The Over/Under: Quick Tutorial to Underwater Fly fishing Photography

Angler Geoff Mueller sizes admires a bonefish caught and released on the fly at Abaco Lodge, Bahamas

As skinny as it comes!
And I’m not talking about the fish here. In saltwater flyfishing, shallow water is commonly referred to as “skinny” water. Let’s just say this stretch of water at Abaco Lodge, Bahamas was on a tidal diet on this particular morning.
Underwater photography is unpredictable and challenging, but that all contributes to an overwhelming feeling of satisfaction when it all works out.

Over/under shots like this are heavily dependent on the right equipment, knowledge and always a bit of luck. It’s key to have a legit housing with a dome port. If you don’t have a dome port, you can still pull these types of shots off, but it’s much more difficult. I always spit on the dome glass and rub it around before getting it wet–this keeps the water from beading up on the part of the glass that remains above water.

Ideally–you will set your exposure just before shooting the sequence (on manual mode, of course). It’s always an approximate guess on lining up all the elements and shooting away. Here, I am kneeling down in the water, holding the housing at waist level or so. Obviously, there’s no looking through the viewfinder, so you need to understand very well what your chosen lens will include depending on where you hold the camera. Pointing and shifting the housing slightly up or down can drastically affect where the dividing water/air line will be in your frame. Experiment each and every time until you start to get a better idea of where that line will fall.

Note that even if you’ve put that line right in the middle of the dome port, it may not be dividing your image in half. Water moves up and down very quickly, and you’re much less steady than you think when holding the housing.

Two last tips! Get a diopter to place on the front element of your lens (before it goes in the housing). This will help mitigate the softness on the corners that is a constant issue when shooting through domes and it will also decrease your minimum focusing distance for your lens–which is key when trying to fill the frame when shooting.
Annnnd, shots like this benefit from front and/or sidelight to properly expose the image both above and underwater. Obviously, the brighter the ocean/river bottom is, the better it will balance with the sky.

UW housings are pricey, but they’re worth every penny. Rent one for a day from manufacturers like AquaTech and see if it might be a good fit for you. Have fun!

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