Underwater Photography Sessions and the Law
You just got back from your honeymoon in some fabulous tropical location where you were lucky enough to try out scuba dive for the first time.
You were a little nervous on the boat ride, a bit more nervous getting your gear on, even more nervous before jumping in, but then you entered the deep blue sea and everything changed! You were hooked!
While you were exploring the new and exciting environment, in the back of your mind you kept thinking how amazing it would be to capture photographs of the things you were seeing. Back on dry land you started looking into the real possibility of expanding your photography business into underwater photography.
You have plenty of photography experience and have had a stable business for years, so what do you need to know about underwater photography to expand into that genre?
First Things First
Before you can dive into it (pun intended) there are a few logistics that will need to be taken care of in order to even begin taking underwater photographs.
• You will likely need to complete a dive course and receive your dive certification. There is a wide variety of certifications and classes, so research what will best fit your needs and budget.
Some types of underwater photography might be accomplished without this (e.g., shallow streams or using snorkels), but without a dive certification your photography will be quite limited in this arena.
• In addition to standard dive equipment, you will also need specialized underwater photography equipment and dive cases to protect your equipment. In some areas, these items are available for rental if you don’t want to make a huge investment just yet.
• You will need to learn about the ins and outs of photographing underwater. As you can imagine, underwater photography is quite different than photography on dry land and to become proficient you might benefit from a class or mentorship.
If you are interested in learning more about underwater photography, diving, classes, etc. some good resources to check out are:
Now comes the fun stuff. As photography techniques and equipment will vary with underwater photography, so will some legal considerations.
Restrictions on Photography
The general rule is that anything visible from a public space may be photographed, and that usually includes all large bodies of water (think ocean, not private lake.) However, there are some areas or subjects that you may be shooting underwater that could be covered by photography restrictions.
• An endangered species might have a limit on how close you can get to it.
• Some sanctuaries may not be accessible to the public at all.
• A local government may place restrictions on photography for certain purposes (e.g., no photography for commercial purposes without prior permission.)
• A state or federal park may have restrictions in place for your safety (e.g., no access after a certain time.)
It is your responsibility to know these restrictions prior to shooting so cover your bases and do your research ahead of time.
Even if there are not actual legal restrictions in place, most areas have “rules” in place that include recommendations about how to best interact in and respect the underwater environment. These may include not disturbing anything, harming anything, taking anything, getting too close to animals, and using flash that might frighten them. These steps are not only important for the preservation of the habitat and the animals, but also for your safety.
Contract and Model Release
Are you doing a shoot with models in water or underwater? Make sure to amend your contract and model release to reflect any unique dangers that may be included in your shoot, from risks of diving to marine life.
Of course, be sure to include a liability waiver section or have a separate liability release signed.
For underwater photography, you may want to consider additional types of insurance outside of what you hold for your normal shoots.
• Additional coverage for your underwater equipment. You will need new equipment and waterproof cases, but life happens so make sure everything this covered.
• You may want to consider additional liability insurance, especially if you are shooting models underwater.
Have fun learning and exploring a new type of photography that exposes the world to something they don’t get to see everyday!