Surfing, snorkelling and scuba diving are fascinating activities, but it’s often difficult to explain the appeal to people who aren’t so keen on water-sports. As usual, a picture is worth a thousand words and there is no better way of sharing the underwater world with friends, colleagues, and family members than with photos.
How to do it
You don’t need to buy a new camera. Most digital compacts are compatible with a waterproof plastic housing. It keeps the water out but lets you operate all (or almost all) of the usual camera functions, including the flash. Housings for some larger cameras are available, and if you really want to take outstanding photos underwater specialist models are available.
The first step towards stunning underwater photography is getting comfortable in and around the water. That may mean nothing more than becoming a confident swimmer or it may mean getting to grips with scuba diving.
Problems with underwater photography
Underwater photographers face a few issues never encountered on land. Movement is one of them. Simply staying still enough to get the shot you want can be tricky. Divers and snorkelers may want to take a little more weight than usual or get a buddy to help them stay steady. Surfers just have to wait for the right moment and get a shot off quickly. High shutter speeds (more than 1/60th) can help reduce the effect of a moving photographer and a moving subject.
Backscatter is the curse of deep-water photography. If you dive in water than isn’t 100% clear- and that means almost any water- small suspended particles in between you and the subject can reflect light back towards the camera, putting a scatter of white spots in the final image. This irritating effect can be lessened by using an external strobe instead of a flash. For best results, place it off to one side with only the edge of the beam touching the subject. Reflected light doesn’t hit the camera lens this way, and your image will stay cleaner.
Colors also tend to fade out underwater. The only solution to this problem is to use a powerful strobe or two, placed to avoid backscatter, or light the target area with a strong dive torch. In deep water the red end of the color spectrum tends to disappear but it can be restored with a red-tinted dive flashlight. If you don’t have lighting equipment or want to dive with minimum gear, try taking close-up macro shots. The closer you are, the more vivid the colors will stay.
Using a camera in an underwater housing is perfectly safe, but ignoring water conditions to get the perfect photo can be lethal. Whether you’re photographing surfers or shoals of fish, always keep one eye on the tide, the swell, and other hazards.
Tips for getting the best shots
A familiar camera can feel completely different with a waterproof housing around it. Practice taking photos with the housing on dry land before getting into the water with it. Take your time setting up an underwater shot, but resist the temptation to get into the perfect position before taking any photo at all. Marine life is easily spooked and could disappear while you’re getting ready. If you see something interesting, take a snap, then move in closer and hope your subject stays still. A quick shot from a less ideal angle is better than none at all!
About Guest Author:
Jess Spate is an underwater photography and digital underwater video enthusiast as well as a keen surfer and scuba diver. She edits a British outdoor gear resource when not in the water.