Divers on the Reef Underwater Camera Settings and Technique

Divers on the Reef Underwater Camera Settings and Technique


Any where you dive, images of your buddies are fun to have. These settings will be for ideal tropical conditions with good sun.

Steve Miller Diver and Pink Coral

A diver anywhere in the frame will add a sense of scale, even if the scale is deceiving. This diver is only 15-20 feet away, and the soft coral is just a few feet long. © 2022 Steve Miller


DSLR + Mirrorless

ISO: 200-400

Mode: Manual

Aperture: Variable through whole range, depending upon how dark or light you wish your background to be. Start with F-8 if you aren't sure, then change after previewing your image.

Shutter Speed: 1/125-1/160 flash synch.

Lens: 8mm to 35mm typically. Wider angle lenses will allow you to capture more of the reef, while being close enough to your diver to light them with flash, should you decide to.

Steve Miller Dive Strobes on TTL

A colorful reef is set to scale by adding a diver. She is out of flash range, and the strobes are "flash filling" in the colors of the corals close enough to reflect. A manual camera exposure 1-2 stops darker than the natural light reading with strobes set out wide on TTL is a good place to start. © 2022 Steve Miller


Point + Shoot

ISO: 100 to 200

Mode: Manual or Aperture Priority. If you are shooting natural light, Program will work as well.

Aperture: Full range depending on sun in your frame.

Shutter Speed: 1/125 to 1/200

Lens: Full wide angle with or without a wide angle wet lens.

Steve Miller Diver Swimming behind Reef

Ascending and swimming often presents the lines and shapes of divers in a better light. © 2022 Steve Miller


Many of us consider divers the most difficult subjects to shoot. Fish and corals are always beautiful, but people hovering in a weightless environment can look like they have broken legs. Divers are often posed in ways that look "uncomfortable."

If you are lucky enough to have a buddy that is willing to sacrifice their dive to be your model, then you can mediate this in two ways. The first is to have them swimming, even if very slowly, it will look more natural. The second, and our favorite way, is to have your models is stay 15-20 feet shallower than the camera, in between the lens and the sun. Once the shot is set up have your model move wherever you wish them in the frame with hand signals. At these distances, your model could be anyone, and will be mostly silhouetted. As a compositional element, this silhouette can add a sense of scale that totally changes the image.


Position your strobe(s) far away from the lens, just behind the focal plane and angled forward to reduce backscatter. If you are shooting TTL and the lens is opened up for a natural light exposure (read the water column with your light meter) then the flash will be very soft,and simply fill in shadows and colors.

Steve Miller Snells Window

The easiest method of incorporating divers in your image is to use Close Focus Wide Angle, and have your diver shallower than you, so an upward camera angle captures and separates them from the rest of the frame. © 2022 Steve Miller

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Additional Reading

Close Focus Wide Angle In Depth

Keep It Up: Buoyancy Control

Safety Advice for Underwater Photographers

Tropical Reef Underwater Camera Settings

Why You Need a Fisheye Lens Underwater

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