The Guide to Underwater Cameras and Photography

By: Don Stephens

Underwater photography is both an educational tool and an exciting hobby. Capturing photographs of sea life gives us a glimpse of a world we don't often get to see. It also helps scientists study these organisms and how they live in their watery environment. The equipment needed to take pictures in the water can vary depending on the photographer's needs and conditions such as the depth of the water and how much light is penetrating it. Swimmers can use simple waterproof digital cameras to take pictures close to the surface, while scuba divers and scientists go to deeper areas with special watertight cameras and light sources.

For casual underwater photographers, a waterproof digital camera or even a water-resistant smartphone may suffice. Some of the top-brand digital cameras have an underwater mode built into the camera. For digital cameras that aren't waterproof, you can buy watertight housings made specifically for your camera model. If you decide to go this route, make sure to buy the right one for your camera, as it will be engineered to be waterproof while still allowing you to access the buttons to adjust settings while you use it. Of course, you can also purchase a waterproof disposable camera, but the photo quality won't be as good and you'll only be able to take a limited number of shots. There's also the option to use a GoPro, a miniature still and video camera made for rugged outdoor and underwater use.

Scuba divers looking to photograph in the lower depths will need a professional-grade camera. Look for one that can withstand depths up to 200 feet and has special underwater settings that can automatically adjust the frame rate and image resolution to maximize the quality of your photos and videos.

Once an underwater photographer chooses a camera, the next challenge for some might be compensating for the light levels. This shouldn't be a problem near the surface, where a lot of sunlight can penetrate, but for those trying to take pictures at significant depths, the lack of light can be a real problem. To compensate, you'll need to use an artificial light source. Many cameras have a built-in flash, but when shooting underwater, using a flash can cause backscatter. Backscatter happens when the light from a camera flash reflects off of tiny bits of sediment in the water, causing spots to appear in the photo that distract from the subject. One way to combat this problem is to use an external light source that's positioned to the side and not too close to the camera lens. Make sure to cover the built-in flash before shooting.

An added bonus of using an external flash is that you'll have adequate light to capture the true colors of your subjects. The wavelengths of red and orange light are absorbed easily by the water, meaning that they're harder to see and for a camera to pick up, but when you add light to the subject, it compensates for that absorption.

To enhance your photos even more, you can use photo editing software on your computer to add the finishing touches. Most of these programs will allow you to crop out extra material around the object or add more color to a subject to make it more realistic. By adding small touch-ups to your images, you can create photos that anyone will love.

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