I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten back from a day in the water SCUBA Diving, Snorkeling, or Surfing, and have been totally disappointed by my underwater photos. Every time, they come out looking the same. The photos area all overly blue, with little color elsewhere in the photo. And the deeper the depth that the photo was taken, the worse the photo looks. I always wondered if there was any way to save those photos that I worked so hard to capture in the first place. Of course, I could have used a fancy filter to add the colors back in the photos, but I don’t have one. So what else could I do? After a trip to Hawaii, my wife actually figured that out on her photos and I am here to share it!
Take these photos below as examples. You can see how blue the unedited photo on the left is compared to the edited version on the right. The one on the left has little color definition in the coral nor in the snorkeler (a.k.a. my wife). How did I “save” this photo? Well its pretty simple and most photo editing tools have this feature, it’s called “White Balance”. See below the photos for further explanation on how to use this tool/feature, specifically in Mac Photos or what used to be called iPhoto.
Below is a screenshot while editing the photo. To get the color back into the photo, you have to click on the little eye dropper next to the drop down titled Neutral Gray. Then, once selected, you click or drag the pointer around the photo to change how the white balance is defined in the photo. For under water photos, click on a color in the photo that is not supposed to be blue. For the photo below, I can click on her skin, the fins, or the coral around her. This will change the color of the photo to different shades of warmth until you find one that brings the photo back to the color you remember the moment as.
Below is another example of using the “White Balance” tool in Photos to bring a photo, taken at 20ft below the surface, back to its true colors. Using that tool the water changes from an aqua to a true navy blue, the sea turtle’s shell changes from a lime green to a true brown, and likewise with the coral being corrected from a green and brown to tans and reds.
Will this solve every problem for underwater photography, obviously not. This method and tool can only correct so much on a photo. I’ve taken photos while scuba diving at 60ft, and this method doesn’t bring back all the colors like these example photos, but it’ll work most of the time. For those of you looking to do some dedicated underwater photography, I would look at getting filters that will fix the colors in-camera and there will be little need for these post-processing fixes. But for the rest of you, I hope this works for your photos after getting back from your latest underwater adventure.
My name is Zachary Kenney and I’m an adventure filmmaker & photographer. My passion is to tell stories that will hopefully motivate you to go live a more adventurous life. Whether that is to experience the view from the summit of a mountain, or wandering through a new town on a road trip. Currently based out of Park City, UT.