Getting Started in Underwater Photography – Part 1

Written by Steve & Jolene Philbrook

Jace-with-manateeWe have all experienced breath-taking moments while snorkeling or scuba diving. Whether you are drifting along a beautiful reef, snorkeling next to a whale shark, or just watching the sun dance on a sandy ocean floor – in those moments, we inevitably think, “My (insert – friend, coworkers, spouse, kids, etc.) have GOT to see this!” Unfortunately, we can’t always convince them to join us as we explore the beauty that lies beneath, but we can bring those incredible moments to them with pictures and videos!

You may have considered diving with a camera before, but where do you begin? What questions should you ask when researching the right camera for you? There is so much information out there and so many different cameras! What’s important? Yes, investing in the proper camera and housing can seem like a daunting task. This article will help you focus on key elements as your begin the process of getting started in underwater photography.

Canon Point & Shoot Digicam

Canon Point & Shoot Digicam

The Camera

Your first focus is choosing a digital camera. Weeding through the many manufacturers and models can be overwhelming so let’s break this down. Since you are just getting started, you’ll probably want to focus on the point-n-shoot cameras (a.k.a. digicams). Digicams have many advantages. They are inexpensive, small in size, and have the potential for producing professional quality pictures. You can easily narrow down your choices by focusing on a few recommended camera features when choosing a digicam.


Nauticam aluminum digicam housing

There is one feature that your camera truly needs for underwater photography. The camera you choose should have a “Custom” or “Manual” white balance setting option. This is especially important if you are going to shoot HD video. Most digicams now come with HD Video and when you use the Custom White Balance feature, you add color to your images & video without a strobe or any video light attached. This little feature pays big dividends! When used properly, white balance gives you colorful and detailed images and video while keeping your first camera system low in cost and more compact. (For more on custom white balance, see last month’s article titled “Custom White Balance and Underwater Photography”.)

Another recommended feature to consider is a camera’s RAW image capability. Most digicams only allow pictures to be taken as compressed jpeg files. RAW files are uncompressed files that capture greater detail than jpeg files and allow more post processing power without degrading your photo. This is not a required feature but highly recommended. Shooting raw images will allow you to achieve the best quality image possible. This is important as you become more experienced with the art of photography and inevitably begin delving into post editing your images. Choosing a camera with the raw file feature will greatly narrow down your camera choices but will also increase your price tag a bit. If cost is a big factor, don’t worry! RAW file capability will probably not be important to you at first. There is a plethora of less expensive digicams from Canon, Nikon, Olympus, and Panasonic that only shoot jpegs and will work just fine as you get started on your photography hobby! But if you decide to invest in a system that comes with RAW image capabilities, your focus will be directed towards a few select camera models: Canon’s “S” and “G” series, Sony’s RX100 series, and Panasonic’s Lumix LX series.



Ikelite acrylic digicam housing

As you choose your camera, keep in mind your need for an underwater housing! Many a folk buy a camera they intend to shoot underwater only to discover later that no one makes an underwater housing for it! There are several manufacturers who build underwater housings but not for all of their camera models. Consider a third party manufacturer, such as Ikelite, when choosing your housing. Ikelite specializes in quality acrylic underwater housings and offers a huge selection of digicam housings. Based out of Indiana, Ikelite’s housings are relatively inexpensive, adaptable to many wet mount conversion lenses, and the company provides great customer service to their authorized dealers. Another housing vendor to consider is Nauticam. Nauticam housings are geared more towards advanced (prosumer) digicams or those photographers desiring precision machined-aluminum housings.



Housing with strobe and external macro lens

When choosing a camera and housing, consider the long haul. Like all new photographers, you will soon find that your digicam alone will not be suitable for shooting every photo you want to capture. For example, no camera without accessories is capable of photographing all images from the size of shipwrecks to small macro critters. In order to have this type of shooting flexibility, you will eventually want to be able to add the proper accessories to your camera system. Therefore, when you make your initial investment, choose a camera that can grow with you and your skills. Start with just the camera and housing and as you master the potential of your setup, you can eventually add a wide angle, fisheye, or macro lens to help capture a certain dramatic look or feel you desire. Or you may decide to add a strobe for achieving that spectacular color pop you see in the pros pictures or to add a creative lighting element to your photos. So make sure to check with your housing’s manufacturer to ensure they support the accessories necessary to expand your system – primarily lens and strobe capability.

It has never been so easy to capture professional looking images that will blow away your friends and family. Even as a beginner, with the right tools and know-how, you can take those breath-taking moments and transfer them into pictures and videos that will leave the viewers in awe! There is no need to be overwhelmed in the process of choosing a camera system. Focusing on the most important camera features, housing components, and accessory capabilities will send you well on your way to getting started in underwater photography. So what are you waiting for? Get started today!

If you would like help choosing your first camera system (or any system), the staff at Aquaventure would be happy to guide you through the process and get you started on your photography journey!