An Underwater Photographer’s Guide to Southern Australia

Although the Great Barrier Reef garners most of the attention when it comes to diving in Australia, Southern Australia offers delights for divers (especially photographers) as well.

When most divers think of Australia they think about the Great Barrier Reef, with its enormous size and huge diversity of animal and coral species. Indeed, the GBR is undoubtedly spectacular. However, the southern shores of Australia can offer some amazing experiences and views as well, especially for those photography addicts. Here are a few photography tips if you’re thinking of taking your camera down under to Southern Australia.


The southern coastline of Australia is dotted with hundreds of fur seal colonies, featuring members that are usually eager to get into the water for a swim and some games with a willing diver. Their willingness to hang around and their playful demeanor make fur seals ideal photographic subjects. Just be sure to turn up that shutter speed, as these hydrodynamic animals tend to sweep around you extremely quickly in graceful arcs, performing amazing feats of underwater contortion. If you can, jump on a boat and visit a colony. Seal tours operate all year round in dozens of locations — just remember the more fun you are, the more amazing the photo opportunities you’ll get with the equally playful seals.


Both leafy and weedy seadragons are definitely a highlight for any underwater photographer. You’ll find these endemic creatures all along the southern coastline, usually just offshore. Their vibrant colors and amazing camouflage can give your photos great contrast and color. Local dive shops can usually tell you the best places to go; it may even be worth hiring a divemaster for the day to help spot these animals. Although they can be almost 12 inches (30 cm) long, it still requires a keenly-trained eye to spot them hidden among the seaweed. Play with the camera’s aperture when you’re shooting seadragons to help achieve a background color that makes these unique creatures pop out of your photograph.


There are dozens of shipwrecks to explore and photograph throughout this part of Australia. Indeed, in Melbourne alone there are five different sunken submarines available to divers. Most large cities also boast a recent military wreck, purpose-sunk for divers. Lining up a diver next to the bow of a ship for some scale always makes for an interesting image. When photographing wrecks — especially when the visibility is average — a good wide-angle lens is essential to help you capture the ship on a grand scale.


Animal migrations are one of the most amazing wildlife events you can capture with your camera. Thousands and thousands of creatures moving in unison, as though they have a single mind, can make for magnificent photography. Spiders crabs are one such animal. At roughly the size of a football, they emerge from the ocean depths once a year, migrating into shallow waters to molt their shells. When photographing a migration event, try out various angles with your camera to see which one can capture the true scope of the endless mass of animals you are seeing.


Much of the water off Southern Australia is teeming with various shark species. From draughtboard and wobbegong sharks to curious and fearsome-looking grey nurse sharks, this part of the world presents some great shark-photography opportunities. Look in rocky crevices and along the ocean floor and you will likely spot a wobbegong or two resting. Covered in amazing military fatigue-like patterns and sporting tassels along their faces, they are one of the more unusual sharks.

Grey nurse sharks, on the other hand, often congregate in colonies around caves and sandy trenches. At 6.5 to 10 feet (2 to 3 m) long and displaying row upon row of needle-like teeth, they can appear terrifying to a non-diver. They are, however, completely harmless. When diving with these animals, try to relax on the seafloor nearby. With luck, they will slowly swim over to investigate you, offering the perfect chance to snap a quick photo that is sure to become one of your favorites.