After spending 6 months here in Belize, I had the opportunity to take a lot of pictures underwater. A lot of volunteers have been asking me for some tips on how to take better pictures, so here are my advice:
1. Know your equipment
You can take good pictures with any camera, but you will need to know your equipment and how to make it work before going in the water. I personally work with a simple Go Pro but you can also use some more sophisticated underwater cameras. The important thing is to check the settings of your cameras, how to switch between video and photo mode easily. If you have a flash, then you will work differently than if you don’t, if you have a red filter you will need to work at the correct depth. You should practice all those settings at home before going underwater, as once you are diving you have enough things to think about than to change the settings on your camera.
2. Choose a subject and the right angle
A classic mistake while getting in the water is to take landscape pictures of the reef thinking that every fish and coral will be visible in the picture. If you do that, you will end up with green or blue pictures and a very sad dead looking reef in the distance. To avoid this problem, pick a subject, like one fish or one coral colony, and get as close to it as you can. Water reduces colour, contrast, and brightness and getting closer to the subject mitigates this effect. It’s also always better to shoot a subject at an upward angle, do not shoot « down » at the subject as you will end up with a green background most of the time instead of the clear blue water! If you don’t use a flash, then you also always need to think about the sun. You should position yourself between the sun and your subject so that the sun illuminates your picture.
3. Be quiet and still!
Most marine animals are scared of divers, and approaching a fish to take a picture do not work well for most beginner divers who spew lots of bubbles around and gesticulate a lot. Instead, work on your buoyancy, stay still, and only use slow frog kicks to move and never your arms! Breath slowly too and wait for the subject you want to photograph to get used to your presence and finally take the picture you wanted to take. But if you really want to approach marine life closer and take even better pictures, I would advise on working on your freediving skills. There is nothing more rewarding than taking a perfect picture after holding your breath long enough to approach your subject so quietly than it didn’t even notice your presence. Something you can’t do while scubadiving with a heavy and noisy equipment.
4. Know your subject
Fish species show a wide range of behaviour and knowing about their differences will help you take better picture. For beginners, I would advise on trying to photograph territorial species like damselfish, clown fish, or moray eels as you can approach them very close and they won’t move, even coming very close to the camera to defend their territory. On the other hand, parrotfish or other reef grazers are fast paced fish always swimming around without a stop and very hard to photograph!
5 Editing is key
Even if you follow every advice to take the best picture possible, it will still need some editing to look like what you saw underwater. Luckily, you won’t need some very sophisticated software to obtain good results with your pictures. The Instagram App, for example, offers now a wide range of manual settings to edit your pictures. The most important ones are brightness, contrast, and warmth. Do you want to get rid of the green looking water surrounding your subject? Just reduce the temperature until it looks blue, raise the contrast and brightness, and your picture will already look a lot better.
Finally, take a lot of pictures! The more you take, the bigger chance of one being good! Also, share your pictures with your friends on social media and if you volunteer with us, use the hashtag #Frontiergap to share your experience with other volunteers from around the world!