10 Essential Ambient Light Underwater Photo Tips

Ten Shooting Techniques you Need to Know When Shooting Without Strobes
By Scott Gietler

Shooting underwater photos with ambient light is a great way to add variety to your portfolio, whether it's sharks, split-shots (aka over-unders) or silhouettes. I recently spent some time shooting ambient light in Kona, Hawaii and Fakarava, French Polynesia and put together some essential tips to get incredible shots next time you're in the water without strobes.


The Essential Tips:


1 - Get a Big Dome for over/unders

It is much easier to compose and shoot split-shots with a larger dome port. Remember to shoot over/under shots on sunny days. Shoot at a small F-stop. Read more over-under split shot tips.

Photo from Fakarava, French Polynesia, with 8-inch dome port, Tokina 10-17mm lens



2 - Test your Exposures

Make sure to use exposure compensation to nail the exposure just right without over or under exposing. Take some test shots before the money shot appears in front of you.

Oceanic whitetip shark from Kona, Hawaii with Tokina 10-17mm fisheye lens.



3 - Shoot with the Sun Behind You

The sun will light up the scene if the sun is behind you, eliminating dark shadows and bringing more color into the scene.



4 - Use Lightroom to Add Color and Contrast

Also be sure to check out my article 'Lightroom for the Rest of Us'. In this example, the color temp was warmed up, the contrast, clarity and vibrance increased and the blacks adjusted.








5 - Shoot with the Sun in Front of You for rays

When the sun is in front of you and directly overhead (mid-day), you can capture incredible sun-rays.



6 - Try Black and White Conversions

Many ambient light photos look great in black and white, so try converting your shots to see how they look. These Pilot whales from Kona, Hawaii looks great in black & white.









7 - Shooting Directly Up for Silhouettes

Make sure your subject is underexposed to avoid "light leakage" (silvertip siulhouette)

Silvertip shark from Fakarava, French Polynesia



8 - Get Close to your Subject

Getting close will bring out the best possible color in your photos. Notice how the corals in the background are blue, even though they are at the same depth as the corals in the foreground.


9 - Shoot a Reef that is Equidistant to the Camera

For great colors throughout the photo, shoot a reef that is equidistant to the camera. This is the best way to avoid the color from being absorbed by the water as distance increases.

Coral reef at Kirby's, Anilao, Philippines



10 - Shoot at or Near the Surface

This provides the best light and color since there is less water it must penetrate.



Further Reading


Scott Gietler is the owner of Bluewater Photo, Bluewater Travel, and the Underwater Photography Guide. Bluewater Photo, based in Culver City, CA is one of the world’s largest and most prestigious underwater camera stores, serving many thousands of customers each year, where nothing is more important than customer service. The Underwater Photography Guide is the world’s first website to feature free tutorials on underwater photography, and has become the most trafficked resource on underwater photography worldwide. Bluewater Travel is a full-service dive travel wholesaler sending groups and individuals on the world’s best dive vacations. 

Scott is also an avid diver, underwater photographer, and budding marine biologist, having created the online guide to the underwater flora and fauna of Southern California. He is the past vice-president of the Los Angeles Underwater Photographic Society, has volunteered extensively at the Santa Monica aquarium, and is the creator of the Ocean Art underwater photo competition, one of the largest underwater international photo competitions ever held in terms of value of prizes. He lives in California with his wife, newborn girl and scuba-diving, photo taking 4 year old son.

Follow Scott on Facebook or Instagram.


The Best Service & Prices on u/w Photo Gear


Visit Bluewater Photo & Video for all your underwater photography and video gear. Click, or call the team at (310) 633-5052 for expert advice!


The Best Pricing, Service & Expert Advice to Book your Dive Trips


Bluewater Travel is your full-service scuba travel agency. Let our expert advisers plan and book your next dive vacation. Run by divers, for divers.