Careers Beneath The Sea – Underwater Photography

From the first attempts at underwater photography in the mid-1800’s, followed by others such as the renowned Jacques Cousteau, oceanographers, environmentalists, marine biologists, and scuba divers have explored and filmed the world below. A rare opportunity to capture mesmerizing images of coral reefs and changing formations, the fascinating, unusual creatures living among the crevices and caves of the sea, and more amazing discoveries in the deep awaits the underwater photographer.

Once no more than a hobby for a few, an exciting career in underwater photography has become even more popular through the years as modern equipment and advanced techniques have been introduced. Digital cameras enclosed in some type of underwater housing such as plastic or aluminum have replaced, for the most part, the cumbersome waterproof 35mm cameras used by most photographers in the past. Wide angle lenses, light filters, and powerful flashes are considered necessities today to produce good images and adapt to the limited visibility, color, and contrast as you go further down in the depths of the sea. There are excellent photography courses you can take to learn more about the complexities of underwater photography.

Underwater photography, of course, goes hand in hand with proficiency in scuba diving. You may seek employment first as a professional scuba diver to provide some income while you learn the skills required for underwater photography. Jobs are available in many countries at dive schools, resorts, and for cruise ship tours, but our focus in this article will be on underwater photography. The first requirement if you’re considering a career in underwater photography is to obtain certification by the PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors). Your training will begin with confined and open water courses for basic certification, and you can continue advancing to master scuba diver and divemaster in about three months. There are over 25 additional specialty courses available including buoyancy control, rescue, deep diving, cavern, night diving, and techniques of digital camera photography, all of which will further enhance your skills and assure your prospective employer of your qualifications and expertise.

You can enroll in courses online to gain some familiarity, but many job seekers may prefer to combine their travel with training that is offered at over 5,000 dive shops and dive resorts in numerous locations around the world including South Africa, New Zealand, Malaysia, Australia, Hawaii, Thailand, Egypt, the Caribbean, and Mexico. Pursuing a career in underwater photography will take some money upfront, but the cost of training does vary depending on the location. Keep a record of your diving hours as part of your resume, and continue to build your portfolio. Broaden your knowledge of the sea and marine life, and learn as much as possible about the equipment you will use if you want to be a successful underwater photographer.

After you have completed the diver’s instruction courses, you are ready to find a job. Jobs are available for instructors in underwater photography, on assignment with National Geographic, the Smithsonian, and scuba magazines, as well as for TV programs such as Discovery and Animal Planet. At some time, but certainly not overnight, there may be opportunities to work in the motion picture industry. Once you are recognized as an expert in your field, the sky’s the limit in your career, with some professionals earning as much as $1,500 a day. Underwater photography is challenging, and perhaps not as safe as staying on dry land with your camera and tripod by your side. The more risk involved with the videography of what lies beneath the sea, the better the salary; however, you can expect some strong competition for such high paying jobs.

Some underwater photographers find exciting careers in filming shipwrecks for deep sea explorers, salvage companies, and adventurers on scientific and historical expeditions looking for sunken treasure, lost ships, and artifacts. Of course, these jobs will require more expensive equipment, which may or may not be provided by the employer, and considerably more experience in underwater photography and deep water diving ability to deal with the dim light and decreased visibility near the ocean floor.

Several overseas companies can be found online that offer on the job training, or you can apply as an assistant to an established professional in the field. Another option is to contract as a freelancer with an independent agent or photographer, create your own website, or register with one that will offer your photographs for sale and give you a commission. This may not provide much income, however, but it is a start and a way to get exposure and hopefully an offer for long-term permanent employment. As you gain experience and add to your photography portfolio, travel assignments will be more plentiful, and many will offer generous salaries and benefits for your services.

The unusual life style of a career beneath the sea may have been something you thought about, but really didn’t know where to begin. If you already have a genuine interest in photography, whether as an amateur or a professional, with the proper equipment, motivation, and expert training, underwater photography can be an interesting and rewarding career.

Sharon Slayton

Let me just take a few lines to thank Sharon for all the great articles she has been writing for us. Also, I’ll add my comment on this one – despite what I wrote before about childhood dreams of a career in underwater photography, I’m not ready to change careers just yet.

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