If you’re interested in underwater photography, one of the best things about booking your next live aboard diving trip is the prospect of being able to spend an entire week underwater snapping away.

While taking photos underwater is rewarding and a great way to show off to all your work colleagues remember the amazing sites you’ve visited, underwater photography presents budding photographers with a whole range of different challenges that you don’t need to worry about on the surface. Visibility, particles in the water, moving subjects, and light are all new issues that will affect how your underwater images turn out.

Sometimes I find myself taking better photos on my smart phone above the water, than on my fancy digital SLR below it. Or I’ll have spent a week on a live aboard only to discover once I’ve returned home and uploaded a shot of a sea turtle that looked epic on the LCD screen, that it’s actually slightly blurry. If you’ve just started taking underwater photo’s, chances are one out of a hundred of your pictures are actually worth keeping (trust me, I’ve been there!) However there a few little tricks that you can use to potentially save that image you were about to send to the trash.

Good photos start before you’re even under the water.

Think about what setting you have your camera on, and what format these images are being stored in. If you want to be able to maximise your potential to digitally improve your images once you’ve finished snapping away in the ocean, make sure you are shooting all your images in RAW format.

RAW files are far larger than JPEG images (which is probably the format your camera is currently on if you haven’t switched to RAW yet), so you won’t be able to store as many photos on your memory card.  The editing freedom that comes with shooting in RAW however far outweighs the downside of the large size of these files. Just make sure you invest in an extra memory card or two before you head off to your next live aboard dive destination.

Buoyancy, buoyancy, buoyancy!

Not only does good buoyancy equal more relaxed and safe diving but drastically improves your underwater photography technique. If you’re constantly inflating and deflating your BCD, flapping about with your hands and knocking the marine life around you’re going to struggle to return from your dive with good photos.

Becoming a good diver takes time, and you should enjoy the learning process. Too many divers want to rush through their courses and spend little time focusing on actually becoming a better scuba diver. Go diving purely to practice your buoyancy and then start dabbling in underwater photography. To learn some more tips about how good buoyancy will help your photography techniques, check out our article. 

Camera Raw Editor.

An underwater image that could use some TLC.
An underwater image that could use some TLC.
The same image after editing in Camera Raw.
The same image after editing in Camera Raw.

This is an average underwater images’ best friend. Time and time again I have relied on Camera Raw Editor to turn a less than perfect image into a keeper. Camera Raw gives you a second chance at creating great underwater images.

Here you can edit the temperature, tint, exposure and contrast of an image. Over exposed image? Bring down the highlights and play around with your image until you’re happy. You can lift the whites and the blacks of the image and bring more clarity to your photo to create an image that really pops with colour and contrast.

One of the best tools in Camera Raw and Photoshop is the spot healing brush, which literally replaces a selected area of the image with another part of the photo. This means with a little time and effort you can remove all those particles or light spots scattered throughout your photo.  Spend some time in Camera Raw and I can assure you your images will go from woeful to wonderful.

The ‘diffuse glow’ filter.

The edited image with Photoshop filter 'diffuse glow' applied.
The edited image with Photoshop filter ‘diffuse glow’ applied.

After you’ve played around in Camera Raw you can either save your image or continue tweaking it in Photoshop. My one go-to filter for images that are less than ideal is the ‘diffuse glow’ filter. This filter really accentuates underwater light breaking through the surface of the ocean, and give underwater photographs an ethereal and magical feel. To find the ‘diffuse glow’ filter in Photoshop, head to ‘Filter Gallery’ under the Filter menu, and you’ll find it in the distort section.

If all else fails, convert to black and white.

Colour can be hard to correct in underwater images. Black and white is far easier to work with, and you can bring the contrast up without changing the colours to garish neon versions of the original hues. An image that you thought was beyond saving can suddenly turn into an artistic impression of the underwater world. Convert your image to black and white, play around with contrast and brightness and watch it transform.

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