Underwater Photography: The Challenge of Underwater Photos
Underwater photography equipment is more advanced than it has ever been. Even so, taking excellent underwater photos relies on technique as much as on equipment. By understanding the unique challenges of underwater photography, you can produce good quality underwater photos.
Underwater Photography Equipment
Underwater photography equipment varies considerably in type and quality. Of course, inexpensive disposable underwater cameras are readily available at tourist spots. However, these cheaper varieties produce cheap, poor quality pictures. The best thing that can be said about underwater disposables is that they are cheap: you get what you pay for.
Fortunately, much better underwater photography equipment exists. Self-contained underwater digital cameras vary wildly in price, quality and options. Various camera models also vary in their maximum water depth. While some will flood in as little as ten to twenty feet of water, others are good at recreational diving depths and beyond. Bear in mind that a flooded camera is a useless camera.
Among the underwater photography options available for both traditional and digital cameras are underwater housing units. A housing unit is a plastic unit that encloses a land camera to adapt it to underwater photography. Housing units allow a photographer to take good quality land cameras into the water.
Housing units come with rubber rings that must be rubbed with diving silicon to achieve a watertight fit. The silicon must be applied correctly in order to be effective. Too little or too much silicon will both cause the housing unit to leak. The ring must also be free of grit, sand, dry sea salt residue, hairs or other debris. If it’s clogged in any way, the housing ring will not be watertight. Water leaking into the housing unit can ruin your camera.
Underwater Photos and Magnification
Above the water, the camera sees at the same level of magnification as your eyes. The same cannot be said for underwater photography. Many budding underwater photographers are shocked to discover that that huge fish they photographed underwater looks much smaller in their photo. Another common problem is that a subject is inadvertently chopped in half by one side of the photo.
Light refracting through water and the diver’s mask magnifies everything seen underwater by approximately 25 percent. In other words, that four-foot nurse shark is, in reality, only three feet long.
In practical underwater photography terms, the refraction of light means that what you see won’t be exactly what you get, unless your eye and the camera lens are exactly parallel. Digital cameras with LCD screens have an advantage here, as you can check what the camera sees even as you take the picture. Unfortunately, as LCD screens consume a large amount of battery power, using them may drastically shorten your timeframe for taking underwater photos.
Underwater Photography Focusing
In underwater photography, the ideal focus occurs three to four feet in front of the camera. Due to water refraction, it takes a little practice to determine exactly where this is, as opposed to where your eyes think it is due to the mask distortion. Stretch out your hand underwater. Have your diving buddy do the same and touch fingers. The length from you shoulder to hers is approximately four feet.
Steady . . .
Motion is more important in underwater photography than regular photography. While subjects on land might be moving, everything’s moving underwater: your subject, the background, your diving buddy, air bubbles and even you are in constant motion as you move with the water’s currents.
Because of this, underwater photography beginners should start small. Underwater photos of coral, crustaceans, eels hiding in coral outcrops and other relative immobile or slow moving critters are good starting subjects for underwater photos.
Watch for fin kick-up when taking underwater photography. A flurry of sediment kicked up by your fins can obscure underwater photos and scare off potential photo subjects.
Underwater Photography Lighting
Light refraction is another factor that can affect underwater photography. The deeper you go underwater, the less light you get. As you go deeper and deeper, red colors disappear first. The color spectrum gets progressively narrower the deeper you dive.
To compensate for restrictions in the color spectrum, underwater photographers use strobe flashes to provide the missing portions of the color spectrum. Strobes provide much-needed color for underwater photos taken at that magic range of three to five feet. Specific types of strobes are required for different depths.
Underwater Photography Practice and Preparation
Practice is the key to successful underwater photography. As with any type of photography, the more you practice, the better your underwater photos become. In time, the diver develops a feel for underwater photography, improving his or her photos. By all means, practice before spending your life savings on that Great Barrier Reef trip!
Snorkeling is a great way for divers to practice basic underwater photography. Snorkelers don’t encounter the lighting problems divers must deal with at greater depths. Similarly, snorkeling is a great way to become accustomed to water magnification, light refraction and water motion.
Preparation is also important. If you know you’ll be diving in areas with fast-moving fish, set the camera to fast shutter speeds and high-speed exposures before you dive. A diver has little enough dive time to take underwater photos without fiddling with the camera just as the perfect shot swims into view.
Underwater photography presents challenges not seen in normal photography. The photographer must retrain his or her eyes to see objects in a different way. Start practicing to make your underwater photos spectacular!
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