Taking underwater photos can be kind of weird. It seems to be straightforward and easy in the beginning. Later on, when you start improving on your first works, it suddenly shows all the complexities, owing to both the water medium as well as the varying underwater environment.
However, when those water-dependent differences start showing up, you are already hooked!
The “inner space” of our watery part of the world makes photography more of a state of mind than just a hobby. Soon you will find yourself thinking of ways to improve your approach to capturing underwater wonders.
To photograph underwater, you should be able to swim safely using mask, snorkel and fins. You should be familiar with the basic snorkeling tackle to be able to explore your surrounding. If you can, invest in snorkeling lessons before you take on underwater photography, it will speed up your way to making good photos.
Choosing and using a mask
The mask covers the eyes and nose, bringing small air volume between eyes and water, so you can clearly see the underwater scenery. It should feel comfortable to your face contours and have the minimal air volume. It should be close to your eyes to offer the widest possible field of view.
To pick a proper mask for you, put the mask to your face without the head strap. When you inhale, the mask should stick to your face without falling off. Choose the new silicone material but not the transparent version. It will let the light in through the sides and you’ll see the inner reflections of your face interfering with the picture. Pick a dark, non-transparent material instead to keep your eyes in the shade. Typical spearfishers’ models are the best.
Choosing and using a snorkel
The snorkel should be as close to the windpipe diameter as possible, to reduce the breathing resistance. Pick a simple model without any additional vents and dispersers as these are pretty much useless. Leave it as long as it was; later you may cut off the surplus length to just one inch above your head. It will further reduce the air transfer resistance.
Choosing and using snorkeling fins
Your “photo- fins” should feel comfortable, exerting no pressure anywhere. You do not want cramps while swimming!
Fins come in myriads of models, but you won’t need the longest, newest type. Pick a simple type since these will help stabilize yourself while photographing. Long fins are designed for speedy, straight swimming but shorter blades will feel better in changing direction and body positions in the water.
How to swim when snorkeling for underwater photography
You are now able to see, breathe and move in the water. Your hands are free to manipulate the camera. If possible, use some shallow pool to practice before attempting to swim in open waters.
Do not exert yourself, practice slowly, be concentrated and use your body feedback to improve your movement. Soon you’ll be able to swim purposefully and noiselessly, using minimal effort to bring your camera where you want it.
Do not use arms to propel yourself or change direction. Swim with your legs only, from the hips rather than the knees, and bend your body to change direction.
Become one with your surroundings; breathe deep and slowly, make no sudden, jerky moves and take care not to splash. Relax the neck and shoulder muscles repeatedly. Your “head-up” position will soon become normal.
Speed in the water means nothing; gliding toward your subject is everything! Become a cloud on the watery sky and the underwater world will not be alarmed by your approach. Observe the space around you; do not concentrate on the bottom only.
In open water, you’ll want to know what’s around you at all times. Use your hearing to check for all the new and unfamiliar sounds. There will be weird clicks and grating sounds from the fish and other animals, there will be the shrill, drilling propeller noises, all intermingling with your own sounds of breathing and rushing of blood in your eardrums. In water, those sounds are vital and slowly you’ll be able to distinguish where they all come from.
At first, because of the speed of sound in water, you won’t be able to use the stereo ability of your own hearing to determine just where the sounds originate since your ears are accustomed to the sound speed in the air. Later on, the body adapts and some sounds show the direction of their sources.
Snorkeling is an amazing way to visit the waterspace of our Earth. It is simple, relatively cheap, and accessible to everyone. In some ways, it is like visiting another World, an experience that is bound to make you keep on visiting. So be ready for a lifetime of addiction to underwater photography!