With underwater cameras getting better and cheaper every year, you might want to invest in your own before your next holiday. But underwater photography is harder than it looks – trust me, I learned that the hard way. The first time I took pictures under water, my SD card was filled with fish butts, badly focused subjects, and overall everything was blue, blue and (you guessed it) - blue!
But underwater photography can be so much fun! Once you get the hang of it can be an amazing memory of your time spent below the surface.
Here are some of the most essential tips for new underwater photographers to make your pictures pop:
1. Get to know your camera
Before you take your camera on it’s first dive, make sure you are familiar with its functions. Get to know what each button does - with and without the housing. It makes focusing on your subject so much easier and you don’t have to think about what to press when suddenly a group of dolphins swims past you.
2. Check the housing for leaks before every dive
Underwater cameras are expensive, so it’s a good idea to check them properly before every use. Make sure the housing’s O-ring is clean and no hair or sand is stuck to it – a single hair can be enough to cause a flood and ruin your dive day – not to mention the camera. It is a good idea to put the camera in a bucket of water and check for bubbles before you go diving. This can help to detect tiny leaks before it’s too late.
3. Improve your buoyancy & watch where you put your feet
I’m sure you have seen it before: A diver with a huge camera taking pictures – while lying on top of the reef and breaking corals. Not a good role model for other divers.
Before you focus on photography, make sure you get the basics down: Practice your buoyancy (maybe with the PADI Peak Performance Buoyancy Specialty)!
If you are able to control your body properly, your pictures will be better instantly. If you are able to stay very calm, fish might hang around you a little longer, giving you time for the perfect shot. And of course, you cause less damage to the reef: “Take only pictures, leave only bubbles!”
4. Stay shallow
It’s no secret that water absorbs colour pretty quickly and under water pictures tend to look very blue and green. The easiest way to fight this is to stay shallow. Less light gets absorbed, the colours are more vibrant and (bonus point!!) your air supply will last longer.
5. Learn how to use the white balance
Of course, you don’t only want to stay shallow to take nice pictures. Therefore, it is important that you learn how to use the cameras white balance settings. Make sure you set the white balance manually, every time you go up or down a bit. This can help to make your pictures much more life-like and vibrant.
6. Take many pictures of the same subject
Fish are difficult to photograph: they tend to move – a lot! Getting your perfect picture is not always as easy as it seems. Once you get back on land you might find that most of your shots show a fish’s bum. An easy fix is to be patient and take several pictures of the same subject. Even if a lot of your pics will not turn out great right away – it certainly increases your chance for the perfect shot!
7. Get close to your subject and don’t use the zoom
Even the clearest water has a lot of tiny little particles in it. If you zoom in on your motive, you actually zoom in on all those particles, making the picture less clear. Get as close to your subject as possible and avoid shooting through too much water.
8. Avoid using the flash (or get an external flash)
Similar to the zoom, an inbuild flash can make or brake a picture under water. It can create beautiful lightening for close-up macro photography, but it is less than ideal for wide angle pictures. Similar to the zoom, your flash will highlight all the little particles under water and make your picture look like it was taken in a snow storm. We call this “backscatter”. If you are new to underwater photography, it could be best to keep the flash turned off. Later, you might want to invest in an external video light or flash.
9. Rinse your camera housing with fresh water after the dive
Taking proper care of your camera after every dive is essential. During the surface interval, the best place for your camera is in a bucket of water. This avoids the built up of salt crystals on the housing and keeps the temperature down so your camera lens doesn’t fog up on the next dive. Once you are home, make it a habit to soak your camera housing in a bucket of fresh water to remove the last bit of salt before you open and clean it.
10. Use computer software to make the most out of your pictures
Most underwater pictures don’t turn out perfect by themselves – but with the right software you can make the most out of them.
Many photographers use enhancement software to correct the colours, increase the sharpness and to get rid of unwanted objects (talking about you, fish butt!). They can be a great help to turn a good picture into a great one – but don’t forget that a good composition and learning how to use your camera properly is the most important thing for any picture.
If you just bought a new camera and are on your way to Zanzibar, why don’t you take the PADI Digital Underwater Photography Specialty course.
It only takes one day and we will put all these tips into practice.