Guide to Underwater Photography: Tips & Tricks for Beginning Snorkelers & Scuba Divers

In today’s digital age, nearly everyone has the ability to capture images on the go. With smartphones boasting high-resolution cameras, sharing moments on social media has become effortless. Technically, this makes us all photographers. However, there’s a realm where photography still demands expertise, dedication, and experience: underwater photography.

Unlike traditional photography, where you point and shoot, underwater photography presents unique challenges. Submerged in water, capturing images requires a different approach.

In this guide, we’ll delve into the world of underwater photography, specifically tailored for novice snorkelers. By implementing these tips and tricks effectively, you’ll elevate your snorkeling or scuba diving memories with stunning visuals.

Make Sure You’re Comfortable

Woman snorkeling
Image Credit: Shutterstock / Patryk Kosmider

The first and foremost thing you should take care of is feeling comfortable in the water. If it’s your first time snorkeling, don’t try to take epic photos immediately. Focus on getting the hang of breathing and swimming first. Once you’ve managed that, you can start thinking about photographing what you’re doing.

It’s good to realize that, when it comes to underwater photography, your body is a floating device that supports your camera. Being able to swim well is essential to take great photos.

Get Close to Your Subject

Sea Turtle Underwater
Image Credit: Shutterstock / blue-sea cz

Obviously much thicker than air, water decreases color, sharpness and contrast. Therefore, to take the highest-quality photos possible, you need to make sure that you’re as close to your subject as possible. This is especially important if you’re snorkeling and photographing reefs.

Remember, though, that some animals and even plants may be dangerous. Do some research and know which ones you can approach and which ones you better leave alone.

Use Your Flash for Close-Up Photos

Taking pictures of fish
Image Credit: Shutterstock / Jag_cz

If you’re getting close to your subject—whether it’s coral, rocks or marine life doesn’t matter—, it’s advised to use your internal flash. If you don’t, your photo will most likely be overly blue. When you use your flash, make sure that your camera’s set to auto-white balance.

Know Your Subject

Octopus underwater
Image Credit: Shutterstock / K A STUDIO

As briefly mentioned above, it’s important to do some research before you jump into the water. Underwater photography is an exciting art, but, like all other arts, it does require some preparation.

If you’re mainly photographing marine life, it’s critical to know their behavior. Could they attack? Are they poisonous? What are their swimming patterns? When are they most active? How long do marine mammals stay underwater? Those are all questions you should seek answers to.

When photographing reefs and corals, realize that their colors change the deeper you go. If you’re aware of the actual colors of sponges, corals and the like, you’ll be able to compose a better picture. Research and knowledge of your environment are equally as important as technical underwater photography skills.

Familiarize Yourself With Your Camera Settings

DSLR Camera Underwater
Image Credit: Shutterstock / blue-sea cz

If you’re not using a simple point-and-shoot underwater camera, it’s vital to learn about the different settings on your camera, which will most likely be a DSLR with a waterproof housing.

These settings include white balance, aperture, ISO, focus, shutter speed and so on. They’re not at all the same as they would be when photographing on land/in the air. There are many books about underwater photography that teach you all about this technical stuff. Once again, knowledge is important. It’s what makes something decent, great.

You Don’t Always Need to Use the Flash

A snorkeler taking a picture.
Image Credit: Shutterstock / Nicolas-SB

Although the use of the flash is helpful and sometimes necessary for close-up underwater photography, it’s not always required. Be creative and experiment. Because you’re snorkeling, there’ll always be natural light available in the water as well.

This can result in gorgeous beams of sunlight in the water, or offer opportunities to take amazing animal silhouette pictures. This point is to illustrate that there’s no absolute definition of the perfect underwater photo and is perhaps the most important one of these underwater photography tips. The best photos are created when you think outside the box.

Composition Is Critical

A baby humpback whale
Image Credit: Shutterstock / Craig Lambert Photography

It’s not because you’re photographing a huge shark, school of brightly colored fish or friendly sea turtle that your photo will be a stand-out one. Awesome pictures are made and require some pre-thought. They don’t just happen.

Underwater photography is a form of photography, so the rules of composition apply here as well. Learn about framing, movement, the rule of thirds, lighting, leading lines,…

Practice, Practice, Practice

Golden Retriever underwater
Image Credit: Shutterstock / EthanMama

Theoretical knowledge is virtually useless if you don’t know how to put it into practice. So, this is a keyword that applies to all these underwater photography tips. Practice. Take as many photos as you can, whenever you’re snorkeling. Experiment with different settings, snorkel at different times of the day, even in different kinds of weather. You can even practice in your own backyard pool.

Look and analyze your photos on your computer afterward. If you do this regularly, you’ll soon understand which settings and environmental conditions make for the best photos. Learning can only happen by doing and comparing. Practice, practice, practice.

Most of All, Enjoy!

Whale shark and a scuba diver taking a picture.
Image Credit: Shutterstock / Krzysztof Odziomek

As essential as all these underwater photography tips may be to improve your skills and end results, it’s also important not to get carried away. Remember that you’re not snorkeling to take photos, but that you take photos just because you’re snorkeling. Don’t forget to enjoy the experience of being one with the magnificent underwater world.

Bram Reusen

Author: Bram Reusen


Bram Reusen is fluent in both English & Dutch, and his writings include news articles, equipment manuals, and more.

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