Photographing Fish

As any diver with a camera can tell you, fish can be… difficult subjects to work with at times. At times curious and charismatic, at others aloof and skittish, fish seldom make it easy to get that perfect shot. On average, most pics you get will be of fish suddenly turning or darting away. Over the years and literally thousands of pictures I’ve taken, here are a few things that have worked for me, and might help you out too:

1.) Get a big memory card for your camera and shell out for the lithium batteries or a spare power cell. To get that one good shot, you may take hundreds of shots over a dive as you tweak your flash/strobe settings and positions around your subject, so a big memory card is a must. Change batteries between dives if you can, few things are more frustrating than a camera dying half way into a dive.

2.) Regulate your breathing for both buoyancy and noise. We don’t really think about it, but a scuba system is incredibly noisy, and can frighten away fish. While “never stop breathing” and “don’t ‘skip’ breath” are drilled into every diver from day one, unless you’re on a rebreather, you’re going to have to do these things sometimes while you’re taking pictures. The trick is not to get into the habit of doing it when you’re not taking pictures. I think of it like marksmanship: see your target, inhale, exhale almost completely, take your shot, and resume breathing.

3.) Find out about the area you’ll be diving in. An area that sees heavy diving traffic will often have marine life that have become acclimatized to humans and the noises we make, making photography much easier. Areas that are heavily fished or where active mariculture/aquaculture occur often have more skittish, nervous fish. Areas that are largely wild… well, they sit between the two in my experience. Sometimes the fish are curious and want to investigate you, sometimes they ignore you, and other times they dart away, fearing that you’re a new predator.

4.) Practice on ‘easy’ subjects. Clownfish, crabs, anemones, slow moving or sedentary
fish and so on are great subjects to practice on, making it easier to take the more difficult shots later on. Further, be patient with prevailing conditions, crystal clear waters int he tropics are very easy to shoot in, where as gloomier waters where light and turbidity become issues, can be much more challenging.

In previous posts, I’ve commented that frustration is a normal part of the underwater photography experience. I can be even worse with video, but that’s a different post. Suffice to say, practice makes perfect, and patience goes a long way here as well. Keep snapping pictures and keep trying, because they only get better!

About the author

Graeme is a professional diver, qualified as a PADI and SDI Divemaster, DCBC 40m Unrestricted Commercial Scuba Diver, 30m Restricted Surface Supply diver, and CAUS Scientific Diver Lv.2. Graeme has an Associate Degree of Arts in Environmental Studies, where he focused on archaeology and physical geography, and an Advanced GIS certificate.