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Reprinted by permission of New York Institute of Photography


Tips for Better Pictures

Underwater Photography




Courtesy Sealife Cameras

If the heat and humidity have got you hot and bothered this summer, why not dip your big toe into Underwater Photography? You don't need to buy any expensive equipment if you just want to experiment. If this is your first attempt, you can get started by purchasing any of the waterproof single-use underwater cameras on the market. 

This is a great place to start, especially if you don't plan on going deeper than 12 feet. The latest single-use waterproof models from Kodak come with 800 Max Film, the most versatile of Kodak films, since it works well in bright sunlight as well as lower light levels.


If you're ready to invest in a reusable underwater camera, we'll tell you about a few of the model we like later on. 

There's a lot to learn if you get serious about underwater photography. This article isn't intended to be a thorough introduction to this complicated subject. Particularly if you want to take a camera along on scuba dives and work at great depths, there's a lot to learn and you'll find that some of the recognized dive organizations also offer very good photography lessons. In this article, we really want to get those of you who might be in the pool or surf interested in the possibilities of using a camera as part of your recreational swimming or skindiving.


©Chuck DeLaney NYI Dean 

©Chuck DeLaney NYI Dean 


A waterproof single use model is perfect for candid photos of your friends playing around in the pool. You can use them for interesting results above the water or under it. With a little experimentation, you can even take a photo that's half above the surface and half submerged, like the photo below. 

As you head out to the beach this summer, you should consider leaving your expensive SLR camera at home, since salt and sand are the natural enemies of the innards of any camera. With a waterproof model in your hand, you will have the option of chasing your frisky pooch or hyper child into the water without damaging your camera. 

©Chuck DeLaney NYI Dean 


One slip by the pool and you could see your precious SLR free fall to the deep-end. Who needs that stress when you're on vacation? So don your snorkel, scuba, or swimming goggles and head to the nearest body of water, be it your neighborhood swimming pool, beach, or maybe you've got a really big bathtub. Our underwater photography tips will ensure that you take great photos wherever you are this summer. 

Take Care! 

Since you are not an amphibian, a few obstacles underwater that wouldn't befuddle you on land might distract you underwater. Your body will feel like it's moving in slow motion. It's important to keep an eye out for nasty predators that are around you, be they Man-o-war jellyfish or Boogie boarders. As much as you want that perfect vacation shot, you do not want to start your summer off on the disabled list. It's easy to become so fascinated with what's happening in front of your camera that you neglect what's going on behind your back. 

The best time to take underwater photos is between 10am-2pm, because this is when the sun is directly overhead. At this time you will get optimal sunlight. If you go snorkeling and stay close to the shore and find the underwater scenery somewhat Spartan, you can ask a friend to come along with you to be an underwater model. (Someone with good lungs who isn't camera shy!) 

©NYI Student C. Leedham

One of the most common mistakes land photographers make when they are first exploring underwater photography is shooting from too far away. Remember that when you're underwater your vision is off. Looking through a face mask, everything appears about 25% closer than it really is.


So if you spot a colorful fish, eel or other creature, move in close to make up for this. The NYI guidelines apply underwater too. Remember: Simplify! Don't be bashful with your finned friends, get in close, and fill up the frame with your subject to capture a memorable photo. This will reduce the amount of water you have to shoot through, which will improve your photo especially if the water isn't that clear. 

Another thing that can surprise rookie underwater photographers is the loss of color and light as you plunge down. You lose color very quickly underwater. The reds are the first to go. The further down you go, the more muted the colors will be till your girlfriend's bikini goes from fire engine red to grayish blue. If your single-use camera has a built-in flash use it: This will help bring out the bathing suit's real color. 

Silhouettes in the water can be very powerful images. Do you want your model to appear dark against the sun-lit water? Then you should make sure the sun is in front of you, if possible behind your model. If you want to showcase your subject's wild color and have the background appear dark and foreboding, then keep the sun behind you. 

We interviewed two NYI graduates who are now earning their living as professional underwater photographers, Ian Lauder and Jim Edds. Recently, Rodale's Scuba Diving Magazine named Ian "Photographer of the Week." (Check out Ian's photography at his own Web site, www.cyber-sea.com). Ian was on his way to Maui to photograph wildlife when we caught up with him. We asked him what were some of the mistakes he made when he first started shooting underwater. Besides giving us the tips about distance and color that we mentioned earlier, here are some added tips from Ian. 

Don't shoot down unless you have a good reason, like wanting to shoot dark subjects on a white sandy bottom. 

Shoot at an upward angle to capture a more dramatic image.

Learn the capabilities of your camera setup. 

Be aware of dive gear, kelp, bubbles, etc. floating in front of the lens.

Isolate the subject from the background so it stands out.

Most motion is slower under water, so you should keep this in mind if you are using SLR, when selecting your shutter speed. 

Ian uses Fuji slide film in blue water and Kodachrome slide film ASA 64 or 200 in green water. Fuji films can make the water look a little bluer, but Kodachrome can give you a more realistic color.


©NYI Student Jim Edds

Another NYI graduate who is making a name for himself in underwater photography is Jim Edds in Florida. His photos of free diving champion and fashion model Mehgan Heaney-Grier, one of which is show above, have circled the globe. He had a full-page image of Mehgan published in People magazine and the London Times. He was recently hobnobbing with Club Medders in Sardinia at the Second Free Diving Competition. The photos he took of the competitors were published in ESPN's magazine. 

Most of the time, Jim's film of choice is Fuji 100 film. He uses an aluminum housing from Aqua Vision Systems. "The trick is to shoot close with a wide angle with an auto-focus camera because depth of field underwater is very unforgiving," says Jim.


Have you ever dreamed of free diving in a Florida swamp to look for alligators to cuddle up with? In this photo Jim took, the brave man named "Manny" appears to be tickling the gator. Jim tells us that Manny has been interacting with gators since he was a kid and figured out that approaching them underneath like this was not threatening, but touch the gator on top of the nose and you will get the opposite reaction.

(Do not try this at home!) This photo appeared in Playboy Germany. Jim used Kodak Royal Gold 400 film for this shot, as there's not much light in the swamps.

©NYI Student Jim Edds


©NYI Student Jeremy Wilcox

Hint for landlubbers: Maybe you don't even like to swim, and the idea of free diving in a clear blue ocean or a muddy swamp strikes you a foolhardy. You may be able to use you regular camera and take some great photos of animals that are underwater while you stand safe and dry on terra firma. How? Many local zoos now feature glass-sided tanks where you can photograph your subjects underwater, like these two hulking hippos. Just watch the lighting. Either don't use flash, or if you do, make sure you're not perpendicular to the glass surface because you'll get a nasty reflection. Shooting through glass works best if your flash is 30-degrees or more off perpendicular.


Underwater Cameras
If you feel very comfortable fathoms deep among the fish and you want to go beyond the single-use cameras, there are a few underwater cameras and accompanying accessories that can add to your underwater photography experience. For the beginning underwater photographer there are reloadable underwater cameras on the market that are modestly priced so you won't have to dip into your nest egg. 

There are a few things to consider before buying an underwater camera. How much do you want to spend? How deep are going to go? 

The Bonica Snapper Camera can be purchased for around for $129. The Bonica Snapper uses 35mm film and a built in electronic flash, is sealed with a silicone 0-ring, and can withstand a depth of 150 feet. You can also buy accessories such as a Neon Strobe Light to enhance picture quality in poor lighting areas. The arm is easily adjustable. You can attach it to the camera or hold it in your hand. The close-up Kit helps you sharpen the photos you take at 10" to 24." The Snapper Complete Set comes with the Snapper camera, the close-up lens, the neon flash and strobe, in a fully padded, rain and sun-proof Twill nylon case costs $499 (suggested retail price). For more information, check out their website at www.bonicadive.com. 

Underwater Housings
Another possibility is to put the camera you own into an underwater housing. What are housings? You will hear a lot about these glass and metal things in the underwater world. Housings are camera protectors made of glass and metal that fit snuggly around your regular camera and protect it from the water.


Ikelite makes a housing that works with Kodak, Fuji, and AquaSnap single-use cameras. Their latest model, the AquaShot 3e, works with the latest Kodak and Fuji single-use cameras, but not the FunSavers. The FunSavers work with the AquaShot 2 versions. This really isn't as complicated as it sounds.


The AquaShot 3 retails for $90. This housing comes with its own reloadable Fuji Endeavor-10 APS camera (retail value $55). Ultra compact and lightweight, the AquaShot 3e housing features an optical grade glass lens, built-in handgrip with lanyard, accessory shoe, and a sports finder for easy framing. Operates to 38mm (125'). An AquaShot package complete with the Fuji camera, housing, Substrobe, Macro Kit, Travel Bag and batteries retails at $340. (In some newsgroups we've read posts that claim that this can be purchased for less than $200 so, as with everything, it pays to shop around.)


Courtesy Ikelite


The Ikelite site (www.ikelite.com) is worth visiting. 

The SeaLife Skindiver Camera retails for $99 and has a built in automatic flash and it can withstand 45" depth. Its close cousin the SeaLife ReefMaster offers the same built-in flash and auto-exposure and a 164" depth for $189. (See photo) 

The Canon Sure Shot A1 has an extra large viewfinder, which comes in handy when you're wearing thick scuba goggles. This sporty yellow camera costs $250. Something to consider when buying a good quality underwater camera is that these cameras are also great land cameras. You will be able to use them throughout the year and maybe take a few memorable shots of a rainstorm. Minolta also makes an APS underwater model, the Vectis Weathermatic.

Courtesy Ikelite

If you become addicted to underwater photography and want to take it to the highest level, then buying a Nikonos V or older Nikonos model such as Nikonos II and III is a good investment. The high-end waterproof cameras like the Nikonos series are in the $950 range. That's the suggested retail price, a dealer will usually knock off a couple hundred dollars off of this. You can probably find a used one for half that price by searching the Web or visiting your local used camera shop. 

Ikelite makes flash gear and accessories that are designed to get optimum performance out of the Nikonos cameras, so make sure to check their on-line catalog.

Reprinted with permission from the New York Institute of Photography website at http://www.nyip.com




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