5 Underwater Photography Tips With Shawn Jackson

Want to know what life is like beneath the surface? We can’t explain it, but we can definitely show you. Capturing the picturesque underwater world isn’t an easy feat, but we do have a few tips to share with you that we think may be helpful if you’d like to become an underwater photographer.


We caught up with one of Salt Life’s diving pros, Shawn Jackson, who has over 20 years of experience as a professional underwater photographer. Shawn currently serves as the official photographer for the Roatan Marine Park in Rotan, Honduras. His photography has been featured in major publications such as SCUBA Diving, Sport Diver, International Diver, and has been on display in fine art galleries in both Roatan and the United States. You can find Shawn’s work for sale at Salt Life retail stores and on his website -https://www.shawnjacksonphotography.com/.


If there was ever someone to learn the art of underwater photography from, it’s Shawn. Following his advice might just help you land your first published photo!


So let’s get to it. Here are Shawn Jackson’s top five underwater photography tips.

1. Master Diving First

Wondering what you're doing wrong? Why are your colors off? Why isn’t your subject framed quite right? Don’t know why every shot you take is too wide or too narrow?


These are all common problems that novice underwater photographers face. Shawn sees these beginner problems as failing to grasp basic photographic principles like composition. But more than that - according to Shawn, the biggest problem here is that most newbie underwater photographers are inexperienced divers. 


There is nothing more important in underwater photography than perfect buoyancy. It requires you to breathe easily so that you can raise your body ever so slightly, or drop your body just right while holding and aiming your camera. Bottom line, you need to master basic diving principles before you can be a successful underwater photographer.

2. It's Not All About the Gear

Thinking that a good photo is just the result of a high-end camera is like going into a Michelin star restaurant, eating a delicious dinner then complimenting the chef on what must be an amazing stove. 


Shawn told us not to worry about the gear. Instead you should always be learning. Look at the work of others and push yourself to try new things. Attempt different perspectives and compositions. While luck does sometimes play a factor in capturing the perfect shot, it’s often much more about patience, experience, and an understanding of the species you are photographing. Of course, your skills can be enhanced by good gear and as you grow, your gear will need to grow along with you. But Shawn often shoots with a camera that is years old and nowhere near the newest model, and that is just fine. If well-loved gear is good enough for one of the best in the industry, it will work for you too.

3. Be Patient

Too many divers mistake a good dive for the big ticket experiences like seeing a sea turtle or a shark. While these are exciting and fun experiences to have, it misses the concept of patience, which is critical when it comes to waiting for a great shot. 


Shawn says that patient diving is all about slowing down and getting to know the landscape you're photographing. Doing so will make you a better photographer both underwater and on land. Developing an appreciation for how it all fits together - how the healthy reef brings the fish, and how the fish bring the other species - allows you to see the things that others don’t.

4. Don't Fake It

No amount of post production can fix a lousy image. Over-cropping and crazy color filtering are so popular now that anyone with an iPhone can be a professional photographer, but this makes it easy to fall back on the editing instead of taking a genuinely beautiful shot. Photography is more than a skill. It’s an art form and pushing yourself to get better quality images should always be your goal.

5. Respect the Reef

Above all else, Shawn urges all of us to be respectful divers. No image is worth bumping other divers out of the way, terrorizing an animal, or damaging the reef. As an underwater photographer, you have an opportunity to use your art to connect people to the ocean, including and especially people who don't dive. You should always strive to use your art to bridge gaps of understanding, concern, and conservation. With that comes the responsibility to execute your craft in a way that respects the very subject matter you are trying to promote and protect.

Go Diving and Shooting

Are you an aspiring underwater photographer? Then it’s time to get diving and shooting. Salt Life has the gear you need to stay cool and protected from the sun on your way to and from your aquatic photoshoot. 


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