Underwater Photography 101: Get Down and Boogie

Underwater photography has its own unique set of challenges and in response to the requests of several readers, I would like to post some tips for better underwater photography.  These will appear under the heading, “Underwater Photography 101.

The first challenge a new underwater photographer will face is how to take an image of a marine animal so that it “pops” out from its environment.  This is because as a scuba diver, we are swimming along horizontally in the water, looking down on the subjects below.  Many new photographers will snap images focused straight down because that is the perspective they have of the subject.

1.  Get Close.  For example:  Below is an image of an anemone full of various fish.  This can be an exciting thing to see, and something you may want to share with your topside friends.  However, from this perspective, the fish are too small, taking up only a fraction of the frame.  The black fish are hard to recognize as fish, and the photograph has too many subjects.


 Get closer and adjust the angle of the camera so that it is more at eye level with your subject. Shoot with the lens pointed up at your subject, and you will have a much more pleasing result.  The image below has just the anemone fish as the subject, and the fish is looking at the camera.  The anemone itself becomes interesting background material without distracting our eye from the fish.


 2.  Get Down.  Sometimes, this is much easier said than done, as some subjects are in a crevice or are very tiny and hard to separate from their environment.  Nudibranchs are a great example of this.  The image below is of a rarely seen Hypselodoris californiensis (California Chromodorid).  Shot from above, all the details of the nudibranch’s rhinophores and gills are lost.


 But when I waited for the nudibranch to crawl up onto a rise, and got my lens down on it’s “eye” level, I got a much more interesting result:


 3.  Change Perspective.  The same principle applies to wide angle photography.  In the following photograph, I wanted to show the thousands of fish on the reef.  I pointed my lens directly at them, but the reef in the background makes them hard to see.


To make the fish “pop,” it is necessary to get right next to the reef leaving the water as the background for the fish, as in the image below:


 With a few adjustments, it is easy to improve your underwater photography.  Remember to get close, get down, and change perspective!

 If you have suggestions for underwater photography tips, or questions, please feel free to leave comments below.

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