Before I talk about underwater photography, keep in mind that I travel light. For me, part of the fun is getting great results from minimal equipment. The main purpose of my travel is spending time with friends, so the photography can’t take up too much time or bag space.
Of course the first big decision is camera. I tried a few of the underwater enclosures for Canon compact cameras. I liked the idea of using the camera I was already familiar with, but now I am not a fan of enclosures. An underwater case is an extra bulky thing in your suitcase and makes the camera a little more clumsy to use. Worst for me is that a tiny bit of moisture in the case will cause fogging. If fogging starts when you are out in the water then there is nothing you can do about it until you get back to the hotel.
Now I use a Canon D10 camera that is waterproof to 10 meters. That is plenty of depth for me since I just snorkel. I love how small the camera is. The D10 has all the usual controls of other Canon compact cameras and it is easy to use in the water. It has a good underwater white balance setting (which you can see that I forgot to use on that stingray at the bottom of this article). It uses the same Lithium battery as my Canon S95, so I can bring one charger and steal a battery from one camera when needed.
Underwater photography while snorkeling can be pretty frustrating. Most of the time I’m bobbing on the surface and often light is low. That adds up to a lot of blurry photos. I usually shoot many photos of each scene to increase my chances of a sharp one. It is a brute force approach that requires a lot of review back home, but it is better than not getting the shot.
You can use flash to stop the motion, but it has very limited use. Flash will not penetrate far, only a few feet in most cases. The water has to be crystal clear. Most of the time you will just end up with a photo of a cloud of particles you didn’t realize were in the water.
The most effective technique for fighting blur is planning your session. Snorkel as far away from human activity as possible. Don’t snorkel in the middle of a crowd of people in front of your hotel. Kayak away from the hotel for 20 minutes. Better yet, have a local fisherman take you to a remote spot where you are alone. This will give you much clearer water.
Go when the ocean is calm and the sun is out. If waves are churning up lots of sand then go surfing, have cocktails by the pool, or hike to the top of the island. Don’t waste your time taking photos in cloudy water. You’ll just end up frustrated. If you still want to snorkel, leave the camera in the room so you can just enjoy the swim.
Never stand on coral or other sea life, but if you are in shallow water with patches of sand then you can try macro shots, which I love. Being close to the subject reduces many problems, like cloudy water and blue tint. Macro is one of the rare underwater situations where flash may work.
Most things in the ocean will hurt you if you touch them! I go to great lengths to not touch anything, even if it looks inert. My girlfriend learned the hard way that swimming through pretty sea anemones is extremely painful.
If you are looking for vacation spots that have great snorkeling then I suggest French Polynesia, Koh Lipe in Thailand, and Fiji.