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In as much as water factors into many, if not most, summer vacations, an underwater camera merits consideration. Florida nature photographer John J. Lopinot has toted cameras on more than 2,000 dives, and some of his resulting work has been featured in National Geographic and Time. He stresses safety when going underwater to capture images. “You should never dive or snorkel alone,” Lopinot says. “Use the buddy system so that someone is always near you when you are in the water.”

In addition to a buddy, Lopinot suggests bringing a waterproof point-and-shoot camera. Waterproof cases that allow you to submerge a DSLR can cost more than the camera, he explains. Meanwhile, an easy-to-use submersible point-and-shoot like the Olympus Stylus Tough-8010 costs around $400. “It is waterproof to 33 feet, and it has many advanced features, being shockproof, crushproof, and freezeproof,” he says. “It also shoots HD video.”

Olympus E-P2
Another option is a submersible case for a point-and-shoot camera you already own. These can be had for around $200. And if you’re only going to shoot a few underwater photos, Lopinot suggests an underwater, disposable-film — yes, film — camera such as the Fujifilm QuickSnap Marine Camera, which costs about $7.

Although photographers can sometimes seem obsessive about technology, many agree that the most important part of any photography kit rests between the photographer’s ears. Accordingly, books on photographic technique fill libraries. But a surprisingly few photography tips can help even rank amateurs shoot pro-quality photographs.

A good first rule is to move in. “It is important to get closer and make sure your subject fills the frame to minimize background distractions and eliminate unnecessary elements that pull the focus away from the story you are trying to tell,” Evers says. You can also direct attention with natural lines that lead the viewer to your subjects or use windows and doors to frame them. Employ background colors and textures to set the mood.

Light, however, is your main mood-setting device, and getting the right lighting is often a matter of timing. “The most beautiful light is an hour after sunrise and an hour before sunset,” Evers says. “Midday lighting is the worst light.” Noon sun washes people out and casts harsh shadows. If you find yourself shooting with too much or too little natural light, reflectors and flashes can help.

Olympus Stylus Tough-8010
For help composing your photos, consider the “rule of thirds.” Imagine two lines dividing the frame into horizontal thirds and a similar pair doing the same vertically. Try to locate key elements, such as faces, where lines cross. “Subjects placed at any of the four intersections of these lines make a more compelling image than when placed in the center or at a far corner,” Evers says.

Similar techniques apply underwater, although Lopinot does recommend one special trick: Turn on the “aquarium” or “underwater” mode that many point-and-shoot submersibles have. “If you use this, it will take away a lot of the blue color in your photos,” Lopinot says, which will sharpen the color of the actual subjects in your shot.

Recent technological innovations such as HD video and low- light capabilities promise to make better photography even easier. But one thing about great photography hasn’t changed and never will: Nothing happens until you press the shutter release. Says Evers, “No one gets to be a better photographer unless they get out there and do it.”