Taking Great Photographs Underwater

May 25, 2015

Scuba Diving & Photography…How Do I Get That Good shot?

Given all of the problems we talked about in the last chapter, how can we expect to take pictures that we can be proud of when scuba diving Key Largo? How can we overcome the loss of light and color?

Turtle while diving Key Largo, Florida Keys.

There are two answers to this question. One is to take the best possible picture using the available light, and the other is to use a “flash”. Using a “flash” is generally referred to as using a strobe in underwater photography. This chapter will concentrate on using available light.

 Available Light

The last chapter listed the ways that light gets diffused underwater. So, if we don’t have or can’t use a strobe we need to avoid all of the things that led to the light reduction. In other words, we need to shoot on a bright day, when the seas are calm, around midday. Luckily, if you are engaged in Key largo scuba diving, these conditions occur fairly frequently. This turtle to the left was taken using only natural, or ambient light.

Another time when we can use natural light to our advantage is if we are photographing a very large subject.Whale shot.

A strobe cannot cover enough area to light these three sperm whales, so that a photograph taken with available light looks quite natural.




Wreck photo.Scuba Diving wrecks provide another example of a large subject that looks good when taken in natural light. Sometimes, this natural lighting can be used to produce a black and white image that is quite dramatic, overcoming the lack of color at depth. This picture was taken while scuba diving the wreck of the Duane in the Key Largo National Marine Sanctuary.

Statue in Key Largo.


In addition to pictures of big things, silhouettes can make an interesting subject for natural light photographs. This picture of Christ of The Abyss on Key Largo Dry Rocks was taken using only available light.



The Red Filter – A must for the Photographer While Scuba Diving Hoya Red filter

One thing to bear in mind in all these shots is that they obviously don’t work for vibrantly colored subjects. To take photographs of highly colored subjects, in addition to good light, we must have a shallow depth. There are however one or two tricks we can use to overcome color loss. The first is to use a red filter. This filter reduces that amount of light of all frequencies going into the camera except Red. This means that when the camera allows the correct amount of light in according to the camera settings, there will be more red in the picture than there would have been without the filter. These pictures show the effect of a red filter at about 20ft deep. You can also see how well the coral is growing on Little Molasses Reef. These photos were taken in May this year!

Underwater photography.

without filter

Photographing the reef in Key Largo!

with filter








The Mysterious White Balance

The final way to improve the color in a photograph taken in natural light is to adjust the white balance. If you have taken the shot in fairly shallow, clear water, although the picture will look too blue, there is some signal left in the red channel. Adjusting the white balance gives you the ability to change the amount of each of the three color channels used to create the image. The best way to make this adjustment is before you take the picture. Using a white board or color slate allows you to calibrate the camera to make these adjustments prior to taking the image.Each model of camera sets the color balance a little differently, so read your camera manual to find out how to do it with your camera. If you have a more high end camera, which allows you to capture “RAW” data, then you can make this adjustment to the image after taking the photo in your post processing using an image editor such as Abobe’s Lightroom product.

These two images below show the difference you can make to an image by correcting the white balance to suit the light conditions.

Hope you enjoyed the Blog!
Instructor David Jefferiss – Sea Dwellers Dive Center of Key largo

Marine life in the Florida Keys.

Corrected white balance

Fish and photography.

As shot