Underwater Photo: A Beginner’s Guide

Underwater Photo: A Beginner’s Guide

Tired of bluish underwater pictures with lots of white spots?

Here we’ll guide you to much better pictures form your dives.

Taking pictures while diving is quite different than taking them on the surface. Underwater there are a lot of factors that will effect on the outcome of the picture.

First of all you are in a different element, you need to focus more on yourself. You need to know where you are in the water and be in control of your buoyancy while taking the picture.

At DIVEIN.com we would like to give you a small beginner’s guide to taking pictures underwater. It’s a bit of ground knowledge you need for capturing pictures that is worth showing friends and families.

What Does it Take to Capture Great Underwater Pictures?

It requires strong determination, concentration, real passion, creative eye and, of course, a good Underwater Camera.

Now let’s go through a small basic guide of what you need to start your underwater photography adventure.

There is a large technical background that you needs to know in order to take expert underwater photos. However, remembering a few steps and a few basic principles will help beginners to jump start the process.

On a later stage, we will discuss more advanced issues on how to become an expert, underwater photographer.

Here are some easy tips which, if used right, will make your pictures look better:

Starting With UW Photo

The first step: you should try would be to minimize the distance between the camera and the object.

The water absorbs light, the closer you are at the object the more light your camera will catch from the object.

If you shoot the picture from a large distance your object will be dark and blurry. This step is an easy way of stepping up a level, it is easy to get a bit closer and it gives a lot to the picture.

Practice getting close, but watch out for the reef
Practice getting close, but watch out for the reef
Photo by: Torben Lonne – DIVEIN.com
Getting up and close will give you a much better picture
Getting up and close will give you a much better picture
Photo by: Torben Lonne – DIVEIN.com

Underwater Photo Flash

If you use flash on your camera, the distance plays a big role as well. If you are not close to your object and uses the build-in-flash the light will be send back from particles in the water causing noise on the picture, this is known as backscatter.

A perfect example of backscatter making a picture unusable
A perfect example of backscatter making a picture unusable
Photo by: Torben Lonne

If you are more than half meter/2 feet away, then don’t use flash. This will only worsen the picture unless you are using a strobe.

Use a Strobe which you mount on top of the camera. This makes the light come from a different angle and thereby reduces the backscatter on the picture.

Using a strobe will give your picture a better light, and thereby add more life to the picture.

In general lot of underwater pictures you’ll take in the beginning really lack light. As you know the water absorbs light and therefore the shallower you take the picture the more light you get. The best picture I’ve taken was on 5 meters in clear sunshine.

Angle of shooting

The angle of shooting should also be correct. Instead of taking the picture from the front like on land, try to tilt the camera a bit upward – and move yourself downward. This way you get the object form a different angel, and your picture gets more light in from the sun above.

This simple approach adds beauty to an otherwise simple photo.

Eye contact

Focus on the eyes of your subject to get a more lively shot
Focus on the eyes of your subject to get a more lively shot
Photo by: Kristina Vackova

If possible, try to make eye contact between the object and the camera. This will make the object seem more alive and the photo more vivid.

It can be hard when taking pictures of fishes, but it is worth a try. A small eye gives a lot to the picture.

If you get tired of chasing fishes, small critters have eyes as well. It’s always easiest to take pictures of animals that don’t move as fast. It’s okay to be a bit creative when taking pictures underwater.

Practice taking your Underwater pictures

It is widely known that practice and hard work have no alternatives. So, practice and practice some more in order to achieve perfection. Doing it right in diving will get you far

Normally 1 out of 100 pictures turn out okay, this means you’ll need to work for it. You will capture a lot of blue, blurry, green, or even dark pictures, in between the few really good ones.

To get to know your camera, you can also practice on land. Of cause not just taking “normal” pictures on auto-mode, but try using the different settings on the camera.

Manual setting for your underwater camera

Jon Milnes

Shooting in auto mode is easy. Many cameras even have an underwater-mode, which ads more red to the picture.

Shifting to manual-mode on the camera might be a bit too early. Following the above instructions will let you go far.

Of cause this is up to you, and if you feel you are ready give it a go! Shift to manual and play around, it’s also a learning process.

Maintenance of instruments

It’s important to take care of booth your camera and underwater housing. If you are not taking care of your housing and o-rings, at some point it will let you down and flood.

As soon as you come up from the water, wash the camera housing in fresh water, without opening the housing, of cause. While washing off the salt, push or turn all buttons to make sure all is cleaned.

Dry it thoroughly and first then take out the camera, now you can look at all the pictures you’ve been shooting on your dive.

Read the manuals carefully and follow the maintenance rules for the underwater camera.

Spend your time getting your camera and housing ready
Spend your time getting your camera and housing ready
Photo by: Katrine Overbeck – DIVEIN.com

Learn more

The more you dive into the subject of underwater photography, the more you will learn about it. So, keep your mind open to learn new things about it. Follow our Underwater Photo Guide here at DIVEIN.com.

Last but not least, we wish the new underwater photographers all the best in creating your own underwater photo album.

Share your pictures with us at DIVE’in’s Facebook. We’re always interested in adding your pictures to our website. This way you get to show your work to a lot of divers.

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Sophie Richards
Sophie Richards

I should have read your blog first before taking my camera for a test run last summer, I didn’t understand why my camera became faulty. One of the reasons probably was not rinsing it with house water after going underwater. Thanks for these, it will probably save my new camera’s life.


Great article, especially the quip about underwater camera manual settings.

Ora Pawlenty
Ora Pawlenty

Should I take any special precautions with my uw cam if I try diving in cold water? About 10-15 degrees C and a Canon Ixus 115 Camera with WP-DC39 house.
I’ve used it en Egypt and Cyprus, but I’m thinking of doing some diving in europe in the spring – and that’s a little colder 🙂

Torben Loenne
Torben Loenne

We will follow with more on our “UW photo beginner guide” – series. Until then you can try to shift to an underwater setting, most newer camera has this. Otherwise shift to white balance and turn the camera on underwater with a white slate in front of the camera.
If you don’t have a white slate to bring on your dive, it is possible to use a sandy bottom.

Good luck, taking amazing photos..

David C
David C

You talk about switching to manual setting instead of auto. I just don’t know exactly how to do it. Can you give some ideas on how to work with it?

Torben Loenne
Torben Loenne
Reply to 

Hi ora, There should be no problem in bringing your uw camera to colder waters. The only difference is the colours, where you will find your pictures a bit greener especially in the northern parts of the world.

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