What are the best ways to take great pictures underwater?
Firstly, the most important part of underwater photography is being a competent diver with good buoyancy. I was diving for 10 years before I dived with a camera, which even then sent my buoyancy off again. So practice is very important, as if you can not get in the right position you will never take a great shot.
So how do you stay still if your buoyancy is perfect? Well it depends where you are, but if you are on a coral reef then it is not good or safe to hold onto or touch the coral as you will either kill, get stung, or both. Therefore why not use the sand on the side of the reef to wait for your shot.
If you are on a wreck, or more solid environment then you can find somewhere to rest and get in position. This is especially difficult in a strong current, which is when a metal hook stuck in the sand can be helpful, or even another diver to hold a rock with one hand and you with another whilst you concentrate on the camera work.
However at the end of the day you are better to take a buoyancy course like the PADI Peak Performance Buoyancy Specialty.
There are some major differences from taking photos on the surface that the water has on photography as well - everything underwater seems to be 33% bigger and 25% closer. underwater photography
Subject and Positioning
When starting out, I always suggest to people that they do not try and take pictures of fish, but more still subjects such as Starfish, Nudibranchs, and Coral. underwater photography
Most underwater photographers will have experienced the phenomenon of fish bum! You set up the shot and just as you take the shot the fish turns to show us its best side! This is normally caused by divers chasing fish, but can happen with powerful strobes too.
With regards to positioning, it is similar to normal wildlife photography; you do not want to be taking a shot from above the subject. Most of the best results come from shooting either level with or even slightly below the subject. underwater photography
There are two reasons for this -
The best advice I was ever given is to be patient. Find where the fish you want to shoot is and then get in the position to take the shot you want with background, foreground, lighting, then sit there and wait! Most of the world’s best pictures were taken like this.
The picture below was taken by Zac Macaulay of me with glass fish at the entrance to a cave. This shot took 30mins!!! Zac took about 100 shots, but they had fish in front of the diver, the lighting wasn’t right, the fish were not forming that lovely circle around the diver.
It is a great shot and was worth it in the end, however whilst shooting this we missed a sailfish that passed the rest of the group. Unfortunately that is what you sometimes have to forsake for the best shots.
As most people that shoot underwater will be using compact digitals with housings, I have not talked till now about aperture/shutter speed etc… However for those of you like me who are prepared to spend money and buy a housing for your SLR then here you go.
Aperture, as with land photography, is dependent upon your environment. If you were diving in dark cold water then you will probably be using a lower F-Stop than me, diving in Zanzibar’s clear waters.
A lot does depend on your strobes too, as mentioned before I am using 2 powerful YS 110 alpha Sea and Sea strobes that are brilliant. You have to take into account the light is absorbed by the water faster than on land.
With my 2 strobes I can shoot them through about 5m of water but the strobe light does not reach anything further back. This can be seen below with the school of snappers, the closer ones are fully lit so we can see their true colours. Those at the back and the diver are only lit by the natural light, filtered by the water, which gives them a blue hue.
Even with a compact digital camera I would recommend buying a strobe to help bring out the natural colours. This will dramatically improve your shots, especially the macro ones. underwater photography
This is one of the most important parts of underwater photography, as I learnt to my cost. You have far more equipment for underwater photography than for land photography generally and far more points of failure. underwater photography
Planning a trip
When planning a trip as a diver you should ask the centre you are going to if they have the following -
Photographers always move a lot slower underwater than normal divers; this can mean diving in a group difficult. If possible ask for your own guide and be prepared to pay a little extra for it. In the end you can then move at your pace and tailor the dives according to your needs.
By planning and warning a dive centre in advance you can get the best out of your trip which will then allow you to concentrate on taking amazing pictures.
Recommended Reading for Mastering Underwater Photography
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