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Underwater Photography Essentials: Part 1



underwater photography

Tips, ideas and advice for budding underwater photographers

by Nick Robertson-Brown FRPS

Part 1: Getting to grips with your camera settings – Aperture

When you look at your subject underwater, without using artificial light, there are essentially three factors that you can change on your camera to create the image you want. These three factors are aperture, shutter speed and ISO and all three have an effect upon how the image will look. Each will have their own individual characteristic upon the outcome of your image, and usually, by changing one of these factors, one of the others will need to be adjusted to compensate for what you have done. In order to maintain the same amount of light in your image, the exposure value (EV), increasing the light from one of these factors will mean you need to decrease the light using one of the other two.

underwater photography

It is a case of balancing the light to get the right value for the image you want to create. How you balance this value will give you, the photographer, control of how you wish the image to look. In this first article, we are going to look at Aperture.


The aperture is the space behind the lens through which the light enters the camera, and hence, the sensor. The aperture works very much in the same way as the pupil of the human eye. In bright light, the pupil will close down to a small round opening, hence restricting the amount of light that falls on the retina. As it gets darker, the pupil dilates to allow more light to enter the eye. The aperture of the camera’s lens can be opened and closed, just like the pupil of the eye, and if you have your camera in the auto setting, this is one factor the camera may use to change the exposure value. This is why I think it is important that you should use the manual setting so you have control of how you want to present your image.

Aperture Setting

The aperture setting is referred to as the f-stop or f-number, and the smaller the number, the larger the aperture. Mechanically, the size of the hole is determined by a circle of blades that cause the central aperture to open and close by the overlapping of these blades on each other. Closing the aperture will restrict the amount of light hitting the sensor and the f-number increases. This f-number is not just a random figure, but is in fact a ratio of the focal length of the lens to the physical size of the aperture. In most compact cameras there is no mechanical closing of an aperture but its attributes are produced electronically to give the same effect.

underwater photography

The figure above shows the f-value and all camera lenses are calibrated using the same f-stop scale. The range of aperture numbers does vary from one lens to another, with the greater range generally equating to the greater price. The scale, however, is always constant and each increase in f-stop number equates to half the amount of light that is allowed through to the sensor.

Depth of Field

Opening and closing the aperture, or decreasing and increasing the f-stop, would appear to be a simple way of changing the light level on the sensor. As the aperture is opened however, the depth of field is reduced, and this has a very noticeable effect upon the image. The depth of field is defined as the amount of the image which appears to be acceptably in focus, and changing the depth of field on your subject can create very different images.

underwater photography

As you can see from the above image, the pygmy seahorse is in sharp focus. The rest of the coral behind it is totally out of focus, and this has the effect of making the seahorse, your subject, pop out from the picture.

And again with this ghost pipefish, the subject is in focus, but the background is blurry and there can be no misunderstanding as to what the subject is.

underwater photography

This does not necessarily mean that you should always use a small depth of field to make your subject pop out, and there are times when the environment around the subject is important. This technique is used by many underwater photographers as it allows you to virtually eliminate any messy background by using a low f-stop number to create a small depth of field. This is ideal for when your subject will not come out into the open. The blurry background in an image is called “Bokeh”

Of course, sometimes you want to show the critter in its environment and to do this, you need to increase the f-stop (close down the aperture). As a result of closing down the aperture, the exposure value will go down as you are letting less light onto the sensor. Within the exposure triangle, there are two other factors you can adjust and I will be looking at these controls next time.


underwater photography

Do 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


PADI meets with Maldivian Ministry to confirm protection of sharks



Over recent weeks, there has been speculation about the possibility of the Maldivian government lifting the ban on shark fishing in the country’s waters. PADI®, and the dive industry at large, were instrumental in establishing these protections over a decade ago.

With concern for the continued protection of sharks in the Maldives, the PADI organisation and Project AWARE®, along with 200 concerned local and international stakeholders opposing the lifting of the shark fishing ban, called on the government to continue to enforce the legal protections of sharks. PADI staff met with Maldivian Ministry of Fisheries, Marine Resources, and Agriculture Zaha Waheed to reinforce the position of the dive community and critical role sharks play in dive tourism.

In those meetings, Minister Waheed assured PADI that the Ministry of Fisheries, Marine Resources, and Agriculture has no intentions to lift the ban on shark fishing. She affirmed that they remain committed to sustainable and responsible management of fisheries and marine resources in the Maldives. On 20 April 2021, the Ministry of Fisheries, Marine Resources, and Agriculture released a statement asserting that “the Maldives does not intend to permit a targeted shark fishery in the Maldives.”

“Sharks are a dominant force in dive tourism in the Maldives. We congratulate the Maldives’s commitment to their ongoing protection,” says Drew Richardson, President and CEO of PADI Worldwide. “The Maldives continues to lead by example, among the most progressive countries on this critical issue.”

There are currently 17 shark sanctuaries in the world; the first established in Palau in 2009 and others in popular dive destinations including French Polynesia, Honduras, The Bahamas and several others in the Caribbean. The Maldives shark sanctuary was established in 2010 and covers 916,000 km2 (353,000 square miles).

Tourism accounts for an estimated 25 percent of Maldives’ GDP (according to 2014 figures), with diving and snorkeling being the most popular tourism activity. Prior to the formation of the Maldivian sanctuary, shark fishing was worth US$0.7 million to the Maldives’ economy, compared to US$2.3 million from shark tourism. In 2018, the shark sanctuary increased dive-trip demand in the Maldives by 15 percent, raising an additional US$6 million. Consumer research indicates that any re-opening of a Maldives shark fishery could potentially decrease dive tourism demand by over 50 percent, which could result in a loss of US$24 million.

Sharks are some of the most endangered species in the ocean, with recent research showing that the global number of oceanic sharks has declined by 71 percent. Over a third of shark and ray species are threatened, facing an increased threat of extinction, primarily due to overfishing.  There are an estimated 600,000 shark watchers globally spending $314 million per year and directly supporting 10,000 jobs. Research indicates these figures are expected to rise as global tourism returns to pre-pandemic levels.

As part of its commitment to ocean conservation, PADI will continue to stand up for sharks and advocate for their protection. For more information on responsible shark tourism, read Project AWARE’s Guide to Best Practices. To learn more about PADI’s efforts and how you can join the community of PADI Torchbearers working to save the ocean, visit

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Miscellaneous Blogs

The BiG Scuba Podcast… with Rosemary Lunn



Ian and Gemma chat among themselves and are also are joined by well-known Dive Industry Professional Rosemary Lunn.

We talk about dive fitness and entering the CrossFit 2021 open games and being members of our local CrossFit Box. You can also listen to our new member of the team – Rosemary Lunn – answer some scuba diving questions.

Find out more about Rosemary at

Find more podcast episodes and information at the new  website and on most social platforms @thebigscuba 

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Explore the amazing triangle of Red Sea Reefs - The Brothers, Daedalus and Elphinstone on board the brand new liveaboard Big Blue.  With an option to add on a week at Roots Red Sea before or after. 

Strong currents and deep blue water are the catalysts that bring the pelagic species flocking to these reefs. The reefs themselves provide exquisite homes for a multitude of marine life.  The wafting soft corals are adorned with thousands of colourful fish. The gorgonian fans and hard corals provide magnificent back drops, all being patrolled by the reef’s predatory species.

£1475 per person based on double occupancy.  Soft all inclusive board basis, buffet meals with snacks, tea and coffee always available.  Add a week on at Roots Red Sea Resort before or after the liveaboard for just £725pp.  Flights and transfers are included.  See our brochure linked above for the full itinerary.

This trip will be hosted by The Scuba Place.  Come Dive with Us!

Call 020 3515 9955 or email

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