How To Edit Underwater Photography With Lightroom and Photoshop

If you have ever tried your hand at underwater photography, you will quickly realize that there is quite a bit of post production work required to produce professional quality images that have good white balance, nice contrast, sharp detail and vibrant colors.

In this video tutorial, I explain my personal underwater photography editing workflow in detail, using both Lightroom and Photoshop.


Quality Underwater Photography Starts With Good Technique

Before watching the video tutorial on how to edit underwater photography with Lightroom and Photoshop, I think it is important to understand that it is critical to start with underwater photos that are already high quality right out of camera.

The video tutorial is not about how to “fix” underwater photos, but rather how to enhance underwater photos.

(Because the quality of underwater photos are already compromised to a certain extent due to the fact that they were taken underwater, it is extremely difficult to fix anything that could have been corrected with better camera technique.)

If you are new to underwater photography, take a look at this article with eight tips for natural light underwater photography.

Topaz Labs Photoshop Plugins

I also want to point out that in the video tutorial I use two Photoshop plugins – Topaz DeNoise and Topaz Detail.

I know that sometimes Photoshop plugins seem like cheating, but to me, they are simply tools that make my life easier.

Its also really annoying when you watch a video tutorial and a plugin was used to do the bulk of the work – so I just wanted to warn everyone up front (not that these two plugins really do the bulk of the work in this case).

If you don’t want to use Topaz DeNoise, you can do your noise reduction right in Lightroom with the built in noise reduction tools.

Regardless of what tool you use to reduce the noise in your underwater photos, it is very important to apply denoise adjustments before attempting to add detail and contrast.  If you don’t apply denoise adjustments first, you will simply be adding detail and contrast to all the little specks, silt and backscatter in underwater photos that you want to hide.

If you don’t want to use Topaz Detail, you can use a high-pass filter technique, or a combination of Smart Sharpen in Photoshop and Clarity in Lightroom to achieve similar results.

But for my personal underwater photography workflow, Topaz DeNoise and Topaz Detail produce better results and are faster to use.

Sample Underwater Photography Images

To get a feel for just how important post processing is for underwater photography, here are a few before and after examples of underwater photos that have been edited with the techniques explained in the video tutorial:

how to edit underwater photography with lightroom and photoshop video tutorial jp danko blurmedia toronto commercial photographer

how to edit underwater photography with lightroom and photoshop video tutorial jp danko blurmedia toronto commercial photographer

how to edit underwater photography with lightroom and photoshop video tutorial jp danko blurmedia toronto commercial photographer

how to edit underwater photography with lightroom and photoshop video tutorial jp danko blurmedia toronto commercial photographer

How Do You Edit Your Underwater Photography

Have you had problems achieving good results with underwater photography?

Do you have any underwater editing techniques that you’d like to share?

Leave a comment below and let us know!

  • Ryan Price

    Wow! Amazing results!

  • Sameiden vesien sukeltajat

    I shoot mainly babyswimmers and swimmers in pools, but also some stuff in the Baltic.

    So my underwater post for poolshots goes like this:
    Add a slight vignette and edit levels to a slight S for all photos (I do this in a batch)
    Hue green -100 and hue aqua +50 (as a batch to all photos). The -100 green adjusts the slightly green shadow side of the diver back to natural skin color, a very positive accidental find. These also as a batch, for all photos.
    Crop to 3:4 (as I’m printing my photos to my customers as 15x20cm prints, again, batch for all photos)
    Warm up the photo and add some magenta, as I shoot with flash white balance and water absorbs the reds reeeeally quickly. Correct for exposure errors. I shoot with two manual Nikonos SB104 flashes, both at 1/4 to have the recycle time to shoot semi-burst (I don’t press the shutter down and hold, just fire away fast, gives more control as the recycle time of the flashes is the limiting factor). As the diver’s position might change (even if I try to brief so that they will not) the exposure will also change, which is obviously bad. So best-case scenario is when the briefing went well and there is no need for exposure correction. Which leaves for manual post just white balance. Hue, crop, vignette and tone are done with presets.

    A picture from the sea:
    Post seems to be a bit of exposure, a bit of contrast and tone curve to an S.
    Open water photos are edited case-to case.

    My personal opinion of expanding a non-contrasty (underwater) photo to fill the whole histogram makes the photo a bit too much. For open-water shooting my Tokina 11-16mm is too tele, the distance to the subject is usually too long and that looses contrast, pictures tend to be too flat. For pool work 14mm seems to be a good compromise between loosing contrast+colour and being able to control the exposure+composition. Shooting wide puts the subject close to the camera and small movements makes a big difference!

    My five eurocents…

  • Click It Sharp!

    Good Job

  • Ashley Hauck

    Excellent tutorial! Your workflow for underwater photography is very similar to mine. I also love Topaz Detail for underwater photo editing, and recently reviewed it on my blog at