Snorkeling Photography tips
You don’t need an expensive camera to take nice underwater photographs while snorkeling. Here are some simple things that anyone can do to get good results with any underwater camera.
Don’t use the zoom. Try to get closer to the subject instead. The less water there is between the camera lens and the subject the less suspended matter in the water there is to reflect back on to the lens. Getting closer to the subject reduces the snowy effect and gives a sharper image.
Turn off the flash. A lot of underwater photo guides advise using a flash or two but those guides are for scuba divers who go deeper and need to replace the light that is lost at depth. If you are snorkeling in clear shallow water you don’t really need a flash or strobe, natural light is fine. In fact strobe is likely to create more back scatter as it reflects off all the suspended particles in the water. Midday sun from directly above is brightest and provides even light. Later in the day you can use the sunlight’s angle through the water for some interesting compositions, the huge granite boulders at the Similan Islands look wonderful when bathed in early evening sunlight. Light reflecting off rocks, corals and fish can be a really beautiful effect.
Dive down. Marine life tends to blend in with it’s surroundings so photos taken from the surface directly down often don’t provide the contrast between back ground and subject for an interesting composition. If possible dive down to be level with or slightly below your subject. Of course fish won’t stay still for you to take the shot but with practice, patience and some luck you can anticipate where the fish will go and be waiting. Try to get the fish facing the camera if possible. Some fish always turn away but others like anemone fish front up aggressively so make easier subjects. Wide angle shots of the reef also look better from level or pointing slightly upwards, top down shots just look washed out.
Consider the background. You need contract between the subject and the background. Deep blue sea is good, or an orange gorgonian sea fan. One technique is to pick the background and just wait for the subject to swim in front of it rather than chasing the fish around.
Add depth to photos. Try to make your images pop out. Have coral come towards the lens or shoot into a barrel sponge for example. Lead the eye from the foreground to the background.
Show size. Photograph big fish next to small fish or shoot a swimmer diving down to a manta ray to help the viewer understand how big it really is.
Take lots of photos. Practice makes perfect and the more snaps you take the more chance you have of getting the perfect shot. Get a big memory stick. Most of your photos will be a bit rubbish but if you get one beauty it’ll be worth it.
Post processing. Use a free photo editing program like Gimp to improve your work. Three simple edits can make a big difference, they are colour balance, contrast and cropping. You can easily add colour by adjusting the colour balance. The red end of the spectrum is removed the deeper you shoot your photos so in post processing you can add the red colour back. Be careful not to over do it and turn the water pink. Increasing the contrast (between light and dark shades) adds definition and makes the subject pop out. Cropping the photo allows you to compose the image with the subject more prominent and removes unwanted surroundings. When composing the image both in water and in post production consider the rule of thirds.
Get inspired. There are some great examples of underwater photos taken while snorkeling at this Flikr snorkeling group.