how it feels to do underwater photography, but you don't live near an open body of water, you could always rehearse your skills in a pool.
It is a safe and controlled environment with calm water. You could practice with other people and really learn how your gear functions underwater.
7. Use the rule of thirds
The rule of thirds function is a great way to frame your photos. It is done by splitting your frame into a grid of 9 squares.
You can then use the lines to set up the subject you want to capture. Most cameras have a 3x3 grid feature you can use for this feature.
8. Experiment with wide-angle lenses
The open waters are a vast and magnificent place, and as such wide-angle lenses would be the option for you.
Wide-angle lenses allow you to capture a wider field and can be used to capture some incredible footage. With such an impressive ecosystem, you can truly show how massive and fascinating the sea is through your photos.
Explore the best underwater cameras
I hope this article prepared you for your epic adventures at sea.
If you're still not sure what equipment you want for your journey, read our article on the best underwater cameras.
How to do underwater photography?
Use a flash/strobe, get close to your subject, have the right camera equipment, and make sure you're an avid swimmer.
Why is underwater photography needed?
Underwater photography is needed to document and research marine life.
Is underwater photography a career?
You can be an underwater photographer. However, most do it as a hobby or part-time.
What is underwater photography called?
Underwater photography or Ocean Photography.