Tips and tricks for underwater photography

Beneath the surface of the world’s oceans dwells an alternative universe of fascinating and diverse aquatic life.

Indeed, one of the world’s only natural wonders which can be seen from space – The Great Barrier Reef – is itself an underwater galaxy of plant-life, sting rays, incredible fish species, sharks, reef culture, sand formations and shipwrecks.

Unfortunately, capturing this magical world is incredibly difficult: indeed, this difficulty is no doubt part of its allure and attraction, and the reason for the increased interest in diving tourism and recreational snorkeling and deel-sea diving courses.

However, the past decade has brought significant development and advances in digital underwater cameras (see for yourself by exploring the range of cameras at Currys) and underwater photography technology, meaning that it is now possible to broaden your repertoire of wildlife photography (if you’re advanced amateur/semi-professional) – or take great holiday snaps.

Fantastic compact cameras that we would recommend for underwater tourists are the Canon Powershot D10, which comes from one of the world’s most trusted brands. Light, with fantastic definition for a pocket compact, it’s a great frequent underwater holidaymaker’s choice – and it is fantastic on the beach.

Also highly recommended is the Olympus Stylus Tough-8000 which is slightly more easy to use and therefore best suited to first-timers and those looking for something stress-free and good value for powerpoints and printing at home.

Whatever your motivation for getting under the sea and snapping happily, there are a few techniques and tips which will not go amiss:

Taken using the Canon DIGITAL IXUS 75

1. Be a good swimmer!

This is a tip not to be sniffed at – the key to placing the focus (literally!) on your underwater subject is to maintain a steady rate of buoyancy and to control your own movement and distance. This only comes from practice, excellent breath control and a solid understanding of swimming, treading water and remaining buoyant yet still in water.

Master this, and you will be able to put more attention on the minute details regarding your subject, the direction of your shot and the balance of light.

2. Light it right

Anyone who works in film will know that lighting underwater is one of the industry’s most challenging conditions. The same applies when it comes to photography. If you are sure of your subject and its whereabouts, the best thing to do is set the lights first, then you can focus on mastering your balance and manouevres to get the best shot possible.

If you are shooting at particularly deep settings underwater then you will need to have thought-through your power sources and battery supplies as well; as well as obeying the key rule of wildlife photography: ‘do no harm’.

3. Shooting techniques

A few simple tips on top of the key bases of lighting and swimming: try to get as close as possible to your subject. The light and movement of the water can easily ruin focus and composition from a distance, especially if you cannot easily control the general lighting and colour. Also, aim to shoot from below upwards, as this is more likely to place your subject in the focus of the photo, and add a more three-dimensional perspective. Shooting from above tends to result in some extremely dry images.

6-Step Guide How to Improve Your Underwater Images

When one decides to go “hunting” for subjects underwater, he must bare in mind several crucial setting of the waterproof digital camera and how to squeeze most of the moment. The laws of physics underwater differ from the ones on the ground pretty much. Therefore here I have listed several most important settings of the camera and useful hints every underwater photographer should check before he/she submerges under the water surface.

1. Underwater Mode

Every waterproof digital camera has at least one underwater mode. This is the most important setting to handle white balance (WB) correctly. As you might know, the colors of the visible spectrum are absorbed in the water differently. The red color is absorbed very quickly, it penetrates only about 0.5 m underwater. For instance, the blue goes much more deeper, several dozens of meters. That’s the reason why the sea seems blue when you are looking at great depths of near the horizon underwater.

It’s also important that you don’t forget to switch back to normal mode when you get return from water, since all the images taken on the ground using “Underwater Mode” seems reddish – again, with respect to the different physics of light under and above the water.

2. Get Close to the Subject

If you would like to take a portrait of fish or any other creature, you need to approach as close as you can. I know there are many species which are scared of human divers and you should invest more time and nerves capturing these ones, but if you do it correctly, the result will pay-off. If you’re in doubts about spending the whole dive time just for a photo of one sneaky fish, ask yourself the question: “Do I want one great shot of the rare subject of full memory card of snapshots when I return to surface?”

3. Use Flash for Macro Shots

In the most situations an additional source of light is more than welcome underwater, because of the absorption (discussed above). Therefore you should use the flash to illuminate your fish. There is a lot of plankton in the water and small dirties, so the flash should be used just for short distances – let’s say in general up to several feet (1 meter). The backscattering effect (will be discussed in details in one of the following posts) ruins your photos when trying to use the flash for longer distances and for larger sceneries.

So keep in mind, if you like colorful and contrast closeup shots, do not forget to turn on the flash.

4. Choose Easy Subjects

It’s advisable for novices to avoid difficult subjects. There are lot of chances that one gives up because of bad first photos, the result of extremely difficult subject.

5. Sensitivity (ISO) of the Sensor

The ISO sensitivity of the CCD or CMOS sensor of your camera is very much depended on the conditions underwater – which part of the day is, which diving location, how clean the water is, what you are photographing … The general rule is that when you’re using flash and in shallow water on sunshine day you should use lower ISO settings, which decreases noise. On the other hand, when imaging the wreck at 30 meters, you need to choose higher ISO settings (400 and up), otherwise you end up with blurred photos.

6. Be a Good Swimmer or Diver

Last but not the least, you need to be very well balanced and lithe in the water. You should have no troubles with buoyancy. Handling digital camera underwater is way much more difficult than on the ground and without skills you collect during many dives you unfortunately will not be able to take a single shot.

I hope you found this article informative and wish you happy clicking underwater!

How to start underwater photography

Today we will focus on the very basics of underwater photography and how to start taking your camera with you in the water and take some first shots. As you already know (or maybe not) underwater photography is one of the most difficult types of the photography. Human body is made for living on the ground. When you’re in water, it seems that the gravity does not work anymore for you because you are floating on the water. Water animals developed a hydrodynamic body, gills, special eyes and some other sense organs over the evolution which enable them to live, hunt, hide and move under the water. For example fish have fins or some kind of different extremities for easily moving though the water. On the other side, we need some special equipment like fins to put on feet and scuba mask to move more easily and look underwater.

Underwater picutres of coral reef are always maginficent

We cannot breathe underwater, because our lungs cannot absorb the oxygen from the water and out chest is not strong enough to pull and push the water in-and-out. Instead, we have two options: you can take a deep breath and dive for a short time some meters underwater or make a training for a scuba diver. With the latest option you go diving with SCUBA, which means Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus. The name tells us all – you have a high-pressure bottle of the squeezed air and you can breath this air for an hour of two while visiting the beauties of the underwater world. If you are planning to become more serious underwater photographer a diving training is a must! Nowadays there are many organization and diving schools over the world, but we suggest SSI or PADI. These are very famous and very good diving school which have reputation all over the world. Making training at them you get the certification that is valid everywhere. This way you can go diving to Malaysia and you will get the complete diving equipment just showing your card in the diving center. They there will definitely know that you are serious diver and there’s no risk renting you equipment.

It is not trivial to move anywhere you would like to go when underwater. Everything seems to be slowing down, like watching a slow-motion movie. Water is much more viscose than air and we feel it like it’s hard to do the fast motions. You can take your camera underwater once you feel very comfortable down there. It doesn’t make sense trying to capture anything in the sea if you are not able to control your position and movements. And this refers to both, scuba diving and snorkeling. It’s dangerous that you loose your gear or hurt yourself hitting the rocks or the ground when trying to capture the coral reef, so take this advice seriously.

Further on it depends on what type of the camera you use. For the absolute beginners we suggest buying an underwater pouch if you already own the regular digital camera or one of the underwater digital cameras you can find on this site reviewed. Like in basic daylight photography, it is much easier take a photo with point-and-shoot camera than with professional DSLR. Underwater the difficulties are at least doubling, believe me. So don’t be a fool and don’t go with the new DSLR with undrwater housing, strobes etc-etc. first time into the water. Learn slowly, buy a book about underwater photography (I bought this one and it’s absolutely amazing, great pictures with a lot of descriptions, strongly recommended), look for underwater photographers on the Internet and their galleries. There are many good resources out there, for example Underwater Photography.

Colorful Jellyfish

Later on, if you realize that you love underwater photography, you may think about buying a Digital Single Lens Reflexive camera (DSLR). You can find many useful information on The DSLR Photographer. There are many reviews of the latest photo gear there and will help you choose the right one.

Last but not the least, remember that the most important is to go, dive and keep shooting. Absolutely the best way to capture interesting moments, discover new places and seeing rare spices of fish and other underwater animals.

Thank you very much for reading this beginner’s guide, the more are coming soon! Check out also the tutorial about the most common beginners mistakes. There are some tips that may help you improve your underwater photos. And of course don’t forget to subscribe to new tutorials and reviews of the equipment.

Most common underwater photography mistakes

Underwater photography is one of the most difficult photography techniques. Not only you need special equipment for it, but your must also be a good diver, with a lot of experience, able to approach to the subject you would like to capture to appropriate distance. Underwater all the principles of the standard “air-based” photography are turned around. Water has all the different physical characteristics for the visible light and therefore you need to consider this when taking photos underwater.

light spectral absorption water graph


Different color of the visible spectrum of the light are absorbed differently in the water. And because mostly the cameras are made for standard photography, you need to manually calibrate the colors of your photos. In the graph on the right you can see how deep different color of the spectrum can penetrate. If you are diving on more than 7 m, there is no more red light and therefore you will need additional source of the light (flash).

Usually the beginners are trying to picture the subject from the distance. It’s a mistake, because often the water it not clean and the pictures consequently are not contrast and vivid. To solve this problem try to approach as much as you can to your subject. Additionally you can boost the contrast in Photoshop, but it’s always better to have good pictures right away, before the post-processing!

In the water is very difficult to get sharp photos of the subject. There is a lot dependent on your equipment, but there is also something you can do on your own. If you are not using the flash, try to increase the ISO speed of your camera. It is true that you may suffer some noise on the images, but this is much better than blurred photos of the underwater wildlife.

Another important reason why you need to get as close as you can when you are shooting with a flash is the back-scattering of the light in the water. Water is much more optically dense than the air, which means that the light is more quickly absorbed or scattered than in the air. Therefore the light passing through the water will reflect significant part of the ray back to your lens, before hitting the subject. This will be shown as the light overlay over your image and lack of contrasts and color in your photos. To avoid this: do not use flash if possible, capture in clean water and get near as much as you can to your target.

Nevertheless, some rules can also be derived from standard photography. For example, try to rotate sometimes your camera to the vertical position, specially when capturing the “fist portraits”. Also have in mind to take care of the background in your picture. Very well known photographer I have spoken to once said, that the background makes the picture beautiful and interesting, not the main subject.

Have all the listed rules in mind when capturing the wonderful underwater world and I am sure you will get the best from your diving. And do not give up if you come back to the beach and see on the camera not what you expected. Try to find out what was the reason for the bad photos and  improve this the next time you go to the water with your camera!

underwater photography