Getting Started in Underwater Photography

Photo: Brian Dombrowski
Photo: Brian Dombrowski

It’s fair to claim people share one common motivation for becoming certified scuba divers: The underwater world is full of amazing things to see. Living tropical coral reefs, shipwrecks laden with historical artifacts, and caverns with ancient geological formations offer unique and exciting visual experiences to those choosing to explore them as divers.

With so much to see underwater, it only seems natural for divers to consider some form of underwater photography sometime during their diving career. Photos and video are great ways to preserve, relive, and share a diving experience with others, whether they be divers or not.

A decision to begin underwater photography must go beyond just an interest in taking pictures underwater. Here are some things to consider.

Diving Skills

Foremost, one needs to first evaluate their skills as a diver. Being a safe and sufficiently confident diver is mandatory. Superior buoyancy control is a must. Performing underwater photography requires a diver to multitask. That is, be able to safely dive and control buoyancy while simultaneously composing and taking pictures. Being a safe diver is your first responsibility. Learn how to master your buoyancy control first. If you’re ready to multitask as a photographer underwater, your buoyancy should be not only controlled but nearly second nature.

Also, review your level of formal dive training. Take at least an advanced open water class if you haven’t already. This class, along with practice, should help you gain more confidence as a diver and better prepare you for multitasking safely. Once you’ve completed advanced open water, consider taking specialty courses in underwater photography and video.

Photo: Brian Dombrowski

Commitment versus Expectations

What results are you expecting as an underwater photographer? Are you looking to take basic snap shots of fellow divers, or are you on a quest to create stunning reef images worthy of publication? Either is fine as long as you understand the commitment required to get the results you’re after. Higher expectations drive the need for higher levels of skill and knowledge, both as a diver and photographer.

Commitment of money and time are primary things to consider. What are you willing to spend on photography equipment? How much time can you commit to education, mastering skills, and caring for your equipment?

For simple snap shots, it’s possible to get by using relatively small, low-maintenance, inexpensive point-and-shoot systems with a minimal learning curve. On the other hand, professional looking photographs usually require larger and more expensive SLR systems with external strobes, along with the patience and tenacity to master the rules of underwater photography and the system’s manual settings. This holds true for both digital and film based systems underwater. The rules of photography are the same either way.

Photo: Brian Dombrowski

Stills, Video, or Both?

Take time deciding whether still photography or video is the best media for your needs. Digital still images are easy to email to friends. Colorful prints look great framed on an office wall. And fortunately, digital still cameras help speed the learning process. You’re able to see the result immediately after composing it instead of waiting for the film to be processed, and this shortens the learning curve.

Underwater video may appeal more to the diver who’s compelled to capture the essence of time, motion, and sound of the dive. Recent advances in digital video technology make it easier and cheaper than ever to shoot, edit, and then author video to DVD. A common misconception is that video systems cost more than still systems. In reality, quality housed video systems can cost less than SLR still systems. Also, shooting satisfying video is typically less complex and technically challenging than what’s required to achieve great still images with an SLR system.

Photo: Brian Dombrowski

In today’s digital imaging realm, nearly all still cameras have limited video features, and most video cameras have some still capability. These are mostly marketing gimicks. Don’t expect to get equal quality still and video results from a single camera offering this hybrid functionality. If you’re most interested in shooting stills, buy a camera that’s primary function is for taking stills. If you’re interested in video, buy a video camera.

Divingindepth provides independent sections on Underwater Still Photography and Underwater Video. Check out these sections and the forums to help you decide what’s best for you. If you become seriously addicted to underwater imagery, you might eventually find yourself doing both!