What Are The Major Challenges To Photographing Underwater?

(Last Updated On: November 8, 2021)

What Are The Major Challenges To Photographing Underwater?

Underwater photography is a fascinating way to peek into the marine world, see those mesmerizing sea creatures in depth and detail. Whether done as a hobby or professionally, underwater photography requires certain specialized techniques to produce the best results. The biggest challenge in underwater photography is light, sunlight near the surface of the water is brighter but the deeper you go the more difficult it is for light to penetrate layers of water; hence strobes and flashlights are used that enhance the colors of fish, reefs, and stones to capture a natural image.

Light absorption:

If you plan to shoot in natural light, it is ideal to do so when the sun is directly overhead like between 10 am to 2 pm. Water absorbs a substantial amount of light that is traveling through it as it gets deeper. After every 10-meters you lose 50% of the light you had before. So, strobes or flashlights are used for deep underwater photography.

Color absorption:

Water is blue and so are your underwater photos. As you go deeper than 10-meters in water, yellow, red, and orange hues that are emitted by short wavelengths of light get quickly absorbed at the surface levels, and only blue and green with longer wavelengths reach the bottom. So, to give colors to your photos you need color-correcting filters that will enhance the existing colors. Strobes can be used to illuminate the location.

Blurry image due to refraction:

Refraction is a phenomenon where light bends when it enters from one medium to another, light refracts when it passes through water then from the glass and air of your underwater camera. This makes objects appear approximately 25% bigger and closer than they are. This can make it difficult to focus on subjects, especially in cameras with autofocus features, leaving you with blurry images. Infrared autofocus feature or manual focusing help with this problem.


Backscatter is the tiny particles just floating around deep underwater that make your pictures look ugly and foggy. This issue can be solved by smart strobe placement just behind the camera and by shooting when the natural light is already flattering to the camera’s eye.

In-motion motion:

Not only are your subjects in motion but so are you! Underwater photography is challenging because water currents, waves, or storms can greatly impact mobility. This can also contribute to out-of-focus pictures.

Distance and magnification:

The objects seem to be bigger than they are through the diver’s mask because it magnifies everything by 25%. This is why photographers need to calculate a safe yet accurate distance from the subject to get a detailed, properly focused image.


The equipment you use to photograph underwater is essential in determining the quality of finished pictures. Your land camera would need expensive housing around it before diving deep underwater and still would be at the risk of exposure to course water and corrosive salt.

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