Your approach to taking pictures in the Maldives has to be altered as the seasons and locations alter. At times of the year the visibility can rival the Red Sea, however a lot of the time it is compromised by comparison.
One of the reasons that the waters in this area are frequented by large pelagic beasts like Manta and Whalesharks is because of the tiny plankton providing the major food for these ocean giants.
This tiny plankton, in the main, is what is hampering the visibility.

If you’ve kept track of my recent Facebook posts of those Manta and Whalesharks though you could be forgiven for thinking that the visibility was crystal clear.

And certain adaptations are what is needed to shoot in this less than perfect visibility to make your photo’s look like the viz is clearer than it is.

I find that the age old adage of underwater photographers to “get close” is never more apt than when in these slightly murkier conditions.

It’s Crystal Clear

This is exactly the sort of example that pictures the Maldives looking its most colourful, it's a deception really as without the colourful balled up anemone in the foreground, shot using a fisheye lens so I'm shooting through only inches of water at this point, the less the perfect viz is hidden.
This is exactly the sort of example that shows the Maldives looking its most colourful. It’s a deception really as without the colourful balled up anemone in the foreground and shot using a fisheye lens so I’m shooting through only inches of water at this point, the less than perfect viz is disguised.

A Fish Eye View

So I choose to shoot with a fisheye lens and really get close when shooting reef scenes.
Placing the main object of interest  in the forefront of the frame.
This tends to lead the eye, into the picture which is a great compositional stand by, and it also has the benefit of shooting through much less water for this close object, so even if the background isn’t crystal clear and distinct, the foreground will be.

One of the more frustrating creatures to shoot well in the Maldives is the relatively frequent visiting reef sharks. Usually White Tips swirling in the currents at the edges of channels, but occasionally you may get visited by Grey Reefs too.
I have always had difficulty shooting these with my standard weapon of choice, the fisheye lens.

Scuba Travel, shark, Maldives
Ok, here is a subject that demands a dramatic angle, I was shooting with a longer than normal focal length, so unable to let the drama by ramping it up with a “fisheye in it’s face” sort of a composition, which just wasn’t possible. Fearsome though they may seem, this shark like most was quite shy. So I opted for a short telephoto lens to make them big in the frame. This meant that to turbo charge the dynamics a bit I simply tilted the camera, well actually I didn’t, I lie. What I did was take a pretty straight shot and after converting it to black and white I cropped it in Lightroom with a bit of a tilt. Simples. Although to be perfectly honest if you can remember to frame like this in the first place you won’t waste any valuable pixels, and keep the quality high.

And so on occasion  I have resorted to using longer focal lengths, from standard wide angle lenses all the way through to short telephoto or macro lenses.
This is of course a compromise, and you still end up shooting through planktony water, but at least you can get something.
In fact if you have a compact camera with a range of focal lengths you may well end up getting closer and often better shots than those of us sporting super wide fish eye lenses.

Go Big, or Go Home

Luckily the largest of the Maldives marine life the Manta’s and Whale Sharks are usually quite easy to get close to, so it’s back to the fisheye and wide-angle lenses for these.
You still have to be careful though as one of the other unwanted side effects of shooting in plankton rich water, is that your strobe positioning needs to be attended to with more care, as the plankton will cause back scatter really easily. So I always make sure that my strobes are positioned well behind the dome lens front, and also pointed slightly out.
Please check out my earlier blog about shooting with strobes and positioning and click here

Scuba Travel, Maldives, mantas
My strobe positioning for these two (3) manta circling overhead was more a case of luck than judgement. As they happened to be at just the right distance from me to get proper strobe coverage, with minimal backscatter. You can see it’s not as clear by the manta in the distance, bottom left.

For the next picture of the Whale Shark I’ve used the exact same technique that I used in Mexico to shoot the Whale Sharks there, with Shutter Priority.
The Whale Shark was only encountered from a snorkelling viewpoint and so to make my self more streamlined and hydrodynamic I removed the strobes from my rig.
And just like in Mexico I only managed a few shots, before I ran out of steam, as the Whale Shark “sped” by me in a rather languid fashion!

Scuba Travel, whale shark, Maldives
I was lucky that this Whale Shark turned towards me, and as it’s relatively slow moving shutter priority has frozen its languid movements.
Scuba Travel, seafans, diver
For this shot I had ample time to position my strobes at just the right angle to illuminate the nice row of fans, with Gareth my buddy in the background.

So in summary the trick to deal with visibility issues and getting clearer shots is very simple. You need to get rid of as much water between you and the subject as possible, so the order of the day is a wide angle lens of some description, and generally with the exception of shooting shy sharks the wider the better.

For this shot I had ample time to position my strobes at just the right angle to illuminate the nice row of fans, with Gareth my buddy in the background.Duxy