Tips for taking great underwater photos from the pros

CNN  — 

Seems like everyone’s a halfway decent photographer these days thanks to better gear, flashy phones and clever digital filters. When it comes to underwater photography, though, few people have what it takes.

Perfect sub-aquatic images involve a new level of skills, like framing a shot while maintaining buoyancy and not getting eaten by predators. So where to start?

We asked some of the planet’s best underwater shooters for tips on the technique and equipment they use to make superlative marine photography.

They shared their secrets and some of their best shots.

Brian Skerry

Patience is key to good underwater photos, says Brian Skerry.

For the past 18 years Brian Skerry has traveled the world on assignment for National Geographic – better known as every outdoor photographer’s dream job.

In three decades, he’s racked up more than 10,000 hours down below, scuba diving under polar ice, dodging sharks and spending months on fishing boats.

Spending so much time at sea has shaped his environmental awareness and he hopes his photos can help bring about change.

“The oceans are in trouble,” he says.

CNN: What’s the most significant change you’ve seen in underwater ecology during the past 30 years?

Skerry: The depletion and degradation of marine ecosystems are among the most significant changes I’ve seen throughout my career.

I couldn’t have imagined when I began diving that the large schools of fish I regularly saw or the healthy coral reefs would now be nearly gone. The decline has been dramatic.

Still, pockets of tremendous biodiversity remain and it’s these places that I believe must be preserved.

If you had to give one tip for capturing compelling images, what would it be?


The best images of wildlife rarely happen quickly or soon after you arrive in a location. Watching and learning animal behavior and waiting for nice light is key.

What camera setup would you recommend to the scuba diver just getting into underwater photography?

If a beginner photographer can afford to put a DSLR inside an underwater housing, this is what I would recommend. This type of system will allow for tremendous flexibility and creativity and allow the photographer to grow.

If the budget is tight, there are amphibious cameras available that can produce nice results as well.

What’s your favorite go-to photo gear?

I’ve been a Nikon shooter since I started and their latest D5 camera is amazing. So good in low light and very responsive to every situation I’ve encountered so far. It has quickly become my go-to piece of gear.

Have you ever been in a situation that was so dicey you asked yourself, “Why am I doing this?”

I’ve had several. Being lost for a few moments beneath polar ice is one that immediately comes to mind. I was photographing a story about harp seals and diving in 28.5 F water (-2 C), where the ice was about 20 feet thick.

The pack ice is always moving with wind and tide and during one dive I looked up to see the hole I entered through close. I found another way out, but for those moments while I was searching, I definitely wondered why I was doing this.

But in reality, I’ve had a handful of dicey situations and countless magical experiences.

The beautiful moments are what I most remember.

See more of Skerry’s work at

Adriana Basques

Basques is known for her split-image photos, half above, half below water.

Brazilian native Adriana Basques spent years as a business executive until a 1996 scuba diving course persuaded her to trade her briefcase for an underwater camera.

Since then, she’s traveled the world channeling her creative energy and using her art to speak to the importance of marine conservation.

Today Adriana’s work regularly appears in top nature magazines such as National Geographic, GEO and National Wildlife Federation.

She’s had exhibits in Smithsonian Museum of Natural History and her photography has been used in books and movie brochures and printed on swimwear.

CNN: What’s your favorite underwater destinations for guaranteed incredible photos?

Basques: It all depends on what I’m looking for.

Wildlife, especially big [animals], are never a guarantee. Although coral reefs are in decline, places like Fiji and Indonesia offer amazing reef scenery to build innovative images.

If you had to give one tip for capturing compelling images, what would it be?

First of all, be an excellent diver.

What camera setup would you recommend for beginners?

It’s always easy to start with a point and shoot camera.

They don’t provide the complete array of features as contemporary state of the art SLRs, but do offer excellent features for cer