Underwater Photography

Underwater photography is the process of taking photographs while under water. It is usually done while scuba diving, but can be done while diving on surface supply, snorkeling, swimming, from a submersible or remotely operated underwater vehicle, or from automated cameras lowered from the surface. Underwater photography can also be categorised as an art form and a method for recording data. Successful underwater imaging is usually done with specialized equipment and techniques. However, it offers exciting and rare photographic opportunities. Animals such as fish and marine mammals are common subjects, but photographers also pursue shipwrecks, submerged cave systems, underwater “landscapes”, invertebrates, seaweeds, geological features, and portraits of fellow divers.

The use of a flash or strobe is often regarded as the most difficult aspect of underwater photography. Some misconceptions exist about the proper use of flash underwater, especially as it relates to wide-angle photography. Generally, the flash should be used to supplement the overall exposure and to restore lost color, not as the primary light source. In situations such as the interior of caves or shipwrecks, wide-angle images can be 100% strobe light, but such situations are fairly rare. Usually, the photographer tries to create an aesthetic balance between the available sunlight and the strobe. Deep, dark or low visibility environments can make this balance more difficult, but the concept remains the same. Many modern cameras have simplified this process through various automatic exposure modes and the use of through-the-lens (TTL) metering. The increasing use of digital cameras has reduced the learning curve of underwater flash significantly, since the user can instantly review photos and make adjustments. Color is absorbed as it travels through water, so that the deeper you are, the less reds, oranges and yellow colors remain. The strobe replaces that color. It also helps to provide shadow and texture, and is a valuable tool for creativity.

Another format considered part of underwater photography is the over/under or split image, a composition that includes roughly half above the surface and half underwater, with both in focus. One of the pioneers of the traditional technique was National Geographic photographer David Doubilet, who used it to capture scenes above and below the surface simultaneously. Split images are popular in recreational scuba magazines, often showing divers swimming beneath a boat, or shallow coral reefs with the shoreline seen in the background. Over/under shots present some technical challenges beyond the scope of most underwater camera systems. Normally an ultra wide angle lens is used, similar to the way it would be used in everyday underwater photography. However, the exposure value in the above water part of the image is often higher (brighter) than in the one underwater. There is also the problem of refraction in the underwater segment, and how it affects the overall focus in relation to the air segment. There are specialized split filters designed to compensate for both of these problems, as well as techniques for creating even exposure across the entire image. However, pro photographers often use extremely wide or fisheye lens that provides extensive depth of field – and a very small aperture for even more extensive depth of field; this is intended for acceptably sharp focus both on the nearby underwater subject and the more distant elements above water. An external flash can also be very useful underwater, on a low setting, to balance the light: to overcome the difference in brightness of the elements above and below the water.