Underwater Photography Frequently Asked Questions

What are all the white spots on my pictures?
The “white spots” or backscatter are caused by the strobe being too closely aligned with the camera/lens. The light from the strobe goes straight out and bounces off particles, dirt and other crud in the water directly back into the lens creating highlights or white reflections off the particles. See the backscatter article in our Lights & Strobes section for more info on the subject.

How do I capture sunbeams in my pictures?
To capture sunbeams on film or on a digital file, you need a fast shutter speed. Speeds like 1/250th of a second or faster will give you the best chance to freeze the rays that you see in the water. Unfortunately for those of you with digital cameras, you will have a tougher time capturing the rays than folks using film-based systems.

I get lots of pictures of fish tails, how do I get them to cooperate for photos?
The first rule of good fish/critter photography underwater is… don’t chase the fish/critters. When you start to chase, they think your going to eat them, and they quickly swim away. Resist the temptation to chase them. With schools of fish that are stationary, work your way in, parallel to them. Just like another fish just fining into the current. For critters like turtles, look at their path and swim parallel to it, slowly closing the gap. (Yes, that may end up being a lot of swimming) For most reef fish, they have a personal territory that they spend most of their time in. Sit and watch for a while. Is that Queen Angel cruising over the same area over and over again? Set up close to the path, but not directly in the path. Patience is the key. With time, most reef fish get acclimated to your being there and go back to their usual routines.

How do I get started in underwater photography?
Talk to the people at your local dive shop. They can help you find other people interested in photography and a basic underwater photography class. Taking a class can cut your learning curve by a huge margin. Why spend days trying to figure out how to do something, when the instructor can explain it in a few minutes?

How much does an underwater camera cost?
How much you spend on an underwater camera depends on what level you want to take your photography to. Most people start with a small simple point and shoot camera in a plastic housing. That way they can try photography and see if it’s something they like. Point and shoot systems start at under $20.00, up to a several hundred dollars, depending on several factors such as: It’s depth rating, film or digital, battery or rechargeable system, and any accessories, like additional lenses and close-up/macro kits.

Is a film or digital camera better underwater?
They each have their own chacteristics. Digital is overtaking film as the medium of choice for photographers on land and underwater. The two biggest advantages of digital are; being able to instantly review the picture that you just took and being able to shoot more than 24-36 pictures before you have to surface to put another roll of film in the camera. A 6 MP digital camera with a one GB media card can hold almost 300 images in memory shooting at the full 6 MP file size. Film still has the advantage when taking wide-angle pictures with a sunburst and sunbeams in it. The rays and sunburst are sharper and better defined.


How long should strobe arms be? Is longer better?

Longer is better, up to a point. Longer is better for backscatter reduction purposes. But, two and a half to three foot long strobe arms are about the max for most photographers. Longer than that becomes a game of diminishing returns, as well as diminishing strobe delivery, expense and manageability underwater. The farther the strobe is from the subject, the less light that gets delivered to the subject.


What size Compact Flash or other recording media card do I need for underwater digital photography?

Digital cameras vary in their media handling capabilities.  The amount of storage space you need depends on the amount of photography you do on any given dive. Generally speaking though, a one GB card will last longer than most diver’s air supply, unless you’re shooting like a maniac. As I said in the “Is film or digital camera better underwater?” a 6 MP camera with a one GB memory card will hold almost 300 images shooting at the full 6 MP file size. A one GB card ought to do the trick. A two GB card if you have a camera that has a LOT bigger MP file size and you shoot like crazy.


Why do all my pictures without a strobe look a lot bluer than I remember the scene?

Your brain acclimates to the underwater scene to restore/improve the colors that you see. You adapt to see things closer to the way they “should” look.

What camera lenses are the most useful for underwater photography?
The most used lenses in underwater photography are at opposite ends of the spectrum. Wide-angle and ultra wide-angle lenses are the most useful for capturing the large scene. Wrecks, reef scenes, divers on walls, large critters and schools of fish come to mind with wide-angle lenses. Most magazine cover shots are taken with ultra wide-angle lenses. The wider the lens, the closer you can get to the subject. Read: more color, sharper and greater depth of field (more of the whole picture in focus). On the other end of the size spectrum is close-up and macro. Most fish portraits and tiny colorful strange underwater critters are taken with close-up and macro lenses. When the viz is poor, you can still get great macro shots. The variety of macro size colorful critters to take pictures of is nearly endless.  The “normal lens” can’t capture the grandeur of the wreck or wall like a wide-angle lens and can’t focus down to the size of the close-up or macro. So, the normal lens ends up with more limited applications than it’s more extreme relatives.

Where does the “fog”/condensation in my housing/camera come from?

When you open your housing or camera on the boat or at the beach, the high humidity in the air gets trapped in the camera/housing. So, when it goes into the cooler water for the dive, it condenses on the surfaces of your lenses, camera or inside housings. The fix, is to load your camera or housing inside an air-conditioned room/cabin. Or, use moisture absorbent packs in the housing (less effective).

Some cameras shoot both video clips and stills. Is this a useful feature?

Video cameras that shoot stills and still cameras that shoot video clips share a similar flaw. The quality of that “extra capability” is low. The video camera can produce small, low-resolution stills. And, the still camera produces low quality, very short video clips.  If the low quality isn’t a problem for you, then give it a try.