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What is the Essential Underwater Photography Equipment for Beginners?

Photography is a very appealing hobby and  many people will be tempted to capture their holidays and all the places they’ve visited. This is one of the best opportunities to bring your camera underwater and do some unique photography with amazing results.  With underwater equipment, you can capture reefs, go snorkeling, get pictures of fish, capture shipwrecks, and so on.

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Luckily for you, today there is a wide range of underwater photography equipment for beginners that can help you create these shots easily while making sure that your gear will not get damaged.  Below we will look at the very essentials you need for underwater photography.

There are a lot of different components that go into underwater photography equipment and you can choose each one according to your preferences, needs, and your budget. However, for beginners, getting this equipment can be very complicated. In this guide, we will give you all the information you need to get the right gear.

Cameras

The first important thing, of course, is to make sure that you find a waterproof camera with a suitable housing, whether its built in or separate. There are many different digital cameras to choose from, including mirrorless cameras, DSLR cameras with a high resolution, and compact, simple point and shoot cameras.  All may have underwater housing options (few with the point and shoots), but always check with the manufacturer. 

You can simply google your existing camera model to see if it has a housing available, or if you do not own a camera you would like to use underwater, first research which cameras housings are being sold for.  Camera choice will likely depend on your budget, since the larger the camera, the larger the housing needed and often the greater the cost.  There is also the issue of risk of loss, do you want to risk a $400 camera or a $4000 DSLR?

You can use GoPro and other action cameras for underwater photography. They usually come with lenses that have wide angles, which is always a good thing, as they help you get a nice wide shot and get closer to your subject.   Some say that this is the best type of digital camera for beginners, since it’s small and convenient and this is important when you are diving.

There are also companies that make undersea cameras specifically, not just action cameras in general.  Since these are meant for underwater use, they have special features which action cams do not, such as multiple beginner underwater modes and supermacro mode.  One such popular company is SeaLife.

You can even buy housings for your cell phone such as an iPhone that work underwater.

Underwater Housing

The underwater camera housing is the second most important piece of equipment you need if you are not using a camera body which is in itself waterproof. Even though your camera might be waterproof itself (like some point and shoots), it doesn’t mean that it should be submerged for a prolonged period of time. The other purpose of the casing is to protect your camera from water pressure and prevent any damage.  Both DSLRS and action cams have housings available.  Action cams often come with one from the factory.

Housings are usually made of polycarbonate or aluminum and in some cases, they combine these two materials. Make sure that you get housings that are made of these materials, as they are durable and will give you proper protection.  There may be housings made cheaply by unknown brands.  Always read customer reviews and buy from a respectable manufacturer as picking the wrong housing may mean the loss of your very expensive camera.  Even slight leaks due to poor quality seals, especially at a greater depth, can completely ruin a camera. 

Lenses

You can use your existing lenses, however you will be limited by your housing and port.  In addition, some types of lenses just do not work underwater, while others work much better than others.  For example,

Ports and Port Extensions

Camera ports are also important, as they protect your camera even further and prevent clouded images. There are two types of ports to choose from:

  1. Dome ports
  2. Flat ports

If you have a wide-angle lens, it’s better to go with dome ports, as they keep the wide quality of the wider lenses, by not magnifying what is in view.  They are usually made of acrylic and glass and offer less chromatic aberration.  

If you are using macro lens (over 35mm) go with flat ports, as they are better at magnifying than dome ports.  Flat ports do not work well with wide lenses or you may experience vignetting.  If you used a dome port you would likely damage it on coral etc by getting too close.

If you are using different lenses, you need a suitable port extension to avoid having to get different types of ports and change them constantly. A port extension extends the port for the longer lens. 

Color Correcting Filters

When shooting under the water the colors behave differently. Images can often have excessive amounts of green or blue colors and this is why color correcting filters are necessary. You should use them only when shooting in natural light to get more white-balanced images.

Color correcting filters don’t add any colors, they are simply designed to reduce excessive colors and come in many different forms, depending on cameras or lenses. They are attached next to the lens, either behind or in front.

Underwater Flash or Strobes

It can be difficult to expose shots when shooting underwater. Even when you are in clear waters, you might not get the best natural light when shooting. This is why you need to get strobes, or underwater flash to get a better light. If you are going for wide-angle images, it’s better to have two strobes.

However, if you are going exclusively for macro shots, then a single strobe will be good enough. There are many different strobe options and they can be attached to any camera. No matter which one you choose, the important thing is to make sure that it has light diffusers, as they throw light more naturally and evenly.

Focus Light

One of the challenges when shooting underwater is that you might not always be able to see your subject you are shooting. You will be able to see it, but you won’t see it clearly with all the details and elements that matter and that you would like to capture.

For these reasons, you need an external source of light separate from your camera – a focus light. They are similar to any flashlight and have a narrow-angle of strong light and can be mounted above the lens. They won’t give you the lighting of strobes but will help you see your subject.

Sync Cords/Fiber Optic Cables

Sync cords or fiber optic cables are sometimes used with land photography as well. They are used to connect the camera and strobes so that your flash goes off at the moment you press the shutter. With underwater photography equipment, they are a must, especially if you plan on using flash because you can’t use wireless devices.

You must consider the manufacturer of strobes, your camera, and its housing when choosing optic cables, as not all work for different products.

Rechargeable Batteries

Make sure to get rechargeable batteries for all your gear that needs power, including the focus light, strobes, and of course, your camera. You can even get an extra pair so that you always have a pair charging while you use the other pair. Lithium batteries can sometimes be a fire hazard, so avoid using them.

Memory Cards

Just like with any type of photography, make sure that you get a few memory cards to ensure that you have enough storage space. This is especially important when shooting underwater because you can quickly put your images somewhere and free up space to shoot more. If you can, find a camera that supports multiple memory cards.

Gears

Beginners should not worry about zoom gears and zooming underwater.  Focus gears are also likely to be used by more advanced underwater photographers as they add even more to the cost and have to be lens and housing specific, much like that zoom gears.  You can simply use the continuous focus or auto focus on your camera.

This is all the essential photo equipment for beginners that you’ll need for effective underwater shooting. As with any type of photography, practice will make you understand what equipment works best in what conditions, and works with what other items. If you want your pictures to look truly professional, consider hiring professional photo editors such as Smart Photo Editors (SPE).

I hope I have given you some idea about the essential equipment for underwater photography and you are excited to “take the dive” and try it on your own.  Happy shooting!

Click here for a more advanced underwater photography article and tips.

Isabella Foreman

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