Underwater Photography


7 Cool Photo Ideas for Barely-Underwater Photography

Got a phobia when it comes to getting too deep in the water? You can still shoot great photos while barely breaking the surface.

When you think underwater photography, the first thing that comes to mind is most likely going to be stunning deep-dive photos of exotic fish, coral, and plant life, or maybe sunken treasure or close encounters with swimming things that could sting or eat you. If you are risk-averse but are interested in the possibilities of underwater photography, fear not: There’s a whole new world waiting for you, and you don’t have to dive deep. You barely need to put your underwater camera below the surface. In fact, you don’t even need to snorkle to get these photos!

Here’s a guide to shallow underwater photography, because if you’re like me, you’d rather not be under the sea. You want a shore thing.

Buying Guide: Cameras You Can Bring Underwater…Deep Dives or Otherwise!

First, let’s look at several cameras. They are all very well suited for low-submersion underwater photography. Any camera that’s rated for underwater photography should be dunkable down to at least a few feet. Caution: “weatherproof” or “water-resistant” cameras should not be submerged–they’re only protected against rain or the occasional splash.

The following cameras can be safely submerged anywhere from 5-50 feet, depending on the model.

Nikon Coolpix AW120
Submergeable down to 59 feet, the AW120 is a shirt-pocket-sized camera that will also work on land or in shallow water. You can also take it on cold weather adventures as well as extreme outdoor activities. It’s built to be roughed up.

Canon PowerShot D30
Capable of diving down to 82 feet, this rugged camera has GPS so you can add info about where you were.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS5
Conveniently small enough to fit in your shirt or bathing suit pocket, the TS5 is Wi-Fi enabled, can be submerged down to 39 feet, and has an anti-fog coating on the lens, which is useful when you’re diving into the pool frequently.

Fujifilm XP-70
A budget-priced pocket camera, the XP-70 is waterproof to depths of 33 feet. It has Wi-Fi so you can transfer your images to your smart phone or tablet. It also has 240fps slow-motion video capture, which can be cool. Do a study of someone blowing bubbles underwater!

You can also take your existing compact digital camera and house it in an underwater case. Nikon and Canon offer plenty of underwater housing options. Be sure to bring swim goggles so you can dunk underwater and compose using your camera’s LCD monitor.

Barely Underwater Picture-Taking Tips You Can’t Drown With


A half-underwater shot, or a “halfie,” is a photo where the image is divided by the surface of the water. These shots can be tricky, because positioning a camera so the surface of the lens is half in, half out of the water depends on how calm the water is. Use the live view in your viewfinder to make sure you’ve got the shot, and be prepared to take a lot of pictures to get it right. If you’re shooting manually, choose a small aperture so you can get the most depth of field. If you are focusing manually, focus on the “above-the-surface” subject, and let the underwater half focus fall where it may. As you can see here, water changes things optically, so you can combine far above-surface subjects with near below-surface ones, and both will remain in focus.

How to make it easier: Use an underwater housing, which separates the lens from the surface just enough to get better control over the edge of the water.

The View From Below: Here’s The Upshot

Some subjects look totally different when shot up from below the surface because of the angle, the reflections off the surface of the water, and the angle of the sunlight. From above, these probably look plain and uninteresting, but from below, the image is much more compelling. Even better: You can shoot this with a simple point-and-shoot camera in an underwater housing, or with one of the cameras listed above.

Break On Through

Another variation when shooting up towards the water’s surface is to have your portrait subject stick her head partly in the water. In this case, it creates an alternate-universe image. The camera is held less than a foot below the surface of the water and set to a relatively large aperture for more selective focus.

Blue in the Pool

Don’t worry, pools are safe. The only danger is that anyone you photograph is going to come out looking a bit blue. The deeper they are, the bluer they’ll be because water filters out the warmer range of the color scale…and pools are painted blue all around, and that dominant color bounces into faces.

You can control that by changing your white balance settings. If your camera has an underwater WB or an underwater scene mode, use that. You can also try using the flash, but it may also illuminate particles in front of the camera, which can reflect light into the camera, messing up the shot. If you have a Nikon AW1 and the matching underwater flash, you can use the flash off-camera to create more neutral light on your subject.

Group Portraits? Hold Your Breath and Smile!

You can shoot a fun family photo and add an element of surprise by doing it underwater. This may take a few tries, because everyone should smile and keep their eyes open—a challenge for some in chlorinated water. Use hand signals to indicate when you’re taking the picture so everybody is ready at the same time, and make sure you don’t take longer to shoot than the weakest breath-holder in your group can handle.


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