Sponsored: 5 useful tips for beautiful underwater photos
Underwater photography comes with a whole new set of challenges. Between the lighting and the marine life, there’s a lot you can’t control - and that can make it hard to focus on the photography essentials, like composition.
But with the right camera gear and expert advice on your side, you can snap some truly phenomenal photos. We asked the team at Ted’s Cameras to share their top underwater photography tips.
#1 Swim up close to your subjects
The water is made up of millions of tiny particles that drastically affect the colour, contrast and sharpness of your photos. To avoid ending up with murky photos, get as close as possible to your subject - preferably within 30 centimetres (or 12 inches).
Of course, safety comes first, so use your judgement. By reducing the amount of water between you and your subject, you’ll be in a better position to take colourful and sharp underwater photos. We recommend filling your frame with the subject for the most awe-inspiring results. Composition is key here, too. You want to get low and shoot at an upward angle, rather than shooting down at the subject.
#2 Shoot in manual mode
Ask any underwater photographer and they’ll tell you: Manual mode is the way to go. Before diving into the water, learn the basics of manual photography so you can quickly and easily adjust your settings as needed.
There are a few major settings:
Aperture - or f/stops - describes the size of the lens opening, which lets in light. You can experiment with aperture to change the depth of field of your photo. This is especially handy when you’re shooting your subject up close. Depending on how deep you’re diving, you’ll most likely be working between f8 and f16.
Shutter speed is the amount of time the lens is open. It determines the sharpness of your images. For still objects (like a coral reef), use a shutter speed of 1/30th. If you’re shooting slow-moving subjects, go for 1/60th - this will also help you to pick up any ambient light in the background. If you’re following faster fish, use a quick shutter speed to match. Try 1/125th.
ISO is your camera’s sensitivity to light. For underwater photography, keep your ISO low, at 100 or 200. Higher ISOs may leave you with noisy, grainy photos.
The colour settings come down to the equipment you’re using. Most underwater photographers choose to use Auto White Balance when they’re using a flash or strobe, and Custom White Balance when they’re flying solo.
#3 Be prepared to lose light and colour
One of the main reasons underwater photography is so challenging is because the water acts as a filter. The deeper you go, the more colours you’ll lose. Red is the first to go, and the water has a habit of turning all of your photos blue. Plus, it’s much darker underwater than it is on dry land. To capture the correct colours of your subjects, you’ll need to make some adjustments.
If you’re relying on natural light, stay close to the surface, and try to shoot with the sun behind you. We suggest shooting in the morning, when the light is most abundant.
Want to dive deeper? Invest in artificial lighting, such as a flash or strobe. This will bring out all the beautiful colours of your subject, and better capture their movement. But if you’re far away from your subject, the strobe will pick up more particles, which may make your shot hazy. That brings us back to Tip 1: Stay close!
Your camera’s built-in flash will only work at a small distance of up to 3 feet. If you’re planning on getting super close to your subjects, make sure it’s turned on.
More experienced photographers can try setting up a Custom White Balance and playing around with their camera settings.
#4 Shoot in macro mode
The beauty of underwater photography lies in the detail. When you shoot macro - as opposed to wide-angle - you can capture the little creatures that many divers miss. It also makes you a
better photographer, because it forces you to pay attention to the finer details. Instead of shooting a huge coral reef, you might just concentrate on a small patch. There are a few tricks to mastering macro mode.
The first is to get up close to your subjects (sensing a pattern here?). This will ensure your camera is poised and ready to find a focal point, and fire before the moment passes.
The second is knowing the range of your camera’s macro mode. Some cameras can only focus when the lens is less than an inch away from the subject.
Lastly, be prepared to quickly turn off macro mode when you spot an interesting subject further away. Otherwise, your camera will hunt for focus!
Top Tip: To take your photos to the next level, look for subjects on interesting backgrounds - like a starfish lying on a coral polyp.
#5 Memorise your camera’s buttons
Visibility gets worse the deeper underwater you go. The last thing you want to be doing is fumbling around for the macro or flash button while all the picture-worthy scenes are passing you by.
Along with learning the settings, it’s important to familiarise yourself with the locations of all the buttons you’ll be using. On that note, please make sure your swimming skills are up to scratch. You need to be comfortable in the water, and not only be able to swim well, but swim fast to catch up with speedy subjects.
Ted’s Cameras recommended underwater cameras
These are our top picks:
To learn more about choosing the right underwater camera for you, head to your local Ted’s Cameras store for a chat with one of our friendly experts!