Change your perspective:
Water photography for beginners
with tips from Veronica Steigner
Text and interview: Fabienne Sutter
Images: Veronica Steigner
The first step is always the hardest. But you can capture film or digital photos of water, with or without a zoom lens, using a range of different cameras or even your mobile phone. All these similarities with normal photography will help you to clear the first hurdles. And then there are the special characteristics that come along with the new environment and the water: currents, waves persistently crashing over your head, surfers and boards flying past, not to mention the temperature of the water. But once you’ve mastered these, you can expect to come away with some incredible photos. According to Vero Steigner, sitting right in the middle of the line-up with a camera is simply the best experience: “I really enjoy it, I just love being in the water.” The unique perspective in particular appeals to her, as well as the experience of reflecting in the water alongside surfers performing manoeuvres.
If you’d like to try out water photography for yourself, there are plenty of ways to do so, depending on what you’re wanting to achieve and how much you’re willing to spend. You can quite simply use your mobile phone, buy a suitable waterproof phone case for it (costing around CHF 100, e.g. Sito) and get started. There are also underwater cameras that are already waterproof, with no need to buy a separate case, such as the Nikonos 35mm Underwater Camera, the Nikon W300 Waterproof Underwater Digital Camera or the SeaLife DC2000. Another incredibly fun way to do it is by using disposable cameras. This way, you can take photos and then be surprised by the result once the pictures are developed. Waterproof models by Fujifilm and Kodak are available from websites such as konrad.ch or brack.ch for as little as CHF 25. For the real deal, you can also buy compact cameras that already come equipped with a waterproof housing. The right choice for photographers hoping to take high-quality images in the water, whether for magazines, friends, videos or clients. These include various models from major brands such as Sony, Canon and Nikon in a range of price classes, which can be made water-resistant through the use of a waterproof case. Recommended basic models for capturing photos and videos include the Canon 7D and the Sony α6000, as well as its successor model, the α6500. Waterproof cases are also available in all quality and price classes. Cases by SeaFrogs are suitable for a variety of cameras and are somewhat cheaper. LiquidEye, SPL Waterhousing and Aquatech Waterhousing are other well-known brands that offer slightly higher-quality cases for cameras by Sony, Canon and Nikon.
Vero bought her first camera with a case from her old boss on the Canary Islands. She now takes wonderful photos with a Sony α6000 digital compact camera and a waterproof case from Aquafrog. Water photography can definitely be expensive, however. You should always have a good strap to secure your camera so that you don’t have the same experience as Vero did in Portugal: “It was a great day and a set hit me so hard, it pulled the fins out from under me, the strap ripped and my camera sank into the water. I could only scream out ‘my camera!’, and luckily a friend was able to rescue it for me.”
Fins are also indispensable if you want to keep your head and your camera above water and the perfect position in the line-up. Vero swears by swim fins from Daphins with a rail saver that have a good hold and comfort level. Bodyboarding fins had always given her blisters.
Tips for beginners
If you’re new to water photography, these tips will help you get your bearings in your new environment:
- Start on calmer days and shoot at spots where you feel comfortable
- Get to grips with the spot before entering the water: where are the currents, where does the sun rise and how is the light, which wave (left-hander or right-hander) does it make more sense to photograph?
- Kick things off with one to three friends, whose surfing style you are familiar with and who you know won’t hit your head with their boards
Vero’s most important tip, though, is to “take a slow and cautious approach, keep on going and don’t get frustrated if something doesn’t go well the first time!” More tips and tricks can be found on Internet forums based in the US and Australia or on YouTube. Masters of water photography don’t just appear out of thin air, and even after four years of capturing images, Vero’s success rate is still far from 100%. “Sometimes, you just get a gut feeling that tells you ‘yes, that was really good!’ and then you can scarcely wait to look at the photos on your PC.” But the biggest challenge is always getting the focus right and not zooming in on the palm trees in the background. One thing is clear: only by spending countless hours in the water will you become a good water photographer!
The art of water photos
The photos definitely have their own charm. There are two main approaches when it comes to water photography. The first is razor-sharp close-ups of extreme surfing manoevres, such as stunning photos of surfers in double overhead barrels or a close-up of a snap throwing up plenty of spray. The second is the more artistic approach of taking snapshots in the water, perhaps on the back of a surfboard but perhaps not, that highlight the unique perspective that this offers. As for Vero, she doesn’t make a living from water photography. For her, it’s more of a hobby – and she’s totally fine with that: “If people suddenly paid me money for it, there would be so much pressure and I would have to take good pictures. That would take all the fun away.” Her love for the water and the art around surfing is reflected in her work for the Surfers Collective. Surfing images by her and others can be found in its first print mag TIME is NOW. Pure inspiration, not just for up-and-coming water photographers!
Veronica Steigner (28)
Originally from Dortmund (Germany), she lives at times in France, at others in Sri Lanka. She’s drawn there by her love of surfing. She works as a surfing instructor and illustrator for Surfers Collective while working towards a Master in Editorial Design. The sea, surfing and water photography are her great passions.
The minds behind the waveup brand publish Switzerland’s only surfing magazine, WaveupMag, regularly fill its WaveupBlog with news and backstories, and arrange regular events for Swiss surfers. With their association, they also offer a home for all those interested in surfing. The biggest project, however, is the leisure and surf park in Regensdorf, which is in intensive planning and can be expected to be completed in 2021.