Photography Inspiration » 11 Tips for Underwater Macro Photography

11 Tips for Underwater Macro Photography

Underwater macro photography captures an incredible variety of little, strange, and lovely animals that inhabit our oceans. It is one of the most gratifying and simple types of photography. To find the small creatures that are often well hidden, you’ll need a sharp eye and a thorough grasp of the animal you wish to shoot. 

However, with the right equipment, as well as the necessary knowledge you’ll gather the necessary abilities to become a successful underwater macro photographer in no time. Check out the following essential macro photography tips that will assist you in honing your underwater photography skills.

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Choose the Right Gear

Cameras

You will, of course, require a dedicated underwater camera. Luckily, you have a lot of wonderful options. Compact cameras have evolved dramatically in recent years, and now you can easily get an underwater camera for a reasonable price. Second-hand cameras are an option too.

Many camera companies provide acrylic housings for their small camera types, which are usually far less expensive than third-party models.

Based on your budget and preferences, you can choose a camera that performs well at depth, one that provides video capabilities, or one with extreme maneuverability.

Lenses

If you choose a compact camera, make sure it provides optical zoom to let you take macro photos. If you use a DSLR, you can choose between wide-angle lenses that let you get close to your subject or macro lenses that provide good magnification. For example, Nikon 60 mm Macro Lens is a popular choice. Panasonic 45 mm, Olympus 60 mm, Canon EF-S 60mm Macro Lens, and Sony 50mm or 90mm macro lens are also popular among underwater photographers. 

When you can’t get close to your subject for various reasons, a telephoto lens will help you achieve the magnification you want while keeping your distance. In this case, you can choose a lens with a longer focal length such as Sigma 150 mm or Nikon 105 mm VR. For beginners, a zoom lens that provides a range of focal lengths such as Nikon 16-35mm F4 VR or Canon 24-70mm F2.8 II can prove to be more versatile and easier to use.

Lighting

Light is essential for good exposure and sharp photos. You don’t want to use slow shutter speeds underwater so having additional lights is very useful. Take into consideration the ambient light when you plan your photo session. Although you can manage with ambient light, having an artificial source of light allows capturing more accurate colors and enhancing contrast.

You can also use the built-in flash for macro subjects but in most cases, you’ll probably be better with one or two strobes. Some underwater photographers also use a video light, which is a dive light design for underwater video. Each additional source of light should be studied in detail as it influences camera settings and compositional options.

Diopters

A wet diopter, also called a wet lens or magnifier, is a piece of equipment that magnifies the subject and helps you achieve the magnification ratio you want. They are cheaper than buying a better-performing macro lens, come in different strengths, and some of them are even stackable.

However, diopters come with their share of disadvantages. They may affect the quality of the images by creating ghosting, chromatic aberrations, distortions, and poor contrast. Diopters tend to work better with lenses with longer focal lengths (e.g. 100 mm and above).

Camera Cases

An underwater camera case, also known as underwater housing, is beneficial to anyone who plans to spend time in the water. An underwater housing is a camera casing for your favorite topside camera and it offers more advanced features than one might expect. 

It permits complete control of the camera while diving and is waterproof up to 10 meters / 33 feet. It makes no difference if you use a Nikon, Sony, Canon, or Olympus camera. Whether you use a DSLR or a mirrorless camera, having the correct underwater camera bag is a must.

Find a Good Subject for Underwater Macro Photography

One of the best things about macro photography is that there are so many different subjects to choose from. Everything from a little fish to a bubble and the patterns of a unique crab provides excellent subjects. 

On your dives, you might frequently skip over all of the usual fish and invertebrates. Yet, most people will never have the chance to meet the creatures of the ocean and these “familiar” themes are nevertheless astounding.

Photo by Egor Kamelev from Pexels

Before you go diving, you should have a good concept of what you’re looking for, what kind of environment it lives in, and what depth ranges it lives in. You should also know your subject’s behavior, where it likes to hide, and when it is most active.

You must be able to assess a subject’s potential. In time, you’ll learn to skip some subject matters or themes because there is no prospect of capturing a good photo. As always, practice is key.

Get Close to the Subject

The first step in capturing vivid and sharp underwater photographs is to get as close as possible to your subject. The water includes a slew of microscopic particles that aren’t bothersome to the naked eye but when illuminated by your strobes, they can ruin your photographs.  Make use of your macro lenses’ ability to focus and get close to the subject. If the strobes are positioned correctly, the macro lenses can give you great focus even in the worst conditions.

Photo by Tom Fisk from Pexels

Don’t Frighten or Harm Your Subject 

Approaching your photo subject with a neutrally buoyant, controlled, and cool demeanor will lessen the chances of spooking them. For underwater photography, excellent buoyancy is quite important. If your positional control when diving isn’t good, try photographing less easily scared animals, and save the other once your buoyancy has improved.

Also, don’t interfere with the life of your little subjects. Remember that you didn’t ask them for permission and treat them with respect. You’re just an observer so don’t harm your subjects in order to get the perfect shot.

Choose the Best Moments for Underwater Macro Photography

You should consider the right moment to capture a photo if you want to get proficient at underwater macro photography. You want to know when your subject is active and ready for a photo session. And it isn’t just about choosing the right time of the day. The season is also important (e.g. the mating season, migration). 

Even the most general underwater subject matters have an ideal moment to be photographed.

Put Your Strobes in the Right Places 

The greater the distance between you and the subject, the further away you must move your strobes from the lens. 

If you’re close enough to the subject, use underwater strobes to simulate a ring flash. A ring flash is a circular light source installed on the front of a macro lens. It’s frequently used in macro photography on land as it gives off a fairly even amount of light. A similar form of direct, smooth illumination may be achieved by placing underwater strobes close to each side of your camera’s lens port.

Focus on the Eyes

You should concentrate on the eyes whenever you photograph an animal. When choosing a focal point, always remember that one-third of what is in focus is in front of the exact point of focus, while two-thirds is behind it. 

Try focusing somewhere in between the mouth and the eyes if you want the mouth and the eyes to be in focus. If you absolutely must have the complete subject in focus, position the camera parallel to the subject. Although a straight-on side view isn’t particularly interesting, the majority of the visible section of the subject will be within the depth of field, bringing the entire animal into focus.

Avoid Backscatter 

Backscatter is always a concern when photographing underwater. Nothing is more irritating in underwater photography than a well-composed, well-lit shot that is ruined by a lot of backscatters. 

Backscatter can be mitigated to some extent in post-production in some shots, but it’s a nuisance to deal with and is best avoided altogether.

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Use a Small Aperture 

When you get closer to your subject, the depth of field (the area that is in focus) reduces significantly. To counteract this, you’ll need to use smaller apertures (larger f-stop numbers). To maintain a respectable depth of field, underwater macro photography usually requires an aperture of at least f/11. 

A small aperture also helps you maintain the clarity of the entire scene.

Watch the Background

An appealing subject that is beautifully exposed and highly sharp, positioned on an interesting background is the key to a successful macro shot. 

But, in underwater macro photography, the background is frequently a challenge. Pieces of reef, rubble, or plants can come in the way of the shot.

Finding a good backdrop and waiting for a subject to come is often easier. If you can’t find one, lower your camera and shoot upward to create negative space behind your subject. This helps to isolate the subject, hide a busy background, and make the subject the star of your composition.

Edit Your Photos 

To further enhance your underwater photos you can edit them to be worthy of sharing and publishing them everywhere. Here are some essential photo editing tips to remember when processing your photos.

  • Crop the images if you must but use the same aspect ratio for all your photos.
  • Improve the contrast.
  • Enhance the details by bumping up the clarity.
  • Adjust color vibrancy.
  • Increase color saturation (if needed).
  • Sharpen the image as much as possible.
  • Remove noise or objects that shouldn’t be in the frame

Concluding words

You need a lot of patience to become a proficient macro underwater photographer. Go for a dive, take some photos, and then come back to examine and reflect on them. Take your time to look over your work and consider what you could do better next time. Create a routine and stick to it whenever you go photographing underwater.

Have you tried underwater macro photography? Let us know what you love about this photographic type and what your biggest challenge is.

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