Shooting Underwater Silhouettes

Underwater silhouettes are easy to achieve and can produce stunning images for your portfolio. They can either be the main subject in your image or used as secondary points of interest with a strobe lit foreground. Either way, adding silhouettes into your shooting style will help elevate your wide angle images.

Blue Cavern

Diver entering Blue Cavern, Catalina Island, California, Canon 5D Mark III, EF 16-35mm @16mm, 1/80, f/3.2, ISO 320

There are two main ingredients for ambient-light silhouettes. You need a strong subject with a distinctive shape and you need enough contrast between the subject and the background. Common underwater subjects that make good silhouettes include sea lions, sharks, divers and wrecks. To achieve enough contrast, keep the sun behind the subject and isolate the subject in open water. Adding additional points of interest, such as sunbeams and framing the subject in a cave or other similar opening, can further enhance the image. I prefer to use manual exposure settings when shooting silhouettes. If your subject is filling a large portion of your frame, most auto settings will try and compensate by automatically opening up the exposure and giving you a washed-out silhouette with an overexposed background. To offset this, you can dial in some negative exposure compensation when using the auto modes.

Sea Lion silhouette

Sea Lion silhouette, Los Islotes, La Paz, Mexico, Canon 7D, EF 8-55mm @12mm, 1/250, f/14, ISO 320

Part of shooting an interesting silhouette is just recognizing a good subject when its presented to you. With a little practice, I’m sure you will be adding silhouettes to your shooting repertoire.


Diver silhouette with sea fans, Liberty wreck, Bali, Indonesia, Canon 5DS R, EF 8-15mm @15mm, 1/100, f/8.0, ISO 320

Todd WinnerTodd Winner is a contributor, instructor, and trip leader for Samy’s Underwater Photo & Video and has over 20 years of experience in underwater still and broadcast video. To see more of Todd’s work please go to For the latest information on workshops and trips, sign up for our newsletter.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s