The reason many people get into diving in the first place is because of an interest in the natural world. The underwater world offers such a wide variety of ecosystems and weird and wonderful creatures it is hard for a nature lover to pass up the chance of seeing so much beauty in a short period of time. It sounds cliche but it is true that you will see more life in 10 minutes on a coral reef than you would in 10 hours in a tropical rainforest.
With so much amazing stuff to see, it is not hard to understand why so many divers want to get into underwater photography. It wasn’t too long ago that underwater photography was a very specialist subject and only those with an extensive knowledge of the subject and a lot of money could get involved in it. But these days you can pick up a good quality underwater camera and housing for just a few hundred pounds.
The basic equipment you will need is a camera, and an underwater housing. These days most digital cameras on the market have an underwater housing that matches it. Often the camera company (such as Cannon) produce housings for their own cameras, or you can go to a company that specializes in making underwater housings (such as Ikelite). Once you have these two bits of kit you are ready to take some underwater snaps! Before you buy a camera it is important to check to see if housings are available for that model. The housing needs to match the camera exactly, otherwise it may not fit, or you may not be able to use some, or all of the buttons. It is also a good idea to have a wrist lanyard attached to the housing before you take it into the water, just in case you drop it during the dive. There are also cameras available that are waterproof and do not require a housing. Before getting one of these check the depth rating as most of the time it is between 10 and 15 meters. Not much use if you wanted to photograph a wreck at 30m.
Lighting & Colors.
You may have noticed that when you dive everything seems duller and darker than in the photographs you see. This is because as you descend further, light is absorbed and you begin to lose colors. It starts off with red, then orange, then yellow and so on. To capture the real colors of the reef you will need some form of external light on the camera. Unfortunately the built in flash will not work because of all the particles in the water, the final photo would look like it is snowing underwater. This is called ‘scatter’ and can be a real pain for underwater photographers trying to get a photo of something hidden in a dark cave or under a ledge. The answer to this is to use an external strobe. This is similar to a flash, however it is attached to one of both sides of the housings via flexible arms. These arms allow you to position the strobe so the light is coming from above and to the side of the camera lens, therefore not illuminating the particles in the water and reducing or removing the scatter on the final image.
Another issue regarding light and color underwater is the loss of certain colors. With red disappearing from the spectrum our photos can look very washed out and very blue. We can avoid this by either using a red filter on the camera lens, or the better option is to white balance the camera. This is done by holding a white object (typically a dive slate) in front of the lens and using a white balance feature to correct the colors underwater. This needs to be done with every depth change because the colors vary with different depths. Not all cameras offer this feature but most will have built in filters that you can use, and today most cameras offer an underwater filter, which is usually set for diving at around 10 meters.
Perfect your Buoyancy.
Taking photos underwater is very different from taking photos on the land. The main difference being that you are underwater! Remember the most important thing to worry about is your buoyancy. I have seen many divers taking out cameras and losing almost all respect for the environment. It is very important that before you attempt to take any photographs that you have your buoyancy under control otherwise you may float up towards the surface or sink and crash into the corals below. Also be aware of where your fins are, you should be able to hold a horizontal hover with knees bent upwards so your feet will not sink and smash the corals. It is not acceptable to hold onto anything in order to get the photo that you want, if your buoyancy control is not good enough to get the photo without holding on to something then you should work on that before taking the camera out with you.
Properly looking after your camera is an essential part of underwater photography. Believe it or not, cameras do not like water, especially salt water. After every dive you should rinse the camera in fresh water, ideally while still on the boat. Many dive operators will have a bucket of fresh water on the boat so you can leave it in there during dives or on the way back to shore. If left un-rinsed salt can get between the buttons and make them hard to press, or make them stick down. The O-ring on the camera housing needs special attention too. Any grain of sand, or human hair on the O-ring can cause it to leak during a dive and ruin your camera. Before taking it diving, you should carefully remove the O-ring, clean it and where it sits in the housing. Then you need to apply a small amount of silicone grease and rub it all over to help ensure a water tight seal. It is a good idea to put a couple of silica gel packs in the housing while diving with it, this may help if a small amount of water enters the housing. And one very important thing. Never attempt to open the housing underwater!!!
Give it a Go!
Underwater photography can be a useful tool for identifying species, documenting your experiences or simply making your friends jealous! If you are interested in getting into underwater photography I recommend you take a photography specialty to learn the tips and tricks behind taking underwater masterpieces! Your instructor can also help you selecting a suitable camera for your needs, and teach you how to properly care for it.
Underwater Photography was written by Mike
Photo Credits: Michael Eversmier Ocean Exploration 2020