Underwater Photography – The Scuba Diver

You must become a certified scuba diver before you can become an underwater photographer. It doesn’t hurt if scuba diving is second nature to you so that you can focus on your photography. Remember, in underwater photography you are trying to do two things at once: scuba dive and take pictures. If you are having trouble with one, it follows that you will have trouble with the other.

An underwater photographer should always be aware of their limits with respect to depth, decompression status, air consumption, and navigation skills. More than one professional underwater photographer has come up “bent” as a result of staying underwater too long in pursuit of that last great image. Even a once-in-a-lifetime shot of the blackcap fairy basslet is not worth a trip to the recompression chamber, running low on (or out of) air, or risking your life. The goal of a good underwater photographer is not just to take the photograph, it’s to come back with it! 


  • Make a Plan. Have a dive/photo plan and stick to it. That way, you will know what it is you want to accomplish during the dive and be able to measure how well you are progressing toward your goal. When it is time to surface, it is, unfortunately, time to surface! 
  • Be a Good Buddy. On a related note, it is also important to be a good dive buddy and to be aware of the person you are diving with. Because they often get caught up in the pursuit of great images, underwater photographers have a reputation for being awful diving partners.
  • Conservation Is Key. Improving one’s diving skills has rewards beyond improved imagery. You’ll end up being better keepers of the reef. You also end up enjoying your dives more. Your air consumption improves, you are more relaxed underwater, and you physically exert less.

Underwater photographers have a bad reputation for being “crashers of coral,” taking liberties by contacting the fragile coral in an effort to photograph their subject. The trick is to get the shot without any negative impact on the marine environment. You need to be keepers and caretakers of the reef and its inhabitants. Conservation should always be a conscious part of your technique. (Note: Inadvertent contact with the corals happens frequently enough. If you wonder whether you may have inadvertently contacted the coral, feel your fins after a dive. If they feel slimy, you have.)

Achieving good buoyancy control takes some practice, but it’s a key element in coral conservation. Being able to move between each state of buoyancy (positive, neutral, and negative) on demand allows you to hover in the desired position to take your photograph without contacting the coral. It will also enable you to move slowly enough through the water column that you don’t scare off the subject you are trying to photograph or agitate the bottom content, reducing visibility and creating backscatter in the image.

You don’t need all of the latest scuba gear or photo equipment to be a good underwater photographer. What will make your images better is practice. The amount of photography gear you are toting can affect your buoyancy and diving, just as any additional piece of scuba gear does. It can also influence the amount of weight in your weight system. So, if you are going to practice your diving skills, like buoyancy control, by all means practice with your camera gear. By the way, you don’t have to travel to the premier dive destinations of the world, spending precious vacation time and great sums of money to practice your skills. For underwater photography purposes, spending quality time in any pool with your scuba gear and camera will work! 

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