10 Great Diving Spots for the Best Underwater Photography

You can practice underwater photography in a simple swimming pool or pond, but to get some of the best underwater photos, you sometimes have to go diving far from home. Unique diving spots can make you feel like an explorer entering an unknown universe. Taking a camera along on these dives isn’t just something you do for fun–it’s necessary to show others what you saw and experienced, since words can’t easily describe an awesome dive.

Here is a selection (in no particular order) of 10 amazing diving spots that all underwater photographers should try to visit in their lifetime. This is just a small selection of many great diving spots, so please leave a comment below and tell us where you love to travel for underwater photography.

1. Carmel and Monterey Bays, California
Although Monterey Bay and Carmel Bay are divided by a small peninsula, they both have incredible kelp forests and an amazing diversity of marine life. It’d be worth a visit just for the sea lions, otters, and giant jellyfish–but the kelp forests are what makes it an unforgettable location for underwater photography.

kelp forest diving california

Kelp Forest by lee root

jellyfish monterey diving

These jellies were at ~60 feet out in the blue once the Kelp gives way to the steep drop off into the Monterey canyon at Monastery by lee root

2. The Red Sea
The Red Sea is remarkable because it has coral reef that’s around 5000-7000 years old. The sea is very deep in the center–with a trench that’s 2211 m/7254 ft deep–but it also has extensive shallow shelves, known for their corals and marine life, including around 44 species of shark. Also, around 10% of the species of fish in the Red Sea are not found anywhere else. Its depth and unique marine life make this location an excellent spot for underwater photography.

red sea diving

Sea Level 2 by Ammar Al-Fouzan

red sea diving

Devils of the Sea by Ammar Al-Fouzan

3. Tonga
One of the few places on Earth you can swim close to humpback whales is Tonga. Humpback whales spend three months in Tonga from July through September to court, mate and calve, before returning to their feeding grounds in Antarctica. Besides seeing the whales, an underwater photographer might also be interested in visiting the Clan McWilliam, a shipwreck from 50 years ago, or going on a cavern dive to photograph archways, tunnels and large black coral trees.

mother humpback pushes calf to surface to breathe

Tonga mother humpback pushes calf to surface to breathe by Simon Ager

Humpbacks in labor or courting

Humpbacks in labor or courting by Simon Ager

4. Pescador island, Philippines
The Philippines harbor over 2,500 species of fish, many of which are specifically located around Pescador island. The island earns a spot on this list because it hosts a large school of sardines. The fish have only left the reef once, from February 2012 to May 2012, after an earthquake hit the area. Divers can go anytime of the year to see the sardines swarm around them, a spectacular sight to capture in photos.

sardine run Pescador Island

sardine run by Erwin Poliakoff

Pescador Island sardines

sardines encircling unsuspecting diver by Erwin Poliakoff

5. Turtle Town Maui and Kona, Hawaii
Hawaii has multiple diving sites worth visiting, but Kona and Turtle Town Maui are for photographers who want to see dolphins, manta rays, green sea turtles, or surfers out on the waves. Kona has exceptionally clear and calm water, and you might be able to photograph all four sights there, if you’re lucky. However, Turtle Town Maui has a greater population of green sea turtles (hence, its name). You’d be very likely to get at least one beautiful shot of the endangered turtle there.

honu turtle hawaii

Honu by Ewen Roberts

surfing Hawaii

Image by Sarah Lee

6. Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands
Besides having several shipwrecks, Grand Cayman is famous for its coral reefs, stingray population, and underwater sea walls. The underwater sea walls are like coral-covered mountains, rising up from the sandy plains thousands of feet below the surface. In contrast, Grand Cayman’s North Sound has an area with shallow sandy bottoms called ‘Stingray City’ for the stingrays that forage for food there. In the past, fishermen would relax in the calm, shallow waters and toss fish remains into the sea, drawing stingrays that eventually made the area their home. The calm, clear water is also perfect for photography, so you can easily get incredible photos of swimmers with the stingrays.

Grand Cayman stingray city

Spread my wings…learning how to fly by Ellen Cuylaerts

Grand Cayman Eden Rock Devil's Grotto

Stream by Ellen Cuylaerts

7. The Great Barrier Reef
This list wouldn’t be complete with the Great Barrier Reef, simply because it’s the world’s largest coral reef system, big enough to be seen from space. It’s a World Heritage Site that can seem overwhelmingly large, with over 2,900 individual reefs and 900 islands. The diversity of marine life stretches over the entire reef, though, so there isn’t just one ‘spot’ you should visit. Rather, the best way to get great photos of endangered species or impressive coral polyps is to take a ‘live-aboard’ dive trip. For these trips, you actually sleep on the boat so you can visit areas farther from shore and get in the most opportunities for underwater shots.

Turtle great barrier reef diving

Turtle 4 by Marc Füeg

Sea Fan Macro

Sea Fan Macro by Matt Kieffer

8. Coiba National Park, Panama
Scientists from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute have declared Coiba National Park to be an exceptional location for discovering new species. Because of its unique location, protected from damaging effects of El Niño, it has been able to sustain the continuous evolution of new marine species. Interestingly, it’s also linked to the Galapagos Islands by an underwater mountain chain. Diving in Coiba has been described as diving in pristine, almost unexplored waters. “Think of the number of fish you have seen elsewhere and double it. Think about the size of the fish you have seen and double that as well. That sums up the promise of diving… Coiba” (Diver Magazine, May 2005)

starfish Coiba

Star Attraction by LASZLO ILYES

coiba national park diving

Doctor, Doctor… by LASZLO ILYES

9. Jellyfish Lake, Palau
There are around 70 marine lakes throughout the Rock Islands in Palau, but Jellyfish Lake is one of the most famous and unique. Although it’s connected to the ocean through fissures and tunnels, it’s still so isolated that its marine life is completely different from the nearby lagoon. Most remarkably, the lake hosts millions of golden jellyfish that have lost their sting. Unlike the spotted jellyfish in the nearby lagoons, they get their nutrition from algae living in their tissues and from tiny plankton they capture. In other words, you can safely snorkel around these golden jellyfish and get incredible close-ups without ever getting stung.

Jellyfish lake

Jellyfish lake by lee root

jellyfish lake palau

dreaming again by kozyndan

10. Cancún National Marine Park, Mexico
The Cancún National Marine Park is home to the Cancún underwater museum, or MUSA (Museo Subacuático de Arte). This underwater museum is a project began by Jason deCaires Taylor in November 2009, to place over 450 life-size sculptures in the shallow waters of the Cancún Marine Park, previously damaged by storms. The sculptures, which are based on members of the local community, are made of pH-neutral marine concrete and have been planted with fire coral. Jason Taylor hopes that the sculptures will eventually become artificial reefs, but they’re already amazing sights to photograph.

statue off Isla Mujeres

statue off Isla Mujeres by kozyndan

cancun diving

Looking to the light of the Universe by kozyndan

What are your favorite diving spots for underwater photography?

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2 Comments on "10 Great Diving Spots for the Best Underwater Photography"

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Randy Nelson

Thank you…. memories of my past (scuba diver)….

Gabriela Cossio

Hermosas imágenes, todo un mundo por descubrir. La mirada del fotógrafo nos deja sorprender.

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