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A Beginner's Guide To Underwater Photography

A Beginner's Guide To Underwater Photography

Underwater photography opens up an entirely new world that many of us never get to see with our own eyes. Below the surface of the water lies incredibly beautiful scenes of marine life, shipwrecks, coral reefs and rock formations that make for amazing photographic subjects. Capturing these scenes through photography allows us to document and share this hidden world.

picture of a go pro doing photography underwater
Gopro Photo by Oliver Sjöström on Unsplash

However, successful underwater photography requires more specialized equipment and techniques compared to standard photography carried out on land. This environment presents unique challenges like limited visibility, muted lighting conditions, and difficulty accessing equipment while submerged. It’s understandable that beginners can feel intimidated trying to learn the ropes of photographing underwater. 

This beginner's guide provides everything you need to know to start taking incredible photos in the underwater realm, from equipment you need to get started to the best techniques for composing incredible shots. 

Choosing Underwater Camera Equipment

When starting underwater photography, your camera gear is one of the most important considerations. But, while you'll need equipment that can withstand submersion in water repeatedly and capture sharp, vivid images, you don’t need to spend a fortune. In fact, when you’re just starting out, basic cameras can still be ideal for learning the key principles needed for great photographs. 

Compact point-and-shoot cameras are inherently waterproof and inexpensive. Models like the Olympus Tough TG-6 offer full manual controls and lenses optimized for underwater use, while the Panasonic Lumix comes with three-times zoom capabilities. For a more advanced camera, consider mirrorless cameras with larger sensors. These offer excellent image quality but they do require a waterproof housing to protect them underwater.

For top-tier image quality, a DSLR is the perfect choice. These are larger in size so they require specialized housings, but they’re perfect for photographers looking to step up the quality of their images. Rugged, compact action models like GoPro Hero10, however, cater to video but can also capture high quality still photos. 

For beginners, a compact camera or basic mirrorless model paired with a waterproof housing provides the best combination of image quality, features, and affordability. Invest in a durable, high-quality housing that is easy to use and provides access to all camera controls. Other essential accessories you may want to experiment with to create beautiful images include underwater strobes or flashes to add light, wide angle lenses to capture broad scenes, and red filters to restore colors that get absorbed by water. 

Underwater Photography Techniques

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Once you have the right camera equipment, there are some key techniques to master for getting great shots under the sea. Firstly, you need to understand lighting and visibility. Water filters out sunlight and colors differently at varying depths and conditions. Shallow water may have bright blue tones while deeper waters appear dark blue or green. Similarly, low visibility impacts the range of your shots. Strobe lighting can be an effective way to add brightness when needed. 

You also need to compose strong angles and think about framing. Eye level perspectives with a subject can create intriguing results with things like fish or coral, while shooting subjects from above or below also adds interest. Fill the frame to focus attention on your central subject.

Autofocus can struggle underwater, so manually focus when possible. Get as close as you can to your subject and use large apertures for shallow depth of field. Blurry underwater photos are common without proper stabilization too. Use floating camera straps, tripods, and your own body stability to minimize shake, and make use of short, quick shutter speeds to help freeze motion.

Because lighting is limited underwater, using wide aperture settings like f/2.8 or lower allows more light into the camera sensor. This helps capture proper exposures at faster shutter speeds to freeze motion. The shallow depth of field also nicely blurs backgrounds to isolate subjects. Just be sure to precisely focus at these wide apertures. 

Practice and experiment with these techniques whenever possible to master underwater photography. The more time you spend with your gear in underwater shooting conditions, the better your skills will become. 

Post-Processing and Editing Underwater Photos

After capturing your photos, the next step is to enhance them through post-processing. Import your photos to your computer and review them to delete any unusable shots, then organize those you want to keep into folders by date and location. It’s always a good idea to backup your files to external hard drives for safety, so you don’t accidentally lose any of your prime shots. 

Specialized editing software have settings to restore colors muted by water and adjust lighting and contrast. Take your time with this step to avoid oversaturation. You also want to be mindful of reducing backscatter — floating particles in the water can cause noticeable spots in photos, requiring cloning tools to remove them. Avoid using flash in low visibility water to minimize these imperfections in your photos. 

Underwater shots can lose their sharpness and appear blurred, so in the editing process, sharpen the key details by carefully increasing clarity, contrast, and sharpness, and avoiding excessive noise. To further highlight the main subject, you may want to experiment with cropping excess framing to emphasize it. Adjust any crooked horizons for proper orientation using the straighten tool.

With the right post-processing, your underwater shots can be turned into vibrant, clear photos full of life. Take the time to properly organize, edit and enhance your images before proudly displaying your work. 


Underwater photography opens up a mesmerizing new world for photographers. But venturing under the surface requires specialized equipment and techniques compared to standard photography on land. This guide has equipped you with everything you need to start capturing brilliant underwater images — the exciting part comes from trialing new photography techniques and experiencing the beauty of the underwater landscape. 

It will take practice and patience to hone your skill in underwater environments. But the payoff is incredibly rewarding. You can share unique perspectives of marine life and environments most people never witness.


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