Basic underwater photography camera settings

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Every beginner photographer knows it. The biggest headache of the practice is getting to know your camera settings. In underwater photography, you need to take extra care that you’re using the right settings to capture the underwater environment and marine life. This article contains a quick guide to the correct underwater photography camera settings. Whether you’re shooting wide-angle or macro, there are ways to optimise your images with both a compact and a DSLR camera.

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Underwater macro photography with a compact camera

Some photographers prefer the auto shooting mode on their compact underwater camera. In general, it’s recommended that you use Manual (M) mode if your camera has the option. To take macro photos with your compact, switch your camera to macro mode. Then, change your shutter speed to about 1/1000th. This will block out the ambient light of the surrounding water. Your aperture should be about F8 for maximum depth of field, and your ISO should be 100 or lower to begin with. Also, put the camera in focus mode so that you’re able to spot focus. With a compact, get as close to the subject as you can for the best results. 

Underwater macro photography with a DSLR camera

Shoot in Manual (M) mode, with an ISO of 100 or 200 and a starting shutter speed of about 1/200th. Your aperture will depend on the conditions and your distance from the subject. If you’re very close to your subject, you can set your aperture between F16 and F29. For subjects that are farther away, use an aperture of about F5.6 to F11. If you shoot a far-away subject with a higher aperture, it will be underexposed. This is because your lights won’t be as strong at that distance. Also, be sure to choose a single focus point (you can use the magnifying button on your camera to do this). You can move the focus point according to the key areas you’re trying to target in your photo composition.

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Wide-angle photography with a compact camera

If you don’t have a strobe, make sure your camera’s macro mode and flash are turned off. Next, set your custom white balance and use matrix metering. In addition, try to take the photos in shallow, sunlit water. If you have aperture priority (Av) mode available on your compact, use it and set your aperture at F2.8. Alternatively, use Program (P) mode. Your ISO can start at 100, but you can increase this if you’re using an aperture of F2.8. Your shutter speed can be below 1/30 if your subjects are still, 1/60 if they’re moving slowly and 1/125 if they’re fast-moving. 

If you have a strobe to use with your compact camera, you can try shooting in Manual (M) mode. In this mode, set your ISO to 100, your aperture between F5.6 and F8, and your shutter speed between 1/100 and 1/200. With a strobe, it’s quite similar to shooting wide-angle with a dSLR camera. So, you can read the next paragraph for more information. 

Wide-angle photography with a DSLR camera

Manual mode is the way to go for underwater photography camera settings on a DSLR. Use the base ISO (100 or 200), an aperture of F8 and a shutter speed of 1/100th. If you are close to your subject and there is enough lighting available, use an aperture of around F11. Also, use the maximum number of focus points for wide-angle photos. 

These are the camera settings for macro and wide-angle to get you started on either your compact or DSLR. For more in-depth detail on underwater photography camera settings, take a look at our post on simple settings for amazing underwater images.

Any thoughts on these underwater photography tips? Let us know in the comments below.

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Rouxne has an Honours degree in journalism and media studies. She is the course director for the Travel and Environmental Journalism program and specialises in wildlife conservation writing, travel journalism and blogging.

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