Dive Travel

Top Dive Destinations for Underwater Photographers

When considering where in the world to travel for incredible underwater photography opportunities, your options can be overwhelming. This is because your ideal destination isn’t only determined by the characteristics of the dive area itself; it also (perhaps more strongly) depends on what you want to photograph, and how. Are you looking for colorful coral reef panoramas? Exquisitely strange creatures? Big schools of pelagics?

Or are you really into the extreme- drawn to landscapes of submerged ice cliffs near the poles, or to black-water plankton encounters? And what style of photography do you want to practice- flash, no flash, fluorescence capture, macro, wide-angle?

Turtle swimming, Bonaire
Turtle swimming, Bonaire

American Crocodile, Gardens of the Queen, Cuba
American Crocodile, Gardens of the Queen, Cuba

Underwater Museum, Isla Mujeres, Mexico
Underwater Museum, Isla Mujeres, Mexico

Something that unites all underwater photographers, regardless of their respective niches, is the consideration of light. Light is necessary for any photograph, whether manufactured by camera gear or present in the environment.

If you want so much ambient light that you can leave your flash at home, you’ll need dive sites where the marine life is close to the sunlight-rich surface and the water is extremely clear. Here are some places renowned for these conditions and known to contain marine life worth photographing:

  • The Bahamas: This country offers some superb shark photography sites, with big elasmobranchs swarming in clear, shallow waters, against a backdrop of white sand that reflects sunlight.
  • Both coasts of Mexico: Try Cozumel for coral reefs and Baja California for Mantas and Seals.
  • The Dominican Republic: One of the best places to dive with Humpback Whales in clear water just below the surface.

Silky Sharks - Gardens of the Queen, Cuba
Silky Sharks – Gardens of the Queen, Cuba

Whale Sharks off the coast of Isla Mujeres, Mexico
Whale Sharks off the coast of Isla Mujeres, Mexico

If you particularly want wide-angle shots of vibrant coral reefs with plenty of ambient light, you’ll need to look for countries with shallow reef systems and, again, clear water. Here are some places to consider:

  • Indonesia: Within the biodiversity hotspot called the Coral Triangle, islands in the areas of Raja Ampat, Sulawesi, and the Banda Sea offer some sites with pristine coral cover just below the surface.
  • Other Coral Triangle Destinations: The Philippines, Papua New Guinea, and Malaysian Borneo also offer dive sites with landscapes of gorgeous, shallow coral cover, in an explosion of different shapes, sizes, and species.
  • The Red Sea: This area, visited for years by dive operations in Egypt, sports celebrated visibility of up to 50 meters- a prime opportunity to go a little deeper without sacrificing ambient light.
  • Pacific Countries like Fiji, the Solomons, and Palau: Fiji is known as the soft coral capital of the world, with fields of swaying, rainbow-colored tentacles blanketing panoramic landscapes.
  • Caribbean Destinations like Cuba, the Cayman Islands, Bonaire, and Curacao: Cuba’s reef have captured the spotlight in recent years; they are some of the few Caribbean reef systems relatively undamaged by destructive fishing and coastal development (probably due to Cuba’s isolated status and particular political system over the past few decades).
    Join our Cuba Trip for 2018!

Isla Mujeres, Mexico, Wide Angle Coral Reef
Isla Mujeres, Mexico, Wide Angle Coral Reef

Red Sea, Starfish
Red Sea, Starfish

If you want weird and wacky, it may be time to get out your flash. Many of the most sought-after macro critters live in low-visibility environments on silty bottoms or black volcanic sand (the latter of which can actually provide a nice background for the creatures highlighted by your flash). Regardless of the visibility, since you’ll be getting up close and personal for your photographs, great shots are more than possible. It’s also important to note that not all macro photography is muck photography – there are loads of tiny, kaleidoscopically patterned sea slugs, crabs, shrimps, and other animals on thriving coral reefs.

  • Indonesia: This country holds world-famous muck diving sites in Lembeh Strait and Ambon, and colorful coral reef macro in Wakatobi and Raja Ampat.
  • Philippines: Some of this country’s renowned muck diving sites are found in the areas of Dauin in Negros and Anilao in Luzon, and colorful coral reef macro at Apo Island (and tons of other places).
    We’re headed to the Philippines in Nov 2017!
  • Other Coral Triangle Destinations: Papua New Guinea dive sites like the Witu Islands and Sipadan in Malaysian Borneo are also amazing for macro. To be honest, you can find incredible coral reef macro in so many Coral Triangle dive sites that it’s almost futile to list them.

Tiny Red Hermit Crab, Bonaire
Tiny Red Hermit Crab, Bonaire

Nudibranch, Croatia, Adriatic Sea
Nudibranch, Croatia, Adriatic Sea

Arrow Crab, Cozumel
Arrow Crab, Cozumel

Not inspired by the opportunities mentioned so far? There’s so much more- tropical wreck-diving in Bali (Indonesia), Puerto Galera (Philippines) and Truk Lagoon (Guam), huge schools of sharks and other fish in Costa Rica and the Galapagos, kelp forests and sea lions in California, ice in Iceland and the Russian White Sea.  There are far, far more underwater photography destinations than would be possible to list here… even destinations as-of-yet unknown for photography can create incredible shots depending on the approach of the photographer and some luck with water conditions.

In choosing your destination, remember to consider other important factors. Sea surface conditions, local monsoon seasons, and the particular placement of your destination can make or break your photographs. Lastly, remember that knowing your equipment and practicing your technique make a huge impact on your results; if you’re a new underwater photographer, consider buddying up with someone who can teach and guide you- the rewards are priceless, and you can frame and hang them on your wall forever.

One of the best ways to travel, for underwater photographers, is with groups of photographers-only. UW photographers dive different, at their own pace, taking their time and staying on one subject for 10-30 minutes, until they get the best shot. If you are a lone photographer among a group of divers, you will probably be rushed, frustrated and even lose the group if they don’t wait up! This is why our travel partners at Dive and More organize photography-oriented trips and photo workshops, creating the best possible experience for UW photographers to unleash their potential! Join them on one of their future trips!

Whale Shark Isla Mujeres Mexico
Whale Shark Isla Mujeres Mexico

Jacqueline Dodd

Jacqueline Dodd

Jacqueline is a PADI Open Water Scuba Instructor. She specializes in conservation, sustainability, and community development. Co-Founder at Experiential Education and Conservation Organization
Jacqueline Dodd

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