Photography underwater is a whole new ballgame with a whole set of new challenges for the underwater photographer.

When first beginning photography underwater, there are a few different challenges to come your way, both from a photography perspective as well as scuba diving.


Scuba diving competency -

Particularly your ability to maintain neutral buoyancy. Apart from either hurting yourself or damaging the reef, you will stir up silt making photography underwater difficult.....

When you are trying to take a picture of a subject that is moving in a different direction to you who are drifting in a current, or alternatively a lot slower moving underwater than a fish is, you suddenly have to develop a whole lot of new skills!

Trying to maintain buoyancy and remain still whilst in a surging current.

You will be concentrating on remaining within focus distance of a subject that doesn’t necessarily want you to be that close and so will keep dodging, moving away, hiding…. All of this can lead you to get tired, use more air and then as a result shorten your dive.

Often as you get more involved in photography underwater, your equipment gets more and more bulky making this situation worse.

Trying not to exhale a cloud of bubbles as you take your picture and so obscuring the subject from your lense.

While you are concentrating on taking that picture, where are the rest of the dive group – are they still in view?


Color Loss

The light is different under water.

As you get deeper, less and less of the full spectrum of light reaches that depth, the first colours to be lost are Reds, yellows and oranges, which is why very often underwater photos appear to be bluey green.

The loss of light is increased by the angle of the sun in the sky – the lower it is the more light is lost, something people also forget about in photography underwater is that not only is the depth a factor, but the distance from the subject is also part of the total distance of water the light must travel through and therefore needs to be taken into account for color loss.


You should also know that while you are underwater, your brain compensates for the loss of color so you won’t realise the color loss, until you look at the underwater photos.


Backscatter


Backscatter – Particles in the water - is often a problem, particularly in poor visibility underwater. Often in different seasons of the year the water is rich in plankton appearing as particles in the water which cause the light from your flash to be reflected back at you (or the lense). You may not even be aware of the particles until you look at your underwater photos later. This tends to be one of the most common difficulties in photography underwater.

There are ways to get around (and that means avoidance rather than cure) most of these problems – the diving competency will improve with experience and that is just about all there is to that!


Solutions

Color Loss

Use a flash – you should set the camera to forced flash mode, not auto and generally no pre-flash settings (if you are using a strobe the pre-flash will set off the strobe out of time with the shutter). As you get deeper into photography underwater (is there a pun in there?) use of lighting - strobes and flashes will become more obvious to you.

Attach external strobes to your setup; these are ideal for replacing the lost color and light at depths.

A filter can be used to filter out the green/blue, you must remember that the filter does not replace the colours so beyond about ten metres they don’t function particularly well. If the red has gone from the light it has gone and a filter won’t help. You also have to turn off your flash or strobe and use the filter in ambient light.

At what depth is color lost?

  • Red - 15ft (5m)
  • orange - 25ft (8m)
  • Yellow - 35-45ft (10 – 14m)
  • Green - 70-75ft (20 – 23m)

Remember to add the distance from the subject into this – 15ft deep and 15 ft from the subject equals 30 ft of color loss.

Backscatter

This can be very difficult to deal with and the degree of difficulty and I suppose degree of potential for success in dealing with it, depends on how much particle matter is in the water.

The first aspect is the fact that your flash or strobe light will reflect off the particles directly back at the lense. A diffuser can assist in decreasing the impact of this.

Another method is, if using strobes, to angle the strobes away from the direct pathway between your lense and the subject so that the light is not directly hitting the particles in front of you. This to is something in photography underwater which you will 'get' with experience.

The surest way to resolve this is to decrease the distance between your lense and the subject of your photography underwater. Indeed at times trying to take a picture of anything other than something within a foot or so can be an exercise in futility.

Very often the things you see and photograph in poor visibility are the most interesting - have a look at my pictures of nudibranchs .

Slow capture time

The point and shoot digital cameras are particularly prone to this – if you are up to it (confident enough and/or keen enough as well as have enough money!) a DSLR is the solution – see beginners photography for more information.

Condensation

Your camera generates heat as it is working. When this meets the cold temperatures underwater the moisture inside the camera housing atmosphere condensates, often obscuring the lense.

Solution – keep the camera and housing out of the sun, try to set the camera and housing up in a cool air-conditioned room and insert a silica sachet into the housing to absorb excess air moisture. Doing this early or even setting the camera up the night before will give the silica time to absorb the excess moisture before diving.

This seems to be a particular problem with point and shoot camera housings – I think because the housing is smaller and the internal air heats up more quickly than in a DSLR housing?

All of this is background and the bare basics of photography underwater. I will continue to add more detail on separate pages which will shed ‘light’ on more specific aspects of photography underwater.

For more photography underwater click here for Photography page


Click here to learn about reading a histogram


Click here to learn about using the aperture priority setting on your camera


Click here to learn about using the shutter priority setting on your camera


Click here to learn about Depth of field


Click here to see a collection of scuba diving photos


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