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underwater-photography-5 Tips & Tricks

Tips For Shooting Underwater Photographs

By Michelle Bird on August 5th 2014

Underwater photography is a specialized art in itself. While proving to be one of the most difficult fields within the realm photography, it can also result as one of the most creative. Not many photographers take the plunge into underwater photography, but there’s so much room to capture rare and vivid images.

For photographers that like a little bit of a challenge dealing with waves, currents, perhaps a few odd facial expressions from your model, and holding your breath for long periods of time, this one goes out to you.

There’s a variety of gear you can use to photograph under the blue, and it doesn’t have to get too complicated, everything from film and digital watertight casings to a GoPro, underwater cameras to underwater smartphone cases. It’s really up to you as to what medium you chose, but before you jump head-on, here are a few quick tips to get better resulting and creative underwater photographs.

[REWIND: Nauticam Launches New RX100 M3 Underwater Housing]


Photo by Danielle Moir

1. Stay Close to The Surface

The deeper you go under water, the more light you tend to lose, so try to stay between 1-5  feet. It’s best to do underwater photography between 8am-11am, as you’ll get some nice natural light on the surface. By staying close to the surface, you have plenty of room to get added atmosphere in those shots – sunbeams, reflections, perhaps some good texture in the background.

2. Props, Props, Props

Adding props will help your photograph tell a different story. Whether they blend well with an ocean tale or not, grab an old book, perhaps a musical instrument, ribbons, a lantern, or something with a nice solid geometric shape.


Photo by: Elena Kalis

3. Close-up Anyone?

By staying close to your subject underwater, you not only get natural looking skin-tone and more accurate overall color, there’s also room to capture all the details.

4.  Practice Makes Perfect

You’re not going to get the perfect shot on your first handful of tries. It takes a little getting use to the whole floating, doggy-paddling, holding your breath, composing a shot and communicating with your model via bubbles. Talk to your model above water before the shot, and set-up cues beforehand, also practice those cues a couple times underwater and learn to communicate first, that way you can go with the flow.

5. Shoot From Below

Shooting your subject from below towards the surface adds a more dramatic effect to the photograph. It’s a nice way to get contrasting shadows, and rays of light hitting at different angles – backlighting at its finest.


Photo by: Mark Tipple

6. Switch-Up That White Balance

Since your camera is designed to work in daylight–on dry land, I mean– and water has a filter of its own, you tend to lose a lot of color as soon as you jump in. Red, orange, and yellow are the first colors to go right out of the bucket. The deeper you go, the bluer the images. The way to deal with this is either changing the white balance to “underwater”– if your camera has it, or switch to the “daylight” setting when close to the surface. If you are shooting from below, you can then change the setting to “cloudy.” Something that might also help is using an underwater color-correcting filter, and of course, make sure to always shoot in RAW underwater.

7. To Focus, Or Not To Focus

It will work in your favor if you set your camera’s focus priority to release, over focus. It will be hard for your camera to get a focus grip underwater, so its best to take the shot, otherwise you will miss a lot of good captures. Manual is also your pal, and along the way bump up the exposure to +1 before putting your camera inside the waterproof housing.

 Do you have any underwater photography tips you’d like to share with other photogs? Any gear preference? Leave them in the comment section below!


CREDIT: All images are copyrighted and have been used with permission for SLR Lounge. Do not copy, modify or re-post this article or images without express permission from SLR Lounge and the artists.



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Michelle Bird is a Southern California based freelance photographer and writer, with a strong focus on music, editorial and portrait photography. She is the founder and creative force behind the music+culture online blog Black Vinyl Magazine, and can often be found in the photo-pit shooting the latest concerts in town. She has a strong passion for art, exploring, vintage finds and most of all animals. Connect with her through Email,
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Q&A Discussions

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  1. Michael Moe

    this helped me a lot. thank you!

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  2. Samantha Hayn

    I recently moved into a house with a pool & I’ve been dying to dabble into underwater photography! My son is such a little fish & it would make for some great memories. Thanks for the tips!
    also any recommendations for using the gopro hero (1) – that’s currently what I have, only thing that’s a bummer is you cannot see what your taking a picture of with no lcd screen!

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  3. Phil Bautista

    Before everything else, stick some cotton or paper in your UW housing, lock it up, then dunk it in the pool. Test it for leaks. Every.Single.Time.

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    • Herm Tjioe

      I was not surprised how bits of moisture can creep in using thin tissue paper within housing. I also always have tissue with camera as well, kind of the ‘canary in the coal mine’ functionality

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  4. Austin Swenson

    I gotta get me an underwater housing…

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  5. Kjell Postema

    For a couple of weeks I’m using a Outex DSLR water cover. And I think it’s great.

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  6. Kurk Rouse

    I would get a go pro just to do stuff like this

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    Great tips Michelle I learnt some great tips here

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  8. Nick Viton

    I wish I had a pool.

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  9. Rafael Steffen

    Thanks for providing great tips on how to understand and perform in under water photography. It opens a lot of possibilities.

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    • Michelle Bird

      Anytime Rafael! Glad you could learn a few new things to apply towards your photography.

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  10. James Matthews

    Another point. Get yourself some small fins, not the larger sizes that are used for diving/snorkelling. The smaller ones help you kick around underwater with a bit more freedom. Good for easier maneuvering.

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