Underwater Gear -- Where To Begin

Without a doubt, the number one question I get asked is what do I use to photograph underwater. I wish there was a simple answer...mostly, because I think that photographic gear is not a one solution fits all kind of thing. You need to be able to define what you want to shoot under water. You need to understand what you want those images to look like and then go ahead and figure out what kind of gear you need to get those images. And, when you can't even begin to photograph underwater to learn what it is you want to photograph without investing in some sort of gear, that makes those decisions even more difficult to make. So, here is some advice as to how to begin. Before you go out and invest thousands of dollars in a hard case for you dSLR, consider some other options. What I started with was a simple bag which I placed a back up Canon 30D into so I could see if I liked it. It is made by DiCapac and retails for about $100.

Now, where this fell short for me was the inability to adjust my settings once the camera was in the bag. Also, I ended up duct taping the lens port so that it didn't flop around like a ... well ... limp noodle. Still, it gave me a good taste for what to expect under water. I even captured these images with it.

I got a sense of what I wanted out of my gear and how I wanted whatever I bought to perform. There are other cameras out there now that allow you to photograph under water without investing a huge amount of money. Two that are quite popular are the Lifeproof case for the iPhone and the Panasonic Lumix. I have tried the GoPro underwater and it works super well in bright light situations, but the one thing that I learned really quickly was that it gets dark faster than you think under there. So, for me, the GoPro is a fun camera for my kids, but lacked what I required to get the shots that I love. ISO capability is huge when choosing a camera to take in the water. The other thing(and GoPro got this right) that is most important is that you will want a wide angle lens. At least to start...you are often limited in space(such as a pool) and need to be physically close to your subject. OR, like in the image of Georgia with her inner tube, there is a lot of 'stuff' floating in the water making it tough to see your subject. So, the only way to actually get the image is to get up close.

I knew I wanted to get in the water with my camera. But, I am so a big camera girl. I like flexibility from my gear and I hate feeling limited. The bag was suggested to me by a number of other photographers who also do underwater work and it was a wonderful way to 'test the waters'....BUT...the truth is, it did fail me once. And, I have heard stories of the plastic on it cracking or getting a hole...so, it is not something I would suggest long term. Nor would I suggest putting a primary camera into it. If you are a professional, you should always have multiple bodies, so this shouldn't be an issue for you...BUT, if you are a hobbyist, I suggest starting out with either the LifeProof case or the Panasonic Lumix. Always keep in mind that electronics were never intended to go in the water ;) So, failure is always a possibility. Just know how much you are willing to risk to get some really cool underwater shots ;)

Hope this helps everyone on their way to learning what gear would work for them underwater. I have since upgraded to a full on hard case. I will write a post all about that one of these days as well...

~ Dana

PS--I am going to start answering photography related questions on a regular basis soon, soooooo...is there anything specific you wanted to learn? Just ask the question in the comments and I'll keep record of them :)

Mother's Day Gifts

This morning while driving the kids to school, a commercial came on the radio for diamonds. It said to give mom what she really wants this Mother's day. Jack asked me if that was true...he said that the media gives out conflicting messages(this is my 10 year old--he's an old soul). He said that according to most of the television shows he watches moms just want something that you put your heart into...it could be a scrap piece of paper with a sweet little note on it and moms would be happy. He was confused because this commercial was saying that what she really wanted was this diamond pendant for $199. Which one do you want mom?

Of course, I told him that the scrap piece of paper would do. I said, heck...a hug would do :) I don't need anything. I have everything I could ever want. And, that's true. Don't get me wrong...diamonds are nice, but this year I just want to spend the day with my kids eating rolled up pancakes, working in the garden and jumping on the trampoline.

I guess I'm like most moms. We like the special gifts that dads sometimes surprise us with, but the little scrap pieces of paper with the special notes get framed or tucked away in a special drawer with other memories of our kid's childhood. We know that those moments of childhood slip away and the gift is in the living them.

This is the part where I say that a family photography session would make an excellent gift for a mom...and, it's true. It would. Especially grandmothers...they love that stuff ;) But, I don't want to diminish the handmade jars, the footprints in clay, or the sweet poems your children will give you on Sunday. Those are the real gifts...but, I would like to photograph some of those wee moments of you and your children so that you have those memories locked in a single frame. Printed on a wall or in a book for generations to come. So, dads...don't be caught at the card store on Saturday night. There won't be anything there for you anyways. Give me a call and we will truly give her a gift she'll cherish. After all--how do you compete with those scrap pieces of paper and the breakfast in bed that your kids will make?

~ Dana

PS--If your wife loves to take pictures, you might consider my next class on photographic storytelling. It is online and there is a payment link right from the blog post--in case you don't make it to the card store at all. :)


These were taken in the front yard of the house we rented in Belize. It was the day we harvested coconuts for fun. The son of the caretaker showed us the proper way to do everything.

Just a couple of notes...first, I am teaching a class on Storytelling With Images through the month of June. You must be able to take pictures on full manual, but that is the only prerequisite. If you are a professional or a parent, you are welcome to join us. The class will be project based and there will be an opportunity to purchase the chance to shoot for an evening with Dana. During the evening shoot, she will cover sun flare and shooting into the sun. Here is a link to details on the class(make sure to share it with your friends):


The second note is regarding scheduling. Warm days are here again so I am excited to get out and document some families playing in the sunshine(and the water--hoping for some water sessions this year). I still have a couple of spots left for May. June and July have quite a bit of space still, but August and September are quickly filling up. They have never before filled this early, so if you are hoping for a session during that time period, I advise you to book sooner rather than later as I'm afraid for the first time, I may run out of space. This also means that I won't be doing mini sessions this year during the fall as my priority will have to be my signature session clients. I'm sure you all understand :)

feels like a good day to get a slurpee....

~ Dana


This is jungle Georgia...on the beach in Belize. Just outside our condo on our last day. Of course today with the snow blowing and the temperature lower than I imagined, it is easy to wish myself back on that beach ;) I took 7000 images in Belize. I have been asked how many I took about 15 times already, so I thought I'd share that statistic. It's less than I thought actually. But, that's because there were times when I left my camera and just lived the experience instead of witnessing it through my lens. I find those moments so important as they always make me long to have a camera in my hands and it is important to feel that ache once in awhile. Plus, I spent a good deal of time learning on this trip...about light and bubbles and movement under water. It's a new beginning for me...shooting underwater. And, I can't wait to share more images with you. Not to mention, start shooting underwater sessions. Summer is coming and I am hoping for some sessions out at people's cabins, in their swimming pools, and all sorts of other fun water stuff.

While on vacation, I was also thinking lots about using your images to tell a story. Mostly because I have an online class coming up on the subject...I created a beautiful little story with these images...and another set with a coconut. I will be using them in the class ;) I go back and forth on teaching and whether I will continue doing it or not. The truth is...I learn so much while teaching that I sometimes wonder who's getting more out of it ;) But, something wonderful has happened in the last couple of years....a sort of freedom from caring what other people think--that's always held me back a lot truth be told. In all aspects of life, but especially when it came to the idea of teaching. And, so here I am...I feel like I am on the edge waiting to jump into the unknown. And, I'm excited...whatever it brings. So, if you would like to join me in my class here are the details: http://danapugh.com/2013/02/online-photography-classes-for-parents/ I say that it is for parents, but really it is open to anyone who can shoot on full manual. Email me if you have any questions :)

I promise to share more from Belize and from recent sessions and from Charleston(did you know I was there--well, I was)...in the coming weeks...

~ Dana