Waves of Inspiration: Underwater Photography with Emily Endean and FUJIFILM X-T5
I am a chaser of light, ocean addict and lover of nature. I enjoy being outside as much as possible. I absolutely love capturing the beauty of the world through my lens and chasing the light and the weather at its best, mainly around my home county of Dorset or wherever I can escape to. At the age of four, I moved to the beautiful seaside town of Bournemouth. It was not long after that I picked up my first camera and I became captivated by seizing moments through my lens. Following that, when I was given my first DSLR I was hooked! I am obsessed with the ocean. I mean obsessed! If I’m not photographing it from the shoreline then I’m neck-deep in it shooting on my Fujifilm X-T3 in an underwater housing.
After boldly venturing out into the water, Emily Endean has been documenting serene fine art scenes. She shares her passions, discusses the FUJIFILM X-T5’s incredible capabilities, and guides you through a beautiful shift in perspective
The heart of all photography lies in revealing unseen worlds – but some creators explore this ideal further than others. Far beyond new tellings of everyday scenes, they deliver visual delights many will never experience with their own eyes. Yet underwater photographer Emily Endean’s worldview is tantalisingly close to achievable, which only deepens its appeal. Many mornings, she swims out into a gentle swell to document seascapes: abstract, bathed in golden light and boundless in their beauty.
A natural evolution of her seascape photography from the shore, Emily’s photographic curiosity drew from personal passion, as many of the most inspired projects do.
“I was always photographing from the beach. Then, during 2020, when we were in multiple lockdowns, I started venturing out into the sea by my home every morning. I wanted to document it, which is when I got involved with underwater photography. By experimenting, I found it quickly became my most creative place,” she reveals.
“It immediately meant so much. That morning escapism, that feelgood factor of being in the water at sunrise, that magical fleeting moment – it was all contained in the imagery.”
The Best Camera for Underwater Photography
Caught in the peak of a long, hot summer, Emily found she didn’t require specialised swimwear for her short dips. Instead, she looked first for a means of protecting her camera. Through the years, she has explored a breadth of options X Series bodies, adding FUJIFILM X-T5 to her collection after its launch. To match, she settled on an underwater camera housing well-suited to her needs.
“You could spend £75 on what’s essentially a well-designed ziplock bag, or you can spend up to £4000 on something incredibly advanced. Think about affordability versus level of protection, how much you’re going to use it, and what the process means to you,” she advises. “I use the Aquatech Edge, dedicated for FUJIFILM X-T5. That means the camera fits perfectly and you can access all the physical controls. I find this set-up is working well.”
A recent upgrade, the X-T5 has become crucial in helping Emily achieve her vision, photographing unpredictable moments that would otherwise be missed. Coupled with FUJINON XF30mmF2.8 R LM WR Macro, the artist has found an ideal system.
“The lens has a beautiful perspective in the water and brings you so close to the details, perfectly representing the ripples moving right in front of you. There are many wonderful optics in the XF range, but I find real joy in a full macro lens in this scenario.
“X-T5’s 40-megapixel images and its wide dynamic range are also great benefits,” Emily continues. “Most often, I’m working right as the sun is coming up, so there’s an extreme shift in the light. I can underexpose a little, confident that all the details will still be there.”
Before swimming away from shore yourself and exploring new techniques, Emily delivers an important reminder on personal safety. Welcoming as it looks in her imagery, the sea can be unforgiving for those who don’t prepare.
“You need to be a competent person in the water,” she notes. “Download an app or check online to see what the swells, tides and weather are doing before you go out. Before ever stepping into the water, I observe how it’s behaving. That also feeds a creative element to the art form.”
How to Find Underwater Photography Subjects
Unsurprisingly, your creative approach and the available techniques do shift compared to photography on land. Perspective differs greatly, light and colour cannot be manipulated to such a degree, and the everchanging subject matter is far beyond your control. In Emily’s eyes, success is not so much a case of overcoming these apparent limitations, but adapting to them and letting them bleed effortlessly into the work.
“My interests have narrowed in on recording the small details within the waves. That’s quite an abstract route part of the time,” she muses. “The appeal for me was realising that when I position myself level with the water, I can see the ripples dancing in front of the lens. As the sun comes up over the horizon in the background, all these enchanting colours are reflected on the surface.
“Every day, the waves and light are different, so what you can photograph is somewhat predetermined. You might not come away with a photo you love every single time, so live for the experience and be happy when great images are made.
“You’re there to document what’s happening at the time,” Emily continues, shifting her focus to composition. “On land, you think about rules a lot. You view your subjects in thirds, or by leading lines. In the water, there’s not always a groyne, rock or person. Sometimes it’s just the water moving around me. So, I had to step away from those established ideas of composition and find something I was drawn to in any scene. An open mind is essential.”
Conversely, it is possible to pre-plan certain scenes – and there’s an incredible perspective to be found there. By identifying subjects that will be visible just offshore, creatives can combine the best of seascape and underwater photography.
“Some of my favourite spots, like rows of beach huts or the Bournemouth and Boscombe piers, are right by the water. As soon as I got out into the water, of course, I started thinking of new ways to frame them. I’ve got thousands of photos of these subjects from land – from angles you’d see every day – but reimagining them from sea has added a fresh take to my image making.
“I have also deeply enjoyed getting to know the local surf and swim communities, and building friendships out in the water connected through my process. The fine art and action sides are different in terms of approach, for sure. Photographing just the ocean and sunrise is such a mindful experience, you forget everything else. It’s all-encompassing. Photographing people on the waves requires you to stay more observant and react quickly.”
Optimal Camera Settings for Underwater Photography
In both mediums, diving into settings can unlock surprising results. As Emily outlines her preferred selection, it’s easy to see why X-T5 has become such a useful tool.
“Normally, I’ll set the aperture for quite a shallow depth-of-field before I even venture out into the water, then keep that as it is throughout,” Emily explains. “I enjoy focusing in on those ripples and letting everything else in the scene drop out. You can play with the shutter speed, especially for some gorgeous motion. I don’t go too extreme in terms of long exposures – just enough to create a sensation that draws you in. ISO can be adjusted as the light changes.
“I also set the camera to burst mode, so I get a series of exposures as the water moves. When I look back on my laptop later, I might have ten or 20 that seem much the same, but one will be perfectly focused on the wave – it stands out above the rest. Coupling that with continuous autofocus is the way forward. In that sense, X-T5 and XF30mmF2.8 are amazing. They’re so quick and focus so close. It’s added a whole other level to my work – now I’m almost certain to get something beautiful.
“IBIS is incredibly useful. In the water, there’s no chance of personal stability, so X-T5 helps a huge deal. I can work handheld down to 1/15 sec now.”
In closing, Emily reflects not just on personal joy, but the opportunities underwater photography has presented. If her imagery alone isn’t inspiration enough to draw fellow creatives to the water, her impassioned sentiments surely are.
“I’ve ended up continuing this level of image making into my commercial work, which is so exciting. Being fully submerged in the water has opened a whole new way of exploring photography. Outside of that, I get to continue doing what I enjoy as a person. I can’t describe how it makes me feel, other than escapism into another world,” she concludes.
“Not long ago, I couldn’t have imagined doing what I’m doing now. I’d love to dive deeper below the surface and see where that goes. Who knows where it could take me in another year.”