Underwater Pool Photography Tips and Tricks

Taking photos in your own backyard pool is a great way to get new and unique perspectives.  A great photo however doesn’t happen just by chance.  There are lots of details, that as a photographer, you need to stay aware of.

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This tips and tricks guide is designed to help you get the most out of shooting photographs right from your very own backyard pool.

TOP TIP

Communicate with your subject

Taking photos underwater can be a bigger technical challenge for both you as the photographer as well as your subject.  Remember that once you are underneath the water, you will be unable to speak to your subject.  Take the time to discuss with your subject how a great underwater photograph is made.  Simple communication can go a long way.

For example, you might take a few mins and explain to them the effect that bubbles have.  A subject smiling with a bunch of bubbles hanging in their mouth may create a very odd photo.

PREPARATION

This first section of tips is designed to help you prepare for your underwater photography session.

Familiarize yourself with your equipment

This is often overlooked.  While you are in the water, you will have dozens of things to manage and juggle. Be plenty familiar with both your underwater and photography equipment.  Take some time to get more familiar with each piece before trying to put them all into action at once.

Setup your camera before entering the water

Before you jump in the water take a few mins to prepare your camera.  This includes setting the shooting modes, ensuring your batteries and memory cards are ready as well as preparing any lighting sources.

Ensure a watertight seal

Regardless of the equipment being used it is important to ensure that it has a watertight seal.  You would be very disappointed to put a new expensive waterproof camera into the water only to realize that you forgot to close a latch door causing water to flood into a chamber.

Clean the lens

This tip is different depending on the equipment being used – but the concept is universal.  Make sure that you lens is clear of dust, debris, smudges, etc before entering the water.

Use a fresh battery

Chances are, you will be in the water for a decent length of time.  With underwater equipment, changing the battery is often a little more complicated since you need to wait for your equipment to dry.  For this reason make sure that you always enter the water with a fresh set of batteries in your equipment

SAFETY CONSIDERATIONS

The following tips are designed to help you keep you and your subjects safety while underwater at the forefront of your mind.

Don’t risk safety for a shot

This might seem like a no brainer, but it is surprising how often safety is tossed aside in order to get the perfect shot.  When taking shots underwater you and your subject will be more distracted than when on land.  As a result, reaction times, critical thinking, etc, will be performing at a different rate than they normally do above ground.  Always keep you and your subjects safety at the top of your list.

Have a Safety Helper

In order for you to stay focused on the photography, soliciting the help of a third person as a safety aid can be very beneficial.  Charge this person with the responsibility of safety and have them be ready with appropriate life saving devices.

Know CPR

CPR is a relatively easy skill to acquire, often obtained from a simple workshop in a single day. If one of your subjects has an issue in a pool, CPR may need to be applied.

Communicate safety risks

Communicate with your subject before getting in the water about the risks of shooting photos underwater.  Ask them about the concerns that they may have and ensure that they are completely comfortable with the efforts required.  If your subject is not comfortable or has special requests to ensure safety – honor those requests.  If you cannot honor those requests then don’t take photos of that subject under water.  It’s not worth someone getting injured or drowning.

Understand your subjects abilities

Discuss with your subject their abilities under the water.  If they are not an experienced swimmer, take measures to ensure their safety.  Once they are in the pool, take a few moments to observe your subject and assess their swimming abilities.

Watch for swim fatigue

Your subject may tire quickly.  Keep a close eye out for when your subject may be reaching a point of fatigue and needs a break.  Do not push your subject beyond their capabilities.

Learn basic lifeguarding techniques

Learn the basics of how to rescue someone who is drowning within a pool.  You don’t have to become a licensed lifeguard, but as a minimum you should understand and learn the concepts of how to rescue someone without putting the rescuer in risk of drowning as well.

Keep appropriate safety equipment

Having every piece of equipment a lifeguard has might not be practical, but at a minimum, keep a few safety and rescue floats nearby that can be used if someone is struggling in the pool.

CAPTURING IMAGES

Use a flash

If your camera has a flash, use it.  Even on a bright sunny day, the light will get diffused as it travels through the water.  The flash brings out better color detail underwater.  If you don’t have a flash available, you may want to look at a dive light or underwater flashlight which can often give the same effect.

Get perspective for dramatic effects

Looking up or down against your subject can help lend perspective.  As the photographer you have both the challenge of making sure that the photo is captured correctly from a technical standpoint as well as ensuring that the photo is pleasing from an artistic point of view.

Be aware of hair

Shooting photographs of subjects with long hair can often be a challenge.  Keep the subject moving to have their hair flow behind them.  If the stop suddenly, their hair might flow in front of their face.  You may also want to consider using a hair tie or swim cap, depending on the type of shot you want to achieve.

Capture your subjects personality

Don’t forget that a great underwater photography is often achieved by capturing the subjects personality.  Find out what makes the subject unique, then find ways to highlight or bring those unique traits into the photograph.

Use props (safely of course)

Don’t be afraid to use props in your underwater shots.  Not all props are waterproof, so if you take this route you may want to find underwater versions of your props or even find disposable versions that can be discarded afterwards.  For example, if your subject is a guitarist and has a broken guitar they are willing to part with – you may be able to capture a great photograph of them playing the guitar under water.  As with all advice underwater, never use a prop that would jeopardize you or your subjects safety.

Anticipate your subjects movements

There are a few things you can anticipate with your subjects movements.  First is that when they come underwater they will be moving downwards.  Once they equalize out, the air inside their lungs will cause buoyancy and they will start floating upwards (unless they choose to let the air out).  Use this to your advantage to anticipate when to take the shot.  Also keep this in mind when trying to control hair, clothes, etc.

Capture the image quickly

Capturing shots underwater will tire both you and your subject out quickly.  Don’t hesitate to take your shot once it becomes available.  Your photo shoots will most likely be shorter and will provide fewer opportunities to capture the perfect shot – so once you have it – take it.  Of course depending on your lighting situation you may need to wait for your flash to reset, so don’t just fire a shot just to fire it.

Compose your shot

Don’t forget that you are a photographer and that composition matters.  Underwater photography is one of the few photography genres that often allow photographers to get away with bad composition.  Meaning – generally good underwater photos have the subject dead center and fill the frame.  However don’t let this become an excuse.  Apply basic composition rules to have your photography stand apart from others and give it that professional feel.

Try capturing video

Even you profess to be a photographer, you may be pleasantly surprised with how enjoyable a couple quick video clips of your underwater shoots may be.  When capturing videos, use the same principles outlined here of safety, keeping composition in mind, etc.  Also keep your camera as steady as possible and limit your video to short clips highlighting the subject.

Capture video as a second source

If you have an appropriate rig, you may want to consider a second underwater camera that captures video as your capture photos.  This will create a lot of content to review in post and also creates some challenges with lighting.  However it is a great way to add a second source of content to a difficult shooting environment.  For examples of this you may want to watch how SkyDivers video and photograph their subjects at the same time.

PLEASANT EXPERIENCE

Taking photos underwater will be a tiring experience for you and your subject.  Use the following tips to help create a more pleasant experience for everyone involved.

Bring snacks and drinks

After a good underwater photography session you and your subject will most likely burn through a lot of calories and have a lot of pool water in your mouth.  Bring a snack to refuel with and some drinks to get the pool water taste out of your mouth.

Don’t forget the sunscreen

You may want to consider sunscreen for both you and your subject to protect against the sun.  You may be outdoors for an extended period of time.

Have fresh water for cleaning

Chances are the pool will have some level of chlorine or chemicals in it.  After you leave the pool water, clean your equipment off quickly with fresh water.  This prevents the buildup of chemicals on your equipment and helps to extend your equipments life.

Heat the pool

If possible, heat the pool to a comfortable temperature.  This may often be above 75 degrees.  A cold pool may be very refreshing on a hot summer day, however a cold pool on a normal or even windy day may ruin your opportunity to capture a great photograph.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Make the experience pleasant

Your ultimate goal is to capture great underwater photographs.  You will have better luck of achieving that if you work to create a pleasant environment and experience.  There are several tips here on safety – these will help keep your subject at ease.  There are also lots of tips on how to make your subject comfortable and allow them to enjoy their experience.  If your subject is comfortable, then they will be more relaxed and able to achieve the shot you want to capture.

We hope you enjoyed this collection of underwater pool photography tips.  Help us create more resources and tools by sharing this page with your family and friends.

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