Vanessa Clementson is an Australian born, Singapore based underwater portrait photographer. As soon as she discovered underwater portrait photography, she decided to embark on this exciting journey to capture stunning photos underwater. Today, many choose to have an underwater photoshoot for a unique experience and absolutely love the results when they see their photos. From capturing expectant mothers in their element to a family underwater shoot, Vanessa shares some tips below for those keen to jump on this trending photography bandwagon of capturing photos underwater!

Photo of Vanessa Clementson

1. Know your equipment

Knowing your underwater photography equipment is vital for the protection of your camera. I use a Canon EOS 5D Mark III and invested in the Ikelite housing. It has been reliable for 4 years now but if you don’t set it up or maintain it properly, you can risk a disaster. I had a leak once when I wasn’t paying attention during setup. The rubber seal was out of alignment that had caused a leak. Luckily, the rushing bubbles alerted me and I rescued it in time. It’s also important to rinse the housing in fresh water after use and clean and grease the rubber seals regularly.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III | 1/180s / F4.5 / ISO100 | Canon EF16-35mm f/4L IS USM

2. Prepare the subject

A few simple tips for the subject can go a long way in getting the best out of them. I send them a list of tips before the shoot and suggest that they practice opening their eyes underwater, hold their breath without puffing cheeks, work on buoyancy by letting out some air then stopping so they are able to sink and stay level for a few seconds beforehand. It comes more naturally to some people than others but I work within the clients’ limitations and comfort level. It’s more important they are relaxed. For maternity shoots, we take it slow and have plenty of breaks. For kids, we keep it more spontaneous and fun.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III | 1/400s / F7.1 / ISO100 | Canon EF16-35mm f/4L IS USM

Canon EOS 5D Mark III | 1/750s / F4.0 / ISO100 | Canon EF16-35mm f/4L IS USM

3. Plan the Shoot

Some clients have a clear idea of what they want but many are open to ideas and direction. I like to prepare concepts and ideas before the shoot and put together an image board for pose ideas. I then laminate this document so that I can easily refer to it in the water. I bring props, fabrics and clothing options to the shoot depending on what is required and have quite a dress-up box now. I also encourage them to bring toys and props of things they are into. We’ve done scooters, skateboards, bikes, gymnastics, football goals, and even staged dressing tables and rooms.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III | 1/1000s / F5.0 / ISO 100 |Canon EF16-35mm f/4L IS USM

4. Understand the difference between shooting on land and underwater

There are many variables when shooting underwater compared to on land and the challenge, and unpredictability is part of what I love about it! Light moves slower through water than air and the deeper you go the more colour and light is lost and images will have a bluer tone. Therefore, you may need to stay near the surface, use external lighting or be a master of post production. It’s also best to use a wide angle lens and get close to your subject. Different pool surfaces also create a different look and feel and the time of day that you shoot.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III | 1/200s / F16.0 / ISO400 | Canon EF16-35mm f/4L IS USM

Canon EOS 5D Mark III | 1/180s / F6.7 / ISO200 | Canon EF16-35mm f/4L IS USM

5. Hone your editing skills

Photographs that are taken underwater generally require more editing than photographs taken on land. I edit the RAW files in Lightroom to get the colour balance right and reduce the blue cast, add contrast (or dehaze is a great function), then I further refine the photo in Photoshop to get rid of any noise or backscatter, bubbles or distracting objects.

Before editing

Canon EOS 5D Mark III | 1/180s / F4.0 / ISO 200 | Canon EF16-35mm f/4L IS USM


After editing

Canon EOS 5D Mark III | 1/180s / F4.0 / ISO 200 | Canon EF16-35mm f/4L IS USM

6. Just keep shooting

Practise shooting under different conditions as often as you can. Each mistake is a learning experience and the more you shoot the more you improve. Luckily, I have three kids who are very willing subjects and often come up with their own ideas. We try different lighting setups, night time, ambient light and using different props and backgrounds. I try the poses myself to make sure they are possible. In addition, you could also follow other underwater photographers on Instagram and get inspiration from what they are doing. Most importantly, enjoy it as that will motivate you to keep going!

 Canon EOS 5D Mark III | 1/250s / F8.0 / ISO 125 | Canon EF16-35mm f/4L IS USM

For more mesmerising underwater portrait photographs, check out Vanessa’s website or Instagram.