Underwater White Balance

If you’re lucky enough to own either a waterproof camera, or a waterproof housing for your digital camera, you’ll have experienced the problem of trying to correct for the extreme blue cast of shots taken underwater.

The problem is that there’s little reliable advice on how to correct this. There are a few articles on the web, but I haven’t found any to provide a reliable and repeatable process which can be applied to “casual” underwater photography.

After a fair amount of research and experimentation, here’s my analysis of the options available, and a suggested technique which I have developed and which I haven’t seen documented anywhere else.

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4 Responses to Underwater White Balance

  1. Clare says:

    Thanks so much for your tips on underwater white balance! I bought myself an Panasonic lumix underwater camera for a trip to Vanuatu, and your guide on fixing the colour has been invaluable, the fish and coral just seem to ‘pop’ out of the photo once fixed with the JPG method (option 5). It’s made all the difference.
    Thanks again!

  2. Jennifer says:

    So, I’m in the market for a new camera, and white balance it my most obvious nemesis. Should I go with a dive-friendly Sealife DC1400 that is made (apparently) for us scuba divers or should I go with a land camera with housing, such as the Olympus TG-2?

    Last camera was a Reefmaster Mini with strobe. Sorry to be so behind the eight ball, but I’m just getting into underwater photography and would like to have something decent for my 200th dive in 12 days.

    Muchas gracias,
    Jennifer

  3. Andrew says:

    Hi Jennifer,
    The most important thing is that you choose a camera which can shoot RAW. A camera designed for diving would work well, and I get great results with the Canon Powershot G series in a housing.
    STAY AWAY from cameras like the TG2. You obviously haven’t read my review of that camera!

  4. Geoff says:

    Excellent article. I managed to take some pictures (Jpegs) in good sunny daylight whilst the camera’s (Powershot G9) white balance was accidentally set to ‘Underwater’ … don’t ask, huh!… Kinda the opposite side of the ‘same coin’ as it were. And so depending on a lot of other environment variables, some pictures ‘came out’ rather shy in the Cyan/ Blue and somewhat enhanced in the Red/ Yellows. Using Paint Shop Pro (X2 of ~2008 vintage) and its Layers/Levels by color tool, much as your article describes, I have found that careful tweaking yields a much improved visual color balance – the Cyan/Blue components now seem to have returned to the skies… and the very Red soils of Ibiza are not now Chilli Red-Hot! Similar corrective effects also obtained using layers/curves, although that is visually a little trickier in PSP, but the results may be a tad smoother given time to play as this mode changes contrasts across the spectrum as well as color by channel. I also tried PSP’s Color Balance tool, but found that it has a tendency to ‘clip the whites’ and so cloud edges tend – rather annoyingly – to lose definition. And Yes, keep a good eye on the changing Histogram as one goes. Occasionally, I found that ‘clipping’ a very small amount off the ‘Top’ of Blue could yield good effect rather than attempting midtone adjusts (the original article refers to ‘Reds’ here and midtone adjust!) … But go very carefully at deliberate clipping, too much and you are in deeper trouble than when you started.
    Geoff T – June 2014

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