Underwater photography

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Underwater Artistic Photography, Weeki Wachee Springs, Florida, photograph by Toni Frissell for Harper's Bazaar , 1947

Underwater photography is taking pictures underwater while diving , snorkeling or swimming . It is used for scientific purposes, for example in the field of underwater archeology , but also in photojournalism , artistic photography or amateur photography .

History and technology


Norwegian diving pioneer Odd Henrik Johnsen with underwater camera (1960)

In 1856 the Briton William Thompson took the world's first detectable underwater photographs. In 1893, the Frenchman Louis Boutan and the mechanic Joseph David took underwater photos in the bay of Banyuls-sur-Mer , through which he is considered the actual founder of underwater photography. The most important German UW photo competition "Camera Louis Boutan" - organized by the Association of German Scuba Divers - was named after him. From 1908 onwards, Francis Ward first photographed underwater subjects such as pike , otters , frogs and diving water birds in color with autochrome plates . In 1915 John Ernest Williamson made the first underwater film. In 1923, William Harding Longley and Charles Martin developed a method using artificial light via a magnesium flash to capture fish on tropical coral reefs in color.


The Austrian Hans Hass , who is considered the founder of modern underwater photography, published the first book on underwater photography in 1939. Ten years later, the German company Franke & Heidecke developed the Rolleimarin , an underwater housing for the two - lens, medium format SLR camera Rolleiflex . In 1957, Jean De Wouters and Jacques-Yves Cousteau constructed the Calypso-Phot , named after the research vessel Calypso , a small-image underwater camera that was marketed under license from Nikon under the product name Nikonos from 1963 . This camera was further developed in various versions, partly in reflex technology, until 2001 as the Nikonos V (KB camera) or Nikonos RS (SLR). Since around 1990 there have been underwater housings for various SLR and 35mm cameras ; Special suppliers such as Sea & Sea manufacture complete systems from digital cameras and underwater housings. With the boom in digital cameras , housings for underwater photography became available for many popular models.



Underwater photography of a California sea lion

Compared to photography above water, underwater photography poses special challenges for the photographer and his equipment:

The photographic recording is not made in the medium for which the photographic equipment and the film - or, in the case of digital cameras, the CCD or CMOS sensor - is designed, but in the water . Compared to air, water has a higher refractive index (1.33) and a lower index than the front panel of the underwater housing made of glass (1.45–2.14) or polycarbonate (1.585). This means that all objects behind planar glass or plastic panes are displayed a little larger and appear closer than they really are. This apparent extension of the focal length under water can be prevented by using “ dome ports ” (also known as “dome glass”) specially calculated for the lens used. In addition, depending on the diving depth, water filters certain wavelengths of light more strongly than air, which can lead to a green or blue cast in underwater photographs.

Suspended particles in the water significantly reduce the transparency of the water compared to air. Very good conditions under water allow visibility of 30 to 40 meters, only in extremely rare exceptions - such as springs - up to a maximum of 100 meters, usually 15 to 30 meters in many marine waters. From a photographic point of view, poor transparency of the water means visibility from less than ten meters to a few centimeters (zero visibility).

The motifs often make another great claim on underwater photographers : fish or marine mammals are almost always in motion and therefore difficult to position and focus in the picture. However, currents can also make it difficult to keep the camera still as necessary.


The objects and design options are extremely complex:

  • Fish, crustaceans, mammals and plants in different water depths and lighting conditions,
  • maritime creatures in an Ozeaneum,
  • Coral reefs,
  • Shipwrecks,
  • artistic interpretation.

Absorption of the color spectrum

Perch at Grünstich

The absorption of the electromagnetic wave spectrum in water is lowest in the blue and increases in the direction of the infrared range , which strongly attenuates red components from a depth of one meter and causes a green tint in the photo . From a depth of about 5 meters, the orange light is already largely filtered out. This process is called " extinction " in the technical language (Eng. " Extinction " or "weakening").

The yellow component is filtered out from a depth of around 10 meters, and the green component from around 20 meters as well. After that, only the blue components around 400 nm wavelength remain, which causes so-called blueing or a blue cast in the photo. From a depth of 30 meters, the blue light also visibly decreases.

Schematic representation of the color absorption in water


With a disposable camera, snapshots like this one are possible
Fixed underwater housing for a digital camera
Digital camera with a flexible underwater protective bag

Disposable underwater cameras

The entry into underwater photography is easy and inexpensive for the snorkeling amateur photographer . For beginners and for their first experiments, there are disposable cameras suitable for underwater use , some of which can be used up to a depth of about 15 meters.

Underwater digital cameras

There are some compact camera models that are suitable for underwater photography without an additional housing. Current models are mostly suitable for a maximum diving depth of 10 to 30 meters.

Underwater housing

Accessories providers offer special underwater housings for many common cameras or action cams . The simple and inexpensive models cost around 150 euros and are suitable for diving depths of up to about 10 meters. Due to their diving training , many recreational divers are allowed to dive to depths of 18 to 20 m and should make sure that the simple underwater housings are then only suitable to a limited extent. In addition, a flashlight can also be used at greater depths.

The simple underwater housings consist of a high-strength and flexible film - a better plastic bag - that is sealed with a simple clamp fastener. The principle is simple and works reliably until the water pressure compresses the housing so much that the operating elements of the camera are blocked.

There are underwater housings for digital cameras that are produced for special models. For higher quality photo equipment ( SLR cameras with electronic flash units attached ) there are more sophisticated underwater housings, which are also significantly more expensive and, depending on the model, cost between 400 and over 2000 euros. With such equipment, diving depths between 50 and 80 meters can theoretically be reached, but these products are no longer available in normal photo retailers, but usually have to be ordered from special mailers or at trade fairs.

Up to a depth of 40 meters, a maximum depth limit of many diving organizations for recreational divers , can be photographed in practically all accessible underwater regions.

Exemplary orientation for maximum diving depths with simple underwater housings (based on the commercially available products from Ewa-Marine made of special foil; other maximum limits may apply to products from other manufacturers):

  • Video housing: up to max. 10 meters
  • Compact housing: up to max. 10 meters
  • Housing for manual SLR cameras: max. 15 meters
  • Housing for AF SLR cameras: max. 20–50 meters (depending on model)

The underwater housing does not necessarily leak if the maximum depth is exceeded. However, due to the increasing water pressure at greater depths, operation is impaired, as the special film is pressed closer and closer to the camera. For diving depths over 15 meters one should rigid, i.e. H. Prefer pressure-tight underwater housing.

Underwater cameras with a viewfinder make the composition more difficult, as the direct view through the viewfinder is restricted by the diving mask . Attaching a sports finder or a high-eyepoint finder can fix this problem.

Digital cameras with LCD monitors make it easier to take pictures in underwater photography and also enable immediate image control. This function must be deactivated for cameras with a viewfinder and LCD that automatically switch off the LCD in favor of the viewfinder when there is an object in front of the viewfinder (actually eyes, but here the inside of the housing). Compared to analog recording technology, the use of digital cameras increases the number of possible recordings, depending on the capacity of the memory card used. The digital data open up the possibility of subsequent post-processing. The same applies to digital camcorders with their large-format flat screens as viewfinders, which increasingly also have high-quality photo functions.

Commons : Underwater Housing  - Album with pictures, videos and audio files

Special underwater cameras

Nikon Nikonos IVa

The photo industry offers a limited selection of special all-weather or underwater cameras that have been tried and tested over many years and can usually be used up to a depth of 50 meters.

Underwater camera

In digital underwater photography, waterproof devices, so-called outdoor or amphibious cameras, are becoming increasingly popular. The battery and memory card compartments of these devices are sealed with a rubber lip, which allows them to be used up to a depth of 30 meters, depending on the device.

Popular representatives here are the Nikon Coolpix W300 or the Olympus Tough TG-4.

In many cases, these devices can also be equipped with a housing to increase the maximum diving depth or to attach optional accessories such as underwater lenses and handles.

Artificial light source

Due to the absorption of light and the long-wave components of the electromagnetic wave spectrum , i. H. of the red color components, an increasing blue cast occurs from a depth of about three meters - with a simultaneous reduction in contrast . Theoretically one could counteract this with filters ; However, since the light intensity also decreases under water, the additional loss of light in the amount of approximately one f-stop due to correspondingly strong red filters such as "KR3" is generally undesirable.

An artificial light source can help. This can be a flash unit built into the camera. Due to the construction of some underwater housings, there may be shadows below the lens at close range. Diffusers help here, scattering the light and illuminating the entire image area in front of the camera.

For optimal results, external flashes are used in professional underwater photography , which are controlled manually via the TTL system . But special underwater video lamps are also becoming increasingly widespread. Thanks to the current LED technology, constant color temperatures and very wide lighting angles of up to 130 ° are possible.

In some cases, battery-operated video lights are also used , and if necessary halogen lamps , which can also be moved independently of the camera. Underwater lamps are usually part of the diving equipment anyway and can be used as a replacement light source if necessary. However, when using diving lamps, a more or less visible light cone can be seen in the recording. The light color of different diving lamps can also have a negative effect on the appearance of the later photo.

An alternative for 35mm cameras is the use of special underwater films that are more sensitive to the red components, i.e. not orthochromatic or panchromatic . In the case of higher quality, individually configurable digital cameras , you can also try to prevent blueing by modifying the white balance , for example by white balancing underwater on a white boat keel. When combining a user-defined white balance with an electronic flash unit, color shifts can then occur again.

Digital post-processing of a ray (Photographer: Sam Pullara)

Another possibility with digital cameras is to save the photos in RAW format and to carry out the white balance later with the help of suitable software. In this way - as long as the brightness is generally sufficient for taking photos - you can do without artificial lighting.

Lens and focal length

For beginners in underwater photography, a medium wide-angle lens (about 35 mm focal length for 35mm film ) is usually advised, as this has a relatively high depth of field with at the same time low distortion. The distance to the subject should be between 0.5 and 2 meters.

Distortions and, above all, distortions can usually be neglected when snorkeling or diving with unfamiliar perspectives. It should be noted, however, that objects appear closer under water due to the higher density. This is another reason why short focal lengths with high light intensity are recommended. In the case of housings with a protruding front pane, the frame of strong wide-angle lenses can get into the picture as vignetting , and some of these lenses do not have a filter thread due to their curved front glass element , which some housings use for attachment.

Dealing with lighting conditions and condensation

The best time of day for underwater photography without an artificial light source is - in contrast to normal "surface photography" - midday between around 11 am and 2 pm, as the light falls almost vertically into the water.

Differences in temperature between air and water can cause condensation to form in the underwater housing , which can condense on the objective lens or damage the camera electronics. The desiccant silica gel (silica gel) binds this moisture, which can be recognized by the discoloration of the crystals from blue to pink. Silica gel itself is colorless, but an appropriate indicator is usually added. Silica gel can be used several times by (careful) drying, for example in the oven at around 120 to 150 ° C.

Sample recordings

Well-known photographers

  • Eduardo Acevedo
  • René B. Andersen
  • François Baelen
  • Robert Bailey
  • Richard Barnden
  • Paolo Bausani
  • Tamara Benitez
  • Matej Bergoc
  • Georges Beuchat
  • Adrian Biddle
  • Jonathan Bird
  • Pedro Carrillo
  • Stephano Cerbai
  • Stan Chen
  • Eric Cheng
  • Neville Coleman
  • Jacques Cousteau
  • John D. Craig
  • Ben Cropp
  • Bernard Delemotte
  • David Doubilet
  • Jessica Farrer
  • John Christopher Fine
  • Dermot FitzGerald
  • Rodney Fox
  • Ric Frazier
  • Tobias Friedrich
  • Stephen Frink
  • Toni Frissell
  • Liang Fu
  • Peter Gimbel
  • Shane Gross
  • Monty Halls
  • Hans Hass
  • Fabio Iardino
  • Paolo Isgro
  • Dave Johnson
  • Henry Way Kendall
  • Ken Kiefer
  • Taeyup Kim
  • Daniel Knop
  • Noam Kortler
  • Rudie Kuiter
  • Greg Lecoeur
  • Ferenc Lorincz
  • Joseph B. MacInnis
  • Luis Marden
  • Adam Martin
  • Fabien Michenet Larval
  • Agnes Milowka
  • Noel Monkman
  • Nicholas More
  • Steve Parish
  • Zale Parry
  • Pierre Petit
  • Scott Portelli
  • Leni Riefenstahl
  • Nicholas Samaras
  • Peter Scoones
  • Brian Skerry
  • Wesley C. Skiles
  • Enrico Somogyi
  • Henley Spiers
  • Jenny Stock
  • Bruce Sudweeks
  • Johan Sundelin
  • Philippe Tailliez
  • Ron and Valerie Taylor
  • Albert Tillman
  • Flavio Vailati
  • John Veltri
  • Paula Vianna
  • Stan Waterman
  • J. Lamar Worzel
  • Claudio Zori


See also


Underwater photography illustrated books

  • Christopher Newbert, Sarika Cullis-Suzuki: Unknown cold water worlds: In the depths of the North Pacific . Frederking & Thaler, 2012, ISBN 978-3-89405-951-4 .
  • David Hettich: Ocean Adventure . NG Buchverlag GmbH, 2012, ISBN 978-3-86690-284-8 .
  • Herbert Frei: Wonderful world under water. Local fish in front of the camera . Year Top Spezial Verlag, 1996, ISBN 978-3-86132-170-5 .
  • Helmut Corneli, Barbara Corneli: The most beautiful diving areas. Mediterranean . Delius Klasing Verlag, Bielefeld 1996, ISBN 978-3-7688-0969-6 .

Underwater photo technology

  • Alex Mustard: Underwater Photography Masterclass . Ae Publications, 2016, ISBN 978-1-78145-222-6 (English).
  • Herbert Frei, Gunter Daniel: Underwater photography: camera technology, choice of subject, practical tips . Edition Nagelschmid, 2016, ISBN 978-3-667-10727-5 .
  • Tobias Friedrich: The art of underwater photography . 1st edition. dpunkt.verlag GmbH, 2013, ISBN 978-3-86490-103-4 .
  • Herbert Frei: Digital underwater photography - close and macro . Kosmos Verlag, Stuttgart 2012, ISBN 978-3-440-13092-6 .
  • Gerhard Alscher, Axel Grambow a. a .: underwater photography . Fotokinoverlag, Leipzig 1986.
  • Heinz-Gert de Couet, Andrew Green: Handbook of underwater photography . Year Top Spezial Verlag, Hamburg 1994, ISBN 978-3-86132-121-7 .
  • Jim Church, Günter Richter: Nikonos underwater photography . Laterna Magica, Munich 1997, ISBN 978-3-87467-675-5 .
  • Kamillo Weiß: Underwater Photography. Technology, optics, devices, practice . Busse-Seewald Verlag, 1979, ISBN 978-3-87120-751-8 .
  • Hans-Ulrich Richter: Underwater photography and television . Fotokinoverlag, 1960.
  • Michael Nagel, Helge Süß u. a .: extreme photography . Franzis, Harr 2011, ISBN 978-3-645-60131-3 .

Web links

Commons : Underwater Photography  - Album with pictures, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Underwater camera  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. VDST.de: camera Louis Boutan . ( Memento of the original from February 24, 2014 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was automatically inserted and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot / www.vdst.de
  2. ^ National Geographic Society : First Underwater Color Photos. ( Memento of the original from March 4, 2016 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot / photography.nationalgeographic.com
  3. Unterwasserwelt.de: deleted without replacement: The legendary Nikonos. ( Memento of the original from June 28, 2011 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot / www.unterwasserwelt.de
  4. Herbert Free: Digital underwater photography of A-Z . 1st edition. Franckh-Kosmos Verlag, Stuttgart 2007, ISBN 978-3-440-11128-4 , pp. 50 .
  5. chip.de: Hardcore: Robust underwater cameras and outdoor cameras in the test
This version was added to the list of articles worth reading on August 18, 2005 .