UNDERWATER FISHING PHOTOGRAPHY TIPS
There’s no better way to gain insight into the behaviour of fish and the details of a fishing battle than underwater photographs. Underwater images provide a unique perspective on the fishing action at the terminal end of the line. Whether it’s a fish fighting shot, a landing shot or close up portrait of a fish in its natural setting, underwater images are exciting and compelling.
Here are a few pointers on how to snap strong underwater images.
The single factor that makes the most pronounced difference in underwater photography is water clarity. Crystal clear water permits excellent light penetration and has lower amounts of suspended organic matter. This improves the likelihood of achieving clear, sharp, and correctly exposed images. Always keep your eyes open for clear water. Keep in mind that in some waterways, the main estuary might be murky, but a side creek is completely clear. Water clarity also typically deteriorates following heavy rain and runoff, and during large tides with lots of water and sediment movement.
Good underwater images can still be achieved in murky water, but there are tighter constraints and less room for error. Fish will need to be photographed closer to the surface and camera lens to source adequate light and minimise suspended material clouding the image.
FINDING THE LIGHT
Light is the key element in all photography, but it is especially critical once you submerge a camera underwater. Natural light penetration dissipates very quickly in water, so depth is a limiting factor. The further you go down, the more likely you’ll need an underwater strobe. Most underwater diving photographers utilise multiple strobes to light up fish and other aquatic creatures.
Fortunately, most underwater fishing photography is achievable with the first metre or two from the surface and strobe lighting is generally unnecessary. Ensure that there is plenty of light striking the exposed side of the fish by shooting as close to the surface as possible. Many shots can be achieved by dangling off the side of a boat or wading into shallow water, so you don’t always need to jump in the drink.
When light and water clarity are limiting factors, you need to shoot underwater subjects as close as possible. The only way to achieve this is by using a wide angle or fisheye lens. Check the minimum focus distance of your camera or lens and exploit it to full potential.
Set open apertures (low F-values) to ensure the camera receives as much light as possible to counter the darker underwater environment. You’ll lose some depth of field but this isn’t as critical in close up underwater photography.
FREEZING THE ACTION
Getting sharp underwater fish shots within frame involves two important steps. The first is to gain as much control of the fish as possible in order to guide it towards the camera. Have another angler hold the rod or line and steer the fish in front of the lens.
Shoot with a fast shutter speed and a high frame rate. A fast shutter speed will help to freeze and capture erratic fish kicks and turns, and the high frame rate will heighten the chance of nailing a great composition. Some underwater photographers like to manually fix their focal range close to the camera, but modern autofocus systems are relatively fast and reliable.
SPLITTING THE IMAGE
The 50/50 surface and subsurface split shots that are popular among underwater photography enthusiasts involve plenty of trial and error. You’ll need a large dome fitting for your camera lens and clear water for the best results.
In the same way that you rub spit on goggles or a mask before submersion, smear spit across the dome to minimise water droplets forming on the surface of the dome. Quickly dunk the dome before each shot to flush off any residual water.
You must also decide whether the surface or subsurface subjects are the main focal point. Adjust your camera tilt to favour one or the other and to achieve correct focus. Only a small amount of the housing and lens needs to be submerged, but play around with positions and settings until you get a good idea of what works for you. It’s a good idea to practice in a backyard pool before you head out on the water.
Underwater photography is an exciting way to snap unique and engaging images. The key to great underwater images lies in your camera settings and set up. Follow these tips and you’ll be well on the way to nailing cracker images.
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