Welcome to the amazing world of underwater photography. Have you ever seen a photograph taken underwater and thought “meh”? Probably not. As Jacques Cousteau once said, “The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.” Maybe it’s its beauty, its unusual subjects, or simply the fact that we know more about a planet 54.6 million kilometers from us than about the water bodies that cover nearly 70% of Earth. Whatever it is that makes them so special, underwater photos will surely take your photography website to a whole new level.
But being able to capture such stunning images comes at a high cost, primarily in terms of skills, but depending on your goals it might also be significantly demanding for your wallet. Not only do you need to master diving/swimming and underwater photography skills, you’ll also have to become a pro at actually putting these two skill sets together. Want to know more? Take a deep breath and jump into the ultimate beginner’s guide on how to take underwater photos.
Water is wet and underwater photography is taking photographs underwater. Now that we have stated the obvious, let’s take a closer look at the common practices and potential images you can capture in this kind of photography. The most common way to take underwater photos is scuba diving. However, they can also be taken while snorkeling and swimming, or with an unmanned underwater vehicle or automated camera. When it comes to subjects, wildlife is by far the most popular in the genre, with other favorite themes including shipwrecks, caves, and portraits of other divers.
Over the last few years underwater photography in shallow seas (and sometimes pools) has become significantly popular, primarily due to the sinking cost of underwater photography equipment. Wedding photoshoots and maternity sessions have risen as two strong underwater photography genres, while already widespread themes, such as over-under technique and action shots have captivated a much larger audience. No matter which underwater photography style you choose to pursue, you must remember that diving and swimming skills play a major role in this kind of photography. Poor visibility, rip currents, tidal flow, dumping waves… there are so many things that could go wrong when shooting at sea. Diving training is recommended even if you plan to shoot at shallow depths, as it will teach you how to confront these situations and adapt to whichever conditions you encounter while shooting.
Light is the foundation upon which photography is built, but underwater it becomes its biggest nightmare. There are three main challenges you will have to face when shooting below water: loss of light, loss of contrast, and loss of color. While contrast and light loss are quite noticeable, color loss may not be obvious to the naked eye, as our brain tries to compensate for it.
So how deep can you go before colors start disappearing completely? You will start noticing the effects on warm colors in depths as shallow as one meter. Red will be the first color to vanish at around five meters, followed by orange at eight meters, and yellow at approximately 12 meters. Greens are the last to go, resisting up to 23 meters. Keep in mind that these distances include vertical and horizontal areas, and you will need to take into account how far the subject is from both the surface and your camera.
There are two main techniques to help you compensate these losses: get as close as possible to the subject to minimize horizontal loss, and use artificial light to illuminate the subject and restore its color and contrast.
Because of how broad this genre is, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all list of underwater photography equipment. However, there are two main pieces of gear that are needed to shoot underwater: camera and flash. Needless to say, this is in addition to the gear you require to carry on the kind of swimming or diving of your choosing, which is also quite necessary.
The main characteristic your camera must have is to be waterproof. Luckily, nowadays it is possible to make pretty much any camera water resistant. So what should you keep in mind when choosing an underwater photography camera?
Depending on the conditions you’re shooting in, a flash could be anything from a handy accessory to absolutely essential. Either way, using artificial light could significantly improve your images. Here’s what you must know about using a flash underwater:
The only reason we didn’t mention lenses as a core piece of equipment for underwater photography is because they are not needed when shooting with action or compact cameras. However, if you are going to shoot with an interchangeable lenses camera, they will be one of the key components of your gear. Here’s what you should remember when choosing your lenses:
In order to make the most of your equipment and shooting time, test all the gear and settings before getting in the water. This will allow you to detect potential issues beforehand, as well as give you more control over the technical part of the shooting.
The main underwater photography tip you should keep in mind is to always be prepared for the unexpected. Once you’re in the water, your control over any situation will be minimal. The unexpected can go anywhere from strong waves and cloudy skies to sharks and seals trying to eat your camera. So just be prepared to deal with any of that. But focusing on the things you can actually control, here are some fundamental underwater photography tips:
First and foremost, it is important to understand how camera technique will affect the final result. Starting the post-processing process with images that are already good is always preferred, but in cases such as underwater photography where the quality of the captures is jeopardized by nature, technique becomes a key element in the final outcome. Here’s a brief look at how to edit underwater photography:
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* Feature image by the talented Wix user Justin Hofman
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