Underwater photography – literally – adds another dimension to your work as a travel photographer and it can be a competitive advantage over your competition.
Here’s a few quick tips I’ve learned about underwater photography in the Marshall Islands:
– Understand that, unless you have strobes and filters, most of your colours will disappear beyond about five metres and everything becomes blue. As a result, composition at greater depth is more critical. That said, snorkelling in coral close to the surface presents some colourful options ( and I believe there’s compensating software available which I’ll look into when I get back).
– If you are involving swimmers in the shoot, work out a few hand signals before you go down, ie start from here, swim to here, pause, go higher, lower, once again etc. If you know what you want to do down, instruct them beforehand. If you have a wreck or an object to shoot, circle it as if you were on land to work out where the best light falls and where to position your talent.
– Use a tank even for the shallow stuff if you can as it gives you ample time to move around, find the best subject/angle and position yourself. Believe me, you won’t want to be holding your breath for as long as this can take.
– If you don’t plan to go far and you’re doing a shallow dive on a sandy bed, wear Crocs and “space walk” when you are down, using a loaded weight belt to keep you there and air in your vest to get you to the surface when you’re done. Flippers can stir up too much sand and reduces water clarity. Obviously, if you have distance to go, dive as normal.
– Be prepared to take a lot of shots and learn from what does and doesn’t work. Study what you come back with – write down a few key points – to avoid a repeat of your mistakes. There are definitely new lessons to be learned in terms of positioning, lighting and – most importantly – conditions – most of which only come with trial and error. The sooner you make the mistakes, the sooner you’re capturing better pictures.
– Generally speaking, if you haven’t got clarity and sunlight, give it a miss until conditions are more suitable.
– If you are keen on those half underwater/half above the water shots, practice beforehand, know your camera’s optimum settings. If you are working with someone, prepare them for you to repeat your instruction until you find out what works best. Again, take a lot of pictures. The slightest wave movement can hide your subject and focusing can be tricky with several focal distances to consider, plenty of movement and glare from the back of your camera which makes details difficult to see. What worked for me was the subject swimming either across me (below) or diagonally across and towards me, head slightly raised to capture the light.
– And finally, surf the web beforehand to find underwater pictures that work for you which you’d like to add to your portfolio. I don’t think it will take long to exhaust the most common options so, when that’s done – as it is on the surface – it will come down to the creative eye of the photographer to produce something special. It’s a fun challenge …..that can take you to some pretty nice places which you probably wouldn’t have seen, or captured, if you didn’t do underwater photography.