Capturing great underwater photos using natural light with Kim Coleman


Taking underwater photos with only natural light can be extremely difficult. There are many factors involved with getting good images, the most obvious being good overhead sunlight, clear water with good visibility and no particles causing backscatter of light. There is the colour of the water to consider, the depth in which you are taking the photos, the distance of your subject, and so on. But with patience and a little effort, good quality photos are very achievable – and you don’t need really expensive cameras to do it.

natural lightI recently joined a dive trip to the Yucatan in Mexico organised by John Spencer-Ades from The Scuba Place.  Throughout our time there visiting many different dive sites, Kim Coleman quietly took photos with her Cannon S110 compact in a Nauticam NA-S110 housing and it was not until towards the end of the trip that I asked to see some of her photos. As I looked through an impressive selection it dawned on me that she had taken all the photos with natural available light and was using no flash at all.

I asked her to tell me about the techniques she was using…

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Kim: Before this trip I had always used the auto setting on my camera and was never completely satisfied with the results. Often the exposure was too bright and many of my photos had a wishy washy look to them. Then a friend took time to show me and explain about the manual settings on my camera. I began to explore the different settings for exposure, the different settings for aperture and shutter speed priority as well as changing the ISO settings. I thought it would be hard, but after playing with the camera in my kitchen I soon got the hang of taking control of how I wanted my pictures to be exposed. There was a eureka moment when it all suddenly made sense.

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Jeff: So this is the first trip where you have put into practice all you learnt at home?

Kim: Yes. I feel much more confident now about making the camera do what I want.

Jeff: But there is more to your photos than just good exposure; the composition and framing is excellent, as is the feeling of action and life.

natural lightKim: As the quality of my photos is getting better so I have the confidence to take more time over each shot. I think now about perspective on subjects and work at getting my position right with what ever I am photographing. Getting down to eye level is important as is being able to hold the camera steady for a sharp image. I now watch what’s going on around me, take my time and think about composition. Where as before I may have rushed to take a few shots on auto and been happy, now I will wait until everything is right before pressing the button.

natural lightJeff:  So are you diving differently now?

Kim:  Much slower, taking my time to look closely at all the incredible marine life and now I begin to notice all the individual behaviours of animals that I had simply missed before. My diving is much more relaxed.

Jeff:  What’s next?

Kim:  The main reason for me buying a camera was to take pictures to remember my dive holidays with and show them to my husband who doesn’t dive.  But now I think I would like to do a course to learn more and print up some of my better photos to hang at home.

natural lightCongratulations to Kim for exploring her camera and its capabilities beyond the auto settings. I am sure that having done this her diving experiences will move up a whole new level as she continues to develop her skills. Whether you are taking still photos or shooting video, being confident with your camera will produce great results and this in turn will lead to a new way of diving.

Try to relax underwater; fish and other marine animals can tell if you are nervous or uncomfortable and so will stay away from you. Move slowly and deliberately. Breathe rhythmically and gently; explosive exhalation from your demand valve will make animals nervous. The most important skill is to get your buoyancy under control. Being too negative or positive in the water is exhausting and will make diving much harder than it need be. Neutral buoyancy diving is completely comfortable and helps immensely when taking photos.

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Jeff Goodman

Jeff Goodman

Jeff Goodman is the Conservation editor and also the Underwater Videography Editor for Jeff is an award winning TV wildlife and underwater cameraman and film maker. With over 10,000 dives to his credit he has dived in many different environments around the world.

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