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Shenton Safaris

Fiona Ayerst has been a professional underwater photographer for seven years and is one of South Africa’s best-known  underwater photographers. Using the medium of water Fiona takes images of both aquatic life as well as personal photographic shoots. Her company, Fiona Ayerst Underwater Photography, is a multi-award winning photography agency.

Fiona gives Africa Geographic Photographer of the Year hopefuls 10 tips for underwater photography:


“Shooting underwater is not as easy as shooting on land and requires extra thinking whilst dealing with multiple elements. My top tip before you go underwater is to take the time to read the camera’s manual and to use the camera as often as you can on land too. Try to use the camera (on land) whilst it’s in your underwater housing so that you get used to where all the buttons and dials are and so that you can also ensure everything is working correctly before you hit the water.

Here are another 10 tips, in the order that Fiona deems most important.

1. Get close, get closer


A common complaint when starting out is the dull blue-ish greyish hue of images. You get a clearer, sharper, and more colourful image if you reduce the water column between your port and the subject.

2. Use artificial lighting


Water absorbs light and sucks colour so, to avoid those dull grey-blue hues use underwater lights (strobe light is preferable to torch light) to restore colour and avoid grain.

3. Go manual

When using an artificial light source it is imperative to work in manual settings. The camera will not understand what to do with the strobe light if you are using aperture or shutter priority, for example.

4. Maintain your equipment

Make sure your O-rings are clean and greased. One strand of hair can cause a flood. Rinse and dry all ports after every dive. Never let salt water dry on your equipment. Water and electronics don’t like each other much.

5. Respect the environment

General Reef Scene, Raja Ampat, Indonesia

You must have excellent buoyancy skills. Keep all of your gear streamlined as to minimise the potential of a gauge damaging the reef. Never touch marine life. You may not realise the damage inflicted from even minor touching. Be patient and let your images be the reward from your interactions.

6. Have fun!


Don’t forget that underwater photography is, above all else, supposed to be fun. Don’t get too caught up in the technical side.

Debbie and Sydney Mather Pike, Jo'burg

model swimming

7. Shoot up

The reef is usually under you when you dive, but images of the tops of fish and coral are usually messy. Shooting up creates separation between the foreground subject and the background of your images


8. Focus on the eyes 

Always think about focus. Keep the eye of the subject sharp. Especially if working in macro mode, place the focus bracket so it aligns with the subject’s eye, pull your shutter trigger halfway to focus in on the eye and then when you have your photograph composed, push down completely on the shutter.


Always carefully view the environment for the next photo opportunity. Patience is paramount.


9. Shoot, review, adjust, rinse, repeat

Use your LCD to review your images as you shoot to make sure your subject is well exposed, nicely composed and you are happy with the outcome. Review every image. Adjust and shoot again.redred-sea-snorkling

10. Secondary equipment

Ensure all your equipment is maintained in great working order with annual services. At the very least you will need a mask and snorkel. After that fins will help. These days many photographers shoot while free-diving so you don’t 100% HAVE to have a SCUBA license but if you want to spend a lot of time underwater then SCUBA is the way to go.”

VW The Glen

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Africa Geographic Photographer of the Year

The Africa Geographic Photographer of the Year Competition is brought to you by Land Rover and Canon, in association with At Close Quarters, Airlink, Klaserie Sands River Camp, Hideaways, iSimangaliso Wetland Park, Thule and Rhino Tears. The competition will run from December 2016 to May 2017 and entrants can submit images via the online entry form or via Africa Geographic's Instagram channel. This profile will be used to showcase photographic tips from experts as well as blogs from our sponsors to set you on your way to becoming our Photographer of the Year!