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Shhh it’s a secret! Making good underwater photography great

Underwater photography is on the rise as a hobby. The pros wont tell you and the books rarely mention this but there’s a few basic (but good) tips to consider when trying to take your base of knowledge of underwater photography to new heights. Before we look at the how to make good solid underwater photography great –there are some other things to consider. Here’s 5 essential basics that you may not have been told about. But shhhh, it’s a secret!

1.The photo must be in focus

At least try to get the main subject in focus. In macro photos this may only be one part of it and (unless you are going for an abstract image) then at least get the eye in focus. When editing photos always zoom in to a small portion of the subject to ensure everything is sharp and in focus. It’s even better if you can learn to’ zoom in’ on camera whilst shooting to ensure your LCD isn’t fooling you. It’s essential to do this underwater as often the LCD is hard to see through your housing. Spend a lot of time and effort learning how your camera’s auto-focus works choose the appropriate settings for your subject matter. Here’s one of my favourite photos  that ticks all the boxes except ( when you zoom in )  it is not in focus and thus, unusable.


fi ayerst

Hi, I’m Fiona. I love cats, sharks, reading, writing and being underwater.

2.There should be a clear subject in underwater photography

As with all forms of art, think about what you are photographing and the purpose of the photo. Also, try to learn as much as you can about the behaviour of the subject you want to shoot. Not only will this help you to find and approach it successfully but it may also help you to shed some light on the subject that makes more sense to the viewer. You can take this a step further when you get the hang of it.  You can try to depict the behaviour of a subject you have learned about in the ‘art’ of your image to elicit a “gut response”-  as that’s what you want to get out of your audience. If you look at the photo of the schooling coachmen you will see that it ticks all the boxes except point 1.

3.Composition should be considered

 Learn about the basic rules of composition and apply them. Certain simple rules like that of thirds will make a dramatic and immediate improvement if applied.

4.There should be well-balanced colour

In the art of underwater photography an under-utilised idea relates to complimentary colour play-offs. Learn and apply-  that blues work well with yellows and greens with purples and so on.

 5.Try to reduce the distance from port to subject as much as you can

Don’t zoom in. Improve your buoyancy and then approach with caution , so as not to harm the reef or the subject. Get in as close as you feasibly can unless you are trying to capture negative space.

Once you have those basics down to a T, its time to think about the greatness of your shot.

Here’s four things to consider

1. What makes the photo special?

Most times you may not have anything unusual or amazing happen and so how do you ensure you get a special shot? I recommend you look for dramatic angles and textures- both of which abound under the water.

2. Peak of the action

Humans are creatures of habit and the same can be said for many animals under the water. If you can learn to anticipate what your subject is likely to do next then you can set up a winning shot. Try to think ahead and be aware at all times of what is going on around you and what could happen next.

3. Emotion and mood

If you know more about the subject then you can often convey a certain feel that goes deeper than just a photo. If you can convey a mood or get an emotional response out of viewers with your photo then you are getting there.

4. Keep your composition simple.

That is the best tip of all. Even if you remember nothing else- try that.

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Blogger: Fiona Ayerst

Fiona is an award winning professional underwater and environmental photojournalist. Her work is published and portrayed throughout the world in numerous magazines, blogs and sites. Between May and October annual, Fiona manages Africa Media’s environmental and travel journalism internship program. 


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