Admit it, you’ve seen the amazing photos on social media of spectacular water shots filling up your FaceBook newsfeed or your Instagram feed. Maybe it was a big wave and the photographer was right there in the barrel, or maybe it was a photo of a sea turtle, or a misty sunrise photo with the colors reflecting off the water. Chances are, you probably thought, “How the heck did they get that shot!?” Well, in this article I’m going to try and describe how you too can get some great shots in the water too.
First things first, you need a camera, duh. Now before you go out and drop up to $7,000+ on a whole new rig, just wait. You have to ask yourself a few questions:
So how serious do you want to take water photography? If this is a strong passion for you and maybe even something you would want to pursue even further down the road and you’re familiar with camera settings like f-stop, shutter speed, ISO then perhaps you may want to think about a crop sensor DSLR camera with a waterhousing like SPL, AquaTech or CMT. With a crop sensor camera, you have full control over the camera’s settings and more importantly the waterhousings I mentioned above, you have control over these settings while in the water. These types of waterhousings usually range from $2,000 and higher (this does not include the camera.) However, If you’re more of a hobbyist and just like to shoot around for fun once in a while and you like to share the images on social media and don’t care too much about camera settings, then I definitely recommend a GoPro. Specifically the GoPro 3+ or the new GoPro 4. There is no fooling with too much camera settings, you can even put it on burst mode and take 30 images per second, pretty sweet huh? It gets better, it’s typically less than $400 too! That includes the camera and waterhousing!
There’s also options where you can purchase compact cameras like Sony, Panasonic, Canon, FujiFilm to use underwater too. There’s an assortment of cameras that are already waterproof with no waterhousing needed, there’s also options to purchase waterhousings for your existing compact camera. If you don’t want to buy a new camera and your budget is low, you can also consider getting a waterproof casing for your smartphone. There are several on the market including Lifeproof and Aqua Tek. So you have a wide range of options to take great photos in the water.
Ok so now you have your camera, you’re all set to go right? Well not so fast…There are a lot of techniques you should be aware of when shooting in the water to get your best shots.
1. Try to shoot during golden hour. This is when the lighting is the most saturated and looks the most dramatic. It also is a great time to get some really cool angles since the sun casts really unique shadows.
2. Make sure your waterhousing does not have water drops on them ruining your shots. To prevent this, buff the dome of your waterhousing very good with a soft cloth. Do this for several minutes, then when you are in the water, dunk the camera into the water several times while licking the dome. This creates a saliva coating on your camera’s dome and will prevent you from losing any good potential photos.
3. Become ambidextrous when you’re in the water. Use both hands! I like to switch my hands when I’m in the water shooting waves. If you are shooting a wave that is in front of you and the wave is breaking right, then you have to use your left arm to go deeper in the wave to get a better shot. If you use the opposite arm/hand, you will limit your shot since you’re arm is crossing over your body. So learn how to use both hands.
4. Check the tides before heading in the water, if the tide is too low or too high, you may not get the best shots. Usually a rising tide is the best time to be in the water for shots.
5. If you’re shooting underwater, go below your subject (person, reef, turtle, dolphin, etc) and angle upwards at your subject. Shooting up at a 33 – 45 degree angle is much more appealing.
6. If you’re shooting waves, try to shoot the exit of the barrel going outwards. Think about a surfer trying to get out of a closing barrel, that’s the shot you want, not the other way around. I’ve sold a lot more photos when the wave is still open with an exit. I think this is a psychological effect, if the human brain knows it has a chance to make it out, it’s more appealing. That’s just my theory.
7. If you’re shooting people in the water, position your camera just below the surface of the water. You’ll start to see some cool reflections from this angle and they can turn into some beautiful shots.
8. If you have control over your cameras settings, try to slow your shutter speed down to get some great slow shutter speed shots. You can set your camera to TS mode (Shutter Priority) and experiment with different speeds. I like shooting 1/10th – 1/20th of a second, I tend to get some cool shots that way.
9. Try the over/under shot. This is where you place your camera’s dome half in the water and half out of it. It usually creates a cool shot of both the surface and below the surface shot. Be creative!
10. Don’t be afraid to try new things, break the rules (there are no rules!) and if you find a certain style you really like, keep practicing it and master it!
Water photography is not easy. That’s why in almost any major city near the ocean, you can find a lot of used waterhousings on Craigslist all the time. Why? Because people buy these expensive equipment and they don’t get immediate results and they get frustrated and quit. I tell people it’s like the New Year’s resolution that people say all the time, “I am going to get healthy and go to the gym and get fit!” Come Jan 3rd all these new faces are at the gym, everyone wanting to get fit and have abs by Valentine’s Day. But about 3 weeks into Jan, most of them quit and do not return again. Why? Because people want results FAST and if they don’t get it fast, they get bored and move on. So I’m letting you know now that this is not a quick hobby to become like the great Clark Little in a few months. It takes years of practice, but be patient and don’t quit because the hard work can definitely pay off.
Mahalo Hawaii Camera and readers. I teach an underwater photography class online through UDemy shown here. Feel free to contact me anytime with any question and I’ll be happy to answer them.
Kenji Croman is a surf/aerial photographer living in Honolulu, Hawaii. His work has recently been featured on CNN, YAHOO, The Travel Channel and more. He has been shooting in the water for 8 years now and is an instructor for underwater photography at the University of Hawaii. To see more of his work, check out his website shown here. Also, you can follow him on Instagram shown here.