Useful tips to take your best snorkeling shots

Multicolored fish, strange creatures, spectacular coral landscapes… The seabed abounds in fascinating subjects for underwater photography. Underwater cameras have never been so efficient and accessible, and everyone can now bring amazing pictures back home from their snorkeling sessions.

That being said, underwater shots require a minimum of know-how. You will find below some simple tips to get you started or progress!

Do you already have some nice snorkel pictures? Do not hesitate to share them to contribute in the Snorkeling Report project!

Light and water clarity are essential

Without any doubts, it is near the surface, and on the first meters deep, that the light conditions are the best. The more the subject (be it a fish or any underwater landscapes) is illuminated by the sun, the more you should be able to get out of the water with a nice and clear shot!

The clarity of the water, which varies according to spots and weather conditions, is the other main factor to bear in mind. Suspended particles (which you tend to stir when you step on the bottom, for example) can also spoil some shots, especially those taken with flash. In general, we recommend avoid using the flash as much as possible, especially when you have some good light.

La luminosité est maximale juste sous la surface de l'eau.
Shallow areas (like the coral reef in Ras Um Sid, near Sharm-el-Sheikh) provide ideal light for taking photos.

Distance from the subject

Water produces a natural filter that reduces color, sharpness and contrast in your photos. From too far away (or by over-using the zoom), your photos will often be blurred, and the blue color will overwhelm all the others. The further you are from your subject, the worst. So it is better to get as close to your subject as possible (which can be a real challenge with fearful fish!), and ideally less than one meter away.

Always get closer to your subject when possible and safe. Do not try this with potentially dangerous species, such as moray eels or scorpion fish. If they feel in danger, stranded against rocks, they may have a defense reaction. Also, disturb your subject as little as possible. If you feel stress from him during your approach (nervousness, color change, etc.), please leave him alone.

Rapprochez-vous de votre sujet
By getting as close as possible to your subject, you improve the sharpness and rendering of your photo (taken in Dhonveli, Maldives)

Be as stable as possible

This is probably the most sensitive part for taking successful snorkeling shots. From the surface, it’s pretty easy. By floating, only the ripples of the water make us move. Hold your device (or pole) firmly, avoiding any sudden movement. Surface pictures are generally of great interest only on shallow bottoms, less than 2m. Indeed, beyond, you will tend to photograph subjects “from above”.

Indeed, stability becomes more important when you are taking photos while freediving rather than from the surface. Unlike scuba diving, it is difficult to control its buoyancy in snorkeling. The descent phase requires powerful palming, which can scare your subject. Ease underwater (achieving a gentle submergence, stabilizing and then taking pictures) is therefore essential.

Stability is also very important in video shooting. Who has never seen videos taken with a GoPro where the image moves so much that it is almost impossible to see the subject? Again, stabilize your camera. If you are finning on the surface, keep the camera in front of you, holding the pole firmly and maintaining only one angle of view.

A tip for really nice video shots?

Identify a relatively fixed subject, start the recording, then immerse yourself to place the camera on the sand, or surrounding rocks. Make sure the camera frames the subject you want. Go back up and then move away from the scene for a few minutes. Underwater life will resume its course, little disturbed by the camera left on the bottom. We often take very nice shots with this technique, impossible to achieve by holding the camera in hand.

A GoPro placed on the bottom allows to capture images of these white-tailed chromis (chromis chrysura), particularly fearful – shooting taken at Jinek Bay in New Caledonia

Here, a GoPro is placed on the bottom, facing the surface of the water. We could obtain images of these brown chromis (chromis multilineata) quite original – shooting taken at 1000 Steps at bonaire.

Practice on static subjects

Underwater, some subjects are easier to photograph than others. Taking photos of a lively or very timid fish, for example, can be a real challenge. Train with static subjects (coral, sea anemones, clams, etc.) or fish that are easy to get close to as a little curious fish swimming around you, invertebrates fixed on the rocks, etc. On certain spots, the turtles can also be easily approached.

On moving subjects, do not hesitate to multiply the shots, which will then allow you to choose the best one later. Indeed, it sometimes takes about fifteen photos to obtain the desired rendering. Butterflyfish and angelfish, when followed, for example, tend to swim at an angle, exposing their flanks to swimmers only when they change direction. Make sure you have enough space on your memory card and don’t forget to go snorkeling with a full battery.

Angelfish photography
It sometimes takes many attempts to obtain a good shot of a moving fish, sometimes in the shade, hidden by a rock, or in a bad position. - shooting of a six-banded angelfish (pomacanthus sexstriatus) at Green Island.

Choose the best angle

When snorkeling, it is easy to take photos from the surface, but this is hardly ever the best angle for high-quality photos. Ideally, you should be place yourself at the height of the subject. Underwater landscapes, shoals of fish or many other subjects only take on their full dimension from this angle. Taking pictures of the fish “from above” generally masks their shape and their most beautiful colors. In certain cases (particularly for rays, turtles or sharks), it is worthwhile positioning yourself under the subject, to have the surface of the water in the background.

Do not hesitate to vary the points of view and to test different framing. For snorkeling shots, work on the backgrounds. Coral reefs, in particular, are limitless sources of inspiration for photographers.

Coral reef underwater photography
By standing at the height of the subject - here, the coral reef of the Blue Hole, in Egypt -, the underwater landscape and its colors are revealed.

What are the snorkeling cameras?

The seabed is an exciting and inexhaustible subject for photography. Over the past few years, the cameras designed for underwater photography have improved and become more accessible, and everyone can now take home wonderful souvenirs from their underwater explorations.

There are three types of camera on the market, with varying capacities for immersion: waterproof compacts, which are small in size and quite resistant, with a satisfactory optic quality (10 to 15m); watertight housing cases, which are adapted to compacts or DSLR cameras, and produce great results, but are bulky (about 40m), and, finally, action cameras (or “action cams”, of the GoPro type), with which you can make wide-angle videos in very high definition (they can generally be immersed down to 60 meters).

The immersion capacity is not a crucial factor for the snorkeler who freedives in a reasonable way. Watertightness down to 10 meters (the average generally found on entry-level watertight compacts) is easily enough. A model that is watertight down to 3 meters is sufficient for snorkelers who stay at the surface.

Compact waterproof cameras

Waterproof compact cameras

Waterproof compact cameras, which have considerably developed over the last few years, are generally shock-resistant (they will resist a fall of 1.5 to 2 meters according to the model), crushproof (up to 100kg) and resistant to cold (up to -10°C on average). Entry-level cameras are now waterproof down to 10 meters, while more sophisticated models can be used down to -25 meters. Their optic zoom is usually limited (4x or 5x), but this is enough for underwater shots. Many models also have a built-in GPS, permitting instant geolocation of your photos (which is often useful in snorkeling). However, this feature consumes a lot of battery power.

Camera waterproof housing

Waterproof housing cases

If you already have a compact camera, or if you want to use a reflex camera under water, watertight housing cases are worth considering. Most cases are designed in transparent plastic (polycarbonate). A number of features (waterproof push-buttons, small levers) are incorporated to access the camera’s release mechanism or settings. Watertight cases can be bulky, however, and hard to handle when snorkeling. They also require regular maintenance (putting waterproof oil on the seals). Cases can be expensive too, and are sometimes the same price as a watertight compact camera, but produce photos of much better quality.

Action cam snorkeling

Action cams

The market for miniature waterproof action cameras has boomed in recent years. They are small, light, highly resistant, and make it easy to film sports activities on land or under water. With an ultra-wide angle (170° on average), a very high resolution and a rapid rate (up to 60 pictures a second in 4K, producing superb slow-motion films), they will help you make original and high-quality videos. In snorkeling, you can use them to film your explorations or to film yourself under water, with the help of accessories such as a head strap (leaving your hands free) or an extension pole. They have limited capacity in terms of photography, however.

How to take care of your underwater camera?

Water, salt, sand – the marine environment is particularly tough on electronic equipment.
Before taking your camera to the water, you should inspect the state of waterproof seals (for cracks and wear), and remove any harmful element that might be found on them (grains of sand, dust, hair, drops of water, etc.). These elements can reduce the case’s or the camera’s watertightness. Close the camera body and the safety catches carefully.
After your exploration, rinse your equipment in fresh water. If you don’t, the salt water will soon damage the most fragile parts of the camera (seals, screws, glass, etc.). It is recommended to leave your equipment in water for about 20 minutes after each exploration, in a bowl of fresh water, for example.