Quick Tips for Underwater Fish Photography

Underwater image of brown trout and fly fisherman with net by AdamBarkerPhotography.

Good times on the water yesterday. Once again, I can’t bring myself to pass up an opportunity to shoot some imagery underwater.

For the most part, the fish were somewhat uncooperative yesterday (can’t really blame em’!), but this healthy brown trout posed for the camera for nearly a minute after its release. This lighting conditions and exclusion of most of the angler lend a mysterious quality to this image. It begs the viewer to study it for a moment. Upon further inspection, it all comes together–fly fishing, small creek, catch & release, nostalgic moment, etc.

There certainly is a learning curve to shooting UW photographs. It’s taken me some time to dial in my methods, and I finally feel like I have a routine under the water, just as I do above the water. Two of the key steps in my UW approach:

1. Shoot in manual mode and pre-adjust your exposure before shooting. Most of the time, I point my camera down in the water and set my exposure for the UW light reading. If I’m shooting half in/half out shots, I may underexpose for UW by 1/2 to a full stop in order to maintain detail above water as well. If lighting conditions are just right, the two environments will actually balance quite well in terms of dynamic range.

2. Utilize your camera auto AF selection mode. This is a big one. One of the hardest parts of UW photography (without looking through the viewfinder or at the liveview display) is ensuring proper focus on the parts of the image that you want to be sharp. I’ve found the easiest way to do this is to let your camera select the focus zones, as opposed to pre-selecting a focus zone and trying to place the fish (or more precisely, the fish’s eye) in the perfect spot. This is literally the only time I ever use this function on my camera, as I generally want to have say over what the camera focuses on.

If you happen to venture into UW photography, the above tips should be useful. Most importantly, shoot a lot of images–the throw-away to keeper ratio is significant…

Slalom Storytelling

A collection of waterskiing images from AdamBarkerPhotography

Photographers (myself included) talk a lot about visual storytelling. Like it or not, with a camera in your hand, you are an author. The question is, what story are you telling?

Personal projects make for fantastic opportunities to work on any number of things from a photographic standpoint. I recently joined some friends at a private lake for a little slalom course action. Being an avid skier myself, I’ve had countless waterski shots floating around in my head for years. All I needed was some water to myself and a couple of skiers skilled enough to leave with me with juuuust enough confidence to shadow a buoy with them screaming by just feet from my head at 34 mph.

Ideally, your visual story will connect with those both familiar and unfamiliar with the subject matter. Those familiar might connect with it on an emotional level, and those unfamiliar with it might connect on a photographic level. The sign of a well told visual story is when one entirely unfamiliar with the subject matter walks away with a FEELING of familiarity. You give them all the pieces to the puzzle, and they put it together. If that doesn’t make sense, read it again. If it still doesn’t make sense, I’m either that brilliant, or that ignorant (very possible the latter!)

Does this smattering of images move you in any way? Is it because you love water skiing, or do you connect with it for some other reason? Or…do you not connect with it at all? Would love to hear from the collective.

Five Tips for Better Underwater Photography

Brown Trout caught and released on fly in northern Utah.

Brown Trout caught and released on fly in northern Utah.

Underwater photography is so fun you could charge me for it and I’d still be all over it. Come to think of it, I have been charged for it, and it’s not cheap…

Regardless–the unpredictable nature of underwater images makes for interesting times both shooting and editing. This is a shot of a hungry brown trout on a nice creek in northern Utah. Even with my limited experience, I have found a couple of things to be helpful in my underwater endeavors. Should you ever take the plunge yourself, hopefully these will be helpful.

1.Fill the frame with your subject. This means that, especially when shooting fish with a wide angle lens on a full frame camera, you need to be super close. That fish should be nearly touching your dome port.

2. Keep your lens’ minimum focusing distance in mind. It is possible to be too close and not be able to focus. If you’re having issues with this (or even if you’re not), I recommend getting a diopter to screw onto the front of your lens. This will lessen your minimum focusing distance and also assist in getting sharper images edge to edge.

3. Shoot lots of images. It’s an entirely different world down there, and just as you have had to shoot a lot of images to get comfortable above water–you’ll have to do the same below water.

4. Shoot at mid-day. This is entirely counter-intuitive for most photographers. The fact is, it’s much darker underwater then it is above water. The more direct light you have illuminating your underwater world, the better.

5. Have fun, and enjoy the happy accidents. It’s all so cool, you’ll be finding frames that you didn’t expect to turn out that you fall in love with.

Shot with a Canon 5D MkII, Aquatech housing, 16-35 2.8II