The Essential Guide to Create Great Underwater Photography

Discovering the life beneath the waves can be a very enlightening experience. The excitement of encountering a wild aquatic animal in their natural habitat is almost too valuable to be forgotten. That’s why many divers turned onto marine photography enthusiast, and this is supported by huge ecosystem in many Bali’s diving spots.

From the tiniest, colorful nudibranchs to the majestic Manta Rays, each marine creatures are fascinating to their own way, even the weird eels garden. However, capturing their real beauty can be quite a challenging task, especially if you are new to diving. It takes special tricks that you need to master before creating that top-notch underwater photos just like what you saw on those superb diving websites.

Get Close Whenever Possible

Zoom lenses, even though can help you to capture objects in the far distance, would make your images appear softer than prime/ fixed lens. If possible, bring fix lens that produces sharper images in faster speed, but this means you should get closer manually to your objects.

Capturing your objects in short distance also brings out color, contrast, and sharpness of your objects, as water reduces those elements. Capture your objects within one meter or less, especially if you are doing macro photography.

Master the Basic Settings

Don’t depend on camera auto mode. Underwater photography requires a lot of flexibility, so try to set your camera to the best manual setting. For starters, here is the rule of thumb:

White Balance

White balance setting is extremely important for underwater photography.  When you are not using flash, set your white balance to custom-white balance (or underwater mode if available) and put it in daylight mode or auto when you are using flash. Failure to set up your white balance will result in blue photos.


Set your ISO to the lowest setting, preferably 100 or 200, and highest resolutions. You might want to set your ISO high as it’s darker under the sea than up above the land, but high ISO will give more noises to your photos.


Learning the right aperture is very important to control the balance between natural light and additional light from the strobe. Aperture setting will vary between f* and f16, depending on the depth of your dive.


There are two kinds of lighting that you can use for underwater photography, ambiance light or natural light, and strobe or flashlight. Ambiance light is amazing to portray silhouettes, such as a  “flying” Manta Rays above the sea, capturing rays of lights piercing the ocean. However, too much ambient light with a poor aperture can make colors of the corals and fishes appears dull.

Strobes will provide focused, additional light to your object that will block ambient light and bring out colors of your objects.  

The Shooting

After fussing with the manual shooting, it’s time to shoot. Just like any photography, underwater shoots can turn out from very boring, cloudy greenish blue without any interesting thing in sight, to a very fascinating and lively sea object.

To avoid lack of subject or dull objects, try not to shoot “down” the subjects. This is the easiest, yes, but your picture will practically have nothing to say. Swim lower and make your objects are at least at eye level with you, and shoot at an upward angle. Fill your frame with the objects and possibly its surroundings.

Surely, there are more advanced underwater photography techniques, but these will be enough to have clear, colorful marine life photos with great contrast!