Before plunging into the water, you need to know where are your inflate and deflate buttons and where are your quick-releases on your BCD and where is your octopus (alternate air source) located. Same goes for your camera. Be familiar with the settings and buttons. Practice on land first. Take a few land shots without your underwater housing first and then take more shots with your housing on land. Once you've got the hang of it, then it is time to take your camera for a dive.
Oh and it doesn't matter what camera you're using. It's funny how self-proclaimed professional underwater photographers think that they are pros just because they have professional cameras. Owning a professional camera does not make anyone a professional. It is pointless to have a professional camera without knowing the camera's strength and weakness. Every camera has it's strength and weakness. So even if you're not shooting with a professional camera, you can still bring out the best out of your camera and produce awesome photos by maximizing your camera's ability and not exceeding your camera's limitation. The photos shown here were taken with normal point-and-shoot cameras which are compact and affordable and my iPhone.
Many beginners have asked me this: "What camera do you use?"
Only a few have asked me "How did you take these shots?"
It's not about the camera dudes.
2. Shoot in calm & shallow waters
If you're new to diving, you might not have expert control over your buoyancy yet. You might even lose all control when diving in dive sites with strong currents like in Barracuda Point or accidentally exceed your planned depth when wall diving in Hanging Garden. Ask your dive guide to take you to calmer and shallower areas where you can pivot with your fins or kneel on the sandy bottom. But of course it is always recommended that divers have very good buoyancy before attempting underwater photography and the PADI Peak Performance Buoyancy Specialty Course will help you master buoyancy.
The best time to shoot underwater are on bright afternoons when sunlight travels intensely and aplenty in the water. It is also best to shoot at shallow waters around 1-10 meters where it is generally the brightest area with the best visibility.
When conditions aren’t in your favor (and you’re swimming in deep, gloomy waters) use flash or artificial light to bring out colours and take away shadows. If your built-in flash isn't strong enough, use an underwater strobe to provide artificial light. To avoid illuminating particles between you and the subject (known as backscatter which shows up as white spots) position your external flash at an angle towards the lens.
It is recommended but NOT a must for you to invest in an underwater strobe in order to produce good shots. All the photos shown here are taken without flash/strobes. In fact, it is more challenging to produce shots with exceptional quality without a strobe than with one. Why? Because you need to put more consideration towards sun angle, depth, shadow, subject, visibility, white balance control and your camera's limit.
4. White Balance & Underwater Filters
If you're new to underwater photography, you might be tempted to use the Underwater Mode your camera might have (the mode icon is usually a fish). It works well in a depth of 1-3 meters but it isn't great when you're deeper.
But if your camera provides you with customizing your white balance then utilize it to its maximum potential. Before shooting a subject, set your white balance with white sand (works best for me) at the same depth with the subject you want to shoot. Your shots should turn out better than using the Auto and Underwater mode.
It is a good idea to invest in underwater filters if you're not so sure about buying a strobe yet. You can still take good photos without filters but having the right filters and knowing how and which and where to use your filters will produce better results. Underwater camera filters are usually red or orange coloured filters designed to bring out the colours of your photos by filtering out the blue and green light and allowing more red light to reach the camera's sensor. I think that the Magic Filter brand's Auto Magic filter is perfect for beginners.
Closeness may be something we’re uncomfortable with on land, but those boundaries blur when we’re in the water. Getting in close to your subject gives you crazy-awesome details like when you’re photographing the endangered Hawksbill turtle in Sipadan's Turtle Patch or a beautiful polyp. But do not rely on your camera's zoom ability. Stop over-zooming stuff because Digital zoom will always degrade the image to some degree. Get close slowly. By staying close with your subject, you can reduce the gap between your camera and the subject thus allowing better detail, contrast and color.
Do not pursue fish. Imagine yourself as an annoying paparazzi. All the celebrities would want to turn their back and run away from you. You will not get a clear and beautiful shot. Fish thinks that we're annoying too and an ugly deformed threat to fishkind. Stop, breath, think and relax. You'd be surprised that most fish like the school of Barracudas and Jacks in Sipadan will not shy away from you if you would just minimize movement and just stay in the same position for a while. And before you know it, you are inside a vortex of fish. It's epic. When you pursue a fish, it will swim away from you. Pursue faster and the fish will swim away faster. You will only get a shot of its ass. And even if you did get a frontal shot, the fish will have an expression of stress. Be a prudent underwater photographer.
6. Shoot up or across
Most of the time we’re photographing water, we shoot from above down into the water. Being underwater lets you get as low as you want to dive! This lets you shoot up at your subject or directly across from it.
When you shoot upwards you can even catch awesome backlighting (sunbeams).
Some of my students come up to me and asked, "Wow you've got nice photos/videos. What photo/video editing program do you use?" Pisses me off...
While I do agree that image editing goes hand-in-hand with modern digital photography nowadays, we should keep editing at a minimum. If your photo editing skills surpasses your underwater photography skills and if there's a big difference between your original images and your edited images; well you have a problem here my friend. I've met an underwater photographer who spent hours editing photos taken in a single dive, and the result was Fantastic! But she will never want to show her original shots to anyone.
I simply have no time and patience to sit in front of my computer and do photo editing. So what do I normally use to edit my pics? Instagram.
8. Manual Setting, Manual Focus, Shutter Speed, f-stop, Aperture, ISO, Composition, RAW file, Lens, Photoshop Techniques, blah-blah-blah
Fuck that. I won't be touching on this subject yet. I've heard too many newbies trying to sound smart with their extensive knowledge and theoretical understanding of photography. They can even memorize the specs of a camera in detail. I wonder how they can do that when I can't even remember my own birthday...
I would like to recommend those new to underwater photography to just go diving and have fun and take as many photos as you can underwater with the tips I've given and use your imagination without worrying too much about the technical aspect of underwater photography. Don't be shy to show your photos and have your photos critiqued by experienced underwater photographers and buy dive magazines and compare your shots with the shots on the magazines. You'd be surprised how quickly you can improve just by having fun. And when you think you're ready to move on to the next level, I suggest you to take up the PADI Underwater Photographer Specialty Course and you will receive an in-depth guide and tutelage during the course.
Feel free to contact me at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to start doing underwater photography. We are based around Sipadan and we have a variety of underwater cameras and accessories, courses and events for you to have start having fun!