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Underwater photography | where to start

The idea of getting into underwater photography can be appealing – but taking up the hobby is often frustrating. Without a basic understanding of why underwater photography is so different to land based, you might struggle to get the type of images that you have seen taken by others.

This page is not intended to teach you how to take an underwater image – for that you might like to consider visiting the sites below – but it should give an overview of why shooting beneath the surface is so different to above and what to do if you want to take it up.

First steps...
photographer and fishtaking a shark video

Buying the right equipment | Naturally, you are going to need to buy either a dedicated underwater camera or a waterproof housing to keep your existing camera dry. Before you do anything else, decide what it is you want to achieve. Are you hoping for some nice little pictures to show everyone when you get back home? Then a compact digital camera is a great choice – easy to use, light to carry and it won't require a lot of maintenance between dives. However, if you are hoping to blow your best ever picture up to poster size, you will need much higher calibre equipment and then you need to consider all that entails.

There are many good, up-to-date compact cameras that have waterproof housings and this is definitely the most cost effective route to take. You can also take some top-level SLR's underwater but this is quite a substantial investment so do your research into the market via a good, specialist retailer.

Buying a housing for a camera you already own and understand means you will feel more confident using it at depth and you will be saving on the initial investment. If you’re not sure what you want or even if you will like shooting in the long term, think about a second-hand set of equipment or even hiring. You can always trade up later on.

Lighting a photo | Next, and perhaps most importantly, take the time to gain at least a basic understanding of why taking a photo underwater is so different to above. Yes, there's a bit of science involved especially when it comes to understanding how light changes underwater: sunlight is filtered by water, so the deeper you go the darker it gets. In turn, this means colours fade because the deeper you go the less red light you – and your camera – will see resulting is blue, washed out pictures.

To return light and colour to an image you will need a light source. The built-in flashes in a compact camera aren’t strong enough to do more than light a nudibranch or small fish so you will need an additional flash or strobe. This will have to be mounted away from the camera lens otherwise you will get backscatter – reflections from particles suspended in the water. Even once you have done that, you need to be aware that flashes have their limitations too. They have to penetrate through the water, and the strength of their light reduces the further it has to reach.

What's next...

Budding photographers should visit Underwater Photography Guide, a thorough online learning resource that will guide you through the steps. Start at Scott's Chapter index. We recommend you take a look at the Beginner's Guide then dip in and out of the various subjects covered.

Cameras Underwater is a UK based retailer with a huge range of equipment from compact to SLR to video. Their advice is second to none, especially for people just starting out.

The company also has a secondary information site with a wide range articles that beginners will find useful.

Buying underwater photography equipment
Choosing a new camera to take underwater isn't just about cost. You will also need to consider size and the weight for when you are transporting your new kit around and what accessories you will need to take with you.
The new breed of compact cameras are affordable and can take amazing underwater shots. With a little effort, and providing you learn to accept their limitations, you could be very happy with the results.
SLR cameras will always give better results as the technology is just that much better but they are bigger, more expensive and require a lot more work.
For either option you will need to consider getting good accessories – external strobes to light your subject, arms and trays to attach these to the camera, additional lenses and various peripherals like leads and rechargable batteries.
Many newer digital cameras also have the ability to take video. If that interests you as well, look into whether they have HD capacity.
You also need to think about a back-up device. Don't trust all those precious shots to a single memory card.

and if you're just starting out... no matter how excited you are to be scuba diving, leave the camera behind until you are truly comfortable in the water – you can’t be a good diver as well as a good photographer until you have mastered all the basic dive skills.

REFERENCE | These underwater photography books can be purchased from Amazon
The Underwater Photographer | The Essential Underwater Photography Manual | Master Guide for Underwater Digital Photography
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