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4 tips for better underwater photos and video

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If you’re interested in shooting photos or video underwater, you have a variety of equipment choices. The cheapest option is a waterproof point-and-shoot, such as the Nikon Coolpix AW120 or an action cam, such as the GoPro Hero3+ Silver Edition, which both go for around $300. (I shot these photos at a family party using several cameras, all priced under $350.) No matter what gear you use, a few rules apply for getting the best results.

1. Double-check your gear. Even if you have a waterproof camera, make sure that the camera’s battery and other compartments are tightly closed. Also, set your camera to match the type of photos or video you’ll be shooting. Some cameras and camcorders have scene or shooting modes that will optimize the exposure for dim undersea settings. And before you jump in, know how deep your equipment can go. Some cameras are rated to only 5 feet, others to 50 or 60 feet.

Check out our buying guide and Ratings for digital cameras for both conventional and waterproof models.

2. Take multiple shots—because many of them won't work. Point-and-shoot cameras have LCDs to help you compose photos, while action cams generally don’t. Even if you have an LCD, it's going to hard to see it underwater, and composing your shot will be a hit-or-miss process. So shoot multiples. Also, if your camera has a bracket mode, which shoots a burst of shots at slightly different exposure settings, take advantage of it.

3. Stay near the surface. Light falls off dramatically the deeper you dive underwater. If possible, stay close to the surface when you shoot in a pool, a lake or the ocean. This will also allow you to capture more color in your photos; the deeper you go, the less color you’ll see.

4. Get close to your subjects. This is great advice for shooting on dry land, but it is even more important underwater because of the dim lighting conditions. It’s particularly important if you’re shooting with an action cam: These devices often have a fixed, wide angle lens, which means you have to get closer to your subjects if you want them to fill the picture frame.

—Terry Sullivan

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