How to Touch-Up your Underwater Photography using Adobe Photoshop


Amazed by the beautiful photos taken by the professional underwater photographers, I dived into purchasing my first underwater camera close to two years ago. A very basic but sturdy Nikon W300. Little did I know back then, that post-processing is to Underwater Photography, what make-up artists are to actors!


Back in the Day

Back in the latter half of the previous decade, I would spend much of my time processing and producing ‘Kits’ for the FIFA Series of video-games. These kits were basically higher resolution textures, than those which shipped with the game by default. The kit making was undertaken using Adobe Photoshop 7.

When I realized that most underwater photography requires post-processing (think Photoshop), I was quietly happy that I would be revisiting an old skill set of mine (think Photoshop again). However, a newer version aside, I still lacked the basic understanding of photography, let alone underwater photography! Luckily enough for me, with time and lots of trial & error and reading, my photography skills are slowly improving with baby steps.

Slow and Steady

I realized that I had evolved from the earlier days, when recently a close friend of mine jokingly asked if a photo I had uploaded was mine! Indeed it was, but it also got me thinking that a lot of people are still unaware of the power of post-processing. The fact that every mobile phone today carries an in-built camera of respectable repute makes everyone who owns one a budding photographer – whether over land or undersea.

On that note, I decided to write this post about post-processing of underwater images. I will be using Adobe Photoshop CS6 and shall proceed to define a basic workflow of tasks which will help you to improve your underwater photograph. Do note that the same workflow can be used for normal pictures with slight tweaks. However, it is more pertinent to the underwater images because of the loss of/absorption of colour which occurs below water.

Photoshop after the Underwater Photograph

For the purposes of this post, I shall be using an image of myself which was clicked by my buddy at a depth of 4 metres. The visibility on the day at this depth was around 8-10 metres. To start with, after opening the photo using Photoshop, your screen will look something like this.

Step #01

As can be seen, the photo is pre-dominantly shorn with a blue/greenish hue. The reds in the image seemed to have been lost. First, we shall try and figure out how much of Red has been captured by the sensor of the Camera. To do the same press Ctrl+Shift+3. This will show you an overview of the details of the red captured in the Image. If your image goes completely black, then unless you have a RAW file of the photo and can reset the white balance, you’re out of luck. You can also check the amount of Blues and Green in the image by pressing Ctrl+Shift+4/5 for Green and Blue respectively. A Ctrl+Shift+2 will switch you back to the original RGB mode.

Step #02

Assuming that you have a photo which is Red-dy let’s proceed ahead. Looking at the above image we can see that the camera has captured Red in the upper part of the photo (because of the Sun) and on my skin. This means that we will be able to restore the colour balance. For the same we now move onto the next step. Click on the Levels icon. This will bring up a histogram on the left. While holding down the Alt, click the Auto button which will bring up a dialogue box. Considering that we are looking to restore the lost red in the image, select the radio button for enhancing per channel contrast.

Prior Red Restoration
Notice how the Skin regains its natural colour

Subsequently, you can choose every individual colour and tweak the settings for the same. A thumb rule would be to place the sliders at the start and the end of the histogram trajectory for every colour. However, you can play around to achieve the image which suits your taste. Note that in this image, after restoring the Red, dust specs and Planktons are now visible (which can be removed using other tools. More on that later). Next up, we pull up the Levels tool and use it to improve the visibility and the contrast/tone.

The ‘S’ Curve

Once again, feel free the divert from my S bend and play around to achieve your desired looking image. Once we have these basics in place we move on over to final part of touching up the image.

Final Touch-Ups

To finish touching up the image, you can use the Vibrance followed by the Brightness/Contrast settings. I personally love the Vibrance tool as it allows one the latitude of playing around without over-saturating or over-compensating for the colours, thereby preventing a Gaudy or a colourless look. Your underwater photo should look something like this:-

Final Image

You can now resize and then save your image for uploading to desired location. Do note the difference between the image with which you started out with and the final product. I am putting it here for your convenience:-

Before and After Underwater Photography

I hope this basic and short ‘How-to’ helps you with your photos, wherever they may have been captured. To help improve my underwater photography (In addition to diving of course), I also read up The Underwater Photographer by Martin Edge. A very comprehensive book on underwater photography, it helped me to better understand and exploit my basic camera. I’m sure that it will help you as well.

Happy Shooting

Do let me know if this post has helped you or somebody you know in some capacity. I will be chuffed if it did. I would also love to hear your comments/approval/disapproval about the same. I will also soon publish a ‘How To’ for some slightly more advanced editing of photos, probably after my Dive Trip in Koh Tao. Until then, Have a Blast and keep shooting!


Header Image Courtesy of Matan Segec. His portfolio can be seen here

2 comments

  1. This is a very informative article. Amazingly and beautifully striking the right chords. Thank you for a such a beautiful article and for keep inspiring us.

    1. I Don’t know what’s so inspiring about this insipid article, but thanks so much for you kind comments!

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