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Six Tricks for Taking Great Underwater Photos with a Cheap Camera


I am a SCUBA diver. Whenever I can find the time and the money, I get under water. There is nothing like it. Most of the time, I go under water just to enjoy it.  But like any tourist with the good luck and technical savvy to visit another planet, I like to bring back a few photos to share and prove I was there.

Underwater photography is its own special challenge. People who do it seriously go into the briny deep toting more cameras and lights than I care to pay for or pack. So, whenever I find myself in a room with a professional photographer – which happens often in my line of work – I pelt him with questions about the challenge of shooting underwater with my favorite inexpensive underwater camera and natural light.

I am slowly getting better at it. (That’s my photo, above, taken while being dashed against rocks off the coast of Big Sur.) I have taken photos that hang on my walls. But I am nowhere near as good as people who take it more seriously than I ever will.

So when these Dreamstime photographers offered me tips on shooting underwater, I snapped at the offer like a shark being offered a morsel of seal. Here they are, with some of the results of their efforts. If you would like to hang one of these wonderful images on your walls, follow the links to the photographers site and buy one. That’s easier than flying to Fiji and suiting up.

Don’t scare the wildlife

2 - Richard Carey - Sea Turtle

If you go chasing after marine life, it will swim away. Most marine animals can swim a lot faster than you, so you won’t end up with any photos. Stay calm, move slowly, and when the animals become accustomed to your presence you’ll be able to get the photos.
Richard Carey, Dreamstime photographer

Respect the environment

1 - Richard Carey - Cabbage Coral and Divers

Good buoyancy control is key so you don’t touch and harm fragile corals. Humans are doing enough damage to the environment without us photographers adding to it. Respect the environment so it will still be beautiful next time you visit.
Richard Carey, Dreamstime photographer

Get up close and personal

5 - Andrew Jalbert - Fiji Underwater

Getting close is perhaps the most important advice beginning underwater photographers should heed. The less water between your lens and your subject, the better. Water is much denser than air and can reduce contrast and sharpness. Additionally, if you’re wearing a mask underwater, objects may appear closer than they actually are.
Andrew Jalpert, Dreamstime photographer

Add light

6 - Andrew Jalbert - underwater shipwreck

If your camera is equipped with a flash, make sure it’s turned on. Color fades rapidly with depth underwater and without the addition of artificial light, all those vibrant underwater hues will dull starting as shallow as 15 feet. If you are shooting with ambient light only, try to stay within 20 feet of the surface.
Andrew Jalpert, Dreamstime photographer

Shoot Up, or at least not down

3 - Jeremy Brown - longnose hawkfish

Reefs can be stunningly beautiful and diverse, but this also make them a complex and distracting background. It helps to either isolate your subject against a simple background or set it in a clearly “underwater” context. To do this, choose a subject that you can shoot level or, better still, from slightly below. This will make it much easier to make your subject standout against a pleasing blue water background or even to include some more familiar context in the background, like sun beams breaking through the water surface above.
Jeremy Brown, Dreamstime photographer

Some things are more important than getting the shot

4 -Jeremy Brown - Shark and Diver

Underwater photography carries an elevated, but manageable, risk; following safe diving practices must be the priority, no matter how exciting or unique the potential image may be. Competency with general diving skills, especially buoyancy control, is not only essential for your safety but without them, your images will be underwhelming, at best. Put safety first.
Jeremy Brown, Dreamstime photographer


This is the camera I use underwater