How to Shoot Underwater Using a Mirrorless Camera

The latest mirrorless cameras strike a good balance between high-end image quality and physical practicality, which makes them ideal for underwater shooting. Since divers need to carry a lot of diving equipment, a light and compact mirrorless camera can certainly make their efforts easier.

These days, nearly every manufacturer produces underwater housing for mirrorless cameras – whatever accessory you can get for your DSLR, you can almost certainly get your mirrorless for less money. These housings are incredibly reliable these days, especially those with high-end brands and made of quality waterproof materials.

Before we focus on various housings for mirrorless cameras, we will provide you with everything you need for successful underwater shooting. If you’re a complete beginner you should start slowly and skip things like strobe kits (you can practice with just natural light, at least in the beginning!).

underwater photography
Photo by Jacob Owens

What do you need for underwater shooting?

Five basic items:

  • Mirrorless camera
  • Lens – preferably macro or wide angle
  • Underwater housing from a reputable seller
  • Lens port – its function is to correct the refractive properties of water
  • An external strobe kit consisting of a strobe, arm system and cables – this is for the advanced underwater photographer

An additional five items for serious underwater shooting:

  • Focus and mount lights to help you shoot faster
  • A second strobe kit if you want more complex lighting
  • Additional lenses – You can also experiment with portrait lenses
  • Auxiliary lens port
  • Case for security – waterproof protection for photographic equipment
    underwater camera case
Photo by Jacob Owens

Finding the Perfect Underwater Housing

If you want to use a mirrorless camera for underwater photography, it is very important to choose a camera that already has an underwater housing on the market. Many third-party manufacturers sell quality cases in case the camera manufacturer doesn’t have a case option. For example, Panasonic and Olympus are leaders in the mirrorless market, and they make their own underwater housings. Canon and Nikon, on the other hand, do not manufacture them, and cases for their cameras are produced by Ikelite, Nauticam, Inon, Aquatica and similar brands.

The most important thing is to choose an underwater housing made of quality materials. Underwater homes can be made of different materials – some of which are safer than others. High-end housings are usually made of aluminum, while cheaper housings are made of plastic.

When buying a house, there are several other things that you should pay attention to apart from quality materials. Additional notable features to the housing are easy access to camera controls, good ergonomics, fiber optic connection, good viewfinder options as well as a leak alarm.

You should of course avoid buying cheap underwater housings as they might start leaking at some point and damage your camera. Cheap plastic housings are also too big, and very difficult to handle.

the camera is ready to shoot underwater
Photo by Jacob Owens

Mirrorless Camera Underwater Housing

The following list includes some of the most reliable underwater brands and their homes:

  • Olympus – Their most popular underwater housings are for the E-PL1, E-Pl2, E-PL3, E-PL5, E-PL7, E-PM1, and E-M1 Mark II.
  • 10-bar – They make housings for the Olympus E-PL1, GF-1, GF-2, and GH-1 models.
  • Ikelite – They are known for their quality housing for many camera models, such as the popular Sony A7R III.
  • Recsea -The case is made for Olympus cameras such as the E-PL1, GF-1, GF2, GH-1, NEX-5, NEX-5N, NEX-7, GH-2, and OM-D E-M1.
  • Nauticam – This company makes housings for a variety of mirrorless cameras, such as the Olympus OM‑DE‑M1, Panasonic GH5, and the full-frame Sony A7R III.
  • Aquatica – They make aluminum housings for Olympus, Panasonic, and Sony mirrorless cameras.
  • Sea & Ocean – They also make quality aluminum housings, especially for the Sony model.
  • Acquapazza – This company makes high quality housings for the Sony NEX-5 & NEX-5N models.

10 Tips For Shooting With Underwater Housing

This is a basic underwater photography tip that everyone should know – it will make your underwater shots so much easier and less messy.

1. Closer

No matter what type of subject you plan to shoot during your underwater session, you need to get close to it – within about 12 inches. Keep in mind that water reduces color and contrast, and it can make your image a bit flat.

2. Use Flash

Although flash is not required, it will make your underwater session easier. Make sure your camera flash is turned on! Also, be sure to understand how light behaves underwater. Learn about ambient light, artificial lighting, and how to effectively use a strobe or underwater flash to illuminate your subject.

underwater photography
Photo by Panthum Danthanarayana

3. Position Your Flash Properly

If you are a more advanced user and know how to use an external flash when shooting underwater, be sure to place the flash as far away from your home as possible to reduce backscatter.

4. Stay At Low ISO

It’s very important to stick to a low ISO in underwater sessions and avoid noise as much as possible. To achieve this, you must set your camera to the highest resolution and lowest ISO. Always shoot RAW during your underwater sessions.

5. Adjust the White Balance

Setting the correct white balance can be a bit confusing when shooting underwater. The best scenario is to use auto white balance when using flash and custom white balance when using only natural light.

6. Shooting in Aperture Priority Mode

We recommend using manual mode or aperture priority mode underwater as these will allow you to have more control over natural light as well as the light from your flash. Also, master the concept of depth of field and how it affects your images. Experiment with different apertures to control the amount of sharpness and blurring in your photos.

underwater photography of fish
Photo by Liona Toussaint

7. Experiment With Point Focus Mode

It’s not easy to focus underwater – sometimes, this is the most challenging part of this type of shooting. To focus quickly, try using spot metering.

8. Beware of Shutter Speed

Your underwater photos might be a bit blurry, especially if you are new to this photography genre. The shutter speed you use is very important – it should be about 1/30 for still objects, 1/60 for slow-moving objects and 1/125 for faster-moving objects such as fish.

9. Choose Lenses Carefully

Your choice of lens should depend on the type of photos you want to get. For example, you can use 100mm to isolate a subject, such as with a portrait or wide-angle lens for a landscape scene.

10. Bring Dive Lights

If you plan to do deep dives or dives after sunset, you should take a dive light in addition to a flash.

underwater photography of statues
Photo by Sebastian Pema Lambari

11. Buoyancy Control

Maintain good buoyancy control while diving so as not to disturb the environment and marine life. This will also help you position yourself effectively for photography.

12. Stability

Keep yourself steady when shooting underwater. Use both hands to hold the camera housing firmly and minimize movement.

13. Composition

Familiarize yourself with the principles of composition and their application to underwater photography. Aim for a balanced and visually appealing composition.

How to edit underwater photos

After the dive, transfer your images to your computer and use photo editing software to enhance them

Editing underwater photography involves several key steps to perfect and bring out the best in your images. Here’s a general guide on how to edit your underwater photos:

  1. Pick and Sort:
    • Review your pictures and choose the ones you want to edit. Focus on the shots that have the most potential or interest to you.
    • Remove irrelevant or poor quality images to save disk space and streamline your editing process.
  2. Adjust White Balance:
    • Underwater images often have a bluish or greenish tint due to the color of the water. Adjust white balance to correct color temperature and restore natural tones.
    • Use the white balance eyedropper tool in your editing software to sample neutral or white areas in the image and set them as a reference point.
  3. Increase Exposure and Contrast:
    • Adjust exposure and contrast to improve the overall tonal range and dynamic range of your photos.
    • Use the histogram as a guide to ensure your image retains detail in the shadows and highlights without clipping.
  4. Correct Hue and Saturation:
    • Fine-tune the colors to make them more vibrant and accurate.
    • Adjust the saturation or vibrancy sliders to increase the richness of the colors, but be careful not to oversaturate the image.
  5. Reducing Noise and Increasing Sharpness:
    • Underwater photos can suffer from noise, especially at higher ISO settings. Use a noise reduction tool or filter to reduce noise while retaining detail.
    • Apply sharpening techniques to increase the clarity and crispness of your overall image. Use selective sharpening if needed, focusing on the main subject.
  6. Crop and Straighten:
    • Consider cropping the image to enhance the composition or remove distractions. Use the rule of thirds or other compositional guidelines to guide your pruning decisions.
    • Align the horizon or other skewed elements in the image if necessary.
  7. Remove Distractions:
    • Use the healing tool or spot clone to remove unwanted distractions such as backscatter (floating particles) or stray objects.
    • Be careful not to overdo it and keep the look of the scene natural.
  8. Final Adjustment:
    • Fine-tune other settings, such as saturation, vibration, clarity, and vignette to achieve the desired look and feel for your image.
    • Experiment with different editing techniques, filters or presets to create a unique style or mood.
underwater scene
My Marek Okon’s photo

Plan to start exploring and photographing underwater environments. You should be aware of the fact that a mirrorless camera may be the right choice as it allows the user to devote more attention to the creative outcome without having to deal with the bulky and heavy camera bodies associated with DSLRs. You should definitely try a mirrorless camera – you might be surprised at the quality!

To learn more about underwater photography and underwater homes, see the following links:

Further Resources:

  1. Muses – Christy Lee Rogers’ Amazing Underwater Photography
  2. 5 Steps To Take Powerful Underwater Photos
  3. NEMO is a drone capable of diving underwater up to 100 meters
  4. Underwater Camera Housing
  5. The 7 Best Underwater Camera Housings
  6. Best Mirrorless Camera For Underwater Photography

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