Fishing for Work as an Underwater Photographer


Photography: Zena Holloway

Become a professional photographer and there’s a good chance that you’ll spend much of your time trying to keep your business afloat. Become an underwater photographer however, and you’ll be spending a lot of time trying to land jobs that make you sink.

For anyone with a love of both photography and Scuba diving, being paid to shoot underwater should be a perfect combination of two enjoyable hobbies. You’ll get to swim and dive, take great pictures that make you proud… and you might even earn some money.

And it’s not as hard as it used to be. Although you’ll still need special equipment and you’ll be running the risk of climbing out of the water with a flooded camera, it’s now fairly easy to find waterproof housing for most models of DSLRs, and even for point-and-shoot digital cameras.

Backscatter, Condensation and Patience
You’ll need diving skills, of course, and also an awareness of the special challenges involved in photographing underwater. These include the limited visibility, backscatter of light from suspended particles, the loss of colors filtered out at lower depths and even condensation inside the waterproof housing that can fog the lens and ruin a shot.

For some shoots, patience can be important too.

“It’s like all nature photography,” LeRoy French, an underwater photographer with more than 50 years’ experience and whose clients have included Mastercard and National Geographic, told us. “Most of the time is spent waiting for a shot. The elements can be very difficult and in some cases the equipment and gear that you wear can be very cumbersome.”

Landing jobs can be tough as well. There’s no shortage of underwater photography classes to help new photographers learn the ropes and few divers should have trouble finding groups to hit the water with, but winning commissions and selling the images is likely to be the biggest challenge.

LeRoy French says that most of his work comes from his website and by word-of-mouth, although he has used agents in the past. The subject of the image also plays an important role in determining its salability:

“The most ‘in demand’ images are those of an ‘extreme’ nature [such as] sharks, whales, etc.,” says French.

Photographers who aren’t as well known in the industry as LeRoy French or who prefer to keep a television screen between themselves and a pack of sharks do have other options though. is a niche stock site specializing in underwater photography. It accepts contributions and pays 50 percent on sales. Some photographers though, such as Carlos Villoch, license images directly from their own sites which they also use to trawl for commissions.

Photographing Water Babies
An alternative option though is to combine underwater photography skills with the sort of markets usually served by child and portrait photographers. Zena Holloway, for example, has published a number of photography books but is best known for her award-winning “Water Baby” images which have been used on the covers of Paris Match and National Enquirer.


Photography: Zena Holloway

While shooting in a pool might seem easier than taking a boat out to the sea and waiting for a whale to swim by, even this sort of photography has its challenges. For shoots involving models, Zena uses a local public swimming pool, working from 10pm until 5am. She also uses a team of assistants to help with props, lighting and equipment so that she can remain in the water.

For baby shoots, Zena organizes her own sessions, charging £40 (around $80) per child for a half-hour session including up to four children or £160 (around $320) for a private shoot. Prints are extra and range from £20 (around $40) to £160 (around $320) for large sizes.

More interestingly perhaps, Zena also teams up with baby swim classes, a strategy that could be used even by new underwater photographers. Although it’s unlikely that you’d be able to charge for a session, the cost of the prints should make the shoot worthwhile and paying a commission to the swim school should help to land the gig.

Making an entry to the world of underwater photography might seem difficult and much depends on your skill set, a but lot depends too on what you’re willing to do to generate income. As LeRoy French told us:

“Any photographer can take an underwater photograph, it just depends on where. Swimming pool, snorkeling, shallow water… no problem. Anything else requires being an expert scuba diver without fear of the elements.”

Take a look at Ryan Frimel’s online underwater photography manual here and tell us about your experiences of shooting in the water.

[tags] underwater photography [/tags]

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