Adding a diver to your underwater photographs brings the human element of diving to life, adds interest and enables the viewer to get an actual scale of the scene, especially in wide angle photography.
Here are some of the tricks used by professional underwater photographers when taking photos that include scuba divers:
- Dive with a dedicated model, someone who doesn’t mind being told what to do and understands your signals. You should both be patient with each other.
- Your model should be comfortable in the water and have good buoyancy skills.
- Make sure your model’s gauges are in trim, all in the right place, clipped away and not dangling.
- If your model has long hair, get them to tie it back, fasten it down or put a hoodie or bandanna over it.
- Make sure your model has anti fog in their mask so that their mask does not fog up during the dive – and that they clear their mask if there is a lot of water in it!
- A transparent skirt allows more light to enter the mask and makes for better photography, especially in close up shots.
- Get your model to wear colourful gear – masks, fins; wetsuits with detail always add interest to a photo. A touch of waterproof mascara and eyeliner can also help to make the eyes pop (male divers, this is not compulsory!).
- Know the dive site / wreck / type of creatures you expect to see so that you can plan the type of photos you want to take with your model beforehand.
- Agree on the important hand signals, which should ideally include:
- Come closer / move back;
- Move up / down;
- Horizontal / vertical (body orientation);
- Face this way / face the other way;
- Keep legs straight;
- Swim slowly here / there;
- Repeat shot;
- Torch on / off;
- Point torch at me;
- Look at me / look at the subject / look over my shoulder
- Give your model a torch so that they can stand out in deeper darker conditions; caves and wrecks and can use the torchlight to pick out points of interest, artefacts or critters.
- Have the model face your direction with their mask but have their eyes looking at the point of interest (the angle should not be too great). This will enable you to light up their eyes with your strobes, and create a point of interest as the viewer will follow the model’s gaze. For closer shots, get them to look over your shoulder instead.
- Camera settings – start your dive with your standard camera settings (e.g. 1/125; F8; ISO200; strobes on medium). In deeper or darker water, slow the shutter speed to lighten the background (e.g. 1/30). The strobe will still freeze movement and light up the shot.
- For photos of diver silhouettes (pointing up towards the surface / sun) turn off the strobes, increase shutter speed 1/500 and close aperture 1/16.
- If your model is close to you, move the strobes further away from the camera and point them outwards so that they light the model evenly and reduce backscatter, but still provide enough light to light up their face properly.
- You can also use cross lighting if using two strobes – one strobe pointing diagonally at the diver to light up their face and the other diagonally to light up the reef.
- If your diver is further away, concentrate on lighting up the foreground and have the diver as a silhouette against the blue background. Have the reef / gorgonian / marine creature as the star of the show – light them up and have the diver’s silhouette in one of the quarters of the frame.
- The diver should orientate themselves in the frame so that they have their legs together, facing sideways either horizontally, vertically or diagonally so that they can easily be identified as a diver.
- If they are closer to you, they can face you horizontally at a slight angle so that you can see their body and fins.
- Bubbles can ruin a shot, so try to time your shot to coincide with when they inhale. They should not hold their breath for the shot.
Diving with a buddy who is willing to model for you takes a lot of patience. It has to be enjoyable and safe, with no damage to the environment.
To learn how to take really great underwater photos, sign up for our Digital Underwater Specialty today!