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How do I get started in Underwater Photography?

The two questions I get asked most frequently are do you have any advice for people starting out in underwater photography? And how did you get to where you are today? So in this post I thought I’d share some insights on both of these questions with a bit of my journey in photography and some tips along the way. It's a little bit longer than my other blogs so maybe grab a cup of tea.

A little Hawksbill in Vanuatu, shot on my GoPro 3+ Silver.

This is one of the first photos I took underwater, at least that I have access too. The first was with a disposable camera on a family holiday to Florida when I was about 11, although those priceless shots have probably been disposed of… Anyway, this photo is probably when I thought to myself ‘this whole underwater photography thing is pretty cool’. I took it during my Divemaster course in Vanuatu, with a GoPro 3+ Silver and it isn’t really in focus, it’s badly composed and I lost my red filter during dive one so all the colour’s are blue. This is when I started spending more and more time in the water, playing around with my GoPro and taking lots of shit photos, which brings my to my first bit of advice - To take good photos in the water, you need to be good in the water. Take a freediving course, master your buoyancy control and take lots of photos, even if they are shit. Being confident and comfortable in the water is one of the most important steps in underwater photography, if you have a $15000 camera but you’ve been snorkelling twice, your images might not be that good…

Some of my first shots from Oman, mostly undedited as I used to just shoot JPG and edit on my phone

Not too long after that trip I decided to invest in a better camera and ended up with a Sealife Micro cam, which I hated, may as well have stuck with the GoPro. (I don’t want to bash Sealife too much I’m sure they’re good now but that one was basically an off brand GoPro). So a little further down the line I was working as a diving instructor in Oman and got my hands on a 2nd hand Canon G16 with a Fantasea housing. The moral of this story - if you have a GoPro 9 but want to take better photos, you might need to invest in something a little bigger than the GoPro 10.

A nudi in the Philippines, one of my first shots with the G16 and probably the first time I was really excited about one of my photos.

I first got to really use my new (old) camera on a trip to Malapascua in the Philippines, I was going to take amazing photos of the famous Thresher Sharks. Well it turns out the thresher dive is at daybreak and usually at least 30m down, it’s deep and dark with very little light. Perfect when you don’t really know how to use your camera. I had read an article somewhere suggesting I use aperture priority mode, the problem being the camera was setting my shutter for me and in that lighting it was struggling to expose the images with the shutter speed at 1/30 so all my shark shots were very blurry and dark. And at 4am at 35m I didn’t manage to figure out how to change anything, probably the lack of coffee combined with a little nitrogen narcosis. Now for moving subjects, I like to keep my shutter at atleast 1/200s to avoid motion blur. So another top tip - learn to control your camera, ideally before your first dive with it. Learn all the settings and buttons on dry land, but with the camera in the housing. Things can happen quickly underwater and if you’re fiddling with the controls there’s a good chance your thresher shark has swum off whilst you're scrolling through menus. During this trip I did discover a love of macro critters and photography, on one of my first dives there I encountered my first pygmy seahorse and it blew my mind - I spent about half an hour getting one shot in focus.