How to Take Captivating Underwater Photos

underwater photos

Underwater photos are a bucket list item for every photographer. But how do you take spectacular underwater photos? Whether you are already a pro photographer who just wants to expand his niche or you are just getting into the photography business and want to dive right into the underwater photography niche. 

Or you are simply just a curious person who has always wondered how underwater photos work, and all that goes into it. You have taken a step in the right direction by opening this page and deciding to read this post.

Here, you will get to learn right about everything there is to know about taking photos underwater. Tips that should be followed to get aesthetically appealing underwater photos.

Precautions that should be taken while shooting. What features you need to be particular about while shooting. And, how to position your subject(s).

By the time you are done reading this post, you would find that you are only a few clicks away from taking perfect underwater photos. Let’s get right to it, shall we?

Before the Underwater Photos

As with almost everything in life, the cliché not so cliché, “If you fail to prepare, you are preparing to fail,” line rings very real when it comes to taking underwater photos.

With topside photography, you can see subjects you would like to photograph and just whip out your camera and click! All done. It doesn’t work that way with underwater photography.

There are so many factors you need to consider before plunging into the water. The goal is to end up with excellent photos and to achieve that; you should look into

Water clarity

How clear or not the water appears goes a long way in affecting the quality of the images taken. Freshwater has the least clarity, while calm saltwater has the most clarity. So, you should consider the kind of water body you would be making use of and then make adjustments accordingly.

For example, you might have to devote more time to the post-processing of the photos taken in freshwater. You should, however, note that while a water body like swimming pools might look apparent, they usually have chemicals in them that would affect the clarity of the images.

Time the Shoot

You have to keep in mind the best time to take photos underwater is at noon, especially if you would be making use of only natural light. It is during this period that sunlight is at its peak and would actively penetrate the water. You would need the sun to illuminate your subject so fully, it is best to schedule the shoot at noontime.

Water Waves

You sure do not want to plunge into turbulent waters for an underwater shoot. You should go to a water body that has a very calm surface. However, don’t make the mistake of judging a water body by its surface.

There are a good number of water bodies that appear calm on the surface and yet, are anything but calm once you get in.

Sea Bed

The bottom of the water body is an equally significant factor. Regardless of how excellent your diving or swimming skills are, your best bet is to stick to the shallow part of the water as it would be easier for you to stand on the sea bed if need be.

Also, you should take note of what the sea bed is composed of, whether it is sand or rocks. While you are more likely to get more transparent water in a sea bed with stones, it might be a tad challenging to stand on it. In addition to that, the stones tend not to reflect much light, which might be a huge con.

Sea beds with sand, on the other hand, are a better option when it comes to reflecting light. On the con side, though, the sand means that there would be some silt moving about in the water.

Marine Life

Last but in no way the least, checking this out should be a no-brainer, especially if you would be shooting in a large body of water. There are so many dangerous organisms in water, such as scorpionfish, cone snails, and stingrays that you should be wary. Ensure you make proper findings on the water body before diving into it with your photography gear. Ask questions from the locals and conduct thorough research.

Photography Gear

When it comes to underwater photography, the camera is one of the least important aspects of the equipment. More attention should be placed on accessories like the lens. A primary camera that has the right accessories would take better pictures than a very pricey camera that has not been adapted to take underwater shots.

The camera should be placed in a housing suitable for it. This housing should make it possible for you to quickly access all the controls and buttons of the camera while also shielding the camera from water.

A camera going underwater should have a fully charged battery and a memory card with a lot of free space. Make sure to confirm that your camera can take clear photos in the housing even before you go into the water.

You should go for a camera lens with a wide-angle. To get good pictures, you must stay as close as possible to your subjects. To achieve this, you have to reduce the amount of water between your camera and your subject. A wide-angle lens would get the job done as it would help you to focus on your subject fully.

During the Underwater Photos 

Now, you are ready to get into the water. How do you position yourself and your model, if you are using a human subject to get good photos?

Be Relaxed

You have to be very comfortable as feeling tense and uncomfortable can affect the overall mood of the shoot. Also, the camera can capture even the most subtle form of tension or discomfort that you sure do not want to see in the photos. So, take a deep breath and relax.

Keep Buoyancy in Check

The last thing you want is to be floating when you ought to be underwater. To put this in check, you can make use of diving weights and belts to stay submerged in the water.

Make the Right Clothing Choice

The model must wear a ‘water-friendly’ outfit. An outfit that fits this description is one that is lightweight. And allows the model to move around freely in the water.

Be on the lookout for air bubbles

While underwater, the act of exhaling tends to give rise to air bubbles. You should be on a constant lookout for them and get rid of them before capturing the moment as they could negatively affect the pictures.

Take Your Time

Taking underwater photos is not something that should be rushed through. You are going to have to exercise a considerable amount of patience, especially if you are shooting a model that finds it hard to keep their eyes open and pose while in water. To save time on this, you can give them a list of poses they can make and have them practice before the shoot. Taking your time would help you make fewer mistakes, keep you relaxed, and help you have an overall enjoyable shooting experience.

After the Shoot

What are the chances that the photos would be 100% perfect straight out of the camera? The possibilities are very slim. Guess what? This is often the case for almost every underwater shoot that is done. The larger part of all those underwater photos that you admire usually requires long hours of post-processing.

So, you shouldn’t feel bad about having to do that too, as shooting in water usually affects lighting and clarity as we earlier established. This allows the photos to have a blue cast appearance that you sure want to get rid of. Photoshop is an excellent app that you can use to increase the contrast of the photos and make other changes.

Tips for Perfect Underwater Photos

All that being said, as a photographer, there are a good number of tips that you should keep handy while you shoot so that you can reduce the amount of time spent post-processing to the barest minimum.

Before going underwater, take your time to assemble the housing and camera to avoid costly mistakes that can flood the housing while you are underwater. A flooded housing can result in a damaged camera and a ruined shoot, not to mention a broken heart. So, assemble it in a very comfortable space and when you have enough time on your hands.

Don’t stay more than 12 inches away from your subject. Too much water between you two would affect the clarity and sharpness of the images. You should be within touching distance of the subject.

Always ensure the subject’s eyes are in focus before taking a shot

Make sure your camera is set to the highest resolution possible. This would reduce your reliance on post-processing to a large extent.

Also, set the camera to the lowest ISO possible. This would help preserve the quality of the photos while editing.

Set the aperture to as small as f8. It helps with improving focus as focusing is not very easy while taking underwater photos

Your camera flash should be on, preferably in the ‘forced flash’ mode and not ‘auto flash’. The forced flash mode would add more color to the photos and take away blueness. This is because as you go deeper into the water, it tends to absorb all the color, causing the pictures to appear blue or, in some cases, green.

For shoots where you would be making use of only natural light, it is best to ensure the sun is behind you and to use a water body that is 20ft or less

To get clear and sharp photos, you should use the right shutter speed. 1/125th is the best for fast-moving subjects. 1/60th for slow-moving ones and 1/30th for still objects.

Don’t wait till you get underwater before you try out your camera settings. When you are indoors, set it up in the housing and take test shots. Other than the fact that focusing on subjects would be more difficult underwater, the process would be just as similar as it is indoors.

To focus on the subject and reduce the background range, make use of a 100mm or 105mm lens

Reduce backscatter by making use of an external flash or strobe. If your camera is compact and you would be using an external flash, make sure you place it far away from the housing, and the internal flash is blocked.

Reduce fogging by placing desiccants in the camera housing the proper way. It has to be the proper way because if the sachets are loosely placed, they could move around and block the controls of the camera.    

Mistakes That Can Negatively Affect the Quality of Underwater Photos

It’s not enough to know only the dos of underwater photography. Let’s take a quick run through the don’t

Don’t oversaturate your photos by increasing the saturation levels to the highest levels. It should only be between 5-10% at most

Never make use of a long zoom lens underwater i.e. lens between 18-200mm zoom.

Don’t shoot in only landscape mode. Go portrait too

Don’t take photos without color. Make use of strobes and fast shutter speed to not let in too much ambient light.

Taking photos underwater might not exactly be a walk through the park, but it sure as well isn’t much of an arduous task. For even the most experienced topside photographer, shooting underwater for the first time will not come very quickly.

A whole lot of dedication, commitment, planning, and patience needs to go into it. To be fair, it could also be time-consuming and physically exhausting. However, it is also just as rewarding, and putting all the tips and guidelines described above into practice would inevitably result in picture-perfect underwater images in good time!