Underwater photography can be highly rewarding and provides even complete beginners with the opportunity to capture some remarkable shots. But in order to make the most of these unique photo opportunities and take the perfect underwater picture, it’s essential to understand how underwater photography differs from its dry land counterpart.
While there is a great range of underwater SLR cameras out there, in this article we’re going to focus on taking pictures with a point-and-shoot waterproof digital camera. For beginners, these provide an affordable solution that is easier to use than more complex SLR cameras.
Most major camera brands offer an entry level waterproof digital camera, opening up the deep blue world of underwater photography to more people than ever before.
What kind of pictures can I take with a waterproof camera?
Most point-and-shoot waterproof cameras are capable of taking pictures down to a depth of several metres. Sony’s Cybershot models for instance have a maximum operating depth of three metres. For those new to underwater photography and casual users this is ideal, and avoids the greater challenges of taking pictures in deep water.
With a waterproof digital camera you can take some stunning shots of colourful marine-life whilst snorkelling or swimming, and capture some unforgettable holiday moments of your family beneath the waves.
Light and underwater photography
One of the major differences between photography in conventional settings and underwater is that water absorbs light to a greater degree than air. The deeper you go, the less light there is to work with.
At shallow depths there is generally still plenty of light available, but attention should be paid to the conditions. The best underwater light conditions are to be found in clear, still water with the sun directly overhead.
To compensate for low light conditions you can adjust the settings on your camera. Selecting a higher ISO setting will increase the sensitivity of the image sensor within the camera, resulting in a brighter image. However, higher ISO settings will also result in increased graininess in the image.
Altering the shutter speed is another way of getting more light into your underwater images, but longer shutter speeds may result in blurry images, particularly when photographing moving subjects. Using the camera’s flash is another solution, but you will need to get within a few feet of your subject to snap a decent image.
If you don’t want to get too technical, purchasing a waterproof camera with a range of automatic presets for light compensation is a good idea.
Colour: problems and solutions
The colours seen in an image are created by reflected light, so when light gets absorbed by water, so too does the colour. The red part of the spectrum has the longest wavelength and is the first to be absorbed. What this is means is that if you’re not careful you’ll end up with a lot of very blue images lacking in vibrant colours from other parts of the spectrum.
The key to ensuring a colourful underwater image is to get as close as possible to your subject, and where possible use artificial light, such as a flash.
Other underwater photography issues
As discussed above, taking a good underwater image usually involves getting close to the subject. But when framing your image it’s important to note that due to the way light refracts in water, objects are magnified by up to 25% of their actual size.
‘Backscatter’ is another unique problem, in which tiny particles floating in the water are illuminated by the flash. Once again this can be reduced to some extent by getting closer to the subject, or by using a ‘busy’ background. Alternatively it can be tackled later by editing the image on your computer.
With the right waterproof camera and a basic understanding of these principles of underwater photography, you can take some impressive images. The best thing to do is buy yourself a camera and get snapping!.