You defiantly don’t have to be scuba diving to take photos underwater. In fact, a lot of the most widely used photography techniques take place in very shallow water where a mask and snorkel are the preferred respiratory gear by most professional underwater photographers. Check out this list of the five most widely used photo techniques that are probably easier than you thought. 

 1. Wide Angle

Pristine coral reef in Alor

When we’re snorkeling we should be thinking about ‘big picture’ sort of photos; reefscapes and larger marine life should be our main priority. You may want to capture the beautiful reef fish below, but the reality is that by the time you have managed to duck dive down to where they are, there is a very good chance they have gone into hiding. So, the best thing to do, include them in the overall shot. As snorkelers, we have a similar perspective as someone in an airplane looking down, and if you’ve ever tried to take a photo of a deer from an airplane—if you can spot one—it just doesn’t turn out very well. The larger landscape photos always turn out the best, which is why we typically use a wide angle lens for snorkeling photography. 

 2. Natural Light

snorkeler swimming and filming mola mola on the surface

As snorkelers, we have the benefit of being able to ditch cumbersome external flashes as we can harness the power of the sun to be our source of light. Divers need to use external flashes because the light from the sun drops off significantly as we go deeper, but lucky for us, all of our subjects are bathed in beautiful sunlight. That being said, we still need to use the custom white balance on our camera. We do this by calibrating it on our hand or a white slate at the depth of our subject and creating a sort of digital red filter which will bring out the beautiful colors of the reef. Or we can use the Fish Mode preset white balance that most cameras come with, this will do the very same thing. At least for me, the biggest benefit of using the sun as our light source in combination with a custom white balance, we can be much further away from our subjects and still get great colors. 

3. Reflections

Reef reflection in Komodo National Park

Taking advantage water’s natural reflective quality is a brilliant way to spice up any photo, even if you’re just taking a quick photo of your buddy. The best reflections will be found in still water with your subject being either on the surface or just below it, a meter at most. To capture the reflection, just make sure your camera has a slight upward angle. Easy as that!

4. Downward AnglesSnorkeler taking photos of coral reef in Alor

With the exception of reflections and anytime your subject is on the surface with you, most of your photos will be from an ‘aerial’ perspective. That being said, it’s always a good idea to keep horizon lines in your photo, and keep them straight. Physiologically we are programmed to look for horizon lines wherever we go as a point of reference, and when we can’t find one, in in photography,  it creates a feeling of unease. 

5. Half-Halfs

split shot of hard coral reef and raja ampat islands

Photos where half of the frame is above the water with the other half underwater is the easiest way to wow the viewer, and come show off your photography skills. While these are by no means difficult photos to take, we do need to have a couple things in mind. First, a larger dome port is best as this creates a larger surface area for us to balance the two worlds. Second, very shallow water—several centimeters to a meter—works best. Third, take a life jacket with you. This isn’t for personal flotation, but to help you balance yourself and camera. You’ll find pretty quick that when you lift your camera up to get that split shot your whole body will submerge making things very difficult. This is when resting on a life jacket comes in handy. And finally, to keep those pesky drops of water off your port, a little spit smeared around the glass or acrylic lens will do wonders!

With so many many compact cameras on the market, all of which seem to do everything from 4K video to doing your laundry, it can be a daunting task in picking the right one for your upcoming snorkel trip. You can check any of the popular forums and websites that break down the different cameras, but all the reviews are based on how a camera operates on land, and what we need are the relevant details regarding how the cameras do underwater. So, in order to make things a little easier on you I’ve put together a little list of the best cameras that are ideal for this very purpose.  

The Olympus TG-5 is a real powerhouse of a camera, despite being able to fit in your pocket. After seeing it in action on multiple occasions, it’s not wonder it’s one of the top waterproof cameras of the year. That’s right, I said waterproof. You can literally take this camera out of the box and jump straight into the ocean with this bad-boy. If you were to purchase the housing Olympus makes for the camera, which will allow you to take it to forty-five meters should you decide to go for a dive—or you just happen to be an exceptional free-diver—you have the added assurance of knowing the housing will defiantly keep the water out. You would really have to try hard to flood this camera.

olympus tg5 on beach

Aside from being waterproof, the TG-5 also offers some really impressive functions that are extremely beneficial to  snorkelers. Arguably the most important when it comes to bringing out the natural colors of the reef, is that it has a built in underwater white balance mode, along with two additional custom white balance modes. Now, some of you may be wondering what this all means. As we all know, even in the shallow water we start to lose the natural colors of the reef, the first being the reds. So, to overcome this we need to adjust the white balance accordingly, the easiest way being to switch into underwater mode it comes with. This will basically create a digital red filter and will instantaneously bring the brilliant colors of the shallow reef out, no flash needed!

Manta ray belly
No White Balance
Manta Ray Belly
With White Balance

Some of the other benefits of the TG-5 include RAW photo capabilities so you can play around with your photos in your post-production software just like the pros. It also has a remarkable ability to shoot in low light with minimal loss in the overall quality of the image. Along with that it offers what seems like an infinite amount of aftermarket products like strobes, video light, and different wet-lenses so you wont’ need to upgrade cameras as your skills start to improve.