Underwater Camera Technology

In today’s camera technology world, much time is spent trying to conquer challenging situations: Night vision, aerial photography, and ultra-fast moving inspection processes get plenty of attention. However, there is one area that remains even more mysterious: The Ocean. While there are many opportunities to make discoveries with underwater camera technology, there are also engineering problems to take into account.

Water: A Scourge of Color Depth and Image Clarity

There are many reasons researchers want to be able to take better, crisper, more accurate underwater photos. The challenge is the daunting scope of that task. Humanity has only explored about five percent of global oceans. In addition, the deepest part of the ocean is about 36,200 feet and lighting conditions change dramatically after just a few feet.

Ocean photography offers a look into this secret world, potentially providing life sciences experts with a better understanding of many unusual forms of life. Getting there isn’t easy, however: The unique properties of ocean water mean conventional images are “washed out” at shallow depths. It only gets more complex from there.

Ocean water acts as a selective filter that gradually removes different colors of light as depth increases. Most of the red present in natural light disappears at a depth of about ten feet. Orange disappears around 25 feet, while yellow is mostly gone at 35 feet. At mid-range depths, most objects within the ocean will appear to be blue, violet, black, or green.

Image Clarity Within the Ocean Depths

Many traditional aspects of camera technology are ineffective in the ocean – conventional camera flashes, for example, lose most of their value for distinguishing colors at ten feet of depth. Despite this, the first underwater photos were taken all the way back in 1856, using a then-current camera mounted on a pole. By 1893, the first dedicated ocean photographer, marine biologist Louis Boutan, became active. Although Boutan’s images remain impressive, modern underwater photography is more sophisticated.

Camera technology has advanced, providing a range of equipment for divers. Getting proper exposure and shooting upwards – toward sunlight – are essential basics. Most underwater photographers use post-production software like Adobe Lightroom to enhance images.

Consumer action cameras like the GoPro provide photography and video capabilities up to the maximum recreational dive limit, 131 feet. Regardless of what camera one uses, however, it’s important to have a good understanding of filters. Wide-angle underwater video usually benefits from filters with a red-orange tint. These are balanced using a custom white color derived from, for example, nearby sand or gray slate.

Underwater Photography: Tough, but Rewarding

At a time when infrared sensors, micro-engineered components, and much more are appearing within the consumer market, underwater photography might seem to be lagging behind. More people are learning the fundamental diving skills they need to participate, however, and cameras are beginning to catch up as a result. For the first time in history, just about anyone can help in humanity’s continuing quest to delve further into the mysteries of the deep.


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