How to Take Underwater Photos: Tips for Beginners

Whether you’re looking to capture the spellbinding coral reefs or the captivating creatures that call the sea their home, underwater photography can seem like a daunting task. Fear not! It’s not as scary as it seems. Knowing the tricks and tips is the first step to improving your underwater photography skills, and we’re here to offer you just that.

This article tells you all you need to know about taking underwater photos. It is a crash course that’s as comprehensive as it gets. We’ve covered the groundwork from understanding the dense terminology of diving skills to gleaning photo tips. Remember, in the world of photography, patience is just as important as your favorite camera lens. So pull up your boots, or in this case, your flippers, and let’s dive into underwater photography!

How to Take Underwater Photos: 8 Helpful Tips

Capturing the underwater requires more than just a trained eye. Remember, it isn’t about quantity but quality. Dive in with us as we explore a few basic tips for underwater photography.

Tip 1: Master Manual White Balance

First on the list is manual white balance. It’s of the essence, people. Why drop your DSLR camera into the water and hope for the best when you can plan ahead? Keep your white by learning to set your white balance right because underwater, colors can start looking a tad bit funky. 

Tinkering with colors under the waves isn’t like a walk in the park. Get familiar with your camera’s manual white balance function, and you’re set to bring those true colors back into action. Another tip is getting the auto white balance settings right when using the flash. 

If you aren’t in control, you might end up disappointed when the beautiful coral reefs turn out murky brown in your shots. There is nothing bad about a bit of post-processing, but remember, no editing software can fully patch up a sloppy shot.

Tip 2: Use the Right Lighting

Right off the bat, understanding the light source under the water is key. You’d be surprised how quickly light fades away underwater. That’s when you’ll need some trusty underwater lights, ideally constant light, a built-in flash or even the built-in camera light.

You can’t bring the sun underwater, so you need to play smart with your lighting. Get this: when flash isn’t in play, stick on the manual white balance mode. Are you trying the flash for shots further than a few feet? Eh, it’s not the brightest idea to avoid washed-out photos. Lack of visibility means getting closer to subjects like a fish in a tank. Don’t go inviting backscatter; we aren’t shooting stars down there.

Tip 3: Focus on Your Subject

The golden rule of underwater photography is this: proximity brings clarity. Picture this: You’re trying to snap a photo of a clownfish, but it appears as a grey, nondescript blob. What’s happening there? Because water is much denser than air, it gobbles up light, causing your picture to turn up dull and lifeless. 

The solution? Get up close and personal with your aquatic subject and you’ll have clear and sharp pictures. You do this by reducing the amount of water between your friend and the camera. Framing your subject right isn’t only about centering it in the viewfinder. Try a side angle or top-down view, and get creative. The underwater doesn’t comply with standard portrait rules.

Now, a word to the wise: resist the digital zoom underwater no matter what your camera’s zoom can do on dry land. It will pixelate your photos like an 8-bit video game. Instead, consider wet lenses for a range of focal lengths. Don’t overlook your camera’s range of focal lengths. It’s all about practice.

Tip 4:  Choose the Best Shooting Mode: RAW vs JPG

Point blank, JPEGs are ready to post, use less space, and score high on the compatibility chart. But shooting in RAW mode stores all the information the sensor captures. So when you’re ready to edit those shots, you can recover details, fix the white balance and extract more detail from shadows and highlights. 

If you’re really looking to bring out the big league detail in your shots, put your camera in RAW mode. Yeah, it eats up space on your memory card, but with those extra details, it has to be worth it, right? So have a bargain with yourself. Is storage space or quality a priority? Only you can answer that. Remember, there’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ answer. Experiment with both RAW and JPEG and see what suits your shooting style and storage capacity best.

Tip 5: Choose the Right Camera

Now, onto the fun part: choosing the right camera for your underwater adventures. The options are like shoes; what fits one will pinch another. You have options from high-end models to options that don’t burn a hole in your pocket. For the dip-and-snap adventurers, a compact camera would do the trick perfectly. Plus, they have that manual white balance setting we discussed earlier. It’s all about comfort here.

Make your pick for the shutter speed race based on the shooting context and the subject’s movement. Slower speeds might help you comply with the mystic light dynamics underwater. And, here’s a freebie: avoid digital zoom if possible. When on a snorkeling trip, nobody has time for pixelated close-ups. One last word of advice: never forget to protect your phone or camera with a wrist strap because losing your gear isn’t on the agenda. Now dive in and let the photo magic begin.

Tip 6: Get Your Diving Dialed In

You have to up your game underwater to take better shots. Better dive skills and better underwater photos. Simple as that. Don’t make the rookie mistake of believing that physical coordination doesn’t hold water under the surface. Trust me, you’ll need all the poise when your subject is a darting fish and your stage is an unpredictable current.

So, the golden rule for diving is to keep your distance and respect the surroundings. If you can maintain this ethic, you’re basically performing a pas de deux with the underwater world. Don’t think you need to book a plane ticket to the other side of the world to sharpen your dive skills. Start at your local water site; whether it is a swimming pool, a lake, or even a large bathtub. 

The point is, make yourself familiar with your set-up and get comfy with your camera maneuvers before you embark on a big dive trip. Practice away until you hit your sweet spot.

Tip 7: Keep an External Flash Handy

Ever tried to take a decent shot underwater? All those beautiful colors and surreal creatures and it ends up looking like a blurry mess, right? Well, bub, underwater photography very different.  Believe it or not, the Holy Grail for underwater photographers is an external flash. 

Relying solely on the camera flash underwater is not advisable. It gets the job done, but barely. Enter External flash, and voila! It illuminates the scene just right, giving you a vibrant photo. Flash mode helps in reducing the color distortion and is often used in concert with an upwards angle to prevent dull images. 

Also, know when to use forced flash and when not to. Too much flash can cast unwanted shadows or scare away the creature you’re trying to photograph. Moderation and balance that’s the key! This ensures that your shot doesn’t end up looking plain bad. So, yeah, always be prepared with an external flash. 

Tip 8: Use a Wide-Angle Lens

The other piece of gear that should be kissing your camera is a wide-angle lens. This beauty allows you to shoot from up close without losing a chunk of your view. Think of it like this, the tighter your shot, the less water you fighting against, the prettier your picture.

Settle in, take your time—nobody is rushing you here. Understand your lens, your flash, your camera settings. Feel them, work with them, be them. That’s when you’ll hit the bull’s eye.

Troubleshooting Common Problems Underwater

Let’s admit it, Mother Nature and technology aren’t always going to get along. So, when your strobe seems to have a mind of its own, there’s likely moisture in the system. So what do you do? Unplug it and let it dry out. Surface immediately, and dry out your strobe, cord, and connections. It’s a lifeguard for your gear.

A common balance-setting error can be very challenging. If your dome port is showing reflections while taking sunny shots, you might be angling it wrong. All you have to do is change the angle. Scratches on your dome port may seem cool, but they mess up your shots. You can fix these with a micromesh kit.

Consider using a strobe or internal flash if you struggle with light in shallow waters. It’s like using a flashlight in a dark room, it can help light up your subject in an efficient way. If the power of your strobe is running low, simply turn up your ISO and use a wider aperture. It’s a game of hydration; keep it juiced!

Beginner’s Mistakes and How to Overcome Them

Starting something new can be a stumbling block, but with underwater photography, it can be like trying to shoot hoops in a hurricane. Luckily, there are ways to sidestep those beginner’s mistakes. 

1. Misusing Ambient Light

You know, like misusing ambient light. Don’t just set your white balance once and forget about it. Every 5 to 10ft, adjust that balance like you’re tuning an old radio; it’s going to make your shot more desirable.

2. Shooting Through Too Much Water

Another common pothole in the road for beginners is this thing called “shooting through too much water”. It’s like trying to see the end of a tunnel from the outside. You’re not going to get the best shot. Instead, keep your subject close, about 2-3ft away. You wouldn’t try to take a mug shot from across the room, now would you?

3. Using Inappropriate Lens

Also, don’t follow the temptation to use a long zoom lens underwater. It’s just not going to work out. Instead, use a lens that’s suitable for your environment. And remember, don’t try to capture the whole reef in one shot. Isolate subjects on the reef for a crisp, clear photo.

Low-Cost Options for Underwater Photography

It’s possible to save a buck without compromising on quality. So, two solid low-cost options for underwater photography are the underwater pouch for your cellphone and a hardshell case. They can both turn your ordinary phone into an underwater shooting machine.

1. Underwater Pouch For Your Cellphone

So, let’s talk about the first piece of our underwater gear, the underwater pouch. It’s not just a plastic bag. This genius pouch can turn your cell phone into whatever fancy underwater camera you’ve been eyeing for too long. They are water-friendly waterproof pouches that come cheap and in all sizes to fit your specific model. The quality you can get with these simple pouches is unbelievable.

Ensure you pick a pouch that has a crystal clear camera window to get the best shots. And don’t accept anything less than a perfect seal. No leakage issues later on. Now, you can’t keep it forever. Chuck it once it starts showing signs of wear and tear, and grab a new one.

You don’t want to be mid-dive and suddenly realise your pouch is more of a water balloon. These pouches do the job well, letting you snap great high-resolution underwater shots without breaking the bank.

2. Hardshell Case For Your Cell Phone

If scuba diving is more your jam and you’re going further into the deep, a hardshell case could be more appropriate. They’re usually higher priced than the pouches, but hey, they’re still much more budget-friendly than buying a new fancy camera, right?

These cases come made especially for your phone and fit like a glove. They’re built to withstand greater underwater pressures and let you dive deeper without a worry. Plus they keep your touch screen very sensitive – you can easily change your settings even when submerged in the deep blue.

But remember, not all hardshell cases are built the same. Some invite you to explore deeper into the big blue, while others ask you to stick to the shallow end. Always check the maximum depth before taking the plunge or your hardshell case won’t be very useful. 

3. Waterproof Point and Shoot Cameras

These cameras are absolutely for those eye-catching underwater photo opportunities. This is especially true if you aren’t looking for bulky underwater gear. We’re talking quick initiation, intuitive controls and a balanced mix of autofocus and manual modes, making it ideal for new underwater photography.

Imagine you’re over in the Galapagos Islands, right? Next, you’re dipping below the surface to party with a couple of saucy sea lions. The fancier equipment might need time to adjust, but with a waterproof point and shoot, you’ll be ready to reel off shots as fluid as the water around you.

These cameras can help you capture both underwater photos and videos. Just don’t wrong-foot them; they’re not all that great deep beneath the water’s surface. You’ll need the bigger guns for formal diving situations or serious underwater photography. These cameras, however, are perfect for snorkeling or poolside fun in the sun.

Ethical Underwater Photography Practices

Now, there’s a thing about underwater photography that gets people supercharged up. The thrill, the sights, it all can be overwhelming. But you know what they say about great power and great responsibility, right? So here, ethical underwater photography practices come in.

You may want to shoot everything you lay eyes on. But resist the temptation to focus on quality over quantity. This means picking your shots, staying closer to the subject, and minimizing the amount of water between you and it. Not only will it give a clearer, crisper, and more colorful captures, but you’ll also reduce the amount of backscatter. That is, the tiny illuminated pieces of debris in the water that are a pain to deal with post-processing. Imagine having curry stains on your pristine white tee. That’s your photography equivalent of backscatter.

Final Thoughts on Underwater Photography

As we wrap this up, you need to remember a few things. Like, don’t use that digital zoom. For better colors in the shots, save the flash for those closer targets (like not more than 3-4 feet away). Ensure your white balance is set to auto when flashing and manual when not. Get these things right, and you’re going to get some stunning underwater photos.

Also always remember that we’re the guests underwater. It isn’t our backyard, so let’s tread lightly, not trample. Make a point to respect the residents and preserve their habitat. The lesser the footprint we leave, the more beauty there remains for future generations to relish. With these tips, you’re ready to take your camera for a swim and shoot like a pro!

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