As I delve into the underwater photography side of things when I am diving and learning more about what I am doing wrong and yes even sometimes right when taking pictures, I thought I would make a list of helpful tips I have learned on my own and found along the way in my research. Please use moisture munchers or something in your underwater camera housing to prevent camera damage.
I have read my manual at least a dozen times and pulled my camera out and played with the settings even more. It is just like driving a car, the more you do it..the more you understand and it becomes second nature. I personally find it easier to shoot the macro life that doesn’t move around as much on a dive. You know, things like coral, christmas tree worms, conch, crabs, blennies, gobies and algae.
For beginners here are a few more things to remember when you want to take pictures and dive at the same time:
1. Make sure your battery is fully charged. You will be amazed at how quickly you will run the battery down initially as you leave the camera on all the time, a little over eager to get every picture.
2. Make sure your flash is on for most photo ops within 3-4 feet. Set it to forced flash not auto flash. Settings on cameras are different. If you do not use your flash, your pictures will appear more blue. Again, take a look at my previous pictures, this is something I need to work on more.
3. Use auto-white balance when you are using your internal flash. Don’t use “cloudy” white balance or underwater mode with your flash/strobe, that will result in photos that are reddish-orange. Again, I have make this mistake with the settings I plugged in the settings on camera #2 dive. Use auto, aperture priority, or full manual mode, depending on your personal comfort level with camera settings.
4. For most photos, you’ll want to be in macro mode. Learn how to turn macro mode on and off. This will take you a few dives to work the buttons out and remember what does what. You need to know the range of your macro mode. For most cameras this range will be 1-2 inches to 2 feet Any closer and you can’t take a good photo. It is all fuzzy and not focused. Also, make sure you zoom all the way out.
5. For now, keep your camera zoomed out (the widest setting). The reason why this is so important is because it affects how closely you can focus, especially in macro mode. It is best to get as close as you can to your subject of interest. If you zoom in too much, the focus is not good. Once you start editing pictures after your dive, you will learn you can crop out excess and have nice big creature feature spotlights.
6. Try to get within a few inches of the subject when diving. Try to get very low, at eye-level. Focus at the eyes. Also try to get a photo of the subject facing you. And once again, make sure your flash is on. The colors will pop. See the lobster below. The only one I used the flash with on this day.
notice the difference, the lobster has vivid colors while the eel is ashed in green.
8. If you leave the flash on for underwater subjects 2-3 feet away, you may see backscatter unless the water is super clear. Backscatter looks like dust particles in the water. You can eliminate this by getting closer to what you are trying to photograph or by buying an external strobe/flash. I have not purchased one…again I say YET. My reasoning behind this, is I am still finding my groove. When I have all the basic down to my satisfaction, then I would be interested. Right now, it is one more thing I have to worry about remembering how to do correctly. The only way to solve this is to get closer to the subject, and/or purchase an external strobe.
9. If you decide to take photos with the flash off for underwater subjects more than 3ft away (called using ambient light) and you want better color, you must either use the underwater mode or do a manual white balance. I am still working on this. I have sea and snorkel modes on my camera plus some override settings. To tell the truth, I still suck at this. I have blue water settings under 25 ft and over 25 ft and also green water settings for over and under 25 feet. Greener water is usually water with higher algae content. I recommend to program your settings and try a few pictures first to make sure they look like you want them to.
10. Remember – the closer you are, the better your color, contrast and sharpness will be. Try to fill the picture frame with your subject of interest. Within 2-6 feet I would recommend. This will give you more vivid detail and colorful pictures.
11. Use the 1/10 rule. If viz is 60 feet, get within 1/10 or 6 feet of subject to take picture. If viz is 20 feet, be within 2 feet of subject.
12. Be calm and patient when underwater photgraphing. Don’t chase the fish, let them come to you. This is a difficult one for me. I will follow an angelfish or trumpet fish to get the graceful moves. Trust me when I say…YOU WILL LOSE YOUR DIVE BUDDY! (see below)
13. Be conscious of the fact if your dive buddy does not have a camera, they generally don’t stick around and you could lose them. This again is trial and error. I am blessed to have Rich as my dive buddy, all the time. For those of you who pair up at dives, you need to be aware of this. I have on more than one occasion stopped and followed a fish to have to them try to find my dive buddy. Not too big of a deal when you dive in familiar territory but it would suck if you were out in a new place and found yourself stranded.
14. Shoot more pictures than you think you need of your subject when you are diving. You can delete the ones you don’t like later. I find one of the best ways to learn if you are new is to see the difference first hand between a good and bad picture. .
15. If you are having problems with the lag time between focusing on a subject and taking a shot, you can try “locking focus” by pressing halfway down on the shutter button and then tweaking your camera and keep the camera very still.
As a general over view:
**Take close-up shots in macro mode with forced flash, auto-white balance, spot-focus and make sure the creature subject is no more than 5-6 inches away.**
**Scenic coral or other up broad reef shots that are several feet away turn the macro mode off, flash off, customize the white balance and monitor your depth for correct color filter.**
Perseverance and patience will pay off.