Disappointed at the way your underwater shots are turning out? Here are some simple rules for underwater photography that will let you capture on film those great scenes you’re currently just not getting.
If your pictures seemed washed out and muted, remember, the deeper you are, the less light is available. You can start losing color within just a few feet. Red is the first color to start fading, so try wearing a red wristband. If it seems less vivid when you look at it, you’re at a level where you need to start using your flash.
Your lighting will be at its best in the middle of the day, when the sun is directly overhead. Try photographing between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. for the best results.
Take advantage of the sun’s position to get dramatic lighting effects. Silhouette your subject by putting them in front of the sun. Keeping the sun behind you will create the opposite effect of illuminating your subject, while the background remains dark.
Getting below your subject is a great way to get the sun behind them, as well as lending interest to your shots. Since there’s more light in the first few feet of water, you’ll also get better color without needing to use your flash.
Shooting from above will put the sun behind you, but it can lead to losing your subject in the jumble if the surface below you is cluttered. Look for areas that are fairly clear or that offer sharp contrast in color or texture.
Keep in mind that the way light refracts through water can distort how far something seems to be. It’s easy to think something is closer than it is. A face mask adds to the illusion, making objects appear about 25% closer than they really are. To overcome this you’ll need to make an extra effort to get close to your subject.
Getting in close has its advantages. The closer you can get, the less water you’ll have to shoot through. This will help with the clarity and definition of your shot, especially if the water is murky.
Also, film isn’t nearly as sensitive as the human eye. As a rule of thumb, film will only pick up about a quarter of what you’re seeing. In other words, if you can see something 10 feet away, your camera will need to be only two and a half feet away to capture the details you want.
Many of the things you’ll want to photograph underwater will be rather small. Fill your frame with your subject to get a more distinctive shot. If your subject is a fish, however, you might not be able to get closer without frightening it away. You’ll have to prepare for that before you ever get in the water by making sure your camera lens has a longer focal length, allowing you to zoom in closer.
In contrast, if you want to take photos of larger objects, like sunken ships or scenic reef shots, you’ll want to have a wide angle lens.
Extraneous elements can ruin an otherwise perfect shot. Like a thumb in the picture, bubbles from your breathing apparatus can obscure your subject, partially or completely. Try to take your shot while you’re inhaling. Don’t forget to keep an eye out for floating seaweed near you, too.
With practice you can develop the skills to start getting some fantastic underwater shots. Be patient, take lots of shots and don’t give up. Before long you’ll be amazing yourself with what you’ve accomplished.