10 Underwater Photography Etiquettes You Need to Master

Underwater-Photography-Etiquette

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If you’ve been diving long enough, you’ve probably heard someone say or comment: I hate diving with underwater photographers!

As an aspiring underwater photographer myself, such comments leave me uncomfortable. After all, I don’t want to be that diver that no one wants to dive with.

If you probe further and ask why these divers feel that way, they will most likely say that it was because of how they have behaved. None of the reasons will have anything to do with the quality of the photos they produce.

When you see an underwater photo or video you first notice the technical aspects of it. Is it properly exposed? How is the cropping? Are the colors enhanced? What’s the camera settings? And the list can go on!  

Rarely, do we look at an underwater photo and question what transpired into achieving such an award-winning shot. And maybe we should, especially if we want to be great at what we do.

While you master the technical skills involved in underwater photography, mastering your behavioral skills is equally important.

Have you ever stopped to wonder: how is my underwater photography etiquette?

Etiquette is defined as the accepted code of behavior among people in a group or society, in this case, the dive community. Being able to properly interact with your environment, your photography subjects and the people around you are desirable characteristics to have as an underwater photographer.

After all, you can never say you are the best at what you do if you had to harm or manipulate your subjects just to get the shot. And can you absolutely say for certain that you’re an excellent photographer if you had to act rudely towards the people around you just to get the shot that you wanted?

Whether you are doing underwater photography as a hobby or as a profession, you should be aware of your interactions with everyone else. If you’re not so sure or need some refreshing, continue reading for 10 underwater photography etiquettes you need to master.

1. Follow the Basic Rules of Diving

Before you even think about holding a camera, you should have already mastered your buoyancy. If you’re struggling with your movements underwater it will be worst when you have a camera on your hand.

You can put your life at risk if you’re distracted with your buoyancy as well as your camera. Lives of others, humans and animals alike, can be harmed when you’re crashing into everything and everyone.

It doesn’t matter if you are just holding a simple point and shoot camera or a professional set up, using a camera underwater is not the same as when you are shooting on land.

Underwater photography Etiquette: Follow the Basic Rules of Diving

You could cause accidents that can lead to fatalities. Endangering the lives of others because of your camera or because of a shot is just bad underwter photography dive etiquette.

Don’t get to caught up with your photography that you end up forgetting your dive buddy. You are a dive buddy first, a photographer second. Make sure that you are constantly checking on each other, no matter how advanced of a diver each of you are. 

Each location is different and locals might have reminders on how to go about a dive site. If the local guides tell you not to do certain things, then you shouldn’t go against them for the sake of a shot.

If they tell you to not enter the wreck then you shouldn’t attempt to do so. When in doubt, ask what you can and cannot do prior to the dive. Always consider the safety of yourself and of others before your photography.  

Dive within your limits and the limits set by the group. No matter how awesome you think a shot will be, the people you are diving with will think otherwise when you put lives at risk.

Remember that safety is always first.

If you are still struggling with these basic aspects of diving, then you might want to leave your camera on the boat.

Related Article: 5 Reasons Why No One Wants To Dive With You

2. Respect Marine Life

This is one of the most common offense of underwater photographers touching marine life. For some reason, many underwater photographers think they are exempted to this rule.

No matter how expensive your underwater camera gear is, it does not come with a pass to touch sea creatures. Scuba divers have to respect and protect marine life and this is the same for underwater photographers.

There is absolutely no reason for you to touch marine life and manipulate them just to get the shot that you wanted. Do not destroy or touch coral just to get a better shot of a critter. Also do not touch a critter in an attempt to pose them correctly. 

Divers love touching marine life for the sake of a photo. A huge no-no in diving.
Touching marine life for the sake of a photo is a bad underwater photography etiquette for divers!

Any physical contact with these animals is a form of harassment. Sometimes even your mere presence can give them undue stress.

Some subjects are more sensitive than others so do some research before hand especially if you plan on shooting specific creatures.

For instance, underwater photographers go crazy over “yawning” frogfishes but this animal behavior can actually be an indicator that it is stressed out!

Mandarin fishes do not like direct light and would hide when it senses your video lights shining on them. You can also disrupt their mating behavior if you are not careful.

Seahorses lack eyelids and the constant flash of your strobe could actually bother them.

If a marine animal looks stressed, do not force the situation and leave them alone. Give the sea creatures space and privacy it needs.

3. Always Be Conscious of Your Time

Sometimes you get so caught up with the moment that you lose track of time. While doing underwater photography, always be conscious of how much time you are spending with your subjects or the environment you are shooting.

Always check your depth and your time as you might end up running out of air!

Aside from that, you might be taking too much time with your subject that other photographers in your group will not get a chance to work with them.

If you are diving with non-photographers, taking too much time to shoot in just one spot might delay or hold back the entire dive group. While you might find it fascinating to observe one subject, others might not and can get annoyed having to wait for you.  

The lack of time awareness is a common complain against underwater photographers.

4. Be Respectful of Others

If you know you’re going to need time to fix your camera gear, do it the night before or wake up a little bit earlier to set it up. Be punctual. Being on time is a sign of respect for other people. Do not be that person who stalls the dive because you’re still setting up.

Wait for your turn. Your camera does not entitle you to get first dibs on the subject or the scene. If your guide spots something, wait for his or her instructions on who should go first to check it out.

Not everyone will have the same interests as you so be flexible. Accommodate the needs of the majority rather than insist on doing dives to meet your photography goals. While you might want to do macro shots all the time, others might not like muck diving at all. Switch gears if you have to.

If you don’t like diving with others, then you can always hire your own dive guide rather than be an inconvenience to everyone else.

5. Give Other Photographers Space

When waiting for your turn, give other photographers their space. Your nearby presence could make other photographers feel overwhelmed too. Rather than focus on their photography, they can get distracted by you. Nobody likes it when someone is hovering too close or peering over their shoulders.

Underwater photographers might also want to change their positions and angles. Your proximity could interfere with their creative approach and style. If you want to observe how they’re doing their shot, do it from a distance that does not interfere with their work.

Be conscious of where you are

Even if you are staying at a distance, be conscious of where you are.  Don’t photo-bomb shots of other photographers. If they want you in the shot they will signal to you. But otherwise, try not to get in the way and make it even more challenging to maneuver around you.  

6. Move carefully

Be aware of how you approach or leave a subject. Moving too quickly can spook the critter and make it hide or flee. This will ruin the shot for you as well as those who might want to see the creature.

Moving quickly can also cause you to disturb the surrounding areas. Your strong kicks can disturb the silt and sand. This will ruin the scenery and the visibility for everyone.

You might also want to learn how to fin differently. Frog kicks are often better as these are more gentle and less disruptive compared to the doing flutter kicks.

Enjoying this list of advice so you can be a better underwater photographer? Here are 85 of the Best Tips on Underwater Photography for Beginners.

7. Share the Moment

If you see something interesting, proper dive etiquette for underwater photographers is to also show your dive buddy or your group what you spotted. They will love that you know how to share the moment. And oftentimes they will also return the favor. Who knows, they might even show you critters you’ve never seen before!

While you might have first dibs on the shot since you’ve spotted the creature, don’t take too much time either.  Be considerate and give them a chance to appreciate it as well.

Underwater Photography Etiquette: offer to take someones photo
Any one who says they don’t want a photo with a fish will be lion!

Offer to take photos of other people on your group and make sure to give them a copy of it. They will appreciate having a photo or video of your fun times together.

8. Treat your dive guides and boat staff well

Underwater photographers normally need extra attention and help with their camera gears alone. A good etiquette for underwater photographers to practice is to always be courteous and respectful when asking for assistance from the staff.

Yes, you paid thousands of dollars for your gear and your trip. No, this does not include free reign to be rude and demanding towards them.  You cannot buy good manners and conduct.

If you’re happy with their service tips are always welcome. Show your appreciation by leaving a good review and recommending them your other photographer friends.

Underwater Photographer Etiquette:

Often times you will get dive guides or spotters who might want to impress you by touching marine life.  Gently remind them that this is not acceptable for you. Encourage them to never to do it again with you and with other photographers. 

Related Article : Worst Divemasters I Have Ever Encountered

9. Be mindful of Where you Leave Your Gear

Space is usually minimal in dive boats so make sure you have your camera and dive gear together. There are usually designated places for everything on a boat. If there is none, make sure to keep it in your own space or crate. You are responsible for your own gear and you have no one to blame but yourself if it gets damaged because you decide to just leave it lying around.

Sitting space is for people not your camera. If you need to change lenses, batteries, or fix something, do so quickly without getting in the way of others.  

Camera dunk tanks are for everyone to share. Be mindful of where and how you put your camera gear in the tank. Make sure you’re not putting it on top of other people’s equipment and you have enough space for everyone.

Never touch someone else’s camera gear without their permission or knowledge. Unless of course, it’s to prevent it from damage or breakage. A lot of photographers are particular with their set up. And besides, you might also end up damaging something.

Are you looking to purchase an underwater camera? Here are my camera recommendations for beginners and some tips on choosing the best camera for you!

My personal favorite is the Canon G7X Mark II with Fantasea Housing.

10. Be Accountable Beyond the Dive

Underwater Photographers have their own reason and purpose as to why they got into this craft. Some do it for creative expression or hobby while some do it to earn money as a photographer. Regardless of the reason, you have a responsibility that goes beyond the dive itself.

In the age of social media where photos and videos go viral, context and educating the public is even more important now more than ever. So share your work responsibly. Check out these women underwater photographers on Instagram who use their platforms properly.

A lot of your audience may not understand what they are seeing and this might often be misunderstood or taken out of context. As an underwater photographer or videographer, you have a responsibility to educate or give context to what your content is about.

In the rare case that you have to touch marine life in order to save them, some photographers would take the time to photograph or video the moment to help tell the story. If you are a scientist and this is part of the work that you do, then be clear about the narrative.

Don’t just post the video or pictures and assume that viewers will understand what is happening. Write captions to explain. Put disclaimers and reminders if you happen to be doing something that might be frowned upon by others.

Think before you post. Ask yourself if your photo or video will be helpful or harmful for our ocean. Is it inspirational or a bad precedent for other underwater photographers? If it is the latter, then you might want to think twice before you share.

For more tips on using social media for good, here’s How to Grow Your Instagram to Advocate for the Ocean

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What transpires behind the scenes is just as important as the end results. 

No matter how talented you are, at the end of the day, people will remember how you are as a person and how you made them feel during their interactions with you.

Do you really want to be that underwater photographer who has a bad reputation attached to their name?

If you are not careful, your lack of proper etiquette as an underwater photographer can be costly for you. You could be uninvited to trips if you do not play well with others. Jobs could be offered to someone else if employers find out about your bad behaviors and practices.

Amateurs and professionals alike have all been guilty of poor underwater photography etiquette at one point or another. We are human after all. The goal is to keep improving not just our craft but also our behavior.

Which underwater photography etiquette do you need to work on or are struggling with?
Have you encountered an underwater photographer who has bad dive etiquette? What happened? Leave a comment below!

The links above may be affiliate links. If you shop through them, I’ll earn a commission at no additional cost to you. For full information, please see my disclaimer here.

Ara Juan

Ara is the founder of DiverBliss.com and PhilippineDives.com. She is a PADI Rescue Diver with a goal to dive in all the best places around the Philippines.

1 Comment

  1. Alice Carroll
    September 9, 2021 / 9:06 am

    You made a good point that one’s goal as to why they take up underwater videography would be important to discern in order to know how to properly go about it. I’d like to look for a professional underwater videographer soon because I’d like to have scenic photos taken of my and my boyfriend as part of our prenuptial photos. I think that would be a great way to express our mutual love for the sea.

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