Underwater Water Photography – What I’ve learned so far

So this is a post I have been meaning to share for some time!  I thought that as summer is winding down, I’d better get it completed so that anyone who wants to can use my suggestions in their underwater journey.  By no means am I claiming to be an expert in this field, I just thought I would offer what I know and what works for me, and share something that has become one of my favourite mediums to work with.

Underwater photography has been an amazing journey for me so far and I have really loved the results and enjoyed the process.  It does require a fair bit of preparation and investment in time and money if you are going to use a DSLR.  But for me at least, it’s been worth it. I enjoy being able to express myself through this medium, capture unique family portraits and give another perspective to the viewer. There are certainly lots of things to consider and lots of options to explore, so let’s get going!

1) Underwater housings

There are a ton of ways to take your camera underwater (safely) and have some fun! Cases are available from a fairly low cost option if you want to stay with your iPhone, to an investment of thousands if you want a more durable housing for your DSLR. There are cheaper housings available for DSLRs, however it’s much like taking your camera underwater in a zip lock baggie and hoping for the best IMO. Personally, I use an Ikelite underwater housing, but there are  lots to choose from depending on how much you want to spend and how much control you want over your camera.  Whatever you decide, make sure to test your equipment every time and seal all the O  rings if your housing has them.  And then double check your equipment, because you can’t be paranoid enough!! If you go in salt water, you really must take extra care to wash your gear off as soon as you can in fresh water before you take it all apart as I have found it very damaging to the housing.  Sand is also a hard to deal with element as it often gets stuck on the seals and prevents a good seal, which can be costly.  You may want to consider extra insurance for the gear you take underwater too 🙂

Oh, and if you decide on a DSLR housing, be prepared and forewarned….those suckers are heavy….

Jennifer Kapala Underwater Photography

2) Working with the medium

It is without a doubt one of the most difficult mediums to work with as it’s so unpredictable. I mean everything about it.  The way the light moves, the way your subject moves, the way you move, the way the water moves…everything. If you are a type “A” personality, be prepared to lower your expectations.  Think about it, you are putting your sharpest lens, in your expensive camera, and then putting it behind a plastic or glass dome and then putting it in water, and THEN pointing it at your subject.  You’ve got a lot of “stuff” between your lens and subject, from the plastic to water, which is nothing like the air your may be used to.  Things happen. Light refracts in unusual ways, beautiful light all of a sudden seems dead underwater, your subject moves and then there is all the water between you and your subject.  I try to find the best light I can and usually like shooting in the morning or afternoon on brighter days.  Overcast days tend to be harder to work with.

Skin tones are a lovely mixture of blue and cyan and unless you like the look, you will also want to learn to edit them. Though I do find skin tones better the closer the subject is to the surface. For my editing, I use Lightroom and Photoshop , and find that my photos take a lot of more contrast and clarity than I typically use. Get familiar with whatever program you use and play around!

Be prepared to find beauty in the unusual and be curious, from the way the bubbles rise, to the way that the light hits your subject.  It’s a very different experience from your typical portrait session and creates a dreamy atmosphere….



water 2 Jennifer Kapala


Jennifer Kapala Underwater 4

3) Working with your subjects

I work primarily with kids and the aim is to have fun and make it playful!  Lots of times kids are only too happy to oblige and even come up with their own ideas.  I keep it short and sweet and give them lots of fun time and rest between pictures too.  I do try to ask them not to puff out their checks so much when they are underwater, which is a natural expression most people have :).  Sometimes it works on one, but not the other…

Jennifer Kapala

4) Camera gear

Personally, I take in my Canon 5D Mark III.  I know, I know, everyone is having a heart attack and thinking I am nuts.  But as a recovering type “A” I do like the files better.  I use a 35 mm currently, but have also used a 15 mm fisheye and a 50 mm.  I found that the 35 mm was the best for me as I liked the sharpness and colour it produced and it focuses short distances which is important when working with children as the all like to swim up really…..

Jennifer Kapala underwater



Jennifer Kapala underwater 6






I would think that a 16-35 mm or a 24 mm would be best, but I work with what I have!

This is by no means all there is to say on the subject, or all there is to learn, simply a few ideas I have gathered based on my experience so far. I hope you have fun with your underwater exploration, however you choose to get started.  I have turned mine into a personal project, called “In The Flow” , but I would love to see some of your work too!


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