Underwater Photography - An Introduction To A World Unexplored

Underwater photography is an exciting, challenging and widely unexplored field unlike anything else. Marine wildlife and archaeological photography and exploration form a large part of it, but fashion, lifestyle and sports are also catching up.

There are many aspects of underwater photography you would want to consider. For example, photography in deep water where swimming or snorkeling is not possible requires diving expertise and certification. There is also the question of what gear to use, where and what to shoot. This is a guide to help you find answers and tips on underwater photography.

Kaubalaeva_-E._Russ-_vrakk "Kaubalaeva "E. Russ" vrakk" by Juha Flinkman


Where to shoot

Underwater photography can be done in any water body, from your backyard swimming pool to rivers, lakes and oceans. As long as you are shooting things immersed partially or fully in water, the general category in underwater photography.

It can be a great opportunity to get unusual shots of your family and friends playing around in water, pro surfers defying gravity and life undiscovered by majority of humanity teeming away.

Keep an eye open for opportunities in your everyday life, like local swimming competitions and summer pool parties. You can always plan snorkeling/diving expeditions in the ocean; the Andaman & Nicobar Islands give access to an enriched marine life.

9659616705_4836537013_z Opportunity is everywhere! Image by ron.aguilar@gmail.com


Diving certification

Scuba diving certification is good investment, considering it opens doors to the Earth’s unexplored seventy percent. Unsurprisingly, it is challenging and risky, as a number of difficulties can crop up, and requires extensive training in proper techniques and safety. Especially for photography, you need to learn how to be buoyant and still to get up close to the fish. It is mandatory to have Scuba qualification documents before registering for any diving-related activities after completion of your Scuba course of choice.

Some popular institutions that provide professional grade training and certification for diving are PADI (short for Professional Association of Diving Instructors), SSI (Scuba Schools International) and NAUI (National Association of Underwater Instructors). Many organisations operate in Havelock, a part of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The certificates obtained from reputed organisations are accepted worldwide.


Light, physics and the need for strobes

If you studied physics in school, you’d know that light refracts at the interface of two different mediums. This phenomenon is absolutely unavoidable underwater, where light refracts, gets absorbed, scatters and dances around. Cue two of the biggest deals in submerged photography, i.e. blue colour of water and absence of light in deep waters.

Surface photography and snorkeling do not require strobes, because there is usually enough light to shoot in the few feet near the surface. However, as you go deeper, the intensity of light decreases drastically to the point of needing support from external lights and strobes.

Addressing the problem of blue colouration of all underwater objects, it can be corrected by fixing a red filter on the lens and using the most suitable white balance setting. Albeit, filters cannot be used to take close-ups or macro shots because close proximity to the subject turns it a shade of crimson.

14874916488_57e693eeda_z Image by Alan Duncan. A filter was used here to correct the blue cast in underwater photos.


Underwater Gear


Cameras, housed DSLR rigs and other options

Most DSLRs are unsuitable for use in rough weather, let alone underwater, and submerging them  can (and does) effectively damage them for good. To avoid that, underwater housings can be used. They protect the camera well and allow you reach much deeper than snorkeling and surface limits.Some well-known manufacturers or housings are Aquatica, Sea & Sea, Nauticam and Ikelite, Equinox and Olympus, often preferred over Canon and Nikon’s casings.

As for lenses, you want to use wide-angle or macro to capture landscapes and telephoto for elusive fish (like sharks). These can be attached to the camera rig via ports.

19580424483_d7c1cc738e_z Image by Francesca LaSala. It's not safe to be close to some wildlife, like sharks. Using a telephoto lens keeps you at an appropriate distance for observation.


Other options

Compact cameras are cheap, easy to use and they also produce very good images underwater. They are much less hassle-free than DSLRs and also have housing, detachable lens and external light options. Using a DSLR with a fortune-worth of water-proofing and accessories in water for the first few times can be very  daunting, which is why beginners are actually better off with compacts!

9674397791_ba35ed2a47_z Image by Via Tsuji. This photograph was taken with Canon Powershot D10, a compact camera. It's good to know that consumer cameras too can work brilliantly underwater.

The GoPro, as a consumer camera, has proved to be a game-changer in sports and adventure photography. GoPro Hero 4 is suitable for underwater photography, at a fraction of the cost required for high-end DSLR equipment. Notwithstanding, it is more adept at taking high-quality videos than stills due to a lack of shutter speed control.



Along with a camera, housing system and one or two strobes, myriads of other accessories like filters, ports, o-rings, are required for underwater photography. These, along with the above mentioned gear, can be found online.