Underwater Photography 101: Focus, Focus, Focus! (Part 1)

Underwater Photography 101: Focus, Focus, Focus! (Part 1)

Focus is an important factor in any type of photography and simple minute changes to the focus can have an astounding effect on the viewer’s perspective.  Sometimes it is hard to decide whether to make the majority of the image sharp or soft.  Sometimes it is hard to decide just where the focus should be.  This tutorial is an exploration of creative ideas that can be implemented both above and below the water line.  It is in two parts.  The first part will deal with what is generally thought to be important to focus on:  i.e. eyes, ears, mouth, and nose. Remember that photography is subjective, so these are loose rules.  In “Underwater Photography 101: Focus, Focus, Focus! (Part 2)” you will learn how to use the camera’s aperture, light and motion to achieve more artistic focusing ideas.

One of the first things we have to determine is what should be in focus.  If you are photographing an animal that can look back at you, then it is essential that you have its eyes in focus, and very desirable that those eyes be looking at the camera.


Sometimes the eyes are very obscure, so making sure they are in focus adds interest to the photograph.  Did you know that snails have “eyes?”

Simnia snail
Simnia snail

If the animal is a nudibranch, it may have “eye spots.” However, in this animal’s case, the rhinophores are the most important, and one, or preferably both, should be in focus.

Hypselodoris kangas
Hypselodoris kangas

Sometimes it is more interesting to be artistic than “correct.” But you should know the rules before you attempt to break them. For example, the following images are of the rhinophores and the “gills” on a nudibranch. Since butt shots are not in vogue, it is important to know which side of the animal you are photographing. You want your image to be deliberate, and not an accident.  Of the two images below, which one do you think is more interesting? More correct?  More artistic? (There’s no wrong answer)

_DSC2112-5-3small _DSC2157-6

If the animal has an interesting feature, you may want to focus on that. This ribbon eel has a very interesting mouth and flaring nose, so focusing on those features makes an interesting image. Don’t forget teeth! Teeth can be the most dramatic part of an image.


Please visit “Underwater Photography 101:  Focus, Focus, Focus! Part 2” for more tips on focus! It will provide tips on using aperture, movement and lighting to achieve artistic images.

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My photographs are taken with a Nikon D7000 in Sea and Sea Housing using two YS-D1 Strobes.
All images are copyrighted by Brook Peterson and may only be used with written permission.  Please do not copy or print them.  To discuss terms for using these images, please contact me
Copyright 2017 Brook Peterson

5 thoughts on “Underwater Photography 101: Focus, Focus, Focus! (Part 1)

  1. Yes, someday I am going to have to put my little Panasonic camera in a zip-lock bag and see if I get any fair pictures of our goldfish from them.

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