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Beginners Guide to Underwater Photography

Beginners Guide to Underwater Photography

Until recently, underwater photography was a leisure only the very rich or determined could pursue. The equipment was bulky, expensive, and honing the skill was a long, tedious process. With the advent of affordable, user-friendly cameras, all of that has changed. Underwater photography has become a game for all and anyone can head into the depths to give it a shot (no pun intended). For those persons interested in starting out in underwater photography, this article will help you get a grip on the basics.


Underwater photography has some technical terms which though important, for a beginner, aren’t all that necessary. Therefore, we will try and keep this jargon-free and give you a couple of terms you should be familiar with.

BACKSCATTER- This happens when particles of water appear in the background of your shots. Avoid backscatter like the plague.

WHITE BALANCE- White balance is a setting that allows your camera make white appear white in different light levels. For beginner photographers, this should be kept on auto.

AMBIENT LIGHT- This is another term for natural light


We’ve all seen amateur snorkelling shots friends/relatives have taken off the coast of Madagascar: dull, blurry images that never fail to disappoint. Complications arise when beginners forget they are no longer on land, in the lovely clean air, and the rules are different. Down there, the mantra gets close, lights act differently, and things only a few feet away appear as though seen through the fog. Getting closer to subjects eliminate backscatter and give your picture more focus.


If you have a macro mode or a macro lens, use it. This gives you a range of between 2 inches to 2 feet, allowing for sharp, clear pictures when used up close. You can try out different settings as you get better, but for beginners, macro mode offers a convenient way to take quick and quality shots.


Unless you’re skilled enough to start playing with your camera’s white balance, it’s best to keep the flash on. A flash eliminates the blue saturation effect of water and renders your shots in bright, vibrant colours. It also improves contrast, removes motion blur, and draw your viewers eye in by giving your shot a clear focal point.


As a rule, underwater shots look better when taken from slightly below and there are several reasons for this. Downward shots are quite common, but they restrict your close-ups to backgrounds of sand, silt, and rock. Preferable to create a contrast between the reef, subject, and the vast open ocean. Those shooting with ambient light prefer to shoot up, toward their light source, allowing for fantastic, ethereal images. However, like any rule involving creativity, this rule isn’t etched in stone and can be broken when convenient but primarily, sticking with it gives your shots an edge.


Most persons go in a couple of times, take some dreary shots and give up. However, you need not be afraid of messing up, even if you get a single good shot from over 200. Focus on the good shot, remember what gave you the shot and do it again. You must remember that it takes some time to be good at anything so focus on why you’re there. To have fun, don’t be afraid of experimenting, you’d be surprised at how quickly you learn.

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