How To: Underwater Photography Techniques

Photographers hoping to really challenge themselves often head into unique environments or locations to see what kind of results they can create. One of the most challenging of all endeavors is the underwater environment. This is because everything changes once you leave the world above the waves.

For example, light waves function differently underwater and often a color will lose its potency when only fifteen or twenty feet beneath the surface. This varies from hue to hue, but anything that is red, orange, or yellow will generally lose its potency when vertically submerged to 20 feet or more, or around the same distance horizontally from the camera. Even when objects are nearby, the distance that the light must travel before reaching the camera is twice the length from the photographer. Need an example? If a brilliant red star fish is five feet from the lens, the light must travel five feet to the fish and five feet back – which means it is as if the fish is roughly ten feet away!

Dealing with the Challenges
There are ways to illuminate the colors and capture them in a photograph, and it requires getting very close to the subject and using a special “strobe” flash unit. There are also ways of using the ambient light in the setting, but this takes skill and knowledge to master.

Because of all of the complexities inherent in this variety of photography, it takes a very passionate and dedicated person to pursue it as a formal line of work. Just consider that in addition to knowing how to actually make a decent photograph in the challenges of the watery environment, most professionals are also going to need to have Advanced Diver Certification in order to ensure their safety as they work. Most also have to find at least one person who is going to dive with them and work as a sort of assistant with any extra lighting requirements or to ensure that the photographer doesn’t get into any trouble with the water or the wildlife.

Underwater as a Specialization
Does this mean that it isn’t very wise to pursue it as an area of photographic specialization? No, it is actually a very reliable way to generate income through your camera work. For example, many travel websites and companies love to purchase underwater images related to the areas on which they focus. There are also dozens of magazines and publications always looking for good pictures of marine life and marine scenes. Just consider that someone might work to record underwater archaeology in the Great Lakes or in Alexandria, Egypt. They could make an entire catalog of photographs of fish indigenous to a very specific location. They might even take pictures of the various “landscapes” such as coral reefs and sand formations too. There is a nearly limitless range of options for a truly dedicated photographer to enjoy.

The Equipment
The one thing that makes many photographers come to a full stop, however, are their concerns about the costs of the equipment. After all, most might think…”isn’t a waterproof camera going to cost a king’s ransom?” Actually, if you already own a DSLR and a few good lenses, you need to just get appropriately sized waterproof camera housing and you will be ready to go! These don’t change the perspective of the camera or lenses; they simply prevent water from reaching the gear.

Lenses are often a bit confusing to underwater photographers too, and this is because the water actually works in a way that makes objects appear much farther away than they are. To counteract this problem, most professionals will put a wide angle lens to work. This would normally distort a scene, but it instead balances the looks of the objects in the frame and even helps to make color more realistic too. Many photographers will also use a macro lens or setting to get very close to some of the finer details of sea life, coral, and fish as well.

Naturally, there is also the need for the appropriate flash to illuminate the subject and eliminate the effects of the water on color wavelengths. Even when ambient light from the surface makes an exposure workable, most photographers still use their flash units in a sort of “fill flash” technique to ensure that full-spectrum lighting is available for the subject.

Selling Your Shots
So, where should a photographer go to get commercially viable shots? As already mentioned, there is an ample range of opportunities all over the world. The real trick is to determine what general “look” the photographer wants to achieve with their work, and then to select the location that will give them the most likely results. For instance, if someone wants to have photographs of riotous color and bountiful sea life for sale at their website or stock photo sites, they will need to discover the places in which they can safely find such views. If they wanted to instead focus on sea mammals, they would just do the research about the finest and safest locations for photographing them too. Then it is just a matter of making the appropriate “pitch” to a website or magazine, or simply preparing them for sale on the Internet!

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