Best Underwater Photography Tips for Capturing People


A bird flying over a body of water

Do you want to capture people underwater? Here are some useful underwater photography tips of capturing people.

1. Have An Open Mind

A fish swimming under water

Everything is different under the water. Lighting, for example, follows different principles and patterns. Lights need to be about 6 times stronger than on land (roughly, depending on depth and distance to your subject), and since dealing with radio signals can be a huge pain underwater, your lights usually need to be either constant, ambient light or strobes that are connected directly to your camera.

You and your models need to adapt to shooting in a near zero-gravity environment. Your props and wardrobe will act differently as well—a gorgeous, flowing dress on land could be a tangled, transparent mess underwater; and a prop you thought would be a fantastic idea might be downright dangerous after it gets wet (I learned this the hard way with a fur coat and a pair of roller-skates).

2. Buy The Right Housing

A person flying through the blue water

Sorry to say, but underwater photography housing is no place to be pinching pennies. When you’re putting thousands of dollars’ worth of gear in an environment that could easily destroy it with just the tiniest of leaks, you need to know it’s going to be taken care of.

If you’re just looking to have some fun, consider renting some gear or buy a GoPro. Take some pics and see how you feel. If you decide underwater isn’t for you, at least you can return the gear or use a GoPro for literally anything else; if you do decide this is something you want to pursue, sit down and have an honest look at the kind of underwater work you want to produce and the gear you’ll need to produce it.

3. Know Not All Water Is Equal

Our cameras see light very differently than we do. A heavily chlorinated pool may seem clear to you, but it’s a hazy mess according to your camera. If you’re shooting in a pool that looks clear, but you’re images are turning out cloudy and useless, there might be an abundance of chemicals in the water that you aren’t seeing, but your camera is.

In my experience, I’ve found there’s really nothing better than a clear, freshwater lake, followed by clear saltwater, followed by a saltwater pool. I’ll avoid shooting in a chlorinated hotel pool at all costs.

4. Embrace Wide Angle Lenses

To cut down on the amount of water between your subject and your camera, you’ll want to shoot as close to your subject as possible. I mostly shoot at a focal length right around 25mm. Any longer and I have a hard time keeping my subject entirely in the frame, and I started running into additional focusing and clarity issues. Any wider and there is too much image distortion.

Not to say you shouldn’t break the rules a little bit though! If I know I’m shooting in an environment where outer distortion doesn’t matter (say on a completely black background), I’ll shoot with something as wide as an 8mm, and for close-up portrait work, I’ll shoot closer to 40-50mm. I’ve also taken my 85mm underwater to because, well, why the hell not?

5. Learn To Sink

The key to staying underwater is not to hold your breath, but rather to let all your air out. The less air in your lungs, the less buoyant you are, and the easier it is to maneuver down there. It seems quite terrifying at first, but soon you’ll learn to work with the residual air in your lungs, and the more you do it the longer you can stay down. It’s not uncommon now for me to sink down 15 or 20 feet for the angle I need, while the model goes through a couple cycles of posing.

These are some useful tips for underwater photography of people.

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