10 Tips for Shooting Underwater Video

Anastasia Laity
Tips you Need to Know when Shooting and Editing Video

10 Tips for Shooting Underwater Video

Tips you Need to Know when Shooting and Editing Video

Text, Photos & Video by Anastasia Laity




This article includes tips I've picked up in a decade of shooting underwater video - from other videographers, books or articles, and my own experience.  Some may be familiar to those of you who started off shooting still photography; others address issues unique to video. Hopefully these 10 tips will help you get started, but remember that the best way to get better at shooting underwater video is just like anything else: practice!


1: Hold Still

Avoid shaky movements. Sounds easy, right? After all, your camera is surrounded by water and should be nice and stable. While it's true that most underwater footage isn't prone to the kind of rapid shake that handheld cameras usually produce topside, any amount of wobble can be extremely distracting to your viewers. Hold the housing as close to your body as possible to help stabilize it, or use a tripod (see tip #3!).


Click video beow to see handheld vs. tripod:


Make sure you keep the camera steady on your subject for long enough to get a good, usable shot. Count to 10 in your head once you've got the subject in frame and don't re-adjust where you're pointing the camera or change the zoom during that time. A 60-second shot full of slight moves, shakes, or zooming isn't really a 60-second usable shot, and it's surprisingly easy to sabotage yourself by thinking you've been "on" something long enough when you never have more than a few steady seconds at once!


2: Move Around a Little

Videos are more interesting if they contain a variety of shots. So along with all your nice, steady, still clips, you probably want to have a few taken while moving.

Practice panning the camera by twisting at the waist to aim the camera all the way to one side, hitting record, and then slowly unraveling yourself back to the other side (don't try to turn your whole body using your fins as this will introduce more shaking).

Each kick of your fins makes the camera wobble for a moment, so try panning over or past your subject by frog-kicking. If you get a strong enough start, you can film a nice long, stable shot while coasting after each kick.


3: Use a Tripod

It's almost impossible to hold the camera completely steady - especially in the frequently-surgey waters here in Southern California. You can get rid of that last trace of shakiness by using an underwater tripod. Several manufactures make mounts for different housing, and tripod legs to suit your diving style and price range.


Pictured: Tripod mounting bracket and legs from xit404.


Using a tripod will kick your macro footage up to the next level. It's also surprisingly useful when shooting wide angle. Extend one of the legs out to one side and use it as a handle to give your housing a wider, more stable platform. Or, extend a leg toward your own body to use as a monopod that braces against your chest.

You can also leave your tripod set up on your subject and swim away - fish are much friendlier to cameras that don't have divers behind them.


Shot with a tripod while after we swam away (click to watch):


4: Follow the Action

When shooting a moving subject, keep it in frame and with plenty of "headroom" - just like shooting stills, you want to make it look like your subject still has room to move.

You can't follow any critter forever, though, and if you try you wind up with a wobbly shot trying to "catch up" with it. After you've captured some amount of motion, hold the camera still and let the subject swim out of frame to "end" the shot gracefully.


5: Keep Rolling

Tape and memory cards are cheap - go ahead and take lots of footage! Some cameras take a moment to get rolling after you hit "record," and that usually turns out to be the moment with all the action. If something cool is hanging around in the area, I just leave the camera recording, but put my hand over the lens so I can easily see later that there's nothing "here".

Of course, the flip side of this is that you're going to have way, WAY more footage than anyone should ever be forced to watch. Keep in mind that the more footage you take, the more editing will be required. Some videographers truly enjoy the editing process, but those who don't often learn to be better "in-camera editors," only hitting the record button once they've got their shot all lined up and ready to go.


6: Get a Variety of Shots

When it's time to edit your video together later, you'll want to have a variety of shots to choose from. In particular, you want to try to get wide (establishing), medium, and close up shots of your subject whenever possible.

Try shooting your subjects from different angles, with different lighting. Take your time and give yourself lots of options for later.

Don't forget the shots that will help glue the story together: divers gearing up or entering and exiting the water, wide angle shots showing the overall appearance of the dive site, empty shots of blue water or diver bubbles that can be useful while running credits, etc.



7: White Balance

Get familiar with your camera's white balance functions. If you're shooting macro with lights, you can probably just leave it on 'auto.' But if you're using ambient light, even with a red filter, manual white balance is going to be your friend.

Manual white balance normally entails pointing the camera at something white (or close to white) and hitting a button, or an annoying series of buttons. Sand usually works, though in some locations the sand has too much red or yellow in it to make a good white card. Dive slates can work, but may need to be held at a bit of a distance and slanted so they aren't glaringly reflective. If all else fails, point straight up towards the sun (or make your buddy wear white fins).

It's often tempting to stop fiddling with white balance and just "fix it in post." But trust me: fixing it in the camera will look much better!


Ambient light and red filter; manual white balance.


Ambient light and red filter; automatic white balance.


8: Know When to Use Lights and Filters

Here are my rules of thumb - with the caveat that your mileage may vary based on your camera's performance in different lighting situations:

  • Wide-angle, 45' or shallower: Use a red filter and ambient light. Manual white balance whenever you change depth or the lighting changes.
  • Wide-angle, deeper than 45': if shooting something close, turn on your lights (extended above and to the sides of the housing to cut down on backscatter) and remove the red filter. If you're trying to shoot something larger than the area illuminated by your lights, you may just have to settle for having extremely blue footage. Putting the red filter on may help you white balance, but at depth it also cuts out way too much light and leads to grainy footage.
  • Macro: lights on, no red filter. Experiment with different light locations. I usually put one light right next to the lens aiming directly at the critter, and use the other light to backfill some of the shadows from the side or above.


9: Deal with Divers

Other divers have a knack for getting in the way of a shot. One way to mitigate the damage is to get some nice footage of your fellow divers that can be cut into the video later - seeing bubbles suddenly streaming up behind your subject will be much less jarring if your next cut is to a shot of a diver looking at that subject.

If you dive with a still photographer, try to shoot your clips when they aren't flashing the strobes. If your perfect shot is "ruined" by having a strobe go off in the middle of it, you can salvage it by cutting to a clip of a photographer taking a picture.


10: Check Your Footage

Those tiny little screens on video cameras help you figure out where to aim, and hopefully tip you off if you're terribly out of focus or badly white-balanced. But to really get a good look at your footage, you need to look at it on a big screen.

Often I've taken what I thought was great footage - only to play it back on my HDTV at home and discover there's a bit of dust on the inside of the lens that mucked up the autofocus. If you're traveling and go days without really looking at your footage, you can miss things that ruin days of footage, so it's worth it to take the time and make sure you're getting the results you want at full resolution!



About the Author

anastasia laityAnastasia Laity is a SCUBA instructor and underwater videographer residing in Pasadena, California.  In addition to her day job as a computer geek (in a non-SCUBA field), she is currently the Vice President of the Los Angeles Underwater Photography Society (LAUPS), regularly teaches SCUBA classes for Hollywood Divers in Universal City, and dives for fun and video as often as she can.  You can see more of her work, as well as her husband Jeff's still photography, at http://laityphoto.com.


Further Reading


Where to Buy

Please support the Underwater Photography Guide by purchasing your underwater photography gear through our sister site, Bluewater Photo & Video. Click, or call them at (310) 633-5052 for expert advice!



5 Photos you Need in your Portfolio

Christian Skauge
Essential Tips for Building you Underwater Photo Portfolio

5 Photos you Need in your Portfolio

Essential Tips for Building you Underwater Photo Portfolio

Text and Photos by Christian Skauge


Wreck of the KT-12 located outside Orosei, Sardinia.

The point of having a portfolio is to showcase your very best images to potential clients, to gain the respect of your peers, to show your ex-boss you actually made it and last but not least, to impress your mum. Pretty much in this order. But that’s when you have to stop and think: Should impressing your parents count when you plan to spend time and money on creating a website? Of course not!

You will get all the admiration and likes you deserve on Facebook, so your portfolio should only contain those few, top-quality images that define you as an underwater photographer. Think about what you like to shoot, because you’re most likely better at that than what you don’t enjoy and don’t shoot too often.

Still, a portfolio needs to show a broad range of different images – at least if you’re planning to hitch some new clients with through your website. They might consider using you for a commercial shoot in a pool or to send you off on a trip to shoot images for a magazine feature, and they need to know there’s a reasonable chance you’re worth the money.

If you only shoot macro photography that’s fine, but it should come across when viewing your portfolio. If you include wide angle it better be pretty good – and vice versa. If wrecks and caves is your thing, don’t include mediocre macro shots.

The kind of images you include could be many things, but there are some rules of thumb you might want to consider. I’ll talk you through five photos I think it is important for any underwater photographer to have in their portfolio.


1. The Wide-Angle Shot

Wide-angle can be many things, but usually includes reefscapes and/or wrecks. Reef panoramas are always popular, and you can’t go wrong showing off a stunning underwater landscape, diverse fish life or an interesting close-focus wide-angle subject. This is certainly not limited to tropical coral reefs – a great looking cold-water reef or even some fresh water eye-candy could spark some extra interest and set you apart from the crowd.

I chose to include several images in this first category: A cold-water and a tropical reef, as well as a fresh water “reefscape” to show diversity and a different perspective on wide-angle images. It is important to remember that if you can’t show merit in this field, you’ll most likely never be asked by a magazine to do a feature for them.


underwater photographer

Diver at Gulen Dive Resort on the Norwegian west coast.


coral reef

Coral Reef at Siladen Resort in North Sulawesi, Indonesia.


flooded forest underwater

Reefscape is from lake Lygnstøylsvatnet in Norway.


If reefscapes isn’t you thing, perhaps you like shooting rust. Most of the time a stunning shot showing a whole wreck will work much better than a close-up of some rusty debris. It could be wise not to choose the Thistlegorm or any other wreck that has been shot by thousands of others – some of those images have a pretty generic feeling. That is, unless your shot is truly stunning.

Since I dive mostly in cold waters, a WWII wreck is a natural choice for me, and on the international scene these images often attract some attention just by being different. I chose an image of the stern of the wreck Frankenwald, a 122 meter (400 ft.) German freighter on the Norwegian west coast. I included the wreck of the KT-12 (see photo below title) to show some warm-water merit as well.


frankenwald wreck



2. The Big Animal Photo

Big animals are hard to ignore, be it sharks, whales, mantas or any of the other “classic” choices. If you choose to use any of these animals, make sure the images you present are truly unique - there are millions of great shark pictures out there. I chose a manatee - a cute and adorable animal that attracts lots of attention outside the diving community.



Manatee in Crystal Springs in Florida, USA.


Perhaps you have some great crocodile shots or even an elephant? I have seen people shoot dogs, pigs and whatnot over the years, and surprisingly often these images turn up on newspaper websites. Attracting attention by choosing something a little out of the ordinary might be a good thing, but by all means throw in a shark or two if you have some good ones.



Salt water crocodile shot in Walindi, Papua New-Guinea. I love the angry look in its eye! Good thing I was at a safe distance… (actually, no I wasn’t – this was shot with a 10.5 mm fisheye and will definitely NOT impress my mum!)


3. The Macro Portrait Shot

I think it is good advice to avoid clownfish and similar clichés – everybody has these shots. Of the five types of images, this is perhaps the category that leaves you with the most room to play, where you can really show that you have the eye and talent to capture a unique image, and that you have the creativity others may lack.

Good choices for your macro portfolio may be nudibranchs or fish portraits. Try to pick images where the viewer immediately connects to the image – eye contact is very important. Remember that many people viewing your portfolio don’t have the same intimate knowledge of marine animals that you do. It is important to choose something that is easy to identify, colorful and striking at the same time.

Striking color and tight, well-composed pictures always make an impression, and for me it is also very important to have a uniform, tidy background to further enhance the subject.

A keen eye is necessary to capture these images, not just knowledge of camera settings or finding critters. I always scout for suitable backgrounds when I dive my favorite sites – and sooner or later there is something sitting on that little red sponge or orange soft coral.



This nudibranch creates excellent contrast against the bright red background.


macro fish eyes

Interesting compositions and creative camera settings provide excellent variety for your portfolio.


4. The Rare ID or Behavior

Everyone loves to show off pictures of extremely rare creatures – and there’s nothing wrong with that. You must however try to put your fond emotions for an image aside when you consider what to include here – the viewers don’t necessarily share your joy of finding something rare and will quickly dismiss the image if it isn’t stunning.

Showing off some rare critters will, on the other hand, tell people you’re a good diver/critter finder as well as a photographer, and it will increase your chances with the magazines. If you’re able to catch rare or eye-catching behavior it’s perhaps even better that just using a rare animal – it proves you’re not only good when you have plenty of time, you get it done even when the action is happening quickly.


Capturing interesting behavior shows that you've got the camera skills when it matters most.


Demonstrating an ability to capture a great photo when the opportunity presents itself is very important in building a portfolio.


5. The Pool Shot

Most underwater photographers don’t spend much time in pools. This can however be a fun experience and a great opportunity to add something to your portfolio that many potential clients may be looking for. Many commercial shoots are done in the pool, and showing off this experience will open doors beyond exclusively selling images within the dive community or to marine biology book publishers. The opportunity might be to portray celebrities taking part in a TV show in a new and different way, to shoot a baby swimming session or to do an underwater fashion shoot (which has become quite popular).


pool photography


I chose to include a pool shot set up for a photo competition; something a little different from those typical “nice girl with long hair and too much make-up in flowing dress” images you see everywhere on Facebook. After working for two whole days to get everything right I had a great series of images. This image has been a great door opener, perhaps because non-divers can easily relate to it and are impressed at the same time. The above shot won me a gold medal in the Nordic Championships!


Abstracts and Other Images

If you specialize in other types of images, you will of course have to take this into account when putting together your portfolio. I shoot a lot of abstract images and felt the need to include the photo below, entitled “Conception.



Although it looks like something completely different, it’s actually just a close-up of the leaf of a water lily. I carefully angled the camera and manipulated the depth of field to make it look like genesis.

Unfortunately, images like these are not very sellable, and are probably not what future clients will be looking for – unless they’re publishing an art book.

Other types of images you might want to include in your portfolio could be travel images, landscapes, people or architecture. This depends on what you normally shoot, what you’re good at and last but not least, what you want to sell.


Keep it Clean and Uncluttered

I’m not going to plunge deep into how you should best present your portfolio online, but one thing is very important to keep in mind: Keep it simple! Don’t make your portfolio into a mystery game – present it clean, uncluttered and easy to navigate. And don’t forget to add your contact info on every page!

My own website is perhaps a good example on how NOT to do it – I don’t even have a proper portfolio at the moment. When I started building my website I opted for a searchable, custom gallery that makes finding images easy for magazines and others that might be interested, but I really do need to set things straight and make a proper portfolio showcasing my best images as soon as possible.

We can all agree that there are no easy ways to a stunning portfolio. For most people it takes years to produce a range of great shots within these different categories, and some never make it all the way. It boils down to what you want with your portfolio: If it’s to impress mum you don’t have to take it to a professional level, but if you plan to get actual paid work you need to be determined – and hard on yourself when choosing what to showcase. It’s better to have a smaller portfolio with stunningly beautiful images than having a larger one containing many borderline keepers.

Remember, your portfolio is only as good as your worst image!



About the Author

Christian Skauge is a former Nordic Champion of underwater photography and has won several international photo contests. He writes articles about diving and underwater photography and is published regularly in magazines around the world. He also runs underwater photo and marine biology workshops. Check out his website for more info: www.scubapixel.com


Further Reading


Where to Buy

Please support the Underwater Photography Guide by purchasing your underwater photography gear through our sister site, Bluewater Photo & Video. Click, or call them at (310) 633-5052 for expert advice!



5 Tips for Awesome Over-Under Shots

Brent Durand
Master Split-Shots with these Easy Techniques

5 Tips for Awesome Over-Under Shots

Master Split-Shots with these Easy Techniques

Text and Photos by Brent Durand


Over-Under Split-Shot



Diversity is essential in any photo portfolio. The first thing we learn when presenting photos is that less is more; it’s better to show 5 excellent photos than 25 mediocre photos. The next trick in presenting photos is finding those “wow” photos, which is done through variety that keeps the audience looking forward to your next visual surprise. Over-under shots, aka split-shots, are perfect for mixing into your macro and wide-angle collection.

Below are 5 essential tips for shooting over-under shots.


1.  Use a Large Dome

The surface of the ocean is likely to be rolling at most dive sites, whether short period or long period energy. And like wide-angle photography underwater, a good split-shot is comprised of several elements: a strong topside scene, a strong underwater scene and a water line across the frame. The larger the dome port, the more surface area to split the water and create this water line. The big dome provides more room for the water and your hand-held housing to rise and fall while still splitting the water. For more advanced split-shot shooters, this allows the creativity of working with the water line (straight vs. a wave) and precise angle of the shot.

The downside is that big domes are tougher to travel with (due to their size compared with a standard 4” dome) and not the best option for Close-Focus Wide-Angle photography. A big dome is helpful with wide-angle lenses and large subjects like whale sharks and (obviously) split-shots.

Over-Under Split-Shot

Bangkas on a beach in Anilao, Philippines. Shot with an 8" acryllic dome.


2.  Use a Fisheye or Wide-Angle Lens

This is an obvious tip, but very important. Don’t be afraid to use your fisheye lens for split-shots. Sure, the surface scene may appear warped, but sometimes that effect is pretty cool. Oftentimes the water line accents the slight warp of topside objects. If the fisheye warp effect is not desired, post-processing programs like Adobe Lightroom feature lens distortion tools that can straighten it out. A wide-angle lens can also be used for certain over-under scenes.

Over-Under Split-Shot

Medano Beach in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Shot with the Tokina 10-17 fisheye lens. I decided to leave the image as shot and not correct the lens distortion.


3.  Use a High F-Stop

Shooting split-shots is similar to landscape and close-focus wide-angle photography in that you need a large depth of field in order to keep the entire image in focus. In most split-shot scenes, there’s an underwater subject (sand, rocks, etc.) within a meter or two of the lens and also a topside subject that can be anywhere from 3 to hundreds of meters away. Stopping down to a low f-stop (ie F16 or F18) allows you to keep both scenes in focus, including the water’s surface just in front of the dome. When shooting with a small aperture it’s essential to closely monitor shutter speed, which will need to be at or over 1/60 for a sharp image. ISO will oftentimes need to be bumped up in order to expose the image with a fast shutter speed.

Over-Under Split-Shot

Waterfall in the Los Padres National Forest, California. By stopping down I was able to capture the detail above and below water, as well as the sunburst. As a result, I had to bump the ISO up to 1250 in order to expose the image properly with a shutter speed of 1/5. This scene is an exception to the fast shutter speed rule above because I wanted a blur effect on the waterfall and used a tripod to minimize shake/movement.


4.  Look for the Right Conditions

Water is very dark compared to the light scene we seetopside, and there are some essential conditions to look for before deciding to shoot a split-shot. The first is decent visibility in the water. If the visibility is poor then the subject underwater will not be as detailed and result is a boring image. The second condition is mid-day sun. When the sun is overhead it penetrates and lights up the water – ideal for split-shots. If shooting earlier or later in the day, the image should be composed with the sun somewhere at the back of the camera so that the light falls in front of the scene (vs. shooting into the bright sun and seeing silhouettes). Other tricks can be used as well, like using strobe light.

Over-Under Split-Shot

Freediver at Russian Gulch in Mendocino County, California. Shot on a cloudy day. You can tell that conditions aren't ideal for split-shots with ~10ft visibility and overcast skies. The result is the dark water and white sky in the image.


5.  Keep Water Drops off the Dome

Even the best split-shot will be unusable if blurred out by water droplets on the dome port. My preferred method of keeping drops of the dome is to use my custom mask antifog – spit.  That’s right. Putting some spit on the dome will help shed water for a spot-free image, at least for several seconds. Just spit, dunk the dome, shoot, then repeat. Other photographers have success with sponges/conditioner or other creative methods. Glass domes also shed water better than acrylic domes but come with a much higher price tag.  Read more on glass vs acrylic domes here, as well as interesting facts on the virtual image created by dome ports.

Over-Under Split-Shot

Venice Beach, California. Even when frequently clearing water off a large dome, there are oftentimes droplets (see left side of the pier) that may need to be removed in post-processing. If a droplet happens to cover critical details then the image is often unusable.


Split-shots are a creative way to enhance your photo portfolio and these tips will help you bring home some great shots! Have fun and remember that the shooting doesn't stop when you reach the surface.


About the Author

Brent Durand is an avid California beach diver, photographer and writer with a rapidly growing portfolio of unique underwater, ocean lifestyle and adventure images. Brent is editor of the Underwater Photography Guide. Make sure to follow UWPG on Facebook and Twitter for updates on everything underwater-photography.



Further Reading


Where to Buy

Please support the Underwater Photography Guide by purchasing your underwater photography gear through our sister site, Bluewater Photo & Video. Click, or call them at (310) 633-5052 for expert advice!



The Breakdown on Back Button Focus

Todd Winner
The Secret to Sharp Focus on Fast-Moving Subjects

The Breakdown on Back Button Focus

The Secret to Sharp Focus on Fast-Moving Subjects

By Todd Winner




Back button focus first appeared on Canon SLR film cameras over 20 years ago. Pro photographers wanted a way to separate the Auto focus function that is typically connected to the shutter release. Every Canon DSLR body is capable of back button focus either through a dedicated AF button or another button on the back that can be programmed.  Nikon also has dedicated AF buttons on the back of some of their models, and the AF lock can be programmed for focus on most bodies. In the simplest terms, back button focus allows us to auto focus by pushing a button on the back of the camera body with our thumb and taking the picture by depressing the shutter release button with our index finger.  So let's take a closer look and see if back button focus is for you.


Setting up your Camera

First, if you're planning to use back button focus underwater, make sure your housing gives you easy access to back focus and the shutter with thumb and forefinger at the same time. Next, we need to disable the focus function (depressing the shutter halfway) from the shutter release. This will vary slightly depending on camera make and model, but the setting should be found in your custom control menu.

After focus is disabled, the camera will meter with a half press of the shutter button and take an image with a full press. If you have a dedicated back focus button, you're ready to start shooting. If not, you will need to program one of the buttons on the back to meter and focus. This is also typically found in the custom control menu.



You can use single or continuous focusing, but one of the real advantages I find is with continuous. As long as I keep my thumb depressed I can continue to track and focus on a subject. If I want to stop focus, I just release my thumb and I can shoot images at any time by depressing the shutter. This setup essentially gives me the benefits of single and continuous autofocus without having to switch back and forth.


When is it Useful?

Let's take a look at a few situations where back button focus could be useful. If you have ever shot something like a small jaw fish popping in and out of a hole you know how frustrating it can be. You wait and wait only to have the auto focus hunt and fail as the fish finally emerges. No matter how hard you push the shutter button the camera won't take a picture because it can't lock focus. You can pre-focus, and either hold focus with a half press or focus lock, but this can get tedious after a few minutes. On the other hand, if I use back button focus, I can pre-focus and as long as my distance from my subject does not change I can fire off a shot every time the fish shows itself.

Taking images with your subject dead center in the frame is usually not the most flattering.  Most of us are aware that we can move the auto focus points around in the viewfinder, but this method is usually slower than focusing with the center focus point and then recomposing while holding down the shutter half way. The problem is that once I take the shot using the above method, I have to preform the whole procedure of focusing and recomposing for each addition shot. If I'm using back button focus I only need to focus once. As long as my distance from the subject does not change I can fire away at will.

A Tip for Supermacro

When shooting supermacro, one very useful technique is to pre-focus for the basic composition and magnification and then rock a little back and forth to achieve the sharpest focus. When the important area becomes sharp you take the picture. If using the half press method, you must repeat the whole process after the first photo. If using the auto focus lock, you can continue to shoot as long as you hold in the AF lock button, but this can be strenuous on your hand. Once again, back button focus is the smart choice for this type of shooting. You can concentrate on composition, rock back and fourth to achieve sharp focus and take a shot whenever you like.  

In Conclusion

If you have shot for a long time using the typical index finger focus and shutter release, then back button focus will take some time to get used to. That being said, I don't know one photographer that has given back button focus a real try and switched back to using a single button focus and release. Once you start using it it, I'm sure you will start to see the advantages for yourself.  So why not give it a try?  It may change the way you shoot forever.


Back Button Focus In-Action

Just Hatched

Check out Todd Winner's Story Behind the Shot Article on Hatching Octopus, shot with back button focus.

Hatching Octopus


About the Author

Todd Winner is the technique editor for the Underwater Photography Guide and an instructor and trip leader for Bluewater Photo Store in Santa Monica, CA. You can see more of his work at www.toddwinner.com.


Further Reading


Where to Buy

Please support the Underwater Photography Guide by purchasing your underwater photography gear through our sister site, Bluewater Photo & Video. Click, or call them at (310) 633-5052 for expert advice!



How to Use the Zoom-Effect Underwater

Lill Haugen
Add some Speed and Action to your Images with a Creative Zoom-Effect

How to Use the Zoom-Effect Underwater

Add some Speed and Action to your Images with a Creative Zoom-Effect

By Lill Haugen


Hawksbill Turtle

Hawksbill Turle in Tubbataha, Philippines. Nikon D300,10-17/3.5-4.5, f/20, 1/13, 400 ISO


Shooting underwater should certainly not be an obstacle in trying creative photographic techniques, since most of them will work just as well in the water as on dry land. Playing around with shutter speed, zooming and camera movement can reward you with interesting and unique underwater images.

”Zoom-effects" in underwater photos can easily be made with Photoshop-filters, but most agree that using these is cheating. Why not get it right in the camera as you’re shooting the image? This article shows how to master zooming shots.


It’s Not That Difficult

The main thing is to slow down your shutter speed – like you would do when shooting deep wrecks in poorly lighted conditions. Only now you go a bit further! The zoom-effect is similar to the “panning effect”, but uses the lens zoom and slow shutter speed to create motion, instead of a sideways camera movement. This technique will create a blurry background/motion effect in your picture but at the same time, when successfully executed, leave your main subject nice and sharp. Strobe light is what freezes the main subject. There are many different creative slow shutter speed shots, including moving with the subject, moving the opposite direction and pivoting the camera. The zoom shot is just one of many exciting options.


Coral Fan

Stay put! As always, in underwater photography it is easier to try new techniques or equipment on something that doesn’t swim away while you adjust your settings – like a sea fan…


The Technique

First of all you, need a lens that allows you to zoom (like the Tokina 10-17mm or Nikon 12-24mm fisheye) and an underwater housing/port that allows you to zoom manually. Next, you need to manually set a slow shutter speed on your camera. It must be slow, but still within the range where you can hold your camera fairly still. 1/20 to 1/6 seems to work well, but really depends on the photographer, subject and diving conditions.

Sufficient strobe light increases the chance of success and brings some color back into the image. This is because your strobes fire fast enough to freeze fast motion (moving subject, panning, zooming, etc). In shallow reefs with plenty of light you will need to stop down your aperture to F11-F16, as the water may be too bright with a slow shutter speed. Then, you will need to put your strobes on “full” to be able to light your subject. Also, it is a good idea to set your camera flash to “rear curtain sync”. This fires the strobe at the end of the exposure, meaning that blurry streaks will be behind your subject, showing forward movement. If the strobe froze the motion at the beginning of the exposure, the subject would look to be moving backwards, which is unnatural.

Ready to try it out? Find your desired subject and zoom all the way in. Next, zoom OUT in one smooth motion as you simultaneously push down the shutter while also holding the camera as still as possible.



Masked Butterfly fish, photographed and “zoomed” at dusk in the Red Sea, Egypt. The schooling reef fish are sharp, colored and frozen by the strobe light even though the background is slightly zoomed, which adds some drama to the photo. The focal point is set to the right, which makes the zoom effect asymmetric. Nikon D300, 10-17/3.5-4.5 mm, f/11, 1/13, 640 ISO.


Shooting Tips

Creating a good zoom-effect is harder to achieve if your background is clean, like open blue water. The opposite (a “messy” reef) is more suitable to create pronounced zoom stripes and separate your subject from the background.

One last tip - don’t go out and zoom on everything you see! Effects like this have the most impact if used sparingly and at the right moment. To get a great photo, you STILL need good composition and you STILL need to tell a story. Use the zoom-effect to enhance your image rather than having the effect carry your photo. Good luck!


Bull Shark

If you can’t zoom, try panning. A bull shark in Beqa Lagoon, Fiji gets more speed through the combination of a slow shutter speed, strobe light and panning the camera while shooting. Nikon D300 in Nexus underwater housing with Ikelite DS-160 strobes, 10-17/4.5 on 17 mm, f/9, 1/15, 400 ISO.


Red Sea Diver

“Just for fun…” Playing around with the zoom effect can enhance a funny picture. Shot in the Red Sea. Ras Mohammed. Nikon D300,10-17 /3.5-4.5, f/16, 1/15, 400 ISO.



Frog fish attack? Nikon D300,10-17/3.5-4.5 f/14, 1/13, 400 ISO.


Kelp in Current

Kelp in motion, photographed in a tidal current in the North West of Norway. A slow shutter speed, combined with slight camera movement in the current, creates a subtle blur. Nikon D300,10-17/3.5-4.5 on 11 mm, f/10, 1/5, 640 ISO.


About the Author

Lill Haugen is a Norwegian underwater photographer based in Oslo. Lill shares glimpses of the underwater world in a variety of magazines and publications worldwide. Despite regularly visiting prime dive destinations all over the world, most of her diving is done in the cold fjords of Norway. She is twice Norwegian Champion in underwater photography (2010, 2011), awarded in Nordic and international competitions including the CMAS World Championship 2011, Ocean Art 2011, Deep Indonesia 2012. Lill is passionately involved in the conservation of our oceans, especially shark conservation, through telling tales from the underwater world and showing its beauty, while also raising awareness of the huge environmental challenges of the oceans: overfishing, destruction of habitat, pollution and climate changes. www.lillhaugen.com


Further Reading


Where to Buy

Please support the Underwater Photography Guide by purchasing your underwater photography gear through our sister site, Bluewater Photo & Video. Click, or call them at (310) 633-5052 for expert advice!



5 Tips for Underwater Photography at Night

Craig Dietrich
Maximize Photo Opportunities on your Next Night Dive

5 Tips for Underwater Photography at Night

Maximize Photo Opportunities on your Next Night Dive

By Craig Dietrich





The sun is low as the dive boat hums along toward our destination. The divers -- mostly grown men -- are like schoolgirls giddy with excitement as the opportunity in front of us doesn’t present itself as often as we would like. The Captain slows the boat and we know we have finally reached our dive site. Hearts beat faster and anticipation mounts as we finish suiting up and complete our gear checks. We try to be patient as the excitement builds and we hear those magic words “Dive, Dive, Dive!”. We move in orderly fashion to the platform, take that giant stride, hit the water, and....blackness.


Learning to Dive at Night

Before learning to dive all of those years ago, I was afraid of the water. Back then the prospect of jumping into blackness with only a flashlight was as foreign to me as being on the moon with a flashlight -- meaning neither of them would happen. Some dive buddy of mine wagered a non-diving related bet and if I lost I had to -- you guessed it -- do my first night dive. The diving Gods laughed as I lost. It was dusk dive, so when we started it was relatively light and once in the water I could still see the reef, the fish, and other divers. I was both excited and apprehensive because I knew at some point the reef, the fish, and the other divers would disappear as the ocean turned black in darkness. A funny thing happened as dusk made the transition to night and the daytime sea life turned in for the evening. I calmly clicked on my light, taking care not to point it toward my dive buddy’s eyes as he had repeatedly instructed, and watched the show begin. I wanted to scream “Hey, there’s a squid!” and “Hey, there’s a lobster RIGHT THERE!”.  I couldn’t scream, but in those moments, I was hooked.


I’ve come a long way since that first experience: I became an instructor, logged thousands of dives, and have been lucky enough to venture into the wonderful world of underwater photography. When discussing night diving, I always remind students that safety has to be the number one priority. Know your gear by heart, have functioning primary and backup lights, know how to communicate properly with your dive buddy via light and hand signals, and ensure you are a confident diver able to maintain good buoyancy and air control.  Underwater photography is a great way to capture your night dive memories forever, but there are a few differences from taking underwater photos during the day.


Here are five tips to make the most of your nighttime underwater photography experience:


1.  Plan your Lighting

Your camera's on-board flash generally isn’t strong enough to cut through black water and expose the vivid colors that live in the night sea, unless your macro subject is right in front of the lens. Because of this, an external strobe is essential. A focus light is also an important multifunctional tool: it gives the camera the necessary contrast to focus on the subject and also serves as the diver’s primary light. Personally, I used the Sola 1200, which is a good light for its size, power, and angle of coverage. 

Important note: Don’t be concerned about the focus light appearing in your image or affecting exposure. The focus light creates ambient light which is cancelled out by a fast shutter speed.  The strobes will create the lighting seen in the image.



The vivid colors on many anemones make excellent night photo subjects



Colorful fish really "pop" against a black background. As with daytime fish shots, wait for the right composition, preferably with eye contact.


2.  Stay Alert for New Subjects & Different Behavior

As an underwater photographer, night diving is like the proverbial box of chocolates -- that’s right, you never know what you’re going to get. It never ceases to amaze me that I can dive a site during the day and be astonished by the marinelife, then visit the same site after sundown and be welcomed by completely different life working the night shift. Eels, octopus, and lobster are at home and seem less phased by divers. Fish are drawn to the primary/focus light and seem almost cooperative as I strive to get that perfect shot. Many marine creatures will even use your light to hunt, surprising their prey as soon as the beam exposes them.



An octopus patrols the nighttime reef.



Lobsters are often seen roaming the reef at night, especially during the mating season.




Squid are noctural and attracted to light underwater. It pays be be ready for surprise visits, as these often present amazing photo opportunities.


3.  Get Close!

Whether shooting wide angle or macro, you’ll need to be up close and personal with any subject you want to capture, since strobe light will only reach a short distance (this is the same as in daytime). The difference is that photo backgrounds will always be black as long as there's open water behind your subject. We get close in order to fill the frame and to help eliminate backscatter. This can be a little daunting at times, especially if you are shooting something like sharks. If you keep your wits about you, the end product will be worth the apprehension.



Sharks can be a bit intimidating, especially at night, but it pays to get close and take advantage of the dark water.



The patterns on this turtle create an interesting nighttime image when shot close to the subject.



Parrotfish are very colorful subjects at night, however make sure not to disturb them if sleeping (most often in their mucus cocoon).


Positioning strobes to create dark shaddows at night creates very edgy portraits.



4.  Expand Your Dive Plan

Whether the planned night dive is a wreck or a reef, I always create a dive plan with my dive buddy in advance before entering the water. We often try not to stick to the deck of a wreck or the top of the reef, but instead explore the areas nearby. Some of the most intriguing creatures are found in unexpected places, like the sand a few feet off a wreck and the lowest ledges or dark holes on the reef. Check out some nudibranchs many don't realize are right next to their favorite reefs. So maklook where nobody else is looking!



Flatfish are often found in the sand next to reefs & wrecks.


brown shrimp

Many new faces pop out of the sand at night to greet divers exploring off the beaten path.


bat ray

This bat ray was camouflaged in the sand next to a popular night dive site.



5.  Don’t be Afraid!

To many divers, the idea of plunging into dark water isn’t very appealing. Throw in a bulky, expensive camera rig and it can even be intimidating. That said, ask any experienced diver about night diving and you'll find that many prefer it to daytime diving. If you were drawn to scuba diving for the sense of adventure, don’t let the things that go bump in the night keep you away from this wondrous experience. Know that as soon as you're comfortable diving at night you'll be bringing home unique photos.


porcupine pufferfish

As soon as you're comfortable diving at night you'll be bringing home unique images.



About the Author

Craig Dietrich is a former Naval and family/children’s photographer.  An avid scuba diver, his two loves of diving and photography came together and now Craig is based out of Pompano Beach, Florida.  View more of Craig’s work at www.dietrichunderwater.com.


Further Reading


Where to Buy

Please support the Underwater Photography Guide by purchasing your underwater photography gear through our sister site, Bluewater Photo & Video. Click, or call them at (310) 633-5052 for expert advice!



Advanced Strobe Techniques - Backlighting

Ridlon Kiphart
Make your subjects POP using Backlighting

Advanced Strobe Techniques - Backlighting

Make Your Subjects POP Using Backlighting!

By Ridlon Kiphart


Intermediate Zebra Lionfish (Dendrochirus zebra)

We all remember what we were taught in Underwater Photography 101 - if you use one strobe, put it off to the side at a 45 degree angle to the subject (to reduce particle reflection) and if using two strobes, place them off to the sides of the camera facing straight ahead or slightly toed out. The closer your subject is to the lens, the closer you need to bring your strobe(s). There are more iterations to this basic rule, but I’ve watched a LOT of people shoot underwater over the years and most underwater photographers use the same lighting configurations, and predictably, get the same results.

Ever since I took sketching, art and architecture classes in college, I have been fascinated by light. Why? Because form is only revealed through the presence of light. And how you use light to reveal form completely changes how that form is perceived. This holds as true in underwater photography as in drawing. So I am always testing interesting ways to use light to reveal form underwater and one of the things I do is put my strobes in different positions. Doing so creates an image with a different look, feel and texture. It tells a different story.


ornate ghost pipefish

A black female ornate ghost pipefish hides in a matching crinoid


Using Backlighting

Recently, I was on a 1 1/2 month assignment in Thailand and the Philippines which gave me a generous amount of time to play with my latest favorite technique - backlighting.

Backlighting isn’t a new idea. It is used extensively in movies and on-stage theatrical performances. It reveals the subject in a very different, often dramatic way and that is what I was looking for.

Specifically, I was interested in using it in two roles. The first was to separate a subject from its’ background and make it “pop.”  I was shooting a lot of Ornate Ghost Pipefishes (Solenostomus paradoxus) that were usually camouflaged in matching crinoids (as they are evolved to do) and the fish were getting lost in the cluttered background of the images. This gave me the idea to use backlighting. The second role was in seeing how it affected fish that were semi-transparent or translucent. The results were dramatic in both cases.

In the first role, I was able to get the Ornate Ghost Pipefishes to pop from their cluttered and camouflaged backgrounds.


ornate ghost pipefish

Ornate ghost pipefishes hide among the arms of a crinoid. Note there are four ghost pipefishes! 2 males and 2 females.


In the second role, I was able to produce some images where the fish seem electric. They look like they are plugged in to a neon sign and have a fantastic, luminescent quality to them.



This juvenile lionfish was the size of a quarter. Note the grains of sand in the background. Species unknown.


The actual position of the strobes varies depending on the shot.  I used one strobe to illuminate the front of the subject and the rear strobe was usually to the back and off to the side. The strobe needed to be off to the side so it didn’t appear in the image and also to prevent the illumination of backscatter. In some of my first shots, I got a lot of backscatter until I moved it to the side a bit and angled it across the subject from behind. Some of the images were almost side lit, creating some dramatic shadows.


underwater camera

Backlighting Strobe Configuration - front view


underwater camera

Backlighting Strobe Configuration - rear view



The hairy variant of Striated Frogfish (Antennarius striatus). The combination of backlighting and current gave a stationary subject a very dynamic feel.


ambon scorpionfish

A mated pair of Ambon Scropionfish (Pteroidichthys amboinensis) look like something out of Tron.


Next up? Using 3 and even 4 strobes. Our current underwater paradigm is 1 or 2 strobes because that is what everyone does and that is how most rigs come setup. But for different wide-angle situations, I can see where having more strobes would be very advantageous. Also, I am interested in backlighting from two different directions and seeing what results. I’ll let you know!


All Images: f16 1/125 ISO200 strobes STTL

Nikon D7000, Nauticam housing, dual Inon Z240 strobes, Nikkor 60mm f2.8G ED


About the Author

Sharkman (aka Ridlon Kiphart) is a Travel Editor for UWPG, founder of Global Diving Adventures and three time semi-finalist for the BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year. This fall, he will be leading a bucket list UWPG adventure to photograph and film the great white sharks of Guadalupe. Click for more details or to join him.


Further Reading


Where to Buy

Please support the Underwater Photography Guide by purchasing your underwater photography gear through our sister site, Bluewater Photo & Video. Click, or call them at (310) 633-5052 for expert advice!



Ten Amazing Photos You Can Take With A Fisheye Lens

Scott Gietler
10 types of incredible photos you can take underwater with a fisheye lens - a must read

Ten Amazing Photos You Can Take With A Fisheye Lens

Inspirational images & techniques for underwater photography with a fisheye lens

By Scott Gietler

Underwater photos by Scott Gietler, Michael Zeigler and Todd Winner





Wide-angle underwater photography can produce some absolutely stunning results, as is evidenced with the images below.  Perhaps foremost among the many advantages of going wide is the ability to get very close to the subject while also allowing a wide angle of view. By minimizing the amount of water between lens and subject, you can achieve excellent color and sharpness in a wide variety of shooting situations. The field of view is also much wider than our own vision, allowing you to include very large subjects and panoramic views of background scenery

Using a fisheye lens underwater doesn't produce as much obvious distortion as it does top-side, partially due to the lack of straight lines beneath the sea.   Take a look at the variety of shot you can produce with your fisheye below. Most of these photos were taken with a Tokina 10-17mm fisheye lens.


#1 – Close-Focus, Wide-Angle


A fisheye lens is great for shooting subjects close. Really close. A fisheye lens changes perspective, so that subjects closer to the lens appear larger than normal, and subjects further away appear smaller than normal. As you can see in the photos below, this creates a very interesting effect. Small dome ports are especially well suited for this technique, by allowing the photographer to get close to small subjects on the bottom for a close-focus wide angle shot. Read more about close-focus wide-angle underwater photography.

Close Focus, Wide Angle



#2 – Capturing Cool Photos of Huge Schools of Fish


Nothing can quite capture a large school of fish like a fisheye lens. You can get close to a large school, and still get a diver or another subject in the photo. Also, since a fisheye lens curves the outer portion of the photo, you end up with a great curved effect like you see in photo of the Barracuda. Read more about photographing schooling fish.

Huge Schools of fish


#3 – Capturing Snell's Window


Only a fisheye lens has a large enough angle of view to capture most of Snell’s window, an interesting effect where you can see the surface when looking straight up near the surface. Snell’s window makes a great background for many subjects, if you can get them close to the surface. Read more about Snell's Window.


Snell's Window


#4 – Getting the Sun in the Photo


The sun makes a great background subject, especially if you close down your aperture enough and raise your shutter speed so that the sun’s brightness does not blow out the photo. The ultra-wide angle of view of a fisheye lens makes it easy to orient the camera in portrait style (vertically), and then capture a foreground subject, and the sun higher up in the water column, by getting low and leaning the camera back. Read more about photographing sunbursts.



#5 – Create Circular Images (You’ll Need a Circular Fisheye Lens for This)


By owning a lens like the Canon 8-15mm that can produce a circular fisheye view, you can truly take unique photos that capture a foreground subject and a 180 degree view of the background in all directions. Read our Canon 8-15mm fisheye lens review.


#6 – Capture Stunning, Expansive Backgrounds


Kelp forests, oil rigs, jetties, wrecks, pier pilings, and shallow coral reefs can have expansive backgrounds that can really add an exciting element to a photo, when captured with the large angle of view that a fisheye lens can provide. Read more about kelp forests.


#7 – Get Great Colors by Getting Close


You lose red and other warm colors quickly when shooting through water. Even a subject 4ft away lit up with a strobe will have noticeably less vibrant reds and oranges than a subject 1 or 2ft away. A fisheye lens allows you to get very, very close to a large reef , sea fan, or grouping of soft coral, without losing detail or color. Read more about getting great colors.


#8 – Great Wreck Shots


Wrecks tend to be large – which means contrast and detail will be lost if you have to get too far away to photograph the entire wreck. A fisheye lens will allow you to get close enough to maintain that detail in the photo, while still showing the entire wreck and some of the background area. Read about wreck photography.


#9 – Whale Sharks and Mantas!


Whale sharks and Mantas can often get very, very big – and they can often get quite close to you. Without a fisheye lens, you’ll be cutting off half of the creature in your photo. Read about the best big animal encounters.

Whale Shark

manta ray taken with a fisheye lens


#10 – Capturing Great Split Shots


A fisheye lens is wide enough that it will minimize the size of the air/water boundary, and the size of any waves created by that boundary, important in getting a decent split shot. These superwide lenses also have excellent depth of field, which is necessary in order to maintain sharpness for both near and distant subjects. Read more about getting great over-under split shots.



About the Author

Scott GietlerScott is the creator of the Underwater Photography Guide and owner of Bluewater Photo Store. An avid marine naturalist, Scott is the author of the Field Guide to Southern California Marine Life. He was the LAUPS photographer of the year for 2009, and his photos have appeared in magazines, coffee table & marine life books, museums, galleries and aquariums throughout California. He enjoys teaching underwater photography locally on a regular basis.


Further Reading


Where to Buy

Please support the Underwater Photography Guide by purchasing your underwater photography gear through our sister site, Bluewater Photo & Video. Click, or call them at (310) 633-5052 for expert advice!



Underwater Composition: Fill the Frame

Scott Gietler
Part III in a great series of underwater composition tutorials

Composition: Fill the Frame

Part III in a series of underwater composition tutorials

By Scott Gietler


underwater composition tutorial for underwater photography



No matter how long you have been doing underwater photography, composition is always something than can improved upon. In my previous two articles focusing on underwater composition, I featured the techniques of face-on composition, and diagonal composition. Today we look at a simple yet effective technique that I call "fill the frame".

In "fill the frame", we aim to get all or the majority of the subject within the frame of the photo. This can be very difficult for new photographers, as they generally do not get close enough to the subject, or leave distracting backgrounds in the corners. When trying this technique, carefully check the corners of your photo to make sure that you are filling the frame as much as humanly possible.

In the example photo above, the underwater photographer gets very close to a group of small soft corals to "fill the frame" with the subject, creating a beautifully artistic shot. Here are some more situations where "filling the frame" creates a dynamic composition and interesting image:

underwater photography composition fill the frame
Close up of a large anemone, taken from directly above, taken in Lembeh, Indonesia. When there is symmetry like this, take advantage of it by allowing the leading lines to lead to the center of the image.


underwater photography composition fill the frame

Close up of gorgonian polyps, taken at Catalina Island. I stopped down to F29 to get enough depth of field to get most of the polyps in focus.


underwater photography composition fill the frame
Moon snail closeup, taken in Southern California.


underwater photography composition fill the frame
Crocodile fish eyes, taken while diving Bali. The rule "get low, get close" works well here.


underwater photography composition fill the frame
Schooling juvenile catfish, taken with the Nikon 105mm VR lens, Anilao, Philippines. I took dozens of shots until I took one that had fish completely fill the frame. These fish will feed and swim slowly in a dependable direction.


"Fill the frame" - final thoughts

As you can see, "fill the frame" can work well with a diverse range of photography subjects. The key is not to have too much, if any, of the distracting background in the photo, which is always easier said than done. Once you find the right subject, incorporate other techniques like golden spiral, rule of thirds, "face-on", leading lines, and diagonal lines for a great composition!


About the Author

Scott GietlerScott is the creator of the Underwater Photography Guide and owner of Bluewater Photo Store. An avid marine naturalist, Scott is the author of the Field Guide to Southern California Marine Life. He was the LAUPS photographer of the year for 2009, and his photos have appeared in magazines, coffee table & marine life books, museums, galleries and aquariums throughout California. He enjoys teaching underwater photography locally on a regular basis.


Further Reading


Where to Buy

Please support the Underwater Photography Guide by purchasing your underwater photography gear through our sister site, Bluewater Photo & Video. Click, or call them at (310) 633-5052 for expert advice!



Workflow Basics in Adobe Lightroom

Brent Durand
Optimizing Lightroom Workflow for Underwater Photographers

Workflow Basics in Adobe Lightroom

Optimizing Lightroom Workflow for Underwater Photographers

By Brent Durand




Returning from a dive vacation is great – we’re relaxed and have taken the edge off the quest to dive every day.  But as underwater photographers, there’s always the daunting task of sorting and editing thousands of photos from the trip.  Different subjects, different dive locations, different cameras and a few topside photos.  It’s not a very exciting process but with a streamlined workflow and efficient organization we can fly though our edits and make images easy to find later on.

Adobe Lightroom is designed to help photographers stay organized, optimize workflow from import to publish/print, and make global edits on images.  It’s meant to be used before and after running detailed edits in Photoshop and many other software plug-ins.  If you’re unfamiliar with the program, check out Todd Winner’s article on Why You Should Use Lightroom.  This article will review my techniques to keep images organized and optimize workflow as an underwater photographer.


Lightroom makes it easy to find specific images within a photo library.  Flabellina Iodinea are a common photo subject.



The first step in our workflow is importing images into our Lightroom catalog, assigning them to a specific storage folder.  I call the folders “storage folders” because Lightroom has a fantastic search feature that we’ll discuss later on.  Because we search for images in Lightroom itself, there’s no need to manually scroll through folders looking for an image, and no need to change image titles in the storage folders.

How do we know what folder to use?  I use a dating system to store my images, as it keeps them organized and avoids conflicts.  Let’s say you had folders for individual subjects and a photo of a black-eyed goby next to a lemon dorid.  Would that go in the nudi or the fish folder?  Instead, I have a topside and underwater folder, and within each I have folders for the year and then the month.  If I have a big trip I may put a folder with that location within the month folder.  Remember, we’ll discuss finding the images in a few paragraphs.

Multiple subjects in one image used to pose a problem for organization, however with Lightroom it's a non-issue.  Blackeye goby and Cadlina Luteomarginata.  Canon s90.


There are two important steps to take before actually importing photos.  First, we need to decide where to import the images - which folder we’ll store them in.  I normally import images directly from a card reader so that I’m importing into the Lightroom catalog and storing the actual image files in a folder at the same time (the catalog mirrors the storage folders but only records changes edits without affecting the original file).  Others may have already stored their images in a folder, so they only need to import the images into the Lightroom catalog and can skip this step.

Second, we can assign the first wave of keywords.  Keywords are used by the Lightroom search feature to find specific images, and once published online, by search engines or photo sharing sites to make your images more “findable.”  Because we’re assigning keywords to every image being imported at this stage, the keywords need to be very general (i.e. Anilao, Philippines, Underwater).  We’ll get more detailed later on.  Time to import!

Detailed keywording is essential for finding images within Lightroom and for making images "findable" online.



You’ll notice that the Lightroom nav bar starts with Library and Develop and ends with Web.  This is to streamline your workflow from left to right.   I use the Library module for 3 main things: deleting non-keepers, assigning more detailed keywords and later on, rating images.

Deleting images is pretty straight forward – take out the trash.  You can always delete a photo later on, so if you’re not sure just come back to it later.  I’ll often edit a couple versions of a photo if I’m undecided on which composition feels right, then delete the non-keepers afterwards.

Now that we’re working with individual images we can add in detailed keywords, including specific subjects or other details that describe the photo.  If there are several photos requiring the exact same detailed keywords, you can select them and make sure “auto sync” is clicked in the bottom right of the right-hand editing modules.  This will apply all changes across all highlighted images, saving time.

The last feature to note in the library module is the rating system, incorporating colors, flags and stars.  I use the star system to rate images, with 5-stars for portfolio images.  Because I haven’t edited yet, I’ll come back to the library module and assign stars after editing all the images.

Assigning image ratings (stars) is a big help in finding your best images later on.



The develop module is a powerful feature in Lightroom, and each new version enhances editing capabilities.  Read more about the Lightroom Adjustment Brush.  I like to think of Lightroom for global edits and then use Photoshop for detailed and regional edits like layers and dodging/burning (if needed).

The first thing to look at is Lens Corrections, which is found by scrolling down the right-hand editing modules.  Lightroom has built-in lens profiles that make adjustments to images depending on your camera & lens combo, accounting for barrel distortion and vignetting.  I make sure that lens profile corrections are always enabled EXCEPT when shooting with a fisheye lens.  Read more about Lens Corrections.

Lightroom lens profiles reduce barrel distortion but should not be used with fisheye lenses.


Next, we scroll back up to the Basic edit module to make global adjustments.  This is where we can adjust the color temp (white balance) if needed.  I’ll also adjust the presence at this point.  A quick bump in clarity, vibrance and saturation (if needed) will really make your images pop.  As with everything except diving… moderation is the key.  We can also make global tone adjustments to enhance the contrast and dynamic range of the image, however many photographers prefer to adjust these within the Tone Curve box.  This is because we can adjust specific regions (i.e. highlights) of the image instead of the entire image (as in the Basic box).  Most underwater images can use a slight bump in the darks to add a bit more contrast, but remember, moderation is key.

There are many more options here (cropping, clone/heal brush), but I’ll address those in a future article.  If you find yourself making the same edits to many images across several imports you’re able to create presents via the left-hand module “Presets.”  One simple click and all those sliders will be right where you want them.



Time to export and show off our photos!  Lightroom allows you to export at point in your workflow, so I’ll oftentimes export right after editing.  Just click File -> Export to open the export dialog box.  Adobe has designed the export box to flow from top to bottom, starting with Export Location.  I export my images to folders SEPARATE from where I store my RAW files.  This is to avoid any confusion with my image library.

Once a folder is assigned you can rename files and also adjust file settings.  I’ll generally export at 100% quality in AdobeRGB colorspace.  You can also limit the file size here.  Moving along, we can adjust image sizing and resolution.  If you’re exporting for web, then 72 pixels per inch is standard.  For printing or high-resolution, use 220 or 300 dpi.  I sharpen for screen or print depending on photo use, but note that you can also adjust sharpening during the editing process.  Read more about image sharpness. Lastly, if you have present watermarks, you can decide which to use now.

The Lightroom export dialog box has many options to control export location, file size, watermarks and more.



Searching for images makes us appreciate all the time spent keywording.  Just click to the Library module and select Library -> Find.  From here you can filter via keywords and also by star ratings or other attributes like colors or flags.  Lightroom searches the folder you’re currently viewing, so if you’d like to search all images, navigate to your main photo gallery via the left-hand Folders box.  Sure beats scrolling through specific folders on your hard drive!

lightroom search function

The Lightroom search feature is a powerful tool for saving time and keeping photographers organized.


Lightroom is a powerful tool for underwater photographers and well worth the investment.  Once you get used to the workflow it will speed up your editing process, leaving you excited to dig into those images after your next trip.  Well, maybe not excited, but the reward is there when you can easily find your best images.  Let us know what you’d like to hear about next in Lightroom or Photoshop!


About the Author

Brent Durand is an avid California beach diver, underwater photographer and editor with the Underwater Photography Guide. You can follow UWPG on Facebook, and also read Brent's article on Top 10 tips for fun beach diving.



Further Reading


Where to Buy

Please support the Underwater Photography Guide by purchasing your underwater photography gear through our sister site, Bluewater Photo & Video. Click, or call them at (310) 633-5052 for expert advice!


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