Underwater photography is about capturing memories to show to the world. As an underwater photographer, I believe it is my duty to observe ocean’s creatures and paint a picture of their world so that people will fall in love with the sea and her inhabitants. Hopefully this inspires them to live sustainably and take measures to protect our oceans. Underwater photography is especially important right now as climate change alters our world with rising temperatures changing our oceans, affecting all lifeforms. I take underwater photos so that I will remember what was once there. For soon many of these animals will no longer be here. I am making a scrapbook for the world.
My journey with underwater photography started at the end of last year. My partner and I decided to spend the winter in Hawaii to learn underwater photography and videography. Waking up early to scuba dive every day, we eagerly focused our energy on mastering this craft. I will share some of my discoveries with you.
First off, camera settings. Always shoot in manual. This is important as light is constantly changing underwater. I like to keep the shutter speed at 500 for clear photos of fast moving animals. Aperture is an artistic choice, typically I strive to keep it wide open for fall off as I enjoy taking animal portraits. ISO is dependent on your camera, but for my camera I try to avoid anything higher than 800. I shoot with the Canon R5. I quickly fell in love with this camera’s supreme autofocus settings, particularly the animal eye tracking option. I also shoot manual (with a 100 mm macro lens), however this requires a lot of practice and patience to master. I suggest beginning with a camera with quality autofocus so that you can capture clear images from the start.
Let’s talk lenses. There is no one perfect lens for underwater photography. Similar to land photography, you will have to discover your favorite, and this depends on what you intend to shoot. For me, I enjoy taking my 16-35 mm when I anticipate large animals, and 100 mm macro for small reef fish. Pretty simple right?
One of the first lessons I learned is the importance of white balancing underwater. This changes everything. In the beginning, no matter how much time I spent in post attempting to correct temperature, my photos frustratingly remained off color. White balancing underwater becomes important approximately every 10 feet. I use a simple white divers slate. Once I started white balancing this way, I was amazed at how my photos turned out. You simply cannot replicate this in editing. I ended up throwing away all of my original photos as they paled in comparison to the correctly white balanced ones.
It is important to get to know your underwater housing so well that every setting can be done instantaneously underwater using muscle memory. Some animals move quite fast, so you don’t want to be stuck changing settings and miss out on an epic shot. I use the Ikelite 200DL housing. Following your underwater housings instructions for upkeep and taking the time to always correctly set up your kit is also very important as nobody wants the heartbreak of a flooded camera!
As divers, we already know the importance of maintaining buoyancy control. For underwater photographers, stellar buoyancy control and spatial awareness are extra important to avoid harming the reef. It can be easy to accidentally bump into the reef if you are focused on looking at your camera. This can be avoided by practicing quality buoyancy control and maintaining spacial awareness.
Lastly, practice practice practice! The only way to improve your underwater photography is to continually go out diving, bring your camera, and take those photos!
Written by Sarah van de Vrede
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