How To Take Underwater Photos and Videos That Aren’t Blue: The Best Secrets Revealed

You had an awesome dive or snorkelling experience and wanted to share it with your friends and family. But they are not in awe: the images you have from it are nowhere as good as what you saw. Your underwater photos are blue or green and all the beautiful colours are gone.

So, what are the tricks to avoid disappointing underwater photos for amateurs?

I am not a professional photographer at all, but these tips can do miracles for your personal photo album. The equipment I use – although not cheap – should be affordable for anyone who can afford diving.

 

1. Choose your underwater camera

underwater photo go proMost people take underwater shots with the famous GoPro.

It’s, of course, a great camera and I love the large variety of accessories that can come with it. For diving, the red filter* can help putting back some colours when it becomes all blue. If you want to film your entire dive without worrying too much about it, a head-mount* will do the job (just try not to move your head too quickly). When we use a red filter, we have the GoPro mounted on a telescoping stick*. The ones that can extend can be good to film the shy underwater animals.

Another accessory that would be on my list if I was using the GoPro a lot is the GoPro Dome Port*. I love the results of snorkelling photos that are half underwater, and it’s nearly impossible to get without this accessory.

But GoPros and GoPros accessories are expensive. If you just want memories, a less sophisticated sports camera could be enough. Until recently, we were using the G-Eye and were quite satisfied with the results considering the price difference with the GoPro. The quality was slightly better on the GoPro, but the other camera was good enough for our needs. However, if you’re a big fan of slow motions, you’ll want to check the frames per second (fps) capability of the camera not to be disappointed. If you plan to project your photos or video on a huge screen, the resolution will matter to you as well.

manta ray stradbroke island

Taken with a red filter* on a GoPro (and no extra equipment) when diving with manta rays on Stradbroke Island, Australia

lifou jinek aquarium naturel

Taken with a lesser-known brand of action camera (G-Eye) while snorkelling in New Caledonia (Lifou)

Casa Cenote - Mangrove under above water

Without a dome*, it was a challenge to take this half-underwater shot when we went snorkelling in a cenote near Tulum (Mexico) with the Nikon AW130

 

nikon_coolpix_w300_black_hero_shot

For me, the best camera for amateurs to take underwater photos is this compact point-and-shoot camera from Nikon*.

I find the Nikon W300* (which is the new version of the Nikon AW130 that I owned as well) perfect for divers. For me, it is way better than any GoPros for a few reasons:

A macro mode: I love seeing big species underwater, but I’m also fascinated by small ones. If they’re less impressive by their size, their shapes and colours make them the most intriguing things on the planet. The Nikon W300 has a macro mode (among other modes). GoPros are nowhere as versatile and struggle when we try to capture a close up of a small object. If you want to capture a small object from close with a GoPro, you’ll need a waterproof case, a lens adaptor and a macro lens.

No case needed – up to 30m deep: Well, that one may cut both ways actually. The Nikon W300 is the only waterproof camera I found that goes down to 30 meters without a case. Most cameras are limited to 15 meters (like the competitor Olympus Tough TG-5) or even 10 meters for the GoPro (with no case), which is enough for snorkelling of course or if you limit the depth of your dives. As an Advanced Diver, I want to record what I see during my deepest dives, so the 15m limit wasn’t good enough. Other cameras must be put in a waterproof box (sometimes as expensive as the camera itself), which is more efforts (more equipment – sometimes bulky-, more cleaning, anti-fog inserts needed…).

Why did I write that not needing a case can cut both ways? Well, it’s obvious when you forget a case on your camera before jumping in the water. It’s a lot less obvious when you haven’t taken the right precautions to close properly your Nikon W300. There’s a warning when you start the camera, but… it can be too late.

Battery: I rarely run out of battery with this camera. A double dive with the GoPro is a lot more challenging battery-wise. I don’t use both cameras the same way (I mostly film with the GoPro), which probably explain the huge difference in the battery life. In the end, the Nikon works way better for me.

Buttons: Is it just me or having only a few buttons on the GoPro is confusing? I like being one push away from the function I’m looking for, so I feel using the Nikon W300 makes my life a lot easier. But I know some people prefer fewer buttons.

Optical zoom: I rarely use the 5x optical zoom underwater as it often does not produce great results. But in very clear waters (like in New Caledonia), I’ve used it, and it was good to have. It’s also good to have it for other outdoor adventures.

Panorama: I don’t use this mode underwater (should I try?!), but that’s a function I like when I use the camera in other situations.

Underwater mode: It will not dramatically change the photo, but it does help to add a touch of red back into the pictures. And it’s easy to turn off if there is enough light or if you’re lighting the object with a torch.

Screen: I take better photos with the Nikon W300 than with the GoPro because I can see what I’m aiming for – as our old GoPro does not have a screen! Of course, you can add a screen to an old GoPro or choose a model that comes with it. But it sometimes means having another case that can fit the screen. And it also means draining the battery. We’d better buy a newer model…! Plus, I like to be able to check out my photos on the camera, just after the dive (not on a tiny GoPro screen).

 

2. You need light underwater

Underwater photo tips jelly fish
I remember swimming to the opposite side of this jellyfish while snorkelling in Port Cros (France) to get the light from the sun where it looked the most beautiful

More than the camera you use, the light will make a huge difference in the quality of your underwater photos.

My first tip: don’t use your built-in flash, unless it is made for underwater photography. I’ve never managed to take a good photo with the flash on my camera (even with the underwater mode), so that’s why I suggest using another source of light.

My second tip: be careful when to use the red filter. It does make the shots a bit less bright, and it is not always needed. I never use it for snorkelling for example as there is usually enough of the red colour near the surface.

 

When you’re snorkelling, consider the direction of the sun. For some objects, it can be better to have the sun almost in front of you, behind the object (like this jellyfish on the right). On the contrary, you’d want the sun rays to hit from the side for some other objects. If the sun is behind you, be careful not to block the light with your body.

 

If you’re diving, I suggest investing in an underwater torch. Not only will it provide light to give colours to your photos, but it is also good equipment to use for safety, for checking out cool things hiding in the rocks and, of course, for night dives/cave dives/wreck dives. And this triple use makes a lot of sense for me. Plus, it’s not as bulky as having an additional underwater flash. However, some will have difficulty (or even find it ridiculous) aiming with the torch on one hand and with the camera on the other. I’m not going to pretend it’s the easiest configuration, and it obviously isn’t adapted to complex dive situations. But I don’t like taking photographs when the dive is difficult anyway. And I also have a buddy who’s as crazy as me, and we often work together to find the best angles with our lights!
torch underwater photo tip beginners
We followed our dive shop’s advice and got this Bigblue torch* (extra-wide beam + red and yellow filters). Click for more info*. Source: Amazon*.

Montague Island Nudibranch 02
South West Rocks Diving - Crayfish
clown fish underwater photo beginner

If you don’t mind spending more money on your underwater photography equipment, you can connect an underwater flash to the Nikon W300. Not only would it be easier to control, it could even help capture the shiest creatures: some may hide when lit with a torch, but may be surprised by a sudden flash!

If you are after a cheap solution, you may want to try LED lights* for your camera or GoPro. I haven’t tried this myself, so if you have, I would love to hear about your experience. Please leave a comment below!

 

A few more tips: Light the objects from the side, I often have better results this way. Be mindful of where your light creates shadows. And don’t always leave your light on: if you’re filming something that’s far away, it won’t light it, but it may light particles in the water instead.

LED GoPro Light Underwater Photo
I haven’t tried the LED lights* but it may do the job? Photo from Amazon*

Responsible Travel Tip: Use common sense when you use your light. Would you like someone lighting your face while you’re sleeping? Neither does the turtle!

 

3. Attach your material

I’m not going to detail why it’s financially a good idea to attach your material; I think it is easy to imagine the despair we feel when our equipment sinks into the deep blue. But attaching your material can also help take better photos.

We’ve been using this special arm/pod from Intova* with our video cameras, and we are very satisfied with it:

  • The torch can be fixed on the side, and we can change the direction
  • You can take selfies by building a tripod of fixing it to something else
  • You only need one hand while using it

The stick is flexible so you can give it the shape you need. More info*. Source: Amazon*

Underwater Photo Flexible Stick GoPro Light Torch

4. Start with a long shot

Animals are hard to photograph as they keep moving. It’s always a good idea to take a long shot and then try your luck with a closer shot. If you miss the closer shot and your camera has a good resolution, you may be able to get a satisfying result by cropping and digitally zoom into the long shot. It may not be the best quality for those who want their photos to be printed in a magazine, but if you’re just after memories it’s often good enough!

 

5. Set or edit the white balance

Set the white balance on your camera underwater

To bring back the colours and avoid the blue/green tone, some cameras allow you to edit the white balance while you are underwater. When you’re down there, find white sand or use a white slate. Go into your camera’s function menu to find the White Balance (or AWD). Aim to the sand or the slate, so it fills your frame, and play with your white balance until you are satisfied with the colours. Note that you’ll need to redo this as your depth changes. This is tricky for beginners and extremely time-consuming for those who aren’t  that much into photography. I never do it and prefer to edit my photos after the dive.

Some diving cameras have an automatic depth colour correction. The results I’ve seen are not always perfect, but still very good for no effort. The fellow diver who showed that to me owned a Paralenz Dive Camera. However, it becomes over-exposed when you use a flashlight, so keep that in mind if a fellow diver is showing you something using a torch.

 

Edit your photos after your dive

Editing photos may not be the funniest part of the process, but it can improve the results and remove the blue colour from your photos. You don’t need to be an expert at all with editing software for this. You can even do it with an app on your phone. 

The idea is to indicate what in the photo should be white (instead of blue or grey or green). It will automatically adjust the rest of the colours for more vibrant results. If you’re not lucky enough to have a white object in the photo that works for the automatic white balance, don’t give up. You can still play with the colours by manually changing the temperature and the tint.

Look at this before / after comparison. The white balance was done using the automatic function of the SnapSeed iPhone app (middle photo) and the  colour restauration of the Dive+ app (right photo). In just one click.

Tips Underwater Photo White Balance edit - before
Tips Underwater Photo White Balance edit - after
Dive Seals Montague Island - Edit Underwater Photo

Photo of a seal on Montague Island (Australia).

 

And when you add even more editing (I played with the level of darkness/brightness and the level of details – still using the Snapseed app), it sometimes does wonders:

Heron Island - Snorkelling Eagle Ray 01 - before
Heron Island - Snorkelling Eagle Ray 01
Photo of an Eagle Ray on Heron Island (Australia)

 

Of course, more advanced editing software such as Lightroom or Photoshop would produce better results, but it’s too much effort when you only need good memories.

 

6. Work on your buoyancy control

diving buoyancy control metal stick
A metal stick* can help you with your balance. Source: Amazon*

The good news is that the newest cameras have technologies to diminish the blur caused by camera shake or subject movement. But you’ll always have better results not counting on this too much and reducing your movement yourself. During your dives, remember to take time to work on improving your buoyancy control. It will also help you better approach the objects you want to shoot: close up shots often give better results as you can get a better light and visibility. Be also careful of how you place your dive equipment as it impacts your buoyancy. For example, it’s better to have your weights well distributed on each side of your body.

I usually work on improving my buoyancy control during a boring safety stop or when the group is waiting for someone to come down – as we aren’t all lucky to equalise easily! One exercise that helped me for some shots is to be able to approach my target upside down: head first, feet up towards the surface. This way, I can focus on taking the photo: no risk of damaging corals and no reduced visibility by touching the ground. Touching the bottom will move particles, and you’ll have to wait for them to settle down to get a good visibility again. Upside-down does not work for all shots, though.

Another trick is to carry a metal stick*. You can place the tip of the stick in the sand or on a rock (not on coral!) to help with your balance.

Responsible Travel Tip: Photographers must be particularly careful of their surroundings to avoid doing any damage – especially when diving on a reef. When you are focused on your camera, you can quickly lose a sense of how close you are from the coral surrounding you, so avoid making sudden movements. If you end up touching the reef, don’t panic. Avoid using your fins as kicking could cause a lot more damage. Breath in to go up a little, slowly. Or gently push yourself with one finger if there is a rock or something not fragile you can use.

 

7. Powerbank or battery kits

With my Nikon W130, I never ran out of battery before running out of air. But most of the time, I could charge it in full before the dives (I wouldn’t try opening the waterproof precautions while on the diving boat).

If you’re planning a trip where access to electricity might be challenging, it could be a good idea to bring extra battery kits. Another option is to recharge your batteries using power banks*.

 

8. A big memory card (or multiple ones)

“No space left on the memory card” is just the most annoying message my camera can ever show me. When underwater, I should multiple times and film sometimes when nothing happens, but I don’t have time to delete unwanted captures on the go. I opted for a couple of 32gb memory cards*.

Why not a 64gb*? The saving for a bigger one is ridiculous (the price was almost double), and I find having two memory cards reduce the risk of losing all the photos if an accident happens.

 

Do you take photos of films underwater? Share your tips in the comments below!

 

Add this to your Pinterest board:

UNDERWATER PHOTOGRAPHY FOR BEGINNERS - diving snorkelling

 

*These are affiliate links: I will receive a commission if you make a purchase using this link but this does not affect the price you pay. This will help me maintain this website. I try to make it clear when I have used this product or if I refer to something similar that I have used or if I haven’t used it. If you have a doubt, do not hesitate to ask me for more details.

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I am a part-time traveler: I combine a full-time job with a passion for traveling. I love to share my trips and tips to inspire others to explore what’s around them. Before moving to Australia, I lived in France, England and Turkey. I’ve finally found my balance in Brisbane.

34 thoughts on “How To Take Underwater Photos and Videos That Aren’t Blue: The Best Secrets Revealed

  1. All great tips! After I owned a GoPro I realized there is a lot more to underwater photography than just using a camera. Bookmarked it :)

  2. Though I do not do enough snorkeling or underwater activity photos, this post is very helpful. When the time comes for me to take underwater photos, I know exactly where to go to get my tips :)

    1. I don’t know about the new GoPros but we always run out of battery after one-hour diving with our GoPro. It’s hard to compare with the Nikon as we take more films with the GoPro and more photos with the Nikon.

  3. Great post! Thank you for those Go Pro tips. I plan to use it when I go snorkeling soon. But for now I haven’t did much underwater exploration, it looks like I need to!

    1. Hi, Marquita. I hope you’ll be happy with your shots when you go snorkelling! The GoPro is generally quite easy to use. Remember these tips about the sun and the light and you’ll already have better results.

  4. Great post. All tips are very useful for those trying to get better pictures underwater. I use a Gopro, and it is giving me good results. Planning to buy another one soon, will check out the Nikon camera.

    1. Yes, the GoPro is satisfying. Especially if you do videos, I find. It’s a good idea to check out the Nikon if you’re interested in macro shots and want to dive up to 30m it’s the way to go!

  5. While I’m on Instagram liking travel bloggers pictures, little do I know they put in so much effort to achieve these outstanding pictures. Reading your post, I’m educated and I want to try this out. I intend to change my camera this year, and you’ve given me enough specs to look out for. Thank you!

    1. Hi, Lydia. Yes, photographers put in a lot of efforts to capture the perfect shot. What I’ve listed in this post is just for a good souvenir shot, not at all a perfect one, so imagine what professionals need to think of ;) Good luck choosing the best camera for your needs!

  6. I never realized how much you have to know about underwater photography. I always thought GoPro was the way to go, but they only work up to 10 meters! That’s insane! Thanks for all the information.

    1. Hi, Ash. You can add a case to the GoPro to go deeper than 10 metres. None of the tips I give is difficult to implement but they make a small difference that in the end look quite good!

  7. Wished I had a red filter when I went whale swimming in Tonga… Not having it made the post-editing really difficult. Will keep these in mind for my upcoming dive trip to Sipadan, thanks!

    1. Yes, the red filter can make a great difference. But I find that for snorkelling, it’s often a bet. I had instances when it was way too red, especially when filming the corals. And (maybe because I’m less used to it), I found the post-editing almost impossible!

  8. I was thinking of buying a GoPro to take videos on the go. I didn’t know it was possible to take such nice pictures underwater with it. It is another reason to buy it and with your explanation I now know how to take beautiful pictures with it underwater.

  9. Great post! This tips are incredible. I am actually in the market for an action camera, and you have given me a lot of think about.

  10. Eloise – thanks so much for this post! One of my favorite types of photo to take is anything underwater. I really appreciate your tip about bringing your own torch for a light source. Not sure why I never thought of that one but it’s brilliant! :)

  11. This is awesome! I’m about to head off on a South Pacific cruise. Glad to see my trusty Nikon underwater is your best suggestion. Also love the Snapseed on the Eagle Ray. I did snorkeling with Whale Sharks and wasn’t impressed with my pictures but this might really make them POP!

    1. Hi, Lisa. Oh, you should definitely try editing your photos with the whale sharks! It really does magic sometimes! I haven’t tried that many underwater cameras, but the Nikon is the only one that goes down to 30m without an additional case… so definitely the best choice for me :)

  12. Very helpful tips!! I didn’t know about the red filter. Not using a flash underwater is another great tip. I’ll definitely keep these pointers in my mind on my next underwater activity.

    1. Hi, Shaily, Yep, the red filter can do wonders. And some flashes are ok underwater – but only if they are made for it I guess. Definitely not the ones I’ve had!

  13. Great tips! I use my older GoPro for my underwater shots and attached a little bobber to it. This way, if I let go, it doesn’t sink to the bottom of wherever I am. And it’s bright yellow, which makes it a little easier to spot if we get separated from it. I’ll have to check out that Nikon Coolpix. I’m thinking I need to bulk up my photography a bit.

What do you think?