Yes, I do not really look like a mermaid with all my photographic bazaar under water! (Philippines, May 2018 - Photo by Steven Weinberg)
6 tips for successful underwater photography when you are a beginner
Dear English-speaking readers, this page is an automatic Google translation from a post originally written in French. My apologies for the weird sentences and the funny mistakes that could have been generated during the process. If you can read French, the original and correct version can be found here:
Here are some basic principles for successful underwater photography, when you are a beginner. Six simple tips to start taking nice pictures underwater....
Because underwater photography is more difficult but much more beautiful than photography without water... 😂 😉
From compact to DSLR camera
I started shooting underwater in 2005. My very first camera was a disposable cheap one, with a film inside, enclosed in a waterproof plastic case with a yellow background. It could be found in tourist shops...
I liked it so much, that I bought in the wake my first digital camera. I first "made" my hand (and my eye) with a modest compact, the small Canon Powershot A95, from 2005 to 2009. I've learned a lot with this "basic" equipment and the advice I give below comes from this experience. After a while, I've done the best I could do with it, and the camera eventually stopped working...
So, I switched to SLR at the beginning of 2010 (Canon Eos 7D, Ikelite housing). With the experience, my images have gradually progressed in quality over the years. And I continue to learn, to try to improve myself ...
Many people think that a compact camera does not allow to achieve beautiful images underwater. It's wrong. Nowadays small cameras are technological jewels, capable of magnificent images, provided you follow some basic principles. Because of course, it is not the camera that makes the picture (which misses or succeeds), but the person who releases the shutter... 😉 I saw people taking beautiful pictures with very simple equipment, and others taking bad photos with fancy and very expensive cameras...
I summarize below some tips and advice to think about underwater photography ... before, during and after the dive!
# 1: Mastering your buoyancy
First imperative, which concerns more the diving technique than the photo: you have to be really comfortable with its buoyancy, including knowing how to do lung-ballast without even thinking about it.
Macro, in particular, you must be able to stand close to the subject, without "bumping" coral or rocks, the risk of injury and damage the environment.
You have to know how to move near the bottom without lifting sand ... Learn to palmer like a frog (the famous frog kick). Otherwise, hello particles in suspension that will make white spots in the flash light!
We avoid sudden movements, we do not rush towards his subject, we palm slowly and we breathe calmly not to frighten the fish.
⚠️ Finally, above all, it is essential to never put yourself in danger when you are caught by the photo to take. Watch out for all the usual stuff (current, depth, air conso, deco). And then we keep an eye on his team and his team to not lose them (and we warned them before the dive that we might "hang out" a little because of the photos).
# 2: Know your device
It sounds stupid, but before getting into the water, with his camera inside a waterproof case, it is better to know, thoroughly, all the buttons, settings, functions of the device.
The best is to train, dry, to handle it in its box to easily find the buttons that you need.
Even with a compact, it is better to favor a model of the device offering the manual modes (M), with a box allowing access to all settings, including priority speed (Tv) and priority opening (Av), as well as the sensitivity (ISO) to control what you do underwater.
⚠️ Yes, the picture under the water, it remains of the photo! It will be necessary to revise the basic principles to work light, that is to learn to combine speed / openness / sensitivity ...
# 3: Do some tests
For the photographic technique itself: the best is to start to train and to try different settings until you find those that work under water, to adjust according to the conditions ... There is no adjustment .
Photo close up: with a compact, we go into Macro mode and at the beginning we train on "easy" subjects, that is to say that do not move (starfish, nudibranchs, corals). With a SLR with a macro lens, the same recommendation: we get our hands on almost immobile subjects.
For more distant subjects or ambient photos, the result will necessarily be less good with the original optics of a small compact camera. But if the visibility is good, when you are not too far from the surface and there is sun, you can still get beautiful pictures (in this case, do not use the internal flash, because it will illuminate the particles suspended in the water, which will make white dots on the image). With an external flash to illuminate a foreground, playing on natural light and artificial light, rendering will necessarily be better. Finally, with a SLR with a wide-angle lens or fisheye, you can get great results.
⚠️ Some compact devices offer a "submarine" mode. I used it in my debut on mine, really nil ... The best, if you do not feel too comfortable, is to select the TV mode (priority speed) and set at least 1 / 60th or 1 / 90th for "far" photos without flash, to be at least sure to have images that are not fuzzy.
# 4: Ruse with the built-in flash of the compact camera
The built-in flash only illuminates subjects close enough (I repeat: for distant subjects, do not use it, the particles in the water will make white dots on the image). Remember to put a diffuser in front, the light will be better distributed.
Always in Macro, therefore, it is recommended to reduce the power of this built-in flash, if your compact camera offers this function. (He is often too violent up close, especially on light or white subjects).
Another trick: to select an under-exposure of -1 to -2 or even more, which makes it possible to detach beautifully the subject enlightened by the flash of the blue background of water (for example for nudibranchs, or seahorses, or coral branches, because the bottom then takes a dark shade, from black to dark blue).
⚠️ Obviously, the best is to invest in an external flash. There, we control the direction of light, which gives incomparable results ...
# 5: Make multiple images of the same subject
Do not hesitate to "shoot" once, twice, ten times the same subject to have a good picture in the pile, even to erase the less satisfactory then, after understanding why they are missed ... We learn from his errors.
Attention: we are sometimes deceived under water by the rendering of the screen: we have the impression that the image is successful, and we are very disappointed to discover after, on the screen of the computer, that she is fuzzy for example.
Do not hesitate to change your point of view, to multiply the different frames. Avoid photographing the subject from above, but always try to meet the eye of the fish, or the nude dress ...
⚠️ It is best to select the largest possible image definition (L as "Large" or S as "Super-fine" depending on the device). After, on the computer, it allows tighter cropping without too much loss in definition.
# 6: Pay attention to batteries and humidity with compact
We must also be careful to always dive with well-charged batteries. Since the flash is much used underwater, the batteries of compact cameras can be drained quickly.
Always inspect the seal and lightly grease with silicone gel to keep it in good condition. Often, I prepare my box the night before, quietly. It avoids the catastrophes due to the hasty preparations in the early morning.
Leave the device + box in a water tank if it is possible, just before the dives, so that it is gradually put to the right temperature (it avoids condensation that "fogged" on the lens, very annoying). Never leave it in direct sunlight!
For compact, do not hesitate to slip one or two small bags of Silicagel or equivalent into the box to absorb moisture, always to prevent condensation, favored by the batteries that heat. I did not have this problem with my SLR, the flash battery being external.
⚠️ It's worth having extra batteries in reserve on the boat. It is always when one is in battery stand that one makes fabulous underwater encounters ...