People sometimes ask me about my camera equipment and software that I use for taking underwater photos. I put together this quick post that describes how I get fairly good underwater pictures and movies without spending a fortune or sitting at a computer all day “editing” a photo.
My underwater pictures aren’t “professional”, but they’re good enough to show friends and family. Also, they’re good enough to enlarge to 11×14 prints, hang on the wall and daydream about returning to the Hawaiian Islands again someday.
Note: The images I inserted into this blog will appear “grainy” since they are low resolution to discourage people from copying them.
My first underwater camera
Several years ago I started with a camera like the one below. You’ll see them in most ABC Stores. Here’s a link to this camera on Amazon.
Your typical picture will look like the ones below (these were adjusted by the folks who developed the film).
No matter how much you try to adjust these photos with photo editing software they just won’t look very good.
These cameras have a built-in flash. This can be a disadvantage since it tends to “light up” the debris that naturally occurs in the ocean.
Also, the film can be expensive and you only get about 24 shots which isn’t nearly enough. For example, on the Big Island I went snorkeling and took about 70 photos in 2 hours. I went home with about 200 photos from that trip.
My current underwater camera
I have been using an Olympus 850 SW 8mp for a few years Here’s a link to this camera on Amazon (although, I don’t remember it being this expensive).
The absolute best photos I’ve taken with this camera (you know, the one where people say “you should sell that photo”) are the ones I’ve posted in my blogs here about the Hawaiian Islands.
These cameras are waterproof to 10 feet, so they’re not for diving, just snorkeling with the occasional dive. I don’t have the waterproof case (they can cost as much as the camera).
This camera saves images as .jpg. I’m sure newer cameras save images in various formats.
You may try taking the same photo with and without the flash. It’s difficult to determine how the photo will look until you see it on a big screen. The flash might work well in some cases but other times it reflects too much debris. For example, these guys below were taken with a flash and they’re a little too bright and unnatural:
I can take underwater movies too?
Yep! The nice thing about this camera is that it takes underwater movies as well. In case you encounter that rare turtle or Spotted Eagle Ray and a still picture just doesn’t work you can flip to “movie mode” and take a movie like I did Spotted Eagle Rays (1:30 min long, I added some interesting info as well). It may look foggy but they were about ~30 feet below me.
Of course, taking movies really limits your battery life.
I have spare batteries and extra memory cards that I swap out on a regular basis just in case my camera floods. I invested in a float strap too.
Just point and shoot, right?
Well, not exactly. Underwater photography while snorkeling can be difficult for the following reasons:
- Fish don’t pose. They think you’re going to eat them so they avoid you.
- Even small ocean currents can push you around while trying to center a fish in the photo.
- Ocean debris can obscure the most beautiful fish.
- The sun is essential but not always present when you need it. A flash can’t compensate for the beautiful natural sunlight shining through the water onto the natural color of fish or coral.
Now you know why I usually take 20-30 underwater photos each time I go snorkeling. It’s a little challenging but rewarding when you get great pictures.
I’ve heard that underwater photography while diving is much easier since you don’t have to deal with some of the factors above.
As an aside: Let me mention a little something about the Green Sea Turtles you’ll see in Hawaii. Several times when snorkeling alone or nearly alone I’ve had a turtle swim within ~10 feet of me and stay there for a few mins. They’re curious who you are. As long as you gently flap your fins (no arm movements) they’ll swim next to you for a few minutes.
However, some of the more obnoxious (or uninformed) snorkelers begin yelling “Turtle! Turtle!” and try to cuddle with it like a household pet. Of course the turtle is going to swim away when they see and hear all that! Also, it is illegal to touch or come within 10 feet of these turtles. Read more about these turtles here and at the Hanauma Bay site.
I only adjusted the photos on this blog a little with some photo editing software, which leads me to my next point.
Photo editing software
I use an old copy of Microsoft Digital Image Suite 2006. It was cheap and it works for me. I’m sure there is newer software by other manufacturers that does the same thing. In a few minutes I can remove the green haze, some debris floating in the water and make a photo look acceptable. For example:
Underwater photo sites
Finally, I wanted to include my favorite underwater photo sites. I’m sure there are many more but these are the ones I use alot. They’re instructive, well organized and have tips for taking underwater photos. I’ve taken photos of strange fish then later I used these sites to find fish names. These sites have truly professional photos.