5 underwater travel photography tips

Matt Smith is a UK born and bred underwater photographer who is now based in Stanwell Park NSW Australia. After emigrating to Australia in 2007 in pursuit of his photography career, Matt fell in love with the Pacific Ocean and has now made it his permanent playground. Matt is a staff photographer for Ocean Geographic magazine and a Nikon and Aquatica brand ambassador. His award-winning images have been exhibited all around the world including the London Natural History Museum in the UK, The Louvre, Paris and the Australian Museum in Sydney. He has also won over 20 international photography awards including the National Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year Peoples Choice Award in 2017. As we head into summer and spending time in the ocean’s depths, Matt has shared with V&T his top underwater photography tips.  Tips for scoring underwater photos “Most of us get an annual holiday each year that we look forward to for the other 50 weeks or so, and if you’re blessed with the photographic curse, you’re probably going to want to come home with a few pics to show the folks. Here are my five top tips for scoring gold underwater,” said Matt.

Don’t get caught with your pants down!

If your annual photography trip involves a tour of some description such as a live-aboard dive boat, cruise or four-wheel drive tour of the outback, don’t get caught camera-less! I always make sure I have at least a basic setup in my in-flight carry on; it’s a camera body, water housing, favourite lens and one underwater light…don’t check it ALL in! Most tours run to tight schedules and won’t wait for you or your missing baggage. If your check-in doesn’t show up, dive gear can be hired on location and a change of clothes is highly overrated, but cameras are a must! Better still, book your flights to arrive a couple of days in advance and spend the time soaking in the local sights, this gives you a buffer to wait for missing bags to arrive.

You should have been here last week

A lot of nature’s great events are very seasonal, sometimes even timed to the week, day or moon phase. Do your homework before booking a trip to make sure you nail the timing. After all, there’s no point in turning up for the famous Whyalla giant cuttlefish aggregation in November, you’ll go home very disappointed, it’s in June.

Me too

Way before stepping on a plane you should be planning on how you want to shoot. A good start is to conduct Google image searches on the location and research photographers that have been there before. This will give you an insight into the ‘must have, me too’ shots but is also a great inspirational starting point to plan your unique and creative work. Have a plan, don’t turn up and hope for the best.

Synchronize watches

Very rarely do great photos just happen by luck and the same goes underwater. Many locations look great for less than half an hour per day, when the sunlight is in just the right spot, which isn’t always just sunset or sunrise. Famous shots of underwater caves such as Leru Cut in the Solomons, Antelope Canyon in Arizona or some city backstreet between the high rises all have photographic windows of opportunity that last just minutes, you HAVE to be there then! Local knowledge is gold, so get on the emails ahead of time or start asking around on arrival. The devils in the detail, or light in this case.


If you’re booking a tour, try to book with an operator geared to towards photography trips. They will be a lot more patient with you and it is their goal to make sure you go home with shots, they’ll also help you with the above four tips. If you book with any other type of operator prepare to be frustrated as you’re herded around like cattle, missing all the good shots. This goes for the diving industry too.

In Matt’s kit bag you’ll find:

– 2 x Nikon D850 bodies – Nikon 8-15mm F3.5-4.5 E ED – Nikon 16-35mm F4 VRII (favourite and most versatile lens underwater, this one goes in my carry on luggage) – Nikon 60mm F2.8 Micro – Nikon 105mm F2.5 Micro – Nikon 50mm F1.8 – Nikon 70-200mm F2.8 – Aquatica Digital Waterproof Camera Housing

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