Etiquette Tips for Underwater Photographers and Videographers

Underwater photographers are some of our favorite people. They show us things we might not otherwise see (especially the tiny stuff) and we get to see Maui’s underwater beauty through their eyes.

Unfortunately, some photographers and videographers are disrespectful to marine life (and to other divers) in the name of getting a perfect shot. Whether you’re new to underwater photography or have drawers full of hard drives and film canisters, we hope you’ll take a moment to review these etiquette tips. 

One’s a Crowd, Share the Reef

Let’s say your dive guide just found a frogfish, a green lionfish, or maybe an octopus. Everyone wants to see it, some people want to photograph it. What do you do?

In a perfect world, your dive group discussed this beforehand – who goes first and how much time each diver can spend with the critter before moving along. If this wasn’t part of your pre-dive plan, the best thing to do is take turns – as shown in this helpful video featuring the Maui Dreams team.

If you’re a photographer, take a few shots then back away slowly so you don’t scare the animal. Once everyone gets a chance to look, come back for round two if you need to (but make sure you don’t get separated from the group).

Not every diver is a photographer, but we’re all there to see cool stuff, so give everyone a chance to see the cool critter.

When another photographer is doing their thing, give them plenty of space to change position. If there’s current, wait downstream so you don’t accidentally kick silt into their shot.

When you’re ready to move along, be mindful of your fins – no good can come of your stirring up the bottom or causing a little underwater cyclone around the critter you just got to see.

Remember: if you’re excited about this animal, others are too.

If you want a cool spot all to yourself, consider booking a private, guided dive. We’ll help find the animals you want, and you get to film them to your heart’s content without anyone else around.

Don’t Hassle the Locals

Everyone learns this during Open Water, but it’s worth repeating – it’s never okay to touch coral or other marine life. We teach this not just because it’s the right thing to do; but for some animals, it’s a matter of life and death.

If you find yourself getting too close to the reef, take a nice deep inhale to lift yourself out of the way or look for a spot where nothing appears to be growing and push off with just one finger.

Never swim directly at an animal. Imagine walking down the street and having a helicopter fly straight at you. What would you do? Hide! When you scare an animal, it ruins their day, screws up your shot, and disappoints other divers who will miss the chance to see something cool. Instead, approach the subject slowly from the side like an underwater ninja.

Buoyancy, Buoyancy, Buoyancy

Good buoyancy is essential for underwater photographers and especially for videographers. We love watching your vacation highlights, but not if it makes us seasick. Also, turtles are famously judgemental.

neutral buoyancy turtle

Never, never lay on the bottom. If you can’t hover and shoot at the same time, we teach a class called Peak Performance Buoyancy (don’t let the name deter you, we promise you’ll have fun). By perfecting your buoyancy skills, you’ll be able to shoot better angles, reduce your air consumption and stay off the reef. Also, when you’re not flailing, you’re also not scaring away the fish you’re trying to photograph! It’s a win-win-win.
 How do you tell someone they need to improve their buoyancy? Some people don’t know, or maybe they’re in denial, but they’ll keep on crashing into the reef until someone sets them straight. If you feel uncomfortable speaking to the person directly, let your dive guide know, or send them this article to get the conversation started.

Don’t Stir Things Up

When you’re focused on adjusting your strobes or framing up a shot, it’s easy to forget what the rest of your body is doing, especially your fins. A few thoughtless kicks can stir up enough silt to ruin your shot and injure innocent marine life.

Before you start fiddling with your camera, look around. Position your body away from fragile coral heads and point your fins away from the sandy bottom.

Stay With the Group

When your dive guide looks up and notices a diver is missing, it takes five years off their life. While you’re hanging back to get another shot of that frogfish, they assume the worst.

Please don’t give your dive guide a heart attack or make other divers wait for you. If you want to spend an entire dive in a single spot, great. Rent some tanks and we’ll point you to some of the dive spots for photographers on Maui. If you don’t have a buddy, partner up with one of our critter-finding experts.

Don’t be that guy!

Pocket-sized video cameras, inexpensive underwater housings for mobile phones and compact underwater cameras mean more divers can try underwater photography or videography. Cameras are a great way to share your diving experience in Maui with friends and family back home, but they’re also a big distraction.

If you come dive with us, and we hope you do, please remember you’re a guest in the underwater world – we all are. Mind your manners and be on your best behavior. Imagine your kids or your grandma is watching and you want to show off what a skilled and considerate diver you are.

Curious about the cool stuff you could see scuba diving in Maui? Check out our Facebook page, or follow us on Instagram @mauidreamsdiveco.

Looking for tips to improve your underwater photos? Here’s a book we recommend

Happy Diving!

Maui Dreams participates in the Amazon Associates Program and may earn a small commission for Amazon purchases made through links in this post.