Snorkeling photography tips for the best underwater images

Snorkeling photography is easy! You might think this when scrolling through perfect ocean images on social media, but somehow your underwater photos come out bluish and blurry. No worries, this is how we all started capturing the beauty of the sea. But you don’t need to be a professional photographer or own the most expensive equipment to take clear and sharp images in the sea. Let us teach you how!

Step-by-step snorkeling photography guide

This beginner underwater photography guide includes our best tips and tricks that will significantly improve your images! First of all, find here a summary of the advice list and read below the detailed explanation.

10 snorkeling photography tips

  1. Choose a good camera
  2. Study your camera’s settings
  3. Shoot in clear water
  4. Use the ambient light well
  5. Find the best angle by diving down
  6. Swim close to your subject
  7. Hold the camera steady
  8. Learn how to edit your images
  9. Read about sea creatures
  10. Practice and educate yourself

Choose the right camera

Having a good, user-friendly camera does half of the job if it comes to snorkeling photography. Forget about old bulky devices that have more buttons than stars on the sky and it takes forever to learn the functions. Today’s smart devices offer several features and pre-set modes that will help you to capture clear photos without being professional in photography.

Depending on your budget and needs, you can choose a compact waterproof camera or a digital camera plus underwater housing set-up. Buying an action camera GoPro is also not a bad idea to record your adventures on land and sea. Alternatively, you can use your smartphone too with a proper housing!

Compact waterproof camera

The best waterproof cameras for snorkeling all feature underwater modes to make snorkeling photography easy as one-two-three. There is an incorrect theory that waterproof cameras tend to break in short time because of water damage. But the truth is that manufacturing issues (in terms of high-quality waterproof cameras like Nikon, Olympus, Canon, Panasonic, Fuji etc…) are responsible for only a small percentage of damages. In most cases, the improper usage, lack of cleaning, so at the end, the user causes the failure. When there is no manufacturing error, the camera can leak if the openings, such as battery door or port doors are not closed properly, or sand, salt, dust blocks the sealing.

Nikon coolpix underwater photo
Underwater photo taken with Nikon Coolpix Camera

These problems are easily preventable if you learn how to take care of your equipment from our underwater camera maintenance guide.

Camera with waterproof housing

If you decide to buy a professional digital camera with an underwater housing, you need to spend more money on the equipment and you will have more stuff to carry. But besides these disadvantages, you will get tons of advantages too. An underwater case can go deeper than normal waterproof models. Therefore, you can use it not only for snorkeling but diving too. These setups offer more space to improve your photography by adding extra accessories like different lenses or strobes.

Canon g7x Mark II underwater photo
Underwater Photo with Canon G7X Mark II

For example, the Canon G7X Mark II  (this is what we use at the moment) is a very good all-rounder model. You can use it perfectly on land and it is a perfect choice for underwater photography too with various accessories available!

GoPro action camera

Using a GoPro or any other action camera is a popular choice for traveling because of the small size and compact usability. Action cameras are perfect if you enjoy recording videos, but taking photos with them needs practice. If you want to get crisp 4K videos, get a GoPro Hero7 for snorkeling which is waterproof up to 33ft/10 m without extra housing. But there are several budget GoPro alternatives too.

Because of the small size, it is almost impossible to hold action cameras in hand in the water. Therefore, make sure to mount it on a waterproof selfie stick. Like this, you won’t lose it and also can get closer to your subject. Another positive thing that there are tons of cheap underwater accessories for GoPro and GoPro like action cameras available like red filter, Dome port and so on which will help you to get the best footage.

Smartphone

Iphone X underwater image
Underwater photo by iPhone X

We believe that the best images are taken with high-quality cameras, but since smartphone photography improved significantly in the past years, it might be also an option to take your iPhone or other smartphone underwater and capture some cool pictures. Don’t let the fact mislead you that certain models are advertised as waterproof because this doesn’t apply to salty water. If you want to use your smartphone while snorkeling in the ocean, get a proper underwater case for it.

Read our previous posts to find a good iPhone waterproof case or Samsung waterproof case. Alternatively, you can use even your iPad while snorkeling but the same rule applies here too: buy a waterproof iPad case!

Learn to use your camera

You can have the best equipment but if you don’t know its settings you won’t be able to take good photos. Latest waterproof compacts are user-friendly and have at least one underwater mode (or underwater white balance available) that automatically adjust the settings delivering bright and colorful photos. Get familiar with the pre-sets, investigate the settings until changing between modes becomes a reflex so you won’t waste your time in the water trying to figure out how your camera works.

If the underwater mode or UW white balance is not available, you can achieve good results with manual white balance settings. Find this function, follow the instructions and tell your camera what is white by pointing on something white so it can adjust the other colors accordingly. This works well if the depth and light conditions are relatively constant, but needs re-adjustment if the conditions changing.

Shoot in clear water

The visibility in natural waters is constantly changing and it is one of the most important factor that affects snorkeling photography. The water clarity is better when less particles are in the water. If there are too many particles around, the water gets murky resulting in blurry images full of tiny white spots. It will seem like you are shooting in snowfall because the light reflects on all small particles. There are several reason that can affect water clarity including unnatural ones such as pollution or natural ones like coral spawning, currents or tides.

Of course, you can’t control nature but if you learn about currents and tides, you will enjoy the advantages of choosing the right time for your underwater photography session. For example, falling tide pulls back the water and sand causing murky water. While the incoming tide brings fresh water and excellent water clarity.

Learn to use the natural light

Water is denser than the air therefore absorbs light in a different way. Blue wavelengths travel the longest, while red the shortest in the water. This is the reason why the colors disappear from underwater photos. To achieve colorful images, underwater photographers use strobes, but they are pricey and it is difficult to carry them. But with snorkeling photography, you are in a good position to take wonderful images using the ambient light only because you stay near the surface. You just need to learn how to position yourself and your camera to get bright and sharp images.

Underwater photo natural light
Soft coral with sun in the background

Choose sunny days for photography but don’t turn the lens directly towards the sun (unless your intention is to capture the sunrays, a silhouette of a coral reef or sea creatures). Instead, choose your position that the sun is at your back lighting up naturally the scene you wish to capture.

Find the right angle

A simple yet one of the most important snorkeling photography tips is finding the right angle. Most snorkelers take photos while floating on the surface only. But coral reefs are 3D structures and so are the sea creatures, therefore taking photos when pointing down your camera from the surface won’t give you the result you will be satisfied with. To take better photos, you need to dive down.

Snorkeling photo right angle
Coral reef photo from the surface and when diving down

I know snorkeling means floating on the surface but believe me, you will get a totally different angle if you swim 6-10 ft/2-3 m deep and your snorkeling photography will be completely different. To do this, you need to learn the duck diving technique and how to hold your breath. This of course needs practice and the best is if you ask help from professionals at the beginning who can teach you how to do it in the safe way.

Get close to your subject

Due to the above mentioned high density, water also decreases contrast, sharpness and causes color loss. The bigger the distance between your lens and your subject the less color you will get in the photo. Therefore, using the zoom is not a good idea because the distance will remain the same. Instead, you need to get as close as possible to your subject without disturbing the sea creatures, damaging corals and hurting yourself. It is an essential snorkeling photography skill you need to learn in order to improve your images.

The best way of getting close to marine animals consists of various skills such as diving down (like mentioned above by the ‘find the right angle’ section) and moving slowly. Learn how to use your fins without making too much noise so you won’t frighten the fish away.

Hold your camera steady

You might know how crucial is in photography to hold your camera as stable as possible to get sharp and clear images and to be honest, this is a real challenge in snorkeling photography. Divers are less likely suffer from this problem because they can control their buoyancy by inflating/deflating their dive jacket, moreover use weights to stay more stable, but snorkelers don’t have these benefits. Also, there is more movement in the upper layers of the ocean that makes holding a camera steady even more difficult while snorkeling.

But we have some good snorkeling photography tips for this problem! Hold the camera close to your body. Learn to feel the ocean and shoot when there is less movement in the water, no big wave is coming. Use your flippers to stay in balance! On the top of these, an underwater camera tray also helps to increase stability.

Aluminium camera stabilizer tray

  • lightweight yet durable aluminum handheld camera tray
  • universal screw mount
  • with anti slip handles
  • stable recording while indoor or outdoor activities

Use a post processing software

If you think that professional underwater photos you can see on the internet or in magazines came out that perfect you are wrong. A good camera and knowing how to use it is essential, but post processing is almost always necessary if it comes to underwater photography.

Underwater photo before and after editing
Underwater photo before and after editing

There are several software available from basic to professional. Just install one on your computer (some are also available as smartphone application too) and start editing your images. Classical software like Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop are still the best choices to go for. They offer limitless options if it comes to picture manipulation. Of course, you don’t have know all the functions to improve the photos. Some basic, easy changes will do magic too!

Basic underwater photo editing tips

Here are some easy editing tips you can apply to your images in order to make them vibrant and colorful. These basic options can be found in all post processing software (just maybe under different titles). Each photo is different so there is no setting that can be applied on all image. Play around with the settings until you get a result you like. At the end, this is the most important, isn’t it?!

  • Brightness: is your photo too light or too dark? You can easily change this by using the brightness (or exposure) function.
  • Contrast: shooting in water reduces contrast so you need to increase it to make the image look lively and highlight the details. Be careful and don’t put too much contrast because the image will become dark.
  • Color balance: color balance or color corrector can increase/decrease the amount of colors in the image. This is a magic function that is super effective if it comes to editing snorkeling photos. Add more red to restore nature colors, reduce green if you were shooting in green water.
  • Color temperature: setting the colors warmer (adding more yellow and red) or colder (adding more blue) will change the whole appearance of the image. The perfect temperature depends on the topic of the photo and of course on your liking.
  • Saturation: saturation means how strong are the colors in the image. If you think the photo looks faded, increase the saturation so the colors become lively. Don’t add too much because the image can get easily over-saturated which is not natural.
  • Sharpness: changing the sharpness makes the photo detailed. Increase it until the picture becomes clear but not too much, because it also brings up the imperfections and makes the image noisy.

Tip: if your camera is capable to shoot in RAW, select this option because these type of files can be edited without data and quality loss.

Study marine biology

You don’t need to become a marine biologist but knowing the creatures you wish to take photos of helps a lot to capture the most fascinating moments. Get a reef fish identification guide! It will help you not only identify the different species but also explains their behavior and habits. Marine ecosystems are so complex where all creatures have their own roles, so I encourage you to spend time with just observing this wonderful world and you will recognize that the creatures follow behavior patterns. From the other side, learning about marine life is critical in order to know what species are poisonous, can bite or have toxic stings so you will know from which you have to stay away.

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Practice and learn from professionals

Practice makes the master! We couldn’t agree more on this if it comes to underwater photography! We can give you hundreds of snorkeling photography tips, but just reading them is not enough. Whenever you have free time, study your equipment. Go to the beach on the weekends! Even if there is no coral reef where you live, take photos just for practice. When on holiday, the best is to stay in a hotel or apartment that has a nice house reef. Like this, you can go snorkeling whenever you want and stay in the water as long as you want which you can’t do if you need to take a crowded boat every day to get to a snorkel spot.

The more photos you take, the more you know about your camera, the more you know about the ocean and marine life the better you will get at underwater photography. Last but not least, don’t be shy to ask advice from professionals or sign up for an underwater photography course if you really want to improve your skills!

Anett Szaszi

Anett fell in love with the ocean immediately when she put her head underwater in the Red Sea back in 2010. Discovering megacities is not her style but getting lost in tiny coastal villages, capturing the beauty of the sea while snorkeling. Wherever she goes, she takes her mask, fins and underwater camera with her. She has a big interest in exploring the world’s last hidden underwater paradises and marine conservation. She hopes to inspire people to protect our oceans by sharing her underwater stories. Find her photos on @anett.szaszi Instagram too!

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