Taking pictures underwater can be quite challenging to get a good shot. When first taking pictures in this new medium of water, to get good underwater pictures it’s crucial to go back to understanding the basic concepts and how light works in water (Read: Understanding Light for Underwater Photography). Here are a few techniques or tips to help you get a great photo on your next dive.
It’s pretty obvious that fish make good subjects of underwater photography, but photographing a fish on a dive is not as easy as it seems. They constantly move and just when you think you’ve got them where you want in the frame, the second before your finger presses down on the shutter button, it has darted out the frame. The key to getting a decent fish portrait is finding a subject that wants to be photographed or is too slow to notice you. In water, you have to be able to get close enough to the subject to photograph it, otherwise you’ll lose out on the colors and you’ll see the all too familiar blue tinge on everything.
Rule one, is to never take the photo from above. The best angle is to shoot up, or across.. but never down. The second important rule to follow is – Always use an external flash which will help light up your subject as compared to the background. Wait until the fish takes the right angle before you click away and scare it. Move slow and time delay by half pre-clicking the button and then full press at a time when the fish turns to you or the angle you’d like. Try to get your subject to fill the frame as much as you can and ignore getting in a lot of background as that will make a better and more colorful shot. If it’s the landscape you’re more interested in photographing see our next point.
Underwater Landscapes or Reef Photos
Never use digital zoom for any type of underwater photography especially landscape pictures. For underwater landscapes try to shoot in calm, shallow, sunny water – preferable in less than 20ft / 6 meters with the sun behind you. Again, just like in fish photography shoot upwards or parallel and not downwards. If there isn’t a lot of natural sunlight, make sure to use external strobes.
Choose an angle which will provide a little colorful foreground (like a wall or some coral growth or even a diver) which provides the primary focus in the composition of the picture and then the landscape in the background. Combining close subjects like some coral with fish or divers in the distance will give the picture great results. Make sure you are close enough to the foreground subject so that the strobe light/flash illuminates it, capturing its bright colors while helping to reduce back-scatter. For landscape shots it’s best if your camera has a wide angle setting (in point-and-shoot digital cameras) or a wide angle lens for your SLR. Wide angle shots give a good impression of the reef and surroundings. Shooting towards the surface greatly improves these photos.
One good shot is all it takes to get you hooked to underwater photography. Being able to show your non-diving and non-snorkeling friends what you saw underwater can be way cool and not to mention impressive. But, it’s important to remember to master you basic diving skills before bringing your camera system into water. Perfect your buoyancy skills, managing your air consumption, decompression limits and underwater navigation before attempting photography underwater as crashing into the reef while composing “the perfect shot” even by accident is unacceptable. Underwater photography can be all-consuming and addictive, so remember to keep a frequent eye on your gauges and your dive buddy in between shots.