How Underwater Photography Works

Preparing for Underwater Photography

It's true that to take photos underwater, you could "house" yourself in a submarine, head on down and take photos. However, what photographers usually mean when they refer to underwater photography is either taking photos while snorkeling close to the surface with flippers, a mask and a snorkel, or heading deeper while SCUBA diving. Snorkeling is a good starting point for beginners, but it can be limiting to serious underwater photographers since you have to stay close to the surface. [source: Dawson]

Whether you're snorkeling or SCUBA diving, preparation is important to success. A little prep work can go a long way in helping you fetch some great shots while keeping you safe. Consider the following:

  • Do your research -- Ask around. What have other people found at your site? What lessons did they learn? Can you find out anything about the behavior of the marine life there, such as its habits and hiding places?
  • Create a shot list -- Before you get in the water, develop a mental list of some desired shots.
  • Find out the conditions -- Research the water conditions to make sure they'll be safe and ideal. Is anything taking place that might hinder your photos, such as an accumulation of plankton -- something that can happen on a regular basis in certain areas? Will it be a cloudy day? If so, you might want to bring an extra source of light, since the sun will have an even harder time reaching your subjects.
  • Connect with a good guide -- Your guide's expertise can come in handy when looking for marine life. Go over your preliminary research with him or her. Also, try to connect with a group that has no more than three divers to one guide.
  • Seek out your subjects -- Your research may provide you with some little-known hiding spots for marine life in the area, and your guide can also help. Some additional spots to check are near food sources, under ledges or shipwrecks, at the tops or bottoms of walls, and in sand and shallow water. In addition, although it can get deep, the area where a reef ends can be another hiding spot [source: Gietler].

Now that you're all prepped and ready for your shoot, see the next section for some helpful tips and tricks of underwater photography.