Underwater Photo Tips For Inexpensive Cameras by Scott Fratcher and Allison Thompson

A camera can capture a moment where incredible displays can be witnessed. In the photo below an octopus is in the midst of a color change. Note his tentacles are still blue next to the surrounding blue coral while his head has changed color to match the sandy background. The camera stops the action.
In a nutshell our goal in underwater photography is to present the unseen image. Watch your subjects and try to take a photo the moment they change direction, or action. A predator turning to strike, or a fish on his turn of retreat, or a lobster in full swim mode all have the potential to stop the action for an amazing photo. Tip- Set the camera to sport mode for short shutter speeds and use the flash to stop the action, or leave the camera on auto, but forced flash.

Look for octopi from noon to three when they are found working the reefs and rocks in search of food. Keep an eye for the pumping action of the breathing tube to identify a camouflaged octopus sitting in the rocks.



Learn to use macro

Many amazing underwater photos are taken in the extreme close up. This setting on the camera is called macro. The standard digital camera lens will focus to about a half meter. To focus closer, to say 100mm switch the camera to macro mode, and to focus to 10mm use super macro mode. Learn to make this mode change without looking at the camera. For example my Olympus Stylus Tough needs the down button pushed three times, then right once. By knowing this sequence I’m able to quickly change camera modes so I can take the progressive close up photos that we’ll talk about soon.

Close up photos reveal detail snorkelers would never normally see even if they were diving on the spot themselves. For example through photography one can instantly see how a Remora attaches itself to a whale. While the close up of the Christmas Tree Worm reveals not only an interesting formation but the mechanics of breathing and catching food.



Study your subject

Reef fish are creatures of habit that live in food chains and quickly recognize a predator. Many swim up and down a set area of the reef grazing and protecting territory. Grouper will sit on the bottom without moving till they think they have been discovered then they start to fidget. Octopus sit still, and change color to mimic rocks. By studying habits we can position ourselves for the perfect photo.

In the photo above a puffer swam into the coral, bit and retreated to chew. By timing the advance and retreat I was able to look through the viewfinder, set the zoom and catch the fish with his lips retracted, and his teeth exposed in the act of biting making a much more interesting photo.



Great fishing photos

Ever miss a great fishing photo because you did not want to get your camera soaked? A waterproof camera is the answer. Try for photos that show the fish from a new angle.
An action photo of a jumping billfish can be stunning, but a well focused photo down the jaws of a fish showing the inside of the gills can be a once in a lifetime photo.


Tips- Set the camera to sport mode for a fast shutter speed to “freeze” the action. Sight the camera on where you expect the fish to jump and push the “take a photo” button half way to pre-focus so when the fish jumps the camera is ready.

Tip- The rest of the fishermen should know photos are being taken of the fishing. During the critical moments the cameraman can call “photo, photo” and the crew working fish “pause” providing a half second for the camera to catch the action.



Photographing sharks

Everyone loves to look into the eye of a killer. So position yourself in front and below the shark trying to catch the eye and mouth. Notice the two photos.
On the top we see what should be an exciting photograph. Lots of action, ballyhoo fish in perfect focus and sharks hovering in the background, but we’re missing the shark’s eye and mouth. The second photo has much less action, but shows the shark’s uncompromising eyes and killer mouth. What photo caught your attention?

Tip- For snorkeling aim for black tip and white tip reef sharks. They are very curious, but not very aggressive. Stay away from the greenish lemon sharks that can be protective of territory.