Underwater photography is a journey. But let’s face it, the beginning of the journey is often not very rewarding. No one starts out an award-winning photographer. Whilst I can’t give you a magic formula to instant success… because there isn’t one… I can show you a path that will lead to great underwater pictures.
I find it helps to think about underwater photography as having 3 major elements. Skills are obviously key, and something you will spend the rest of your photographic career developing. Kit continuously evolves and what goes in your bag changes over time. But one element is 100% within your control from day 1, and that is your mental attitude. It’s easy to become obsessed with the first two aspects and overlook how you approach the challenge ahead. Yet it’s your attitude to photography that really brings together the skills and kit to make the magic happen.
Don’t get discouraged
This is easy to say, and harder to do! But don’t get discouraged by what you feel are disappointing results. Remember: we’ve all been on a dive deck looking at the screen on the back of our cameras and see blue, incorrectly exposed shots, one after the other.
I’ve seen many enthusiastic divers on workshops frustrated and despondent after a bad dive with the camera. But don’t let it get in your head! As an instructor, I’m here to give you the tools to manage different circumstances underwater, but you need to stay open-minded. We all start by taking more pictures to be deleted than kept.
Learn to look at those “crap” pictures as tools. Identify what went wrong and be prepared for the next time you find yourself in a similar situation underwater. The same can be said about those lucky shots we sometimes get. Try to work out what went right that time so you can replicate it again. As you pick up tips and techniques, the skills you learn will give you a higher hit rate (more keepers from a dive).
Learn from your mistakes
When you review your shots, try to figure out what went wrong so you don’t repeat the mistake again. No eye contact? Chopping off a diver’s head or fish’s fin? Over or underexposing? Incorrect colour balance? These are all too familiar problems for new photographers. Some issues are purely compositional, others are a bit more technical. But happily, there are some quick fixes for most common errors.
Don’t click and hope. Give yourself time underwater to assess the environment and study your subject. Think about where the sun is and what angle will be the best to approach. Make sure to pay attention to the background as well as the foreground. That extra time spent mentally arranging the scene will pay off with the finished result.
Photo workshops become addictive for a reason. Many of the images that win are taken on a workshop. Diving the same site at a different time helps work out the best way to photograph it, trying out different lenses or lighting approaches. The feedback loop is critical. It’s my job as an instructor to assist you underwater and review on the surface. We keep working on a shot until it’s in the bag but don’t expect that to be shot number one, two or even three.
Learn from others
I’d like to think people chose photo workshops because of what I can teach them. But in reality, there’s a huge amount people learn from those around them too, on a similar journey. You are not in competition with your fellow photographers. The comradery of an environment of people working together is beneficial to all. You will have the opportunity of comparing results with other photographers, see mistakes others made and find how they corrected them. We’ve all gone through a similar learning curve.
Be confident in your dive skills
It’s vital that you are comfortable and confident in the water before you can expect great photos. Once you get comfortable in the water you can start practising different positions. Buoyancy is the one skill that will make a huge difference to your photography and it has nothing to do with technicalities or camera settings. It’s hard to get close to your fishy subjects if you are flailing around underwater. Can you get upside down to take a picture for those hard to reach critters? You need to be able to keep your body completely clear of the reef or sea bed, whilst composing the shot in front of you. Think less about diving and concentrate more on the photography.
There’s a reason I start teaching underwater photography in the pool, not the sea. A pool offers a controlled, calm environment. Rusty divers don’t make good underwater photographers. If you keep your skills sharp between trips, you will get more out of your photo dives right from the start, rather than wasting the first couple of days reminding yourself what you are supposed to be doing! Jumping in before you travel is essential. It’s your chance to find your dive confidence again, as well as work out your trim.
Practice makes perfect
You need to be prepared to work at underwater photography. The camera kit is a tool, not the key. Don’t think you need the latest models or flashy gadgets. Spending time taking pictures is more important than hoarding equipment that rarely gets used. This journey doesn’t happen overnight.
As a tool, your camera works better when you know how to use it to its full potential. Go out on a walk and take it with you, take pictures of flowers, your pet, anything will work –push your limits. Don’t get comfortable using the automatic modes. If you learn how to use your camera on land without thinking translating this knowledge to the underwater world should be easy.
Join Mario on one of his photo workshops to have the chance to dive carefully selected dive sites and take your underwater photography skills to the next level.
Mario is well known for his patient, calm approach to teaching underwater photography – he will help you develop new skills and build your confidence in a relaxed and fun environment.