Best Tips for Photographing Underwater Ocean Life

Ocean Photography

As a photographer you are used to taking photos of people, animals, landscapes and buildings. What you might find surprising is how different shooting underwater can be. Your lens may need to be adjusted so it focuses accurately on the subject, and this can be tricky if the water is cloudy or murky. You’ll need to get into some kind of wet suit to make sure you aren’t breathing in water. You’ll also need to keep your camera close to the subject to achieve sharp shots, so you may need to use a waterproof housing. Finally, to ensure you can see your subject clearly, you’ll need to keep your subject’s movement to a minimum. Here are some tips to help you with your photography under the sea.

1. Take a deep breath.

Ocean Photography

This may sound odd, but it will help you to relax. When you are about to jump in the water, take a few deep breaths to prepare yourself for the dive. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. It may seem strange at first, but the trick will soon become second nature.

2. Get in the right gear.

If you haven’t got your wet suit already, this is a good time to do so. You can also use a waterproof case, but the case will need to be removed before you get in the water. It’s best to keep your camera and lenses in the waterproof case until you are ready to shoot.

3. Keep your movements to a minimum.

Ocean Photography

Try to shoot using the widest aperture possible and set your shutter speed as low as possible to freeze any movements in the subject. If you’re using flash, turn it off. To reduce blurring, zoom out (move the lens closer to your subject) to make your subject appear larger.

4. Focus on the eyes.

Your camera can automatically focus on the closest object, but it’s often more effective to focus on the eyes of your subject, which will be in sharp focus. Try zooming in (moving the lens towards the subject) to make the subject bigger and then refocusing on the eyes.

5. Check your settings.

Before you start shooting, make sure you have set your camera’s exposure mode to manual. This allows you to change your settings as you take each shot. Make sure you are using the right ISO speed. It’s not unusual to use ISO 200, but if you find the subject is too bright, try ISO 800 or even 1600.

6. Turn off your flash.

Ocean Photography

If you are using continuous shooting, it will be easier to keep track of your settings. If you are using a single flash, you will need to check your settings again once you switch the flash back on.

7. Set the timer.

If you are using a single flash, it is important to make sure you are in the right setting. For example, if you have set it to a continuous firing setting, it will continue to fire even if the subject stops moving. This is helpful if you want to take a series of photos, but if you are photographing a subject such as a fish, you will need to make sure your subject is still when you switch the flash back on.

8. Get your hands wet.

While you are holding your camera and lens, keep your hand dry. If you are using a wet case, make sure you hold the camera and lens in a way that keeps your hand dry.

Other tips for you


The best subjects are those that are close to you. That means photographing corals that are growing above water, as this will provide a strong reference point. However, you could photograph coral growing beneath the surface using a camera housing. Alternatively, go snorkeling and use a small underwater camera such as a Canon Powershot S120 to take pictures of corals in the ocean.


Shoot in RAW mode. This will enable you to control the tonal range and color balance of your images. RAW files are larger than JPEGs and therefore take longer to process.


Use a wide-angle lens to capture a lot of scenery. These lenses are ideal for underwater photography as they have a large focal length. The wider the angle, the less the distortion and the more background you will see.


Turn off flash when shooting underwater. When you use a strobe, the ambient light can be reflected back at you causing “sparkle”. You can use a flashlight to illuminate your subject, but make sure you turn it off before you take the shot.


Do not use a flash underwater. The intense light will cause damage to the corals. Instead, turn on the LED ring on the front of your camera and adjust the intensity as needed.


Bring a neutral density filter. This will reduce the exposure of your subject to allow for a bright background. Neutral density filters come in various densities, so you need to find one that will be strong enough to reduce the brightness of your scene. Try to find one that has a transmission factor of 80–100%.


Choose a shallow depth. To get a close-up of corals, you need to be able to reach the water and move slowly. The further down you go, the deeper the pressure on your body will be.


Use the right settings. Most cameras will allow you to choose between aperture and shutter speed, but some underwater cameras will let you choose between ISO, white balance, and focus. Experiment to find the settings that work for your scene.


Have fun! Don’t let the process get in the way of enjoying yourself. Shooting underwater is not only rewarding, but relaxing too. You will also be amazed by how many different things there are to see.


Stay safe. Always check the weather forecast. If there are any strong tidal currents, you should not go in. Avoid swimming near boats or other divers, and never dive alone.