Underwater Photography Tips

Underwater photography produces some of the most eye-catching and unusual images around, but they are a challenge to shoot and require some fairly expensive equipment. Practicing the technique beforehand, especially if you have a once in a lifetime trip is the key, as is being comfortable in the water. Here are some ideas on how to get those underwater photos.


Practice in a Pool

Underwater Photography - Woman swimming underwater

Before attempting underwater photography in the ocean, where the water is unpredictable, try taking images in a pool. You will need a specialty underwater housing. Most of the popular point-and-shoot and DSLR cameras have available plastic cases which seal in the camera and the lens. These are watertight, and are essential to protect your equipment. Keep a polarizer filter attached as this reduces flare and unwanted reflections from the water.


Catch the Action

Underwater Photography - Young boy holding breath underwater in sunny swimming pool on vacation

Practice holding yourself underwater for longer periods of time and holding the camera steady. Use a low ISO setting to get a fine grained image and a shutter speed of 1/250th of a second or more. You can use on-camera flash when shooting in a pool to freeze the action. Wear goggles if you can’t keep your eyes open underwater and try to capture a fun portrait with the person swimming or floating in the water.


Split Underwater Photos

Underwater Photography - Split underwater shot of tropical island

The major technical challenge faced by photographers while taking a split over the water and underwater photo is that the exposure value of the image above the surface is often different from the one under it. This occurs due to refraction under the water, which affects the overall focus of the above water segment. However, this can be overcome by using specialized “split diopter filters” designed to compensate for this problem.


Keep it Steady

Underwater Photography - Underwater life. Girl swimming with fishes

To keep a camera steady underwater is a challenge for anyone, because water is always moving. It helps to practice snorkeling, and be comfortable with the water before attempting to take images underwater. You need to be able to stay still in the water even when fish or other creatures come to investigate you. Don’t be afraid to use a friend or a rock to stabilize your body so you can hold the camera still, though holding the camera with one hand is not recommended.



Underwater Photography - Nemo anemone clown fish

When taking photos underwater you will need to use a specialist underwater flashgun called a strobe. These will be sold at the same place you buy your housing; a conventional flash will not have the power to travel through murky sea/ocean water so you need a strobe. Set your ISO as low as possible as the low light conditions will give grainy images; choose ISO 50 or 25 if this is an option on your camera.


Zoom in for Details

Underwater Photography - Close up of Orange cup corals at night

Macro photography when underwater can be used to obtain some stunning images. Use a macro lens (usually 50mm – 200mm) to be able to focus on subjects that are inches or centimeters away. It’s worth photographing the underwater images in RAW format, because it is best for images that you want to use color correction software later. Images in RAW format will still retain good quality after going through the color correction process.


Avoiding Loss of Color

One of the biggest hurdles in underwater photography is the loss of color and contrast. While submerged in the water, things appear to be blue or green in color. This is because the colors with longer wavelengths are absorbed by the surrounding water. The loss of color happens both horizontally and vertically, making distant subjects appear colorless and vague. This problem can be resolved either by getting as close to the subject as possible while using a wide-angle lens for close focus, or using flash, which helps in restoring the lost color.


Recommended Settings

When shooting underwater, choose the lowest ISO possible, so you get a fine grained image. You will need a shutter speed of 1/125s – 1/500s to freeze the action – for example a school of fish. Use a small aperture (f/11-f/20) to get objects in the foreground and background sharp. Shoot in RAW mode when possible so that color correction is easier later on.


Recommended Equipment

You need suitable underwater housing made specifically for your camera (usually made by third party manufacturers; shop around for the best price and fit). You will need a strobe flash if photographing deeper into the sea and in murkier waters. The best lenses for underwater use are macro and wide-angle lenses. Telephoto lenses are useless because they won’t allow in enough light for a clear image.



Underwater photography is a great challenge and it can be expensive. However, if you want to pursue this as a hobby, you will need the correct equipment. Be patient and persistent. Don’t forget about composition rules and focal points just because you are underwater! Practice changing the settings on your camera underwater too. You can practice when you are snorkeling or diving in the pool. Finally, don’t be afraid to take your time. The unique shots will be worth it in the end!

Attila Kun

Attila is the founder and editor-in-chief of Exposure Guide. He is an avid photographer, graphic designer, bedroom DJ and devoted Mac addict. Attila got his first DSLR camera, a Canon 10D, back in 2003 and he has been hooked on photography ever since.