46 Secrets to Improving your Underwater Photography

I recently received the following question via my website asking for some secrets to improving underwater photography, and as I started to compile the list, I thought that I would share a few of my secrets with you.

…” I just purchased a Canon G12 and the WP-DC34 underwater housing for it. I am an experienced diver, I have decided to get into underwater photography and was amazed by your photos and video with the Canon G12.. I was wondering if you could share some secrets and pointers for my upcoming trip to Belize. I would love to return with some quality video and photos…. hoping your insight could give me an edge. Thanks, Lowell”…..

Thanks Lowell for the great question.

I sat down and started to make a list. It got quite long (some people have written whole books on this subject), so I have tried not to get too carried away.

Some of these secrets are scattered around in previous posts, and I have tried to keep my list to a few key points. Some points relate specifically to the Canon Powershot G12 (which I also own), but most points are general and relate to all cameras that can be used for underwater photography.

Canon Powershot G11 inside wp-dc34 underwater housing

Before the Dive

My list starts before the dive, as I am a big believer in preparing things correctly allows you to be more relaxed during the dive, which in turn allows you to take better pictures.
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My obsession with preparing and cleaning my underwater housing and lens

Continually concerned with underwater housing leaks, and having experienced a number of images and videos ruined by dust or other material on the lenses, I border on obsessive when preparing and cleaning my underwater housing lens.

Underwater housing lenses suffer the usual problems of dust and lint, but are also susceptible to things like sunscreen (my pet hate), salt residue, sand and other nasties.

Whenever I travel through Cairns, I always stop in to visit the friendly staff at  Digital Diver and pick up cleaning accessories.

Preparation Tips

I follow a set procedure each time for housing preparation:-

  1. Remove the main o-ring and use a lint-free cloth to wipe around the o-ring groove, removing any excess silicon, sand or hair that may have lodged in the groove. A piece of hair or sand under the o-ring can cause the housing to leak. (Tip:- use a plastic credit card to remove the o-ring so you do not damage it. I use my cert card as a reminder for me to take it diving).
  2. Use a second lint-free lens cleaning cloth on the inside and outside of the underwater housing lens to remove dust, lint or finger marks.
  3. Unfortunately cloths can adsorb oils and spread them around. My new favourite cleaning accessory is lens cleaning tissue paper. lens cleaning tissue Continue reading My obsession with preparing and cleaning my underwater housing and lens

Keep the subject in focus and let the camera do the work

Catching the underwater video of fighting Reef Cuttlefish (Sepia latimanus) on a recent dive, some words from The Underwater Photographer by Martin Edge came to mind … ” Keep the subject in focus, and let the camera do the work”.

In his book, Martin describes an occasion when he and a group of other divers came across some dolphins. Starting to think about exposure and other settings, Martin decided there was no time, and chose to keep the subject in focus and let the camera do the work. He was able to get the shot while others were still playing with their cameras.

In underwater photography, you often have time to set-up your camera to create a shot. However, sometimes you see something and with no time to choose the appropriate settings, just have go with what you have to get the shot.

This is exactly what happened during a dive on Friday at Agincourt Reef  on the Great Barrier Reef with Quicksilver’s Silversonic.

We entered the water for our third dive of the day. I had just reached the bottom with the other divers of our group still on the way down. Checking my camera housing to make sure there were no leaks, I spotted a Cuttlefish (Sepia latimanus) out the corner of my eye.

My camera housing still had bubbles around it, and struggling to read the screen settings, I managed to get it into video mode. I started thinking white balance, lighting, etc …. and decided I had no time.

Getting the Cuttlefish in the screen, I hit the record button, hoping the camera would have the correct focus. Cuttlefish are able to rapidly change colours to blend in with their surroundings, and this can often confuse the camera focusing system.

Trying to keep the subject in the screen, we got more than expected with the following video.

Fighting Cuttlefish (Sepia latimanus)
Video ID: V0036
Run time: 40 sec
Format: 640×480
Purchase Option – Royalty Free (RF)

The Cuttlefish made its way towards another one, changed colour from light grey to black, and attacked the second one. They then separated and went opposite directions…. something you don’t see ever day, and a great example of their ability to change color.

Forty seconds from touching the bottom, and the whole event was over.  Had I been deciding between stills and video, or been messing around with settings or lighting, I would have missed to whole thing.

Sometimes to get the shot, you just have to keep the subject in focus, cross your fingers and let the camera do the work.

How to use the Canon G11 Control Dial in an Underwater Housing

For a while now I have been under the impression you could not use the Control Dial on the Canon Powershot G11 when it was mounted in an underwater housing, but a recent review by Lawrence Alex Wu reveals a little known secret.

I was reading Underwater Photography Magazine (No 55 Jul/Aug 2010), and a review of the Canon Powershot G11 by Lawrence Alex Wu describes a key shortcut that allows the photographer access to the Control Dial functionality while underwater.

Canon Powershot G11 inside wp-dc34 underwater housing

Out of the housing, rotating the G11 Control Dial next to the screen allows you to adjust settings that include:-

  • Aperture size in Aperture Priority Mode (AV)
  • Shutter speed in Shutter Priority Mode (Tv)
  • Metering Modes
  • Manual Focus
  • Brightness Exposure Compensation
  • Auto Exposure Bracketing

I often use the Canon WP-DC34 underwater housing with my G11 camera, but the problem is that once you close the housing you no longer have access to the control dial…. or so I thought….

Continue reading How to use the Canon G11 Control Dial in an Underwater Housing