As anyone who has ever tried to snap a picture underwater will know, it’s a whole different world down there. Underwater photographers need to learn how to cope with a host of new elements that are completely unique to the underwater environment, and it’s not always easy. Here’s a list of top tips for all you budding photographers out there – get these right and you’ll soon be on your way to capturing the perfect shot.
1. Read the Manual
The first and most important tip, albeit it perhaps the most obvious one, is to read your underwater camera’s manual before you submerge. In fact, it’s best to read over the manual a number of times, regardless of how excited you may be to jump in and start snapping. After reading the manual, a good idea is to use the camera on land first, completely enclosed in the housing as if you were actually underwater, just so that you’re aware of where all the buttons, controls and dials are and the pressure needed to press each button. It’s also a good idea to test your camera out on land to ensure that everything works the way it’s supposed to.
2. Get Up Close and Personal
If you want to avoid the dull haze that usually features on many new underwater photographer’s pictures, getting as close as possible to the subject is key. Reducing the amount of water between you and your subject – while of course not disturbing or intimidating the marine life you are trying to capture – will greatly reduce the dull greyish hue that many underwater photographers complain about when first starting this exciting hobby. Close-up pictures are much more likely to be crisp, clear and display better colours than a far off shot.
3. Lights, Camera, Action
Water tends to absorb light and remove a lot of the surrounding’s vibrant colour. Making use of an underwater light can help to add the colour back into the image and also helps to remove graininess from the image. A strobe light is the best option when compared to a flashlight.
4. Manual Makes the Magic
If you’ve taken the above tip on board and regularly make use of an artificial light for your pictures, it’s a good idea to make use of your camera’s manual settings instead of using the automatic function. The manual settings on the camera are meant for land usage as opposed to water usage, which is why the automatic settings aren’t a good idea combined with the external light source. Using shutter or aperture priority might help, but it’s best to just understand how to use the manual settings correctly.
5. Keep It Clean
It’s really important to rinse your camera equipment after exposure to salt water and to dry it entirely before reassembling. As an added safety measure, be sure to check every port to ensure it is completely dry first. Your O-rings should be regularly cleaned and greased as even something as small as a hair can be cause for a leak.
6. Respect Your Surroundings
Underwater photography requires advanced buoyancy skills to ensure you don’t damage the delicate coral reef as you focus on getting that magical shot. Streamlining your gear and keeping it as close to your body as possible will ensure that you don’t drag anything along the sea floor. No matter how tempting it might be, never touch the marine life you’re trying to photograph. Take some time to understand the normal behaviours of the marine species you’re trying to capture so that you are able to anticipate their next move and get a natural action shot.
7. Look Up
Although most photographers will shoot downwards towards the reef below, looking through too many pictures taken from above can get old quite quickly. If you’re able to get below your subject and shoot upwards it creates a crisp and clear image, immediately separating the background from the subject in the foreground.
8. Focus Focus Focus
Keep focused on focus. In particular, it’s important for your subject’s eye to be sharp and in focus. This tip is most important when making use of your camera’s macro functionality. A great way to ensure the eye is in focus is to keep the camera’s focus bracket hovering over the eye of your subject. When you hold the shutter trigger down halfway, your camera should focus on the area beneath the focus bracket and you can then restructure the photograph using the standard rules of photograph composition. When what you see in front of you looks almost perfect, push the shutter trigger down all the way and hey presto – you’ve got your clear, crisp and focused image.
9. Capture, Review, Adjust and Repeat
If your camera has a display screen, be sure to use it to your advantage. Reviewing images as you shoot allows you to make adjustments and tweak the settings until you capture the perfect image. Making use of the zoom will help to ensure that each subject is in focus.
10. Make Use of Secondary Equipment
It’s important to have all your equipment properly checked and serviced on an annual basis, but if you plan to take this hobby seriously or even make a living out of underwater photography you’ll need some additional equipment to make the entire process work. As a minimum, you’ll require a snorkel, mask and a pair of fins, however obtaining a scuba certification and the necessary scuba gear will give you plenty of time and opportunity to shoot more. If you’re interested in macro subjects these are usually found on the sea floor, so free diving is not always a viable option.
Hopefully these tips will help to make your underwater photography attempts that much more successful, but don’t spend too much time worrying about it as underwater photography is all about having fun. Happy snapping!