How to Get Started in Underwater Photography

Last Updated: February 8, 2023

For a beginner, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the basics of underwater photography before you get into this new medium. While there are no fast or hard rules, your patience and determination will make you stand out.

Of course, it’s important to be different, but to move from an amateur to a pro photographer; you need to get things right from the start. For instance, what skills do you need to possess? Do you need a certification?

Well, there are a lot of technical and behavioral skills that you need to have. If you want to get into underwater photography, below are some of the things you need to know.

How to Become an Underwater Photographer

become an underwater photographer

If you would like to start your journey as underwater photographer, here are some tips to help you out:

Know Your Camera

Your camera is your number one asset; hence ensure that you understand how it works. Practice using it in dryland before you decide to take it underwater.

Don’t forget to test your camera’s underwater housing to determine its effectiveness. It would be disastrous to damage it during your first dive due to water leaks.

Practice Buoyancy

Water is denser than air hence your experience will be different from taking pictures on-land. While your goal while capturing images on-land is to get the angles and lighting correct while keeping your focus still, this isn’t the same with underwater.

You need to constantly move up and down for breathability. Besides that, bad buoyancy will also affect the quality of your images and result in foggy pictures.

Practice your buoyancy skills by swimming in shallow waters or a swimming pool. Make it your goal to learn how you can hover and stay in a spot for a few minutes before moving up and down. Remember, you should never try to hold your breath during scuba diving because your life depends on your breathability.

Always Make Slow Movements

Have you mastered your buoyancy by now? Have you checked your limits? If so, go ahead and try to make slow movements under the waves. Remember that marine life is highly sensitive to movement, and if you are planning to take a better shot, you need slow movements.

Ensure that you effectively move as close to the object as possible while moving forward slowly. If your motion is slow, then the living organism will definitely ignore you.

Regularly Check Your Air

Air underwater can change within a fraction of a second. The most crucial thing that you should constantly monitor is your air and no-decompression limits. If you forget about this, then you might put your life in danger.

Learn New Techniques

Learning never stops when it comes to underwater photography. If you think you are an expert now, you will be required to learn something new by next year. The more you amass your skills, the better you will become.

One of the best underwater skills to master is finning – swimming underwater using flippers. Fins help improve your position by adding a significant velocity to your strokes. Besides that, fins can help you swim faster when you are on top of the water. Ensure that you master various finning techniques, especially finning backward. This way, you can effectively get closer to reefs and rocks.

Find a Niche

Like other forms of photography, you should try to find your niche. There is so much you can focus on while you are under the waves, but the most successful photographers usually identify something they are good at and specialize in it.

You can decide to focus on marine life, shipwrecks, geographic elements, etc. Your goal should be to develop a distinct personal style that can make you stand out from the crowd.

There are different marine ecosystems, and therefore finding your specialty shouldn’t be problematic. You can always vary your destinations to find something new and interesting.

Essential Underwater Photography Equipment

marine life photographer

Taking pictures underwater is both interesting and challenging. As a beginner, it’s important to get things right from the onset, and it’s therefore important to consider the type of equipment you need. The essential gear you need includes:

  • Camera

Of course, this is the basic tool you need to get the job done. However, your camera should be waterproof with either separate or in-built housing. The best thing about the photography industry is that there is a wide range of digital cameras to choose from, depending on your budget and personal preferences. You can pick a high-res DSLR camera, mirrorless camera, or even a simple point & shoot camera.

  • Lenses

Cameras come with lenses. However, your photograps will be limited if you don’t have options. This makes it possible to take wide-angle images or even have telephoto capability if you want.

  • Underwater Housing

Even though a camera might have a waterproof design, it shouldn’t be submerged to certain depths and prolonged periods. Thus, get underwater housing to protect your device from damage and water pressure.

The best housing types are made with aluminum or polycarbonate material or their combination. They are durable and guarantee you lasting protection. Avoid cheap products since even a small leak can damage your camera.

  • Strobes and Focus Light

Regardless of the time of the day, it might be impossible to get natural lighting underwater. Hence you need strobes, especially for wide-angle images. A focus light ensures that you get accurate shots by providing clear elements and details surrounding your target. Unlike strobes or flashlights, a focus light has a narrow-angle but produces a strong light. It’s usually mounted above the camera lens.

  • Ports and Port Extension

They are critical in protecting the camera and preventing the photographer from capturing clouded images.

Other items you might need include:

  • Color correcting filters
  • Memory cards
  • Rechargeable batteries
  • Fiber optic cables

Underwater Photographer Education (Do You Need a Degree?)

You don’t need any formal training or education to be an underwater photographer. Most employers judge applicants based on the quality of their images and work experience. However, you will have the upper hand if you have a scuba diving certificate and do photography classes. Your diving certificate should be issued by one of the reputable diving associations.

The job market is highly competitive, and you need something that can make you easily stand out.

Most certification courses take a few weeks to obtain, but you need to continue learning to deal with various diving nuances effectively.

Marine photographer education is important since it allows you to understand how the right methodology and proper medium can enhance the quality of your images. Besides that, it’s crucial for you to learn that light deflection can result in areas of interference. A combination of talent and the right skills will make you succeed faster.

Is it Hard to Become an Underwater Photographer?

taking pictures underwater

The basic concept of nearly all types of photography is almost similar. Getting the right angles and lighting is important. However, getting into the depths of water to take high-quality pictures can be quite challenging, since this isn’t the normal environment that humans are used to. Water easily refracts and distorts images.

Besides that, it should be noted that the closer the photographer is to their subject while underwater, the lesser the image distortion. This means that taking pictures at a distance can be challenging. Other challenges include:

  • A wide-angle landscape that diminishes the prominence of most objects
  • Unavoidable debris
  • Loss of color vibrancy

Tips for Taking Quality Photos Underwater

Well, if you want to ease your learning experience in underwater photography, here are a few tips to help you:

Understand Your Subject

The best way to capture quality images is to first understand who or what your subject is. Do you know something about the marine environment or creature you want to take picture of? If you understand the behavior of your subject, then you will know what angles to focus on.

Always Look Down

The most common mistake that people make underwater is taking pictures over their subjects or from above. Consider shooting upwards with your subject above you for clarity and dramatic shots. If that’s not possible, consider sideways or at eye level.

Becoming an expert takes time, consistent training, and willingness to learn new skills. So, you need to be patient and open-minded.

In addition to the right skills and equipment, you should have a pre-dive and post-dive routine.

For instance, you need to ensure that you have assembled all the necessary equipment and backup before you embark on your underwater expeditions.

Your post-dive routine should involve checking if you have everything with you, cleaning the photography gear, charging batteries, and transferring images to your hard drive.

Do you need a flash for underwater photography?

Yes, you do. This is because water is denser than air, and you will therefore need to illuminate your surroundings at some point. Don’t forget that you should always get as close as possible to your subject. To get the best lighting flash, consider using strobes. While one strobe might be enough, you might need three or even four strobes placed at different positions to attain different effects.

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