If you’re just starting out in underwater photography it can feel a little overwhelming – more to carry and much more to think about underwater. The first step is to learn how to maintain and take care of your underwater photography equipment and then to learn how to use the basic functions of your camera on land if it is new.
Once you’re ready to start taking pictures underwater, follow these underwater photography tips to get the most out of your camera.
Auto, Underwater or Manual Mode?
We’ve put this one first because when it comes to underwater photography tips, this one underpins your photography right from the very start! If you are starting out in underwater photography then consider your photography skills on land.
Are you shooting using the camera’s auto or program mode or are you using the manual mode and selecting your own settings? If you are using manual on land then we highly recommend you start with manual underwater too. For every underwater photographer, the aim should be to eventually start shooting using manual. If on land you are using Auto, that’s okay but you’ll need to make some tweaks for underwater use.
The first step is to switch to your underwater mode, especially if you are relying on the camera’s internal flash only. The problem is that the flash will not illuminate much more than what is directly in front of your camera up to 10 cm’s away. Beyond the reach of your flash everything is going to look blue and you won’t see the colours in your images that you see with your eyes. However, the underwater mode will add red into your images and this will help with your colours.
If you are using an external strobe (see below) you may find that the underwater mode adds too much red and give images a pink tinge, in which case you can turn it off and use “custom white balance”. When using custom white balance, follow the instructions on your screen during your dive. Find a white object (a slate, sand or even the palm of your hand). Ensure that the white object fills the frame and push the shutter button. From the data imported through taking the shot, the camera will recalibrate according to the “white”, you have imported. You will need to recalibrate the camera in this way every 10 – 15 feet as the available light decreases as your depth increases.
Use a strobe
Though not always necessary, strobes can make a huge impact on your underwater photographs. A strobe helps introduce light more light to the scene, which helps bring out the true colours of your subject and reduces the green and blue tinge. A strobe also helps freeze motion and elicit higher shutter speeds from your camera, which is critical when shooting skittish or highly active marine life. If you are not planning to invest in a strobe, then your camera’s underwater mode and white balance settings can help with colour correction.
Get close to your subject
Perhaps one of the more common underwater photography tips is to get as close to your subject as your it will allow. Water is much denser than air, and the further you are from the subject, the more blue your image will generally appear. Even if you are using a strobe, getting closer to your subject will enable you to capture sharp details, distribute the most light, and reduce the occurrence of backscatter (see below).
Shoot when the sun is overhead
Shoot while the sun is directly overhead for the best natural lighting in your underwater photos. Light refracts off the surface of the water when the sun’s light is angled, and only a part of the light enters the water. When overhead, the sun’s beam on the water is the widest. It is still beneficial to use a strobe if you are below 10 meters.
Master buoyancy control
This is one of the MOST important underwater photography tips to consider – how good is your buoyancy? Just like when using a camera on land, you need to have a steady hand. If your camera is moving your images will show “camera shake” or blurring. If your buoyancy is not as good as it could be, you’ll have trouble holding the camera steady underwater. To improve your buoyancy, practice without your camera to start with – this will keep your camera equipment safe from impacts or accidental dropping – and protect the reef. Think about taking your PADI Peak Performance Buoyancy course to learn more about buoyancy and breath control, if you are an Open Water diver, take your PADI Advanced Open Water Diver course to further develop your skills. Master your buoyancy control, and you’ll be amazed how much easier it becomes to focus on your shot.
Backscatter is the reflection of suspended particles that render on the image as a bright white (sometimes coloured) spot. Backscatter is most common when diving at sandy sites, in current or when shooting in low visibility This effect can be minimized by using a strobe arm and aiming from the top down so that the particles will not be illuminated in front of the lens. Getting closer to your subject reduces the amount of water between your camera and the subject, therefore reducing the number of particles accordingly.
Edit your images after diving
It’s important to understand that post-processing and editing can only enhance what you captured on camera in the first place – it can’t replace it. The better your shot is “in camera” the better it will be after editing too. Post-processing software such as Adobe Lightroom, Photoshop and even more basic programs such as Paint have some great facilities for enhancing your images. Start by trying adjustments to your contrast, colour filters and by reducing backscatter – these three processes alone can really elevate an image from good to great!
Avoid Common Mistakes
Common mistakes are common because we have all made them! Learn from the mistakes of those who have gone before you and take a look at some of the most common mistakes here and how to correct them.
Underwater Photography in Indonesia
Did you know that the Lembeh Strait in Indonesia is one of the most famous underwater photography regions in the world? The Lembeh Strait’s abundance of rare and unusual marine life means that it is an incredible training ground for those starting out in underwater photographers (and a mecca for professionals!)
If you are hoping to photograph larger marine life (which will require strobes) then South Lombok and Nusa Lembongan definitely have the potential subject matter with year-round manta rays and seasonal mola, hammerheads and mobula rays – however, some of the dive sites in these areas are prone to stronger currents so mastering your buoyancy and drift diving skills are essential.
Bunaken Island in North Sulawesi is the place to go if you want to shoot macro critters and try your hand at some larger species in calmer conditions. Bunaken’s wall dive sites require good buoyancy control but you’ll encounter a wealth of macro life as well as huge green sea turtles and passing eagle rays and reef sharks.
Did you know that all Two Fish Divers resorts have wash tanks for cameras and we carry freshwater buckets on our boats too?
Ask for help
Do you have an underwater photography question? Why not contact us and see if we can help? Are you planning your diving holiday in Indonesia and want to visit more than one location? Let us help – fill in the contact form below and we’ll get right back to you!