Photographer's Code of Conduct

Most underwater photographers want to protect the marine environment and avoid stressing marine biota when capturing images. This is not only good for the marine environment but also often leads to better photographs. The Code outlines good practices for anyone who aspires to take photos or video underwater.

Underwater photographers often become so involved in the pursuit of capturing underwater images that they become oblivious to those around them, to the annoyance and angst of other divers. Just because a diver has an underwater camera doesn’t warrant special treatment or give them an excuse to behave objectionably towards other divers. Monopolising the dive deck, muscling fellow divers out of the way whenever you see something interesting to photograph, and touching biota yourself or with your photographic equipment are not only pet gripes for other divers but are also bad practice. The fact that a diver has a camera does not, nor should not, take priority over the dive experience of a non-photographer.

On the Dive Boat

Cameras and gear associated with underwater photography are expensive items, sometimes running into the many thousands of dollars. Thus, when stowing camera gear on board, it is important that the gear is kept in a safe location. However, it shouldn’t be at the inconvenience of others. Some cameras and strobe lighting systems can be quite bulky, thus it pays to be aware of the extra space the equipment occupies on an often cramped boat deck. Common courtesy goes a long way to ensuring that any non-photographer divers on board are willing to accommodate the needs of the photographer.

Avoid shuffling along the deck in full gear with your camera in hand when it’s your turn to enter the water. Experienced photographers would never think of exiting a boat with camera in hand. The coxswain or another diver should be asked politely to pass the camera to you once you’ve entered the water.

On many boats, there is often a rinse bin dedicated to cameras. Where possible ensure there are no other cameras in it before dunking your gear for a rinse. Never leave your gear in the rinse bin as it will inconvenience other photographers that need to use the freshwater. If there are multiple cameras in the rinse tank be careful of entanglements - serious damage could result if a camera if removed without due care.

In the Water

  • No-one should attempt to take pictures underwater until they are a competent diver. Novices thrashing about with their hands and fins while conscious only of the image in their viewfinder can do considerable damage.
  • Every diver, including photographers, should ensure that gauges, octopus regulators, torches and other equipment are secured so they do not trail over reefs or cause other damage.
  • Underwater photographers should possess superior precision buoyancy control skills to avoid damaging the fragile marine environment and its creatures. Even experienced divers and those modelling for photographers should ensure that careless or excessively vigorous fin strokes and arm movements do not damage organisms or smother them in clouds of sand. A finger placed carefully on a bare patch of rock can do much to replace other, more damaging movement.
  • Photographers should carefully explore the area in which they are diving and find subjects that are accessible without damage to them or other organisms.
  • Care should be taken to avoid stressing a subject. Some fish are clearly unhappy when a camera invades their “personal space” or when pictures are taken using flash or lights. Others are unconcerned. They make the best subjects.
  • Divers and photographers should never kill marine life to attract other types to them or to create a photographic opportunity, such as feeding sea urchins to wrasse. Creatures should never be handled or irritated to create a reaction and sedentary ones should never be placed on an alien background, which may result in them being killed.
  • Queuing to photograph a rare subject, such as a seahorse, should be avoided because of the harm repeated bursts of bright light may do to their eyesight. For the same reason, the number of shots of an individual subject should be kept to the minimum.
  • Clownfish and other territorial animals are popular subjects but some become highly stressed when a photographer moves in to take a picture. If a subject exhibits abnormal behaviour move on to find another.
  • Night diving requires exceptional care because it is much more difficult to be aware of your surroundings. Strong torch beams or lights can dazzle fish and cause them to harm themselves by blundering into surrounding coral or rocks. Others are confused and disturbed if torch beams or lights are pointed directly at them. Be prepared to keep bright lights off subjects that exhibit stressed behaviour, using only the edge of the beam to minimise disturbance.
  • Care should be taken when photographing in caves, caverns or even inside wrecks because exhaust bubbles can become trapped under overhangs killing marine life. Even small pockets of trapped air which allow divers to talk to each other inside them can be lethal for marine life.
  • The image in the viewfinder can be very compelling. Photographers should remain conscious of their position and of the marine life around them at all times. In sensitive areas, they should avoid moving around on the bottom with their mask pressed up against the camera viewfinder.
  • Areas of extensive damage or pollution should be reported to the appropriate authorities.
  • Today, when so many more divers are taking up underwater photography, both still and video, it is essential that the preservation of the fragile marine environment and its creatures are paramount and that this Code of Conduct is carefully observed.