Tips for Underwater Photography

spice weasel

macrumors 65816
Original poster
Jul 25, 2003
Hello all,

I'll be going to Hawaii in a few weeks, spending time on Kauai and Maui. I recently bought a Canon S90 and just got the underwater housing for it. In addition, I have a Kodak Playsport waterproof camcorder.

Any tips on taking photos with a P&S (or, more specifically, the S90) while snorkeling? I assume the fish will be darting around, so I'll have to use a faster shutter speed. Should I just shoot in shutter priority? How about using the flash with the diffuser? Or should I just keep the flash turned off as I always do? How much closer to the object do I need to get in order to compensate for the magnification I'll be seeing through my mask?

I'll be shooting RAW so that I'll have the most leeway for corrections later, but welcome any tips that will help me get the best shots. Thanks.

El Cabong

macrumors 6502a
Dec 1, 2008
Some fish don't dart so much, but shutter priority is of course very important, as both you and your subject(s) will be moving in three dimensions pretty much constantly (esp. since you're snorkeling and not diving). Flash can be good when you're close and when ambient light is somewhat lacking, but can be tricky if there's a lot of random crap floating around in the water that will obscure your subject when illuminated by a flash.

You won't need to compensate for your mask, as you'll be using the screen to compose your shots anyway. Above all, have fun and be patient.


Staff member
Aug 9, 2009
Shoot practice shots first. Even a swimming pool is better than nothing. The ocean will be darker than a pool, so plan for that. Shoot more practice shots in the ocean when you get there.

Focus lock (or manual focus) is your friend. Especially when snorkeling, because you can't just sit there and wait for the autofocus to lock on. If you do use autofocus, set it to smallest area (usually a centerpoint), otherwise all kinds of background stuff ends up in focus.

There's almost no "feel" to the shutter release button when it's in a housing. Yet another reason to use a locked or manual focus.

In shallower water, it's easier to shoot upside down, with your feet in the air, than it is to try getting your whole body submerged. Rotate the pics later: no one will know you were inverted.

spice weasel

macrumors 65816
Original poster
Jul 25, 2003
Great tips! Thanks. Hopefully this will spare me from the "spray and pray" approach.


macrumors 68000
May 1, 2006
Fury 161
Check underwater photography magazine, a free magazine. You have to create an account, but after that, you can download all its issues, and they won't send you any emails. They have a P&S section very often.

jeremy h

macrumors 6502
Jul 9, 2008
The absolute key to uw photography is to reduce the amount of water between you and your subject, use white balance and stay shallow (Mind you if you're snorkeling you'll probably be shallow anyway).

If you can afford it buy a wide angle lens adaptor and a wide angle lens. I think Dyron make them for the S90

White balance. Set one of the custom buttons/rings to the white balance control. Take a white bit of plastic or spray one of you fins white and use that to set underwater.

If spending a lot of time on the surface - wear a t shirt if you don't have a wet suit on. I know it's obvious but you burn really easily snorkeling.

I've got a housing (Canon) for the S90 and it's surprisingly well made.The tips on focus above are excellent but I'd just add the Canon housing I have actually does have some 'feel' on the shutter release. (Don't know about the Ikelite one though).

Between dives - keep wet - chuck it in a bucket of water or cover up. If the housing dries out salt crystals can form - pushing against the seals. You then jump back in and they dissolve leaving a deformed o ring for a few seconds - whoosh in goes the water!

Take care of your o rings. I use lens cleaning cloths to clean them. Always remove them with a soft plastic credit card - never a metal object or your fingernails.

And - don't open and reseal the housing on a plane. "Oooh, I've got 8 hours to kill I'll get my housing out of my hand baggage and have a fiddle and show my mate hoe it works..." Pressure changes are not you friend. I've know people have to resort to a screwdriver to lever open expensive housings!

I take mine closed but not sealed and secure the housing sections together with elastic bands.
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