Over 3 years ago I made my first video all about underwater photography. Looking back on it I find it endearing not just because it was put together so crudely, but because I haven’t changed much since then. I love putting videos together with just myself and a camera! So in that spirit I hope you enjoy this new video with updated tips on shooting underwater!
1. Shoot with a dark background.
This tip is definitely one of those that should be considered with your personal style. For example, I was shooting with someone just last week who wanted to shoot a white dress on a white background to blow out the highlights and make her look angelic. That simply isn’t my style, but is still amazing nonetheless. In my experience, I find the image to be more striking when the subject is lit but the background is not, and one way to simulate this is to sink a black backdrop. Of course skin tones should be contrasting as much as possible in order to get that *pop*, so be aware of this when choosing a background.
2. Even lighting.
When I am creating an image, I enjoy natural, even light, and so that would be my recommendation for underwater as well. But my reason for suggesting this goes further – if natural, harsh light from the sun is shining down on a subject underwater, you get reflections from the water on the skin which creates harsh highlights and shadows that can be difficult to work with. Using external lighting or photographing in indirect light can solve this potential problem.
3. Swim down!
When posing your model, give him or her a pose, have your model swim to the bottom and then have them hit the pose and start to float up. This will eliminate most confusion about what to do first because the model has a clear structure in mind: swim to the bottom, pose, naturally float up. This gives you more time to photograph the model and different options as well for angles.
4. Lens choice.
I prefer a 24 or 28mm lens when shooting underwater because of how murky the water can be. I find that anything wider distorts the subject too much, while anything tighter makes it too difficult to see underwater because of the potential murkiness.
5. Take more shots than you think you need.
The worst feeling is doing a shoot and then only later realizing that you didn’t get the perfect shot because a body part wasn’t quite looking elegant enough. So take more shots than you think you need, and you’ll be well prepared for potential compositing later.
6. Pay attention to the hands and face!
Have you ever tried modeling underwater? If so, you can probably attest to the fact that keeping your hands looking graceful and your face like you’re not underwater is extremely difficult. As a result, these are the two things you should pay attention to while shooting so that you don’t have to re-shoot. The hands will naturally want to balance the subject and so they often keep moving to keep the model in place, while the face is so busy trying not to suck water up that it often looks puffed, which is what I like to call “underwater face”.
7. The bubbles the bubbles the bubbles!
When shooting, specify if you want bubbles in the shot. This can be created from the model by blowing out or thrashing her body. You can also employ an assistant to create bubbles from under the water or above.
8. Avoid the murk!
If you are shooting in a murky, natural body of water, remember that you will have to take longer to shoot. When you are in place and your model is as well, hold your positions while taking test shots to see when the murkiness has subsided. When it does, ask your model to pose. You should be able to get about 1-5 good shots off before the dust comes back up and you have to wait again. Avoid locations like lakes and very choppy ocean water where the water is stagnant or moving too fast, as these spaces will be extremely murky.
I often choose a contrasting color for my wardrobe underwater. Bright colors work well for me because I can always desaturate them later, yet at the same time they naturally stand out underwater where colors might get dulled down from murkiness.
10. Bring a friend or assistant.
When shooting a model underwater, always have a helper standing by in case something goes wrong. Long dresses or heavy dresses become far less manageable when under the water because they can get tangled around the model’s legs or pull her down. I like to have someone standing by to jump in and help just in case this happens.
11. The basic courtesies.
Underwater modeling is extremely challenging, and it is likely that your model will be tired, cold, and hungry afterwards. When getting started, let him or her know that they should clearly communicate how they are feeling or if they need a break. I try to ask after every few shots how the model is doing, and always let him or her know that when that person needs out of the water, we will get out immediately. I bring along towels and sweaters to wrap the model in when we get out, and either have a hot tea ready or drive to the local cafe to get warmed up.
I hope that you find these tips to be helpful in some way! Underwater photography is something that I have long loved for the way that we can experience a whole new world in a photograph. Not all of these tips apply to everyone, so keep that in mind and as always, try something new and fun! I’m absolutely thrilled that I love my new little camera since it makes shooting anytime, anywhere easier and more fun for the ease of it.
This is not a sponsored post in any way – I simply did research online and purchased the camera which I thought would be the closest match to a DSLR….so far, so good!
The camera used in this video and for the resulting images is a Panasonic Lumix. Big thank you to the models: Kyna Lian for braving that hugely cold creek, and Marsha Denlinger for modeling not only for myself but also for my class at After Dark Education! Thank you to Rocio Mirelis for filming behind the scenes footage with my camera, and to Celine Michelle with Sweetlight for filming underwater with her GoPro!
Tom Newforge - Very good post Brooke. As just one more little tidbit that I learned the hard way, if using a gopro be sure you have the dive housing. I used mine for water sports, skiing but never underwater. Had it while in Cozumel out snorkeling. Found some amazing underwater landscapes. Spent a lot of time taking pictures only to find out they were all blurry. So were the ones I took of the family I was taking pictures of. Eeek!
Learn from Tom. Don’t make that mistake. Haha
Have a great day:)
brookeshaden - Great tip Tom! I’ve never used a GoPro before but can imagine how frustrating that must be!! Super, thanks for sharing!
Svenlovesflo - Brooke…lots of good information…and these point and shoots do a marvelous job…many of them have better technology than my Nikon d300…my tip is after each underwater shoot to make sureyou dry the camera completely and maybe even a bit of a clean water rinse…sand dirt chlorine can all cause some problems with the seal of the camera over time . i prefer the Olympus Tough cameras…yes it is 12 megapixels but so is the nikon d300 and that is rated as a professional camera…what the tough has is an f/2.0 lens…which lets in a lot more light…creating brighter pictures…I know much of your work is dark but you darken it down after you capture what you are working on…I think the 2.0 produces nice images…has a nicer lens…and produces less noise…artists have printed very large with 12 megapixels for a long time before what we have now…Namaste…Sven n Kenn
brookeshaden - I agree Sven! The camera works just as well to me as my Nikon D80, which I was very fond of before getting a new camera. I think that the stress-free and hassle-less qualities of the smaller camera make it worth it. And I also employ a method of taking multiple pictures to expand my frame so I can be a bit closer and print larger in the end.
Lu - Brooke! I just bought a gopro for my husband. With this as a motivation I need yo get out and shoot! now that the days are warmer I have no excuse 🙂 . I have always loved your underwater images. Mucho Amor! Lu
brookeshaden - Aww I am so happy to hear this! Have fun, experiment, and create some beautiful images. I know you will!
Mary Angelini - Absolutely brilliant!! I love the look of underwater – HUGE Jacques Cousteau fan as a kid – but underwater also terrifies me (also thanks to Jacques Cousteau! LOL). There is so much potential there and I love seeing what you do with it!!
brookeshaden - Yes so much potential! I love experimenting and so glad I’ve found an easier way to do so!
Mary-Claire - Thanks for all the tidbits, and big thanks to Marsha too for being such a good sport with all the photographers! A point and shoot is on my list, and I look forward to trying it out soon. 😀
brookeshaden - Yay! I can’t wait to see what you do with it 🙂 Marsha was quite amazing…as always! And YOU are amazing. Green drinks forever <3
Megan - Hi Brooke! Thank you for this info! What housing did you find for the Panasonic Lumix? That’s a camera I have, and was looking into housing for it, instead of for my DSLR. Thanks!
brookeshaden - Hi Megan! This Panasonic Lumix is an underwater camera in and of itself, so there is no housing needed. You just lock the side panel where you insert the battery and memory card, and voila! Waterproof up to 30 feet 🙂
Megan - Ah! Good to know, thanks!
Diana - As always, you are amazing. I always wanted to attempt something underwater, but haven’t yet. Your tips are spot on, especially with the clothing on a model, because the weight of the clothing can be dangerous. I think most of us know of a tragic wedding photo where the bride died in the ocean from the dress pulling her down. It was insanely heavy as are most wedding dresses. I really liked the black backdrop in the water. I guess in a pool would be more controlling. I hope to get to the expo in Pasadena if I can to see you there.
brookeshaden - Diana I am so glad you found this to be helpful! Underwater can be so intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. I went into it thinking I *had to spend at least $2,000 or else I wasn’t doing it right, but am now content to do things the “fun” way 🙂 Do so hope to see you in Pasadena!!
Denise - Thank you for this wonderful information. So kind of you to once again share you hard earned experience. I was wondering if your Lumix shoots raw or just JPEG? I’ve been shooting underwater with a similar camera by Cannon but it only shoots jpeg. Do you think that is a big factor in underwater post work? I am use to my Mark II on land alway shooting Raw.
brookeshaden - Hi Denise! The camera shoots .jpgs, but so far no problems! Its great because you can control exposure so much, so I find I don’t need to make too many changes there. xo!
Denise Neale Jensen - Thank you for getting back to me on this. Seriously don’t know how you do it, talk with each of us that is. I can image how busy you are and the energy it takes to keep afloat – and you do it with grace and charm -Egads I get tired just thinking about it 🙂 Looking forward to Pasadena. All Good Things your way.
Denise Neale Jensen - Just registered for your Pasadena seminar and bringing two other ‘Dark Side Photographers’ can’t wait! 🙂
brookeshaden - Oooh wonderful thank you so much!!
Daria Ratliff - Hi, Brooke, this Daria Ratliff, from TX. This video is brilliant! We got an inexpensive underwater camera for my kiddos to take pictures in the ocean during a vacation and lately I’ve been playing around with it. To my surprise it’s been way better than what I thought! Here’s an image I tried the other day! Brooke, thank you always for you kindness and generosity! You’re a gentle soul! You can see my image here! http://dariaratliff.smugmug.com/Fine-art/Home
brookeshaden - Hi Daria!! I am soooo glad that you are enjoying taking underwater pics! It really is such a unique experience and such a joy. BEAUTIFUL work!!
natascha van niekerk - This is great Brooke! Learnt many of your tips the hard way, through trial and error! My first few underwater shoots I had to redo twice before I got it all figured out! (and absolutely still learning every time!) Thank you so much for sharing, so in love with your underwater images! Also great to hear about you using a point and shoot underwater camera, I’m currently using my Canon 5d in a dicapac bag, and it is absolutely nerve wracking every time, and also comes with its own set of challenges to actually just be able to operate the camera in the bag! Definitely looking into the panasonic lumix!
brookeshaden - Hehe oooh yes I remember the bag quite well, and all of the nerves that go with it. I still have one actually, and would consider using it if I needed a DSLR. xo!
meredith lynn - love this thank you! i’m finally doing my first underwater shoot now that its warmer out. so excited for it!
I had that same bag for my last time snorkeling and there was a tiny little hole in it.. destroyed my camera. lessons learned. 🙂
Jen Sulak - I so appreciate this. I need to play and explore more with this. I found very quickly just how TRICKY this was…..and I hope to create something with what we did at after dark – and i LOVE this video and how it turned out!!!!