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Full Article: Taking Vintage Lenses Underwater


In the constant quest for new and unique images, photographers in general come up with any number of interesting ways to make their photographs stand out. Underwater photographers are no exception. Generally this leads to two things. Lots and lots of experimentation and failure, and/or some fantastic creations.


Taken with the Nauticam SMC macro lens


There is seemingly an increasing trend in photography to use vintage lenses on digital mirrorless and dslr bodies. These lenses can be difficult to use, may not have the best optics, but many of them give a look and 'feel' to an image that is almost impossible to recreate with the technical perfection of the best modern lenses. Theoretically, almost any vintage lens can be used underwater, it is just a matter of finding the correct adapters for digital bodies, configuring ports properly, and understanding the limitations of whatever piece of glass is being used.  


Photo by: Nicholas Samaras


To achieve the most out of these lenses, photographers should shoot them at their widest aperture. Also remember, they are not meant to provide clinical, razor sharp images (The pictures included have all been downsized for the web so are much sharper than they appear here). They're supposed to provide a unique and potentially ethereal look. Embrace their imperfections. These lenses would all get terrible scores on DXO Mark and DPReview, just something to keep in mind. The two lenses represented here are the Trioplan 100mm f2.8 (the most popular of these lenses due to its remarkable optical qualities), and the Zeiss Tessar 50mm f2.8, which was recommended to me initially by Scubazoo's Jason Isley. The latter can be found on ebay for a whopping $40, while original version Trioplan's range anywhere from a few hundred dollars, up to around a thousand.

Lens Comparison:

-Trioplan 100mm f2.8 Vintage Version (There is a new, kickstarter created version)


  • M42 / Pentax mount
  • EXA / Exakta mount
  • M39 Leica screwmount
  • Praktina mount
  • *Adapters are needed to mount on Nikon/Canon/etc
  • Weight: 600 gr
  • Minimum Focusing Distance: 110cm (43.3 inches)
  • Aperture range f2.8-f22


-Zeiss 50mm f2.8
Mounts – M42, Exakta
  • Optical Formula – 4 elements in 3 groups (Tessar)
  • Closest Focusing Distance – 0.35m/1ft
  • Filter Size – 49mm
  • Aperture Blades – 5
  • Weight – 170g
  • 12 Aperture Settings from F2.8 to F22    

    Both lenses have natural minimum focus distances that are just unrealistic to use underwater. The solutions to this are extension tubes (which bring the minimum focus distance closer), diopters (which allow closer focusing), and wet lenses which do the same.

    Another attribute of these lenses is the incredibly smooth and soft out of focus areas when not trying for the bubble bokeh look.



    As difficult as these lenses can be to use, especially if you don't have custom made focus gear, they can unleash a lot of creativity. Not being able to rely on autofocus and being locked into shallow DOF and one single focus plane means the photographer is forced to get creative to produce an interesting image. This type of image and image making may not be to everyone's taste, but for those looking to add something new to their portfolio, or just want to have some fun with vintage glass, this may be the way to go.

    For questions on vintage lenses under, port configurations, or any other underwater photography questions, please email me at matt@bluewaterphotostore.com

    *Thank you Helen Brierley, Jason Isley, and Nicholas Samaras for use of their fantastic photographs.



    More Photos:

    Photo by: Nicholas Samaras


    Photo by: Nicholas Samaras


    Photo by: Jason Isley


    Photo by: Jason Isley


    Photo by: Jason Isley


    Photo by: Jason Isley


    Photo by: Helen Brierley


    Full Article: Nikon 8-15mm f3.5-4.5 Full Frame Fisheye Lens Pre-Review

    It was a long time coming, but Nikon has finally released another full frame (FX) fisheye, this time an 8-15mm 3.5/4.5 zoom. Full frame Canon shooters will be familiar with this lens as Canon has long had the Canon 8-15mm f4L Fisheye lens

    The lens does not telescope so retains the same barrel length throughout the zoom range. It also has Nikon’s optical coating for increased optical performance

    In reality, on full frame, this new Nikon lens (like the Canon counterpart) is really only an 8mm circular fisheye, or a 15mm fisheye. Any focal length between that will have vignetting, so you would have to crop, meaning you’d be better off just zooming all the way to 15mm.


    The 8mm circle is a nice addition to a portfolio but can quickly become gimmicky so shooters should keep this in mind. I would wager most users will keep the lens at the 15mm focal length.

    The lack of a lens hood and the small size of the lens overall means that it can be used behind very small dome ports (4”) as long as the photographer remembers that the lens will have to be stopped down to keep corners acceptably sharp. The smaller the dome, the closer the virtual image (which is what the lens is actually focusing on, so the distortion will be greater, requiring greater depth of field). It will have to be stopped down behind a big dome as well (such is the nature of a fisheye lens on full frame) but the bigger the dome, the better the corners at any aperture (due to the virtual image being further away). One of the biggest advantages of fisheyes is how close they can focus. The minimum focus distance of the new 8-15 is 6.3”. This means it will focus right on the glass of whatever dome port the lens is used behind so if a 4” dome is used, the close focus wide angle opportunities should be fantastic if the photographer can get the lighting correct.

    For split shots, reefscapes, or any image where important subject matter lies in the corners of the frame, photographers will benefit much more in terms of overall image quality by using a larger dome. Somewhere in the 8-9 inch range (or bigger).

    The full frame fisheye options for Nikon now consist of the dated Nikon 16mm f2.8, the Sigma 15mm f2.8 fisheye, the Tokina 10-17 f3.5 fisheye (only between 15mm and 17mm), the Nikon 8-15mm f3.5-4.5, and (if you can find one) the Nikonos 13mm. Optically, I expect the 8-15mm to be superior to all other options with the exception of the Nikonos 13mm which is a water contact lens and specifically designed to shoot underwater. It should be a fantastic lens for underwater use and I expect it to be extremely popular among full frame shooters. I doubt DX users would find any real benefit over the Tokina, with the possible exception that this new lens should handle chromatic aberration far better than the Tokina. The Tokina is renowned for having less than stellar control over chromatic aberration (especially in high contrast areas of an image). I can’t wait to get it in the water and put it through its paces!

    There is no exact release date available yet, but the lens is slated to be released sometime this month (June 2017).

    For any questions on this lens, port selection, or any underwater photography questions in general, please email me.

    Using the Nikon 8-15mm fisheye underwater with a teleconverter

    We expect many underwater photographers will wish to use the Nikon 8-15mm fisheye lens with a telecoverter on a full frame camera, giving them the equivalent of the Tokina 10-17mm on a cropped sensor camera - making the lens a 11mm - 21mm fisheye. We will be testing both the Kenko 1.4x teleconverter and the new Nikon 1.4x teleconverter, however use of these teleconverters will depend on manufacturers making the appropriate zoom gear. In the past, Nauticam has made zoom gears for using the Canon 8-15mm fisheye lens with a 1.4x teleconverter, and 3rd party manufacturers have made Sea & Sea versions.

    Nikon 8-15mm Lens Specifications:


    • Weight: 485 g
    • Diameter: 78 mm
    • Length: 83 mm


    • Mount Type: Nikon F-Bayonet
    • Focal Length Range: 8-15mm
    • Lens Mount: Nikon F (FX)
    • Max Format Size: FX/35mm 


    • Elements: 15
    • Groups: 13
    • Three ED with two aspherical elements, Nano Crystal and fluorine coatings


    • Maximum Aperture: f/ 3.5-4.5
    • Minimum Aperture: f/ 29


    Sample Circular Fisheye Photos at 8mm (full frame)

    Photos taken with a Canon full-frame dSLR (5D Mark II & Mark III), Canon 8-15mm fisheye at 8mm, 6 inch glass dome port. We expect photos with the Nikon 8-15mm fisheye to look similar at 8mm, when used on a full-frame camera.

    canon 8-15mm circular fisheye photo



    canon 8-15mm circular fisheye photo

    Sample Fisheye photos at 15mm (Full Frame)

    Photos taken with the Nikon D810, Tokina 10-17mm fisheye lens at 15mm, Zen 4-inch glass mini-dome. Photos taken with a fisheye lens on a cropped sensor dSLR at 10mm would look identical.

    Tokina 10-17mm fisheye underwater at 15mm


    Full Article: Lightroom Tips & Tricks: The Spray Can Tool

    One of the challenges of keeping your images organized and easy to locate stems from having a well-defined strategy for adding ‘keywords’ and ‘metadata’ to your images. I wanted to share with you one of Lightroom’s most useful tools for quickly adding this information to your images. Getting into the habit of labeling your shots is a worthwhile investment of time and this useful tool should make the work fast and simple.


    Saving Time: Now and In the Future

    As an underwater photographer, you likely shoot a lot of images, and with that comes the challenge of how to keep track of them all. One of the most important things you can do once you upload your images off the memory cards is to take the time to catalog those images, after making a backup or two of course. There are perhaps as many ways to file and store your images as there are fish in the sea, but that’s a different topic for a different day, but there is one thing that we should be doing as part of our cataloging process, it is keywording those images.

    In Adobe Lightroom, when you take the time to add keywords, you can quickly go back and find your images at a later date.

    Adding keywords while the files are being imported to Lightroom makes the most sense. When I import images from a dive, I will create a general set of keywords that apply to all of the images. For example, a trip to La Paz, Mexico may include keywords such as Mexico and October, Dive etc. So far, so good...I covered a fe wof the general keywords and applied them to perhaps 1000 images.

    But what about the individual images within those 1000 files that might require a unique set of words such as Whale Shark, Baja, Snorkel, Split, Scuba, Sea of Cortez, Dolphin, Shark, Food and Sunset , to list a few examples. Adding these keywords may require a lot of additional time, as I need to apply certain words to certain images, but not all images, spread out amongst the 1000 images I uploaded.


    Fast and Easy: The Spray Can

    Lightroom has a great tool, which allows you to save time and apply those keywords in a simple way….it’s called the Spray Can . Find the Spray Can in grid view while in the Library Module.


    How do you use it? It couldn’t be any easier. Simply select the spray can to access a dialog box that allows you to select or enter the keywords you wish to apply, and then start running your mouse over the images with the left mouse button held down. Do you want to apply a star rating to a selection of images, how about a color code or new metadata? You can do those too with the spray can. You do not even need to click on each individual image...simply run the spray can over an image with the mouse button held down and the keyword is applied...you can even apply multiple keywords at the same time. Could it get any easier?



    This feature, in my opinion, is one of the best time saving tools in all of Lightroom for what can easily be called the most time consuming and at the same time, one of the most important tasks. Making the addition of keywords to your images should be a part of your workflow, and this is just one of many ways to help make that process both fast and easy.

    Full Article: Fantasea FA6500 Housing Review

    Fantasea, known for the great performance and fantastic value of their compact camera housings, has entered the mirrorless housing game with the Fantasea FA6500. This new interchangeable port housing works with both the Sony a6500 and Sony a6300. For this review, I shot the Sony a6500 on 30 dives during the Bluewater Photo workshop in Anilao, Philippines.

    The Sony a6500 is Sony's powerful 24.2 megapixel APS-C mirrorless camera, with a fast 425-point autofocus system, 5-axis image stabilization and 4K recording at high framerates. Be sure to read our First Look at the Sony a6500 article (full review to be published in next week).

    The Fantasea FA6500 closely resembles other Fantasea housings, however is packed with new features designed specifically for the a6500 and a6300, including camera tray, interchangeable ports, wet lens system compatible with several lens combinations, flash trigger and more. Let's take a closer look.


    Jump to section:

    Housing Features    |    Overview & Controls    |    Underwater Review

    UCL-09LF Macro Diopter    |    UWL-09F Wide-Angle Wet Lens    |    FA6500 Housing Accessories

    Conclusion    |    More Underwater Photos


    Purchase the Fantasea FA6500 Housing


    A nudibranch perches on a rock as current rips by. Sony a6500, Sony 16-50mm lens, Fantasea FA6500 housing, Fantasea UCL-09LF diopter, dual Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes. @45mm, ISO 100, f/20, 1/160. Photo: Brent Durand

    Fantasea FA6500 Features

    • Full access to all essential camera buttons & functions with clearly marked controls

    • Depth rated to 60 meters / 200 feet

    • Shock resistant construction

    • Ergonomic design

    • Double O-ring protection for a perfect watertight seal

    • Moisture Detector and Alarm, Hand Strap and Body Cap included at no additional cost!

    • Interchangeable lens port and lens gear system is available, allowing for the use of a wide range of lenses

    • Double fiber optic cable port

    • M16 port for a variety of connections, including HDMI, vacuum valve or electronic strobe triggering bulkheads

    • Shutter release extension available for easy access when using housing tray and handles

    • Additional optional housing accessories are available

    • Manufacturer's warranty











    FA6500 Housing Overview and Controls

    The Fantasea FA6500 is Fantasea's first mirrorless housing, yet it feels as nice and easy to use as their compact housings while still providing full access to all camera functions, controls and a wide variety of lenses. 

    The polycarbonate construction is solid, the buttons have wide plastic caps so that your fingers don't hurt when pressing them repeatedly, and everything is very clearly labeled. I enjoyed the fact that most controls are placed in a similar layout as on the camera body, which maintains familiarity built while using the Sony a6500 topside. The knobs have large ridges that provide great traction on the fingers.

    My (strangely favorite) buttons are the flash pop-up and depress buttons, convenient when switching between photo and manual video modes. Why? The camera's max flash sync speed is 1/160, and the a6500 limits you to that shutter speed when the flash is popped (actually a nice feature). For shooting 1080p video at 120fps, I wanted a shutter speed of 1/250, and pressed down the flash in order to make those higher shutter speeds available.


    Accessory Highlights

    The FA6500 housing has a M16 port for a variety of accessories, including HDMI output (e.g. for video monitor) or a vacuum valve. It also has a cold shoe mount for focus light on top of the housing (like all cold shoe mounts, check that accessories are mounted tightly before every dive). The dual fiber optic cable connectors are located on top of the housing, which is nice because you don't have extra light hitting your subject when using only one cable.

    Fantasea will soon be releasing an LCD Screen Magnifier, LED Flash Trigger and Quick Release Bayonet System.


    Port and Lens System

    The Fantasea a6500 housing features a bayonet system for changing ports and lenses. Simply unlock the port, twist about 1cm and then pop it off. A camera lens release button is located on the right side of the port opening, making lens changes quick. There's no need to open the back of the housing to change lenses.

    I set up the housing with the Fantasea FML Flat Port 34 and Sony 16-50mm Power Zoom kit lens, as this provided a versatile system for both macro shooting with the UCL-09LF diopter and wide-angle shooting with the UWL-09F conversion lens. While the lens isn't as sharp as some other Sony lenses, it was fantastic being able to change from macro to wide-angle mid-dive. The flat port 34 has a 67mm thread mount, so your other 67mm accessories are compatible.

    View the Fantasea Port Chart for full lens and port compatibility.


    Inside the Housing

    Opening the FA6500 is simple. Just depress the red safety lever, twist the latch, and pull the housing open on the left side hinge. There are two o-rings sealing the housing back, which provides an extra layer of security against floods. 

    To insert the a6500 camera, simply mount it on the tray and insert the tray into the sled, then lock it down. The tray does not block the battery compartment and is easy to tighten/loosen with fingertips or a coin.


    For the review, I set up the Fantasea FA6500 on Ultralight Control Systems tray and handles, switching between Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes and Kraken Hydra 5000 video lights.



    FA6500 Housing Performance Underwater

    The first thing I noticed with this sytem was the excellent buoyancy of the polycarbonate housing. I was using 4x jumbo Stix Floats and the rig was just slighly negative and easy to swim around with. Pitch was neutral as well - no front float or sink.

    The buttons have nice action and did not induce fatigue, although everyone has different hand sizes, ergonomic preferences, etc. I did find myself placing my thumb on the back of the housing to stabilize the rig when depressing the shutter to focus and shoot. This was necessary in order to keep the system aimed and stable while applying enough pressure on the lever. This is a trend for me on several mirrorless housings, so can't be considered a negative.

    The housing knobs were easy to turn ergonomically with finger/thumb tip, which is nice - no need to take your hand off the housing to grab them with fingers and thumb. Heavy-use buttons like playback and display stood up to the 30 dives and still feel like new - no jamming up.



    Video recording is done through the small button on the right back side of the housing. Its low profile makes it easy to slowly press with the thumb, resulting in less camera shake and pressure that might shift the careful framing of a super macro shot.

    The FA6500 ships with an extended shutter release lever, which I ended up installing after the first few days of the trip. Most divers will be able to install this on their own, if desired, as it's held with just a single screw on outside of the housing. I enjoyed the ergonomics much more with the longer lever.

    Advanced shooters will be happy to know that the AEL button has been shifted slightly to the right, making it reachable for back-button focus operation.

    There are a couple inconveniences with the system, however I attribute those to the Sony gear design and not the housing. The first is the electronic zoom slider of the Sony 16-50mm lens, which makes it tough to reach a desired field of view (a bit like zooming a compact camera lens) and is prone to being bumped out of place. The second issue, where the pop-up flash pauses the camera in order to recycle and cool down, has been addressed by Fantasea through a new flash trigger. No more need to watch the best composition to move away while waiting for the flash to recycle! Be sure to revisit and read my complete Sony a6500 camera review for more insight on the camera itself, which will be published on UWPG in the next week or two.

    [EDIT] Fantasea has told us that the 16-50mm zoom gear is designed to work with the manual zoom ring on the 16-50mm lens, not the electronic zoom slider. We haven't had a chance to test this, but it makes sense as the manual zoom ring is more accurate for zooming than the electronic zoom slider.


    Fantasea UCL-09LF Macro Diopter

    I used the UCL-09LF frequently during our Anilao workshop. The Sony 16-50mm lens is versatile, however the minimum working distance is often too far away (25cm) for crisp macro shooting. Adding the UCL-09LF not only adds +12 magnification, but it reduces the working distance, allowing you to get closer and fill the frame with your subject. Shooting through less water also results in crisper images.

    This specific lens and diopter combo requires you to zoom in a bit in order to move past the vignetting at 16mm. Once you do that, you have the flexibility to zoom the lens in and out depending on the size of your subject and desired working distance (which varies depending on zoom / field of view).

    The diopter delivers sharp images, however my first instinct is that the Sony 16-50mm isn't as sharp for macro shooting as the Sony 90mm macro lens. I look forward to testing the diopter on that lens in the near future. But like I mentioned above, the 16-50mm is more versatile, so lens/port selection will really depend on the photo subjects you have planned during the dive.


    A nudibranch reaches out across a sponge. Sony a6500, Sony 16-50mm lens, Fantasea FA6500 housing, Fantasea UCL-09LF diopter, dual Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes. @39mm, ISO 100, f/16, 1/160. Photo: Brent Durand


    An emperor shrimp crawls across a large cucumber. Sony a6500, Sony 16-50mm lens, Fantasea FA6500 housing, Fantasea UCL-09LF diopter, dual Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes. @47mm, ISO 100, f/25, 1/160. Photo: Brent Durand

    Fantasea UWL-09 Wide-Angle Conversion Lens

    The Fantasea UWL-09F is a glass wide-angle wet conversion lens that allows you to zoom in and out while using the lens. The first benefit of this lens is that you can add and remove it underwater. The second is this zoom ability, allowing you to zoom out for a wide reefscape perspective and zoom in for more distant subjects like a sea lion or dolphin.

    The UWL-09F requires you to zoom in very slightly to avoid vignetting, but after that the image quality stays impressively sharp from edge to edge. The photo below is shot at 21mm and uncropped.


    A nudibranch reaches out across a sponge. Sony a6500, Sony 16-50mm lens, Fantasea FA6500 housing, Fantasea UWL-09F wide-angle conversion lens, dual Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes. @21mm, ISO 320, f/13, 1/80. Photo: Brent Durand

    Fantasea FA6500 Housing Accessories


    Fantasea plans to release the following products for the FA6500 housing next month:
    • A Dome Lens Port designed for wide angle lenses such as the Sony E-mount 16mm F2.8 lens and the VCL-ECF2 Fisheye converter.
    • A Lens Port Extension Ring designed to help accommodate longer lenses such as the Sony E-mount 10 - 18 mm Zoom lens.
    • Lens Gears and Light Shielding pads designed for a variety of Sony E-Mount lenses.
    • A LCD Screen Magnifier compatible with all Fantasea Housings which provide an enlarged and enhanced view of the cameras LCD screen
    • Universal Flash Trigger Compatible with all Hotshoe equipped cameras. Thereby allowing for longer camera battery life and enhanced continues shooting modes.
    • New and improved Fiber Optic cables.




    The Fantasea FA6500 is a solid, functional housing that delivers the best performance to value ratio out there. If you have a budget as you plan and purchase a Sony a6500 mirrorless camera rig, then this housing is a great option.

    The compact size and light weight make the Sony a6500 and Fantasea housing attractive to DSLR shooters who are looking for easier travel and less bulk while diving. The versatility of using wet lenses for super macro and wide-angle on the same dive is very cool, and a setup I would highly recommend for advanced shooters looking to maximize photo opportunities throughout every minute underwater. That said, I would definitely also look to the Sony 90mm macro lens (and compatible port) if you're into the small critters.

    The image quality, autofocus speed and other custom features make this a great system for compact shooters looking to upgrade. 

    There just aren't many cons with the system. It can be used as a small snorkel camera with a handstrap or built up as a professional video rig with external monitor, tripod and lighting system.


    Order the Fantasea FA6500 housing at Bluewater Photo.


    Fantasea a6500 Housing Underwater Photos


    A friendly green turtle hangs out for a portrait. Sony a6500, Sony 16-50mm lens, Fantasea FA6500 housing, dual Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes. @37mm, ISO 100, f/16, 1/125. Photo: Brent Durand

    Known for macro, Anilao also is home to gorgeous reefs. Sony a6500, Sony 16-50mm lens, Fantasea FA6500 housing, Fantasea UWL-09F wide-angle conversion lens, dual Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes. @18mm, ISO 320, f/13, 1/100. Photo: Brent Durand



    A nudibranch reaches out towards the housing. Sony a6500, Sony 16-50mm lens, Fantasea FA6500 housing, Fantasea UCL-09LF diopter, dual Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes. @24mm, ISO 100, f/22, 1/160. Photo: Brent Durand


    A mototi octopus crawls across the sand while hunting. Sony a6500, Sony 16-50mm lens, Fantasea FA6500 housing, dual Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes. @33mm, ISO 100, f/14, 1/160. Photo: Brent Durand


    Anemone shrimp are commonly found with eggs. Sony a6500, Sony 16-50mm lens, Fantasea FA6500 housing, Fantasea UCL-09LF diopter, dual Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes. @41mm, ISO 100, f/29, 1/160. Photo: Brent Durand


    Disclosure: Fantasea loaned UWPG the gear reviewed in this article.

    Full Article: Sony a6500 Camera Review

    The Sony a6500 was announced very soon after the a6300; so close in fact that the camera was just becoming available as I was shooting for our a6300 camera review. Needless to say, the Sony a6500 features some nice upgrades.

    The a6500 is Sony's flagship APS-C mirrorless camera, packing a robust set of photo and video features into a very affordable camera body. The camera is much smaller than the full-frame mirrorless Sony a7R II, making it a great choice for those who are looking at mirrorless cameras for their impressive image quality in a small body.

    I shot the Sony a6500 in the Fantasea FA6500 housing across 30 dives during Bluewater Photo's spring workshop in Anilao, Philippines, leading to the insights in the review below.

    Price:  $1,398


    Purchase the Sony a6500 at Bluewater Photo

    Jump to section:

    Key Features     |     Upgrades from the a6300    |    For Underwater Photography    |    For Underwater Video

    Best Lenses    |    Underwater Housings    |    Conclusion    |    More Underwater Photos



    Sony a6500 Key Features

    • 24.2-megapixel APS-C Exmor CMOS sensor 

    • 425-point phase detection autofocus points

    • 4D Focus picks up both space and time to capture moving subjects quickly with new clarity

    • BIONZ X™ image-processing engine delivers blazing speed and performance, combined with new front-end LSi

    • ISO 100 - 25,600 (expandable to 51,200)

    • 5-axis in-body image stabilization

    • 2.95" wide-angle LCD monitor with brightness control for sharp vivid color in any light

    • Touch screen focusing

    • Electronic XGA OLED Tru-Finder™

    • 4K video recording with no pixel binning (sampling from full sensor for increased detail)

    • 11 FPS burst

    • Built-in WiFi for easy sharing

    • Battery life approximately 350 shots using LCD screen


    Sony a6500 Upgrades from the a6300

    • 5-Axis Image Stabilization

    • Touch Screen Focusing

    • Newly Developped Front-End LSi (image processing algorithm)

    • Higher quality 4K video recording (Super 35 feature now uses 6K of data before recording at 4K)


    A nudibranch reaches out towards the camera. Sony a6500, Sony 16-50mm lens, Fantasea FA6500 housing, Fantasea UCL-09LF diopter, dual Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes. @24mm, ISO 100, f/22, 1/160. Photo: Brent Durand


    Sony a6500 for Underwater Photography

    I used the Sony a6500 for both macro and wide-angle, photo and video, in Anilao a few couple weeks ago. I shot exclusively with the Sony 16-50mm power zoom kit lens, which when combined with Fantasea's macro diopter and wide angle conversion lens, presented a versatile camera setup.

    Image quality of the a6500 is excellent, as you can see in the sample photos throughout this article, however I do think there is some clarity to be gained by shooting higher-quality lenses like the Sony 90mm macro and Sony 16-35mm wide-angle (f/4 or brand new f/2.8 version).

    The color delivered into Adobe Lightroom was a little warm for my preferences while using Bluewater's rental Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes (camera set to auto white balance), so I created an a6500 preset to set each image at 5000k as an editing starting point. After this, the color really popped (a true hat tip from a guy who shoots Canon DSLRs on land!).

    The a6500 defaults to showing the blinking highlight alert during image review, which I find very useful (along with the histogram). This alert has a lower tolerance than Adobe Lightroom, meaning that if an area is just slightly blown out and flashing on the a6500 LCD screen, there may still be recoverable info in the pixels once the .ARW file is opened in Lightroom.

    Camera Controls:  The Sony a6500 default control functionality is very intuitive, and that is without programming the custom C1 and C2 buttons on top right of the camera.

    Camera Operation & Processing:  The a6500 takes a few seconds to boot up, and controls also take a split-second to respond. This lag will be unnoticeable (or even much faster than normal) for most compact and mirrorless shooters, but might might bug some DSLR shooters who are used to buzzing in between settings, photo to video, and menu changes. This is the only reason I point it out.

    Max Sync Speed:  This is 1/160s on the Sony a6500. The camera actually limits your shutter speed to 1/160 when the pop-up flash is up, which prevents you from bumping up the shutter by accident. For shooting video at 1/250s (manual setting for recording at 120 frames per second), I simply pushed the flash down, which then opened up the full range of shutter speeds.

    Autofocus: 4D autofocus performed accurately on the Sony a6500 for both wide-angle and macro. There is a definite improvement in ability to lock focus when shooting macro, but note that I was using the 16-50mm (I had used the 90mm for reviewing the a6300). Given that the a6500 was marketed as the fastest camera in the world at launch, I would expect nothing less.

    This said, there were a couple times where I was using a diopter and beyond the maximum working distance, and the single AF lock let me fire images even though the subject was clearly not in focus. Once I moved the camera within range the system regained accuracy.

    Moving a single AF point around the frame is a multi-step process, unfortunately. You must push the function button, push set once the AF area is selected, then push the M area once selected, and then move the focus point around the frame. The focus point stays active until you need to use the rear control dial to access another setting, like ISO. At that point you would need to reactivate it through the process above (note: you could program ISO to the C1 or C2 button in an effort to keep the focus point active constantly). 

    I shot the a6500 using Single AF.  I did try tracking a few different times on some very camouflaged subjects (network pipefish, ghost pipefish, juvenile sweetlips) but found it wasn't any more successful delivering images than Single AF. The tracking works much better on subjects with a clear contrast difference from their background.

    Battery Life:  The Sony a6500 battery lasted about two macro dives with the pop-up flash set to Fill Flash. When shooting video, I would recommend changing the battery after every dive.


    Known for macro, Anilao also is home to gorgeous reefs. Sony a6500, Sony 16-50mm lens, Fantasea FA6500 housing, Fantasea UWL-09F wide-angle conversion lens, dual Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes. @18mm, ISO 320, f/13, 1/100. Photo: Brent Durand


    A mototi octopus crawls across the sand while hunting. Sony a6500, Sony 16-50mm lens, Fantasea FA6500 housing, dual Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes. @33mm, ISO 100, f/14, 1/160. Photo: Brent Durand

    Sony a6500 for Underwater Video

    The Sony a6500 is a powerful video machine. 4K at 30fps and 1080p at 120fps make the a6500 versatile for beginners and pros alike, those making long-form films or those aiming for short clips.

    If you're a casual video shooter, simply push the red button when the action starts. More advanced shooters will be pleased to know that the Sony a6500 features 4K Super 35 mode (popular in the a7 II series), which records video across the entire 6k sensor (full pixel readout, no binning). This oversampling results in crisp 4K (3840x2160p) imagery, and when combined with flat gamma curve profiles like S-Log 3, contains much more dynamic range to work with while editing and color grading. The a6500 records 8-bit, 4:2:0 4K at up to 100Mb/s. Adding an external HDMI recording device increases this to uncompressed 4:2:2 4K (although still 8-bit).

    The closest video competitor in this camera class is the new Panasonic GH5.

    White Balance:  Sony does not offer 1-touch manual white balance on the a6500. Read our complete Guide to Manual White Balance on the Sony a6500.

    Sony a6500 Video Settings:  I set the camera to record in XAVC S HD format, 120fps at 100Mb/s. Why no 4K? Aside from the fact that my laptop can't process it, most of us can't view true 4K resolution anyways. There is a valid argument that you'll see better image quality when shooting 4K (and resizing to 1080p during post), however the maximum frame rate on the Sony a6500 is 30fps. Since I only use short unedited clips for social media (and was looking for action to replay in slo-mo), shooting 1080 at 120fps made far more sense.

    Image Stabilization:  The new 5-axis image stabilization in the a6500 body is apparent when filming underwater video. It's most noticeable when handholding the system, rotating around the subject, and slowly moving in and out. The IS serves to minimize the shake, resulting in smooth motion. I didn't notice it as much when the camera was filming on a tripod.

    Autofocus:  Video autofocus is fast and accurate. The autofocus found and held subjects well for both macro and super macro shooting, although it did shift focus off my selected subject a few times when confused (e.g. from colmani shrimp eye to antennae bristles when they moved in front of eye, and then back to eye when the antennae was moved again). This is very normal when using autofocus with distracting elements in the frame or backgrounds of similar contrast/patterns as the subject.

    While I recorded quite a few video clips during our dives in Anilao, we'll save the detailed pro-level video review for a separate article to come soon.


    A nudibranch reaches out across a sponge. Sony a6500, Sony 16-50mm lens, Fantasea FA6500 housing, Fantasea UCL-09LF diopter, dual Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes. @39mm, ISO 100, f/16, 1/160. Photo: Brent Durand

    Sony a6500 Best Lenses


    Standard / Mid-Range



    Additional Lens Options

    Individual housing manufacturers may offer macro and wide-angle wet lens options. For example, Fantasea a6500 housing shooters can use the Sony 16-50mm lens inside a small flat port, donning the UCL-09LF macro dioptor or UWL-09F wide-angle conversion lens depending on the shot.


    Shooting a zoom lens with wet lens conversion setup makes you ready for anything. Sony a6500, Sony 16-50mm lens, Fantasea FA6500 housing, Fantasea UWL-09F wide-angle conversion lens, dual Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes. @23mm, ISO 320, f/13, 1/100. Photo: Brent Durand


    Sony a6500 Underwater Housings


    Aquatica Sony a6500 Housing  $1,650

    Aquatica designed this housing to retain the small, easy-to-use size of the a6500. Robust in build with ergonomics at the forefront of design, this housing features various strobe connectors, M16 bulkhead for a monitor, vacuum capabilities and many other great features.

    Learn more about the Aquatica a6500 Housing.


    Fantasea Sony a6500 Housing  $980

    The Fantasea FA6500 fits both the a6500 and a6300, with a functional and sleek design that blends ergonomics with great value. A wide range of accessories, including TTL converter and wet lenses complement the housing.

    Learn more about the Fantasea a6500 Housing.


    Ikelite Sony a6500 Housing  $975

    The Ikelite a6500 housing delivers great value in their iconic polycarbonate housing, complete with an integrated TTL circuit that's powered by the strobe - no extra batteries needed. A wide range of ports complements the a6500's arsenal of lenses.

    Learn more about the Ikelite a6500 Housing.

    Nauticam Sony a6500 Housing  $1800

    The Nauticam NA-A6500 housing is precision engineered to provide the most ergonomic control of the camera. Nauticam has moved camera controls to positions at the fingertips and offers many accessories to build this kit for beginners and pros alike.

    Learn more about the Nauticam a6500 Housing.



    The Sony a6500 is a great camera in a small package. The flagship Olympus and Sony a7 II series are big cameras, and while the performance is there, their housings look more like those of DSLRs than small mirrorless cameras.

    Excellent image quality, fast autofocus, video image stabilization and a quickly growing selection of lenses make the Sony a6500 a great choice for underwater photo and video shooters. Housing prices start at $975 and go up from there, so you can build a very affordable underwater system around the a6500 - a huge PRO in my book.

    Less experienced shooters will not see many cons with the a6500. Shooters coming from DSLRs will need to adjust to the slightly slower operating speed (menus, startup, button controls) and the fact that everything in the LCD screen and EFV is digital instead of the real scene reflected in a mirror.

    In short, if you're looking for a compact and powerful interchangeable lens camera system at a great price, then the Sony a6500 is for you.


    More Sony a6500 Underwater Photos

    Hawkfish, while common, are a fun portrait subject. Sony a6500, Sony 16-50mm lens, Fantasea FA6500 housing, Fantasea UCL-09LF diopter, dual Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes. @28mm, ISO 100, f/16, 1/160. Photo: Brent Durand


    Anemone shrimp are commonly found with eggs. Sony a6500, Sony 16-50mm lens, Fantasea FA6500 housing, Fantasea UCL-09LF diopter, dual Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes. @41mm, ISO 100, f/29, 1/160. Photo: Brent Durand


    A friendly green turtle hangs out for a portrait. Sony a6500, Sony 16-50mm lens, Fantasea FA6500 housing, dual Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes. @37mm, ISO 100, f/16, 1/125. Photo: Brent Durand


    Two clownfish swim the same path through their host. Sony a6500, Sony 16-50mm lens, Fantasea FA6500 housing, dual Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes. @25mm, ISO 125, f/16, 1/160. Photo: Brent Durand


    A nudibranch perches on a rock as current rips by. Sony a6500, Sony 16-50mm lens, Fantasea FA6500 housing, Fantasea UCL-09LF diopter, dual Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes. @45mm, ISO 100, f/20, 1/160. Photo: Brent Durand


    Disclosure: Fantasea loaned UWPG the gear reviewed in this article, which was returned after the review.

    Full Article: Olympus Tough TG-5 Camera Preview

    Olympus has just announced a follow up to the extremely popular TG-4 compact camera - the Olympus Tough TG-5.

    The TG-5 is packed full of features useful to underwater photo and video shooters; the latest camera from a brand that actively considers underwater shooters when designing its products. Not only is the camera waterproof down to 50ft (15m), but it is designed with the Olympus PT-058 UW housing rated to 147ft (45m). This housing is the most affordable TG-5 housing on the market and accepts most popular underwater photo accessories.

    The Olympus TG-5 also packs RAW photo recording for wide latitude when editing (including white balance), 4K video recording, 1080p video recording at 120fps (4x slow motion!), a super macro mode with minimum focus distance of 1cm, and automatic TTL flash control with Olympus and/or 3rd party underwater strobes.

    Est. Availability:  Shipping by June 16, 2017

    Est. U.S.A Retail Price TG-5:  $449.99

    Est. U.S.A. Retail Price PT-058:  $299.99


    Bluewater Photo TG-5 Packages:

    Olympus TG-5 Camera

    Olympus TG-5 Underwater Housing PT-058

    Olympus TG-5 and Housing Bundle

    Olympus TG-5 Camera, Housing, and YS-03 Strobe Package



    Olympus TG-5 Camera Specs

    • 12MP 1/2.3" BSI CMOS sensor optimized for low light (4000x3000 images)
    • Waterproof (50ft without housing), Shockproof, crushproof, freezeproof
    • Fast f/2.0-4.9 lens with 4.5mm - 18mm focal length (equivalent to 25mm - 100mm)
    • Minimum working distance 1cm (in super macro mode)
    • ISO range 100 - 12,800
    • Olympus TruePic VIII image processor
    • 25 autofocus points with Single AF and Tracking
    • 4K @30p video recording (approx. 102 Mbps bit rate). 1080 @120fps High Speed Movie mode
    • Pro Capture mode for 20fps image capture
    • Built-in flash
    • SD storage (SD, SDHC, SDXC)
    • WiFi capabilities, including camera control via smartphone
    • Weight (approx): 250g / 8.72oz with battery & memory card 
    • Dimensions: 113mm x 66mm x 31.9mm (4.43in x 2.6in x 1.23in)


    TG-5 Upgrades from the TG-4

    The Olympus TG-5 is almost, but not quite, the same size as the Olympus TG-4. This means that owners of a TG-3 or TG-4 housing cannot use the TG-5 in their current housing. The TG-4 became extremely popular with its semi-manual shooting modes, RAW image capture, image stabilization and (especially important for underwater photo/video shooters) microscope mode for super macro. The camera can shoot a crisp image of the back of the lens cap, literally.

    The Tough TG-5 builds on this strong foundation with upgrades that follow the trends of high-ISO shooting performance, low light performance, 4K video recording and burst recording. These improvements can largely be summed up with a few notes on the new TG-5 image sensor.


    TG-5 vs. TG-4 Image Sensor & Megapixel Comparison

    The Olympus TG-5 uses the same size 1/2.3" BSI CMOS sensor as the TG-4, although the TG-5 has 12MP while the TG-4 has 16MP. Why the reduction? This is for two reasons. First, less megapixels generally results in better low light sensitivity. The TG-5 images will have less noise in the shadows and dark areas of the images. Second, less megapixels also means less data, which leads to faster image processing - essential when recording 4K video and high-fps bursts. The TG-5 does have an upgraded image processor, but the lower megapixel count surely makes a bigger difference in processing speeds.

    Also keep in mind that Olympus has a wide-range of nice OM-D mirrorless cameras, so shooters who are looking strictly for megapixel count will likely shop the mirrorless options since they are more advanced cameras with better image quality. Check out this Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II bundle deal.


    Thoughts for Underwater Photography

    The Olympus TG-5 will be a great compact camera for underwater shooters who want a simple system on a budget. The camera is the perfect topside adventure companion, making it a smart purchase for the dive boat even if you already have a big camera system. The TG-5's upgrades in low light performance will deliver better image quality with less noise than the popular TG-4 when shooting underwater video and ambient light wide-angle, both of which often require shooting with ISOs above the base 100.

    RAW image capture is an essential feature for divers who really want to edit their photos. Manual aperture control in the TG-5 is limited to three settings, but I don't see this as a huge drawback. 4K video (at 30fps) is available for those that really want the resolution, and 120fps (at Full HD) is available for those that are more interested in slow motion effects. When shooting in Microscope Mode, resolution is limited to 1080p at 60fps.

    The TG-5 will be competing with the SeaLife DC2000, which features a larger 1" sensor and simple piano key control at a slightly cheaper price (camera + housing). That said, the entire feature set and versatility of the Olympus TG-5, from super macro mode to WiFi apps, make it a solid choice for both beginners and experienced shooters looking for something small. Other compact camera options are much more expensive, including the Sony RX100 IV / V and Canon G7 X Mk II.










    Olympus TG-5 Underwater Housings

    Unfortunately, the new Olympus TG-5 will not fit in the older TG3 and TG-4 underwater housings. The camera sizes are nearly identical, but do have some minor control differences as well as a larger finger grip. A new Olympus PT-058 TG-5 underwater housing will be available with the camera's release.

    We also expect to see housing options from Ikelite, Recsea and Nauticam. The Ikelite housing price point will be similar to that of the Olympus PT-058 (see the Ikelite TG-4 housing for reference). The Recsea will be priced slightly higher and the Nauticam will likely be more than double. As above, we expect that the TG-5 will not fit into TG-4 housings from these brands.

    We'll update this section as soon as we have more underwater housing information.


    Related Reading:  Olympus TG-4 Camera Review


    Bluewater Photo TG-5 Packages:

    Olympus TG-5 Camera

    Olympus TG-5 Underwater Housing PT-058

    Olympus TG-5 and Housing Bundle

    Olympus TG-5 Camera, Housing, and YS-03 Strobe Package

    Full Article: Portraits from God's Pocket

    A couple years ago, I would never have guessed my vacation time would be spent packing an ever changing assortment of dive gear into checked luggage and carry-on camera gear, hoping on a series of planes, diving, and then repeating that process all over again.  To further complicate airline luggage rules, you also have these bulky dry suits and undergarments to pack and you begin to think, why would people do this to themselves?  Put simply, because it's so worth it!

    The nutrient rich waters of God's Pocket (Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada) offers some truly amazing and unique diving, full of colors and life I certainly didn't fully expect. Part of the thrill for me is discovering things I couldn't have planned for.  Sure, I had a list of things I wanted to see; giant pacific octopus, hooded nudibranchs, warbonnets in a bottle and wolf eels. But, playing tug of war with an GPO who took a quite-strong interest in my strobe, or discovering a type of anemone with miniature versions of itself clinging to its sides, or the wavy motions and sail of the sailfin sculpin; those are all safely cataloged in my internal dive logs, as stories I'll have to tell in the years to come.


    Aaron's Underwater Camera Gear

     Nikon D90, Aquatica housing and ports, Sea&Sea YS-110a strobes, Retra LSD snoot, Nikon 40mm, Nikon 60mm, Nikon 105mm, Tokina 10-17mm, 1.4x teleconverter and various diopters and lights






    Full Article: Nikon D820 Camera Rumors

    Summer 2017 is shaping up to be the summer of prosumer full frame cameras. Canon is expected to announce a successor to the 6D while the rumors for Nikon's successor to the D810 are piling up.

    The new Nikon camera will likely be labeled the D820, and is expected to continue the D810's focus on high ISO performance and a mega megapixel count. The specs below have been reported to and published on NikonRumors.com, and while they may easily change, they do seem very realistic.


    Nikon D820 Rumors

    Estimated availability:  Summer 2017

    Sensor:  45-46MP sensor

    No Built-in GPS:  This would be weird in the age of WiFi and NFC in most new cameras, and with the growing trend of amateur and beginner photographers purchasing these powerful prosumer full frame DSLRs.

    Tiltable LCD Screen like the Nikon D750 and Nikon D500. This is a nice feature for Nikon video shooters, landscape photographers and those shooting from tough angles.

    Memory:  Dual SD slots (SD & QXD).


    Please note that these specs are far from guaranteed, but it's fun to speculate. 

    We'll update this news article as soon as we know more.

    - Brent Durand

    Full Article: How to Shoot Your Way Out of a Slump

    I recently checked Raja Ampat off my bucket list.  I wanted to see it all - fish schools thick enough to block the sun, coral gardens many acres large, and biodiversity like nowhere else on the plant - and Raja exceeded my every expectation.  And yet, after the first few days, I had only a select few photos that I was marginally happy with.

    After about a dozen frustrating dives, I had to figure out where I was going wrong and how to fix the problem. The trouble was, in the face of such an incredible amount of life, I was out of my element.  I was having troubles picking out a coherent subject in the maelstrom of life.  And when I found something, there was often a diver in the background.  And then there was the visibility; at 20 meters it was okay, but it wasn’t my Kona gin. Anyone can shoot well on clear days in sunny, familiar waters.  Traveling forces you to try your best in the given conditions, because you might not get a do-over.  This article is meant to help you re-center your photographic zen when you find yourself out of your comfort zone.

    Related: Read our Raja Ampat Scuba Diving Guide.



    Isolate a Subject

    One of the challenges in shooting a place like Raja Ampat is sorting through the cacophony to find a subject.  This was especially challenging at sites like Cape Kri, Melissa’s Garden, and Karaug Bayangan, where the fish form disorganized masses over lush but unbroken coral reefs.  Just pointing your camera at the cloud of fish isn’t going to capture the beauty.  You will still need to work to find an anchor for your photo’s story.

    Start simple.  Find a large, sessile subject, and just expose it.  In Raja, that might mean a wobbegong or a particularly bright coral head.  Snap off a few simple portraits.  This will give you a few pics to take home, and it will start to pull your headspace out of the gutter.  With a few portraits in your back pocket, you can start branching out to get more complicated.  Close focus wide-angle shots are made for locations like Raja, but be sure to pick your subject carefully.  Not only does the subject have to look compelling, but CFWA relies on a working background, too.  I ended up having some luck finding a subject, and then just camping out waiting for the background action to align perfectly.  




    Managing People

    Whenever you are diving with others, they can either be a subject in the photo or a nuisance.  When living and diving in isolated, cramped quarters with a small group of others, a small annoyance can snowball into a fight if you aren’t careful.  Trouble can be quickly averted when photographers form something of an alliance.  On this trip, we all understood that all of our photos would benefit if we could work together.  We worked out a few hand signals that politely meant, “hey, you’re in my shot.”  If you were in the way, this meant to finish your photo and please move.  No offense, no egos, just excuse me for a minute.

    A different sort of issue can arise over macro subjects, especially on muck dives, where a diver might want to camp on a rare subject.  Again, we all have to work together, so communication is key.  I recommend a rotation system for when a line is forming around a particular subject.  Agree beforehand that, if someone is waiting, you have x number of shots before you are expected to let the other person have a turn.  You can always go back, but it isn’t fair to hog the rarest creature on the reef.



    Limited Visibility

    This is a tough one, especially for wide-angle photography that relies so heavily on background color.  Sure, you can switch to macro and shoot for a black background, but then you will miss the larger opportunities and sweeping reefscapes.  For starters, forget about animals that are further away than a few feet.  Most of the reef sharks, while cool to watch, will be well outside of this range and not worth considering for good photos.  In really turbid water, it helps to stay with action that is as shallow as possible to make use of as much ambient light as you can.  Don’t forget to set your strobes wide and angled out.  Even so, you can expect to spend some time post-processing backscatter out of most of your images.  On the bright side, sunny days in the mid-morning and mid-afternoon produce beautiful God-rays among the speckles in the water.  Set your camera for a fast shutter-speed and shoot at 90° to the sun for the most dramatic shots!



    Go Back to the Basics

    Don’t get so tangled up in missing a few idealized photos that you forget to apply tried and true techniques to the beautiful spot you have found.  A solid portfolio from a location should include a healthy mix consisting of the following: split-shots, close focus wide angle, macro, snoot macro, models as the subject, models in the background, snell’s window, marine-life portraits, silhouettes, and black backgrounds.  If what you are doing isn’t working, then it is time to switch it up and try a different technique!




    I would be remiss if I failed to mention the incredible hospitality and unique accommodations of the SMY Ondina liveaboard.  The unique ship was fashioned using hand-tools from the forests of Sulawesi.  The plane-marks and cordage stuffed betwixt the floorboards are evidence of the extreme skill required to piece together such a work of floating art.  The crew/guides were equally amazing and were quick to drop what they were doing at the slightest hint of a request.  I cannot speak highly enough of the experience they provided.  To Fede, Hugo, Jobel, and the rest of the crew of the Ondina, cheers!


    Full Article: Strobe Positioning for Wide-Angle Underwater

    Mastering the light in an image is perhaps one of the most challenging skills we learn as photographers.  Underwater, that skill must be developed even more because of the limitations we face with available light, and technology. The strobes on your rig are versatile tools that can help make beautiful images when used correctly.  There are several positioning and lighting techniques that can help you become a proficient and talented underwater photographer.

    Backscatter. Everyone worries about backscatter. But truly, there is one rule that you can use to avoid most backscatter issues and that is to be sure your strobes are back behind your dome port. The rule of thumb for me is that the heads of my strobes are no further forward than the handles on my housing.



    There are many ideas out there on how to further avoid backscatter.  Since backscatter is caused by particles in the water reflecting the light from your strobes back into your lens, many people will turn their strobes slightly out or in, so that the angle of reflection bounces away from your camera lens.  You can try this too as it may be a solution for you, especially if you dive in lower visibility conditions.  However, I have had the exact same results with my strobes facing straight forward, so I prefer not to worry so much about the direction the light is going to bounce.  Instead, I will put more effort into how high the power is on my strobes.  Often, just turning the power down a bit on one or both strobes will reduce backscatter.

    Strobe position is another hot topic and there are a lot of ideas out there.  How close should the strobes be to your housing?  How high or how low? What if you want to make a vertical image? What about close focus wide angle?  What about big animals?  Each circumstance merits consideration as the position of your strobes may require a change for each one.  The basic position that I use for a good majority of my work is to have the strobes about 8-12 inches away from the housing, facing straight forward, with the strobes at nine and three o'clock.



    Variations of this are fine, but generally speaking this is the position I will use when I am just swimming around looking for my next subject.  Then, if something like a sea lion approaches suddenly, I am ready to shoot.

    Tip:  A good rule of thumb for how close the strobes should be to your housing is to place them about as far apart as you are from your subject.  In other words, the strobes in the picture above are about 18-24 inches apart.  Using this rule, I should be about 18-24 inches from my subject to get proper lighting.

    The height of the strobes depends on how large a subject you want to light.  If you are trying to light an entire reef, you might consider putting your strobes up above your housing so that the light can be cast evenly over a large area.  You can adjust the distance that the strobes are from each other according to how wide an area you want to light.  Keep in mind, however, that the light comes out from the strobes in a cone shape, and you want that cone of light to cross in the middle so that there is not a dark area in the middle of your image.



    Vertical images can be a challenge and there are a couple of different ways you can light them up.  When you turn your housing so that it is vertical, you will have one strobe on the top at twelve o'clock, and one on the bottom at six o'clock.  This is just fine if you are shooting a large scene, or you are a few feet from your subject.  It becomes a problem when you are close to your subject, or you want to shoot something where one of the strobes (usually the one on the bottom) is too close to the subject.  This may result in part of the image being blown out.

    Tip:  The solution to this is to turn the bottom strobe down (quite a bit) until the light on the top matches the light on the bottom.



















    Photo left:  Improperly lit with too much light from the strobe on the bottom.
    Photo right:  Properly lit image with bottom strobe power set to 1/4 power and top strobe set to 3/4 power.


    Another strobe position for vertical images is to move the strobes so that they are positioned at nine and three o'clock when the housing is turned into a vertical position.  This takes a bit of effort, but the reward is a properly lit image without having to adjust the power of your strobes as much.

    Close focus wide angle photography is when you have a relatively small subject in the foreground along with something in the background such as a diver or the sun.  In these images it is important to light them so that the subject, surrounding area and the background light blend together.  You want the viewer to see the image as one beautiful picture, instead of noticing that you have used artificial light on part of it.



    For example, the gorgonian fan in the image above was only a few inches from my dome port. It and the reef around it looks like there is no artificial light and the ambient light in the surrounding kelp forest blends with the light from my strobe.  It appears that the light comes from above all from the same light source.  That should be your goal in any close focus wide angle image. I achieved this by putting my strobes a little above my housing which was in vertical position, at about ten and two o'clock.  The strobe on the right is set at a slightly higher power than the one on the left because the reef was a bit further away on that side.

    Lastly, big animals can be a challenge to light properly for several reasons.  In most cases, I expect to be from two to three feet away from a large subject such as a shark.  In this case, I will pull my strobes apart to about two feet and turn the power up to one stop under full power.  I will also meter for the ambient light at the depth I am shooting at.  A good guess for settings in clear blue water is f/8 and 1/125th with ISO at around 400.  This can vary greatly, but it is a good place to start.



    This turtle was very close to my strobes and is entirely lit by them, while camera settings are adjusted for the bright sunlight at f/16, 1/320th and ISO 200.



    This shark is also entirely lit by my strobes and I am about two or three feet away from it in this image.  The strobes are two feet apart, facing straight forward and set on the highest power.  My camera settings are exposed for the ambient light at f/9, 1/200s, and ISO 320.  Had there been no strobe light on the shark, it would appear as dim and dark as the reef in the left corner.

    Photographers spend their entire careers mastering light in their images.  Utilizing a few tips such as these can help you on your way to conquering light in a way that will make your images stand out from the crowd.  Don't be afraid to experiment and change up the rules.  Sometimes we get hung up on how to accomplish a task, rather than experimenting with our equipment. The main goal is to make your images look like they are naturally and evenly lit.  Remember this and you cannot fail.


     This column originally published on Brook's blog, Waterdog Photography.