Underwater Wildlife Photography Tips and Gear

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Underwater wildlife photography is an engaging way to witness and document marine life at first-hand, revealing its beauty and diversity. However, it requires special skills in order to be effective.

This article will outline some of the essential tools and equipment necessary to take stunning underwater photography, along with providing some invaluable online resources that may assist.


There are various cameras designed for underwater wildlife photography. These include DSLRs, mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras and compact digital single-lens reflex (DSRL) cameras. Each style varies in terms of size, features, price and image/video quality captured; but most offer superior results.

Consider your photography needs before selecting an underwater camera. A beginner might opt for something easy like an easy point-and-shoot; more experienced underwater photographers may prefer something with greater durability in challenging conditions.

An effective sensor is key, particularly in low-light conditions. A top-quality sensor helps produce clearer, more accurate images.

Your camera should be capable of handling higher ISO values while simultaneously minimizing digital noise in your images. Stabilization at lower shutter speeds may help ensure sharp images even when shooting in low-light conditions.

Possessing high-quality lenses is also important. Depending on your requirements, you may opt for either a wide-angle lens to give an all-encompassing view or a macro lens for close-ups of intricate details.

If you plan on shooting video, a memory card that can accommodate its files will be necessary. Video files tend to be larger than photos and require additional storage space.

Consider the lens mount when selecting your camera. Ideally, your chosen lens should fit easily and seamlessly into its housing without any adjustments needed for optimal operation.

Mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras (MILCs) may be an ideal choice for underwater photographers who wish to capture faster-moving animals such as sharks. Their faster processing speed makes these types of cameras an attractive alternative for taking photographs underwater.

Before diving, it is wise to research the weather conditions in your chosen dive location as this could impact how successful your underwater photography experience is. Rain or strong winds could make the conditions less than optimal and make it harder for you to remain still for long enough periods – making taking pictures much harder!


Lens selection for underwater photography can make all the difference in terms of the images captured. They allow you to zoom closer without losing focus, as well as capture details that otherwise would have been lost due to shallow water depths.

Wide-angle lenses and macro lenses are two popular choices when it comes to underwater photography. Wide-angle lenses offer a wider field of view and are ideal for getting close to small creatures like fish or coral, while macro lenses provide ultra-close images of large subjects while still revealing small details like fins or eyes.

Shooting underwater, the refraction of water can make subjects look closer than they actually are and cause issues with chromatic aberration and distortion. To combat this issue, many camera housings come equipped with dome ports which correct for this refraction of glass ports.

These lenses can increase image sharpness, color and contrast while decreasing any refraction effects that could cause backscatter. They’re particularly beneficial when shooting with cameras with large sensor sizes like DSLRs or mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras.

Focus lights are another indispensable piece of equipment for underwater wildlife photographers, designed specifically to illuminate subjects more clearly so you can better focus before taking pictures. They don’t produce as much light as strobes do, making them best used when photographing reefs or large surfaces like rivers.

Strobes may not be essential in all circumstances, but they can come in handy when creating moody scenes featuring plenty of shadows and desaturation, or bright and colorful underwater photographs. Furthermore, strobes help with depth of field adjustments as well as providing additional exposure for moving subjects.


If you want to elevate your underwater photography abilities, a port is one of the essential pieces of gear you’ll require. A port is essentially an attachment for attaching equipment in front of an underwater housing and needs to be secure as possible for proper operation.

There is an assortment of ports on the market, so it is important that you select one that will complement both your camera and lens perfectly. Furthermore, make sure you understand what each port was created for.

Dome Ports

A dome port is a special type of port designed to create over/under photos or “split shots.” They’re used for taking over/under photographs that need an upper/lower separation.

Due to their curved surfaces, dome ports counteract the magnification effect that occurs when light passes through water and magnifies subjects underwater, making them appear larger than they actually are. Therefore, for optimal photography in water environments, it’s essential to shoot from an upward angle.

Flat Ports

Photographers who prefer close-up and macro images will find flat ports ideal. While less curved than dome ports, their rounded edge helps magnify an image and magnify it further.

They’re typically used with lenses measuring 35mm or longer (known as Full Frame or FX Equivalent lenses) with an approximate diagonal field-of-view of around 63 degrees; although they may also work for wider FOVs.

Important to keep in mind when purchasing a flat port is its incompatibility with all lenses; be sure to know which lenses your specific lens(es) use before purchasing one. If unsure, visit the manufacturer’s website or talk with store staff at your desired destination location to find out for sure.

At the core of it all lies my best advice when it comes to underwater photography: be respectful. Take photos without harming any animals or the environment you’re photographing for truly incredible shots that will impress friends and family back home.


If you want to create more vivid underwater photographs, light can help. One effective method is using strobes which provide additional lighting into the scene making it easier for dark environments when taking shots.

Post-processing software can also help enhance your images, helping remove flaws, correct color imbalances and make them look even better than they already were. Be careful with this approach though – it could quickly consume too much of your time; rather focus on taking more deliberate shots with each photo opportunity you have and finding settings that work for you instead.

Photography requires being under your own control; that means avoiding disturbing any habitat and making sure any animals you come across don’t become stressed, which could result in poor photos.

It’s particularly important to stay aware when photographing deep-sea animals or marine life that’s skittish, such as coral. Also, make sure not to leave your camera underwater – doing so could damage its ecosystem as well as compromise the shots taken with it.

To avoid these problems, be sure that your camera has a waterproof housing. There are buoyant and non-buoyant versions, giving you options that suit your specific needs.

Once you have acquired all of the appropriate gear, the next step should be learning how to use it effectively. Proper use is a crucial element of underwater photography and will make all the difference when it comes to taking stunning underwater shots.

No matter your experience level or skill set, choosing the appropriate equipment is paramount to success. Selecting improper gear could result in missed opportunities and wasted effort.

Focus lights are essential tools in underwater photography, enabling photographers to quickly and without distraction hone in on the subject of interest. There are various kinds of underwater focus lights ranging from handheld units to more sophisticated camera-attached strobes that allow their subjects to remain sharp in focus.

Light is an integral component of underwater wildlife photography, and every photographer should pay close attention to how light impacts their images. Equipped with the appropriate equipment, you can take your skills even further and begin producing captivating photographs that leave an unforgettable legacy.


Ash has been into cameras and photography for over 40 years, with 10 of those years as a professional photographer. His passion is to constantly strive to create better images and to pass on his knowledge to other budding photographers.

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