Underwater Photography: Common Problems and Fixes
Here are some of the most common problems that we see on a daily basis along with our underwater photography tips for improving your images:
This is probably the number 1 issue that we see! It’s important to make sure that you have a good handle on your buoyancy and using your breath underwater to maintain a steady hold on your camera. If your buoyancy needs a little work, sign up for either your PADI Advanced Open Water Course or take the PADI Peak Performance Buoyancy Specialty Diver Course first – it will pay dividends in the long run. Once you master your buoyancy, you’ll start enjoying longer and more comfortable dives – and better underwater photos!
Everything but Nothing
This is common in a wide-angle landscape photo. You want to include everything in the frame but end up without a strong foreground subject. The reef image has a lot going on but lacks a subject or focal point to direct the eye. Don’t feel bad for taking shots like this, just try to think about finding a distinct subject for your foreground. The foreground subject does not need to be an iconic critter – a feather star, bivalve shell, or even a beautiful sponge set to one side will enhance the image.
Capturing moving subjects underwater is not as easy as on land – for a start, you are usually moving and trying to maintain balance and buoyancy too. If you are shooting with a compact camera without a strobe make sure the shutter speed is fast enough to freeze a subject that swims. That usually means higher than 1/70th of a second. You can also try increasing the depth of field with higher apertures (f/11 and higher) if you find yourself having trouble getting complete focus.
Less is More
Most beginners try to capture too many critters or fish in one shot. Decide which critter you want to take a picture of and be patient. Wait for the right moment and then take your shot. You’ll find you may only take 5 shots but they will be 5 shots which are better than the 100 you would have otherwise taken if you hadn’t concentrated on one subject.
Choose backgrounds that are going to show your subject most clearly. A lot of different coloured or different species of coral can be too “much” to serve as a background, so look for simple clear backdrops if you can’t get these marine creatures against the blue. When you are diving at our Two Fish Lembeh you’ll find the black volcanic sands make an amazing backdrop to images of colourful critters!
Particles here, there and everywhere!
Particles in your images are known as backscatter. It is often impossible to avoid having some backscatter – especially when you are diving over sandy sites. Most backscatter can be removed during processing – within reason. When shooting, remember that your flash or strobe will light up the particles so they will become more obvious. The closer you are to the subject the better – less water between the lens and the subject also means less particles and less backscatter to remove later. If you are shooting with a strobe(s), move your strobes further out, away from behind the lens and this will greatly reduce backscatter.
This has to be one of the most important underwater photography tips you’ll ever hear – “get closer”. We mentioned being close to the subject about backscatter above but there is another reason for getting close – you shoot through a minimum amount of water (less distance beween your camera lens and the subject means less water. Water absorbs light, if you shoot from a large distance your subject will be dark and blurry. Approach your subject slowly and cautiously until it gets used to you, breathing calmly, and approaching with your camera already up.
What looks vibrant out of the water doesn’t necessarily look the same when you’re underwater. Water acts as a filter upon colours, absorbing and distorting most warm shades such as reds and oranges – which often appear as shades of blue in underwater images. The deeper you dive, the more colours are filtered out. First, you lose reds, then oranges, then yellows. For diving underwater photographers, it’s highly recommended to carry a white slate with you so that you can adjust the white balance at various depths. Don’t forget to adjust white balance as you ascend. You’ll need to correct for the return of colours that were lost at depth as you return to the shallows..
Art or Fish ID?
The majority of people start taking photos underwater by swimming over subjects and taking photos from above. However, shooting upwards will not only help to separate the subject from the background, but produce dramatic shots. Try to get below a subject, or shoot at least at eye level with it. Remember you are trying to capture a moment, an artistic image, not a fish ID book look-a-like.
Never attempt to chase your subject —let the fish swim into the frame. Try to get a photo of a fish facing you. If possible, make eye contact between the subject and the camera, which will make the photo more relatable to the viewer.
Rule of Thirds
One of the golden rules when it comes to underwater photography tips – Remember that when you take a picture of something it doesn’t have to be in the center of the image. Sometimes it looks good to place the main subject in the center, sometimes it looks even better to follow the “rule of thirds.” That is, framing your subject at one of the intersections below.
Empathy for Marine Life
Underwater photography, like wildlife photography, relies heavily on the photographer’s knowledge of the subjects. If you know and understand the behavior of the critter you are shooting you are more likely to capture better shots than those who have little knowledge about their subjects. At Two Fish Divers, we recognize that we are visitors in the underwater world and we respect the marine life around us. Wait patiently and allow the marine species to get used to you, and then take your shot. Please never harass, chase or touch our marine life.
Are you planning your next dive trip? Have you got a new underwater camera to try out or do you want to improve your imaging with your existing underwater rig? Let us know and we will be happy to help. Our team love sharing and viewing images after diving! Did you know that all Two Fish Divers’ boats carry freshwater tanks for cameras and have separate wash tanks for your photography equipment? Ask one of our team and they’ll even help you practice these underwater photography tips!
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