Do I need a Red Filter to Get Started in Underwater Photography?


The one thing that I will never forget when starting out with a new camera was whether the white balance button was worth it.  I always looked at this icon, but as it meant trawling through a few different menus to get there with my particular housing at the time, I instead chose to simply add on a red filter and hope.

And when I was starting out, a red filter gave me fab results that I was very happy with.  They weren’t going to win me any prizes at that time for sure, but then all I wanted was just colourful photos to show to my dad and friends.  And it was so much easier to use.

So what are the pros and cons of each?  Today, I’m going to share some tips on whether a Red or Magenta Filter is really needed to start capturing those jaw-dropping ocean images that we love.

The first colour that we lose incredibly quickly when we are underwater is red and instead of our colours being rich and inviting like they are within the first few feet, they become all wishy washy and drab quite quickly afterwards.

There are 4 main ways to overcome this without the need for flash equipment or extra video or torch lights.

1. Getting Started the Easy Way with Your Underwater Mode

Many compact cameras have an Underwater Mode.  This may be found in the camera’s Scene Modes, it could be hiding in your White Balance Menu, or both Sealife and Olympus Compact Cameras have their own dedicated Underwater Settings for different encounters.  These usually range from one dedicated for underwater scenes, such as your buddy diver pulling faces, reef scenes, schooling fish, etc.  The important thing to remember when taking these kinds of photos to make sure that your camera’s own built-in flash is switched off to avoid particles being lit up in the water (often referred to as “Backscatter!”  The other important underwater setting which these camera’s have is it’s own dedicated Underwater Macro Setting which is brilliant for close-up subjects within a couple of feet away, such as cheeky anemone fish, elusive nudibranchs and frogfish or sexy shrimps.  This will change the camera’s aperture setting to give your subject the maximum depth-of-field (sharpness to the subject) and the flash will usually be set to on.

With some cameras, the ISO can be changed in this setting.  Please refer to the previous post on Light which covers ISOs to give you an idea of which one to choose.

Finally, the underwater mode is great when you have a lot of ambient light around you and works very well up to a depth of about 10 ms or maybe slightly more.  As you descend further, you will notice that your photos will start to look more blue.


2.  Red or Magenta Filters

A red filter was the first accessory I ever bought for my Sony Cybershot back in 2003.  It was fabulous for helping the ocean and creatures that I was trying to photograph, but there were definitely a few tips which I wish I had known at the beginning.  The first thing to think about is that, if you are above 3-5 metres, then your pictures may have a pinkish or magenta hue at the top using it.

A lot of ambient light is needed to make sure that your pictures stay nice and sharp so it is best to stay above 15 metres if you are shooting in blue water, and above 10 metres if you are shooting in temperate water with a magenta one.

Always remember to shoot with the sun behind you to capture the best colours possible.

3.  Shoot in RAW

If your camera has the ability to shoot in RAW format and you are getting started, then use it.  Just make sure that you have a nice large memory card in your camera though as the file sizes are much larger than your normal JPEGs. All you need to do is concentrate on getting the subject in the frame and voila – you can look forward to bring back the colour by simply choosing the One Click White Balance Option on your Lightroom or Photoshop Programme over a post-dive refresco.  It really can be that simple 🙂

And finally, you can also choose to enter the wonderful world of White Balance?  What’s the difference?  Do I really need to use it?  The answers will all be revealed very soon …..

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s