A beginning underwater photographer recently asked me, "Why do my photos turn out 'fuzzy' when the water is clear?"
There are several reasons why underwater photos may appear fuzzy or soft around the edges, even though the water you photographed in looked crystal clear. Fortunately, there are simple solutions to these problems.
Clean Your Lens
Just as you defog your dive mask, make sure your camera's lens is clean.
Hold the Camera Steady
It may seem obvious, but the most common cause of blurry photos is not holding the camera steady. If the entire image is blurry, this usually means the camera was not held steady. Another leading cause is incorrect camera settings.
Not Enough Light
The built-in flashes on most point and shoot cameras are not powerful enough to illuminate subjects at a distance, so make sure you get close to your subject and make sure your built-in flash is set to forced fire or shoot in shallower waters. If you are not shooting with an external strobe, it may be time to invest in one. One of the primary reasons for blurry pictures underwater is insufficient light. Poor light makes it difficult for your camera to focus on the subject and it causes your camera to take photos at a slower shutter speed to allow more light to reach the sensor.
If you are using your camera's autofocus feature, it is most likely programmed to lock on to the closest subject it sees, which could be floating particles or water debris (backscatter). If you are unable to focus manually, get close to your subject, or use an external strobe mounted on the side to illuminate your subject and not the particles.
Avoid Shutter Lag
Although most modern point and shoot cameras have decent shutter lag times, you may have a camera that has a significant delay from the time you depress the shutter to the time the picture is actually taken. Cameras with shutter lag require the diver to stay still for a moment longer after depressing the shutter release button.
Understanding "Camera Shake"
With low light conditions underwater, your camera may automatically change the shutter speed (slower) and aperture (larger). This makes the camera extremely susceptible to “shake.” At faster shutter speeds there is no noticeable effect on the picture, but at slower speeds the blur becomes apparent. A good mode setting for underwater photography is the Sports mode. In this mode, the camera will adjust for a faster shutter speed and a smaller aperture size. If you use Auto or Program mode, be sure to set the White Balance for low light or fluorescent. If the subject is blurry but the rest of the picture is sharp, the issue is camera settings and not shake. It is recommended to use Sports mode when shooting moving objects underwater.
With practice, those fuzzy photos will be a thing of the past.