Sharks and groupers and jellies OH MY! But in spite of the oceans large animal draw, there is also something totally intriguing about seeing the underwater world in a closeup manner.
Not all things underwater can be seen at first glance. For some, you need to take a closer look.
From juvenile finish hiding discreetly within the tentacles of an anemone to a strikingly colored nudibranch trudging along the muddy bottom, small creatures have a way of capturing the imagination and creating compelling images.
Take this Spinyhead blenny burrowed in brain coral, for instance. To give you an idea of scale, next time you’re cooking rice, place a single grain aside. THAT is roughly how big he was, living in a piece of coral the size of a car tire.
Macro photography is the art of close-up photography on small subjects.
Generally, anything small enough to fit within a 5-by-7 inch area is considered macro. In the underwater world, this includes but is not limited to things like bugs, juvenile fish, slugs, nudibranchs, and corals. This type of photography can happen in a studio, however more often than not underwater macro photography is done in an outdoor environment.
If you’re new to underwater photography OR just need some handy beginner tips:
Take a look at our Beginner Guide to Underwater Photography. This post will help any newcomers take their love for photography to new depths.
When looking at the underwater world through the macro lens of a camera, most see a jumble of colors and textures all washed into one frame.
For achieving good macro photography, the trick is to not necessarily to show everything you see through the lens of your camera, but rather finding simplicity in a single element and taking away the background of distraction.
When you’ve never done macro photography underwater, it can be hard to determine where to start.
In terms of camera equipment, you don’t necessarily need the best of the best. More important a top-notch camera is practice, understanding photography concepts and knowing how to use your own equipment.
Our equipment setup consists of a Canon EOS Rebel SL1 DSLR Camera with a Canon 60mm EF-S macro lens. These two pieces of photography equipment are encased in an Ikelite housing and lens port with two DS 161 strobes.
The Canon EF-S 60mm Macro Lens is the perfect addition to your underwater photography kit. The lens is non-Image Stabilised and has an aperture of f/2.8.
After you figure out your equipment necessities, next you need to worry about camera settings which can vary across compact and DSLR cameras.
Our suggestion for macro beginners with a DSLR – set your camera up for manual shooting as follows:
Here are some tips and things worth thinking about to help you succeed in taking underwater macro photographs and separating the focus of your picture from the rest of the aquascape:
Not all photography subjects are created equal. Some are better than others.
In macro photography, it’s essential to look at how a subject moves, lives, swims, and interacts with its environment. These key features will allow you to decide if it is a good subject and predict a good position for a photo.
When taking macro pictures, make sure you can capture the most crucial part of the animal (typically the eyes or rhinophores). You want these features to be sharp and in focus.
A subject where the distinguishing head features cannot be captured crisply, either because they are wedged between a rock or turning away from the camera, may not be your best photography option.
Finding an excellent macro photography subject is one thing, displaying it in your frame is another beast altogether.
Initially, as you approach an animal, you’ll want to get as low as possible. If your subject permits you, try taking several shots from different angles – head-on, diagonal, shooting from underneath, filling the frame… The rule of thirds is always an important composition rule to keep in the back of your mind when shooting macro.
Interesting Information: The rule of thirds involves dividing your image into a 3-by-3 grid and positioning the critical elements along those lines, or at the points where they meet.
Some of the best macro subjects are the ones that don’t move very much because they allow you to play around with different compositions.
In macro photography, it’s not just enough to have an interesting subject to shoot; you also want to display it correctly on its background.
Distracting pieces of reef, coral, sand, and other fish can sometimes get into the frame and clutter the image. To keep the focus on your subject and minimize confusion, keep the background simple. Looking for contrast and blurring the background work well in making the subject stand out. Sometimes its easier to find an interesting background and wait for a viable photography subject to arrive.
Another option is to create a contrasting background by getting lower and shooting upward. This makes negative space behind your subject and can result in a black, blue, or green backdrop depending on your camera settings.
Depth of field (or zone that is in focus) is an integral part of macro photography, which is controlled by the F-stop numbers on your camera.
The smaller the F-stop (large aperture), the blurrier your background will be, and a larger F-stop (small aperture) will bring more of the background into focus.
For macro photography, there is no best F-stop. As a photographer, you need to decide what will make your image POP!
A blurry background can help reduce image distraction and create separation between your subject and the background. But at the same time having a very blurry image with a single point in focus can also yield beautiful results.
Lighting is essential for macro photography, especially underwater.
Water is approximately 800 times denser than air, and because of this density, light is absorbed from the aquatic environment – quickly. To compensate for this loss of light, underwater macro photographers need to include one or more artificial sources of light in their camera kit.
A typical macro setup includes a camera and two strobes. These strobes generally caress each side of the camera lens in what’s called the 9-3 position and can be moved depending on subject location and distance from the camera.
To bring out detail and texture in the macro subject, we encourage side and backlighting, where the strobes will cast dramatic shadows and illumination over the critter in question.
There is something aesthetically pleasing about having a dramatic line cutting across an image.
Lines and shapes, paired with a subject can add finesse and visual appeal to your frame. Try to look for a simple subject and a background of lines, circles, or squares that work together in harmony with said subject.
Whether its bulbous coral nodes topped off with a juvenile fish or whisps of kelp holding a feeding snail, sometimes beauty can be found in the environments geometric shapes.
Macro photography forces the shooter to slow down and observe the little critter that often goes unnoticed by other divers. Photographers will often spend an entire dive confined to a small area due to endless photo opportunities.
Shooting macro is a great way to start your underwater photography journey. It’s often much easier to get the hang of than wide-angle. And it also yields fun results, after all, who wouldn’t want to see a marine creature from up close.
What are your favorite macro photography tips and tricks? Share with us in the comments below
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Mini blue scuba diving tank key ring with brass pick tool and o-rings
Bare SB System Mens Full Under-layer
Sony Alpha a6500 24MP mirrorless camera with a 16-50mm lens, able to shoot 4K movies.
GoPro dual battery charger conveniently charges two HERO6 Black, HERO5 Black, or HERO camera batteries simultaneously
Black scuba diving turtle fins
Bare Sports 5mm men’s wetsuit made with elastek full-stretch nylon-2 and neoprene celliant liner infrared technology.
AmazonBasics 60-Inch Lightweight Tripod and Bag with adjustable-height legs and rubber feet
Scuba diving 4ft neon yellow surface marker signal tube with “Diver Below” print
13-inch inflatable dive buoy with a 12 by 11-inch scuba diving flag surface marker
Flexible Lightweight Portable Tripod for Projector DSLR Cameras and Go Pro
Ikelite compact ball arm for quick release handle
SHOOT 6″ Underwater Dome Port for GoPro Hero 6/Hero 5/Hero(2018) Black Camera Diving Lens Hood Housing Photography with Waterproof Case Accessories
Compact underwater scuba diving hand reel with a 150ft of white line on the spool
Capture amazingly smooth GoPro footage in the air with the GoPro Karma Drone
Ikelite Canon EOS 100D Rebel SL1 underwater camera housing in white
Capture amazingly smooth shake-free video with the GoPro Karma Grip
Sigma MC-11 mount converter lens adapter (Sigma EF-Mount lens to sony E cameras). Essential photo kit contains Altura photo rapid-fire wrist strap, small lens pouch, cleaning kit, and microfiber lens cleaning cloth.
Black Mares Dragon Scuba Diving BCD
Compact scuba diving finger spool with 150ft of white line and a 4-inch brass double-ended clip
Suunto SK-8 wrist compass with bungee straps, faster stabilization, and enhanced readability
Ikelite underwater macro lens casing is comprised of an acetyl body with glass front and can hold lenses of 4.37 diameter x 3 inches (111 x 76 mm)
GoPro HERO6 Black Camera
3PC curved armband glow in the dark slate.
Diving lens filter kit for GoPro HERO 5/6 which enhances colors for underwater video and photography conditions
Suunto Vyper Novo wrist scuba diving computer with USB
Bare 7mm thick elastek dry suit hood
The Sony SEL90M28G FE 90 mm f/2.8-22 Macro G OSS Standard-Prime Lens for E (NEX) Cameras.
Dry glove lock system that accommodates all hand sizes
Ikelite TTL dual flash sync cord attaches two strobe’s to the underwater camera housing.
DUI heavy duty dry suit gloves with yellow liners available in sizes: S, M, L, XL
Bare drysuit trek boots designed for rocky shore entries, boat decks, and boat ladders
If you’re not quite ready for the expense of big lights, this little video light goes perfectly with any GoPro setup
Sigma 17-50mm f/2.8 EX DC OS HSM FLD Large Aperture Standard Zoom Lens for Canon Digital DSLR Camera + 32GB Memory Card + Photo4Less Cleaning Cloth.
Ikelite photography strobe DS161 with NiMH rechargeable battery pack
Dive hands-free with a diving flashlight glove. This torch holder has a universal adjustable wrist strap scuba and is made of superior nylon material, which means it’s durable and comfortable to wear.
Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0 L USM Telephoto Zoom Lens
Bare 5mm evoke women’s full suit designed by Bare’s all-female design team. The suit has technically, innovative celliant infrared technology which increase circulation, body warmth and performance.
The Cuticate floating dry box is a waterproof sports container perfect to fit money, ID, cards, keys and more. The case is small, portable, compact, and comes with a lanyard clip hook to take with you as you scuba dive.
Canon Macro Lens EF-S 60mm f/2.8 USM – non Image Stabilised
Black Mares Cruise Roller Tauchen bag, perfect for scuba diving and traveling
The Hydra 5000 WSRU is an all in one photo and dive light with wide, spot, red, and UV modes
Rechargeable Ikelite NiMH battery pack compatible with Ikelite’s DS125, DS160, and DS161 strobes.
Bare drysuit drawstring scuba gear bag the perfect alternative for transporting a dry suit to-and-from the dive site
Ikelite aluminum digital camera tray with dual handles