Tips for Taking Better Underwater Photos

Robert Arak in Scubatude Blog
on Jul 22, 2019 |

For most of us, buying an underwater camera is an extension of our love for diving. Just like you take photographs on vacation and at special occasions to remember the event, capturing images of your dives allows you to share and memorialize these moments. Taking pictures underwater is not quite as simple as taking pictures at your niece’s birthday party; it can take some patience and practice. Here are some pointers:


Read the Manual
I know it’s a “point and shoot”, but if you don’t read the camera manual, you won’t be able to get the most out of it. It’s quite likely that if your camera’s manufacturer has made a housing, there are settings for underwater within the camera’s menus. You will probably find white balance settings and maybe a ‘fish’ mode as well as focus, light settings, and shortcuts that may be useful once the camera is in the housing. Similarly, you will want to look at the housing manual as this may incorporate camera setting tips. The manual will also have information on how to add accessories like strobes and lights.

Put your camera in its housing and practice using it like this on land. If you normally wear gloves when diving, wear them while practicing on land. You will be amazed at how much fumbling this saves you and how much this helps you underwater.

Control Buoyancy
Unless your buoyancy is pretty good you are not going to be able to hold the camera steady to both focus and frame your shot and neither are you going to able to control your position. Without good buoyancy control, you are very likely to hurt yourself and damage the marine life, and structures. If you cannot hold your position in the water without waving your arms, get some extra buoyancy control training first. Buoyancy training will improve your diving skills, reduce your air consumption, and increase the quality of images you capture.

Get Close
The biggest mistake most divers make when first diving with a camera is not getting close enough to their subject. This error is linked to your control in the water so you can see why great buoyancy is essential. Remember, things appear closer than they are underwater. Look carefully to see how much space your subject takes up in the frame. The closer you get the less water in between the subject and the lens which means the better color and definition your image will have.

Shoot Up
Photographs that point down lack depth and a diving perspective. Shoot your subject on its level, from slightly below it. It’s even better if you can angle up to frame your subject against the water; this technique focuses attention on the subject making for engaging images and ensuring your subject stands out.

Consider what you want from the dive and take your time to look for the best examples. If the site you are visiting is known for nudibranch, rather than take photographs of them all, look for ones that are in an excellent position to allow for the most striking images and spend some time there, not just swimming all over.

In good visibility close to the surface, taking photos without another light source is possible. Once you go deeper you lose red, to add this back you need light. In a point and shoot camera, the internal flash is rarely ideal as it shoots light straight forwards. This light will bounce straight back off any particles in the water causing a snowstorm effect on your images; this effect is referred to as backscatter. To counteract this, photographers dive with an external flash or light.  A strobe or light is mounted to your camera with an adjustable arm, and this allows you to light your subject at an angle reducing or eliminating backscatter. Of course, adding lights adds another level of difficulty, so get used to diving with a camera first and then add a light, strobe, or both once you are comfortable.

There is no substitute for good training. Proper training will help you with proper camera use, correct framing, use of natural and artificial lighting, and positioning techniques. Ideally, you want to learn about improving your images but also about improving your dive skills as they pertain to using a camera. The Digital Underwater Photo Course is great for improving your images, while the Peak Performance Buoyancy Course will dramatically improve your diving skills.

Start slowly. You can’t lose focus of your other scuba skills, like buoyancy, navigation, buddy awareness, gas management, etc., while you are focusing your camera. This is a new skill in addition to your other skills. Start with just a camera, then add lighting or strobe, then lens options, etc.  Always add new skills slowly and safely.