Beginner’s Guide to Underwater Photography in Oahu – Island Water Sports Hawaii
December 20, 2023

Beginner’s Guide to Underwater Photography in Oahu

Woman freediver glides over sandy sea with fins

For many, photography is a beloved pastime and amateur hobby that allows people to creatively document their lives and surroundings. From vacations to special occasions, having a photo keep-sake reminds us of the fun experiences we’ve had with our loved ones and friends. For many photographers, Oahu is a dream destination thanks to its pristine beaches, exquisite landscapes, and beautiful waters, but when it comes to taking pictures on land versus underwater, some important tips can ensure you’re prepared for any environment. This month, we’re giving you a beginner’s guide to underwater photography in Oahu so you can make the most of every adventure you have while vacationing here with us. Let’s dive in!

Understanding the Basics of Underwater Photography

Underwater view with tuna school fish in ocean.

Shifting Lights Under the Waves

Underwater, light behaves much more differently than it does on land. The clarity of Oahu’s waters offers a unique opportunity to observe how light diminishes, and colors change with depth. As the water absorbs the light waves, colors that would appear bright and vibrant on land take on blue hues until, eventually, depths become so great that all light is completely blacked out. Understanding that colors diminish based on distance and depth will help you position your subject for the best lighting when underwater. Additionally, knowing the direction of the sun will help you create silhouettes and backlighting that can dramatically improve your shots.

Camera Choices: Simple to Advanced

If this is your first time attempting underwater photography, there’s no need to invest thousands into a new camera. Finding a basic waterproof camera with simple settings is perfect for beginners. As you advance in your proficiency, you can consider a DSLR or mirrorless camera with underwater housings. Regardless of your equipment, the waters of Oahu will provide incredible material for your underwater photography.

Underwater Photography Techniques in Oahu

amateur photographer underwater snorkeling

The diverse marine landscapes of Oahu, from shallow coral reefs to deep ocean trenches, provide endless opportunities to practice composition techniques like the rule of thirds and framing. These principles help capture compelling images that tell a story of the underwater world, so be sure to try them!

Buoyancy: Key to Stability

Good buoyancy is crucial for stable and clear underwater shots. The calm waters of Lanikai Beach, Hanauma Bay, and Sunset Beach are ideal for practicing buoyancy control, which not only helps in photography, but also in preserving the delicate marine environment.

The Power of the Flash

Using your camera’s flash can be hit or miss underwater. On the one hand, it brings light to a darkened environment, potentially restoring some of the lost color wavelengths, but it can also highlight impurities and particles in the water (backscatter) and make your images look dirty. Without a hefty investment into a strobe so you can adjust for backscatter, it’s best to focus on natural light and leave the flash off.

Close Encounters with Marine Life


Oahu’s rich marine biodiversity means you’re never far from a fascinating subject. But, as you’re underwater, getting close to these creatures can prove difficult. This is where camera settings and composition are really helpful. As you play around with settings and composition, notice how light and exposure are different when you shoot from below your subject as opposed to above. These can often be adjusted in the editing process, but you can also try changing your shutter speed and aperture settings to see if you can minimize the amount of post-shoot editing that’s needed.

Post-Processing: Making Colors Pop

Underwater photos often require post-processing adjustments, as we just discussed. The unique underwater lighting in Oahu’s waters can sometimes mask the vibrant colors of marine life, but with careful editing, these can be resorted to their full glory! By editing the contrast and sharpness and playing around with shadows, you can bring your Hawaiian underwater adventures to life.

Ethical Underwater Photography Practices

Turtle closeup with school of fish

Respect for Marine Life

Hawaii’s oceans are home to a unique ecosystem that demands respect and careful tending. When you’re photographing wild marine life, remember never to disturb a creature’s natural habitat, do not try to catch and move animals for better composition, and most importantly, remain vigilant in observing what’s around you.

Avoid Fogging and Flooding

Before you venture into the water, be sure to check your camera’s O rings and camera housing. Condensation caused by large temperature differences between the air and water can result in fogging, and once it occurs, there’s not much you can do about it. Likewise, if your O rings are loose and water gets into your housing, you risk doing permanent damage to your camera. Taking the time to carefully inspect your equipment and plan for the elements will go a long way in preserving your equipment and guaranteeing the best shots from your adventures.

Embracing Underwater Photography in Oahu

girl on underwater scooter excursion with Island Water Sports Hawaii

Ready to explore the underwater world and capture its beauty? Island Water Sports Hawaii offers an incredible experience with its Submarine Scooters and Snorkeling Tour. Glide through the crystal-clear waters and immerse yourself in the wonders of the ocean on this epic adventure. And with their photography add-on, you can take home stunning photos and videos of your adventure! An activity photographer is available to capture your experience – purchase photos for $40 or a photo & video combo for $60 for 2 people. Don’t miss this opportunity to combine the thrill of exploration with the art of underwater photography. Book your tour with Island Water Sports Hawaii now and create memories that last a lifetime!

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