Underwater Photography: Equipment, Camera Settings, Tips & more

underwater photos
Photo by Lawrence

Life below water is mysterious and mesmerising! Adventure activities like scuba diving & snorkelling give you the opportunity to see the amazing life below water and share your experiences through photography to inspire others to do their bit in preserving the marine life.

dive photo
Photo by Lawrence

Underwater photography is taking photographs while under water. It includes underwater wedding photos, underwater model photoshoot / underwater fashion photography, photos of the marine life (coral reefs, fishes, sea turtles), shipwrecks, portraits of divers, over/under shots (where part of the frame is above water while the rest is an underwater scene) & more.

underwater photography
Photo by Lawrence

Photos by Lawrence – Underwater Photographer. For more such amazing images, do check his Instagram profile here instagram.com/seaslugs_n_stargazers

Cameras for underwater photography

GoPro cameras, waterproof point-and-shoot cameras (compact digital cameras) are good for snorkelling. You can check out the best underwater photography cameras here amazon.com/Best-Sellers-Electronics-Underwater-Photography-Cameras/zgbs/electronics/3350171

For professional underwater photography especially while scuba diving – you’ll need a mirrorless camera or a DSLR with underwater housing, dome port and 2 underwater strobes.

Underwater photography equipment

Underwater housing:

Underwater housing helps to keep the water out and your camera safe. It is customized for each DSLR and different housing models offer different levels of control; choose a housing specifically designed for your camera. A housing includes pushbuttons, knurled knobs/dials, and levers to access the camera functions. Make sure to clean it with fresh water after every use to protect your camera.

Housing and dome port for underwater photography
Image source: Wikipedia

Dome port:

Wide-angle lens (at least 18mm or wider/fisheye lens) is ideal for underwater photography. But, due to the refraction of light in water (light bends as it goes between water and air), everything looks closer/ is magnified under water. So, you won’t get the full wide angle; your wide angle lens will give a zoom effect.

A dome port aka wide-angle port is curved; when you place your lens behind a dome port, it helps to retain the wideness of the lens and the image comes out sharp with good colours. (You will need to correct the distortion caused by the ultra-wide-angle lens/fisheye lens during post-processing)

For macro lens/shots, you’ll need a flat port. 

Underwater strobes:

If you’re taking a photograph of a sea turtle within 1-2 meters under water, you may still be able to see the colours on the turtle. But, the deeper you dive, lesser the light – you’ll find under water. After few meters down, much of the red and green wavelengths of light get absorbed; colours begin to fade, only blue light reaches down – so everything appears blue to your eyes.

Underwater strobe/flash/LED adds white light back which allows you to see and capture the beautiful colours of the marine life.

Underwater photography composition

To make your underwater photos stand out – use the Foreground Composition, Rule of Thirds and Golden Ratio.

How to shoot underwater photos

ocean photographer
Photo by Ollie Clarke

Photo by Ollie Clarke – Underwater Photographer. For more such amazing images, do check his Instagram profile here instagram.com/ollie_underwater

Use the Live View mode of your DSLR for underwater photography coz it’s going to be difficult to look through the viewfinder with your diving mask and the housing.

Go for wide angle lens for scenic shots like the coral reefs, group/schools of fish and shipwrecks.

Use macro lens for macro photography to capture close-up pictures of the marine life that brings out the tiny details.

underwater photography
Photo by Thomas Heckmann

Photo by Thomas Heckmann – Award winning Underwater Photographer. For more such amazing images, do check his Instagram profile here instagram.com/uwphoto_by_toso/

Recommended DSLR Camera Settings

Shoot with underwater strobes/flash,switch on the AI Servo AF (for a Canon DSLR) & AF-C (for a Nikon DSLR) to keep your moving subject in focus.

Aperture: f/8, ISO 100 or 200, Shutter Speed: 1/125 sec or faster to avoid motion blur.

Pro tip:

Backscatter in underwater photography
Image source: Wikipedia

Backscatter (seen in the space between the lens and the subject) is caused when particles in the water are illuminated by underwater strobes.

Underwater strobes
Image source: Wikipedia

To avoid backscatter – keep your underwater strobes out wide, away from the lens port, and remember, not to point them towards the subject. (as shown in the above image)

We bring you ‘Jo & His Camera’ Comic Strips wherein a Magical Camera gives DSLR photography tutorials to Jo, an aspiring photographer

Click on the below Image to see the Comic wherein the Camera explains Jo, the concept of Underwater Photography with the help of practical examples.

underwater photography

Underwater Model Photoshoot/ Underwater Fashion Photography

Underwater model/fashion photography is done in swimming pools, seas or oceans wherein the professional underwater model(s)/artist(s) don’t wear any diving equipment.

underwater photography model
Photo by Thomas Heckmann

Photo by Thomas Heckmann – Award winning Underwater Photographer. For more such amazing images, do check his Instagram profile here instagram.com/uwphoto_by_toso/

Pro tips:

  • Try photographing during noontime for strong natural light
  • The model can wear a swimwear or a long, flowy dress that allows them to easily move under water
  • Let the colour of the model’s dress be in contrast with the background to create an attractive composition
  • Show buoyancy in your photograph – ask the model to glide down or free fall
  • Use underwater strobes to create good lighting
  • Use wide angle lens for full body shots
  • Show reflections, silhouettes in your photograph to capture the viewer’s attention  

Click on the below Image to see the Comic wherein the Camera explains Jo, the concept of Underwater Model Photoshoot with the help of practical examples.

underwater model photoshoot

When you do photography: Remember the 5E’s – Explore, Experiment, Experience, Enjoy & Express to develop your own style as a photographer.

Do Share The Learning – Like It, Post It, Pin It, Tweet It!

Have you tried underwater photography, yet? We would love to know about your experiences, do share them in the comment box below.

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