I got into photography as a way to fill in the time whilst my partner is doing dive courses. (She’s a PADI dive instructor) As you’ll see in the Flickr account, I’ve done a fair bit of snorkel photography, so here’s what I’ve learnt.
Firstly, get yourself feeling comfortable in the water, especially with your snorkelling gear. Underwater photography requires you to concentrate on the framing of shots etc, and this is so much easier when you can just unconsciously use your kit and propel yourself through the water. The fish will be there next time so take some time to become familiar with being in the water.
Instructions for using your camera are specific to the camera you have. Use the underwater mode, and if it has auto functions, shudder correction etc – use them as it makes your life easier. The one thing I will suggest is to turn the flash OFF. As a snorkeler, you’ll have plenty of light for photography, and you won’t get the backscatter issues if you don’t use the flash. The backscatter is caused by suspended particles in the water, and a flash is useless in anything under 2m in the water because of it. I’ve got an Olympus µTough camera, and the Underwater Snapshot mode is the real workhorse for me.
Being in the water, one of the things you’ll notice is the jostling you get from waves and swell. Relax your body and this helps reduce the shakes. Use both hands to hold the camera. I also hold my arms stretched out in front of me, not close to the face. I’m using the back screen to frame the image not the viewfinder. This seems to help stabilise the camera, making it easier to get the shot. If I’m hovering over the subject, I’ll spread my legs wide to help stabilise me. Gentle ankle flips with the fins are usually enough to help align me for the shot.
The most useful technique I’ve found is a slow powered drift. Gentle finning to keep you pointed where you want to go, and then a slow drift into the target. Try to keep your own shadow off the subject, as that will scare most fish species. Oh and don’t hold your breath, as you’ll tense up, just breathe normally!
Duck diving down to a subject is fun, and great way to get a good shot. This is where the extended arms really come into their own as they also help direct you towards the target subject. This one’s a bit trickier, so don’t be afraid of getting shots on the way down and on the way up. A seal roll manoeuvre to stay pointing at the target as you float up is a really useful skill during duck dives.
Lastly, take multiple shots. I’m assuming you have a digital camera, and that’s one of their advantages. Get a reasonable size memory card and you won’t have any issues. It’s sometimes taken me 5 or 6 attempts to get the shot I want. Sometimes you get the shot you want, and sometimes you don’t. Enjoy yourself being in the water, after all that’s why you’re out there isn’t it? Underwater photography is supposed to be a way of adding to your fun, not a way to ruin it.
Most of the hard work in the water will benefit from colour correction when you get back home. Scott Contini had posted some fantastic instructions for colour correction over at the now defunct Sydney Nature forum, which I used to highly recommend. I’ve been following his method using GIMP with great success. Unfortunately I can’t find any simple instructions like his to recommend any more, so it’s a little more complicated.
Essentially with colour correction, what we are really fixing is the white balance to remove a blue-green cast from the photo. This is because the water filters out the red light first leaving a blue-green cast. Our brains tend to automatically compensate for this in the water but the camera records the truth. What Scott demonstrated was adjusting the RBG colour levels to rebalance the photo’s colour balance. The instructions for doing this at Idelish are pretty good at describing the actual process. Skip the first half and just use the RGB levels adjustment process they describe. There’s also some programs that work quite well doing an auto white-balance, but they seem to only work really well for images containing actual white objects. I’ve found the RGB colour level adjustments to be more reliable. For more about how the colour levels tool works, Cambridge in Colour have a great article.
If you take some great photos, please let me know. We all enjoy looking at everyone’s photos, and it just encourages us all to get into the water.