Most of us don’t get to dive every day (especially since the Covid-19 pandemic). Like athletes, the best way to get better at something is to do it consistently, but in reality, most underwater photographers find themselves dusting off that camera gear only once or twice a year. So what’s the best way to get back into top underwater photographer shape before and during your dive trip? Here are some tips:
1. Have an Underwater Photography Gear List
It is hard to remember everything and I find on most dive trips I remember some adapter or spare part (or sometimes a big thing like a lens or a cord) that I wish I would had brought. To help prevent this, I have a packing list that I add to whenever I’m diving. That way, if it’s been a while since I’ve been underwater with my camera I can go through the list and make sure I packed all the little bits (and big bits) that might have been easily forgotten. Do this several weeks before your trip, take everything out and make sure you have everything. Check it over to make sure nothing needs to be serviced and it’s a good idea to do a dip test in a bathtub or sink. (You don’t want to find out your O-rings dried up the night before your flight to Indonesia departs.) Usually, everything is just fine, but sometimes this can help catch your problem while there’s still time to fix it.
Having a gear list will help prevent you from forgetting important things!
2. Be Respectful and a Good Diver
Don’t be “that guy.” Even though you are taking photos, diving still comes first. Make sure you are practicing good buoyancy and that you are not sitting on the bottom or injuring coral or marine life. Damaging the reef is never worth getting a good image. Don’t move or harass the animals, and honestly, don’t chase them. You will never catch the turtle and you will only make it swim away faster and no one will get a shot. Also, be respectful to the other divers around you, they also paid a lot of money and traveled a long way to be there, give them a chance to photograph the mimic octopus too. If everyone wants to shoot the same thing, take a few shots and then let someone else have a turn; at the end of the dive, if you want more shots, go back when everyone else has had a turn.
3. Get Close
Get close, get closer, and then even closer. I know you've heard that before, but that’s because it’s true. The closer you get the less water is between your camera and the subject which will allow for your lights to hit the subject stronger, reduce backscatter from particles that get lit up, and the subject becomes larger in the image compared to the background. Bonus points – shoot upwards. Often subjects get lost in the sand or reef background if you shoot down. Getting blue water in the image can help a viewer know where they are too.
Even in bad vis you can often shoot macro successfully!
4. Try Different Things
Get creative! If you have a whole week at a dive resort or on a liveaboard spend a few dives doing something crazy or something you’ve never done before. Change up your lighting, shoot at different angles, play with new settings or use an accessory you’ve never used before like a snoot or a diopter. You might not immediately get perfect shots to start but you might find a new way to make exciting images.
5. Shoot What is There
Sometimes we plan the perfect trip for one animal. We fly halfway around the world on our minimal vacation days to see something…and it doesn’t show up. Unfortunately, the ocean is not a zoo and there aren’t any guarantees. Don’t sweat it – there is always something to shoot! If the sharks don’t show, shoot what fish are there. If there is a freak hurricane and bad viz look for tiny stuff on the reef where you can still get good macro images. It might not be what you wanted, but don’t let it ruin your trip.
6. Invest in an Editing Program
While editing photos can be a contentious subject, there aren’t many photographers who can say they do not edit at all anymore. A program like Adobe Lightroom can be a great addition to your “camera gear” in lots of ways. You may just use it for simple cropping or adding a watermark, or for removing backscatters and making some other changes, or you might use it for a lot more. Lightroom is great for organizing images too, you can add metadata like location or subject info which will make it easy to go back months or years later and find that one image you took on that one trip of the turtle. Plus, it’s fun to relive your dive trip while looking back at your images. I love spending “dry time” on land editing my images and being brought back to that excellent dive vacation.
7. Have Fun, Share Your Images
Remember this is supposed to be fun! You are one of a very small amount of people visiting the underwater realms AND you are bringing back photos of your experience. That is incredible. Share those images with your friends and families and anyone else who will look at them. Inspire others to take the plunge or become interested in the ocean. We all know the ocean needs some help and support right now, you’re photos may be the key to convert a new ocean lover.
Visit Brandi's website to learn more about her career and adventures underwater.
Website: Brandi Underwater