Underwater photography is so much fun that it will take you to the farthest reaches of the world, inspire you to buy thousands of dollars of dive gear, and thousands of dollars more worth of underwater photography gear. It can also make you want to throw your underwater camera rig against the side of the dive boat, then into the water, then dive down and get it just so you can throw it to the bottom again. Spending six hours of planning and preparation just to find out the water is murky or that the fish aren’t there, or that the manta rays aren’t at their feeding station is incredibly frustrating.
On the other hand, you can see such beautiful things, experience such euphoria when everything stays in place long enough to compose your shot properly, and discover the joy of finding out that it was all wonderfully in focus when you review your images on the computer. You can capture some of nature’s finest and most majestic moments in a way that most people will never see. You can open your audience’s eyes to the beauty of nature from a perspective that those who don’t SCUBA dive may never be able to experience.
There are many hurdles to being an underwater photographer. The first is the diving skill. There is no substitute for being a proficient and safe diver. You must be able to maintain neutral buoyancy and safely complete all dives.
The next challenge is the gear. As if photography wasn’t a gear intensive enough activity, to do it underwater you need special housings, dome ports, and even strobes.
Don’t let these hurdles stop you. Underwater photography is worth every bit of pain and sacrifice when you become proficient.
The problem most beginners face is that there’s really no good ambient light because the colors are filtered by the water. In my
experience, around 10 feet, you’ve lost any good color of light and you get the characteristic baby blue, boring pictures. So, you’re left with a conundrum – buy expensive strobes or have your pictures stink … or are you?
What if there was a better way to get underwater images without a strobe; one that didn’t require an expensive setup and the risky
business of bringing your DSLR into the water? What if you could learn a few simple but powerful techniques to let your underwater
images sing without a strobe?
Here’s what I recommend, go big or go black and white. Go big means dive into the deep end (pun intended) and buy the housings and strobes (you’re not planning on using just one are you?). This is an expensive but professional option. The second option is to go black and white.
If you compose and think about getting good black and white images your underwater results will be very compelling, easy to post-process, and simple to take. Some rules to live by include:
- Safety first (enough said)
- Don’t try for little fast moving, colorful fish – these won’t turn out without a strobe
- Look for compelling images of your dive buddies or large objects (like wrecks, turtles, and sharks – but no touching please)
- Get close
- Look for long lines (like a descent line) and compose them across the screen (not vertical please) with a good subject (like other divers)
If you start with these five simple rules you’ll be able to shoot hang-it-on-the-wall quality images without an expensive strobe or underwater-housing. Who knows, you may even like shooting underwater so much you get a full setup one day. If you do, remember, throwing your gear never solves anything – expect exposure problems with your strobes, rig floods, focus problems, corroded buttons, cracked seals, or backscatter from murky water.
Now you’re ready to take your camera and start shooting underwater. Using a fisheye lens will make your life much easier when you start out. It makes issues like focus and composition much easier to get right. It also lends itself very well to black and white images.