Wrecks in Black and White

Heavy Metal 8 opt

Shooting wrecks in black and white

Much underwater photography is dependent on colour for its impact. Revealing the kaleidoscope of colours of a coral garden or the subtle designs of a reef fish is best done in full colour. However, there is one marine subject that is made for the cool tones of black and white – wrecks.

Black and white photography comes into its own underwater when you are using ambient light. Images shot using ambient light usually don’t have a high contrast and have, in many cases, far fewer colours than a brightly lit reef scene.

Not all subjects shot using ambient light are natural black and white candidates. Marine mammals and sharks often look far more impressive in full colour. But wrecks tend to suit the stark beauty of the medium. 

Obviously, most wrecks are full of historic resonance and black and white can dramatically enhance the emotions connected with loss and remembrance.



2. boltenhagen, malta A light sand bottom can provide more contrast. Canon 5D Mark II, UK-GERMANY housing, Canon 17-40mm Wideangle, 1/25s, f/9, ISO200

1. KARWELA, MALTA Directing a strong light towards the subject creates a focal point. Canon 5D Mark II, UK-GERMANY housing, Canon 17-40mm Wideangle, 1/20s/ f/9, ISO400


One very simple physical factor that encourages the use of black and white for wrecks is that it is very hard to light a wreck completely with strobes.

Contrast becomes a key element in a good black and white image. When shooting, it is important to get the contrast as high as possible. For example, photograph a wreck against a light sand bottom or from a lower viewpoint against a bright surface.

Remember to take advantage of unusual or interesting lighting. Shafts of sunlight down a stairwell or through a damaged hull can look very powerful.

A diver within the picture is not always necessary, but a human figure is a very effective way of creating scale. One of the first and often lasting impressions we have of a wreck is exactly that – scale, the sheer impact of size. Using a diver to get that sense across in your photographs can lift an image.



1. thunderbolt, corsica Black and white can create the right ambience. Canon 300D, UK-GERMANY housing, Tokina 10-17mm Fisheye, 1/60s, f/7.1, ISO200

2. cedar pride, jordan Large wrecks can't be lit with just strobes. Canon 5D Mark II, UK-GERMANY housing, Tokina 10-17mm Fisheye, 1/80s, f/8, ISO200


Shoot your pictures in RAW – it is the best format for effective postproduction. You are then able to access both the colour and the black and white versions of any image. There is no need to set the camera to monochrome.

Virtually all photo editing applications allow you to turn the original image into black and white. This is the time to try different types of filters and effects such as sepia with minimal effort. You can see what works best with the subject. Sometimes a red filter works well to give the picture more contrast, while sepia toning brings out the sunrays best. 

A standard procedure when you convert the image to black and white is to increase the contrast by 50 per cent. 

But the most important tip of all is to experiment – both when you shoot and in postproduction. The only thing that matters in the end is the quality of the image. If the result is good, don’t worry about breaking the rules.



1. hamata, egypt Including a diver gives a sense of scale. Canon 5D Mark II, UK-GERMANY housing, Tokina 10-17mm Fisheye, 1/60s, f/16, ISO400

2. karwela, matla Sun beams inside wrecks can be very effective. Canon 300D, UK-GERMANY housing, Tokina 10-17mm Fisheye, 1/50s, f/3.5, ISO400



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