5 Underwater Photography Tips for Beginners

The World of underwater photography can be both exciting and intimidating. A simple internet search will produce pages of content on what camera you should buy, strobes vs. video lights and all the gadgets that go along with your newfound hobby. Here are our top 5 recommendations for those looking to get into underwater photography.

#1 Perfect Your Buoyancy

Sharpness and image clarity are best produced with accurate focus on your subject. Stability is one of the keys to keeping your subject in focus. This can be easier on land where the ground doesn’t move (usually) and the use of a tripod is possible. To maintain position in the water you have to control your breathing and factor in current and surge. Taking a buoyancy control specialty or advanced certification can help immensely with buoyancy control. New photographers also have a tendency to lose spatial awareness and forget about their buoyancy resulting in them crashing into the reef and damaging coral.

#2 Let There Be Light

If you haven’t seen the video on YouTube showing the effect of depth vs. color loss then have a look here. Light is often more important than having a high-quality camera. Some divers try to make up for the loss of light by using a color correcting filter but these are only effective in relatively shallow water (<30ft.) and with good sunlight. Strobe or video lights will be the best way to produce vibrant images with sharpness and definition. Here are pros and cons to both:


      • Less obtrusive – Video lights can sometime spook marine life making it more difficult to get the shot
      • More powerful than a video light
      • Less expensive
      • Not constantly on, so the battery usually lasts longer

Video Lights

      • Capable of burst shooting
      • Video Lights Help a Camera Focus
      • Constant light can cause stress on the subject
      • Ability to switch between shooting photos and video
ikelite ds161 strobe and video light

#3 Reduce Backscatter

Nothing can ruin a picture more than having it filled with backscatter. Backscatter is the reflection of light on particles suspended in the water. Correct placement of your light is the best way to reduce backscatter in your photos. When purchasing your camera and housing you will likely need to get a camera tray and arms. These come in a variety of forms so do some research or visit your local dive shop to get an idea of what setup you might prefer. The arms are used to attach your strobe or video lights and can be easily moved to ensure the best light placement for each shot. We could write a whole article on light placement (stay tuned) but the general idea is to reduce backscatter by having your light positioned just in front of the lens port and angled down.

photo of grouper with bad backscatter

#4 Choose Equipment to Fit Your Skill Level

Maybe you’ve been into photography for years but are just not deciding to take the plunge (pun intended) into underwater photography. Maybe this will be your first foray into photography. If aperture, fps and iso don’t mean anything to you right now don’t fret. There are plenty of amazing cameras out there for budding photographers. The Olympus TG-6, SeaLife DC2000 or a GoPro can also produce print worthy photos without spending a fortune. If you are a seasoned photographer and already have a camera then you might only have to shop for a housing and some lights. Wherever you fall, be sure to get comfortable with your camera before taking it on a dive.

SeaLife DC2000 Camera for Underwater Photography

#5 Photo Processing

Adobe really has a lock on the photo editing market with most photographers deciding between Lightroom or Photoshop. For beginner photographers, Lightroom will provide just about all the functionality you will need. Learning these programs will take practice. There is no shortage of videos or articles online to help in your journey.

One of my favorite things about going on dive vacations is the social aspect and chatting with people who share similar interests. This is especially true of being on a dive liveaboard. You come up from your dive, get dried off and everyone starts talking about what they saw and the photos they got. Come end of the day people will be sitting around editing their photos or video. Some of the best lessons can be learned while sharing a drink and chatting with your fellow divers. There is also no better time to get feedback and reviews on other equipment, be it dive gear or camera equipment. Just remember two things – Have Fun and Respect the World Around You.