An Introduction to Underwater Photography for Beginners and Professionals | Jovana Milanko | Skillshare

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An Introduction to Underwater Photography for Beginners and Professionals

teacher avatar Jovana Milanko, Underwater Photography & Cinematography

Watch this class and thousands more

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.



    • 2.

      Class Project


    • 3.

      Underwater Environment


    • 4.

      Types of Underwater Housings


    • 5.

      DSLR Housings


    • 6.

      Compact Camera Housings


    • 7.

      Strobes and Strobe Arms


    • 8.

      Pre and Post Dive Equipment Maintenance


    • 9.

      Light and Color Underwater


    • 10.

      Making a Colorful Photo


    • 11.

      Final Thoughts


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About This Class

Just like the best hiking, underwater photography requires additional knowledge, skills and equipment in order to make the best possible photographs.

I have designed this course to give you excellent training and advice, and if you…

  • are a passionate scuba diver
  • want to make your travel blog more memorable by adding some beautiful underwater shots
  • love to take photos with your compact camera to keep the best memories from your summer holiday
  • are a professional photographer who wants to broaden your line of work to shoot models in the pool

…then this is the course for you.

Starting with this first class out of many to come, we will travel from zero to hero together!

I will share the knowledge that I have gathered from the last nine years of working as a professional underwater photographer and cinematographer, and my work as a passionate and dedicated scuba diving instructor.

For this class, you do not need any prior knowledge of underwater photography. If you are already shooting underwater, then great! There will be tips and tricks on framing your subjects and getting your colors correct, use and positioning of strobes, avoiding backscatter and using the available light to your advantage.

If you are a beginner-level, first time Underwater Shooter, do not worry. I will help you choose your first housing and introduce you to different kinds of underwater equipment. 

So to summarize...

Who is this class for?

  • Photographers
  • Cinematographers
  • Travellers 
  • Scuba Divers
  • Free Divers
  • Ocean lovers
  • Influencers
  • Bloggers
  • YouTubers

What will you need? 

  • No equipment.
  • No software.
  • No prior photographic knowledge is needed for this first class. 

I will help you choose your first housing and if you already have one, that's great, as this class is designed to fulfil aspiring artists' needs as well. 

Meet Your Teacher

Teacher Profile Image

Jovana Milanko

Underwater Photography & Cinematography


Underwater photographer and cinematographer in love with the oceans, lakes, water in general and its inhabitants. 

My diving career started in 1999 when I was only 15, and back then, all I wanted was to dive! When my age allowed it, I became a become a scuba diving instructor and travelled around the world sharpening my skills and working towards combining my two passions – diving and photography. 

I started my journey self-taught and just recently got a Master’s Degree in Camera from a Faculty of Arts in my country, broadening my knowledge and working on challenging new opportunities that presented themselves.

Since I was a child, I’ve always loved watching underwater documentaries and dreamt how one day I would become a part of one. My ... See full profile

Related Skills

Photography More Photography
Level: Beginner

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1. Introduction: Ever since I can remember, I was in love with the ocean and being underwater. Watching nature documentaries as a kid, I was always impressed with scuba divers in back from elementary. I was dreaming about becoming an underwater videographer, making documentaries and being an underwater photographer but at the time it seemed impossible. Now, many years later, I fulfilled my dream, and I want to transfer this passion of mine to you, and help you become an underwater photographer. Hi, my name is Jovana Milanko , I'm a professional underwater videographer and photographer and in today's class we are going to be talking about underwater photography, making an introduction for beginners and professionals. In today's class, we are going to be talking about different kinds of underwater equipment, how to maintain it, how to use it, and how to make amazing colorful underwater photo with it. If you do not own an underwater housing, I will help you choose one that is best fit for you. Whether you are a professional photographer who wants to take photos of his models underwater, or you're a scuba diver who wants to share their experiences with their friends and family who are not diving, or you are a blogger that wants to make his videos pop-up even more, this is the course for you. 2. Class Project: For today's class, we will have two assignments. You may choose to fulfill one or both of them, depending whether you have housing already or you will get one in the near future. First assignment would be to choose a best fitting housing for you, depending on the field of photography you are into, or the niche. The second assignment, we will make a colorful underwater photo. If you're diving in the sea, river, or lake, you may choose a subject of yourself. But if you diving in a pool, you may choose to bring a colorful underwater object underwater. Please make sure it doesn't float, but it rather sinks or it's neutrally buoyant for your convenience. Second stab in second task would be to take a photo of that colorful object underwater using white balance, that is automatic, then white balance set up manually underwater. Lastly, if you're on flash, you may choose to take photos of it using flash. Afterwards, you can compare these three photos and this will help you decide which technique to use under which circumstances underwater in the future. Step 3, in both assignments would be to share your project with the class. I'm looking forward to seeing it. In the next chapter, we will be talking about underwater world, and what are the main differences between underwater and land photography? 3. Underwater Environment: Being an underwater photographer brings great responsibility towards fragile marine life. When I used to teach diving, I used to say to my students that we are the Aliens in marine environment. We're only guests and we are there to observe and enjoy. Being a responsible underwater photographer means we will not be chasing fish or touching anything underwater. Unless you're shooting in the pool, you should apply this rule. If you're a certified scuba diver, please make sure you feel perfectly comfortable underwater before taking your underwater camera with you. It takes a lot of our attention because it has so many buttons, so many things to think about. You don't want to be thinking about your buoyancy, about where your guide is when you want to make a perfect photo. Whether you're scuba diving, free diving, snorkeling, or you're just taking photos in the pool. Always makes sure there is somebody with you. Because sometimes underwater photography takes so much of our focus that we forget about the world around us. Always stay safe, just like bus hiking underwater photography requires additional skills, knowledge, and equipment in order to make the best possible photo. This is why in the next chapter we're going to be talking about all possible equipment that you can use for underwater photography. 4. Types of Underwater Housings: In this Chapter, we will go through all different types of underwater cameras, housing for underwater cameras, and afterwards we're going to go into detail for each and every one of them. The question I've been asked the most throughout the years is, which type of equipment do I need to start my underwater photography? Whichever camera you decide to use, whether it's phone, action cam, compact, DSLR , mere less or even like our Hasselblad, you can make it an underwater one. Same goes for videographers, although there are some cameras that can be used in the same way underwater and on the land, like analog Nikons or some compact, the most important feature of your underwater housing is to keep your camera dry at all times, while making as many, if not all camera functions available for you to use. Now this is very important. Underwater housings are camera specific, which means in most of the cases, one camera, one underwater housing. Very rarely you will find few cameras that fit into one housing. This is why it's very important to choose your camera wisely. Now, we will go to ways you can bring your camera underwater, and then in next Chapters we will go into detail for a few of them. Let us start with most basic ones. There is an underwater camera bag which can be used with DSLR compact, or even cell phones. If you want to take photos underwater, it's the cheapest option you can get. It's good in case you need to do one shoot, and then do not do underwater photography. Me personally, I would use it under the rain, on the boat where there are waves just to make sure my cameras stays dry at all the times. But it wouldn't be my first choice to use it underwater for underwater photography. I would recommend using a bag only on the surface, or few meters deep because bag is compressible, it's not hard container. Once we go underwater, pressure grows and air compressors, which would mean that the walls of the bank would be too close to your camera, pressing its buttons without your will, and maybe even taking photos without you wanting it to. Upsides to using a bag are, it's relatively cheap, so if you have project that you're going to do one time for underwater photography and never again, then it might not be so bad to by one and try to take further with it, and not to spend too much money on your housing. But be very careful, pay attention that it doesn't leak, and that you can always bring it out of the water quickly and easily. Next, we have action cams. They usually come in the housing already. They're easy to carry around, hard to break, easy to travel with. Downside is that there is no manual mode, so in case you would want to continue towards compact or DSLR photography underwater, this will not give you too much space for you to practice. Still, it gives you quality good enough for your vacation photos, or for some specific shots that you would want to take where you cannot fit this camera. Next, we have compact cameras. I have started to do with one myself. Actually, I had two before I started using DSLR. Good thing about them is that they're relatively cheap, so they're affordable, compact, you can travel with them easily, bring them anywhere you like, plus, there is manual option for shooting so you can practice everything you need to know before you switch to DSLR. Finally, we have housings for DSLR cameras, mirrorless cameras for professional photographers, or photo enthusiasts. Now that we know which housings there are for underwater photography, let's go into details in the next Chapters about DSLR and compact camera housings. 5. DSLR Housings: Now that we understand what kind of underwater housings they are, let's get into details with, the ones for DSLRs and mirror-less cameras. Basically, every camera is, we're familiar with, has a body, and then we have different lenses depending on what we're going to be shooting. The same way your own body housing works. We have a body of housing, where the body of a camera go. Then we have extension ring depending on which lens we will be using, plus the dome port or port. There are different kinds of ports for DSLR mirror-less cameras. Basically this one, is a dome port or fish-eye port, that is used for wide angle lenses. We have flat port also that is used for macro lenses or some mid-range lenses if you prefer to use them under water. Because we're under water and there is a lot of suspended particles. It's murky. It's not like here, even in the clearest waters of Red Sea, there is always some plankton swimming around. We cannot see too far away. So basically the lenses that we're going to be using underwater are wide angle lenses, and also macro lenses. You can buy only once. One dome port and different extension for different lenses. On the extension, you can usually find focus ring, so you can manually focus underwater. This goes only for more expensive housings and the best housing that have all the functions that you have on camera, you have it on your underwater housing too. Depending on the model of the camera, you can find zoom knob, usually on the body of the housing for different zoom lenses. Also, there are different types of viewfinders. For example, this one is for video, it's 30 degree view finder, which gives me better positioning underwater and better positioning on my camera, so I can know exactly what I'm filming at any given moment. There's also regular viewfinders for photography, the magnifying ones as this one plus the 45 degree angle ones. That is something similar like this one, just for underwater photography. Underwater housings can be made out of plastic, aluminum, or carbon. You can choose whatever you prefer. I personally have aluminum housing that I like because it's light material. It's not so difficult to travel with it, plus it's very solid. So I don't have to be worried that something will happen during the flight or diving. Depending on the quality of your housing, you will have less or more options that you can use in your housing. These housing allows me to use every single option that I have camera on underwater housing too. Please make sure when you're selecting your housing that all the functions that you need from your camera, you can use in your underwater housing too. Its very important to be able to express your creativity with the right tool. We're often amazed by these half-half shots or how we call them split shots, that we can see in magazines or on the Internet. You can see water and what's going on on the surface in the same shot. How do underwater photographers make those kinds of shots? For this, you're going to need fish-eye port, actually dome port. The bigger the port, easier will be for you to make a split shot photo. Dome ports come from glass or acrylic. They both have their advantages. People say that glass ports have a little bit better quality, but once you scratch them, that's it and there are more expensive. Acrylic ports can be polished once they're scratched, but please try not to scratch them anyway. Now that we have learned how DSLR housings work, let's switch to compact cameras. 6. Compact Camera Housings: Housings for underwater cameras, maybe produced by a manufacturer of camera itself. Or there are some specialized companies that produce these kind of housings. They're easy to use, and because compact camera has no exchangeable lenses, you have wide variety of angles that you can shoot underwater. Plus, there are still wet lenses that can be added to come back cameras. Please, when you're looking to buy a camera, makes sure that your model of the camera is adaptable with these kind of lenses. There are some wide angle lenses which will allow you to shoot the split half-half shots by this camera because it has such a small lens. It's very hard to get the surface of the water right in the middle. If you have this wet lenses that you can add and I don't [inaudible] front, it's much easier to get in the middle of the water level and make a split shot if this is what you're interested in. The benefit of having a small camera underwater is wide. Animals are less scared of the small camera than the big one. Though there are some animals that really love this dome ports like puffer fish or dolphins. They really like to see their reflection. But it's easier not to scare other delicate creatures with this one. Also with these wet lenses is you can exchange them underwater, and this option you do not have with a DSLR camera, with come back cameras. You can get really close to the subject, and in underwater photography that's really important for us. Some macro shots that I've seen made with compact are so much better than many that I've seen with DSLRs. If you're into macro photography, come back is great option for you. 7. Strobes and Strobe Arms: When we're diving underwater, even after half meter, we're starting to lose color. There is less light, so it's very important to use strobes, video lights, or white balance. More about it in next chapter. But now let's see what strobes and video lights there are for your camera choice. There are different strobes for underwater photography, but they connect on only two ways. There is either electronic cable, in this case, an equanimous five pin cable, or there are fiber optic cable. If you are using DSLR, it's most likely we will be using electronic cables, which gives a signal to your camera directly so you don't have to have a pre-flash. If you're using compact, it's more likely that you're going to be using fiber optic cable. How it works? Basically, your camera pre-flashes and sends signal to fiber optic cable to your flash that then fires. You will notice windows like these two on your housing, and this is where you attach your fiber optic cables. Some mirrorless cameras also have built in flash that you can use fiber optic cable with too. The downside of this is if you're using your camera's built-in flash, you're going to use your battery very quickly. Battery life is one more thing to think about when choosing camera. Make sure your camera has batteries that can last a little bit longer because once you put your camera in the housing, you don't want to get out to dry it and changed the battery. You want to stay in water as long as you can to take photos. It's better option if you can to take electronic cables to use. Most of underwater strobes have constant video light option. You can switch it on and then you can have constant light on your strobes. Most photographers are using it for focusing, but you can use it to film something during a dive if you prefer. If you are a videographer, then I strongly suggest taking an underwater lights that can last for all the dive and that are actually much better choice when filming. Strobe arms come in different lengths. For example, these one are more or less universal and I'm using only these ones to be honest, because with this I can bring light towards my camera if I'm taking a macro shot or something very close to me, or I can move away the light from my camera if I'm taking a wider photo of the reef, for example. Strobe arms are made of aluminum or carbon or some other material. For example, I personally choose carbon because it's very light material and it's easy to travel with. 8. Pre and Post Dive Equipment Maintenance: Before we speak about maintaining your equipment before and after a dive, let me say a few things about a mask you will be using. Maybe it seems irrelevant, but it's actually not. It's best for underwater photography to use mask that has dark silicon so the extra light doesn't go through mask, so you can see better what you're shooting and your colors right. Also it's better if you have these wide windows so you can see your equipment diving one and underwater one. Also you don't want to miss some nice creatures swimming around you because you had a very small mask. It is also important that mask fits you well because you don't want any water coming in while you're taking photos because it's distracting. Make sure you remove your hair from your face, put your mask on the face without the strap, inhale through your nose and hold the breath while you're on the surface. If no air is flowing around, then mask fits you well and you may choose to buy that one. Before you enter water with your underwater housing for the first time, please check it without the camera first. Some people choose to put some paper inside so they're sure that it doesn't leak anywhere. Close your housing well, make sure O-ring fits well, that there is no air going in and out that could cause leakage, and then test it without camera first. Once you're sure everything is fine, then you can put camera inside and go diving or snorkeling. Another thing that you need to think about before going diving is if you're in a room that has air condition, it's going to be colder than outside. Change of temperature can cause condensation, which can cause some fogging inside your housing, and you don't want that to happen. Some people fix it by adding silica gel inside their housing, but make sure you fit it well so it doesn't stop any of your buttons being pushed or it doesn't interfere with closing your camera. Some more advanced camera housings have systems to prevent leakage. Like this one, it has a system where it beeps and red lights shows if the water comes anywhere in the housing. Other cameras have vacuum systems that you can install and then you can test that your camera is vacuum before you go into water, which would make you more comfortable, ensure that no water will come in. If it ever happens to you that water enters housing, please take home and try to exit water as soon as possible. If you're diving, please dive out slowly because it's more important than a housing. To prevent water getting to your camera, what you can do is tilt your housing this way, so the lens is looking down. All the water would go where the lens is and where there's a lot of space. It can stay dry longer until you surface or exit the water. When you go outside, please hand it to somebody, turn this way so you can open it slowly and take out the camera without being wet. When entering water, if you have a small camera, it is not that difficult but if you're with a big camera, my recommendation is that somebody gives the camera to you from the boat or the shore. It's better not to jump in the water with a camera, although there are some techniques to keep it safe. Once you've finished diving and taking photos, please take good care of your underwater housing. Please do not open your housing right after a dive. Leave your camera in the housing and put it in a bucket of freshwater. Leave it there for a few minutes, and when you consider it was there long enough, you can take it out, let it dry, and once it's dry, then you can open your housing. If you're taking photos in the pool or river, even though it's freshwater, it contains some chlorine, and that I highly recommend that you rinse housing even after that. Now that we learn what type of underwater equipment there is, how to use it and maintain it, let's get to how to get our colorful photo on our first dive. 9. Light and Color Underwater: Now let's talk about most important differences between land and underwater photography. As we dive in, we're going to start losing color. Deeper we go, less color we're going to have. After one meter, we're going to lose red and up to five meters, there will be no more orange or yellow. At 30 meters of depth, there will be no color anymore. Only in very clear waters, we will still be able to see some of them. When light hits the surface of the ocean, it reflects, also part of it is being used to warm up the water. It refracts, which means when it goes from air to water, it bends and it changes its speed. Because of refraction, we will see objects underwater closer and bigger than they're actually are. Luckily, we see the same way as our camera, so we are able to focus underwater. If we would focus in the distance where the object actually is, it will be a blur image. When we're walking on land and observing mountains in the distance, intuitively, we know how far away they are. But underwater reef looks so much further away than it is, even though objects seam closer than they are. This is phenomenon that is called visual reversal and it happens because of the suspended particles underwater, because of turbidity, there is a lot of plankton and since swimming around freely. This is why for underwater photographers is very important, that we use either wide-angle lenses or macro lenses, because we lose color underwater, there is three main ways we can bring back the color. First one is flash, using flash or constant light will bring back colors as they really are. If you do not have option of using flash, then please use the manual white balance. A third option would be, to have a red filter. Red filter cannot be combined with using flash, but it can be combined with white balance. If you're taking photos with red filter, on the surface, they might seem a little bit more red than they should be. But as soon as you go at half meter or meter of depth, they will look so much more colorful than they would without it. Keep a note that with red filter, you need to take photos away from the sun only. You cannot take pictures towards the sun with red filter because then you're going to have one red photo. 10. Making a Colorful Photo: Let's get into details about how to use flash and how to use white balance under water. When we are using flash underwater, we need to think about plankton. Plankton is swimming freely around between our lens and the subject that we're shooting. More plankton there is, less sharp the photo would be. There is another thing that bothers underwater photographers, which is back scatter. Back scatter is little plankton swimming around being seen by your camera, by the reflection of your flash. This is why it's very important how to set your flash underwater in order to avoid back scatter. The most important thing for reducing back scatter basically is getting as close as possible to a subject you're shooting. The most basic technique of reducing amount of back scattering in a photo is putting your flash in right position. That most basic technique is to pull away your flash from the lens so there behind it, and then tilt it in a 45-degree angle away from the camera. But don't worry if there is some back scatter still left in the photo. Sometimes it's okay to have it and the photo looks even nicer. If you do not like it, it's really easy removing medium Photoshop. We will be talking about advanced row positioning for making a better photo and reducing back scatter in one of my next classes. Also, we will learn how to remove back scatter in Photoshop from your underwater shots. The important thing about setting up a white balance manually is depth. You need to set it up with every depth change. If you set it up at five meters and go deeper, then it will not be the same like you set it up and 10 meters and go to five. Sometimes underwater photographers choose to set up white balance, one or two meters deeper than the level where they will be taking photo, because then they will have more red in the photos. This is one of the tricks that we can use to get more red in our photos, setting up white balance a bit deeper than were the subject of our photo is. If you do not own a wider [inaudible] , you may set up white balance manually using your fins if they're black or white or sand floor. When we talk about the silence, we said that you should take one photo with automatic white balance underwater, one with manual white balance and if you have the option to take one photo with flash. I would suggest if you can leave manual white balance option that you took underwater, take your camera out of the water and take photo on the surface. Something interesting would happen that would help you better understand color underwater. For cameras that only have automatic white balance, it's recommended to use red filter. It's perfect solution for those of you who use action camps or compax without manual options. Red filter will bring back reds that are disappearing after one meter and even oranges and yellows. Red filter can be used on its own or in combination with white balance. You cannot use red filter in combination with flash or shooting into the sun. Sun always needs to stay behind your back when using red filter. 11. Final Thoughts: In this class, we talked about different types of underwater camera housings, their disadvantages and advantages which can help you decide on which housing is best fit for you. We talked about underwater light, flash, changing conditions under water, losing light, and the tips that can help you get your colorful photo right. I hope you enjoyed the class. If you liked it, please follow me for future updates and classes. I hope this course helps you on your journey to becoming an underwater photographer and enjoying many hours spent underwater with beautiful marine life. If you found this class helpful, please consider leaving a review. Also, if you have any suggestions or questions, leave it in the discussion section. Thank you, and hope to see you in my next class.