Mastering Underwater Photography

Snorkeling is a rare and exhilarating experience that allows you to explore the mesmerizing world beneath the waves. The beauty of this underwater realm is something you’ll want to cherish forever, and what better way to do that than by learning the art of taking breathtaking photos while snorkeling? 

You’ll be pleased to discover that you don’t need to invest in an expensive camera setup to achieve impressive underwater shots. The quality of your photographs depends largely on your skills as a photographer, and with the guidance provided in this comprehensive article, you can quickly elevate your underwater photography game to new heights.

The Quest for Perfect Underwater Shots

Mastering Underwater Photography

Whenever I showcase my underwater photographs to friends, family, or acquaintances, the most common question I receive is about the camera gear and editing software I use to capture those perfect underwater moments. While I don’t claim to be a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer, I take pride in the quality of my underwater photos, which often leads others to seek advice on how they can achieve similar results. 

These photos hold a special place in my heart, adorning my walls as 11 x 16 prints, serving as constant reminders of my cherished snorkeling adventures in Sardinia, Italy.

As we delve into the world of underwater photography, we’ll uncover essential tips and techniques that will enable you to produce exceptional underwater images without breaking the bank or spending hours on post-processing.

1. Get Closer, Don’t Zoom In

The first golden rule of underwater photography is to get as close to your subject as possible instead of relying on zoom. The reduced distance between your camera lens and the subject minimizes the impact of water’s natural filter, resulting in sharper, less distorted images. Water tends to dull sharpness, color, and contrast, with shots taken from a distance exhibiting blurriness and a bluish hue.

However, a word of caution: While getting closer to marine life is essential for stunning shots, it’s crucial to respect their space. Sudden movements or encroachments may stress or provoke the creatures, leading to adverse reactions. Maintain a distance of around one meter for most marine life, but exercise discretion, especially with protected species like turtles, where getting too close can be illegal.

2. Turn Off the Flash

Unlike scuba divers who require external light sources in low-light conditions, snorkelers are blessed with abundant natural sunlight in shallow waters. Using a flash or strobe can lead to unwanted backscatter as light bounces off suspended particles in the water. 

The optimal time for snorkeling photography is around noon when the sun’s direct overhead position provides even lighting. Experiment with different times to create captivating compositions using the natural light’s reflections on corals, fish, and underwater landscapes.

3. Dive for the Perfect Angle

While surface-level snorkeling can yield decent photos, the most captivating images are captured at the same depth as your subjects. Shooting from above tends to make marine life blend into the background, lacking the desired contrast and dimension. For a more dynamic perspective, dive down to their level, but remember this requires good lung capacity and swimming skills. Be patient, as marine life is rarely still, and anticipate their movements for the perfect shot.

When photographing fish, try to capture them facing the camera. Some species may shy away when approached, while others, like the less timid anemone fish, offer more cooperative subjects. Continuously seek new angles and compositions, and with persistence, you’ll achieve the shot you desire. For wide-angle shots of reefs, position yourself at or slightly below eye level for the most captivating compositions.

4. Consider the Background

To make your subject pop in underwater photography, focus on creating contrast between the subject and its background. Frame shots that lead the viewer’s eye from the foreground to the background, using elements like coral or other objects to enhance the composition. Show size by capturing subjects alongside larger marine life or divers to emphasize scale and add visual interest to your photos.

5. Half and Half: The Magic of Split Shots

Capture the magic of both worlds by taking “half and half” photos, where half the frame is submerged, and the other half is above the water’s surface. This technique adds a captivating dimension to your shots, much like capturing a stunning sunset. 

To master this technique:

  • Find very shallow water, around two to three feet deep.
  • Use a large dome port for balanced composition.
  • Wear a life jacket for stability and easy camera handling.
  • Keep the port clear of water droplets using saliva or anti-fog solutions.

6. Take Lots of Photos

Underwater photography can be challenging due to water’s inherent ability to distort and blur images. Combat these challenges by taking numerous photos of the same subject. Shoot each shot three or four times to ensure you capture the perfect moment. 

Make sure your camera has ample storage capacity to accommodate multiple shots. While many photos may be subpar due to focus, blur, or debris, a handful will shine as fantastic underwater captures.

7. Be as Stable as Possible

Stability is the cornerstone of successful snorkeling photography. On the surface, watch out for water ripples that can disrupt your shot, and capture images before any disturbances occur. When diving down, stability becomes even more critical. 

Snorkelers lack the ability to control buoyancy as efficiently as scuba divers, making it essential to approach subjects with care and minimize disturbances.

8. Stability when Filming

If you’re venturing into underwater videography, stability remains paramount. Avoid shaky footage by maintaining a single angle of view, especially when filming on the surface. Using a pole or head strap can help you achieve stable shots and unique angles for your underwater videos.

9. Practice on Static Subjects

For beginners, practice on stationary subjects such as clams, coral, and invertebrates fixed on rocks or sea anemones. This allows you to work on stability and hone your photography skills without the challenges of capturing fast-moving marine life. Curious fish may swim around you, providing opportunities for straightforward shots. In some locations, encounters with turtles are even possible.

10. Post Processing Enhancements

After your snorkeling adventure, enhance your photos through post-processing. Even free software like Gimp can be a valuable tool for editing. Focus on three key adjustments: cropping, contrast, and color balance. 

Adjusting color balance can restore lost colors, especially reds, which tend to fade with depth. Carefully apply contrast to make subjects stand out, and use cropping to create more engaging compositions.

11. Choosing the Right Camera

Mastering Underwater Photography

Selecting the appropriate camera for your snorkeling adventures is crucial. There are three main types of underwater cameras:

  • Waterproof Compacts: These small, durable cameras are ideal for depths between 10 to 15 meters. They are shock-resistant, and crush-resistant, and often come with features like GPS for geolocation tagging.
  • Housing Cases: Housing cases can be used with compact or DSLR cameras, allowing depths of up to 40 meters. However, they add bulk to your setup and require regular maintenance.
  • Action Cams: These compact, durable cameras, exemplified by GoPro, are perfect for hands-free filming and can handle depths of up to 60 meters. They offer high-quality video footage and are suitable for snorkelers who stay near the surface.

For snorkelers and freedivers, cameras with waterproofing down to 10 meters are more than sufficient, as most people don’t dive deeper than a few meters on a single breath.

Compact Cameras

Let’s delve deeper into waterproof compact cameras. These devices have undergone significant improvements in recent years, becoming highly durable. They are shock-resistant, able to withstand drops from 1.5 to 2 meters, and crush-resistant, capable of handling up to 100kg of force. Compact cameras typically offer water-resistance down to 10 meters, with some more expensive models extending this to 25 meters. 

While they may have limited zoom capabilities (usually 4x or 5x), remember that getting physically closer to your subject often yields better results. Many models also feature built-in GPS for geolocation tagging, though this feature can drain your battery quickly.

Housing Cases

If you already own a compact or DSLR camera and prefer using it underwater, consider investing in a housing case. These cases are typically made of transparent plastic, usually polycarbonate, and are designed to house your camera while maintaining waterproof integrity. 

While they allow you to use high-quality DSLR cameras, they do add considerable bulk to your setup, making them less wieldy while snorkeling. Housing cases require regular maintenance, including applying waterproof oil to seals to prevent leaks. However, they offer the advantage of producing higher-quality photos compared to compact cameras.

Action Cams

For those interested in filming their snorkeling adventures, action cameras are a compelling option. They are small, durable, and designed for hands-free filming, especially when paired with head straps or mounts. 

GoPro-style action cameras offer the ability to capture ultra-wide-angle videos at 60 FPS and 4k ultra HD resolution, resulting in original and high-quality footage. Snorkelers can use action cameras to film themselves underwater and achieve unique angles on their subjects.

Underwater Camera Maintenance Tips

Regardless of your camera choice, it’s essential to maintain your equipment properly to ensure it performs optimally during your snorkeling adventures. Constant exposure to saltwater, sand, and moisture can wear down your camera over time. 

Here are some maintenance tips to consider:

  • Inspect Your Camera: Before taking your camera underwater, thoroughly inspect it for any wear and tear. Look out for debris such as dust, hair, sand, and water droplets, which can compromise your camera’s watertightness.
  • Ensure Proper Sealing: Make sure that your camera body or housing case closes and seals tightly to prevent water from entering. Regularly check the seals for signs of damage or wear.
  • Rinse After Use: After each snorkeling trip, rinse your camera equipment with fresh water to remove salt and sand. This step is crucial to prevent corrosion of delicate parts like screws, seals, and lenses.
  • Submerge in Freshwater: Submerge your camera equipment in freshwater for at least 20 minutes after each dive to eliminate any lingering ocean debris. This helps maintain the longevity of your gear.

Using These Snorkeling Photography Tips

As you embark on your journey to master underwater photography, keep in mind that advancements in camera technology have made this hobby more accessible than ever before. 

Even starting with an affordable compact camera and following the tips provided in this article can lead to impressive results. However, always prioritize safety. Ensure you are a strong swimmer and experienced snorkeler before attempting underwater photography. Avoid feeding the fish, as this can harm the marine ecosystem.

Begin your photographic adventures in shallow waters, gradually progressing to deeper depths as you gain confidence and experience. By following these snorkeling photography tips, you’ll soon be able to amaze your family and friends with captivating underwater photos every time you explore the mesmerizing world beneath the waves.


Snorkeling offers a unique opportunity to explore the hidden treasures of the ocean, and now you’re equipped with the knowledge to capture these moments in all their glory. Remember, it’s not about the cost of your camera equipment but the skills you bring to the underwater world. With practice, patience, and the tips shared in this extensive guide, you can become a skilled underwater photographer, immortalizing the magic of snorkeling for years to come.

So, dive in, take the plunge, and let your underwater photography adventures begin. Whether you’re capturing the vibrant colors of coral reefs, the graceful dance of marine life, or the serene beauty of half-submerged seascapes, your snorkeling experiences will be forever etched in the stunning images you create. Happy snapping!

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