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Brent Durand

Three Secrets of Professional Underwater Photographers

By Brent Durand | Updated On December 6, 2020
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Three Secrets of Professional Underwater Photographers

Learning underwater photography can be broken into several different categories, each with distinct tips and instructions to improve your images. But let’s go beyond the basics and into the realm of the pros. Let’s learn some secrets that the pros use to capture incredible photos.

1. Peer Image Review


Sharing photos with a pier group is a proven way to select your strongest photo portfolio, as often the photographer can get attached to images for reasons that don’t necessarily matter to the viewer.

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As photographers, we can get emotionally attached to specific images. We might know the back story or have a personal love of the subject. Pro photographers know that presenting a great collection of images isn’t necessarily based on their own opinion – it’s about the opinion of the viewers.

As a result, many pros share a batch of images with friends and peers in order to get some outside opinions. The final portfolio selection then becomes a combination of these opinions, making the entire collection more powerful.

You can do this yourself, whether sharing with friends or posting on social media. Peer review is a great technique to help you select images to upload for the next photo contest.

2. Practice Makes Perfect

Atlantic Spotted Dolphins

Atlantic Spotted Dolphins (Stenella frontalis) rapidly swim by the camera, leaving the photographer a fraction of a second to zoom out and recompose this scene.

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Pro photographers know their gear intimately. They understand all frequently used settings, resulting effects in different shooting situations, and how to quickly apply those settings.

When the fast action happens, can you zoom or change the aperture with your eyes closed? Not only do you need the muscle memory to be second nature, but you need to know which way to rotate each dial. Any hesitation might result in losing a photo opportunity.

Be sure to practice with your settings at home. Work on lighting. Build muscle memory. All of this will help make your camera system an extension of your body so you can focus not just on capturing, but on creating a unique image.

3. Plan Ahead

Sarcastic Fringehead Fish

Most dive destinations have iconic subjects, like this sarcastic fringehead (Neoclinus blanchardi) at Vets Park in Redondo Beach, California.

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Pro underwater photographers don’t simply show up at a location and start shooting. They research the destination in advance. They learn what marine life to expect, dive logistics, and the iconic images for the location.

Once on-site, pros will also work carefully with their dive guide and other staff, forming a partnership to help achieve the photo goals.

Careful planning allows the photographer to quickly capture the basic portfolio, which then allows them to spend time experimenting, searching for rare subjects, and waiting for unique behavior. This is oftentimes when the truly creative and lucky captures happen.

Brent Durand is a professional writer and underwater photo instructor. Find his in-depth video tutorial series at