Skip to main content
x

World's Best Destinations for Underwater Photography

1. Galapagos

A sea lion hunts a school of sardines at Magdalena Bay on Mexico’s Baja Peninsula.

JAY CLUE

Few dive destinations deliver as reliably as the Galapagos Islands, about 600 miles off mainland Ecuador’s coast. Sure, seasons determine whether the big animals encountered are hammerheads or whale sharks (December to May sees the biggest numbers of hammerheads; June to November is whale shark season), but overall, it’s nearly guaranteed that the bucket list of animals quickly translates into memory card captures.

That list is thick: hammerheads, sea lions, penguins, marble rays and giant schools of mobula rays. “The feedback we get most often from this trip is that guests see what they hoped to see — it’s all there and it’s in abundance,” says Jay Roberts, operations manager with Aggressor Adventures.

Then there are the land encounters, alone worth the price of admission. Most liveaboards that operate in these islands, including Galapagos Aggressor III, add in panga tours to give travelers more time behind the lens. These tours put groups in front of marine iguanas, magnificent and great frigate birds, and more sea lions. On the last full day, Galapagos Aggressor III includes a visit to the tortoise reserve on the island of Santa Cruz for encounters with these 100-year-old wrinkled wonders.

It’s a lot to pack into a week—certainly a lot of animals to take home on image files. “This is really one of those destinations that gives you endless opportunities for incredible photos,” says Roberts.

READERS PICKS

LIVEABOARDS

Galapagos Shark Diving

Humboldt Explorer, Galapagos

2. Mexico

Some destinations are known for a singular highlight, perhaps two. The waters surrounding Mexico’s Baja Peninsula overflow with diversity, with each season bringing in a new big draw.

Winter brings the whales. “We have one-third of the world’s marine mammals in our waters,” says Jay Clue, founder of Dive Ninja, a PADI Five Star IDC located in Cabo San Lucas that runs trips throughout the region.

Spring sees the mobula aggregations, a frenzy of wings.

As the waters warm come summer, silky sharks aggregate, along with the mobulas.

Come fall, baitballs darken the waters, and with them come the marlin, sharks and other predators threading through it all. “We call it the Mexican sardine run,” Clue says.

It’s a huge attraction for Mexico, but just one more seasonal event in Baja.

“One of the really special things for Baja is that everything changes so massively throughout the year that you will always see something different when you visit,” Clue says.

READERS PICKS

OPERATORS

Dive Ninja Expeditions, Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

LIVEABOARDS

Nautilus Explorer, Baja, Mexico

Related Reading: How to Dive Mexico’s Socorro Island

A diver hovers above a picturesque reefscapein the shallow waters of Bonaire.

ANDY SALLMON

3. Bonaire

Miles of pristine corals, reefs starting in depths as shallow as 20 feet and an abundance of critters make the Dutch Caribbean island of Bonaire ideal for ambient light, wide-angle and macro photography.

Wide-angle opportunities are available at nearly every dive site. Standouts include the wreck of the Hilma Hooker and the famous Salt Pier dive, both of which offer scale and structure. Reefs often frame eagle rays, turtles and, especially lately, spinner and bottlenose dolphins. “They’ve been coming in really close to shore, swimming at a slow speed, giving people a chance to really enjoy them,” says Guillermo Alcorta Heyer, photo pro at Buddy Dive Resort.

Of course, another big highlight of the destination is everything small, including seahorses and frogfish.

Then there are the blennies, with more than 30 species calling the island home. “You can be in shallow water, extending your dive to several hours looking for and photographing these creatures,” says Alcorta Heyer.

READERS PICKS

RESORTS

Buddy Dive Resort, Bonaire

Plaza Beach & Dive Resort Bonaire

OPERATORS

Buddy Dive, Bonaire

Toucan Divers at Plaza Resort, Bonaire

4. Red Sea

The Red Sea ushers in an endless parade of megafauna. Add tec and rebreather diving and you’ve got an unbeatable combination.

“Tec diving lets you go deeper for longer, and that can produce better opportunities for getting the shot,” says Kevin Purdy, president of All Star Liveaboards, which operates the All Star Red Sea yacht through northern and southern regions of the Red Sea. On all cruises, the yacht can cater to both rebreather and technical divers.

Rebreather diving adds the extra bonus of stealth mode, helping divers slip noiselessly into the mix, closer to the marine life they’ve traveled to encounter. “We often see the hammerheads down deep, and it can take a while for them to warm up before coming in closer,” Purdy says. “That extra bottom time allows for that.”

READERS PICKS

LIVEABOARDS

Red Sea Aggressor II, Egypt

Red Sea Aggressor III, Egypt

A vibrant sea anemone festoons a reef within the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

SHUTTERSTOCK/LEGO 19861111

5. Florida Keys

For underwater photographers keen on building skills and avoiding task loading, consider the Florida Keys. “The Florida Keys are known for visibility,” says Eric Billips, owner of Islamorada Dive Center. “Especially in the summer, the water is so settled—you don’t have any particulate.”

With so much sunlight streaming down unabated, there’s little need for strobes. It’s an ambient-light paradise. This removes the need to master strobe lighting, which can require excessive attention and adjustment. “For new photographers, it can become task loading to try and manipulate lighting every time you turn your body just a little bit,” says Tyler Morris, PADI instructor for the dive center.

Even without strobes, he says, “You can get breathtaking photos in just 30 feet of water.”

Then, as shot quality and confidence grow, so can the depths divers take on. “In the Keys, you certainly don’t have to learn everything at once,” says Morris.

READERS PICKS

RESORTS

Amoray Dive Resort, Key Largo, Florida Keys

Courtyard by Marriott Key Largo, Florida Keys

Holiday Inn, Key Largo, Florida Keys

Marina Del Mar, Key Largo, Florida Keys

OPERATORS

Amoray Dive Center, Key Largo, Florida Keys

Captain Hook’s Dive Key West, Florida Keys

Horizon Divers, Key Largo, Florida Keys

Islamorada Dive Center, Florida Keys

Rainbow Reef, Key Largo, Florida Keys

Related Reading: The Warriors Fighting to Save Florida's Dying Corals

6. Fiji

To travel between the Fijian islands is to collect a series of once-in-a-lifetime experiences, including an intimate shark dive.

From the main island of Viti Levu, it’s a short hop to Beqa, home of one of the world’s most renowned shark dives. At a 60-foot-deep site known as the Bistro, Aqua-Trek Beqa, a PADI Five Star Dive Center, offers a shark-feed experience that draws in tiger, bull, lemon, gray, whitetip reef, blacktip reef and nurse species. Staff hand-feed the animals, creating a controlled environment for added safety—and photo opportunities. In this setting, shark handlers can help bring the animals inches from the cameras, allowing shooters to get incredible close-ups.

It’s the chance to not just photograph shark portraits, but also capture unique wide-angle photos. “You’ll see behaviors that are not necessarily the norm, such as bull sharks feeding together,” says Brandon Paige, dive manager at Aqua-Trek. “This behavior isn’t unheard of, but bull sharks are generally lone hunters, not pack hunters.”

READERS PICKS

RESORTS

Beqa Lagoon Resort, Fiji

CARIBBEAN AND ATLANTIC

  1. Bonaire

  2. Mexico

  3. Bahamas

  4. Cayman Islands

  5. Bay Islands

  6. Curaçao

  7. Belize

  8. Turks and Caicos

  9. St. Lucia

  10. Aruba

  11. U.S. Virgin Islands

PACIFIC AND INDIAN

  1. Galapagos

  2. Philippines

  3. Indonesia

  4. Fiji

  5. Maldives

  6. French Polynesia

  7. Red Sea

  8. Mexico

  9. Thailand

  10. Hawaii

  11. Costa Rica

U.S. AND CANADA

  1. Florida Keys

  2. California

  3. Texas

  4. North Carolina

  5. Florida

  6. Washington State

  7. Great Lakes

What Is Readers Choice?

More than 3,000 readers cast their vote in our 2023 survey to decide this year’s Readers Choice awards. Here we feature some of the top destinations, listing in alphabetical order the winning resorts, operators and liveaboards serving those areas.

View the Full List of Readers Choice Awards Here