Learning from the Pros: Underwater Photography and Interacting with Marine Life

By: Staff Writer, 2 Oct, 2018

Photograph: Bhushan Bagadia Positives

Being underwater is an incomparable experience. The sights, the sounds… And everyone knows that if you want to experience marine life, few places offer better options than The Maldives. The only thing that could make that better – being able to take photos underwater and memorialising those moments! We spoke to award-winning underwater photographer Bhushan Bagadia to learn more about underwater photography, diving in the Maldives and how to make sure you’ve got willing subjects!
Bhushan and the rest of the folks at Simply Breathe are leading a trip to the Maldives this October and November. Learn more about it here!

What makes a good underwater photo? 
BB: The same things that make any photograph good. Proper focus, good framing, good usage of light, aesthetic niceness… The way to achieve it underwater is a bit tougher. But the factors that define a good underwater photograph are the same as the ones for shooting over water. 

What kind of equipment do you need? 
BB: To take a camera underwater, you’ll need a housing. A housing is a case that the camera sits in, which is sealed tight so that no water gets in. You can get a housing for almost all cameras and phones. Each housing is specific to that particular camera, and cannot be used for any other one. There are multiple brands available, and costs can vary from as low as $300 for mobile phones to $ 4,000 for DSLRs.  Apart from the housing there are many other accessories like underwater strobes, underwater lights, dome ports, etc. that you can invest in.  

Is there anything specific I should know about photography before going underwater? 
BB: Just a basic knowledge of your camera and photography! The factors affecting shooting underwater are different. However, the logic of the photography remains the same. There is a displacement in the water and light works very differently underwater. Water reduces colour, contrast, and sharpness. These are just some of the factors that make underwater photography different – and fun!  

What kind of marine life can I see in the Maldives? 
The waters of the Maldives are blessed with some of the largest variety of marine life. 

 From tiny micro gobies and colourful fish to stingrays, manta rays, sharks and even whales – the Maldives has everything. You don’t even need to go too deep to be able to experience all that! 

Photograph: Bhushan Bagadia Positives

How close can I get to marine life?
BB: The closer we get to any marine life, the more stressed it gets. You should always maintain a decent amount of distance from any marine life. With smaller fish and marine life, one can get as close as a few inches away. But with sharks, stingrays, manta rays and the like, you must keep enough distance to ensure that you aren’t stressing the animal out. This could be as close as one foot, or maybe sometimes even 10-15 feet away or more. Listen to your instructor or the more experienced divers! 

What are some things I should never do around marine life? 
BB: There are three important rules that you should always follow underwater: 
*    Never touch any marine life. 
*    Never panic or make any fast movements.
*    Never chase anything.  

What do I do if I see a shark? 

BB: Take a deep breath and enjoy its graceful magnificence. :)
Sharks are not maneaters. That’s a myth. We need to remember we do not belong in the ocean; we are in their environment, and we just need to respect that.

I have been diving with sharks since 2006, and I have never felt threatened by them even once. We are not food for them. They are majestic and beautiful. So, if we behave and just watch them, without fear in our hearts, they can sense that and will gently swim away. True story! 

Photograph: Bhushan Bagadia Positives

What if I don’t see anything? 
BB: If you don’t see any marine life, there is still the ocean and the feeling of being underwater. Enjoy it. The only sound you will hear is of your breathing. Use that dive as a break that you give yourself. It’s a great feeling to be able to stay underwater and just experience it. Marine-life sightings are just one small aspect of that. The way the sunlight plays underwater, the way the water moves, the bubbles that float to the surface, the feeling of being in zero gravity – they’re all a part of the magical diving experience. 

What if I panic?  
BB: Before you start diving, just remember the most important thing that you need to tell yourself over and over again – breathe slow and take long breaths. Panic can set in for many reasons. But if it does, you need to stop trying to do anything else. Focus on your breathing and slow down. It’s good remember one more thing: there is no rush to do anything underwater. Each person’s underwater experience is unique to that person. So don’t try to do what anyone else is doing. Enjoy the dive for yourself. 

Photograph: Bhushan Bagadia Positives

Do I have to be certified before I can take up underwater photography? 
Most definitely. I have met many people who want to start shooting underwater on their first dive. My experience tells me that you should at least get your Advanced certification and clock a minimum of 50 dives before you decide to take up underwater photography. Think about it this way: you cannot ride a bike without learning how to balance it. You must learn how to balance it and for the balance to become second nature and only then can you learn how to ride the bike. Underwater photography and diving are the same. 

Anything else you think all prospective underwater photographers should know? 
Patience and Persistence. 
Underwater photography needs a lot of patience and a lot of hard work compared to shooting on land. You could do a dive at an absolutely stunning dive site with simply amazing marine life, but if, that day, the ocean decides to act up and the visibility in the water is bad, you are not going to be able to take any good photographs. So, it means you have to dive more, shoot more and always be patient. 
Another very important point to keep in mind: Don’t try to go beyond the parameters of what your scuba-diving training teaches you. Always stay safe. Follow all the rules without ever trying to push the boundaries. And only then press the button on your camera. :)

You can experience the Maldives’ breath-taking marine life for yourself with the folks at Simply Breathe: sign up here!
You’ll get to take some of Bhushan’s amazing photos home with you as well! 

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