Underwater Photographer

By TACP Staff on July 08, 2021

Underwater photography is a challenging but rewarding genre of photography for those lucky enough to be able to explore the water’s depths. While it requires specialized equipment and extensive training to move freely underwater as well as with a camera, underwater photography provides some of the most captivating images you’ll ever see. In this post, we’re going to break down what is underwater photography, what challenges you will face, and what you need to get started.

What Is an Underwater Photographer?

An underwater photographer is someone who is primarily interested in capturing underwater photographs. Although there are many similarities between this type of photography and other forms, underwater photography has it’s own set of unique challenges and requirements. An underwater photographer will need to consider many different issues when taking photographs underwater such as the weather, buoyancy control, lighting, depth of field, and camera settings.

Traditional principles that concern a photographer above the water, such as composition, camera shake, subject selection, unity, and movement, are still important underwater. However, the conditions of underwater photography force a photographer to take into consideration many additional factors in order to properly capture the images they want.
These unique circumstances of underwater photography and the benefits of being able to shoot underwater can be an exciting challenge for many photographers.

Common Challenges of Underwater Photography

Every setting and environment presents unique challenges to a photographer and none is so challenging as photography underwater. Many photographers, regardless of skill level, experience the disappointment of seeing that the photographs that they worked so hard to capture just don’t turn out the way they expected. The fact is, your eyes and the camera do not see things the same underwater as they do on land. Light refraction, magnification, focus, motion, and lighting are factors that challenge beginners and experienced photographers alike. Here, we will break down some of the major hurdles facing underwater photographers.


Light bends or changes direction as it passes from one medium to another. Water is denser than air, so light will bend as it passes from the air into the water causing objects to appear approximately 25 percent larger and closer than they really are. This phenomenon is called refraction. A good example of refraction is when the sun’s rays enter a raindrop, forming a rainbow. The angle at which light bends while entering the water is called the refractive index of the water.

Lighting & Light Absorption

Water absorbs a substantial amount of light, acting as a natural filter. As you dive, light levels will get progressively dimmer, resulting in 50% light loss for every 10 meters of depth. So, at 20 meters of depth you have just 25 percent of the light you had at the surface, leaving your images dark if not properly adjusted. Water clarity will also impact the amount of light you’re getting on your subjects. If water conditions are stormy and choppy you will definitely need to compensate with strobe flashers to illuminate your subjects. Many photographers use strobes to get professional quality lighting and maximize color saturation.

Loss of Color

What looks colorful at the surface looks different underwater. This is perhaps the most frustrating obstacle for photographers seeking vibrant underwater photos. As you dive deeper in the water, red light is diminished as the spectrum of light narrows, resulting in images with dull colors. Hues of red, yellow, and orange may be completely absent at depths of 10 meters or more, leaving photos with little but blue and green hues. The reason for this is that blue and green colors are constructed from significantly longer wavelengths, which allow them to penetrate the water at greater depths. Photographers can compensate for this issue with strobe flashers and color-correcting filters.

Examples of Underwater Photography

Underwater Photographer Salary

Underwater photographers are a specialized group within the broad category of Photographers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics publishes salary and job outlook data each year that reports wage and employment trends for hundreds of common professions in the United States. As of May 2020, the BLS reported that photographers earned a median annual salary of $41,280, the equivalent of $19.85 per hour, for the most recent period. 

Like other photographers, a person’s earning power is highly dependent on their level of experience and artistic skill. Over 63% of all photographers are estimated to be self-employed, or freelance artists, which means that their income may fluctuate and differ significantly from other professionals in the same field. 

Additional Resources for Underwater Photographers

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