An Amateur’s Guide to Amateur Underwater Photography
by Lizzie Perez on May 29, 2020
At some point, all of us underwater photographers have taken to the internet to uncover the big secret that makes the pros…well…the pros. Personally, I’ve wasted countless hours gleaning through a perfectly made blog telling me how to take pictures with a camera that costs more than my college tuition. As an amateur, I thought I’d share my experiences with my simple camera.
The first thing you should learn, as an underwater photographer, is that there is no zoom underwater. Many underwater camera models will not include zoom at all, but if your camera has it, I highly advise not to use it. Zooming in will distort the quality of your photo. This is a pretty easy adjustment if you are SCUBA diving since you can hover in one place. However, if you’re like me, freediving does not stop you from bringing your camera; but now you don’t have the luxury of staying still. The fastest way out would be to switch to video. I have unsteady hands, even in the water, so I take full advantage of the split second before you start floating away by diving down with my camera already outstretched. If your camera model has some sort of high-speed shutter function, you could always make use of that. Me? I just hope my fingers move fast enough.
One of the chief obstacles in underwater photography is the lighting. If you don’t already know, losing light means losing color as depth increases. After about five meters, we will begin to lose the color red. The deeper you go, the less colors you can see until only blue is left. Without enough light, the other colors simply appear in varying shades of gray. Fortunately, just because we cannot see them does not mean they are not there. Some divers prefer to have a constant source of light (usually the ones that tape video), while others use flash. I highly recommend investing in an external flash rig (compatible with your own camera). Many wrecks in Florida are deeper, and my built-in flash just wasn’t cutting it. The edges of my pictures were still coming out drab and murky. You should also make sure your flash rig has a diffuser. Leave the diffuser on for close shots, and remove it for distance. If you leave it on for a distance shot, your target will be blurry, and every sea particle will not only come out unfairly clear, but highlighted by your flash.
Another thing I had to get over quickly was feeling bad for blinding the fish. While you should be careful of blinding other divers, the fish have never seemed to mind. I’ve taken several flash pictures of a green moray as it stared right at me, but it didn’t seem to mind. (Side note: make sure to keep a respectful distance from morays- they pack a nasty bite). I’ve come to theorize that the inhabitants of popular dive sites are somewhat desensitized to it.
Many underwater cameras also have a ‘red filter’ setting or even a separate lens. This, like flash, can greatly enhance the color of your pictures. This is especially important when taking pictures of fish, and trust me, you WILL want to capture their spectacular colors. Fish are my favorite to photograph; even the images that we would consider “just okay” earn lots of attention from non-photographers.
Finally, if your photo storage system has some sort of ‘auto-correction’ function, make use of it. I recently discovered that the automatic suggestion took my pictures to an entirely new level. For a long time, I’ve struggled with trying to perfect my flash exposure and timing. Many of my pictures were just still too dull, even in shallow waters with flash on. I thought I would need a new camera entirely. Using the auto-correction makes a huge difference. See for yourself: pick the photo you are most proud of and apply it. You will not be disappointed.
Most importantly, you should enjoy taking underwater photos or videos. It should not be a source of stress while diving; but an enhancement to the whole experience. I myself prefer to take pictures and conduct REEF Identification Surveys, but it’s not for everyone. Some people like to dive and simply observe, taking pictures with their mind. If you love the water, SCUBA diving is a next-level intimacy. Whether you are an amateur photographer or a pro- or even just an observer- I encourage everyone to SCUBA dive. After all, how can we protect our oceans if people don’t even know what’s down there?
Below are technique examples and mistakes from my various dives using a SeaLife DC2000.
Diffuser Comparison: Far vs. Close
Flash Comparison: Extremely High Setting (External Flash) vs. Built-In Flash (Deep Dive)
Extra close, low flash setting, diffuser on.
Flash Comparison with Fish
Original vs. Corrected