Still Underwater Photography Overview

Florida Keys Turtle Photo: Steve May

Where to Start

When looking into the idea of taking pictures underwater, most divers face several problems. Those problems could be summarized as:

1. What equipment do I need?
2. How do I get the training I need?
3. How good will the pictures look?
4. How much is it all going to cost?


It can be argued that all of these concerns are interrelated. True, but lets take them one at a time.

When you look at the equipment options that are available today, it makes the old timers envious. In the old days, lots of folks had to build their own camera housings and controls. People like the late, great Jim Church, who talked decades ago about putting a light meter in a mayonnaise jar to take it below. “Wash out the mayonnaise jar” was part the instructions. Those “good old days” of photography are long gone for us — very thankfully! The equipment that’s available now ranges from an inexpensive point and shoot camera using print film with a plastic housing costing fifteen dollars or less at your local department store, all the way up to a professional digital camera and lens in an aluminum housing with dual external strobes on extendable arms that costs many thousands of dollars. What equipment you need depends on your budget, how enthusiastic you are about photography, the training you’ve had, and how professional you want your photos to look.

Young Student Taking a UW Photography Course - Photo: Steve May

How about training? You could take your new camera, breeze through the owners manual, jump in the water, and come back with a couple of pictures of blue something or other if you’re lucky enough not to flood it. Your only concern would be the extra task loading of carrying around another piece of equipment underwater.

There is a better way to get to know the underwater world through photography. Take a class! Don’t try to re-invent the wheel. The best place to start is the local dive shop. Your local dive shop teaches basic underwater photography specialty courses or knows someone who does. Some even offer the class and camera as a combo. Usually, the Underwater Photography Specialty Class is basic in nature and is intended to get you off to a good start in underwater photography. It can teach you the basics of good underwater photography and camera maintenance.

When you start talking about the quality of the photos you bring back, the quality of the camera/lens and the training you’ve had, are the two biggest factors. (In underwater photography, for the most part, you get what you pay for). If you only take pictures once in a while, have a smaller budget to work with, and you are happy with basic and simple “snapshots,” then the basic point and shoot camera is for you. If your looking for good enough quality to print large enough to hang on the wall, give to friends and relatives, or maybe even sell, then the quality of the camera and the time spent learning about photography just went up a few notches. Not impossible by any means, just takes a bit more time, effort, and money on your part.

Point and Shoot Camera

So, how much is this all going to cost? All the factors overlap to a large extent. How good the pictures look depend on both the camera system you have (point and shoot cameras have less capabilities and more limitations than more advanced systems) and the training you’ve had (lots of training and practice, beat no training every time). Yes, a good picture from a bad dive site will look better than a bad picture from a good dive site. In photography, you frequently get what you pay for in equipment capabilities.

How much it costs you, depends on what level you want to take your photography. Are you happy with snapshots to show your friends and family? Then a point and shoot camera is for you. Do you want to dive with your camera a lot because you really love photography? Would you like to be a professional photographer some day? Are you going to hang your photos on the walls at home or sell them? Then start saving your nickels and dimes for equipment and training. Equipment and training go hand in hand. Happily, you can start small and work your way up. Over time as your skill level outgrows your equipment, you can start trading up to a higher level. You don’t need to have the very latest in high tech gear to produce great photos. Many top pros don’t have or even want the latest upgrade or very top of the line. Many pros are quite happy with their 6 or 8 mega pixel digital SLRs and save themselves a couple thousands of dollars in the bargain over the very top of the line.

SLR Camera Housing
SLR Camera Housing

So, how much is it going to cost? The answer is fifteen bucks for this weekend’s snapshots or many thousands of dollars over a lifetime of diving and taking pictures of the wonders under the waves. The choice is up to you. Try out the snapshot camera, you may get the photography bug and never look back. So get out there and get started, sign up for a class, start looking at cameras, and read the articles and info provided here in Divingindepth.com.