UW Photography Tips and Etiquette

Maui underwater photography

More and more people are taking a camera underwater, digitally capturing their ocean adventures. Market intelligence company Fior Markets predicts that the global underwater camera market is expected to grow from the $4.8 billion it saw in 2019 to a staggering $15.3 billion by 2027- that’s much more market growth than above water equipment sales.

With more of us shooting photos and video while diving, we thought it would be a good time to review a few safety, etiquette tips and Hawaii specific photography information. Our aim is to help you focus on great dive experiences, while capturing amazing shots. Whether experienced with underwater photography or just starting out, here are few things to keep in mind.

1. Control Your Buoyancy

Even experienced divers can have an occasional issue with buoyancy. However, it is the most important skill to master in diving as you get started in the sport. Good buoyancy control not only protects your gear, it keeps you from inadvertently bumping into sharp objects or sea life that may cause injury, or worse lead to an uncontrolled rapid accent, risking decompression sickness.

When you add in underwater photography, additional considerations come into play. Good buoyancy control allows you to float fluidly, creating better opportunities to get close to marine life without impacting them. Without this control, a diver may bump against the reef, try to grab onto something they shouldn’t or flail arms and legs, scaring away the subject and possibly damaging the marine environment. Coral reefs are fragile, living animals, and one flip of a fin can break a piece off. Excessive movement stirs up the bottom, making photography dismal for you and anyone else in the group.

Standing on coral is a definite no-no

If your buoyancy could use a little work, or you have a new camera you are getting used to, try a few practice sessions. Practice with your new camera in a pool, or even in the ocean on a shallow depth dive in an area where there is no reef. Practice neutral buoyancy, the operation of your camera moving toward and backing away from a subject. As you move on to a reef, wall or other dive structure, go through these same practice steps. When you find a subject to photograph, stay calm and take your shot.

2. Let Others Have a Turn

With more people enjoying underwater photography, you likely won’t be the only one in a dive group wanting to take a photo or video, or just observe interesting marine life. Even though you may be very excited to take your shots of some Hawaii marine life you have never seen before, it’s good etiquette to be aware of those around you waiting, and make sure you slowly back away once you get your shot so others can move in.

3. Avoid Obstructing Someone Else’s Shot

Along the same lines as taking turns, don’t move in behind a subject someone else is shooting. You can be certain they would rather just have the turtle, shark or fish in their shot and not you. Try and be aware of a photographer setting up a shot nearby, and don’t swim into their field of view if you can avoid it. Also, swimming below a photographer and their subject will cause bubbles in their scene. Swim around the back of a diver rather than below. Stay parallel or behind their camera when observing marine life or waiting for your turn to take images.

4. Be a Good Dive Group Member

For your own safety, dive guides would like you to stay with the group. If you take a little extra time photographing something, catch up with the group. Though often a dive group will stop to look at interesting sights together, if you repeatedly fall behind, consider how that is affecting others. If the group has to wait for you or the dive master has to come looking for you, that effects everyone. There are some dives where experienced divers can explore different parts of an area on their own, as long as they watch their dive time and air. Lahaina Diver’s Turtle Reef Charter is one of those.

5. Don’t Harass or Manipulate Marine Life

There are many marine species in Hawaii that are protected by law. While it is not illegal for marine life to approach you or one of our vessels, we stay at least 100 yards from humpback whales, and 50 yards from other marine mammals. Turtles are also protected, and the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) asks you give them 6 to 10 feet of space. Though you may be excited to see these creatures close up, it is against the law to chase, surround, touch or swim with turtles or marine mammals. This includes dolphins, though you often will see them appear from underwater to jump the wake created by our bow, so up-close above water images are frequently possible. Humpback whales will also cross our path during winter months, or you may be luck to hear or see them under water.

Hey paparazzi, this is definitely too close!

When exploring the reef, keep in mind just being too close could put stress on a creature, not to mention a hundred flash photography shots a day . So whether it’s a colorful nudibranch of slow-moving turtle, take a few shots, from a respectable distance then back away peacefully. This should go without saying, but do not move marine life for a better shot or write something on their shell. Enjoy the beautiful nature of Hawaii, in all its wonderful imperfections, and leave the special effects to Disney.

6. How to Get a Good Shot

If you spot an interesting creature, try to approach slowly at an angle, rather than head on. Movements that could be perceived as threatening could cause your subject to swim away in the opposite direction. Make any camera adjustments while you are still a comfortable distance away, then continue a slow angled approach.

7. Share Your Images with Us!

We love when divers have a great time on a Lahaina Divers charter and share their images with us. We have a secure photo and video upload in the footer of our website www.lahainadivers.com. When you share them with us, we would be delighted to share on social media so others can enjoy your images too!

Note: Our photo and video upload feature was recently updated, and now goes directly to a secure upload page. Please make sure to note the charter you were on, and any other notes in the memo field.