I get a lot of questions asked by photographers and non-photographers alike about my underwater portrait photography. This post will outline some basic underwater photography gear options for anyone interested in buying an underwater system. Underwater photography is super fun but also expensive and potentially dangerous to your gear, so be careful! This is a very unscientific and untechnical review of the different options out there. My intent is just to “get your feet wet” (pun intended) and to use this as a jumping off point in your research to find which system is right for your needs.
How do you take your camera underwater?
There are lots of gear options at lots of different price points- though most are on the higher end. You thought photography was an expensive hobby? Try underwater photography!
- A camera with decent focusing ability
- ability to shoot in macro mode OR a DSLR/mirrorless camera that can accept a variety of lenses
- MOST IMPORTANT (in my opinion): ability to shoot in RAW
What I use:
- Ikelite housing for Canon 5Dmkii
- lens port for Tamron 28-75 for portrait work
- lens port for Canon 17-40 L for underwater landscape/wildlife photography
- lens port for Sigma fisheye for underwater wildlife photography
- Ikelite DS125 strobe
- Ikelite DS200 strobe
Because I am a SCUBA diver and am blessed to take some pretty awesome vacations (thanks Mom & Dad!), I went with a dive housing, which allows me to take my camera on my divers up to 100+ feet. I do not pretend to be a good underwater landscape/wildlife photographer. Most of the shots I have gotten have been lucky, to be honest. I am still learning!
I use an Ikelite housing for my 5Dmkii… and yes it still terrifies me taking it underwater. The Ikelite housing for my mkii costs about as much as the camera. I started out with an old 30D and Ikelite housing which is a GREAT option for those on a budget but wanting pro gear and needing cameras that can go on dives. You need different ports depending on which lens(es) you plan on using. Without going into too much detail, in general you want either wide angle shots that allow you to get close to you subject or a macro lens because the more water that is in between you and your subject, the more cloudy and murky the image is regardless of subject matter. Strobes are a must much below 20 ft.
Less expensive routes:
You can find a used housing- just make sure it doesn’t leak!
Point and shoot systems:
My dad has a GoPRO for fun. I have never used it, but I have heard good things about this little camera/video duo. You can buy dive housing and a red filter and the camera for under $500-$600 total. Check out Backscatter.com
Downsides: Little manual control, some say image quality is less than stellar
Buy a housing for one of your existing point and shoots
This is how I first got into underwater photography, before I really even truly got into photography itself. When I was a new diver, my dad was too busy poking and chasing fish to do a lot of photography on our dives, so he bought a case for our Canon Powershot and handed it over to me. It was a simple set up, though limited.
Going this route? I recommend
- Make sure your point and shoot can shoot RAW. If not, shoot in “Underwater” mode
- buying a fiber optic strobe- they are a pain but if you can get them to work they really help the image (this only applies if you are taking the camera under 20 ft or so)
Downsides: Limited manual control, image quality? sensor size can limit print quality
I just rececently stumbled on this and this housing is intriguing. From the looks of it, you can dive a shallow depth. Check them out, and if anyone has some experience with it, let me know!
The last thing I’d recommend is looking into one of these underwater camera bags. I have no experience with them and would NOT RECOMMEND THEM FOR ANYTHING EXCEPT POOL WORK but they could work. They come for either point and shoots or full DSLRs. Check them out thoroughly before you buy them. I’m sure they are a great product, I just can’t speak for them because I have never tried them.
Post your questions below and I can try my best to answer them!
Some inspiring underwater photographers:
Most of that list is not only comprised of amazing underwater artists, but I also love drooling over exotic places by the ocean 🙂