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A few helpful tips on how to take awesome photos of eels and eel-like fishes

Top 10 Tips for Photographing Eels and Eel-Like Fish

A few helpful tips on how to take awesome photos of eels and eel-like fishes


Eels are the snakes of the underwater world – evoking excitement, curiosity, and fear in those lucky enough to behold them. They slither through the cracks and crevices of the deep, often hidden in plain sight by their ability to blend in with the substrate around them. Because many eels and eel-like fish exhibit a wide range of habitat distribution, colors, patterns, and behaviors, they are coveted by underwater photographers in almost all dive destinations. One might think that photographing a relatively stationary eel would be easier than swift schools of ever impatient pelagics. However, an eel’s complex habitat, body structure, and patterns can create a significant puzzle for the underwater photographer. Here are some of our best tips for photographing eels and eel-like fish…


1. Use Contrast and Depth of Field to Isolate Your Subject 


An eel’s habitat introduces the majority of the problems that underwater photographers face when photographing them. Eels often live at the bottom of the ocean, slithering through holes between medium sized rocks. They rarely protrude above the substrate, and often blend in with the rocks or coral themselves. This makes it very difficult to isolate an eel from its background – often producing a cluttered or flat photo. The reason it can seem that reef fish are easier to photograph, even if they are quicker, is that reef fish hover above the bottom. This isolates them from the background and contrast is created with the blue water behind them.

So what’s the best way to isolate an eel? Contrast and depth of field! Contrast can be created in the image in many different ways. The most effective method is to shoot from below the eel (if it is coming out of its den) so that the background is mostly blue water. However, it can be very difficult to find an eel in a position to take this photo. Another option is to use a single strobe and light the eel from the side. This can be effective to varying degrees. If the eel is in its den, sometimes you can get the light from your strobe to just touch its face so the rest of the den remains dark. If you are proficient with a snoot, attach it to the single strobe, and it will create even more contrast/ black background in the image.


If I feel that the eel cannot be isolated from the substrate using light, then I will isolate it using a shallow depth of field. The best way to do this is to shoot with a fast macro lens and lower the f-stop so that the aperture is close to as wide as possible. This will keep the head of the eel (or parts of the head) in focus while the substrate and rest of the body is blurred into a nice bokeh. It’s important to keep aesthetic features (especially the eyes) in focus for the full effect of the bokeh. 


2.  Catch it with its Mouth Open!


Perhaps the most charismatic eel behavior is their constant “breathing.” Because eels don’t use gill covers (operculum) to pump water across their gills, they have to open and close their mouths to breath. When you capture an eel with its mouth wide open, it can create a threatening and fierce look in your image.

With my mirrorless camera, I often time my photo by pressing the shutter right as the eel finishes closing its mouth. The inherent lag in the device will make the shutter coincide with the opening of the eel’s mouth. I use single auto focus instead of continuous because it helps me compose the image a little better. I have the focus lock on a point, point the camera to my desired composition, and click the shutter at the opportune time.

When the eel’s mouth is open, be on the lookout for little cleaner shrimp and fish that meander about the mouth looking for a morsel among the teeth. 


3.   Teeth Add a Little Character


Teeth in an eel photo can make the subject look menacing – particularly with eel species that inherently have big teeth. Teeth can be tricky photograph. For the full effect you need to isolate them and make them the focal point of your image. As mentioned before, it’s important that you time your photo so the eel’s mouth is open. But most importantly, you need to be able to light the eel with a beam of light pointed directly at the side of its head. This creates contrast and shadow that bring out the shape of each tooth, giving the eel a fearsome grin. 


4.  Use a Fiber Optic Snoot for Dramatic Effect


Our first tip was to use contrast to isolate your subject. Well the absolutely best way to do that is with a fiber optic snoot. A snoot is a flexible bundle of fiber optic cables that attaches to the front of your strobe and concentrates the light into a smaller, moveable circle of light. Although traditionally used to create black backgrounds with small macro subjects, snoots can be very effective lighting even medium sized eels. Instead of placing the snoot in the default position directly above the subject, I often point the snoot directly in front of the subject or from its side. This can create nice dramatic, contrast with the substrate behind it.  Black background can easily be created as long as a little bit of open water lies behind the subject. Fiber optic snoots are also great for lighting an eel that has retreated far back into its den.


5.  Shooting from Directly in Front of the Subject is Thought Provoking


As much as photographers warn against perfect symmetry in photos, people are often drawn to symmetry naturally. Shooting from directly in front of an eel or elongated fish creates an unusual symmetry with a comical feel to the image. The eel will appear slightly whimsical and bug-eyed. 


6.  Fill the Frame


Filling the frame with your subject is good practice in all underwater photography. But with eels in particular it is important to fill the frame with the eel or you can lose sight of it with all the surrounding substrate. It is generally easy to fill the frame with an eel since they don’t tend to move around much.


7.  Keep the Eyes in Focus - Not the Snout


When taking a very close photograph of an eel's head it is important to set the right focal points. The best place to focus is the eel’s eyes. It maintains the eel’s character in the image and lets the viewer appreciate what the eel might be thinking or feeling. It is a common mistake to have only the snout in focus (especially when shooting with a shallow depth of field). This can be a cool effect, but the loss of eyes to bokeh detracts from the image.


8.  Know Where to Look


Although eels can sometimes be difficult to find, it definitely helps to know where to look! Eel habitat is fairly predictable. They like medium sized substrate with a lot of holes and tunnels to navigate and slither through. In the tropics they often hide among a network of tunnels formed in coral heads. In cold water they can be found on rocky slopes and rock piles. Eel-like fish often share similar preferences of habitat. Some eels will live in the same general area for a long time. It can be nice to get to know an individual and photograph them over the course of their life.

There are also some locales that are more prone to having eels than others. I find that tropical destinations with moderate diversity and moderate to low abundance often have a lot of eels. In particular I have found a lot in Mauritius, Hawaii, and the Dominican Republic. Locally in California, my favorite place to find moray eels is Casino Point on Catalina Island. In very cold water, such as in the Pacific Northwest, wolf eels and wolf fish fill the eel niche even though they aren’t true eels. 


9.  Be Patient


Fish that live in dens can be wary of the big, wide world. I find most eels to have a cautious but curious disposition. If you sit quietly at the entrance of their den, they may become curious enough to slowly approach you and your camera. However, if you immediately shine your light directly at them and blow a lot of bubbles, they tend to shy away. I also find that some eels don’t mind being photographed more than others. Usually after sitting outside of a den for a minute or two, I can get a feel for if an eel will be cooperative or not. If it won’t, I move on. If it is, however, I will take a couple of test photos and then slowly inch forward if the eel lets me until I have an image where I can fill the frame with the eel. Never feed eels to get them out of their den! Some eels will learn to associate divers with food. If they bit your hand, even mistakenly, the angle of their teeth will leave the flesh cleaved from your bone at best. Eels have been known to bite fingers off. But if they aren’t fed, they usually have a very nice disposition. 


10.  Go Wide!


Most people associate eel photography with shooting macro. This is certainly not the case! If you are working with a cooperative eel, going wide gives you the potential to take an even more striking image. A fisheye lens will not only capture the habitat of the eel, but it will capture negative space in the form of water. This will give depth and contrast to the image, solving the issue of clutter in eel photography. The trick to shooting wide with eels is to inch very slowly towards the eel and shoot from the side of its head. Make sure that half your dome is angled to its head and den, and the other half of the dome is angled towards the outside of the den and water above. This will create the illusion of being inside the den with the eel. Shooting a little farther away from the eel can create a photograph where the eel becomes part of its environment – also an interesting artistic endeavor. 



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Photographer Jason Washington divulges his technique for taking amazing ambient light underwater photography

Ambient Photography: An Artist’s Pursuit for the Most Natural Underwater Photography

Photographer Jason Washington divulges his technique for taking amazing ambient light underwater photography

Surrounded by two thousand meters of crystal-clear cobalt blue water, the Cayman Islands (pronounced “K-Man” for those of you who want to fit in with us locals) are home to some of the best visibility found anywhere on planet earth. These three small islands aren’t home to the usual environmental factors impacting water clarity found in other popular diving destinations. The lack of rivers, lack of neighbors, and a deep bottom where all the suspended particles can sink out of sight are all reasons that make ambient light photography a great choice when diving Cayman.

A little less battery power and a little more solar power 

This style of photography might not be your cup of tea. Many enjoy the challenge of lighting an underwater scene by illuminating the phenomenal colors found on a reef with artificial light. I must admit, I also found this appealing for many years. Like other things in life, my tastes changed as I grew older. Now my search for the perfect underwater image calls for a little less battery power and a little more solar power. This likely comes from an extensive background in underwater videography. Years of shooting ambient light underwater video gave me an appreciation for the natural look found beneath the surface. It’s not to say that I don’t shoot artificial light. I do. But I much prefer the natural tones found without the use of powerful lights. Dark blue backgrounds and bright colorful sponges are without a doubt beautiful, but it’s not what I see with my eye while diving.

What to consider when taking ambient light photos

When considering ambient light photography, you must first ask yourself a few simple questions.

Firstly, does the dive destination have decent visibility?

Murky, turbid water is not the best place for this style of photography.

Secondly, how much ambient light can be expected at depth? 

If you’re cave or night diving, break out the strobes.

And lastly, can the camera preform a custom white balance?

This is not absolutely necessary, but if your rig isn’t capable of this, you should probably think about lights and/or filters.

The Pros and Cons of Ambient Light Photography



When considering the advantages of ambient light photography, several things come to mind.First, this type of photography utilizes less gear. Less gear means more money in your pocket. More money means more dive travel!  More dive travel means more time underwater, and more time underwater makes you a better photographer. Therefore, ambient light makes you a better photographer. Well, if only if were that simple. 

The second thing that I love about my strobe-less rig is its usability in the water. Take free diving for example. Kicking up and down with a fully rigged DSLR can be cumbersome and tiring for even the most experienced free diver. By removing the strobes, the rig becomes notably more streamlined, making for a much easier, sustained breath-hold. While this effect is less noticeable while diving on scuba, the biggest advantage I find here is getting in and out of the water. We all have that crazy jigsaw puzzle movement where we try and fold up the camera into a manageable position so the dive master can easily lift your baby from the water without damaging one of your many attached investments. It’s SO much easier without the arms required by video lights or strobes. Setup and breakdown is a lot easier with this configuration. There is no need for sync cords, less o-rings to clean, no strobe batteries to charge. This is something to consider if weight is a factor in your dive travel plans.

Having said all that, 90% of the time I’m carrying strobes on my rig. I don’t have to use them, but if the situation calls for artificial light, I’m ready to go. On some shoots, I’ll even carry video lights in conjunction with the strobes. This makes for one cumbersome beast on the surface, but prepares me for any situation I may encounter underwater. At the end of the day, do what you’re most comfortable with that will help you achieve the image you’re after

Natural Tone

The tonality of an image for me is key. It’s the main reason I prefer ambient light photography. Shooting ambient light will always give your water the natural tones provided by mother nature. This look is achieved by white balancing your camera to the ambient light. That’s not to say that this look can’t be achieved with the use of strobes. It certainly can. As a matter of fact, I often use my strobes on a very low setting to fill in some of the shadows on close subjects.

Frame Rate

Ambient light photography lets you push your framerate to optimal levels. My Canon 5D Mark IV has a maximum frame rate of 7 frames per second. This is one of the biggest advantages of shooting ambient light. I don’t have to wait on my strobes to recycle. Or if I am shooting my strobes, the setting is so low that they have no problem keeping up with the camera… for the most part. Capturing the split second when your subject is in the perfect position is much easier at a high frame rate. For this reason, when shooting ambient light, I ALWAYS shoot in high speed continuous mode.


Constant White Balance Changes

For me, the biggest drawback of ambient light photography is amount of attention needed to get it right. Let me explain. Every time the light changes you need to re-balance the camera. This means that if a cloud moves overhead, your scene will be overly cool. On the other hand, if you balanced the camera with a cloud overhead and it moves exposing the reef to the sun, your scene is overly warm and a new white balance is needed. Every 10 feet of depth gained requires a new balance. Conversely, every 10 feet of depth lost requires a new white balance. 

Some will say, “I shoot in raw, so I can adjust white balance in post.” To some extent, that’s correct. For me, this is not an option. I want my image as close as possible in camera, so I constantly change my white balance when I shoot. Also, for those of you who think that shooting RAW is the solution to your white balance needs, remember, you can’t correct a color that doesn’t exist in your image.


Adequate contrast in one’s photos is another issue when shooting without external lights. Separating your subject from the background is easily accomplished with artificial light. Ambient light photography requires you to place your subject against a contrasting background. My favorite background is a white sandy bottom, followed in close second by the beautiful blue water found at the edge of a drop off. These techniques require a little more work. Getting out in front of your subject is key to an amazing image.

Macro Photography

Macro photography is also not very well suited to ambient light. Often, the tiny subjects in macro and super macro need to be separated from the background with a combination of shutter speed and light. While this is possible with ambient light, it’s not nearly as cool as a well-lit snoot shot.

Night Photography

Night photography underwater with ambient light is pretty much a no-go as well. While there are many creative ways to light your subject underwater, they all pretty much involve flooding the scene with artificial light.

The path to amazing, natural, ambient light photos

Whether you choose to shoot only ambient light or add a little artificial fill light, the process is basically the same. To achieve this, one must be able to properly preform a custom white balance. This is a very simple process of telling the camera what is white at a given depth. While this process is different on all cameras, the environmental factors remain constant. Firstly, I recommend carrying a white slate; mine is fairly small – about four inches in diameter. It’s clipped to my BCD where it lives 24/7. This insures it’s never left behind and always at the ready when needed.

White Balance

Metering with your slate

When using a slate to balance your white underwater, the white card must ALWAYS be illuminated by your light source. This typically means sun over your shoulder, with the card held at arms length in-front of your lens. To properly preform this, you must first zero out the light meter in camera. This process is simple, but different on all camera models. If you’re new to underwater photography, simply throw the rig into full auto and take the shot. This will insure proper exposure. Now all you need to do is select the image and tell the camera to use it as white. Many of the new mirrorless rigs will have a simplified version of this whole process. But as mentioned, the basic function of illuminating the card and zeroing out the meter remains the same.

Custom white balance with mixed artificial and ambient light

I might also add, if you want to use artificial light in conjunction with ambient light, the process is basically the same. The one thing to keep in mind here when using artificial light is the distance to the subject. For example, if you plan on shooting a turtle with this mix of light, decide when you balance the camera how far you intend to be from the subject. If the turtle will likely be 3 feet from the camera, balance the camera with the white card three feet from the lens. You might find this process easier if you have your buddy hold the card. Other options are, find an area where the sand is nice and white and exposed to the sun. Fire your strobes here with your chosen distance and voila! Now you have a mixed-light, custom white balance. Some equipment manufacturers make white fins. These are great for balancing your camera without the help of a buddy. Mixed light with custom white balance can be a little tricky – always remember that if you move too close to your subject it will become overly warm. If you’re in a pinch and the turtle swims too close simply move back or turn down the power on your strobe. You can apply this same technique with video lights.

Base Line Settings

While all cameras will be different, the base line settings will be similar for most. I typically start out with my aperture wide open (lowest f-stop number). This allows me to get the maximum light to the sensor while keeping the camera as close to its native ISO as possible. Depending on the situation, I may even choose to close it slightly to increase depth of field if the light allows. My shutter baseline is 1/100th. Again, these are baseline settings, that give me a starting point from which to compose my first image. I find that 1/100 will sometimes give me motion blur – particularly when the subject is very close to the lens.

As mentioned, I like to keep the ISO at 100 (i.e., native ISO) if possible, so that’s where I start. If I’m shooting something that’s moving quickly, I’ll switch to auto ISO. A slow shutter and wide-open aperture will ensure it only goes up slightly, keeping the color noise at a minimum.


At the end of the day, shoot what makes you happy. Ambient light photography is a great option in underwater environments. Hopefully these techniques will help you get the most from your next underwater photography dive.

Happy Diving!


For more great photos and information check out Jason's youtube and instagram accounts! 

Further Reading



Jason Washington is the managing director of iDive Global Ltd and the owner of Ambassador Divers, a PADI Five Star facility located at the Comfort Suites Resort on Seven Mile Beach, Grand Cayman. Living and working on Grand Cayman as an underwater photographer/SCUBA instructor for the past 21 years, Jason's work has been featured in numerous documentaries and feature films and was the 2017 honoree at the International SCUBA Diving Hall of Fame.


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Captivating time lapse videos of tide pools with active starfish and sea urchins
By Bryan Chu and Mary Chu

Tide Pool Fun with GoPro 6 Time Lapse Video

Bryan Chu and Mary Chu
Captivating time lapse videos of tide pools with active starfish and sea urchins

I had the great fortune of growing up on Vancouver Island where my parents used to take my sister and me up to Tofino every summer or two. They used to get us to the best intertidal zones at the lowest tides possible, which unfortunately tended to occur at ungodly morning hours. I’ll never forget being woken up at 3 am, putting on our boots, grabbing our flashlights, and going looking for things you couldn’t find higher up the water line: moon snails the size of dinner plates moving along just beneath the sand; giant gumboot chitons (well, giant for the chiton world) cunningly stuck to the undersides of rocky overhangs; crabs which were, according to my Dad, of edible size and very tasty looking.

But probably my most enduring memories from those trips were of the countless times (during normal daytime hours) that we clambered over mussel-encrusted rocks to peer into one tide pool after another, looking for our favourite denizens. Each pool was its own little wondrous world, full of starfish, anemones, sea urchins, sculpins, hermit crabs, barnacles, snails and limpets.

Some of the large tide pools at Botanical Beach. Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II, 12-100mm f/4.0 pro lens.

Tide Pool Expedition to Botanical Beach

I was recently back in Victoria, and my Mom and I decided to head out to Botanical Beach to relive some of our tide pool memories. But this time we were armed with my OM-D E-M1 in an underwater housing, a GoPro Hero 6 Black, a Sealife Aquapod and a GoPro Hero 5 Black. Our mission: take some time lapse videos of tide pool life.

We timed our visit for a decently low tide which did not require waking up at 2am. Once we got out to the beach, we found a lot of wide and deep tide pools. We started looking around in them, hoping to find some really cool action-packed ones. I thought about the amazing footage in Blue Planet II of a starfish chasing limpets around, but we could not really find more than a couple of colorful starfish wedged into cracks (and they did not appear to have any plans to move any time soon). So we combed back and forth over the rocks for awhile, keeping a few feet from the breaking waves and looking for the perfect tide pool. But they all seemed just…dead. Not dead in terms of life, but dead in terms of movement. A few anemones in some deep pools, just sitting there. Urchins at home inside crevices and crannies in the rocks. Nothing really moving.

I knew that we had to get started doing something, as we only had a couple of hours of low tide. So I put my GoPro Hero 5 onto my SeaLife Aquapod, set it for 4k video with a 1 second time lapse interval, and stuck it into a 3-4 foot deep tide pool in front of some anemones, hoping they would do something cool when we weren’t looking.  

Exploring the tide pools at Botanical Beach. Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II, 12-100mm f/4.0 pro lens.

Slowing Down…

Then, as we returned to browsing back and forth through the pools in the area, I realized that I needed to slow down my thinking – after all, we were looking for time lapse video opportunities, not super-quick action-packed sequences. I was standing by a shallow pool no more than a foot and a half deep that did not look particularly special. But I made myself sit still and stare at it for a bit, and I noticed a little brown starfish inching its way over the rocks.

I called my Mom over, and we sat down to watch. After sitting there for awhile, we realized it was moving quite a bit. And there were limpets in the pool, and we saw them move when the starfish came too close! And the starfish appeared to be chasing the limpets!

I quickly set up my GoPro 6 for 4K time lapse video, on a 2 second interval. I set it in the pool in a couple of inches of water, on a rock overlooking the drama, and then we left to look in some other pools. Not having done my research beforehand, and with no internet access, I was unsure as to what frame rate the GoPro would record at. I remembered my E-M1 would do 4K time lapse at 5 fps, so I assumed it would be something similar. So after 5 minutes I figured I would have a decent amount of footage. Not remembering how to get the GoPro to play back, I could not check how the video looked. But I decided I should probably take some shorter interval time lapses as well, for comparison later on, so I set it for 0.5 second intervals. 

Here is a video I made of the best footage of the starfish in its little tide pool.

Time lapse video taken of a starfish in a tide pool at Botanical Beach, on Vancouver Island, BC. GoPro Hero 6 Black using 4K time-lapse video mode.  

Note that in the third clip, there appears to be some small bubbles on the lens. I was just using the GoPro without a housing, and the little lens cover that comes with it must like to collect bubbles when taken out of the water and then put back in. There were a number of videos I had with these spots in them. I am surprised I did not notice the bubbles on the lens protector piece, so I guess they could have been caused by light reflecting off of the lens protector. But based on what I saw in my footage I think it’s most likely very small bubbles. Next time I will watch out for this, for better understanding!

GoPro Farming

With both GoPros collecting footage, we went back and forth between the two tide pools to keep an eye on things…"GoPro Farming" as my Mom called it. I repositioned the GoPro with the starfish to keep tracking its wanderings, did a couple of anemone shots, and then after staring intently at a pool full of immobile sea urchins, noticed one of them was moving! So I grabbed the GoPro on the Aquapod and followed the urchin around. We went back and forth between the two "farms" for maybe an hour and a half.

And I was very pleased when checking the footage afterwards to see that some of the anemone footage had urchins moving about as well. However boring they may look at normal speed sitting in a crevice in a tide pool, they look really cool when they are on the move and sped up with timelapse video! Here's a video of the best sea urchin footage.

Time lapse video taken of sea urchins moving about tide pools at Botanical Beach, on Vancouver Island, BC. GoPro Hero 6 Black using 4K time lapse video mode. 

At a few points it started to rain, sometimes getting quite torrential. Fortunately, as born and bred Pacific Northwesters, we were prepared: rain jackets, rain covers for our packs, quick dry pants, and old running shoes that could get soaked. Good thing, too, as at one point we were a bit too close to the incoming tide and had a particularly large wave splash our feet.

What happened with my OM-D E-M1 in the housing? It stayed in my pack. It was just much too big to fit into a tide pool and capture the action, without causing significant disturbance or damage. With the starfish pool, it was physically too big to even fully submerge. 

Towards the end of our visit, we noticed a clump of gooseneck barnacles sitting in a pool which were feeding. We had never seen that before, so I switched the GoPro on the AquaPod to 4K video and put it nice and close, moving it around to get a couple of angles, and leaving it still for long enough that the barnacles would emerge and feed. 

Shortly after that, as the tide was coming in, we decided to put an end to our very fun and very wet afternoon. After putting things on the computer, I was very happy with many of the results. The biggest disappointment though was probably the barnacles; I had placed the GoPro too close for every shot, and all of the feeding footage was quite blurry. 

Good thing we were ready for the rain! Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II, 12-100mm f/4.0 pro lens.

What I Learned

1. Time Lapse Interval Timing

It takes longer to collect 4K time lapse footage on my GoPro than on my OM-D E-M1, due to the higher frame rate. The GoPro takes images on a set interval of seconds, and outputs it at 30 fps. Here’s how long it takes to get 10 seconds of footage for each interval setting:

  • 0.5 s: 2.5 minutes
  • 1 s: 5 minutes
  • 2 s: 10 minutes
  • 5 s: 25 minutes
  • 10 s: 50 minutes
  • 30 s: 2.5 hours
  • 60 s: 5 hours

I like the footage that is around 0.5 s to 1 s intervals, while I find the 2 s interval too fast. So I think I will use the 0.5 s interval in the future, as I can always speed it up in post-processing to make it equivalent to a 0.75 s or a 1 s interval.

2. GoPro Minimum Focusing Distance

I learned the hard way that the GoPro cannot focus underewater on any subject closer than about 12”. I wish I had figured this out before some of the footage I tried to take. I wasted a lot of time on blurry starfish and sea urchins, and all of my videos of the gooseneck barnacles were blurry. Rats! I am going to have to go back sometime with a macro lens for my GoPro, and probably should have read this article by Todd before going on the outing. 

3. Bubbles on Lens Protector?

Next time I take the GoPro I will make sure I wipe the lens protector clean after submerging it. It's best to always be vigilant for bubbles intruding on the shot. I don't recall seeing them, but there must have been small ones on the lens protector during a number of the videos, as I saw a lot while looking through footage for post-processing. 

4. GoPro Size Advantage

GoPros really shine when it comes to revealing the secret lives of tidepool inhabitants. Their small size allows you to put them into shallow pools where nothing else would fit, without disturbing the marine life. Even better, they allow you to get a really cool perspective that a larger camera just can’t get; namely, being submerged in a tide pool that is only a few inches to a foot deep.

5. Slow Down!

The most important thing I learned was the best footage from tide pools comes from slowing down, and finding the subjects which you never see moving around when watching at “real life” speed. Yeah, hermit crabs and sculpins are fun to watch when you’re squatted over a tide pool. They are cool in time lapses too, but a video of just sculpins and crabs would become very boring and repetitive quite quickly. In my opinion it’s really all about the echinoderms – the starfish and sea urchins – as well as any barnacles if you can find them (and get them in focus!). Limpets are also neat if there are starfish to chase them around, and I imagine snails would be cool as well (though we didn’t find any to video).

Thanks for reading. If you have any questions, feel free to drop me a line at!

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Bryan is an assistant editor for the Underwater Photography Guide. He loves any activity that takes him out into nature, and is especially fond of multi-day hiking trips, road trips to National Parks, and diving. Any kind of diving. He discovered the joy of underwater photography on a Bluewater trip to the Sea of Cortez, and after "trial and erroring" his way to some level of proficiency, has been hooked ever since. He has not done nearly as much diving as he would like, but has so far taken underwater photos in a diverse range of places, including BC, the Sea of Cortez, Greenland/Iceland, Northern Norway and the Galapagos. 

After working as a chemical engineer at a major oil & gas corporation for 9 years, Bryan finally had enough (and it didn't help that he was living in landlocked Edmonton, Canada with frigid winter temperatures and no real diving to speak of). He and his girlfriend decided to pack up their things and travel the world; they will start their journey mid-2018 and visit a number of great dive locations along the way. He is very excited to expand his underwater photography experience and skills while experiencing new cultures and exciting parts of the world. Though he is also a bit worried about the following equation that has so far defined his dive travels: Corporate job ($$) = Dive travel ($) + Underwater Photography ($). Taking away the left side of that equation seems like it might put things a bit out of balance. But as he reasons, what's the point in life if you can't take some big risks and have some fun along the way?


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Tips for taking underwater wide-angle photos in low light and limited visibility
By Nirupam Nigam

Wide-Angle Photography in Low Light Conditions

Nirupam Nigam
Tips for taking underwater wide-angle photos in low light and limited visibility

As a cold-water diver, one of the most frequent phrases I hear from other photographers encountering bad visibility is “I guess it’s a macro day!” Except in extreme cases of bad conditions, that photographer is often missing out. Contrary to popular belief, it is possible to take quality wide angle images in poor visibility down to about five feet at any time of the day. It’s just a matter of understanding how light works. 

Painting with Light

As a photographer I only have one aspiration – to use light as a paintbrush in a way that extracts a work of art from a scene. I stopped “taking photos” years ago and switched to “painting with light”. The “painting with light” mindset is particularly essential for diver who do not have frequent access to the studio-like conditions of tropical sea, such as myself. The importance of quantity of light pales in comparison to understanding how it works. 

“Painting with light” is a mentality where you can picture in your head how the light you have at your disposal (e.g., the sun, strobe, focus light) will affect the image you are creating. It’s a skill that takes years to develop but ultimately results in a photographer being able to set up his/her camera and take an excellent photo on the first try. The best way to develop this mentality is to constantly change your settings and strobes. Taking multiple photos of the same scene will help you understand how each element of the available light is affected by each element you change. 

One thing I like to do is pre-create an image in my head at a dive site I know and then replicate it underwater. First, I will look at the sky and the clouds and determine what the sun will look like underwater. Then I pick a subject I know I can find, guess a depth it will be at, and determine how I would like to compose it. I think about where in the image I would like the sun to illuminate, and what I would like the strobes to expose. Finally, I choose a rough range for my aperture and shutter speed, pick my ISO, set my strobes, and hop in the water. You’d be surprised – it almost always works. Some of my best images were made this way.



The two golden rules of underwater photography are especially important in limited visibility. 

1. Get close to the subject

2. Shoot up at the subject

Shoot Into the “Sun”

The most consistent aspect of my photography in limited visibility is that I almost always shoot towards the sun. Even if it’s not a sunny day, I strive to position myself where the lens of my camera is pointed towards the highest amount of ambient light. There are a few reasons for this. The first is that if there is very little ambient light, shooting away from the sun will result in an image lit only by your strobes. This usually creates a black background. In a few circumstances an image like this can be desirable. But usually some amount of colorful water in the background will give your subject perspective. The second reason is that shooting into the sun results in the ability to use a higher shutter speed, small aperture, and lower ISO – all essential to improving the quality of the image. The third reason is the higher contrast resulting from multiple sources of light and shadow. Everything is more dramatic that way. 

Snell’s Window

Snell’s window is an optical phenomenon where an underwater viewer sees the surface as if looking through a tunnel to the light at the end. This effect can be easily captured when shooting into the sun, resulting in dramatic underwater photos. Low light intensifies Snell’s window in underwater photos because the edges of the tunnel become black instead of dark blue as they would in clear water.

Shooting with two strobes? Leave one at home!

When shooting in low light conditions, you need much less light to take photos. This is a counterintuitive concept that can be very difficult for some to understand. The reason for this is that strobes are used to balance ambient light in the background and artificial light on a subject. When there is a lot less ambient light in the background, you need to respond with less artificial light so that you don’t blow out the exposure of the subject. 

Although many photographers swear that two strobes increase artistic capacity, I disagree in low light situations. Many times, it is better to shoot with one! In limited visibility, I think two strobes can make wide angle photos look unnatural. This is because there is a larger gradient of ambient light in the image, especially in a Snell’s window. If too much of the foreground is lit, then it looks unnatural. Using one strobe will let you work with Snell’s window. This is done by lining up the subject you want to light with your strobe with the bright part of the window. The subject is then lit with the single strobe, but the rest of the foreground remains dark – naturally following the pattern of Snell’s window. 


Aperture can be a tricky thing to set in limited visibility. It’s the setting that I change the most. Many people start by shooting at f/8 as it’s the most neutral aperture. You will likely have enough depth of field in the image, but it also lets in a good amount of light. However, this aperture might be too small (i.e., too dark) in might low-light situations. I will often open my aperture wider than this, even taking the f-stop down to f/3.5. This almost always results in a shallow depth of field and a blurry background. However, I think that any image can be composed in response to any f-stop. Sometimes having a blurry background is worth having better lighting with more ambient light in the background. 

Shutter Speed

Different photographers have differing opinions concerning shutter speed. I like to keep my shutter speed consistently at the highest sync speed – 1/160 sec in my case. This results in a crisp image with no motion blur as well as better contrast. I find that if I let more ambient light into the image by decreasing the shutter speed rather than opening the aperture, the image can become rather flat in low light. There will be more ambient light in the background, but there is less of a gradient to produce a dramatic effect. 

One of the biggest benefits of shooting wide-angle in low light is the ability to take long exposure images underwater. These images result in artistic motion blur, further enhanced by panning on the photographer’s part. Remember to turn off your horizontal image stabilization if you’re planning on trying it. I find that shooting at 1/8 sec to 1/13 sec is the sweet spot. 


I am a firm believer of shooting with a camera’s native ISO, even in low light. It results in the highest quality image with the least amount of noise. My opinion is that it is best to bring out exposure in post processing instead of fixing noise. Fixing noise kills detail in the image. However, if your photos are resulting in a black background and you can’t afford to lower your shutter speed or open your aperture, bumping up your ISO to around 400 can be a big help. 

Strobe Positioning and Reducing Backscatter

Strobe positioning is essential in low light wide-angle photography. Poor positioning is the reason many people think you can’t take wide-angle photos in anything less than 20 or 30 feet of visibility. Perhaps the largest mistake photographers make in limited visibility is using too much light and not being close enough to the subject. Too much light increases the chance of having backscatter in the image and over exposing the subject. Being too far from the subject reduced the color of the subject and increases the chance of backscatter. Two strobes often exacerbate this problem by introducing too much light in all the wrong places.  The best way to get nice, even lighting and to reduce backscatter is by increasing the distance between the strobe and the dome while maintaining a close distance to the subject. There is an artform to being able to do that. Here are some of my favorite strobe positions in low light: 

1. Place the strobe(s) above the camera and behind the camera without creating a shadow in the image from the camera. In limited visibility, strobes act more like spotlights. Using the traditional position of placing the strobes on the side of the camera can result in strange shadows. Putting the strobes higher up makes the lighting more even and reduces backscatter. 

2. Placing a single strobe above the camera and as far behind the camera as possible. As mentioned before, a single strobe is often more than enough light in limited visibility and will make light more even if used correctly. I almost never shoot one strobe from any other position since it can often introduce unwanted contrast.

3. Place a single strobe right next to the subject but pointed away from your camera when shooting close-focus wide-angle and reducing the power. This will help properly light a close subject while allowing ambient light to properly expose the background. 

4. Use what works. It can’t be stressed enough that these are suggestions but not instructions. I almost never keep my strobes positioned the same way for more than one or two photos. The best position is the one that works!


Shooting wide-angle photos in limited visibility could be described as its own “genre” of photography – one that only a select few photographers capitalize upon. But taking the leap into low visibility and bringing along your fisheye can introduce you to a whole new dimension of art. It takes more experimentation, dedication, and failures, but it is well worth the effort. Beyond all else it’s important to remember that art can be made regardless of the conditions. You just have to let the light paint a nice picture. 

Additional Reading


Nirupam Nigam is a dedicated underwater photographer and fisheries scientist. While growing up in Los Angeles he fell in love with the ocean and pursued underwater photography in the local Channel Islands. He received degrees in Aquatic and Fisheries Science and General Biology, as well as a minor in Arctic Studies, at the University of Washington. Now he works as a fisheries observer on boats in the Bering Sea and North Pacific. When he is not at sea, he is traveling with his fiancee and taking photos. 


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An introduction to underwater photography while freediving
By Pavol Ivanov

Freediving Photography with the Olympus TG-5

Pavol Ivanov
An introduction to underwater photography while freediving

A Note from the Editor: The Olympus Tough TG-5 is an award-winning camera known for its versatility, ruggedness, fantastic macro capabilities and extremely high performance-to-cost ratio. After we reached out to our dedicated readers and customers, freediving instructor Pavol Ivanov shared his insights into underwater photography from his fascinating world of breath-hold diving. - Bryan Chu, Associate Editor.

Check out our full review of the TG-5 here!

Underwater Photography - Why we do it!

This sounds like very stupid question… but have you ever asked yourself “why do we really spend so much money on underwater photography equipment?” Well, there is the obvious reason, which is to share the experience with other people. But then there is the less obvious one: creativity! We have this amazing technology at our disposal which enables us to tell a story! And as they say, ‘’a picture is worth a thousand words!’’

Breath-hold Diving in the Past and Now - Accepting the challenge

For those who don’t know what freediving is (no, it is not free-of-charge scuba diving), it is the activity of diving underwater using only one breath taken at the surface. In the past, freediving was commonly used to harvest sea sponges, shellfish, fish and other sea goods, either for self-consumption or for sale on the market. Some people still practice this method of artisanal living today!

Now, recreational freediving is being taught worldwide. It is practised as a competitive sport, including freediving photography (in some countries)! For many people, the decision to learn to freedive comes from wanting to challenge themselves in a very extraordinary way. Who doesn’t want to be a Marvel hero? After only 2 or 3 days of learning and training, being able to dive to about 20m depth (66 ft) on one breath sounds pretty incredible, doesn’t it? However, taking good shots with a camera, while holding your breath and swimming underwater, takes a bit longer than just a few days. Same as with scuba, mastering diving first and then taking shots later requires more than just a few dives under one’s belt.

Photography Equipment for Freediving

Correct streamlining, buoyancy, equalisation, head positioning, movement, awareness, and relaxation are some of the many very important components of freediving. Every inefficiency costs you precious oxygen, of which you have a very limited amount. Having heavy equipment and pushing big lenses, strobes, lights and strobe arms through the water costs air. Less air means less time and distance under water. This is why most freediving photographers choose more compact designs; cameras which are easy to control, setup, and swim with.

In freediving, we have to be very aware of our buoyancy, as it is something which is changing constantly. Most of the time, we are very positively buoyant in shallow water and very negatively buoyant in deep water, which can both help and hinder us. (Editor’s note: since freedive weighting is constant, but at depth air spaces become significantly compressed, freedivers will always be less buoyant the deeper they go. Safe freediving weighting ensures that the diver has positive buoyancy in shallower water so they can make it to the surface in an emergency). In deep water we can enter into something called freefall, which can often allow us to drop right on the top of our subject, sometimes getting very close without being detected. However, the positive buoyancy in shallow water sometimes gets in the way of taking our shot; in this particular situation, exhaling all of our air can help, but of course this sacrifices our bottom time for that dive.

I have chosen as my weapon of choice the Olympus TG5, with the Olympus underwater housing and the UWL-04 wet wide angle lens. Most of the time I prefer to shoot in ambient light as I believe that this can be one of the great advantages in freediving; getting underwater scenery with a nice, natural look. If I need to highlight a particular scene or object I use a video focus light; the key with this is to get as close to the subject as possible.

My Thoughts About Shooting with the TG-5

Since this camera doesn’t have full manual mode, having 2 programmable modes (C1 and C2) straight on the dial of the Olympus TG5 is one of the key functions for usability. I choose to shoot in Aperture priority mode. It is possible to save any setting of any mode under one of the two C1 or C2 quick dial options. My most used mode is for wide angle photography, so this is my C1 option. Since we don’t have an option to set the shutter speed, we have to start with ISO setting first as this will give us more options for Aperture setting later. Depending on the light available, the shutter speed I need (automatically adjusted by the camera) and the subject, I dial ISO in with just a couple of clicks on the quick menu.

Normally, when shooting relatively shallow I keep the ISO low at 100. For deeper photos in less light I will go up to ISO 400, which will immediately give me more shutter speed, especially with Aperture at 2.0 or 2.8. It is really difficult to shoot with much smaller apertures when in deep water, even in clear waters, with this camera. Another trick to use is to change the exposure compensation, again very quickly on the quick menu on the shooting display, to change and improve the shutter speed as needed. However, most of the time we end up pushing the ISO. Correct shutter speed is very important in freediving photography, as we keep moving almost all the time and it can also be used to give a sense of speed in the water to moving objects.  

I highly recommend using the RAW photo format. Normally I use single photo shoot mode, but I do also sometimes use sequential photo mode up to 20fps and Pro Capture mode, which has helped me to capture great over-under photos even on rough surface days. My C2 programmable dial is set for shooting macro, where I can just remove the wet wide angle lens and take nice macro shots, getting the subject really close to the lens of the camera. Again, to save this mode I would actually use microscope mode and dial in ISO. In Microscope mode I cannot adjust the Aperture directly, but I take advantage of the manual focus and colour focus peaking mode, which can be set up in the main menu of the camera. There are some amazing macro shots to be taken with this small setup. I also think that for a beginning photographer, seeing how aperture and ISO affects the shutter speed and behaviour of the camera is a great way to learn about manual options for the future.

For lights, I use a set of iDiving 105 video lights, which are pretty small and light and produce 1500 lumens each (at 5800K). It is not much but they help me to bring up some colours on the subjects I shoot. Most of the time I prefer to shoot with ambient light, since where I dive most we are lucky to have a lot of sunshine and clear water. I do take the video lights most of the time for shots which are a little deeper, or shots where I am shooting against the surface (though I would like a bit more lighting power in these situations). In the future, I am planning to test this setup with strobes, so perhaps my next article I will talk about that!

My original idea was to go for larger setup like the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II. However, for me the most important criteria was how easy I can set up, move and take care of the camera, since I do use it a lot during my work and on trips with clients as a freediving instructor. I also quite like that the camera itself is waterproof, so I don’t have to worry too much about any potential leaks or accidents. The camera is capable of taking good photos, though of course it would be nice to have a bigger sensor and full manual shooting options, as well as better lens options. I will have to keep that in mind for my next setup.

Space for Creativity and Stepping Out of the Crowd

The biggest difference between scuba and freediving photography, in my opinion, is the ability to quickly adjust angles and the positioning of the photographer relative to the subject. This provides a lot more space for creativity, and this is one of the biggest factors which motivates me to shoot pictures while freediving. If it is a picture of a diver descending on the way down, at the bottom gliding next to the animal or object, on the way up, or even on the surface, all of this can be done in one single dive. For this reason I really value having quick saveable custom modes which I can dial in by just a turn of the button, any time during the descent or ascent as I need.

As far as macro, this is one area where scuba wins big time! It is really hard to stay down, find the perfect frame and focus while holding your breath and fighting buoyancy. Because it is very difficult (but not impossible) to do in freediving, any successes are very rewarding! So I welcome the challenge and I am a very big fan of the TG5’s incredible microscope mode, which does allow the acquisition of some great-looking macro shots! 

Pros and Cons - Your Choice!

Freediving as a sport is growing; as an instructor I see more and more people of all age groups wanting to learn to freedive! Taking photos while freediving is a natural progression, and adds another element of creativity which can be very enjoyable for both photographers and the audience. The obvious disadvantage of breath hold diving is counteracted by the freedom of movement, as well as the ability to be in the water for a very long time (over the course of the day) and move in a large area without having to worry about air supply and decompression time. The ability to fly on an airplane immediately after freediving is a big benefit as well!

The big disadvantages are that you lose out on the ability to capture incredible macro shots, the ability to look deep into caves, or the ability to spend lots of time searching for very little animals. Having the privilege of air supply and being able to really take your time makes me want to learn to scuba dive as well! And in the end, I think scuba and freediving both complement each other very well. Being able to freedive instantly improves comfort and air consumption in scuba diving, and being able to scuba dive gives a lot more potential for great macro shots and more time to work with your camera underwater. It seems like the best choice is to do them both! (Editor's note: as a dedicated Scuba diver who recently took a beginner's freediving course, I agree 100% with this). 

Wishing you happy and safe photo hunting!

Gear Links

Additional Reading


Pavol Ivanov grew up in a landlocked country where the sea and the ocean were only a dream. He grabbed a mask and fins at his first opportunity and has not let go of them since. Keeping with his fascination with the underwater world, and inspired by his idol Jacques de Vos, he trained to become a professional freediver. He swapped his old fully manual 35mm camera, which he got as a present from his father on his 6th birthday, for a digital one in an underwater housing. He now shares his fascination with the ocean and the sea for a living, capturing everyday life in his underwater “office” in Tenerife, Canary Islands with his camera. He lives there with his family. You can follow him on Facebook Atlantis Freediving and Instagram Pavol Ivanov


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2018 Updated: Settings, Filters, Lights, Shooting Tips, Editing & more
By Updated by UWPG Staff

Beginner's Guide to GoPro for Underwater Video

Updated by UWPG Staff
2018 Updated: Settings, Filters, Lights, Shooting Tips, Editing & more

GoPro video cameras have become incredibly popular with divers over the last couple years, set up in a variety of ways to capture fleeting moments underwater. Pole cams, selfie poles, housing mounts, handles, trigger grips, dome ports, tray/arm setups, mask mounts, spear gun mounts and all sorts of other accessories are allowing divers to capture their underwater visions and share them online.

Let’s take a look at the basic functions of the GoPro Hero cameras and how to capture beautiful underwater video. 

Note:  I've revised this article for the HERO6 Black, but it still applies to all GoPro models 3 and above.

Read our GoPro HERO6 Review or view all of our GoPro Tutorials & Articles.


How do I Start Shooting Underwater Video?

Preparing the Camera

 You can shoot video with your GoPro almost right out of the box. Step one is to charge the battery. This is done by inserting the battery into the camera and then connecting the camera to a USB plug via the supplied cable. You can also buy a GoPro dual battery charger for a more convenient method of charging batteries.



You should use a fully charged battery for every dive. You can plug the USB cord in between dives. Or it’s easier to purchase spare batteries, and swap out a full battery after each dive. You can probably stretch out one battery over 2 dives, but it's not worth worrying if the battery is going to die. Having a battery die on you underwater and missing out on a video of a lifetime is not worth trying to stretch out the life of a battery. With a fully charged battery, you can keep the screen at 100% brightness and set the "Auto Off" to "Never," and the "Screensaver" to "Never." This way the LCD screen will always be on and you can see what you are shooting. If you do not set this to Never, the default setting is 1 minute. After 1 minute, your GoPro LCD screen will go black and you will not be able to see what you are shooting.


Charge your batteries the night before your dive and make sure you create a system of where the fully charged battery and the used battery is located so you do not mistakenly put in the used battery between dives. It's always a good habit to power up your GoPro and check the battery before each dive.


What Micro SD memory card should I use?

Not all Micro SD cards will work in your GoPro, and every GoPro model is a little different. I have tried the wrong memory card before on dives and the camera will lock up in "saving mode." You don't want this to happen in the middle of your dive when there is absolutely nothing you can do about it. Check this link for the official Micro SD card recommendation for the version of your GoPro.

The higher your resolution and frame rate, the faster your memory card will fill up. I recommend at least a 32gb to 64gb memory card. Anything less will fill up fast. You should be able to make 3 or 4 dives on one memory card.  If you are on longer dive trips with several days of diving, I recommend downloading your files each day to a laptop or external hard drive.


Download latest GoPro firmware.

While your battery is charging on your new GoPro, take this time to download the GoPro App on your portable device. The app has a lot of great functions you will find very useful. The app connects your device with your GoPro and allows your GoPro to update the latest firmware.  Updating to the latest firmware will insure your GoPro camera is running at its peak potential.


Underwater Dive Housing

The Hero5 and Hero6 are waterproof up to 33ft. Anything past 33ft, you will need a dive housing. If you are using the GoPro Super Suit dive housing, you will need to remove the lens cover before putting the camera inside. The lens cover can be removed by twisting it to the left.  There are 3rd party dive housing where the removal of the lens cap is not needed.

GoPro Hero4 or Hero3 are not waterproof at all. You will need a dive housing to protect your camera from any source of water.

I recommend keeping your camera in a dive housing whenever possible to protect your GoPro from accidents that can easily happen on a dive boat.  

Also pay special attention to the white rubber O-ring on the back cover of the housing. Make sure it is free of hair, lint, dust, sand, or any other debris. A clean O-ring will prevent the chance of water leaking inside and flooding your camera. 


Start Recording Underwater Video

To turn on the GoPro Hero5 or Hero6 camera, hold the side mode button down for 2 seconds and release. Push the top button to start recording. Push the top button again to stop the recording. Small red LED lights will flash on front and back of the housing while actively recording video.



What Video Resolution do I use?

If you are just starting off and don't want to get into intense editing, stick with the default settings of 1080 resolution, 60 frames per second (fps), and Wide field of view. 1080 resolution is what you see on your TV at home and is also referred to as HD. The actual resolution is 1920x1080. 1080 resolution is easier to edit, and is also what you want to post on social media networks to share with your friends and followers.  

If you want to explore higher resolutions, I would recommend 2.7k or 4k. Keep in mind that 4K is difficult to edit. Higher resolutions like 4k require a powerful computer and powerful graphics card to review and edit. The file size can be 4-8x greater (depending on your frame rate) than shooting 1080. There are not many social media platforms where you can share 4K video. If you have no use for 4k, I would recommend staying at 1080 resolution. You can post your 1080 file on social media for your friends and followers.


What Frames Per Second should I use?

Frames Per Second (FPS) is the number of frames (pictures) the camera will be creating during every second of video. The more frames that are being shown per second, the smoother the video will be. Hollywood sometimes uses 24 fps in TV and Film to create a more cinematic and dramatic look. This does not work well in the underwater world. Higher frame rates produce better results.

60 frames per second (FPS) is what you should be using underwater.  30 fps is too slow and will result in a more blurred movement. 60 fps is the sweet spot. You can also slow 60 fps down in your editing process and get a slow-motion look.

You can experiment with higher frame rates like 120 and 240. This fps rate is best used in fast action events like a great white eating a tuna head off the side of a boat. Or it is nice to use when filming someone jumping into the water and seeing the splash in slow motion. When you slow down the playback in your post editing software, it creates a nice slow-motion video. Keep in mind that these higher frame rates also mean larger file sizes. This could really fill up your memory card, and could be difficult to play back on your computer. Most of the time anything over 60 fps is an overkill setting for underwater use.


Best GoPro Settings for Underwater

If you want to keep things simple I would start off using these settings.

Resolution 1080, 60fps, wide

Auto Exposure, Auto White Balance, Auto Shutter, Set your ISO to 400, Sharpness to High, Color to GoPro.  Turn Screensaver and Auto Off to Never.

If you want more control over color correction in post-production editing software, experiment with the ProTune options. Change the color to "Flat." This will give you more of a raw file that you can adjust in a more complex editing process. 


HERO5:  Be sure to check out our GoPro HERO5 Review and Best Settings for Underwater.

Hero4:  Be sure to read our GoPro HERO4 Review and Settings.


GoPro Studio for Underwater Video

Tutorial:  Editing underwater video with GoPro Studio 2.0.


When do I use a Red or Magenta Filter?

Note: No filters are needed on the GoPro Hero6 Black

Filters are used in underwater video to bring red light back into the picture, providing more color and contrast for the scene. Red filters bring the red color back into blue water while magenta filters are for green water. You can even use different filters at different depths, we recommend the Flip5 filter pro pack.

We do not recommend using filters with underwater lights or in shallow water with plenty of natural sunlight.  Your video will result in a pinkish tone and will not look natural.

To learn the specifics of using filters on the GoPro HERO5, HERO4, Hero 3+ and Hero 3, check out:

Guide to GoPro Underwater Filters

Video:  When to Use GoPro Filters Underwater


Should I use video lights?

Video lights are highly recommended when creating underwater videos. The white light from a video light adds missing wavelengths of light that are absorbed in the depths of the water. This will bring out the best possible colors and contrasts in underwater environments. Any light is better than no light. With a wide range of options and costs for underwater lights, the choice can be overwhelming. Use what you can and practice as much as possible.

Underwater lights are good up to about 5 or 6 feet away, depending on the number of Lumens of the light and the visibility of the water. The higher the Lumens on the light, the better. After 5 or 6 feet, the light is absorbed by the water and is overpowered by the blue ambient light that exists underwater. Subjects closer to your lights will have better results than those further away. The direction you point your lights will result in different outcomes (e.g., more or less shadow, softer or harder light, etc.). Experiment around with different angles, adjustments, and power settings until you create your own look and style.  


Learn more about lights for underwater video.

View more GoPro Underwater Mounts.


How do I Create a Time-lapse for my Dive Video?

Time-Lapse video is really simple with the GoPro Hero4, Hero5, and Hero6. There is a time-lapse setting. Push the mode button to time-lapse or navigate on the LCD touch screen to time-lapse options and select video. You will have an option for how often you want your GoPro to take a shot for the video. The options are in seconds and include .5, 1, 2, 5, 10, 30, and 60 seconds. The faster your scene is moving, the lower the number you want to use. The slower your scene is moving the higher the number you want to use. For example, use a .5s interval for a packing timelapse but a 5 or 10s interval for a sunset with moving clouds. I would recommend staying closer to a lower number on the seconds interval. It's better to have more frames and not need them. You can always speed up the video in editing software if the results are too slow.

Keep in mind that your camera needs to be very steady for a long period of time. Make sure your GoPro is secured tightly and is in a place where nothing can move or bump into your camera.


Quick Shooting Tips

1)  Wipe the lens cover on the GoPro and the lens inside the dive housing before every use to make sure no smears, dirt, lint or anything else is on the lens. Even a quick finger touch with sunscreen on your hand will leave a smear on your lens and ruin all of your shots. I wish someone had told me that when I started underwater video. Carry a dedicated small clean towel to clean the lens, and maybe even a can of compressed air is nice to have to blow out any unwanted debris like a small cotton fiber from a towel.  

2)   We all love macro, however your GoPro will only deliver a sharp image if 12 inches or further from the subject. To get closer, check out the PolarPro Macro & Red Switchblade Filter.

3)   Try to hold the camera as steady as possible. Sharp movement, shaking and vibration in your video will make even hearty sailors seasick. Make sure to be slow and smooth when panning the camera.

4) Swap out a fully charged battery before every dive so you won't have to worry about your GoPro dying in the middle of your dive.

5) Use the GoPro App to easily change your camera settings, control your camera, download latest firmware, and instantly review your video shots!

6)  Keep your GoPro at the same temperature as the outside. Bringing a cold GoPro from an air-conditioned hotel room or dive boat to the warm humid outdoors will fog up your dive housing. Keep moister out of your dive housing too. One small drop of water will heat up in your housing and cause it to fog up. 

7)   If you’re not using a tray and handles, make sure your knuckle isn’t visible in the image! Yes, I know this from personal experience.

Want more tips? Read our 3 Tips for GoPro Underwater Video.


What’s Next?

All photographers and videographers develop their own personal styles over time. These will lead divers to some of the best underwater photo destinations while also requiring different accessories. Bluewater Photo has listed some of these GoPro underwater video accessories to help you take it to the next level, and check out their amazing holiday specials on video lights.


Most of all, stay aware while diving and have fun!



Manatees at Crystal River by Brent Durand. Filmed with GoPro Hero 3


Underwater Videos with the GoPro HERO4 Silver

Anilao, Philippines


La Paz, Mexico


View all of our GoPro Tutorials & Articles.


GoPro Camera Reviews


GoPro Tutorials



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How shifting your mindset can significantly improve your underwater photography
By Bryan Chu

Are You Playing to Win or Playing Not to Lose?

Bryan Chu
How shifting your mindset can significantly improve your underwater photography

I went to the Galapagos in April of 2017 for a photo workshop with Bluewater Photography and Travel. I’m not the most experienced diver or underwater photographer (I hit dive 150 while on the trip), and I had been on one previous workshop, which had mostly been focused on macro. I was shooting with the Olympus 8mm F1.8 fisheye lens on my Olympus OM-D E-M1 rig, meaning that to get a good shot of a skittish pelagic like a hammerhead or a mola, I would need to get reallllly close. That, or risk just ending up with a bunch of "ID Photos" (ie photos that show that I saw <insert subject here>, but that's about it). 

Playing to Win

But now I was in the Galapagos. This was a once-in-a-lifetime trip, and there was no way I was going to walk away with only mediocre shots of all the awesome pelagics. So I made a deal with myself at the start of the trip – I would play to win, rather than playing not to lose. Sure, you’re thinking – obviously I should be trying to win. Isn’t everyone always trying to win when they take photos? Actually, it turns out that by my definition, many people are not. So let me define what I mean:

Playing not to lose: when you see something cool, your first thought is “I had better not miss out on this opportunity.” 

 Playing to win: when you see something cool, your first thought is “where can I go and what can I do to have the best chance of getting that amazing contest-winning photo? The one where my subject fills the frame, I get some good eye or face action, the background is perfect and my strobes light everything up evenly?” 

Well, that sounds easy enough, right? Everyone should just be playing to win all the time. But what I saw on this Galapagos trip, with people of varying levels of experience, is that a large portion of the UW photographers seemed to be playing not to lose more often than not. So why is this? 

Well, it turns out that humans are impacted much more by losses than by gains, with some studies finding people were impacted twice as much by a loss as by a gain of the same magnitude. Psychologists call this loss aversion, and what it means is if you finish a dive having missed a great opportunity, it can be quite painful! Playing not to lose is a perfect example of this, as it's driven by people wanting to avoid a loss, to avoid missing out. Playing to win, on the other hand, is based on your vision of the perfect photo, and trying your best to achieve that ideal, even if it means missing out on a significant number of lower-quality opportunities.

The First Test - Eagle Rays

I know what you’re thinking – enough with the psychology already! So let’s get back to underwater photography. We were doing a dive at Wolf. After very poor luck getting close to anything large in 8 dives at Darwin, we were seeing the same thing at Wolf and getting disheartened. So, as we were kicking along, fighting with the current and surge, all of a sudden, a couple of massive eagle rays came around a corner and started heading in our direction! The photographers in our group all rushed towards the first large eagle ray. The guy in the lead was close enough to get in position for a nice shot, and the others getting something, maybe, but nothing really worth showing the group at the end of the day.

I thought about playing to win, which meant I needed to be in front of and below one of these beauties, without other divers in the way, and without getting some kind of rushed, blurry shot against a confusing background of rocks. I looked at the path they were taking and took off to get in front of them and position myself where I thought they would swim by. This was in close to the opposite direction of that taken by the other photographers. I got down in the rocks, checked my settings and waited…and then they changed directions and swam off. Rats! Immediately I started to second-guess my plan, because the other divers all had at least one photo of a large eagle ray, and here I was with nothing at all to show from the encounter. But that’s part of the risk of playing to win, which I had to be willing to accept.

Over the course of this trip, I had quite a few failures; times where playing to win left me with nothing, rather than a mediocre or even a decent photo. And I never did get a good eagle ray photo. But I also had a number of times where this philosophy gave me some of the best photos I have ever taken. 

Hammer Time

Wolf Island, dive 11 of the trip. Scott, our fearless trip leader, had hammered into our heads the perfect setup for a hammerhead shot. Looking up at an angle towards it, so we can expose the white belly and get an eye in the photo. As close as possible...4-5 feet or even less if we could pull it off.

So there we were, creeping towards a school of hammerheads, and trying to balance out bottom time with chances of getting that awesome shot. I had been doing test shots all dive and getting everything prepared, waiting for one good moment...just one good moment, that's all I needed. 11 out of 16 dives at Wolf and Darwin, and I still had zero good hammerhead photos. As Scott guided my movements from rock to rock, I got into position, and finally, I saw a hammerhead coming my direction. I knew that if it got spooked, like if someone behind me fired off a strobe, I would miss my shot. I watched it on my viewfinder as it slowly grew bigger with its approach.

I slowly raised my rig above my head to get the right angle, made sure the exposure looked OK. It continued to get closer, and I felt the urge to take the picture. My playing not to lose voice was screaming at me. "It’s a good photo! It’s a better photo than you’ve ever taken of a shark! And if you don’t take it right now, you might leave the Galapagos, after 16 dives at Wolf and Darwin, with no hammerhead photos!! Do you want to be a failure?" But I waited a bit longer, as it got even closer. 10 ft. I held my breath. Still too far for my strobes. 8 ft. Still too far, and still too small with the fisheye. 6 ft. Still too far, but I had the focus locked in and everything at the ready. 5, and it was at the perfect angle, coming over my head…this was as good as it was going to get…click! It spooked. I had one shot. I checked my viewfinder – success!!

Secret Cave

We dove a location called secret cave, which on first glance was dark and not particularly photogenic. But here’s where a second facet of the playing to win mentality came up, which is not so immediate as when trying to capture a skittish hammerhead, but is still very important. My playing not to lose voice was saying "well just get a couple of photos to show you were in a cave and then you're good." So I fired up my strobes to illuminate some area to show what it looked like, and it was mediocre at best.

I slowed down and started thinking about alternatives. What would playing to win look like? There weren’t any cool cave formations here. The rocks were fairly bland and a bunch of sediment had been kicked up, so strobes were no use. OK, what about divers silhouetted against the ambient light coming in from the opening to the ocean? That could be interesting. So I turned off my strobes, turned out my dive light and positioned myself behind the group as they headed back out of the cave. I imagine they thought I was a weirdo, if anyone even saw me hanging back in the dark, but that was OK with me. I closed my aperture to darken the diver silhouettes, and as I sat back and waited, I saw a very cool image develop on my viewfinder. Bingo.

Mola Mola, Mola Mola

We were diving Punta Vicente Roca, and it was our second dive of the day at a well established mola mola cleaning station. We already had some great mola mola encounters on the first dive. However, in the scrum and mad scramble, with dive computers going off all around as people hit their depth limits, I could not get close enough for a good mola photo. That's another aspect of playing to win, though - know your limits and stay within them. I had about 10 feet deeper to go for a good mola shot when I hit my depth limit, so that was it for me - no mola photo.

After that first dive, one of the divers in my group, Mikhail told me about how he stuck around after the first mola encounter by himself. He said that, some time after the rest of the group went on, the mola returned and he had it to himself. I thought about the rest of the dive...schools of fish, sea lions and turtles, which are all cool, but certainly not mola equivalent. What does playing to win look like here? A close encounter with molas, at the expense of all else, clearly.

So, back to this second dive. After the initial excitement of a big mola, and getting a couple of decent shots from one who came pretty close, I was feeling good. But I still figured I could do better. The rest of the group headed off, while Mikhail and I waited around. We stayed at a shallower depth to conserve bottom time, and checked back on the cleaning station every now and then. On my third time going down to check, I saw perhaps the most magical moment of my short dive career. Two molas appeared out of the blue ahead of me, decending down to the cleaning station like alien spacecraft. Googly eyes rotating in all directions, they parked themselves vertically, side by side, and waited for their turn being cleaned. I went and grabbed Mikhail, and we went down to the molas by ourselves. They both watched us, eyes spinning crazily, as we approached. Closer, closer, closer...nice and calm, nice and slow, no sudden movements. And then, finally, click. Two molas in one photo, and one of the best diving experiences of my life!

Penguin Safari

After the crazy mola dives at PVR, three of us went on a panga to try snorkeling with penguins. That's another piece of the playing to win mindset - making opportunities when you get a chance. After motoring around the bay for awhile, we finally spotted a penguin darting around near the rocks. Galapagos penguins are notoriously difficult to approach, but we figured it was worth a shot. So, two of us hopped in the water and swam towards the rocks. The penguin swam into a bit of a rocky inlet, which could be accessed by the main entryway to the water, or by reaching over some rocks on the side of it. I was at the part where I could reach over the rocks, and I saw the penguin zipping around in the inlet. The other guy was at the mouth of the inlet.

My playing not to lose voice was screaming at me "reach over the rocks and get a photo of that penguin! You need to get a photo right now before it swims off! This is your only chance to get a photo of a Galapagos penguin!" But then I thought about what playing to win would look like. That would be a photo with the penguin at the surface, and water in the background, not some random snap of it zipping around against a rock background.

So I swam around to the mouth of the inlet, positioned myself, made sure my shutter was fast enough to avoid any motion blur, and then waited. I was worried the penguin would swim below or otherwise evade us, but this was the best chance of getting a winning shot. And the penguin decided to slow down and take a leisurely pass right by the two of us. Yeah!!

Galapagos Penguin


Manta Madness

Cabo Marshall, the last of the really good dives for the trip. We were told there was a good chance to see large mantas. As I had only ever seen a couple from a distance, this was very exciting. On our second dive of the day the divemaster took us to a small seamount to hang out for a bit. I was not sure why we were there at first, but all of a sudden a big manta passed by! It was too far away for good photos though. 

A few minutes later, an even larger manta showed up. My dive group all went straight for it in a flurry of kicks and bubbles. My playing not to lose voice was going again. "Big manta, this is your first big manta, you have to go straight for it to get a photo or else you're going to miss it!" By this point it was getting easier to quash, so quash it I did. Thinking about playing to win, I knew I wanted to get right underneath of the manta for that classic shot of the white belly and markings framed in Snell's window. And heading straight for it would not come close to accomplishing that.

As the group headed for the manta, I headed off perpendicular to them, kicking as quickly as I could to get into a position where I thought the manta would pass over me. It swam around a bit, and then left behind the members of my dive group. At this point I realized it was coming right towards me! My heart was pounding, partly from the burst of speed and partly from nervousness for the upcoming moment. It kept coming straight at me as I made my final checks: proper exposure settings for a bright surface background, strobes on at the right power and fiber optics plugged in (you never know what can get bumped during a dive). 

As it passed almost directly over me, I felt a level of breathless awe that went beyond me merely being out of breath. So cool. And fortunately, in the midst of this amazing experience, I remembered the most important part; hit the shutter button! Not perfect and not quite centered in Snell's window, but pretty decent!

Manta Ray

On a subsequent dive at Cabo Marshall we encountered a school of juvenile barracuda. I spotted it first and went right for it, taking a few decent photos, and my dive group followed. As others were lining up their photos, I checked mine; good, but not great. I knew what I needed to do to play to win, especially with the fisheye lens; get as close as possible to the school. No, even closer than that. So after the group finished, I went back to the school and swam straight at it. The barracuda were shy but as they got out of my way, they made some very cool patterns. This is what got the first photo in the article; again, not being satisfied with a decent shot, but looking for and working for that winning one.


The playing to win mindset is risky, and you will miss some shots when doing it; I did not get any eagle ray photos the whole trip. And if I had screwed up that hammerhead photo or that penguin photo, I would not have gotten any of those either. But the point is, I was able to override my "playing not to lose" voice and I took a number of risks while playing to win. As an end result, I missed a decent number of opportunities, but also came home with a number of the best photos of my life.

To recap, here's how to live this mindset:

  • Know what an amazing shot of <insert subject here> looks like and think about what it would take to get it
  • When you see your subject, get yourself into position for the amazing shot in case it happens, even if it means missing the mediocre or even the decent one
  • Don't be satisfied with mediocre shots unless you've at least tried to take something more exciting. Always be thinking about what you could do in a given situation for an award-winning shot
  • If your shot is decent, and you have an opportunity to experiment or improve, then do it! Don't worry if everyone else thinks you're being a weirdo - sometimes it will be worth it!
  • Don't forget to slow down and really check your photos every now and then - check for exposure, composition, focus, background and so on, just to make sure that you're ready for the next opportunity when it presents itself
  • Always stay safe - never compromise your safety for that winning shot

Thanks for reading and I hope this helps you to take some cool photos! If you have any comments or questions I'd love to hear from you at

Gear Links

Shoot me an email ( if you plan on trying out any of these items or have any questions about the gear I used. My OM-D E-M1 rig is what I learned underwater photography on and I would love to chat about my experience and what you might be looking for! Same goes if you're looking at a Galapagos trip or you have one planned and want to know a bit more about what to expect.


Upcoming Galapagos and Socorro (Big Animal) trips

Additional Reading


Bryan is an assistant editor for the Underwater Photography Guide. He loves any activity that takes him out into nature, and is especially fond of multi-day hiking trips, road trips to National Parks, and diving. Any kind of diving. He discovered the joy of underwater photography on a Bluewater trip to the Sea of Cortez, and after "trial and erroring" his way to some level of proficiency, has been hooked ever since. He has not done nearly as much diving as he would like, but has so far taken underwater photos in a diverse range of places, including BC, the Sea of Cortez, Greenland/Iceland, Northern Norway and the Galapagos. 

After working as a chemical engineer at a major oil & gas corporation for 9 years, Bryan finally had enough (and it didn't help that he was living in landlocked Edmonton, Canada with frigid winter temperatures and no real diving to speak of). He and his girlfriend decided to pack up their things and travel the world; they will start their journey mid-2018 and visit a number of great dive locations along the way. He is very excited to expand his underwater photography experience and skills while experiencing new cultures and exciting parts of the world. Though he is also a bit worried about the following equation that has so far defined his dive travels: Corporate job ($$) = Dive travel ($) + Underwater Photography ($). Taking away the left side of that equation seems like it might put things a bit out of balance. But as he reasons, what's the point in life if you can't take some big risks and have some fun along the way?


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Cold water diving the mountain lakes of the Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Ice and Altitude Diving (with bonus crayfish)

Cold water diving the mountain lakes of the Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains.

I think there is a lot of benefit to diving the same sites over and over. However, to grow as a photographer and keep the creative process flowing, it's important to mix things up!


So when the crazy idea to learn how to dive under the ice crept into my head, I went for it. I shot a quick Facebook message to a friend and the next thing I know, I'm gearing up at over 7600 feet of elevation looking at the edge of a scenic lake in the eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains less than two weeks later.

The Location


The first set of dives were at Silver Lake, near the Ansel Adams Wilderness. It was truly unique to start and end my dives with a backdrop like this. With that said though, you definitely notice the altitude gearing up!


For the ice diving portion of the trip, we headed even further up the mountains to find ice. Due to warmer temperatures, most of the lakes the group normally dives were completely free of ice; something my instructor has only seen a few times in the last 30 years. After gearing up for safety, and a short run of the chainsaw later, we had a hole cut out and were ready to dive!



About the Diving

For normal diving destinations, there is a lot of planning and research done ahead of time to get a feel for what subjects you'll see and what sort of images you want to shoot. Here, not so much. With the compressed timeframe there was almost no research (or planning) and as a result, I stumbled upon something completely unexpected, a croc-adile fish!



Get it!? Because... ok, ok... bad puns aside, crayfish!  



These high mountain lakes are home to an abundance of signal crayfish, a species introduced to California, possibly as early as 1898. Since then, they've continued to spread through a number of watersheds and as a result, made some pretty unique subjects when I finished with my training dives.



About the Shots

Photography in these conditions can be challenging. With frigid 38-40F temps, time in the water is limited. Extremely silty bottoms with no water movement leave little room erratic fin kicks, and bulky drysuit and thick gloves limit mobility and dexterity, making simple changes to camera settings difficult. When shooting the Tokina 10-17, a mini dome was essential to getting up close to these crayfish, and due to the dark, murky water, a focus light such as the Kraken Hydra 1k was crucial as well.


Slowing down the shutter speed and bumping the ISO will add a little background color and careful strobe positioning to light the foreground will give you a good starting point to capturing these unique critters. There is definitely room for improvement, but no regrets going out of my comfort zone trying something new!





Aaron Halstead is an avid diver, critter enthusiast and underwater photographer living in Southern California. He is pretty addicted, send help.

More work can be found on his InstagramWebsite, or Facebook page.


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Mating Squid Captured in 4K Definition!
By Nirupam Nigam

Sony A7R III 4K Underwater Video

Nirupam Nigam
Mating Squid Captured in 4K Definition!

Check out our full review of the Sony A7R III here! 



Sony placed itself at the forefront of photographic technology with the introduction of the A7, A7R, and A7s series featuring full frame, 35 mm sensor mirrorless cameras. The release of the Sony A7R III 4K has made new strides in the realm of videography as well. The A7RII boasts 4K video (3840x2160 pixels) with multiple frame rates up to 30 fps and a bitrate of up to 100 mbps. Full HD can be shot up to 120 fps. Upgraded from the A7R II, the A7R III also features a hybrid log gamma profile, 15-stops of dynamic range, and 2.2x the battery life of the A7R II. Without a doubt, underwater videographers, whether professional or amateur, will not be disappointed!


For best results change the Youtube video quality settings to 4K (2160p)!

Story Behind the Video

During most California winters, California market squid (Doryteuthis opalescens) congregate on the shallow continental shelf in numbers reaching millions in order to mate, lay eggs, and die. It is a spectacular event to witness where mating squid become so thick in the water column, you can’t see two feet in front of you. Then, after a few wild nights, all that’s left is a desolate moonscape of incubating eggs. Although, I missed the initial squid run this year, a small secondary run occurred at Redondo Beach in the middle of January, 2018. I took the opportunity to film the squid with the new Sony A7R III and Sony 28 mm lens in a Nauticam housing. I also simultaneously tested the Kraken Hydra 2500 macro video light, the Kraken KRL-01 wet wide-angle lens. No color adjustments were made in post-production in order to showcase the white balance of the A7R III and the color of the Kraken Hydra 2500 video light. Overall this combination of equipment is an excellent choice for anyone wishing to shoot wide-angle and close-focus wide-angle underwater video.

The opening shot of the video features a pair of mating squid. The male sees the female, chases it, and latches on. Then, in a brief moment, the male places a sperm sack into the female’s mantel. Due to the speed of the mating process, I had to slow down the video to 50% in post-production. The squid appear out of focus as they get close to the lens only because I didn’t have enough time to adjust my focal point and refocus. The video also depicts a juvenile horn shark, a juvenile bat ray, and a female squid laying its egg sack and promptly passing away.

Underwater Video Gear Used

Nauticam Housing for the Sony A7R III

The Nauticam A7R III housing is ergonomic, safe, and astutely designed for the Sony A7R III. Video is very simple. Pushing the bottom right lever easily turns the video function on and off. Adjusting aperture and shutter speed is the same as when shooting photographs – there are two rotating dials placed within finger distance from the grips. The auto focus point can be moved and refocused when shooting video. The housing includes a moisture alarm and can be modified to include a vacuum seal as double insurance against a flood.

Kraken Hydra 2500 Macro Video Light

Top side photo of Kraken Hydra 2500 Macro Video Light

Although touted for being a macro video light, the Kraken Hydra 2500 is very versatile. The beam angle of 100 degrees was wide enough for my wide-angle video shot with a single light. The color temperature of this light ranges from 5000-5500 K. At full power, I found the color of the white light to be very accurate. The light also features red and blue light options and a strobe mode for underwater photographers. The Kraken 2500 is rated to 100 m/330 ft with 55 minutes of burn time at 2500 lumens. Check out my review of the Kraken 2500 for more information.

Kraken KRL-01 Wet Wide-Angle Lens

The Kraken KRL-01 is an ultrawide wet conversion lens that is screwed onto the front of housings with a 67 mm thread. It is perfect for compact and mirrorless videographers wishing to produce high-quality, detailed video of wide-angle and close-focus wide-angle scenes. The lens is made with high-quality optical glass and coated with multi-layer BBAR coating for anti-reflection and optical clarity. Combined with the Sony 28 mm lens, I was able to take excellent video with almost no minimum focusing distance and a 118.6 degree field of view. The field of view can increase even further if used with a recommended 24 mm lens. 


Nirupam Nigam is a dedicated underwater photographer and fisheries scientist. While growing up in Los Angeles he fell in love with the ocean and pursued underwater photography in the local Channel Islands. He received degrees in Aquatic and Fisheries Science and General Biology, as well as a minor in Arctic Studies, at the University of Washington. Now he works as a fisheries observer on boats in the Bering Sea and North Pacific. When he is not at sea, he is traveling with his fiancee and taking photos. 


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When art meets technique and mythology inspires conservation
By Chiara Salomoni

Mermaids and Underwater Fashion Photography

Chiara Salomoni
When art meets technique and mythology inspires conservation

At some point in our lives, we all wonder what is hidden beneath the ocean’s depths. This same curiosity for the sunken world has inspired the minds of many throughout history. Fantasy become myth, folklore, and timeless literature. Such is how the mythical figure of the mermaid came to life and never really stopped intriguing us. 

Turning Myth into Reality

Photography takes an ocean tale and pushes it a step forward, transforming it into a reality. At some point, as photography took its place among the arts, someone decided to experiment underwater, making a new medium available to our craft. 

Water is where fashion takes a new shape and gives us the chance to bring history’s wildest dreams to life. Not only have we reinvented the figure of the  mermaid, but we have given her a new meaning. An advocate for ocean conservation is born from this myth, inspiring change throughout the world.


From Fashion to Conservation

In an environment free from gravity’s rules, we can create concepts and share our vision with the world. With underwater photography we can make our own art – reaching the minds of those who don’t speak our language and inspiring compassion in those who won’t listen to simple words. Coral bleaching, pollution,  and captivity become important concepts made visual through photography.

Photoshoot after photoshoot, my transition from photography to conservation photography happened almost on its own. Shoots went from being just fashion related to carrying conservation concepts. It soon became my focus. Now I travel to make underwater and mermaid photoshoots available to everybody. This brings ocean awareness around the world. My traveling has also created the opportunity for me to go to schools and teach children about ocean conservation.


From the Studio to the Water

Techniques in underwater photography often go hand in hand with those you would use in the studio. The major difference is the addition of dedicated camera housings and waterproof strobes powerful enough to work through a dense medium like water. I find most housings are great for pool shoots, as long as they can be synced to a strobe and vacuum sealed. I prefer to work with underwater housings that allow you to work in deep water as well, like Nauticam, Aquatica and Easydive. Personally, the ocean is where I have the most fun during my photoshoots. All photographs in this article were shot with a Nikon D800, Nikkor 24mm f/1.4 lens, and Sea & Sea YS-250 PRO strobes.

Lighting and Technique

Lighting a subject is the biggest challenge in fashion shoots. Adapting powerful strobes from shooting underwater wildlife to portraits of people can be difficult - how well you light a scene can set you apart from other photographers. In the pool I often light my subjects with remote strobes using an optical slave flash trigger built into my Sea & Sea YS-250 strobes.

When using stationary lighting, a photographer will have to learn how to move in the water to capture the best light as the subject moves. In the pool it is best to work with your model at the shallow end without a scuba tank. Constantly reposition the model, keeping your lights on tripods. If you are using strobes with a slave function, make sure all the lights are in visual range of one another. They trigger via light waves so if they are obstructed, they won’t fire. In the ocean, the best results are achieved once the whole team is on scuba and the model is weighed down in one spot.

Pool vs the Ocean

In the pool, underwater photography comes together easier than in the ocean, where conditions are usually completely out of one’s control. The advantage of working in the pool is the ability to control almost everything (water temperature, visibility, etc.) under a small budget. In the ocean and even freshwater environments, backgrounds are more beautiful, and there is always the potential to be visited by curious wildlife. However, adding props becomes costlier, and building a set takes more time and effort in an environment that changes conditions extremely quickly. In the ocean, safety divers are often used to make sure your concept will be executed smoothly and safely.


Underwater photography has allowed me to follow my dreams of a life spent in the water, connecting me with incredible and caring people working in conservation around the world. As technology becomes more advanced, limits fade away, leaving us with the privilege to experiment and create our own path in the history of photography.


Chiara is a photographer specialized in underwater wildlife and fashion. She grew up in Italy, experiencing the beauty of the sea since a really young age. In 2010, Chiara graduated from the Brera Academy of fine Arts in Milan and then moved to California to study photography at Brooks institute, Santa Barbara. CoFounder of Project Mermaids, a project with profits donated to, she is now working with Keiko Conservation leading its Italian chapter. Most recently she co-created Mermaids for Change, an organization built around education, ocean conservation, and photography.


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