Connect with us

Photo / Video News & Reviews

Underwater Photography Essentials: Part 2



Tips, ideas and advice for budding underwater photographers

by Nick Robertson-Brown FRPS

Part 2: Getting to grips with your camera settings – Shutter Speed

Fig 01.7

On a digital SLR, the shutter is a mechanical device that blocks the light to the sensor of the camera, but can be opened to allow light onto the sensor when the release button is pressed. Whilst Micro 4/3 and compact cameras may not have a mechanical device for controlling the amount of light that hits the sensor, the action of the shutter is mimicked electronically. Whether it be mechanical or electronic, the speed of the shutter is the second item of the light triangle and the higher the shutter speed, the less time there is for light to get through to the sensor. As stated in part one, the aperture restricts the amount of light entering the camera too, but as discussed, the more light we allow through the aperture, then the smaller the depth of field will be. This leaves us with a trade-off in how we allow the light onto the sensor. If you are photographing moving objects, such as fish, the shutter speed becomes the dominant factor in deciding the level of light. If your shutter speed is not fast enough moving objects may look blurred and out of focus. This is called motion blur and you can use it to great effect if you get it right, as it will give the impression of speed and motion as it moves through the water.


Working within a range of shutter speeds, with and without strobes, in order to freeze fast the moving action and make it pin sharp, use settings of 1/125 to 1/250 (or higher if your camera will synch with the strobes). But remember, as the shutter will not be open for long, not much light will make it onto the sensor. For slow moving subjects, or to achieve some motion blur, work with 1/40 to 1/125 and you will also get more light on your image.

For the cameras that do not have a mechanical shutter, the light is allowed through to the sensor all the time it is switched on. It is, however, only when the release button is pressed that the pixels in the sensor, which are already charged with light, start reading it and then pass the digital image through to the sensor. It is this moment that is recorded by the camera and the balance between the shutter speed and the f-stop will determine how your image looks.

smileblennyThe shutter speed is also important for defining the background colour of the water, particularly if you are using flash or strobe. In this instance, the flash will freeze the action close to the camera, but as light will only travel a few metres underwater, the light from the background will be presented at the sensor according to the aperture or the shutter speed. This will be covered in greater depth when we get to the part of this series on artificial light, but put simply, the aperture should be set to expose for the subject when the flash fires and the shutter speed can be adjusted, within a small range, so that the background will lighten as you increase the time the shutter is open. Conversely, as you close the shutter, the background colour will become darker. This interplay of aperture and shutter speed will give a light value that will vary in a similar way to how it does in air. It is when you introduce artificial light that the options become greater.

For a black background shot, start out with settings similar to f8 (or above), 1/200, ISO 100 and a low strobe power setting and then make changes in the shutter speed and watch the background colour change.

The shutter speed settings on the camera are not merely random numbers that the manufacturer has come up with. When changing the aperture, the f-stop scale is a mathematical constant. Each stop doubles or halves the amount of light getting through to the sensor. The shutter speed is also scaled in this way; each stop (or setting) will double or halve the amount of light getting through to the sensor. This means that if you wish to maintain the same exposure value on your image, if you open the aperture by one stop, you must double the speed of the shutter by one stop.


Nick bookDo you want to learn more? You can pick up a copy of Nick’s book “Underwater Photography Art & Techniques” by clicking here.

Underwater Photography Courses

Contact Nick for information on the Frogfish Photography Complete Underwater Photography Award, designed for 1:1 and small group sessions to improve your underwater photography at your pace.underwater photography

           |  | +44 (0)161 9177101

Nick and Caroline (Frogfish Photography) are a married couple of conservation driven underwater photo-journalists and authors. Both have honours degrees from Manchester University, in Environmental Biology and Biology respectively, with Nick being a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society, a former high school science teacher with a DipEd in Teaching Studies. Caroline has an MSc in Animal Behaviour specializing in Caribbean Ecology. They are multiple award-winning photographers and along with 4 published books, feature regularly in the diving, wildlife and international press They are the Underwater Photography and Deputy Editors at Scubaverse and Dive Travel Adventures. Winners of the Caribbean Tourism Organization Photo-journalist of the Year for a feature on Shark Diving in The Bahamas, and they have been placed in every year they have entered. Nick and Caroline regularly use their free time to visit schools, both in the UK and on their travels, to discuss the important issues of marine conservation, sharks and plastic pollution. They are ambassadors for Sharks4Kids and founders of SeaStraw. They are Dive Ambassadors for The Islands of The Bahamas and are supported by Mares, Paralenz, Nauticam and Olympus. To find out more visit


Ocean Art 2020 Winners Announced!



Ocean Art Contest Announces the Best Underwater Photos of the Year

The prestigious Ocean Art Underwater Photo Competition, organized by the Underwater Photography Guide, has announced the best underwater photos this year with its 2020 winners. Despite global travel restrictions and the challenges brought by the Covid-19 pandemic, the 9th annual competition attracted an extremely high caliber of photos from oceans around the world. Underwater explorers captured photos locally, in select destinations currently open to travel, or revisited their archives to bring us some eye-catching photography. This unique assortment of photos could not have been possible without the help of our generous sponsors who have all had to navigate a changing travel and dive industry. Many of these same sponsors helped the Ocean Art competition raise money earlier in this year to raise money to donate to the WHO and CDC in their fight against Covid-19. These photos showcase the perseverance of underwater artistry amidst the adversity of the times.

All the winning photos can be seen at the Underwater Photography Guide at

The Best of Show is a once-in-a-lifetime moment of an octopus taking a selfie with the photographer and his curious family in the background. The photo was captured by photographer Gaetano Dario Gargiulo close to his home in the tide pools of Kamay Botany Bay National Park, New South Wales, Australia.  Other extraordinary winners include astonishing scenes of animal behavior, images that bring hope for the next generation of sea creatures, displays of ingenious photographic technique, and conservation scenes that reflect on not just the need to conserve our planet, but our species as well. The judges evaluated thousands of entries from 80 countries before selecting the final set of images as Ocean Art winners.

Ocean Art 2020 judges included prestigious underwater photographers Tony Wu, Mark Strickland, and Marty Snyderman.

Over $45,000 in prizes have be awarded, making the Ocean Art prize value among the highest in the world.

Ocean Art prizes are provided by some of the world’s top scuba diving resorts, liveaboard dive yachts, and underwater photo gear manufacturers. Grand prizes include a choice of 7 or 8 nights for two aboard the Coralia Liveaboard in Raja Ampat or Komodo, a 7 night liveaboard trip on the M.V. Bilikili in the Solomon Islands, a 7-night dive package with Villa Markisa, a 7 night dive package at Siladen Resort & Spa in Bunaken, a 12 night Passport to Paradise with Murex Dive Resorts and Lembeh Resort to three different Indonesian destinations, a 5-night dive vacation with AquaMarine Diving Bali & Ramayana Candidasa, a 7-night dive vacation at Atlantis Philippines Dive Resorts, and a variety of gift certificates from Bluewater Photo and Bluewater Travel. Premium travel prizes are provided by Volivoli Beach Resort (Fiji), Crystal Blue Dive Resort (Philippines), and Solitude Liveaboards & Resorts (Philippines and Indonesia). Premium gear prizes are provided by Sea & Sea and Ikelite. 12 different categories ensure a competitive contest for all levels and disciplines of underwater photography.

The photographic ingenuity from competitors is getting better every year – making judging very difficult and demonstrating that the winning images are some of the best in the world. Bluewater Photo and Bluewater Travel owner and Underwater Photography Guide publisher, Scott Gietler commented, “The Ocean Art team was thrilled to see that so many photographers were able to get out, dive, and immerse themselves in photography this year. The Best of Show was especially impressive. My only concern is that the octopus should get its share of the prize, as it did assist in taking the shot!” 

For more information, please visit 

Continue Reading

Gear Reviews

Gear Review: SeaLife SportDiver housing for iPhone (Watch Video)



In a video shot exclusively for, Jeff Goodman reviews the SeaLife SportDiver housing for Apple’s iPhone, used with the Sea Dragon 2500 Light.

For more information about Sealife Underwater Cameras visit the website by clicking here

Continue Reading

E-Newsletter Sign up!


This is the perfect start to your 2021 diving season… and at an incredible lead-in price of just £885 per person.

Jump on board the latest addition to the Emperor fleet and enjoy diving the famous sites of the Red Sea with this fantastic special offer. This itinerary takes in the wonderful South & St Johns from 26 February – 05 March 2021.  

Subject to availability – limited flight seats at this price so don't delay!

Call Diverse Travel on 01473 852002 or email to book your spot!

More Less

Instagram Feed

Facebook Feed

Facebook Pagelike Widget