How To Take Photos Underwater :: Digital Photo Secrets

How To Take Photos Underwater

by David Peterson 1 comment

Have you ever wanted to make more out of your next vacation? I know. We’ve all been out diving, and maybe some of us have tried taking pictures, but how well did they turn out? If your subjects were a little too blue, and the glow from the flash was a little too bright, you might want to consider trying out these underwater photography tips. They’ll dramatically improve your diving photos next trip!

I'm going to assume here that you have a waterproof camera, or a secure underwater case for your existing camera. No use taking underwater photos without those.

There’s all sorts of interesting life to photograph underwater.
Photo By Samuel Chow

Zoom Out!

Remember the last time you looked through a glass of water? What did you see? That’s right, everything was magnified in this weird sort of way. Whether you’re drinking it or swimming in it, water is basically a giant magnifying glass. Whatever is in front of you will appear larger. When you think about this, it’s no wonder we’ve named the widest angle lens the “fisheye lens.” Fish need something to counteract water’s magnifying effect.

And you do too. When you’re taking pictures underwater, you need to use the widest angle lens you’ve got. If you have a zoom lens, make sure you zoom all the way out before you get underwater. You won’t notice it right away, but when you see the photos later, you’ll understand what I’m talking about.

You also need to get up as close as you can to your subjects. Water is much more dense than air. If you’ve ever taken an underwater picture and wondered why your subject looks so blue, it’s because of the light reflecting off of the water between you and your subject. The underwater world is a lot like the haze of a sunset. You get the blue color from the density of water, much like you get the purple color from all the air that stands between you and the sun.

Images turn blue whenever there’s too much water between you and your subjects.
Photo By Steve Childs

Be careful with flash

This is a tough one because you’re going to want to take pictures of all the colorful fish moving about. You can use your camera’s onboard flash to do this, but you need to be really really close. Why is that? In short, water suspends particles. If there’s a lot of water between you and your subject, the flash will reflect off of the particles in the water, and your image will appear noisy.

Once you start getting more and more into this, you’ll eventually hunker down and purchase an underwater off-camera strobe flash. They’re ideal for this sort of situation because they fire the light at a different angle. When you aren’t shooting flash dead-on, less of those suspended particles light up. That means you can get a little further away and avoid scaring the fish (until you fire your flash, of course).

Know when and where to shoot

The ideal location is a tranquil and crystal clear bay. When the weather is particularly windy, or there’s a big swell coming in, it tends to churn up the sand and particles in the water. Murky water is very very difficult to shoot in, especially if you need to use your onboard flash. It’s much better to wait until the water clears up before you jump in -at least if you have the luxury to do so.

The rules of good composition still apply

When you’re underwater, there are a number of colorful and distracting backgrounds you’re shooting in front of. Be careful about some of these, as you’ll always want your subject to stand out. If you’re taking a nice close up like the one below, remember to set your aperture to a lower f-number. This will emphasize the sharpness in your subject while blurring out the background behind it.

There’s an art to composing your shots underwater as well.
You want to use a background that’s not too busy looking,
and you need to get up close.
Photo By

    DSC_0053anemonie1 by Flickr user Sunphol Sorakul

    ">Sunphol Sorakul

    Become an experienced diver

    The best underwater photographers started out as scuba divers. They got into photography because they wanted a way to document their adventures.

    Now I’m not saying you need to buy the scuba gear and get lessons or anything like that, but even taking a little time to play around with a snorkel will help your cause. The more comfortable you are underwater, the easier it will be for you to focus on your underwater photography. Believe me. It’s going to feel a little awkward. Do your best to be as prepared as possible.

    Get a housing that protects your camera from water pressure

    Don’t forget. If you plan on shooting at any real depth, you’ll need to protect your camera from more than moisture alone. You have to stop your camera from getting crushed under the weight of the water itself. There a number of companies that sell simple Ziploc baggy style housings to full on enclosures designed for specific camera models. Before you purchase one, check to make sure it’s right for the depth you plan on shooting at.

    Be extra careful to avoid placing your camera enclosure near sand. Sometimes sand gets into the cracks that form the water seal, and before you know it, water is leaking into your camera. As soon as I take my camera out of the water, I wash off the casing (I know it’s a bit redundant, but I’m usually shooting in salt water), and put it all in a special photo bag. None of this stuff goes anywhere near the sand or the salty air.

    In other words, just because your camera is water proof (or you’ve placed it in a waterproof housing) doesn’t mean it’s protected from everything else. The beach is a dangerous place for camera. Sand kills.

    If you have any favorite underwater photos you’ve taken, I’d love to see them. I only get out and do this a few times a year, so it’s a huge pleasure to see what some of you coast dwellers have come up with.

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    1. Bradly says:

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    8 minutes
    About David Peterson
    David Peterson is the creator of Digital Photo Secrets, and the Photography Dash and loves teaching photography to fellow photographers all around the world. You can follow him on Twitter at @dphotosecrets or on Google+.