The following tips, tricks, advice, camera settings, and post-production techniques for Freediving Photography apply mostly to tropical water where the majority of my images are taken. I never use strobes or artificial light. For examples of my work and to see my latest work follow Instagram account @freediversam.
Of course, better visibility will produce those clear blue images that everyone loves. There will be more detail in the background and more colors in the image. So try your best to pick days with good visibility.
Many of the best freediving photos are actually shot quite shallow. You will be using software to enhance the image later, but the deeper the image is shot, the more you will struggle to bring out colors. Most of my best images were shot no deeper than seven meters.
Time Of Day
The light in your images will differ depending on the time of day. I like shooting at the start or end of the day when the sun is low in the sky. This often gives increased contrast with interesting shadows and beams of light. Shooting in the middle of the day when the sun is high in the sky will produce very evenly lit and less dramatic images. I love beams and shadows. It really depends on what style/atmosphere you are going for.
Generally, the rule is to have the sun behind your back and position yourself between the sun and the subject. This will allow for maximum light hitting the subject, bringing out the most detail and color. However, at sunrise or sunset when light is low, I have achieved great shots shooting with the sun either to the side of or behind the subject.
All my images so far have been shot with a Fisheye lens. Wide-angle/fisheye lenses will be able to capture more of the diver and scenery even when very close to the subject. We often want to be as close as possible to the subject when doing underwater photography. Less water between you and the subject also means less particulate matter. Particulates can reflect light and generally reduce image clarity.
Wide-angle lenses do bend straight lines, but thankfully underwater there is not too many straight lines and the effect is less noticeable.
You want to keep the ISO number as low as possible. I don’t think I have ever changed it from 200. I usually don’t alter the shutter speed in the water at all. I keep it set to 250. This will capture most movement underwater with no blurring, whilst still letting in the maximum amount of light. The aperture I change depending on the first few test shots I take. If they are too dark I reduce the F-number. If they are too bright I increase it. The deeper I shoot (the lesser the light), the lower the F-number is set.
Always shoot RAW files. Most of the work to make amazing images is done on a laptop after the dive. You don’t want to be playing around with your camera too much in the water. RAW files are the largest file type and allow for the maximum amount of clarity/color enhancement in post-production software such as Lightroom. This is where the magic happens. More on that later.
Shooting Multiple Frames Per Second
Shooting machine gun style rounds of rapid-fire frames mean that the perfect shot/moment is not missed. Usually, you don’t know exactly which moment the subject will be in a good position, so by shooting bursts of multiple frames, we capture more postures/poses to chose from when selecting the best shots. The downside of this is that if you ate not careful the card will fill up fast and you will have a lot of images to sort through later.
Working With Freediving Models
I often dive without the model to check what angles and frames will look good. I show the model where I will position myself and where the camera will point. I then demonstrate where I want them to swim so that they are in the frame.
Tell your model not to look directly at the camera. I prefer to see the freediver in their natural environment rather than obviously posing for shots.
It should be obvious that a trained freediver will look better in photos than an untrained freediver. Untrained freedivers tend to look clumsy and not in control of their arms and legs. This always comes across in the photos. Good technique means good poses. I suggest doing a freediving course.
These days most photos you see are heavily edited. Most of the hard work and time is spent on the laptop. These are a few of the most basic tools I use in ‘Lightroom classic’ software:
Select the ‘white balance selector’ and then click on a skin tone or something that is supposed to be grey/white. The colors will automatically adjust to a more accurate white balance. Almost always you will have to tweak the ‘temperature’ and ‘tint’ color sliders manually yourself, but this tool provides a quick fix or a good starting point for color adjusting. Generally, you will be increasing the red and yellow as these colors are lost the deeper you go.
We lose a lot of clarity in water and I always increase the ‘clarity’ slider sometimes to the maximum. The more distance/water between camera and subject will mean more clarity is lost. The same applies to the ‘contrast’ and ‘saturation’ sliders.
In the ‘noise reduction’ section I usually increase ‘luminance’ to gain a smoother texture with less texture in the water. You may also need to play with ‘exposure’ to get the right amount of light in the image. If parts of the image are too bright you may want to reduce the ‘highlights’ slider.
Often you will have multiple exposures in one image. An example of multiple exposures would be a half underwater, half above water image. Above the water will be overexposed (too bright) in comparison to the underwater half. In this situation, use the ‘graduated filter’ tool to select the above water half of the image only. Then reduce the exposure for the above-water section only, without affecting the underwater half.
This is also the case for shots where the deeper section of the photo is correctly exposed and the upper section of bright light beams is overexposed.
The Basics Of Freediving Photography
There is more I could go into but these are the basics. Use your eye, playing with the sliders. The more time you spend playing, the better the image will be. It also depends on preference and there are many ways to you edit an image. When you are done, export the image as high-quality Jpg for easy uploading to social media.