Capturing the radiant and surreal world underwater can be very rewarding—though a complex and tad frustrating pastime, yet it has never been more accessible than it is today. We try to demystify some of the most important concepts behind underwater photography so your pictures can capture the magical moments.
Start with safe waters: A swimming pool is a great place to spend hours with your camera and get used to clicking under water, because there aren’t any unpredictable, strong under currents or aggressive marine life with sharp teeth to worry about. And if you have an animated subject or a bikini bod as a model, it can be surprisingly fun. As and when you plunge into the ocean, lakes, and rivers just remember to always be aware of your surroundings and the limit to your swimming abilities. That is pretty much Rule No 1 of underwater cameramanship
Make sure there is enough light: The best time to shoot underwater is on bright afternoons when sunlight travels intensely and aplenty in the water. This also lets you capture beautiful and dancing sun beams, which can add some texture to your photographs.
The dancing sun beams make for a fascinating backdrop to capture under sea life
Don’t be afraid to use flash: The deeper you go, the less light you’ll have and the more important flash becomes. Yes, it does work underwater. Flash will bring out all the wonderful colours in the fish and reef. It will also allow you to “freeze” or convey the movement of a subject. Although don’t forget – flash is just another light source, and for it to work in your favour, you must do your best to allow ambient light to do its part. To avoid illuminating particles between you and the subject (known as backscatter which shows up as white spots) position your external flash at an angle towards the lens.
Get Close: Getting in close to your subject gives you amazing details like when you’re photographing endangered water species or the slimy threads of backlit algae. Even if your subject is a human body, underwater photography works great when you can capture every movement that the buoyant water offers. If you’re able to get your hands on a DSLR casing (check out our Aquapac products for some amazing waterproofing options for your camera), try experimenting with macro lenses.
Shoot upwards: Angling the camera upwards towards the surface and not down broadens your perspective to include more than just the sea bottom. If you aim your camera down, you are likely to end up with a jumbled mess as your subject blends into the background of coral to the point where it’s hard to even pick apart the two. Exceptions: creatures with beautiful backs like sharks, cetaceans, and turtles against contrasting backgrounds like sandy bottoms or open ocean.
White Balance: Get familiar with your camera’s white balance functions. If you’re shooting macro with lights, you can probably just leave it on ‘auto.’ But if you’re using ambient light, even with a red filter, manual white balance is going to be your friend. Manual white balance normally entails pointing the camera at something white (or close to white) and hitting a button. Sand usually works, though in some locations the sand has too much red or yellow in it to make a good white card. Dive slates can work, but may need to be held at a bit of a distance and slanted so they aren’t glaringly reflective. If all else fails, point straight up towards the sun.
A great photo composition idea is to capture an object partly under and partly over water
Keep in mind the rules of composition: Underwater photography is still photography, so the same rules and concepts apply. Just because you’re shooting in water doesn’t mean composition can take a back seat. Good images aren’t shot, they’re created. Learn and practice the rules of composition, including the rule of thirds, frame within a frame, leading lines, and movement—and use those strobes wisely.
If you are looking to try out underwater photography, you may like to start with renting our Aquapac product range that will allow your existing camera to be used underwater. Once you have the hang of it, you can get start accumulating specialized gear for this. Ofcourse, there is always the GoPro which can be your ultimate go to gear for all the action land, water or sky.