Underwater Photography: top tips
I've been a diver for 10 years and always envy the incredible shots underwater photographers bring back from a dive. So, I took the plunge and enrolled in an underwater photography liveaboard with Paul "Duxy" Duxfield in the Red Sea. As I total beginner to photography, I was pretty nervous. But everyone looked after me and helped me get up to speed with the basics in no time. Here are a few key things I learned about underwater photography during my course:
Check your seals
The last thing you want is a flooded camera so check all your seals and test your housing in the dunk tank BEFORE you jump into the ocean. If you're already in the sea and it floods, it's too late. In which case, bid your precious (expensive) equipment goodbye...
Getting close to all that weird and wonderful (and often poisonous!) marine life takes some nerve. It took me a few dives just to practice getting close enough to mean morays and lethal (ish) lionfish without being anxious about being attacked/swallowed whole etc.
Don't judge a book by its cover
So, while you're probably not going to be swallowed whole by an aggressive giant moray, some animals might become aggressive underwater. If they feel you're threatening their territory they may well lash out. This is especially true if they're guarding eggs. But it might not be the creatures you expect that square up to you. On our underwater photography course, it wasn't giant moray or lionfish I had a problem with. I found it most difficult to get close enough to clownfish because they kept threatening to nip me! They might not actually hurt you but they're ballsy little buggers, that's for sure!
Look, don't touch
Remember, it's their home, we're not supposed to be down here! Don't move the marine life to try to get "the perfect shot," try not to touch things and definitely don't take any souvenirs.
Perfect your buoyancy
Getting close to coral and marine life to take a steady, focused shot means you need tip top buoyancy control, proper trim and to be correctly weighted. Do the first dive of your underwater photography trip without your camera to make sure you're properly weighted and your buoyancy is OK. If you're floating off or bumping into things, you're not going to take a great photo and you might harm some of the marine life.
Learn about behaviours
There's a lot to learn in underwater photography, that's for sure. Reading up on your subjects as well as your camera settings will help you get better photos. Want a photo of a small, hard to find creature? If you know their habitat and what they eat, look for that and search for them once you find it. It'll make things a lot easier. Similarly, understanding an animal's behaviour will make it easier to get into the right position for a great photo. Read up - fish books are your friend!
Shoot in RAW
Make sure your camera settings are set to capture RAW (not jpeg) files. Raw files capture all the information that is recorded when you take a photo, whereas jpeg files can lose some of this information. Because of this it's more flexible when processing images and correcting errors. Shooting RAW will make it a helluva lot easier when you get to the editing process!
The Magic Box
Lightroom - known as "the magic box" by many on my dive boat - will transform your images and (probably) change your life. If you've been shooting in RAW (see point above), you can use Lightroom to manipulate your images in post-production and fix any little errors - be it white balance, exposure, saturation or more. You'll be seriously impressed by how much it can improve your underwater photography results.
Try black and white
Another little Lightroom tip is to try out what your image looks like in black and white. If you have a good composition and strong contrast between light and shade, a picture that looks mediocre in colour might make a Cinderella-style transformation and totally pop in black and white.
Underexposure vs. Overexposure
As you've probably gathered by now, the genius that is Lightroom helps you fix problems with your underwater photography images - including if you haven't got the exposure quite right. But remember that if the picture is too overexposed (and totally "blown out") you won't be able to recover it. If in doubt, aim to be slightly underexposed as it's easier to fix.
OK, so you've spent a lot (a LOT) of money on your fabulous new underwater camera and housing. But don't forget, if something does happen, your life is worth more than a piece of kit. I've heard many stories of people putting their lives at risk to save some camera equipment in a dangerous situation. Put simply, it's just not worth it.
& Enjoy it!
Scuba diving with some of the world's most fascinating creatures is spectacular. And coming up with brilliant photos to help you remember your dive is what makes underwater photography great. So enjoy it - happy diving!
I had an incredible week in the Red Sea and was really pleased with the photos I managed to capture. To check them out, take a look at my gallery page.
If you're new to underwater photography, like me, I hope these tips were useful. Have you got any others that I've missed? I'd love to hear them!