Last updated on December 6th, 2023
Underwater photos are a bucket list item for every photographer. But how do you take spectacular underwater photos? You might already be a pro photographer who wants to expand his niche or just getting into the photography business and want to dive right into working in the underwater photography niche.
Or you are simply a curious person who has always wondered how to take underwater photos and all that goes into it. You have taken a step in the right direction by opening this page and deciding to read this post.
Here, you will learn right about everything there is to know about taking underwater photos. You’ll get essential underwater photography tips that should be followed to get aesthetically appealing underwater photos. You’ll also know what to look out for when underwater.
Before the Underwater Photos
As with almost everything in life, the cliché, not so cliché, “If you fail to prepare, you are preparing to fail,” line rings very real when it comes to taking beautiful underwater pictures.
With topside photography, you can see subjects you would like to photograph; whip out your camera and click! All done.
It doesn’t work that way with underwater photography. You need to consider many factors before plunging into the water. The goal is to end up with excellent photos, and to achieve that; you should look into the following.
How clear or not the water appears goes considerably affects the quality of the images taken. Freshwater has the least clarity, while calm saltwater has the most clarity. So, you should consider the water body you use and adjust accordingly.
For example, you might have to devote more time to the post-processing of the photos taken in freshwater. You should note that while a water body like a swimming pool might look apparent, they usually have chemicals that would affect the clarity of the images.
Time the Shoot
You have to remember that the best time to take perfect underwater photos is between 10 am and 2 pm, especially if you would be using only natural light. During this period, sunlight is at its peak and would actively penetrate the water. You would need the sun to illuminate your subject so thoroughly that scheduling the shoot at noontime is best.
You do not want to plunge into turbulent waters for an underwater shoot. It would be best if you went to a water body that has a very calm surface. However, don’t make the mistake of judging a water body by its surface.
Several water bodies are calm on the surface, yet, they are anything but calm once you get in.
The bottom of the water body is an equally significant factor. Regardless of how excellent your diving or swimming skills are, your best bet is to stick to the shallow part of the water as it would be easier for you to stand on the sea bed if need be.
Also, it would help if you noted what the sea bed is composed of, whether sand or rocks. While you are more likely to get more transparent water in a sea bed with stones, it might be a tad challenging to stand on it. In addition to that, the stones tend not to reflect much light, which might be a huge con.
On the other hand, sea beds with sand are a better underwater scene for reflecting light. On the con side, the sand means that some silt would move about in the water.
Last but not least, checking this out should be a no-brainer, especially if you would be shooting in a large body of water. There are so many things underwater from dangerous organisms, such as scorpionfish, cone snails, and stingrays, that you should be wary. Ensure you make proper findings on the water body before diving into it with your photography gear. Ask questions from the locals and conduct thorough research.
Considering Underwater Photography Gear
When it comes to underwater photography, the camera is one of the least important aspects of the equipment. More attention should be placed on accessories like the lens. A primary camera with the right accessories would take better pictures than a costly camera that has not been adapted to take underwater shots.
The DSLR should be placed in a waterproof case suitable for it. This housing should enable you to quickly access all the controls and buttons of the camera while shielding the camera from water. There are also underwater cameras you might consider. An underwater camera should have a fully charged battery and a memory card with much free space.
Confirm that your camera can take clear photos in the pouch before you enter the water.
It would be best if you went for a camera lens with a wide angle. To get good pictures, you must stay as close as possible to your subjects. To achieve this, you must reduce the water between your camera and your subject. A wide-angle f2.8 lens would get the job done as it would help you to focus on your subject entirely.
Another lens you may want to consider is a macro lens; these can take some great up-close photos of sea life.
If you are snorkeling, consider using one of these waterproof cameras suitable for snorkeling.
During the Underwater Photos
Now, you are ready to get into the water. How do you position yourself and your model if you are using a human subject to get the best results?
You have to be very comfortable as feeling tense and uncomfortable can affect the overall mood of the shoot. Also, the camera can capture even the most subtle form of tension or discomfort you sure do not want to see in the photos. So, take a deep breath and relax.
Keep Buoyancy in Check
The last thing you want is floating when you ought to be underwater. To check this, you can use diving weights and belts to stay submerged in the water.
Make the Right Clothing Choice
The model must wear a ‘water-friendly’ outfit. An outfit that fits this description is lightweight. And allows the model to move around freely in the water.
Be on the Lookout for Air Bubbles
While underwater, exhaling tends to give rise to air bubbles. You should constantly look for them and get rid of them before capturing the moment, as they could negatively affect the pictures.
Take Your Time
Taking great underwater pictures is not something that should be rushed through. You will have to exercise a lot of patience, especially if you are shooting a model that finds it hard to keep its eyes open and pose while in water. To save time on this, you can give them a list of poses they can make and have them practice before the shoot. Taking your time would help you make fewer mistakes, keep you relaxed, and help you have an overall enjoyable photography experience.
After the Shoot
What are the chances that the photos would be 100% perfect straight from the camera? The possibilities are very slim. Guess what? This is often the case for almost every underwater shoot that is done. The more significant part of all those underwater pictures you admire usually requires long hours of post-processing.
So, you shouldn’t feel bad about having to do that, too, as shooting in water usually affects lighting and clarity, as we earlier established. This allows the photos to have a blue cast appearance that you sure want to get rid of. Photoshop is an excellent app that you can use to increase the contrast of the photos and make other changes.
Underwater Photography Tips
All that being said, as an underwater photographer, there are a good number of tips that you should keep handy while you shoot so that you can reduce the amount of time spent post-processing to the barest minimum.
Before going underwater, take your time to assemble the underwater housing and DSLR camera to avoid costly mistakes that can flood the housing while you are underwater. A flooded housing can result in a damaged camera and a ruined shoot, not to mention a broken heart. So, assemble it in a very comfortable space when you have enough time on your hands.
Focusing on Subjects
- Keep your distance less than 12 inches away from your subject. It is essential to stay close to your subject. Too much water between you two would affect the clarity and sharpness of the images. It would help if you were within touching distance of the subject.
- Always ensure the subject’s eyes are in focus before taking a shot
- For shoots where you would be made using natural light, it is best to ensure the sun is behind you and use a water body 20ft or less. This will also allow you to capture as much light as possible.
- Make sure your camera is set to the highest resolution possible. This would reduce your reliance on post-processing to a large extent.
- Also, set the camera to the lowest ISO possible. This would help preserve the quality of the photos while editing.
- Set the aperture to as small as f8. It helps with improving focus as focusing is not very easy while taking great photos underwater
- Your camera flash should be on, preferably in the ‘forced flash’ mode and not ‘auto flash.’ The forced flash mode would add more color to the photos and reduce blueness. This is because as you go deeper into the water, it tends to absorb all the color, causing the pictures to appear blue or, in some cases, green.
- You should use the correct shutter speed to get clear and sharp photos. 1/125th is the best for fast-moving subjects. 1/60th for slow-moving ones and 1/30th for still objects.
Don’t wait till you get underwater before you try out your camera settings. When you are indoors, set it up in the housing and take test shots. Other than that, focusing on subjects would be more difficult underwater, but the process would be similar.
- To focus on the subject and reduce the background range, make use of a 100mm or 105mm lens
- Reduce backscatter by making use of an external flash or strobe. If your camera is compact and you would be using an external flash, make sure you place it far away from the housing, and the internal flash is blocked.
- Reduce fogging by placing desiccants in the camera housing the proper way. It has to be the proper way because if the sachets are loosely placed, they could move around and block the camera’s controls.
Mistakes That Can Negatively Affect the Quality of Underwater Photos
It’s not enough to know only the dos of underwater photography. Let’s take a quick run through the don’ts:
- Don’t oversaturate your photos by increasing saturation to the highest levels. It should only be between 5-10% at most; you don’t want blue photos.
- Never use a long zoom lens underwater, i.e., a lens between 18-200mm.
- Don’t shoot in only landscape mode. Go portrait too
- Don’t take photos without color. Make use of strobes and fast shutter speed to not let in too much ambient light.
Conclusion: Taking Underwater Photos
Taking great underwater photos might not exactly be a walk through the park, but it isn’t much of an arduous task. For even the most experienced topside photographer, shooting underwater for the first time will not come very quickly.
A lot of dedication, commitment, planning, and patience must go into it. To be fair, it could also be time-consuming and physically exhausting. However, it is also just as rewarding, and putting all the tips and guidelines described above into practice would inevitably result in picture-perfect underwater images in good time!