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Underwater Photo Tips

Basic Tips for Capturing Photos When Shooting in the Water


Underwater Photo Tips

Underwater housing units are made for specific models and brands of cameras, such as this WP-N1 unit for the family of Nikon 1 DIL cameras.


Shooting underwater photographs can be tricky, as shooting in normal sunlight -- and in air -- is far different from shooting in an environment under the water. Achieving great photos in such odd conditions can requires some specific techniques, as outlined below.

  • Ending up with blurry photos is a common problem with underwater photos. Most of the time, this problem is related to using a shutter speed that is too slow because of the lack of light underwater. Try to change your camera’s settings so that shutter speed has the priority. In addition, keep your elbows close to your body to help you hold the camera as steady as possible and avoid blurry photos caused by camera shake. Make sure your camera’s optical image stabilization feature is activated, too. If you have artificial light available, make sure to use it.

  • Another common problem occurs when the subject is out of focus. Because fish can swim away so quickly, it can be difficult for the camera’s auto focus system to catch up to the moving subject. If your camera has a “fast auto focus” mode, try using it. You also can try to lock the focus on the fish you want to shoot by placing the fish in the middle of the frame and pressing and holding the shutter button halfway. Then keep the fish in focus by following its movement until you're ready to shoot the photo by pressing the button fully. However, holding a shutter button halfway down for a long period of time can be difficult if you’re using an underwater housing with your camera.

  • With some underwater photos, you’ll want to shoot an extreme close-up, allowing you to see detail on a plant or stationary animal. If you are too close to the subject to allow your camera’s normal auto focus mode to properly focus, you may need to switch to macro mode, which allows for close-up photos.

  • If you’re standing on the sea-bed or lake-bed when shooting photos, step lightly and don’t drag your feet when moving around to set up your shot. You don’t want to stir up silt and other particles into the water, which could cause problems with your photos. You want the water to be as clear as possible.

  • As with any type of nature photography that involves animals, don’t move too quickly around fish or other underwater animals. You don’t want to spook the fish, ruining your chance at a photo. Move slowly toward any underwater animals.

  • Be sure that you've thoroughly cleaned your camera's LCD before you begin the dive. Once the camera is inside an underwater housing unit, you're not going to be able to remove it to clean any smudges that can make it difficult for you to frame your shots and to see things clearly.

  • If you’re swimming while shooting your photos, it’s easy to lose your orientation toward the horizon, in this case, the surface of the water. If you’re having trouble keeping your photos level, try activating the feature that superimposes horizontal and vertical lines on the LCD. You then can line up the horizon with the horizontal lines.

  • Underwater photography requires some specialized equipment ... after all, water and electronics typically don’t mix. If you've never had an electronics device fail because it had water spilled on it or because it fell into a puddle, consider yourself lucky. Many a cell phone or camera has suffered an early death from water damage. So don't just assume that you can take any camera and begin shooting underwater photographs. An underwater camera must be sealed to prevent water from leaking inside the body and damaging the electronics. Keep in mind that different underwater cameras have different rules for how deep they can be taken underwater, as well as how long they can be used under the water. Follow these rules precisely, or you'll end up with ruined photos and, potentially, a damaged piece of equipment.

  • If you purchase an underwater housing unit, you'll need to make sure that the clear portions of the unit are completely clean, or your camera's lens won't be able to shoot clear photos. These underwater housing units fit around your camera, sealing the camera inside the unit and protecting it from the water. With an underwater housing unit, you can use any camera for underwater photography, even if that camera is not designed specifically as an underwater model. You will need to make sure that the underwater housing unit is designed specifically for your camera model, though, or it won't fit properly, and it will lead to poor photo quality or, even worse, water damage for the camera. Keep in mind that not every camera has an underwater housing unit available for it, so not every camera can be made into an underwater camera.

Once you have the necessary equipment, use the tips above to achieve successful underwater photographs. There's nothing like having a great set of photos that can help you to remember your dive. Just be sure that you've left a little bit of time after the dive for the cleaning of the camera, because without taking the time to clean it, it could end up being ruined before the next time you need it.

Having an underwater camera can be a bit of extra work, but those one-of-a-kind underwater photos are well worth it!

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