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4 To-dos for Spotting Underwater Critters Efficiently


You can’t really predict what you’ll get before your underwater photography trip, but having the proper preparation can help you achieve your goals in a more controlled way. From researching the dive site to bringing along a red-light strobe that does not spook the inhabitants, here are 4 things you can do to make spotting underwater critters easier.

The underwater critters featured in this article are photographed by @ajiexdharma


Diving or getting information from a local

When planning a dive, it is very important to have all the information about the local area, including the weather, tide movements, migration/breeding patterns and critters you might find. To obtain this critical information, prepare a few questions ahead of time before visiting your local dive store or rental. The dive experts there will inform you about the local conditions and the best spots to capture some underwater critters. Additionally, you can also research more information online as an extra step.

Once you have an idea of your itinerary, packing your equipment will be a breeze. It's best to do all this during daylight hours, as you may need the additional time beforehand to charge batteries and empty memory cards. If you have a mirrorless camera, learn how you can set it up for underwater photography! Additionally, here’s how to enter the water safely with your camera and 3 important points to care for your underwater photography equipment!

If you’re a beginner in underwater photography, you might want to learn the guide here first!


Moving slowly and keeping one's buoyancy in check

Once you are in the water, becoming one with the environment around you is crucial. There's a rhythm to underwater life, so ensure you slow down with it. Don't make sudden big movements. Instead, move with the current and let the ocean guide you. By doing so, the critters will be more comfortable in your presence, and you will get more natural shots of the critters.

Also, keeping buoyancy in check when diving or snorkelling will ensure that you do not disturb the environment. If you are diving, consider a weight belt to help keep you on the ocean floor. For snorkellers, small hand movements will help keep you balanced in the ocean current. Also, it will keep any disturbance to the sandy substrate at a minimum, ensuring you have clear picture opportunities. Never under any circumstances hold onto the coral to maintain your position. Coral is very brittle and can easily break, so it's best to reposition yourself and then take the photo. You can spot unique critters in different habitats such as muck, seaweed, coral reef, rubble, caves and in between or under rocks. Check out these two critters found in coral reef habitats:

A wrasse cleaning pufferfish gill in coral reef habitat
Canon EOS 5D Mark III, EF100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM, f/7.1, ISO 100, 1/250s, 100mm

The bluestreak cleaner wrasse is one of several species of cleaner wrasses found in coral reef habitats. Wrasses eat parasites and the dead tissues of larger fish. It is a mutualistic relationship where predators will not target them as they provide considerable health benefits for other fish.


Goby hiding in coral reef habitat
Canon EOS 5D Mark III, EF100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM, f/4, ISO 100, 1/250s, 100mm


Bringing along a strobe

Canon cameras, when paired with suitable underwater casing, are compatible with a lot of underwater strobes available on the market.

An underwater strobe is a powerful flash that syncs with the camera to illuminate a scene when taking a photo. It's best to use a red filter when using a strobe flash as it is considered more ethical, won't hurt the underwater critters, and you can also use it as a light guide to spot the hidden critters. When using the strobe flash with your Canon camera, turn on a function called High-Speed Sync. This allows the Canon camera's shutter to communicate directly with the strobe at a higher shutter speed. The benefit of this is you will be able to capture fast-moving critters.

The other benefit of using a red filter is to obtain the correct colour. As soon as you descend to greater depths (past 4.5m), there's a loss of the red wavelength. A strobe with a red filter helps colour correction by adding red back into the environment. Make sure you are close to your subject when photographing, otherwise even with a red filter, your photos may result in the wrong colour.


Magnifying attachments

Being observant and understanding your environment is the best way to identify and locate critters. A magnifying mask attachment is a brilliant hands-free solution to use when diving. Alternatively, you can use a hand-held magnifying glass. However, you may find it a hindrance when holding a camera. Both these options are generally inexpensive, so having one in your underwater photography kit is a must.

Another thing to note is that you may experience eye strain or headaches during your dive when using such tools. It may be due to the tightness of the mask attachment or from the sudden vision change. Start slowly by dipping and exploring just below the surface of the water first before going off on your adventure, allowing your eyes to adjust and get comfortable with the changes.

Check out more shots by @ajiexdharma below and learn how to achieve black backgrounds for your underwater photography here!

Janolus found in muck
Canon EOS 5D Mark III, EF100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM, f/5.6, ISO 125, 1/125s, 100mm

This Janolus was photographed at Melasti Tulamben, which is one of the famous muck dive spots in Bali. They can be found in shallow and subtidal waters.


Favorinus Tsuruganus spotted on a seaweed
Canon EOS 5D Mark III, EF100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM, f/8, ISO 100, 1/250s, 100mm

This sea slug was photographed at Kuanji Tulamben dive site.


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Underwater Macro Photography with Lilian Koh: A Tiny Life In The Deep Vast Sea 
Photography Tips from a Professional Underwater Photographer 
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