FAQ about Underwater Photography

General questions about underwater photography.

How do you take a camera underwater?

Most conventional cameras can be taken underwater in a waterproof housing. The openings and controls through the housing are sealed with rubber “O” rings. Cheap and effective plastic housings are available for many compact digital cameras.

What camera equipment do you use?

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I used to use Nikon 801 film cameras in Subal housings (In the North America, the Nikon 801 is known as the 8008), mostly with one or two Sea&Sea YS90 strobes. The lenses were Sigma 14mm, Tokina 20-35mm, Nikon 28-70mm, Nikon micro 60mm and Sigma 105mm macro. My usual film was Fuji Sensia 100ASA, but I did occasionally use other film types and speeds.

I now use a Nikon D200, again in a Subal housing, with Inon Z240 strobes. An additional wide angle lens for digital use is the Sigma 10-20mm wide angle zoom. This system takes fantastically crisp pictures and I have had no need to return to film since going digital.

For pocket use, I have a Canon S70 which I occasionally take underwater in the plastic housing that Canon make to go with it. Provided I take pictures within the limitations of the camera, pictures from this pocket camera have been published at full page.

Where can I get an underwater camera?

In the UK try Ocean Optics ( www.oceanoptics.co.uk ). They are the UK dealer for Subal and a variety of other housings, cameras and accessories.

Who do I talk to and how do I get started? What basic training in underwater photography is available?

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The PADI underwater photography speciality course is potentially a good foundation, but is often let down by an instructor who is not really a photographer, just a diving instructor running a speciality. View some of the instructor's work and see if it is any good before signing up for the course. Inquire about published work.

I enjoy snorkeling but have not yet learned to dive. I want to take pictures underwater. Where do I start?

You could take underwater photos as a snorkeller, or you could learn to dive. An easy introduction is to buy a book and a plastic box housing for a compact digital camera. At shallow depths in strong sunlight these can produce OK results, even without a strobe (flash). Read the book then take the camera snorkelling anywhere that the water is clear. The most important thing with this type of shot is to get slightly lower than the subject and aim slightly upward.

Next option is to learn to dive and then do a photo course. Your local diving shop or dive centre will also be able to provide details, but you don't have to do it all locally. It is possible to book a holiday somewhere tropical with diving lessons and the photography course included.

How good a diver do I have to be?

Only try and take pictures on dives well within your capabilities. With that in mind, to take pictures on an easy dive you don't have to be that experienced a diver. To work professionally you also have to be a diver who is very comfortable in the water and has near-perfect buoyancy control. If you have to worry at all about your diving, then you won't have time to concentrate on your photography.

What kind of careers are there involving underwater photography?

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There are few employers of underwater photographers. Nearly all the work is self-employed. You have to develop your own business right from the start. Most underwater photographers also have other businesses, such as commercial photography, diving instructing etc. Very few make a living from underwater photography alone.

How do I get my work published?

Magazine editors usually want text to go with pictures, so you need to be able to write a story. Competition is fierce. It is hard to break in to a magazine, but once an editor has published you they will give you some preferential treatment in the future.

A fellow freelance contributor to Diver magazine, Brendan O'Brien, has a blog with tips for budding photographers and writers. www.brendiversworld.com

How do I learn to take good photographs?

My best advice is to take lots of pictures. Also look at pictures in books and magazines and think about why you do or don't like them. You could also join an underwater photography group such as the British Society of Underwater Photographers (BSoUP) ( www.bsoup.org ) where you will be able to get lots of advice and help from other photographers.

Are there any college courses in underwater photography?

I don't know of any college courses devoted solely to underwater photography, but most general photography courses include room for project work, and an underwater project is always a possibility. When it comes to getting published, editors usually want text to go with pictures, so college courses with a journalism content may also be of use. Very few underwater photographers have formal photographic training. Most start out as divers or marine biologists.

If I want to become an underwater photographer, what university courses should I take?

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Keep as broad a base as possible. I would suggest a marine biology degree, and a pursuit of photography and diving in your spare time. Very few marine biology courses actually include diving. Diving is usually left to student clubs, so pick a university that has a very active student diving club. In the UK, Bristol University where I studied has a good diving club (I am still an instructor there).

If you want to become a professional marine biologist you will need to go on to a doctorate in marine biology. For other underwater careers, including photography, the marine biology degree will be useful background. Having said all that, my degree was in physics.

Commercial diving can also involve underwater photography, but solely for engineering rather than artistic purposes.

What other routes are there into underwater photography?

Other underwater photographers have come from a wide variety of backgrounds:

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Last Updated: Sun Mar 13 2011