|Hard and Soft Corals, Raja Ampat (Indonesia) by Jeff Yonover|
Being an underwater photographer is hard. Ask any professional photographer and I bet he or she will tell you when they first started to shoot underwater, they were lucky to get a salvageable frame or two from a 36-exposure roll. And when I say “salvageable,” I mean a shot worth saving from the trash can, not necessarily a marketable image.
But that one good shot is what hooks you. And being able to show your non-diving and non-snorkeling friends what you saw underwater is pretty cool…especially when they express wonder and amazement about your ability to not only “breathe” underwater, but also take photographs while “dodging sharks” and other deep-sea creatures.
|Raja Ampat Islands (Indonesia) by Jeff Yonover|
With the wonderful advances in digital imaging equipment, it’s easier than ever to dive into underwater photography. All you need to get started is a scuba certification and an underwater camera. (It’s true that you can get some nice shots while snorkeling, in which case, you don’t even need the scuba certification, but in this column, I’m going to be discussing the kind of underwater photography that requires you to be fully immersed.)
It goes without saying that to get good underwater shots, you need to be a proficient photographer. But what some people forget is that your skills as a diver make as much, if not more, of a difference to your photography. I can’t stress enough how important it is to master basic diving skills before bringing your camera system into the water. When you dive, you put several things at risk: your own safety, the safety of people diving with you, and the safety of people who end up having to rescue you if you aren’t paying attention. And that’s not all—you’re also risking the life of the corals, other invertebrates, and the fish swimming peacefully by if your rusty buoyancy skills send you crashing into the reef while composing “the perfect shot.”
|Hawksbill Turtle in the rain, Kimbe Bay (Papua New Guinea) by Jeff Yonover|
If you don’t have enough underwater experience to manage your air consumption, decompression limits, navigation, buoyancy, and water conditions, as well as the camera, get some more dives under your belt. If you’re a veteran diver, but you haven’t been underwater for a few years, consider taking a refresher course before you take the camera down, or at the very least, leave the camera on the boat for the first few dives while you work out the kinks.
|Crab on Black Coral (Indonesia) by Jeff Yonover|
Once your diving is up to snuff, make a quick evaluation of your basic photography skills. Before you can take good images, you have to understand how a camera functions, including the variables that affect exposure, composition, and the many other factors that come into play with both terrestrial and underwater photography. You approach underwater photography in about the same way as you approach above-water photography, although the same principles will sometimes apply in different ways. If you’ve never quite mastered your f-stops and exposure times, you might consider reading a book or taking a course in basic digital photography before you hit the water. After all, if you’re like me, you’ll end up putting a lot of time and resources into your underwater photographs. The experience is more fulfilling—and way less frustrating—when your images reflect the effort you’ve put in.
The real fun begins when you turn on the camera and descend for the first time.
Have fun and dive safe,
To view more of Jeff’s work, log on to: www.jeffyonover.com 
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