Manatee Photography Underwater Camera Settings

These calm marine mammals are some of our favorite things to encounter underwater. They're wonderful for underwater photographers because they congregate in some ares that can be enjoyed without the need for scuba equipment- meaning that you can bring your family and non-diving friends along too. Just remind them not to kick up the silty bottom.

Manatees are gentle and generally interested in you making it possible to get some very close encounters. Some will even start following you around like cute little half-ton puppies.

 

Where

Florida Springs, and Crystal River although chance encounters happen in warmer tropical waters.

 

DSLR + Mirrorless

ISO: 200-1600
We typically set our ISO based on the ambient light. With manatee you may find yourself beginning your dive at first light. If this is the case, set your ISO high enough to allow you to shoot. In Crystal River flash is not legal until a half hour after sunrise, so be ready to use an excessively high ISO early in the dive, then change it as the sun rises.
Mode: M Manual with flash; all of the Program modes will work fine for natural light. We like P Program, and also TV Shutter Priority for this.
Aperture: Variable through whole range
Shutter Speed: 1/60th-1/160th
Manatee move slow. 1/60th of a second is OK, but 1/125th or so will give you a degree of protection against camera shake (motion blur) from snorkeling around.
Lens: 8mm to 50mm

 

Point + Shoot

ISO: 100 to 200

Mode: M Manual or Av Aperture Priority
Aperture: Full range depending on sun in your frame
Shutter Speed: 1/60th to 1/200
Lens: Full wide angle with or without a wide angle wet lens

 

Technique

Get close and shoot up. Wait for close passes and shoot while the manatee is approaching. You are not allowed to swim over them, let alone chase them. Remember they will come up for air every 5 minutes or so, this is often when they will decide to come check you out with a face push.

 

Strobes

Position your strobe(s) far away from the lens,  just behind the focal plane and angled forward to reduce backscatter. These cannot be used until 1/2 hour after sunrise.  In the crystal clear waters of the Florida Springs, we prefer natural light over flash.

 

Additional Reading

7 Tips for Photographing Florida Manatees

Planning a Trip to Photograph Manatees in Crystal River, Florida

Natural Light Photography

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