The last few years have seen some great advancements in affordable compact cameras that allow users to photograph the undersea world. While the majority of these cameras are limited to depths of 50ft or below, we are starting to see several that can now be taken down to further depths.
While these cameras might not be right for serious scuba divers, these might be right on the money for vacationing snorkelers and recreational divers going to shallow depths. The following list of tips and tricks are designed for users who want tog et the most out of their compact underwater cameras.
Avoid backscatter with an external flash
If you have the ability to use an external flash or strobe, take advantage of this. Doing so will allow you to turn your internal flash off and avoid backscatter. Backscatter is caused by internal flashes illuminating the particles of dust and other materials in between your flash and the subject. if you have ever wondered what all those white dots are in your underwater shots, those are known as backscatter.
Use the underwater mode
Many of these compact underwater cameras have special settings for underwater. This generally helps set the aperture and white balance for you. Some compact cameras even have a few different underwater settings allowing you to choose between low light, close up macros, etc.
If your camera does not have an underwater mode, then it is advised to use a macro mode as you will want to be as close to your subjects as possible. You will also need to manually set your white balance so you may want to have a grey card or similar tool handy.
Read your camera’s manual for it’s macro capabilities
You will get better shots when you take them close up to your subject, similar to macro photography. Fill the frame with your subject. Compact cameras have different macro capabilities so read up on how close your camera is able to get while still maintaining a sharp focus.
Practice before entering the water
Practice changing your cameras settings underwater in a pool or bathtub. Even better is to do this with a mask and snorkel on to mimic your conditions while out snorkeling. You may be surprised how difficult it can be to navigate your cameras settings while under water. You may even need to adjust your LCD playback settings so that you can see your menus and previews properly while underwater.
Flash effective range
Many cameras will have a setting in their user manual explaining the flash effective range. Remember that underwater this is not necessarily the case. Even if your compact underwater camera says that it has an effective flash range of 15 feet, underwater that effective range will be more in the range of 3-4 feet. if you are shooting at more of a distance then 3-4 feet your internal flash will have little effect.
If you are shooting at a distance of more then 3-4 feet, turn off your internal flash. This will provide richer and deeper looking ocean water as well as better colors captured on your subject. if you are within the 3-4 feet range take advantage of your flash to get better colors out of your subjects.
Consider using a camera float
Chances are that you will be at the surface taking your photos. You may want to consider a camera float so that your camera does not drop to the depths if you accidentally loose control of it. This is not as critical for scuba divers as they often descend to the ocean floor.
Your camera may have a very powerful zoom lens on it, but we don’t recommend using it. Your best bet for quality imagery is to get as close as possible to your subject. Zooming in on your subject causes odd behavior and deteriorates the quality of the image. Zoom if you absolutely must – but try tog et as close as possible.
Account for visibility
Underwater visibility is similar to visibility above water. How far are you able to see? Low visibility underwater is caused by storms, changes in tides, water debris or general rough conditions in the water. When your visibility is low you will need to be really close to your subjects in order to capture them properly. If your are not close then you will end up with a lot of photos that just capture the surrounding debris in the water.