Yes, I do not really look like a mermaid with all my photographic bazaar under water! (Philippines, May 2018 - Photo by Steven Weinberg)
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

  Between Two Journeys

Dear English-speaking readers, this page is an automatic translation made from a post originally written in French. My apologies for any strange sentences and funny mistakes that may have been generated during the process. If you are reading French, click on the French flag below to access the original and correct text: 

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 underwater photography in 2005. My very first camera was a disposable case, with a silver film in it, all in a waterproof plastic case with a yellow background. We found this in tourist shops & #8230;

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 learned a lot with this equipment "& #160; basic & #160;" and the advice I give below is from this experience.

Diving in Weda Bay. Maluku, Halmahera, Indonesia. March 2013.

After a while, I still a little tour of its possibilities, and the device, he ended up doing the soul & #8230;

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 ...

Read also → How I started self-taught underwater photography

Many people think that a compact does not allow to achieve beautiful images under water. It's wrong. Those of today are technological jewels, capable of magnificent images, provided we follow some basic principles.

Because of course, it is not the camera that makes the photo (which misses or succeeds), but the person who presses the shutter release button & #8230; & #x1f609; I have seen people make splendid images with very simple equipment, and others make rotten photos with very sharp and very expensive equipment & #8230;

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 the diving technique more than photography & #160 ;: you have to be really comfortable with your buoyancyincluding knowing how to do lung-ballast without even thinking about it.

  • In macro, in particular, you have to be able to stay close to the subject without touching anything. It is excluded from "#160; bump & #160;" to corals or rocks, at the risk of injury and damage to the environment.
  • Must also know how to move close to the bottom without lifting sand& #8230; Learn to palmer like a frog (the famous frog kick). Otherwise, hello particles in suspension that will make white spots in the flash light!
  • To approach fish, avoid frightening them and causing them to flee. #8230; We therefore avoid sudden movementswe do not rush to his subject, we slowly palm and breathe calmly.

Last but not least, 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).

Yes, I do not really look like a mermaid with all my photographic bazaar under water! (Philippines, May 2018 - Photo by Steven Weinberg)
Yes, I don't exactly look like a mermaid with all my photographic stuff underwater! (Philippines, May 2018 - Photo by Steven Weinberg)

#2 & #160 ;: Know your camera well

Sounds stupid, but before getting into the water with his camera inside a waterproof case, better thoroughly know all the buttons, settings and functions of said apparatus.

  • The best is to train, dry, to handle it in its box to find easily the buttons that one needs.
  • Better to favor a device model offering Manual mode (M), with a well designed box, allowing access to all settings. You have to be able to adjust yourself the speed (or exposure time), opening and sensitivity (ISO) to control what you do underwater.

Yes, the picture under water, it's still the photo & #160; Photographing means "& #160; writing or painting with light & #160;" It will therefore be necessary to learn or revise the basic principles to work light, that is to say to understand how to combine speed / openness / sensitivity

Me with my 7D in his box Ikelite, macro configuration (with a single flash at the time).
Me with my 7D in his box Ikelite, macro configuration (with a single flash at the time).

# 3: Do some tests

For the photographic technique proper & #160; the best is to start to practice and try different settings underwateruntil you find the ones that work, and learn how to adjust them according to the conditions & #8230; There is NOT a setting.

  • Photo of near (macro) & #160 ;: at the beginning we train on topics "& #160; easy & #160;", that is to say not too small and that do not move (starfish, nudibranchs, corals). It's easier to get your hands on almost motionless subjects. It is necessary to put the flash, whose white light will make spring colors, and learn to adjust the dose of light that is sent on its subject.
  • Photo from a distance (wide angle) & #160 ;: for more distant subjects or mood shots, you need play with the natural light of the coming of the surface. We take into account the position of the sun, we think about the image we want to do before triggering, think about the composition & #8230;
  • Still for the mood picture & #160 ;: if you only have an internal flash, you have to disable itbecause it will illuminate the particles suspended in the water, which will then be like snow on the image & #160; If we have one or more external flash, we can use it to illuminate a foreground, otherwise we disable them too, remember that their light does not go beyond one or two meters.

Some compact devices offer a "& #160; submarine & #160;" mode. I used it in my debut on mine, really nil & #8230; If you do not feel comfortable in Manual mode, then opt for the semi-automatic mode Tv (priority speed) to be at least sure to get images without blur of shake, by setting it to a fairly short exposure time, at least 1 / 60th or 1 / 90th (to be tested according to the devices). You then only have to adjust the aperture (Av) until you obtain a correctly exposed image.

Mastering your buoyancy is essential! (Photo: © Phil North)
A photo of me, taken by my partner with its compact and external flash, which illuminates the soft pink corals in the foreground, heart-shaped. (Photo & #160 ;: Phil North)

#4 & #160 ;: Dosing the artificial light

The water gradually absorbs the colors & #160 ;: the deeper we go, the more everything becomes blue & #8230; To have color in underwater photo, it is necessary to bring white light on its subject, with a flash.

The red disappears from 5 m, followed by orange between 10 and 15 m, then yellow between 25 and 30 m & #8230; Below everything is bluish, greenish. Even without making a photo, it's always nice to have a lamp on you to discover the true colors of corals and fish. One is often surprised to see a brownish or greenish tuft on the reef turning into a bright red grove & #160; (Source & #160 ;: Wikimedia Commons / Thomei08 / CC BY-SA 3.0)
Clownfish and diver. Borneo, Indonesia, July 2013.
A shot of flash on the anemone in the foreground restores warm colors. Beyond the area illuminated by the artificial flash light, everything is blue & #8230;

Please note & #160 ;: a lamp or a lighthouse can not really replace a flash. Even if you can shoot interesting images, it's much harder to get a good result and you really have to take the time to adjust the settings of your device.

We must also remember that flashes, integrated or external, only illuminate topics that are close (one to two meters apart). So I repeat what I said above: for distant subjects, do not use them, the particles in the water will make white dots on the image & #8230;

  • Remember to put a diffuser in front of the flash, the light will be better distributed.
  • Learn how to gauge the right distance for your shots, moving away or closer to the subject, to avoid having a photo "1p3160; cramée & #160;" or too dark.
  • Adjust the dose of light that you send on your subject & #160 ;: depending on what your equipment allows, you can adjust the flash output, vary the exposure time and / or the aperture.

Try to make sure your subject stands out against the blue background of the water, rather than taking it with the bottom or a falling in the background. This allows to de-clutter the image and to put in values nudibranchs, hippocamps or branches of coral, for example. By playing on the exposure time and / or the opening, we can make this background take a dark hue, from black to dark blue.

# 5: Make multiple images of the same subject

Do not hesitate to "& #160; shooter & #160;" 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 & #8230; We learn from his mistakes.

  • Warning, one is sometimes deceived under water by the rendering of the digital screen& #160 ;: we have the impression that the image is successful, and we are very disappointed in discovering afterwards, on the larger screen of the computer, that it 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 dress of the nudi

Remember to select the largest possible image definition& #160 ;: L as "#160; Large & #160;" or S as "& #160; Super-thin & #160;", depending on the devices & #8230; After, on the computer, it allows tighter cropping without too much loss in definition. 

An adorable Pygmy Seahorse Bargibanti .. (Sali Kecil, Halmahera, Indonesia, July 2018)
An adorable Pygmy Seahorse Bargibanti .. (Sali Kecil, Halmahera, Indonesia, July 2018)

# 6: Pay attention to batteries and humidity with compact

We must be careful also to always to 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.
  • If possible, leave the device + box in a water tank just before the dives, so that it starts gradually at the right temperature (it avoids the condensation that makes "& #160; steam & #160;" on the lens, very annoying). Do not ever leave it in the sun & #160!
  • For compacts, do not hesitate to slip one or two small bags of Silicagel or equivalent in 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 batteries of the flashes being external.

It's worth having extra batteries in reserve on the boat. It is always when one is in drums of battery that one makes fabulous underwater encounters & #8230; 

Turtle in the Derawan Archipelago. Borneo, Indonesia, July 2013.

  Between Two Journeys