5 Steps to Shooting Great Underwater Photography

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Sure, you can take your waterproof Fujifilm FinePix XP70 into the waves with you this summer at the beach — but can you snap a decent photo once you’re there? No matter how much you paid for your gear, learning a few key concepts about wielding a camera while submerged will help you get the most from it. That’s why John and Dan Cesere, brothers who have been diving together since they were kids, put together all-inclusive photography classes including a new tour of Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea, where you can dive and enjoy the ocean while learning the tricks of the trade. 

The Ceseres teach photographers how to snap photos while maneuvering through a current, dealing with the unique light balance, and using wide-angle composition to capture whales or big manta rays. While diving is the highlight of most trips, John and Dan also offer options at surface level. “Technically, you don’t even have to dive — you can snorkel,” says John. “We do a picture called an over-under where you’re half in and half out of the water — basically snorkeling.”

Here are John Cesere’s five tips for getting started in underwater photography — master the basics now to save time and effort in the long run.

1.) Resist the Zoom.
You will get a higher quality and more detailed image if you use your body rather than your zoom — this tip is even more true in water than it is on land because shooting through too much water distorts colors, clarity, light and sharpness. Keep your lens on the widest setting and position yourself (by swimming closer) to frame the image. Leave the “I’ll just crop it in Photoshop” mentality at home.

2.) Interact with the Environment.
A successful photo leaves a viewer experiencing some kind of feeling or emotion. Sometimes when shooting friendly creatures like dolphins or sea turtles, you can create this by prompting the subject to interact or show personality to the camera. Don’t feel limited to stereotypically “cute” species — one of our best-selling images is of a charismatic pig that wandered into the water one day. You want your image to create a connection with its viewers, so bottle the feelings or emotions that you experience in those moments and translate it into your image.

3.) Get Comfortable with the Animals.
 Each creature requires a different approach. With smaller creatures like a clown fish, you have to go to the same place, over and over again — you’re trying to build that animal’s confidence that you’re not going to hurt it. (Tickling helps, too, for species that don’t sting). For sharks or humpback whales — the key is overcoming your own fear. Take deep breaths and mentally reassure yourself until you’re calm enough to move closer. 

4.) Always Be Prepared. 
Most often, anticipation in photography simply means having your camera with you every time you dive. Sometimes, being truly ready will require some real thinking and planning — like building an entire trip around the potential of a single shot. If you don’t want to deal with the bulk of carrying your best camera out on a daily basis, invest in a smaller one that you can strap onto your wrist for those days when you weren’t planning to snap any pictures, just in case.

5.) Make the Photos Secondary to the Experience.
You’d be surprised at how much your mood translates into your images — and to the animals you shoot. If you are in a bad mood, your pictures will probably show it. So have fun and let your passion and creativity shine through your work. Being in a good mental space will put the animals around you at ease and make your images the best they can be.

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