Underwater Photography: A Complete Guide

Underwater photography can be fun for any photographer. A GoPro camera or other waterproof-cased device can help swimmers take great underwater photos. However, the environment under water brings unique challenges to photography.

Have you ever wanted to take photos underwater? Are you concerned about light at great depths when photographing marine life? Read this photography guide for information on how to take skillful underwater photos, some of the challenges you might face whilst in the water, and the ideal dive photography equipment to capture the best undersea image.

The Challenges of Underwater Photography

Some of the challenges of taking photos underwater are obvious. You will definitely require the correct equipment. A waterproof camera to take ocean underwater pictures (ex. a GoPro camera) that is suitable for photography underwater is the first tool. However, if you already have good camera equipment on hand, waterproof cases are available for certain models so you can use them to capture images underwater.

If you are swimming in shallow water and taking an underwater image just below the marine surface, the light from above will illuminate under the waterline, allowing you to take some great shots. Unfortunately, the deeper you dive, the less light and visibility there is for photography. You will need some form of additional lighting when you dive to help you take photos. 

Another challenge in underwater ocean photography is the way objects and marine life are distorted. Water refracts light and changes the way objects appear. Saltwater makes objects and animals seem closer to the lens than they would at the same distance above the water. A macro lens or wide-angle lens and alternative lens equipment can help with this underwater photography problem.

As well as light refraction, the spectrum of colour changes when you dive underwater. Blue and green hues are intensified and red and yellow are diminished. This lack of balance in the colour spectrum in  underwater photography can make the digital editing of an image troublesome. Often it cannot be performed successfully at all.

Another thing to consider during a photography dive is that all objects and the water itself are constantly moving. Nobody wants blurred images from an afternoon of shooting pictures underwater. This is another factor to take into consideration when preparing for your photography session.

If you plan to go deep to photograph sea life you will certainly need to use specialised diving equipment. It is vital for survival underwater if you are planning to go lower than would be possible with a snorkel. 

What equipment do I need for underwater photography?

  • A waterproof camera for use underwater or a waterproof case for a different camera is essential for capturing undersea images when you dive
  • A motion camera is best suited to underwater photography, as everything is continually moving
  • Shallow depth photos only need a camera mounted light, as a lot of light still shines into the water from above
  • Deeper photos underwater require autonomous light for your camera, as there is much less visibility naturally at greater depths; lights with a variable intensity are best suited to photography underwater
  • Fish eye lenses and wide angle lenses that fit your camera are suited to underwater photography (UWPhotographyGuide has a great list of lenses that are suitable).
  • Deeper underwater, a colour correction filter is required to achieve a good image in underwater photos to counteract the changes in the colour spectrum

Crello has a great image selection of underwater photography high resolution stock photos that you can use for free in your designs to get you started. No special equipment required!

How to Take a Photo Underwater

  1. Choose the correct conditions (check light conditions, weather, time of day and clarity of the water). Preparation will save you valuable time and may even prevent additional expenses if you do not need as powerful light thanks to the conditions for your underwater photos.
  2. Make sure you have the appropriate underwater photography equipment. Check the list above and make sure your camera is set up in advance, before actually breaking the waterline and taking an image. Once you are in the water, you are limited in how many adjustments can be made. Remember, you cannot take your camera out of its waterproof case once submerged.
  3. Choose the correct camera settings to account for a reduced viewing angle and lighting in your photography preparation. Use separate lights with your camera: a head-mounted torch could be useful to get the perfect image, along with handheld, powerful lights if you are not diving alone. Fit the correct lens to your camera on dry land to make certain you achieve the best result possible.
  4. Take as many shots underwater with your camera as possible, as objects are continually moving. You will probably take several shots of each underwater image subject to get the perfect image. Framing is more difficult underwater, due to visibility and constant movement (remember that you will be moving too!). Shooting rapid photos can help achieve perfect results, and makes sure you don’t miss the everchanging ideal framing.

Advice for Underwater Photographers

Something important to decide before you swim underwater or dive is if you will be photographing alone. It is extremely useful to have a partner for each dive. Having another person in the water close to you during photography missions can be life-saving if you run into difficulties underwater. It can also be beneficial in a practical way if you require extra lighting equipment for your underwater photos; your partner can hold and position the light – leaving you free to capture as many images as possible.

A great tip for ocean underwater pictures (mentioned above) is to take as many shots with your camera as you possibly can. Not all of them will turn out exactly as you had hoped, due to the framing restrictions in such an underwater environment. Rapid bursts of photographs are recommended underwater, as every object is constantly moving (take a look at some astonishing underwater photos from CNN).

This may sound like a strange thing to do, but try to be ‘fish-like’ when swimming underwater. Try to move fluidly through the water. This will reduce the threat marine life may feel when they see you underwater. You will achieve greater results with your photography this way, as fish and other sea creatures will feel less threatened and less likely to avoid coming close enough to you, allowing that award-winning underwater shot.

Prepare, prepare, and prepare again! You cannot check weather and lighting conditions too often before you travel below the surface to take your underwater images. Make sure your camera and any of your extra equipment are in good working order before you dive. Adjust as many photography settings as possible before setting off to reduce the amount of work you need to carry out under the sea.

Conclusion

Underwater photography is often difficult and presents many challenges. However, it can be fun and an excellent way to get unusual photographs. Preparation is key before any dive or swim to maximise the potential of your undersea image. Invest in the right underwater photography equipment, follow our advice, and you will achieve great underwater results.