Underwater Photography Tips

Underwater Photography Tips for Beginners

Underwater Photography Tips for Beginners

Ten Underwater Photography Tips geared towards beginner underwater photographers. It’s not on the list of 10 underwater photography tips, but it bears mentioning: Practice. Practice both your SCUBA skills and your photography skills. The more experience you have underwater, the more comfortable you’ll be and the better photographs you’ll take. Now, onto 10 Underwater Photography Tips for Beginners.

The two photographs above are examples of tip 4: Get Close to your Subject.


  • Tip #1 of being a great underwater photographer is to be a great SCUBA diver. This means have excellent buoyancy control, be respectful of the environment, be respectful of other divers and remember everything you learned in your diving classes (don’t forget to check your gauges, don’t hold your breath, etc).


Example of Backscatter Example of Backscat

  • Use a flash. Below 6 feet of water, red colors are already noticeably muted. At 25 ft seawater you’re losing oranges and yellows. A flash will bring that color back. For more even light, use two strobes.
  • Angle your strobe (s) to avoid backscatter. Backscatter is when the strobe light reflects off the particles in the water. Strobe positions will vary depending on what you’re shooting and the focal length of your lens.



  • Get close to your subject. Shoot within 3 feet of your subject underwater. This will avoid the salad bowl effect and capture the strobe light before it falls off. The two photographs below are of a Sand Diver. On the left, the sand diver is barely visible. The photo on the right is a much more effective composition.It takes practice to get close to some sealife. The better your scuba diving skills, the better you’ll be able to approach fish and creatures without scaring them away or putting them on the defensive.


Too far away from the Sand Diver. Too far away from the Sand Diver.

Much closer to the Sand Diver. Much closer to the Sand Diver.


  • Do not shoot down. Beginner underwater photographers may find that shooting down feels natural; as a general rule in underwater photography, it’s not an effective angle, however. (Remember, there are exceptions to every rule.)Think about it as though you were on land. When you photograph a person, you don’t typically photograph the top of their head (unless you’re shooting a campaign for Hair Club for Men). When you’re looking at the photos after the dive, or when you’re sharing them with non-divers, an underwater photograph composed looking down on the subject is disengaging.


  • When shooting an animal, get the eye (s) in the photo and make sure they’re sharp. This is another reason why shooting down is ineffective. Most fish have eyes on the sides of their heads. Shoot them from the side to get the eyes in the shot.


In the seahorse photos below, you’ll notice the much more effective underwater photograph is the one that shows the seahorse’s eye. Seahorse are notoriously shy and tend to turn their backs to cameras. Which leads me to my next tip:

Subject is not looking at the camera. Subject is not looking at the camera.

Get the subject to look at the camera Get the subject to look at the camera


  • Be patient and be able to stay still for long periods. Whether you’re photographing shy seahorses or skittish Christmas Tree Worms, it’s important to be able to be still and wait. In the case of the Christmas Tree Worms, if the worm felt your approach tucked into his tube, wait one minute to see if he unfurls. If he doesn’t unfurl after one minute, then he may have been startled one too many times that day to return.



  • Set your focus mode to AI-Servo (or Continuous Servo if you’re shooting Nikon). This will speed up your focusing when tracking a moving subject or when surge is changing your distance to your subject.


  • Shoot 1/60 sec to 1/125 to avoid motion blur. If you’re shooting on Automatic, do this by using Shutter Priority Mode.


  • As soon as you’re comfortable, take the camera off Automatic and start shooting Manual. Technology has given a lot of control back to underwater photographers. We have more control over the strobes than ever before and camera housing advancements allow us to utilize most of our camera features.


Copyright 2017 Valerie Hayken Up