Getting Started with Underwater Photography – Part 9 – Approach

Today we’ll look at one of the most crucial things in all of underwater photography: the right approach towards the marine life we want to photograph. Once you, esteemed reader, have mastered this, true underwater-photo competence is close to becoming a reality for you.

Keep calm! The fishes we want to shoot are usually quite a bit smaller than ourselves, and even big animals like manta rays will swim away very quickly from underwater clowns who get into their way or try to chase them. Don’t! Such behavior is detrimental to enjoying dives without a camera, but especially as an underwater photographer we want to be as respectful towards the marine life as possible. Make the fish think that you are not even there, or that you are so slow and harmless that there is no need for them to flee! Don’t flail around with your arms and legs, and breathe calmly, since many marine animals don’t like bubbles. Take 5 minutes to hover closer to a goby or a blenny perched on a rock at the edge of the reef. A calm fin kick, followed by a minute of motionless observation, followed by another fin kick does the trick.


A male anthias, one of the most vibrantly colored and active coral reef fishes. The males often swim in spots further away from the reef than the females, and every minute or so spread their fin rays in a territorial display. It’s no trivial task to keep the camera homed in onto one of these quick fish!

Closely observe the animals for a while before approaching them. Do they swim in certain patterns? Come out of their burrow at regular intervals? Do they rest on rock ledges, and shift their spot every couple of minutes? Diligently note such behavioral patterns, 1 species at a time. This might also allow you to get shots of fishes doing something interesting.

The way is the goal when it comes to getting close to fishes underwater. The observations before getting a shot are immensely enjoyable for me. Over the years, this way of approaching marine animals established a mental habit of paying super close attention to wildlife in my head. This is now true even when I am without a camera, or on land, birdwatching or hiking. In that way, underwater photography became a teacher of enhanced attention to the natural world around us. I can recommend it!

anthias male

Another pretty male anthias, different species.