Underwater photo editing tips

Underwater photo editing tips

Now that you’re back at the villa and out of the direct sun, the first thing you will likely want to do is review your photos to find out if you actually captured all of the exciting sea life you saw while underwater.

Step 1:  Editing software

The editing software that comes pre-installed on your computer or camera will allow you to make a majority of the basic corrections.  You can purchase advanced editing software, like Adobe’s Lightroom package, but rather than spending hours in your villa instead of the beach, I suggest taking advantage of the free editing software available to you.  Be sure to save a copy of your original photos while learning the editing software so that you can go back to the original photo and start over if necessary.

Don’t be afraid to be creative.  Photos that might otherwise seem unexciting can become artsy with just a click of a different editing filter.

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Step 2:  Review and discard

Unlike the antiquated days of film, digital photography allows us to take hundreds of photos.  I typically snap over 100 photos in an hour.  The more photos you take, the greater the likelihood that you will get some excellent shots.

With hundreds of photos to sort, discard the easiest ones first – blurry images, fish that are swimming away, or those that are camouflaged rarely make interesting photos.  Yesterday at Maho, a crab was so well camouflaged on a barnacle-encrusted rock that when I downloaded my photos for editing, I could barely tell what was in the photo.

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While an interesting species, it makes for a rather uninteresting photo

Step 3:    Edit the subject matter

First, level and crop the photos.  Just as with landscape photography, level the horizon.  An unbalanced background is easily perceived by the brain.  Most editing software contains vertical and horizontal lines to assist with a perfectly straight horizon line.  If you are cropping the photo and the background is merely water and therefore the horizon isn’t relevant, you can rotate the subject itself to either straighten it in the frame, or rotate it for an interesting perspective.

Next, crop the photo.   I like to use the ‘rule of thirds’ for underwater photos, which breaks up the photo into nine evenly shaped boxes.  Most modern cameras have a viewfinder tool that creates this grid.  Sometimes, the subject of your photo is often most interesting when simply placed in the center box.

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Step 4:  Color correction and sharpness

If you adjust the white balance, color saturation, and sharpness, you will undoubtedly end up with at least a dozen photos that you can proudly share on social media.

As light travels through water, the spectrum gets distorted and sometimes creates unnatural colors on fish, corals and invertebrates.  Reds virtually disappear, and the blues can overwhelm a photo.  If you are using one of the modern underwater cameras that I recommended in my last article, these cameras generally compensate for color and sharpness, but the tools are handy if you need a little extra editing to perfect your photo.

White balance is exactly what it states.  By changing the white balance, you can turn the grays into brilliant whites and make the colors appear more vibrant and natural in appearance.  The good news is that most quality underwater cameras automatically do this for you.  If you find that your photos need a significant amount of color correction, ensure that you have selected the recommended ‘auto white balance’ setting.  Even with this setting selected on the camera itself, I find that a click of the ‘auto color adjustment’ button in my editing software will make a world of difference in the photo.

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Before cropping and color correction
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The same photo after cropping and color correction

Color saturation allows you to change the individual colors of the subject matter.  If you want the red coral to really ‘pop’, or the turquoise blue water of the Caribbean, this is the tool.  Most often in editing software, this is accomplished with a sliding scale; moving the individual color graph to the right increases the colors. Moving it to the far-left results in a black and white photo.

The sharpness tool allows one to correct for slightly out of focus shots, and equally important, it can highlight details in the subject.  The reticulated scales on a green turtle or the lines of a butterfly fish really stand out when the sharpness tool is applied.

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Adjusting the sharpness typically produces subtle changes in the photo

Experiment with different editing software to see what works best for your needs.  And most importantly, have fun with these tools!  After you’ve used them once or twice, you’ll be editing like a pro!

3 thoughts on “Underwater photo editing tips”

  1. Well presented. Clean your lens prior to your dive and camera fully charged and tethered – lost a GoPro 🙁
    Rinse your camera in fresh water bei g careful to dry thoroughly before you access download and recharging/ battery ports… wait a day.

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