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10 Things You Need To Know About Underwater Photography

  1. Camera Gear

Use what you’re most comfortable.  If you rely on a GoPro or other device, use it.  We’re focusing on cameras (DSLR, Mirrorless, Film, Medium Format, etc) since they are powerful, and offer the most options in term of quality, capture, control, and optical flexibility.  Your creativity should not be limited or bound by the device or technology.  And if your vision means using multiple devices, go for it.  If possible, use a housing solution that accommodates much of your gear.


  1. Best Lens

Lens choice depends greatly on your creative vision (desired shot) and water conditions. Underwater photography differs most from air/normal photography in that the color pallet is different, lighting and sharpness are greatly affected by water conditions, and gravity rules no longer apply. As a result, wide-angle lenses are often preferred for underwater capture, because:

  • Proximity to the subject reduces water variance from being a factor, allowing you shaper, precise optical focus.
  • Proximity to the subject reduces lighting variance from being a factor, allowing you to control the lighting as desired.
  • Lack of gravity allows you to frame/compose the shot more freely, allowing you to capture the subject from virtually any angle, and managing lighting and clarify in ways that fit your desired outcomes.

This does not mean you should only use wide angle lenses.  But Keep in mind that shooting in a new medium requires you to rethink “traditional” rules of engagement and execution


 3. Water Conditions

Opacity may seem like the obvious variable.  But it’s more than that.  Aside from visibility and debris in the water that may come into frame inadvertently you have to consider temperature, and lighting conditions.  So keep those things in mind.

  • Factor water visibility and color characteristics into your vision. In other words, research the conditions before you actually shoot, or be prepared to accommodate the realities of the environment into your artistic vision, or in post-production.  Water conditions vary greatly from beach, ocean, lake, river, or pool.  And can vary greatly within each of those.  The same shore break looks wildly different in different currents, weather patterns, and tide.  And even pools can look totally different depending on filtration, debris in the water, size, paint color, and surroundings.  Factor that into your thinking.
  • Lighting travels much differently in water than in air. Most/all of the visibility in most bodies of water are within 10 meters/33 feet of water.  Below that you’ll need your own light supply.  And keep in mind that opacity will impact how far light will travel, so factor that into your thinking and gear settings.
  • Temperature is surprisingly important, because it will impact your comfort and those of the subjects if they’re not in their natural habitat. And it can require additional planning that novices may have not considered, such as wetsuits, weights, length of the shoot, etc.

     4.  Waterproof Housing

    Get the housing that best accommodates your vision, objectives, and budget.  There are dedicated housings for diving, or surfing, for example, but they may underperform in a pool, or for travel, for example.  Or vice versa.  Things to consider include:

    • Design intent; Dive housings are great for diving, but can be heavy, bulky, and expensive. These cases are often camera/lens specific.  Bags are more modular, but do not offer tactile or precise access to controls and settings. 
    • Optics; Most housings/cases use plastic optical elements, such as acrylic, not glass, and that can be an optical limitation. Acrylic is plastic.  It’s also important to understand that many housings have a singular lens case for multiple lenses, rather than conforming to each lens.  This creates vignetting of wide-angle lenses, because the lens field-of-view may be partially blocked by the housing enclosure.  Make sure your housing can accommodate multiple lenses and is designed to accommodate each lens’s required field-of-view, and optical qualities such as virtual imaging in the case of Domes.
    • Upgradeability; Most people have multiple cameras and lenses they wish to use. And the speed of technology continues to be fast, so consider a housing that can accommodate multiple cameras (DSLR, Mirrorless, Film, Medium Format, etc), multiple lenses (included hooded, curved, or fisheye lenses), and can grow with your needs over time.
    • Modularity; Consider as well the possibility of using tripods, mounts, lighting, and tethering (cables for power, data, video, control, etc). Not all housings are light enough to be mounted on a drone, a tripod boom, or enable tethering to a computer, battery, or trigger for time-lapse, remote-mounting, or lighting.
    • Factor the initial cost of the housing gear, the upgrade/expand cost over time, and travel costs associated with space & weight.


    1. Have a vision

    As obvious as this may sound to some, thinking thru your desired outcomes is often more important than anything else, since both preparation and execution depend on it.  All of the other points are important, but they can only shape the outcomes based on how you prepare and execute your vision. If you don’t know where you’re going, that’s exactly where you’ll be.


    Whether it’s your own creative motivation, a specific shot you’re painting with your camera, or the client’s articulation of the results, having a vision for the work will help you get there, as well as the timing and budget.



    1. Domes Ports, and Glass vs. Plastic

    Most housings, even very expensive options, offer plastic or acrylic optical ports.  And some of them are good.  But there’s a reason your lens uses optical glass – it’s better.  Keep that in mind.

    If you’re planning to shoot underwater and split-level photography, where part of the image is above, and part underwater, use Domes.  Domes correct the aberrations caused by the change in light speed as it travels from air into water.  Additional information on how Domes help can be found at under Questions -> Products -> Domes, but in short, Domes reduce the distortional effects created by that bending of light from air to water, as well as making it easier for the camera & lens to find focus in the desired area of the image when appropriately adjusted.  Not all housings are customized for every lens.  So try to find a solution that takes things like focal length, differing lens use, and virtual image into account.


    1. Subject/Model

    If you’re capturing native species or natural environments, your concern will revolve around getting them to “behave” in ways that suit your vision, or to show up at all.  So again, preparation and understanding of the environmental conditions are key.  You can’t direct marine life or script a set of circumstances to suit your requirements.  But you can be in the right place at the right time to capture that special moment.


    Conversely, if you’re hiring a model, keep in mind that dry land skills are completely different from those required underwater.  Things to consider:

    • Water comfort; Someone not comfortable in the water will not be able to hold their breath and “make faces” if they can’t open their eyes, blow their air out, or hold their pose underwater. Recruit accordingly.  “Water-people” such as swimmers, divers, synchronized swimmers, surfers, life-guards, etc.” often make better models than models. 
    • Attire; Flowy, water resistant material are best. They can be reused and help convey movement and fill up the frame. Bright colors are helpful since the water can dampen some of the dynamic range.  Avoid blending in with the background unless you can control it.
    • Hair/Makeup; Waterproof makeup is fairly easy to find, and hair spray can add a “layer of protection” to conventional makeup when lightly applied over it. Because of the water’s dampening effect, accentuate the desired level/intensity of the makeup to compensate/accentuate it accordingly.  Hair is inevitability a dynamic component of underwater work.  Embrace it, or control it.  It can add a tremendous element of movement and mystery if desired, but can be a nuisance if not accounted-for.  
    • Movement; Fluidity is key – pun intended. Think of the difference between a dancer and a cheerleader.  Water tends to reward gradual and graceful instead of fast, jerky motion.  Use the lack of gravity to fill your composition.  Hand & arm movements can fill up the frame, while floating leg movements differentiate them dramatically from what’s possible on land.


    1. Lighting

    Underwater lighting is perhaps more varied, nuanced, and complex than airborne lighting.  Experience comes over time and the rules of engagement are dramatically different.  Just as with all photography beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so I’ll focus on some obvious differences:

    • Embrace the color differences water will introduce. Let them guide, inspire, and push your creativity.
    • Consider both strobe & constant-on lighting options. Some housings will accommodate flash/strobe lights inside or tethered to the camera.  And there are powerful, capable, waterproof lighting options that are ideally paired for mirrorless cameras’ inherent capability.  (Use the promo code “Outex” for 20% off Light And Motion waterproof light solutions.)
    • Embrace reflection & refraction. Light changes speed (and therefore direction) as it travels from air into water.  It therefore not only reflects from surfaces, but also refracts within the water, creating visual effects that are uniquely aquatic.  So whether its water droplets on the lens or rays of light flowing thru the water, learn to identify them so you can control their effects accordingly.


    1. Fogging & Water Beading

    There’s no getting around physics, and certain conditions are a direct result of competing elements that don’t usually come together.  All cameras are different, and some generate or isolate more heat than others.  User conditions are also different, so if you’re running video and tethering in the Bahamas, your heat coefficient is likely different from a casual snorkeler in Southern California.  Rather than explaining all the variables associate with fogging, we’re focusing on some tips/tricks:

    • Turn your battery on only as needed, since that’s the heating element for the trapped air inside your housing.
    • If you can, reduce the amount of trapped air inside the housing.
    • Seal your housing in a cool environment. Cool air has less moisture, which will inherently condense less than warmer air.
    • Pack a silica-gel pack inside the housing. The moisture-wicking qualities of these desiccant packs helps reduce internal humidity.
    • In case of over-heating of the gear, turn it off, allow it to cool, and vent it by opening the housing.
    • Avoid direct sunlight to prevent overheating.
    • Keep the gear in the housing in an environment that’s similar to your shooting environment. In other words, avoid extreme changes, such as direct sunlight for several minutes right before you jump into a very cold body of water.  For example, if you’re in a boat, keep the camera in the shade, covered, or in a cooler so that the temperature swing in use won’t drastically differ.
    • Acclimatize in the shooting environment. In other words, wait for the fogging to subside on its own.  For example, if you see fogging from jumping into the water, give it a few minutes.  The water temperature itself may counterbalance the camera’s battery heat and self-regulate.
    • Most housings use acrylic/plastic ports.  All Outex ports are made of optical glass.  Any hydrophobic substance you can use on glass can be used on Outex glass optics.  Examples include RainX, Clarify, etc. Keeping the optics clean of any debris, dirt, body oils & lotions, or any other substance is one of the best things you can do to prevent water from collecting on it.  But when it doesn't, simply dipping it back in the water right before you snap can help remove it.


    1. Weight & Float

    Be prepared to regulate for float, both for the housing, your own, and that of the models.  Not all housings allow you to control float, and some may sink.  Keep that in mind and inquire as if your housing allows for some sort of float/air control.  The models will have to self-regulate, which usually means letting off air/sinking to a desired position.  Behind the camera, you can use weight belts, specially if you’re using a wetsuit.  Wetsuits increase your buoyancy significantly, wo weights are almost required if you’re going to use them.

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