Warm weather drives us into the water. Whether you’re hitting the pool, exploring the reefs, or enjoying a dip in the local swimmin’ hole, your desire to take photos doesn’t stop once the pants come off. But before you jump into the deep end with your favorite camera and start snapping, here are a few tips to keep your camera safe and help you get the most out of your photos.
The best photos are going to be shot with a high quality DSLR sealed in an underwater case. Of course, this means putting your faith in the case-maker and hoping nothing disastrous happens. The best water-tight housings are expensive, and unless you’re professional photographer, you’re probably better off just buying or borrowing a dedicated underwater point-and-shoot or using a disposable point-and-shoot camera.
You can pick up a waterproof “tough” camera for between $200 and $400. It’ll take the additional beating of fun in the sun without being a huge burden to lug around while playing in the water. The Wirecutter recommends the Panasonic Lumix TS5 ($350), and we here at WIRED have had pretty good experiences with Olympus’ TG-2 ($380). Both are solid. Also, most POV cameras come with a waterproof housing in the box, so if you have one, consider taking stills with it. The almighty GoPro Hero 3 shoots nice 12-megapixel photos.
But before you hop into the water, be sure to pick up a floating camera strap, especially if you’ll be in a lake or the ocean. Nothing brings you down quicker than losing your new camera in the murky depths. Forget fashionable colors and get the brightest color available. I use a bright yellow strap.
If you’re a dedicated DSLR jockey, you probably want to buy the pricey protection. Nauticam makes really nice, pro-quality housings that are great for reef dives and other Jacques Cousteau-type adventures. Expect to pay over $3,000 for a Nauticam built to keep your Canon 5D or Nikon D200 safe and dry. Ikelite and Equinox make some less-expensive ($1,000 to $1,500) housings that would likely serve you just as well. All of these companies also make housings to fit smaller models, from high-end point-and-shoots to micro four-thirds cameras.
Finally, be sure you check the seals of all your waterproof gear before dunking anything in the water. Open all the ports and double check them for sand, salt deposits, and other debris that may have made its way into your seals during a previous trip or when you opened the SD card door and the wind blew some sand in there.
Once everything is cleaned, closed and locked, you’re ready to shoot all the fish.
So much blue. Photo: Roberto Baldwin/WIRED
Water and Colors
Unless you’re swimming in the cleanest water on the sunniest day of the year, your photos are probably going to look a little dark and muted. The deeper you go into the water, the darker it’ll get. To help counteract the effects of water on the sun’s mighty rays, use a flash.
Set the flash on your camera to always fire. Also, to counteract the blue hue of the water, set the white balance to “Auto.” A good point-and-shoot tough camera will have an underwater setting that’ll help the colors of those sea-going creatures pop. Be warned that the murkier the water, the more particles will be lit up by your flash.
Like shooting children and animals, try to take photos at eye level when you’re underwater. Shooting you subject from overhead is boring. Unless it’s a shark or barracuda. Grab a pair of swimming goggles so you can actually see what you’re shooting and make sure the camera is auto-focusing on the correct subject. Thirty blurry photos of your friends swimming might as well be zero pictures of your friends swimming.
When you get back on the shore or you exit the pool, don’t leave your camera in the sun. The heat could deteriorate the rubber seals on your housing, turning your fancy camera into a fancy paperweight the next time you go swimming. Put your gear under a towel or in a bag and rest it in the shade. It’s also a good idea to rinse off your camera or camera case with clean water. The ocean has salt, the river has silt, and the pool has (hopefully only) chlorine. Wash all that stuff off and dry your camera before putting it away. Finally, never open that protective housing anywhere near sand, and don’t fiddle with your camera until you’ve cleaned all the sand off your hands.
And when it comes time to upload, tag your photos appropriately to signal the other underwater aficionados. And join a group or jump in a photo pool. Because sharing is half the fun.