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Full Article: Cave Photography in Mexico's Cenotes

For me, photography is a way to show others what I’ve seen underwater; how beautiful underwater scenes are, as well as underwater creatures. After 12 years of shooting images underwater, I decided that cave photography was my next step to take. To become a cave diver, you must pass the certification course by mastering several skills - including perfect buoyancy, finding your way out of a cave in zero visibility, following a strict navigation code and being able to dive with 2, 3 or 4 tanks. So, it takes some time, a lot of effort, and many, many practice dives.

Cave Diving in Cenotes

Diving into full darkness is challenging, and it's necessary to have a good light and 2 or more backups; otherwise you will see nothing at all! As a cave diver, you get to see very amazing formations that very few people (even other divers) have the chance to see. However, carrying a 12kg (26.4 lb) camera/strobe setup and 1.7kg (3.75 lb) light is complicated when diving in cenotes. Going through restrictions, low visibility zones, and diving with 3 tanks with a large camera makes things more complicated than just cave diving. Also, not all cenotes have facilities to make things easy, such as stairs to get into the water, so taking care of your photo gear is a very serious task.

Cenotes have a long history back to the Mayans and before. For Mayans, cenotes were sacred places, representing a fresh water source, but also an entrance to the “underworld”. Some of them were used for sacrifices, as well as offerings to the Gods. It is important to always keep in mind that when diving in a cenote, you’re not only diving in a fresh water cave, but also in a very ancient cave system that millions of years ago was above water. Additionally, you’re entering into a Mayan sacred place where respect must be shown to the ancestors. And this respect must go beyond the Mayans, towards structures that were created millions of years ago and are very fragile and delicate.


In a cenote you must not touch, must not take away, and must not leave anything. Most importantly, a lot of respect must be shown to all the safety factors required for diving in an overhead environment where your level of training must not be exceeded; without the proper training and equipment, your own life may be at risk.

Getting in the Water

Some cenotes may not have nice facilities such as an access road, parking area, or tables or benches to assemble your gear. But when you go underwater, it worth it. Such is the case of D’Zonot Ila Cenote.

Here you need to use ropes and pulleys to take all your diving and photo gear down about 12m (40’) through a small opening to the water, and gear-up on the water. However, when you see what’s beneath the surface, it’s hard to believe.

Some other cenotes are even less inviting. They make you not want to go in the water at all, because all you can see from the surface is a small pond of murky water.

When entering the water, visibility is almost zero and you must rely on a line attached to a tree next to the pond. Even worse, you have to follow the line down for about 2 minutes before the visibility gets better. But once you do, the water clears up so much that you feel like you’re flying!

Some cenotes have a different type of entrance, basically a hole on the ground. They can go very deep, like El Zapote, which runs straight down as a cylinder until 90 feet of depth. At that point, you can see a very typical type of stalactite in the form of a bell, which is why this place is sometimes also called “Hell’s Bells.”

El Zapote cenote, also known as Hell’s Bells. Nikon D-810, Sea & Sea Housing, Nikon AF-S 16-35mm f/4G lens @ 16mm, 2x S&S YS-D1 strobes. 1/100 sec, f/11, ISO 100.

 

Life in Cenote Cave Zones

Underwater life in cenote cave zones can be quite different from areas where there’s light. In areas of light you can find small freshwater fish, but how about in the dark cave sections? Amazingly enough, even in the absolute darkness of a cave there’s life. It really makes you wonder how a fish or shrimp or other crustacean can live in such darkness.

In some cenotes there’s a fish that is both beautiful and ugly at the same time, called “the White Lady” (Typhliasina pearsei). These very shy fish live in the cave zones of many cenotes. Despite being blind, they are still shy of diving lights because the heat from the lights bothers them. They are not easy to photograph since bubble noise, water disturbance and lights all make them aware of the diver’s presence. Shooting this type of fish requires much patience, low air consumption, and of course a safety-conscious buddy to keep their eye on you and the line as it's easy to get caught up chasing the fish!


 White Lady (Typhliasina pearsei) – a blind cave fish. Nikon D-810, Sea & Sea Housing, AF-S VR Micro-Nikkor 105 f/2.8G, 2x S&S YS-D1 strobes, Sola Photo 800 focus light. 1/200 sec, f/25, ISO 160.

 

Macro photography in a cenote is more challenging than in the ocean. This is due to the complete darkness, and the fact that you must keep your main light covered in order not to disturb the sensitive creatures. I only use a small red focus light, but this makes it even more challenging just to find these elusive subjects.

What I Love About Cave Diving in Cenotes

Cave diving in cenotes provides a sensation of loneliness, tranquility, silence, and some doses of adrenaline. Additionally, it is the opportunity to observe how wonderful mother nature is, materialized in beautiful, ancient formations. Diving in a cenote will always give you something to remember.

Light reflections where stalactites enter the cenote’s water create magnificent images - at some points producing the illusion of floating or flying objects.
 

Light reflections of stalactites entering the water. Nikon D-810, Sea & Sea Housing, Nikon AF-S 16-35mm f/4G lens @16mm, 2x S&S YS-D1 strobes. 1/125 sec, f/7.1, ISO 125.


Another marvelous aspect of diving in cenotes is the haloclines. A halocline is the point of separation between salt water and fresh water. It creates the sensation of flying above the water line. Due to differences in density, light reflects differently in each type of water.

Diving above a halocline. Nikon D-810, Sea & Sea Housing, Nikon AF-S 16-35mm f/4G lens @17mm, 2x S&S YS-D1 strobes. 1/160 sec, f/7.1, ISO 100.


I enjoy every moment and every bit of scenery cenotes have to offer. The more complicated the access and entrance are, the more beautiful scenes you see. In Mexico we have the world’s largest underwater cave system, “Sac-Actun”, which gives me the opportunity to constantly explore this wonderful underwater world.

Impacts of Human Activity

Unfortunately, cenotes do not avoid the impacts of human activity, and water pollution has become an issue in some. The clarity of the water has disappeared near the cities, and garbage is sometimes present in the cavern areas. Large hotels and attraction parks have modified the original landscapes and hurt cenote health. Much of the original fauna has moved to safer and quieter areas. We must care for this fragile underwater system,  or many millions of years of geological formations and geological history will be gone for future generations!

Book your Cenotes Trip!

Bluewater Travel can help you plan and book the perfect cenotes dive trip, including excursions to Cozumel, Isla Mujeres and more. Visit Bluewater's Yucutan Scuba Diving page or email bookings@bluewaterdivetravel.com.

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Full Article: 2018 Ocean Art Underwater Photo Competition Announced!

The Underwater Photography Guide is proud to announce that it is accepting entries for the 7th annual Ocean Art Underwater Photo Competition.

Ocean Art is one of the most prestigious underwater photo competitions in the world. A long list of prizes valued at over $75,000 also makes it one of the richest, attracting pro to amateur photographers across the globe. Sixteen categories ensure all photo disciplines and cameras compete fairly, while the 75+ winning images create a portfolio of the best underwater photos of the year.

Ocean Art prizes are provided by almost 30 scuba diving resorts, liveaboard dive yachts, and underwater photo gear manufacturers. Grand prizes include a choice of an Indonesia liveaboard itinerary on the S.M.Y. Ondina, an Indonesian liveaboard itinerary on the M.Y. Oceanic, a 7 night liveaboard trip to Palau on the Solitude One, a trip aboard the Pelagic Fleet, a 7 night liveaboard trip on the M.V. Bilikili in the Solomon Islands, 7 nights on the Solomon PNG Master, a 7-night package with Villa Markisa, a 9 night package with Experience Lembeh, and a variety of gift certificates from Bluewater Photo. Premium travel prizes are provided by Siladen Resort & Spa (Indonesia), Solitude Liveaboards & Resorts (Indonesia), Aiyanar Beach and Dive Resort (Philippines), Atlantis Dive Resort (Philippines), Volivoli Beach Resort (Fiji), Manta Ray Bay Resort (Micronesia), Crystal Blue Dive Resort (Philippines), Spirit of Freedom Liveaboard (Australia), El Galleon Dive Resort/Asia Divers (Philippines), Aquamarine Diving (Indonesia), Atmosphere Resorts (Philippines), Eco Dive Resort (Indonesia), Scuba Cozumel (Mexico), Blackbeard’s Cruises – Allstar Liveaboards (Bahamas), and scuba travel agency Bluewater Travel. Premium gear prizes are provided by Sea & Sea, Think Tank Photo, and Ikelite.

Ocean Art 2018 consists of 16 categories, including a Novice DSLR category, 3 compact camera categories and 3 mirrorless camera categories, giving underwater photographers of all levels a chance to win a great prize. Unique categories include Supermacro, Cold/Temperate Water, and Nudibranchs, while the more traditional categories include Wide-Angle, Macro, Marine Life Portraits and Marine Life Behavior. The Underwater Art category encourages creativity in post-processing. 

Winners from each category will be able to rank the prizes they would like to receive, making it more likely that each winner will receive a prize they desire.

Judges include world-renowned underwater photographers Tony Wu, Martin Edge, Marty Snyderman and Scott Gietler. Martin Edge is the author of The Underwater Photographer, a top-selling book on underwater photography. Marty Snyderman is an Emmy winner with work appearing in top publications like National Geographic. Tony Wu is a renowned underwater photographer and author of Silent Symphony. Scott Gietler is the owner of Bluewater Photo, Bluewater Travel and the Underwater Photography Guide.

Photos must be submitted before the deadline of 23:59PM PST on November 30, 2018.

We look forward to your participation. Information can be found on our Ocean Art Photo Competition page at http://www.uwphotographyguide.com/ocean-art.

For press inquiries, please contact:

Nirupam Nigam
Managing Editor, Underwater Photography Guide
Email: info@uwphotographyguide.com 

The Underwater Photography Guide is the #1 visited resource worldwide for underwater photographers and scuba divers to learn and improve their underwater photography. It publishes highly-regarded tutorials, technique tips, in-depth gear reviews, underwater photo news, and organizes educational photography workshops around the world. For more information, please visit http://www.uwphotographyguide.com or follow on Facebook (facebook.com/underwaterphotographyguide.com), Instagram (instagram.com/uwphotographyguide) and Twitter (twitter.com/uwphotography).

Full Article: Diving in Italy: Interview with Pietro Formis

Pietro Formis is an Italian underwater photographer with an amazing portfolio of images. We caught up with him to talk about diving in Italy and get some of the story behind some of his best shots. We really enjoy everything he shared and hope you do too! - UWPG Editors

 

UWPG: What inspired you to start diving and taking photos underwater?

Pietro: I started diving thanks to my father. He invited me to take an open water diving course with him, and from that day my life truly changed. I started taking pictures underwater almost immediately with a small compact camera, and then things came along naturally from there. 

 

UWPG: Are you a full-time professional photographer, hobbyist, or both?

Pietro: I’m a free-lance photographer. Last year I quit my old job and now I’m focusing mainly on photography, especially underwater photography, leading photographic trips and workshops in Italy, the Philippines, the Red Sea, and Indonesia. 

 

UWPG: Where is your favorite place to dive in the world?

Pietro: This is difficult to answer… probably the Italian village of Noli, in Liguria, in the Mediterranean Sea. It isn’t known as the best spot in the world, but it is where I took some of my best photos. I dive there anytime I can, almost weekly during the year.


UWPG: What about the diving in Italy makes it special?

Pietro: Italy is a very diverse country; we have thousands of kilometers of coasts, snowy mountains, wetlands, dry lands, forests, lowlands, rivers, caves, volcanoes, history, culture, modernity and tradition.  

Even under the surface of the sea we have this kind of variety: from North to South we can find murky waters suitable for "muck dives", as in the Adriatic Sea; crystal waters and spectacular caves in Sardinia; colored walls of gorgonians stretching from the Ligurian Sea to Sicily; and historical wrecks and submerged ruins such as the city of Baia, near Naples, just to name few. The marine ecosystems are influenced by the Mediterranean temperate climate, with a strong seasonality and variability from cold winters to hot summers.

 

UWPG: What is your favorite freshwater location in Italy to dive? What is there to see there? 

Pietro: Usually I dive in different fresh water spots to search for a specific subject, such as newts in small ponds,freshwater crab and snakes in rivers and streams, or some special and elusive species such as the Sea Lamprey. These picture are usually taken in a few inches of water.

 

 

Alternatively, a very special place to dive with scuba gear, for the evocative scenery, is the Orrido di S. Anna (Piedmont), a submerged canyon characterized by green waters and beautiful lighting. 


UWPG: What sets you apart from other underwater photographers?

Pietro: I cannot tell you exactly what distinguishes me. What I can tell you is that I always try to take images that make the observer dream and that stimulate his or her imagination, curiosity and knowledge about the subjects portrayed. 

 

UWPG: What is your favorite photographic style and/or technique?

Pietro: I love macro, wide angle, split shots, natural light… I love all photographic techniques but the one I enjoy most is definitely the close focus wide angle (CFWA).

 

UWPG: Do you have tips for taking close-focus-wide-angle underwater photos? 

Pietro: First of all: get close! (it seems obvious, but every inch makes the difference). 

Then, pay attention to lighting. Positioning strobes is the biggest challenge, as avoiding backscatter isn’t the only goal. 

Try to enhance the subject by emphasizing its characteristics, accentuating or softening the shadows, think in a three-dimensional way in order not to illuminate unwanted areas (for example in photographs on sandy bottoms) and change the position of the strobes accordingly.

 

UWPG: What is your favorite way to light macro photos?

Pietro: I usually use 2 strobes, but I like strong contrasts and I often set one of the two strobes to have much more power than the other.

For the same reason I like using a snoot, as it emphasizes the shadows and gives a sense of drama to the pictures. It is a must in situations with a white sandy bottom. I like to use it to isolate subjects from the background, but I love less the "white ring" effect which tends to produce very repetitive images.

 

UWPG: What is your favorite image and the story behind it?

Pietro: I think it is one of my latest pictures, “Mediterranean Monster,” showing a large monkfish (longer than a meter) with an open mouth, its sharp teeth in sight. It is an image of a marvelous creature, albeit monstrous; it is truly fascinating, an incredible predator, unfortunately seen more often at the fish market than in its natural habitat. 

These fish reach sexual maturity after several years and reach a considerable size (up to 2 meters), that is if they are not caught before! It is a fish that is usually found in the depths, but during spring (thanks to the colder water temperatures) it can also be found in shallow waters.

I love to photograph these types of subjects – fantastic creatures, monstrous yet fascinating, inspiring fear and, for once, appreciation for what they are: an evolutionary miracle and not just a fish recipe. 

 

UWPG: What has been your favorite underwater experience?

Pietro: I think photographing Humpback Whales in the waters of Reunion Island. It was amazing to see these gentle giants appearing from the deep. It is something I would definitely do again.


UWPG: What is your chosen underwater photography equipment?

Pietro: I use a Canon 5DMKIII in a Nauticam Housing. I use Nauticam housings because of their solidity. I often dive in difficult conditions: muddy waters and sand. I'm sure that in every scenario I can trust my housing. I also love the port locking system and housing locking system, as they are easy, fast and reliable. 

Of course I love the ergonomics as well: you have all the controls at your fingertips, and you can change settings while you're looking through the viewfinder. 

I use Inon and Sea & Sea strobes and a FIX Neo 2200 video light (for continuous lighting). 

*Editors note: While the Canon 5DKIII remains an excellent DSLR camera, be sure to check out our underwater review for the next in the lineup, the Canon 5D Mark IV

 

 

UWPG: Do you have any tips for our readers?

Pietro: Enjoy underwater photography, share experiences with other photographers, and participate in competitions…but give competitions their right value (it’s only a game). Don’t think too much, shoot as much as you can, and don’t look back, as the best shot will be the next one. 

Don’t change your gear too often - the best shots will come when you have a good feel for your camera, housing and strobes.

  

 

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Full Article: DSLR and TG-5: A New Level of Underwater Photography

The first photographs were taken in the early 1800s and astounded the public. Soon thereafter, in 1856, a camera was lowered into the gloomy waters of the Bay of Dorsett and remotely activated. Underwater photography was born. The art and science of underwater photography quickly captured the hearts and minds of explorers. In 1899, the first portrait of a hard hat diver was taken and thereafter technology accelerated exponentially such that by 1950, Beauchat had successfully marketed a commercial housing for a commercial camera – the first on the market.

Not surprisingly, the legend himself – Jacques Cousteau – developed a self-contained underwater camera – the Calypso – in 1957. By 1963, the photographic giant Nikon had bought rights to the Calypso and marketed it as the Nikonos; the modern era of underwater photography had begun. The Nikonos line was rapidly improved until the Nikonos V appeared on the market. This is arguably still one of the best underwater cameras ever created. The age of digitalization and miniaturization quickly enveloped the underwater photography world until today, almost all underwater cameras are digital, from small point and shoots up to housed technological behemoths. It is from this background that modern underwater photography must be examined, not only from an artistic standpoint but also from a technical standpoint.


Nautilus belauensis – largest species of nautilus, trapped, photographed and released in Palau.
Nikonos V, Velvia 50, Close-up kit.


Hundreds of books and articles have been written about modern underwater photography. So…why another article? What more could possibly be said? My thoughts as well except there is a new perspective on macro photography brought to you by the recently introduced Olympus TG-5. At this point, a brief bit of personal background will help set the stage for my further opinions.


How I Got Started

I was certified to dive in the early 1980s and quickly ascended the ladder of certifications and specialties, as well as taking courses with underwater photographers such as Stan Watermann, Jim and Cathy Church, and Christopher Newbert. My father-in-law subsequently gifted me a Nikonos V with extension tubes, framers and a close-up kit. My love for extreme macro was born. For those who remember those Nikonos framers fondly, I clipped/removed one of the posts from the extension tube framers so that a strobe would not cast shadows upon small subjects and then perfected my stalking/buoyancy techniques so as to place the 1:1 framer around a skittish subject.  I am still impressed with the results of the Nikonos V and its framers. I always shot with Velvia 50 film and could eke out 38 frames – about 6 to 7 subjects -- per roll.

 

Cypraea onyx – multi-colored shell with its living animal; Lembeh strait, Sulawesi.
Nikonos V, Velvia 50, Extension Tube 1:1

 

The photographers of today simply cannot relate to stumbling upon that once in a lifetime subject/shot with maybe, maybe one frame left on the film roll. Fast forward to the digital age where I could house my Nikon D-80 and shoot literally hundreds if not thousands of shots and subjects – on a single dive! It truly felt like you were cheating after the Velvia film era; then Photoshop/Light Box appeared and underwater photography literally became – unreal.

From early on in my photo history my primary subject was living mollusks – many of which had never been photographed alive in situ before. I eschewed almost all post photographic editing (and still do) so as to provide the most realistic depiction of the scarce-to-rare living mollusks that I photograph. I published two books – Living Shells and Living Mollusks – using both film and my trusty housed D-80. Then, I hit a plateau both artistically and intellectually. I wanted to photograph something rare and artistic; those ultra-macro shots of living mollusks and the almost microscopic mollusks that live in soft corals and Gorgonians. The Universe heard me and rewarded me in a very snarky manner.

 

Harpa costata – first photograph of this rare harp alive in situ. Grand Bay, Mauritius.
Housed Nikon D-80 with dual strobes, 60mm macro lens. 1/60 sec, f/22, ISO 100. 


A Problem Presents Itself

I travelled to Ambon to dive specifically with Nus and Ali; and specifically to photograph the Psychedelic Frogfish and the Tiger Egg Cowrie (Cuspivolva tigris), one of my holy grails for over 20 years. Now, imagine this, Ali and I found not one but two Psychedelic Frogfish – we had them together in an amazingly cool composition. I had my trusty D-80 with my dual strobes – they were in focus - I held my breath (BTW, don’t ever do that) and released the shutter. I heard a click and the shutter stayed open! I tried everything but my D-80 was dead! I screamed, I cursed, I ranted, but no one can hear you underwater!

Turns out that the gear teeth on my D-80 had been ground to nothing over my years of use.  Fear not, said Nus and Ali! At that point, they handed me this ridiculously small, weird little camera with no strobes. They handed me the new Olympus TG-5 and my micro/macro living mollusk photography began; of course, the Universe was laughing in the background – let’s see how you do with a new, small camera and only your artistic ability! I just didn’t realize the impact that this weird little camera would have on my photography.

 

Voluta polypleura sunderlandi – first photograph of this rare volute alive in situ. Utila Cayes, Honduras.
Housed Nikon D-80 with dual strobes, 60mm macro lens. 1/125 sec, f/22, ISO 100.

 

My Nikon D-80 Rig

I loved my housed Nikon; my housed Nikon D-80 with my dual strobes. It was like my right arm – I never, ever dove without it. It did, however, have several drawbacks; specifically, the bulkiness of the rig and the two lenses that I typically used – the 60 mm macro and 105 mm macro – were limited with regard to extreme close-ups and distance from the subject. The TG-5 solved both of these problems. Don’t misunderstand my comments; my housed Nikon with either lens was superb. It was amazing when the subject was a typical living mollusk or cephalopod crawling along the coral reef or muck bottom. Also, I am particularly fond of a black background, and with this camera and strobes I could almost always achieve a black background, while avoiding any backscatter.

However, what had become more and more apparent to me was that my set-up had serious disadvantages when it came to ultra-macro shooting or small subjects in tight places. My portfolio lacked shots of the small mollusks such as ovulids, Simnias, and even certain small nudibranchs. Sure, I could photograph them and then crop them down, but such cropping degraded the sharpness of the images and the pixellation became prohibitive.

 

Entemnotrochus adansonianus – first photograph of this slitshell alive. Recovered from 400’ off Roatan.
Housed Nikon D-80 with dual strobes, 60mm macro lens. 1/60 sec, f/22, ISO 100.

 

Trying out the Compact TG-5

Thus, back to the Olympus. When my Nikon died in Ambon, I had a choice – learn a new method with new equipment or take no photographs. I looked at that weird, point and shoot, Olympus in my hand – no strobes and only a small video light – and cursed the Universe. Well, not really...it was a cool challenge. This small camera was an enigma to me; and its handling and use went against almost every technique I had learned. Where was my controlled lighting? My strobes? My f/22 for depth of field? Where was my giant camera rig that was handed to me ever so carefully after I entered the water? I felt like Will Smith in Men in Black being handed the small needle point gun – here is your weapon, use it wisely. I had my doubts. Nus and Ali only laughed and assured me that I could handle it.

 

Psychedelic Frogfish – pair of these not seen since 2006. Ambon, Indonesia.
Olympus TG-5, Sola 1200 Video Light. 1/20 sec, f/3.8, ISO 100.

 

I figured I would just go for broke since I was a macro photographer and set the camera controls for microscope. Supposedly the SOLA video light provided adequate lighting. Again, I had my doubts. To say that I was amazed following several test subjects was an understatement. I was blown away by the micro close-ups this camera produced. I was not only able to maneuver through dense soft coral bushes to photograph soft coral ovulids; I was also able to photograph their faces! These ovulids are basically the size of a pea and no one had ever seen their faces before. Some of the Simnias are the size of a grain of rice and again, sharp images of their faces are possible with this Olympus. Moreover, I could maneuver through, between and around the soft coral bushes and gorgonions upon which they live, without disturbing the polyps.


 

Serratovola dondani – face of this small ovulid in soft coral. The face is about 2 mm. Ambon, Indonesia.
Olympus TG-5, Sola 1200 Video Light. 1/400 sec, f/4.9, ISO 100.


The compactness of the camera and small light source could be maneuvered into position so my subject was surrounded by open, undisturbed polyps. The artistic possibilities did not escape me. This lack of stealth and compactness was a major drawback with my big housed set-up. I always touched the soft coral, with the polyps retracting immediately. The TG-5 solved that problem. I was also amazed at the lighting. I used the SOLA video light that was more than adequate for lighting. I would actually use it at only half to three quarters power and then turn it off to conserve battery. It also worked well at night although I typically kept it on its red light mode to decrease the gathering of the worms which muck up the background. So, compactness, microscopic photographs and excellent lighting, I was a convert; of course, there are a few drawbacks to the Olympus.


Drawbacks

First and foremost, on microscope mode, the settings are pre-selected by the camera. In other words, unlike my D-80, which I set on manual and select the f-stop and speed, the Olympus does not allow you to select either. In microscope mode, you have few options to select your own settings. As a result you rely on the camera for your depth of field (extremely shallow) and speed, which occasionally results in some blurring. In addition, using a video light such as the SOLA instead of strobes reduces your options as a photographer to manipulate your lighting. With my D-80 and strobes I can use dual strobes, one strobe, side lighting, back lighting, top lighting, etc. so as to vary the lighting; not to mention that I can consistently create a black background and increased depth of field using f/22. The Olympus with continuous video lighting limits those possibilities.

 

Prosimnia draconis – face of this small simnia on orange gorgonian. The face is 1-2 mm. Ambon, Indonesia. Olympus TG-5, Sola 1200 Video Light. 1/200 sec, f/4.9, ISO 100.

 

Of course, you can attach strobes but then you increase the size of the rig; and lighting your subject, which is a centimeter from the lens, is difficult. I typically position the light tucked alongside the camera about an inch from the subject. With the handle I can aim, compose and shoot with one hand and not disturb the creatures’ environment. I can’t do that with strobes or my D-80 rig. Finally, with the higher ISO and open aperture in microscope mode, the potential for a pixelated photo still exists. In other words, I have heard from other photographers that they were unable to enlarge their prints past about 8x10 due to the noise/graininess. I, personally, have never had that problem. Some of my photos have been enlarged to at least 16x20 and framed for display. I mention this only as a consideration.

 

Diminovula stigma – a 2 mm sized ovulid climbing on soft coral polyps. The foot is 3 mm. Ambon, Indonesia. Olympus TG-5, Sola 1200 Video Light. 1/200 sec, f/4.9, ISO 100.

 

Macro photography has indeed evolved from the Nikonos V with its extension tubes, close-up kit and Velvia 50 film. I must say, however, that as a macro photographer, being able to stealthily approach a subject, place a 1:1 extension tube around it, and obtain a good photo was highly rewarding. My housed D-80 with strobes, however, was incredible; it allowed me to take hundreds of photos with amazing resolution and lighting options. As mentioned, I had difficulty with small subjects in very tight or environmentally sensitive places. Then, voilà, the Olympus TG-5 appears and solves both those problems. In microscopic mode with a small SOLA video light, it does what my D-80 can’t – take microscopic photos of small subjects in close quarters. The accompanying photos speak for themselves.


Editor's note: As Charles lays out so nicely in this article, the TG-5 excels when it comes to getting in really close to very small subjects that could be hidden in corals or substrate, without disturbing subjects or coral. And it's amazing for taking close-up photos of said extremely small subjects, as can be seen in his photos. It is also an excellent beginner's all-around underwater camera. With that said, I also need to mention that a higher-end compact setup, like the RX100 V, has major advantages over the TG-5 in terms of sensor size, image quality, auto-focus and full manual control. When it comes to a mirrorless rig, the differences are even larger. So keep this in mind: the TG-5 is a great beginner's camera which punches above its weight on macro/super-macro, can get into tight spaces that no other rig can, and is a fantastic companion to a larger higher-end rig, but it will not provide the same performance or image quality as higher end compact cameras, mirrorless rigs, or DSLRs. Check out our TG-5 review for more info about this great camera!  – Bryan Chu, Associate Editor.

 

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Full Article: Tips for Lighting Quick Critters with a Snoot

As with any art form, trends come and go in underwater photography. But perhaps one trend that is here to stay is the use of snoots. Snoots are devices used to reduce the wide output of a strobe into a small ring of light - usually only a few inches in diameter. This smaller output enables a photographer to control the lighting of their image better, and introduce much more contrast and direction. Most often, snoots are the prized tool of macro photographers as they are the most foolproof way of achieving the coveted black background.

Snoots can be homemade contraptions that simply reduce the area of output by blocking parts of the strobe, or professional devices that use flexible fiber optic cables to achieve the same goals. But the one thing that unites every snoot photographer is frustration. Controlling such a small beam of light can be difficult at best. In rugged underwater environments it can seem downright impossible. Snoot photographers must deal with current, surge, moving subjects, slow shutters, and a large host of other obstacles. Trying to position a two-inch beam of light over a two inch moving fish and actually getting the photo is like trying to make a half-court shot at the last second of the game. Take a look at the SD card of a snoot photographer and all you might see is a bunch of black slides and perhaps one or two unidentifiable blurry spots. But the rare success makes all the sweat, pain, and tears well worth it.


 

The difficulty of taking snoot photos often limits the subjects available to a snoot photographer. Many only attempt snoot photos on still or very slow-moving subjects such as nudibranchs, corals, frogfish, and shrimp. Attempts at anything quicker only yield more frustration. However, with enough practice and the right technique, a snoot photographer can expand their selection of subjects to include even the quickest of critters. Here are our top tips for doing so:

 

1. Start with a Rock


 

I never begin a snoot dive without a few nice photos of rocks. When photographing quick subjects, planning is everything. It is essential to anticipate the size and shape of the subject you intend to shoot before finding it. After this determination, find stationary substrate with a similar shape and practice lighting it. Rocks are good subjects as they tend not to diffuse light, so you can see exactly what on the subject the snoot is illuminating. After getting a feel for the distance needed between the snoot and the subject as well as camera angle and output strength, I maintain my settings until I find the desired subject. Even if the subject is speeding by, usually the preset snoot will perform quite well when “calibrated” with a rock.

 

2. Use Your Finger to Evaluate Distance

Depth and distance can be difficult to judge when snooting moving schools of fish. Placing your finger at the desired distance can be a good way to help judge where to shoot.

 

One of the hardest things about snooting quick subjects is maintaining appropriate distance. If I’m busy swimming after the subject, the quickest way to determine how to position my camera and snoot is to place my finger where I want the subject to be and imagine the light from the snoot hitting it. Then, when approaching the subject, I try to position the subject to be where my finger was.  This can be a particularly useful technique for small reef fish.

 

3. Only Move the Snoot’s Position After You Illuminate the Subject

Very small subjects such as this mosshead warbonnet need large amounts of adjustment before getting the right lighting in the shot. However, if I made adjustments before I knew that I could illuminate the subject, I would not have “found” it with the snoot.

 

Unless the snoot is wildly misaligned, I find that moving the snoot after failing to light a subject is more detrimental than repositioning the whole rig. Often you get stuck moving the snoot all over the place without once getting light in the photo. It is better to first find the light in the frame, even if the photo does not have good composition. After that, the snoot can be moved incrementally along with the full rig in order to create better composition and lighting with micro adjustments.


4. Anticipate Where the Subject Lands in the Frame

I anticipated that this garibaldi would swim into the frame by watching its movements, and lit the small are with my snoot before it swam in.

 

This tip is especially useful for wide-angle snoot photography. Fish are often predictable in their movements. One of the best ways to capture a quick fish with proper lighting is to guess where in the frame the fish will end up, light that area, and finally wait for the fish to swim to that part of the frame. Sometimes this technique fails if you misinterpret the fish’s movements. But when it works, it works quite well.


5. Let the Critter Come to You

This juvenile emperor angelfish was swimming erratically from coral head to coral head. I realized the best way to photograph it was to sit still and wait until it swam by, yielding this photo.

 

It is nearly impossible to try to catch a fast-moving critter with a two-inch beam of light. Therefore, it is often better to station yourself along the path of the animal and wait for the animal to cross your path. This can be easier said than done.

Many fish also have the tendency to find protection when they see a diver. This can be used to your advantage. A fish that hides in a cave or overhang eventually feels the need to leave the protection. I find that the best moment to photograph small reef fish is when they emerge from protection.

 

Eeltail catfish often hide in fast moving schools under coral for protection. A snoot can weave around tough-to-reach spots in order to easily photograph fish that would normally be moving quickly.

 

6. Snoot at an Angle

Although I lit this juvenile garibaldi from above, I moved the snoot a little to the side to have a better chance of lighting this quick critter.

 

It is clearly a popular technique to shoot macro snoot photos with the snoot directly above the subject, forming a nice ring of light. Often this is not possible when photographing quick subjects. If you point the snoot at a bit of an angle when shooting from above, you are more likely to illuminate the subject as the beam will cover more area.

 

7. When in Doubt, Point the Snoot Forward

I lit this angelfish by pointing the snoot directly forward from the camera so I had a better chance of lighting it as it swam by.

 

Perhaps my favorite way to shoot a quick-moving snoot subject is by pointing the snoot directly forward from the camera. Pointing a snoot directly forward yields much more successful results lighting a subject than pointing a snoot from above. Often, the snoot will not need to be adjusted at all throughout the dive. The largest concern when lighting your subject this way is that the snoot may light some of the background as well. Though this can be a problem, quick subjects are often photographed slightly up in the water column. If there is negative space behind the subject when you are photographing it, the coveted black background should be within reach.

 

Conclusion:

This is by no means a comprehensive or complete guide to photographing moving subjects with a snoot. Snoot photography, more than any other kind of underwater photography, is often intertwined with equipment and diving style. As with diving style, what may work for one underwater photographer may not work for another. Snoot photography is very much an artform of circumstance. One can only be successful by making micro adjustments of their technique as circumstance requires.


 

 

Full Article: Sperm Whale Photography with Franco Banfi

A note from the Editor: I met Franco Banfi on an iceberg diving trip in East Greenland. It’s not often I get to sit down and talk with a professional underwater photographer, and it was a lot of fun. Franco was really open about sharing his experiences and amazing photos from freediving with sperm whales, so I pulled out my smartphone and recorded our kitchen table conversation. I really enjoyed everything he shared, especially about sperm whale behaviors, and I hope you do too! – Bryan Chu (Associate Editor)

Sperm whales, Dominica, Caribbean (taken with government permit).
Canon EOS-1D X Mark II, EF 8-15mm f/4L Fisheye lens @ 15mm. 1/320 sec, f/8.0, ISO 1250.

 

Bryan: How long have you been diving for?

Franco: A long time…thirty, maybe thirty five years.

Bryan: What got you into underwater photography?

Franco: The first place I went diving was the Maldives, and I started taking photos there with a Nikonos.

Bryan: How long have you been doing whale photography for?

Franco: Let’s say for the last 5-6 years (more intensely)

Bryan: Do you have a favourite whale to photograph?

Franco: I have photographed sperm whales, blue whales, killer whales, bryde whales, humpbacks. I don’t have a favorite. I like all whales!

Bryan: You have done a lot of sperm whale photography. What do you like about photographing them in particular?

Franco: I mostly like big animals. When I started doing underwater photography everything was good, but now I am more focused on big things, including whales. I like to photograph and see things that not everybody sees. It’s also interesting because with whales you’re not diving, but swimming or free-diving. So along with photography skills, you also need to have free-diving and swimming skills. It’s very nice…once you start doing it you can understand. If you swim close to an animal like this, you have a chance the look them in the eyes, to see this animal that looks at you. You start to appreciate and want to do more.

 

Sperm whale, Dominica, Caribbean (taken with government permit).
Canon EOS 5DSR, EF 15mm f/2.8 Fisheye lens. 1/640 sec, f/5.0, ISO 320.

 

Bryan: What are your favourite behaviours to observe with sperm whales?

Franco: Every time you have an encounter with sperm whales or other whales, if you observe carefully, then sometimes you’ll understand what the whale is doing. You can see that the whale is looking at you, and the whale’s behavior in some ways is according to what you are doing.

I can share an example. One time I jumped in the water and there were two whales together. When I jumped in the water the two separated. One went right, one went left. So I decided to follow the one on the left. As a photographer you always want to be in front of the whale, because if not you just photograph the tail. So I tried to go beside the whale and was able to get alongside. This doesn’t mean that I was a good swimmer – it means that the whale went slow enough to allow me to come up alongside of it. The whale was watching me. When she saw me, she started to swim a little bit faster. I sped up some more and got alongside the whale again. The whale watched me, and started to go faster again.

I think this whale was almost thinking that I was the other whale, that we were together and she was in some way waiting for me. It’s like she was saying “come on, go faster.” Because she was not escaping, but just staying a little bit ahead. This is something that you can experience when you watch and pay attention to what happens. Sperm whales are mammals with a brain…a really big brain. 

 

Free diver swimming with sperm whale, Dominica, Caribbean (taken with government permit).
Canon EOS-1D X Mark II, EF 8-15mm f/4L Fisheye lens @ 15mm. 1/400 sec, f/9.0, ISO 640.

 

Bryan: Where do you go for encountering sperm whales?

Franco: I go to the island of Dominica in the Caribbean, because there are some resident sperm whales there. So you have excellent possibilities to encounter them. Other locations you can see sperm whales include the Azores in the Atlantic, and in the North of Sri Lanka, as well as in other places. But the ones in Dominica are probably the best to approach because they stay in the area and they have seen divers. Of course to go in the water with the whales you need special permission. It’s not something that everyone can do as they don’t give permission to everybody. What I have heard is that they give 8 permits per year. These permits do not overlap, so if you have your permit you have your time, and the next group will go after. There are never several boats following one whale, like in other places.

Bryan: Have you ever felt nervous or had any close encounters?

Franco: With whales? No. I must tell you, my feeling, my idea is if I am afraid of something I don’t do it. If I want to do something, I don’t care, I do it. If not, I stay out of the water.

Bryan: How can I tell when I see a sperm whale in the distance?

Franco: For people that don’t know sperm whales, there’s only one blowhole on the left, and it goes at 45 degree.

Bryan: How big are these animals you are diving with?

Franco: The larger ones are an average of 10-12 meters long. Big males can be 18 m but I have never seen one that large. The ones I see mostly are around 10-12. The babies are maybe 4 m. For comparison, humpbacks are around 14-15 m long. 

 

Sperm whale, Dominica, Caribbean (taken with government permit).
Canon EOS 5DSR, EF 15mm f/2.8 Fisheye lens. 1/640 sec, f/7.1, ISO 640.

 

Bryan: Do you get to observe them using their sonar? Is it loud?

Franco: Yes. Sometimes they look at you and open their mouth; that’s because they are scanning you. They open their mouth because they use their jaw as an amplifier for sonar. Even if you don’t hear it, they are scanning you.

Their sonar goes out at 45 degrees from the top of their head. If they want to use sonar at the surface, it would just go up and out of the water. So, sometimes they will swim upside down at the surface, which lets them use their sonar there.

They can be very loud. There’s a buoy a few km from the island where they have a piece of net connected, for fishing. Sometimes we stop there to have a swim. One time I found a sperm whale there; we jumped in the water and could hear the sonar. It was funny because this guy was trying to find out what this was. You could see he was doing a lot of clicking and scanning. Probably he was wondering what this thing in the middle of the ocean was. He was a young guy.

 

Sperm whale opening mouth, Dominica, Caribbean (taken with government permit).
Canon EOS 5D Mark III, EF 14mm f/2.8L II USM lens. 1/640 sec, f/5.0, ISO 320.

 

Bryan: What kind of gear and settings do you use to photograph sperm whales? And how about lighting?

Franco: I use a Canon 5D Mark IV in an Isotta housing, with an 8-15mm fisheye lens. Normally I use Seacam strobes, but for sperm whales I use ambient light. (Editor’s note: check out our review of the Canon 5D Mark IV).

For settings I tend to use between 300 and 600 ISO, and around f/8 or f/11. I try to keep the shutter speed around 1/250 sec and focus on maintaining this rather than the f-stop. If I am shooting down then I sometimes need to go up to about ISO 1250.

I use autofocus, which picks up on the skin so I don’t tend to have focus issue. Shooting without a strobe you try to be in there with the sun at your back. Of course, sometimes you jump in the water and everything is perfect, but the sun is behind the whale. Well, you still have to shoot!

Bryan: How many people do you take on your tours? And do you use any specialized gear?

Franco: Small groups; 4-5, maximum of 6 people on the boat. We use long freediver fins. We also tried using a monofin, but it was no good with the whales. (Editor’s note: monofins are the most efficient freediving fin but greatly reduce your maneuverability when compared to dual fins).

 

Free diver swimming with sperm whale, Dominica, Caribbean (taken with government permit).
Canon EOS 5DSR, EF 15mm f/2.8 Fisheye lens. 1/200 sec, f/6.3, ISO 640.

 

Bryan: How do things work with getting in the water with the whales?

The boat captain tries to get you in the water in front, so they swim by and you are in the middle of them. Sometimes they stop and socialize. For us as photographers, this is the best! Here, when they socialize, you get many in the picture. They grab each other and play around.

Bryan: How long will they do that for?

Franco: It depends. They can do it for 10 seconds or a few minutes. It also depends what you do yourself. If you see something like this you try not to disturb it too much, because if you go in the middle then it will go away.

 

Pod of sperm whales, Dominica, Caribbean (taken with government permit).
Canon EOS-1D X Mark II, EF 8-15mm f/4L Fisheye lens @ 15mm. 1/125 sec, f/8.0, ISO 640.

 

Bryan: Do you ever see sperm whales in a vertical position?

Franco: Yes. They just found out not many years ago that sperm whales stop, go into vertical position and sleep for 10-15 minutes. They sleep for short stretches many times a day, but they are not sleeping for 2 hours at a time or anything like that.  

 

Pod of sleeping sperm whales, Dominica, Caribbean (taken with government permit).
Canon EOS 5DSR, EF 15mm f/2.8 Fisheye lens. 1/500 sec, f/5.0, ISO 320.

 

Franco: This is when they are sleeping. These are the adults, and these are the young. They keep the young in the middle for protection. This was last year and we saw it two times. But in the past 5 years we probably saw it another two times. It probably depends how much we press them. The more you leave them quiet, the more they probably go to sleep.

Bryan: How about when the calves are feeding? Are they stationary?

Franco: When the calf is eating, they don’t stop. When the calf wants to eat he goes across to his mother and tries to get some milk. But they don’t stop. Pods of sperm whales are made up mostly of females. Males don’t live with the group. They are adults after 10-12 years, at which point they leave the group and only come back when they want to mate.  

You see the mother has a bump on her underside. The calf puts his head by that bump when they’re swimming. Because doing this, it has less effort. This calf is maybe a few months old. So if it’s doing this, it can go faster. Now it’s not exactly in the right position


Sperm whale calf with mother, Dominica, Caribbean (taken with government permit).
Canon EOS 5DSR, EF 15mm f/2.8 Fisheye lens. 1/320 sec, f/6.3, ISO 640. 

 

Bryan: Cool, that’s a lot of neat information about sperm whales. Thank you so much for sharing your awesome photos and great stories! How can people find out more about sperm whale photography?

Franco: No problem. They can email me at tour@banfi.ch. I also have a webpage which will soon be ready: www.wildlifephototours.ch.

 

Join us for an Upcoming Whale-focused UWPG Photo Workshop

 

Additional Reading

Full Article: Dolphin Play in Bimini

Since I was a kid, the water and dolphins have been an important aspect of my life. I begged my parents to allow me to order the Jacques Cousteau book that would change my young life. Decades after befriending that book and watching every episode of The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau, I had photographed humpback whales underwater, manatees and beautiful reef scenes, but one of my favorite cetaceans had still eluded me.

One day my email inbox lit up with an opportunity to do a small group photography trip to Bimini with Bluewater Dive Travel, and spend time with spotted dolphins. I had heard about the pod of Stenella frontalis that lived in the beautiful waters near the small island, so it was with great excitement that I signed up for the trip.

 

 

First Encounter

Arranging travel to Bimini was more challenging than some trips, but it only made the adventure more fun. The payoff for a little extra effort was completely worth it once I was surrounded by five mother and calf pairs on our first day out!

Just like most wild animals, there is no guarantee of where the animals will appear or even if they will show up for a photo shoot. Our captain, Neal Watson, Jr,   knew the pod well and no more than 40 minutes after leaving the dock, our group was approaching it.

After I slid off the back deck of the boat with my camera kit I found myself away from other humans and almost instantly surrounded by mother and calf pairs. So fast was their approach that I hardly had time to check my exposure, make adjustments and point my housing in their direction. And then there was the moment of awe that the mothers trusted me with their babies, and a general feeling of my mind being blown. Somehow I managed to click off a few frames before they swam off. I spit out my snorkel and squealed with delight.

 

 

Another Encounter

On another in-water encounter I felt a nudge against my arm as I swam. I thought it was one of the other photographers in the group and was wondering why they were so close. As I turned my head to see who was there, the eyes of a mother dolphin smiled at me and urged me on. Another one came to my left side and I found myself swimming with two adult dolphins pressing against both of my sides. My arms were holding the housing in front and I had to guess at what I was capturing as I turned the housing to either side. They were giving me no space to turn around and pushed me forward with their group.

Somehow I managed to take photographs of the encounter and remember the feeling of their strong, sleek bodies against mine as we swam as one sea family.  The others moved faster than I could but the large female circled back for me and pushed against my body as if to say, swim faster sister….keep up!

 

 

Dolphin Group Dynamics

Group dynamics are an important consideration when interacting with social animals such as spotted dolphins. At one point three male bottlenose dolphins swam among the large spotted dolphin pod. The ‘boys’ were quite amorous and swam around trying to entice spotted females. I’m guessing my eyes were rather large as the persistent bottlenose ‘boys’ flirted. The females bit and slapped with their flukes but it seemed only to excite the males into greater pursuit, even visiting some of us human females with inquiring eyes and nudges. 

 

 

Staying Present while Photographing

The sheer joy of twirling and somersaulting with a pod of engaging dolphins has remained fresh in my mind and heart. There’s always the goal of wanting to capture great photographs, coupled with the intent to stay present, enjoy the experience, and actually learn from it. As both a writer and photographer the experience really cannot be segregated into two parts. It can be challenging to stay present with the experience while making sure my f-stop, shutter speed, and ISO are properly adjusted.

The photographer in me wants to ensure the shot is free of humans, fins, hands, and boats and that I’m not facing the sun. Shooting at or near the surface while snorkeling ensures better lighting and no need for strobes, but it also means direct sunlight can be a real shot-killer. 

As a rule I tend to get away from the group of humans as much as possible. Depending on the animals I’m working with this can be easy or, in the case of humpback whales, not so easy because the groups must be kept close together to ensure mother and calf are not disturbed by our presence. With the dolphins of Bimini, it was quite easy to swim away from other humans to be alone with dolphins. 

 

 

Quieting the Mind

Another valuable asset to have as a wildlife photographer is the ability to quiet the mind. Wildlife respond well to individuals who are still, quiet, respectful, and aware of their own personal space. When I’m photographing manatees, I float as still as a log meandering downriver and have had incredible face-to-face photographic encounters and calves that laid on my shoulder or chewed my hair. With dolphins there is active swimming involved so the log-trick didn’t work, but the ability to clear my mind and be completely present in a centered way definitely gave me closer access to their pod’s innermost experiences.

 

 

One day a headache was challenging me but I slid into the water with hope I could forget it for a while. Several dolphins swam past me and one large, heavily-spotted female stopped and approached me. She was within two feet and began to use her sonar. The clicks and buzzes were very loud and I could feel them inside my head. It felt as if they were bouncing around inside my cranium. 

She swam off, circled back and repeated the same process with her buzzes and clicks. Finally she moved away and glanced back as if to invite me to follow her. I answered her suggestion and found myself once again surrounded by the pod. Over thirty dolphins were swimming, darting, twirling around me. 

After a while the dolphins swam off and I returned to the boat. After handing my camera to the crew, I climbed the ladder and realized my headache was gone. I called that dolphin the matriarchal shaman of the pod.

 

 

Every wildlife encounter is life-changing but these found their way into a book of my stories and photographs, Cosmic Whales: Mystical Stories from the Sea (editor's note: you can find Simone's books here). The three days of encounters with Bimini’s friendly dolphins now weave their magic to those unable to visit them in person.

 

My Gear and Technique

I shoot with a Nikon D800 with a Sigma 15mm fisheye lens in an Aquatica housing. If I use strobes the Ikelite DS160 Sun Strobes are my choice. Settings for the dolphin encounters depended on sun, clouds….that would appear then disappear…and water clarity. In general, the range of settings was ISO 400 with 1/125 or 1/160 sec at f10 or f11 to 1/250 sec at f14. I like to play with f stop and shutter speed to create different effects and encourage photographers to play with their settings. 

I approach photography with a very intuitive creativity and rarely try to figure out the logistics of settings in the water. I allow my fingers to roll the adjustment knobs on my housing without filtering it through the left-brain. There are many photographers who adhere to a strict formula and approach from a very left-brained method. Each way is completely acceptable. My rule of thumb is to do whatever works for you.

 

My One Request for You

There is one request I make of all underwater photographers: Enter the water with utmost respect for the wildlife you might encounter and your fellow human adventurers. No shot is worth stressing wildlife…ever. Likewise, no encounter is worth pushing others out of the way to beat the crowd. With respect as our intention, only good things will result from our time in the underwater realm.

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Full Article: Sony RX100 VI and Available Housings Announced

Sony has just announced the new model in their premium compact RX100 lineup - the Sony RX100 VI. Along with the fantastic image quality, burst shooting speed, and other impressive specs of the RX100 V, the RX100 VI brings with it a few key upgrades: a telephoto lens, improved autofocus, improved video capabilities, and a touch screen.

The US retail price of the RX100 VI is $1200, and it is available now for pre-order at BlueWater Photo

Key Upgrades from the RX100 V

  • 24-200mm f/2.8-4.5 lens (vs 24-70mm f/1.8-2.8 lens)
  • 0.03 sec autofocus (vs 0.05 sec)
  • High Resolution 4K Movie Shooting with full pixel readout and no pixel binning - plus 4K HDR for instant HDR workflow

Implications for Underwater Photography

Drawbacks of Increased Zoom

Although increasing the lens zoom range to 200mm could in theory provide significant improvements for macro photography, the larger physical size of the lens when fully zoomed in creates challenges with underwater housing dimensions. This could nullify any potential gains. 

When zoomed out, the RX100 VI body has the same width and height as the RX100 V, but has 1.8 mm more depth; hopefully, this will be a small enough difference that RX100 IV/V housings can be used with this camera. But the real issue occurs when the new lens is fully zoomed in, because at this point it extends out farther than the lenses of previous RX100 models. So, to allow the RX100 VI zoom to fully extend, a new housing/port design which provides this extra space for the lens would be required. However, a change like that would reduce the ability of the camera to take wide angle photos. This is because the extra housing/port length would extend significantly beyond the end of the lens when zoomed-out for shooting wide angle. A longer port could get in the way of wide angle photography with the native lens, as well as prevent the use of a wet wide angle lens due to optics issues.

Potential Fixes

There are a couple of options to deal with this. The first is to have two separate ports for the RX100 VI housing; one very similar to the RX100 V housing dimensions for wide angle shooting (and macro shooting with wet diopters), and one that accommodates the fully zoomed-in lens for macro shooting only, while precluding wide angle use. The second option is to keep the housing dimensions the same or very similar to the current RX100 V housings. The first option seems like it may be more hassle than it is worth, while the second option would mean that the RX100 VI will perform almost the same underwater as the RX100 V. This means that, although the telephoto lens is exciting for topside use, the improved autofocus is likely the best and only significant improvement for underwater photography.

Is It Worth the Price? 

This brings us to the biggest downside of the RX100 VI - the price tag. At a retail price of $1200, it is significantly more expensive than the $1000 cost of the RX100 V (now marked down to $950 on the Sony website). This pushes it up into the price range of mirrorless cameras, for what may amount to relatively paltry improvements for underwater photography usage. So if you are looking at this camera primarily for underwater use, you will get better value with the RX100 V, RX100 IV or Canon G7X Mark II. But if you are looking for an improved compact camera for heavy topside use, the telephoto lens, autofocus, and touchscreen control could be worth the hefty investment. After all, although this camera is priced like a mirrorless, it is still a premium compact camera which you can fit into a modestly sized jacket pocket. 

Who Should Consider Purchasing this Camera?

As with any upgrade, Sony had a specific market in mind with it's new upgrades - street photography. The significant increase in zoom is perfect for street photographers wishing to remain inconspicuous while taking close photos of their subjects. Although it might detract from underwater photos, this camera could be perfect for underwater dive trips with a lot of topside excursions or animal life such as whales, dolphins, and birds. The excellent burst shooting capability will further enhance quick action topside wildlife photos when combined with the telephoto lens. 

Check out the RX100 VI Camera at our sister company, BlueWater Photo!

 

Underwater Housings for the Sony RX100 VI

A wide range of high quality housing are already available for the Sony RX100 VI. Top brands include Nauticam, Recsea, Fantasea, Sea & Sea, and Ikelite. 

Nauticam RX100 VI Housing

Price: $1,100

Nauticam housings are crafted from high quality aluminum, with controls and dials designed for great ergonomics. This housing features the N50 standard port system which allows for a full range of zoom with the lens. This compact port system allows the shooter to change ports like a Mirrorless or DSLR camera, in order to achieve the best quality optics underwater.

Pre-order Now!

Additional Nauticam Housing Accessories:

 

Nauticam N50 Short Port With Bayonet Mount

Price: $180

The Nauticam N50 Short Port with Bayonet Mount is designed to allow for fast port changes underwater when using a camera housing with the N50 port system and wet lenses such as the WWL-1 and CMC along with the Nauticam bayonet system. A short port is necessary for these wet lenses as the normal N50 port that is included with the housing is long enough for the full range of zoom, but too long for wet wide angle lenses. 

Pre-order Now!

 

Nauticam N50 Original Short Port

Price: $180

The original Nauticam N50 Short Port is great for threading wet wide angle lenses such as the AOI UWL-09 and Kraken KRL-01 onto your RX100 VI Nauticam Housing for amazing wide angle images. The thread is 67mm, and fits with many wet wide angle lenses. A short port is necessary for these wet lenses as the normal N50 port that is included with the housing is long enough for the full range of zoom, but too long for wet wide angle lenses

Pre-order Now!

 

Nauticam Flip Diopter Holder

Price: $220

If you're a macro junkie, Nauticam's flip diopter holder will enable you to capture amazing macro photographs with underwater diopters. The diopter screws into a universal 67mm thread and is flipped in front or away from the port at will. 

Pre-order Now!

 

Ikelite RX100 VI Housing

Price: $495

This housing is crafted from lightweight, strong ABS Polycarbonate and ready for any in or near water use such as scuba diving, pool photography, surf photography and more.The Sony RX100 VI has an extended zoom lens in addition to many other new features. To make it useable underwater with such a long zoom range, Ikelite has developed a new removeable port for the Ikelite Sony RX100 VI Underwater Housing. 

Pre-order Now!

 

Fantasea RX100 VI Housing

Fanstasea offers an excellent underwater housing for the Sony RX100 Mark VI camera.  Fantasea has been known to produce robust, sturdy, and lightweight underwater housings at an affordable price.  They design their underwater housings to have great ergonomics.

Pre-order Now!

 

Recsea RX100 VI Housing

Recsea offers high quality polycarbonate housing for the Sony RX100 VI. Designed with the same precision engineering as the high quality aluminum housings, the new CW housing comes at a much lower price, great if you are on a budget.

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Sea & Sea RX100 VI Housing

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Full Article: Under the Jungle in México's Flooded Caves

Above Image: @Fan Ping, https://www.pingfanimaging.com/

The ocean stretched smoothly along the north coast of the Yucatán Peninsula, México. Turquoise water, bright green jungle, cloudless sky – the place was beautiful, but I didn't care. I stood on our boat, transfixed by a freshwater spring that boiled and churned on the surface of the ocean about 20 meters from the shore. A grin spread across my face, and I may have giggled a bit. This opening in the seafloor was definitely worth a dive.

My friend Dr. Patricia Beddows, a hydrogeologist at Northwestern University, brought me to the site to determine whether the spring could be dived. She wanted to know what's happening underground for science, and I just like finding unexplored cave -- it's a symbiotic relationship that's led me to this spring among other interesting places in past years.

I hopped off the boat, unexpectedly sank up to my calves in soft muck, and flailed awkwardly; there was no way to walk through the shallow water. I dragged myself on my stomach through the hot mud, stuck my head over the cool outflow, and caught a glimpse of darkness below. Then the water blew my mask off. Intriguing.

A nest of matted branches, trash, and fishing line clogged the spring entrance. If I could clear these out, I would have a shot at diving the spring. Removing the debris took an hour of work, and a huge forked log remained wedged in the entrance, blocking my path. Although I could see darkness from the surface, I couldn't get into the spring. I resolved to come back with a saw.

Two months later, my exploration partner, Vincent Rouquette-Cathala, and I returned to the spring with a handsaw and a sense of purpose. Cutting the log required wrapping one arm around it to avoid being blown out, while attempting to keep the blade exactly perpendicular to the spring flow. Otherwise the flow kept slapping the saw against our masks. When we finally freed the log we observed . . . more branches and debris.

Using dive gear but no fins, I braced myself against the walls, and crawled down against the flow. I spent the next hour wedged upside down tossing debris up between my legs to Vince. With no obstructions, the water bubbled out of the hole even faster, and I felt sure we would find a diveable cave. I preemptively christened our new cave Hydra, and then, slipping back into my fins, I dropped headfirst into the darkness.

 

I AM ACTUALLY NOT CRAZY

I will admit that I have done many things in my life that ended with me thinking “how did I get myself into this situation?” but cave diving has never been one of them – not even the exploration of Hydra. Cave diving is a sport for passionate control freaks, not adrenaline junkies. It's a sport for curious adventurers with a keen interest in the world.

As a new scuba diver, I had zero interest in flooded caves. Understanding little of the sport, I believed cave diving's reputation as “the most dangerous sport on Earth.” When I moved to México in 2006 for a coral reef science internship, I was quite nervous about my first cavern dive. My anxiety was unnecessary. With my first breath in a cavern, the tightness in my chest relaxed and my worries melted away.

In the cool, clear water, natural stone columns rose 15 feet high and tiny silver fish darted about against a backdrop of brilliant sunlight. Dark passages ran off to my sides, and in the distance, I could see the pinpoint lights of two cave divers disappear as they swam out of the tourist-accessible cavern zone and into the cave. At that moment I desired nothing more in life than to be there, entering the cave with those divers.

My first cavern dive was an inspiration; I surfaced from that dive with a mission in life. I wanted to be a cave diver. More specifically, I wanted to be a cave explorer, and to discover and map new caves. I wanted to teach others to cave dive one day, and I wanted to own a cave diving center. 12 years later, that is what I have done, and I love cave diving even more than the day I started.

 

LEARNING TO CAVE DIVE SAFELY

My first alluring glimpse of the dark waters running below the Yucatán's jungles were enough to lead me to pursue cave diver training. Not every diver feels the same. Some divers seek cave training for the techniques and level of control the courses teach. Others learn to cave dive for scientific endeavors or other projects. My end goal was to explore new caves. Learning to cave dive is challenging, and the training will make anyone feel like a complete novice. As a new diver with only 100 or so dives, I had a lot of learning to do.

One of the first topics I learned about was accident analysis – the process of determining what factors caused fatalities in the past to avoid repeating those mistakes. Sheck Exley, one of my sport's pioneers, first applied accident analysis to cave diving and discovered that most accidents involved at least one of the following factors: diving beyond training/experience level, diving deep without proper gasses/decompression cylinders, failure to maintain a continuous guideline to the open water, failure to reserve 2/3 of total breathing gas for the exit, and failure to carry at least three dive lights/adequate redundancy of all vital life support equipment. To this day, these rules hold true.

If only learning to cave dive were as easy as simply applying these rules! Cave divers must master advanced propulsion techniques, such as the reverse kick, in order to maneuver delicately through the most fragile cave formations. They must become experts in buoyancy control and be stable in the water even in emergencies. Losing position by so little as an inch can have disastrous consequences in advanced caves. Most importantly, cave divers must have excellent mental control –  becoming methodical in all actions and thoughts, and never allowing even their breathing rates to increase with stress when faced with a difficult problem.

The skills and mental training take time and practice to acquire. Any good cave diver will tell you that they still have room for improvement. Our sport takes dedication, but the result is worth it: drifting effortlessly through dark waters and witnessing beauty that is incomprehensible to most.

 

BEGINNING TO EXPLORE FLOODED CAVES

It took years of full time cave diving before I felt ready to explore new underwater caves. When I was finally ready, I realized I had a problem: I needed a cave to explore. I moved to the town of Akumal with the naive, but correct, idea that if I relocated to a place without many reported caves, I would get to know the residents and certainly find new holes in the ground.

I did indeed meet landowners near my new home. My team's first exploration project was called Tatich, which translates to chief or boss in Maya. The entrance to Tatich is a small hole in the jungle floor that drops into a dry cave. We used a questionable aluminum ladder to descend, lowered tanks on ropes, hunched over, and slogged our tanks to the water's edge. Murky from the surface, the cave's shallow underwater rooms were filled with the most brilliant white limestone stalactites I had seen. Partially flooded passageways revealed sparkling air pockets above us. We followed an exploration guideline placed by a French team and another local explorer years ago and came to the end of their line in a passage that clearly continued. We grabbed our reels and started off into cave. It was on.

Over nearly ten years of underwater cave exploration, Vince and I have discovered a variety of caves – some beautifully decorated and stable, some crumbly and silty. During our explorations, we have needed to continuously improve our skills. Each time we get comfortable with our current level of skill, a project seems to appear that requires new techniques. I started carrying stage cylinders for exploration, purchased a diver propulsion vehicle for exploration, began using my drysuit again for exploration, and so on. The nature of the cave environment disallows complacency.

 

THERE IS SO MUCH YET TO DISCOVER

Vince and I, with various additional team members including Anders Knudsen, Marcelin Nebenhaus, and Rory O'Keefe, have discovered and surveyed over 60 kilometers of flooded cave passageways in Mexico. There are plenty of other excellent exploration teams with similar accomplishments. There is so much left to discover, that I am sure México's caves will not be fully explored in my lifetime. The caves continue to teach us and we continue to learn.

Along the coast, hidden in shallow ocean waters and mangrove swamps, we have discovered several cave systems filled with strange microbial growths – strands of microbes hanging like strings of snot from the ceiling and thick layers of microbial matting covering the floors. Such caves are fascinating because of the unusual life inside of them and the challenge of exploring in the low visibility conditions created by disturbing the microbes. The coastal nature of these caves causes high, and often reversing flow due to tides and a variety of factors that we are still investigating. Hydra, the cave from the introduction, bubbles out on the surface of the Yucatán's north coast, and several of our projects along México's eastern coast are siphons.

Inland, in the center of the Yucatán Peninsula, our team has started exploring sinkholes. These deep sites require the use of trimix and decompression gasses to catch even a glimpse of the floor. While we have only discovered a few short cave passages so far, the astounding size of these inland sinkholes, coupled with the joy of free-falling 65 meters straight down, keeps us road-tripping to the center of the peninsula. With dazzling light effects and scenic panoramas, the sinkholes have inspired me to pursue still photography as well as video. There's thousands of them that have not yet been dived. It's unending, and it's heaven for an explorer.

 

THE CAVES ARE WAITING

With cave diving in the news recently, the focus has been on the tremendous heroism and difficulty of the sport. Cave rescues, especially the most recent ones in Thailand, deserve every plaudit they receive, and are indeed extreme and dangerous tasks. Not all cave diving is so. Most experienced cave divers will tell you that adrenaline should not feature in regular practice of the sport. Instead, the sport is about knowing your abilities, and pushing yourself to constantly improve until the cave can be approached from a state of calm proficiency, allowing muscle memory take over so that you can become immersed in the environment. For me, the exploration of underwater caves is as much about the enchantment of the current chamber as the mystery beyond it. I live for the days that I find myself with a full reel in my hand, an unexplored cave in front of me, and an opportunity to glide into the unknown.

 

Photography Equipment Used

All photos, except for Ping’s (i.e., 1st image), were taken with a Sony A7S and Bigblue Dive Lights of varying powers.

Full Article: Diving Japan's Ogasawara Islands

Located 1000 km from mainland Japan, the Ogasawara Islands provide a unique experience to visitors patient enough to make the trip from Tokyo harbor. Although the country of Japan is part of Asia, the Ogasawara islands are geographically part of the Oceania region. In Ogasawara there are only two islands people are allowed live on; Chichijima and Hahajima. Chichijima is the main island I visited this time, which has a population of about 2000. Hahajima is 2 hours from Chichijima by a small ferry, and only has a population of 500.

I’ve traveled to Cuba, Mexico, Belize, Indonesia, and other locations, but Ogasawara was the most difficult to get to of anywhere I’ve been diving. To get to the Ogasawara islands, you need to book a ferry called “Ogasawara-Maru”, which takes about 26 hours to go from Takeshiba harbor, Tokyo to Chichijima, Tokyo (the Ogasawara islands are still technically a part of Tokyo). During the off-season, the ferry only goes to the island once a week. During the peak-season (summer), the ferry goes to the Ogasawara islands once every five days.

 

 

 

 

Ogasawara is known for nighttime land tours to see its endemic species, such as the Ogasawara pigeon and the glowing mushroom. Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough time (or was too lazy….) to do the land tour; instead, I spent most of my time there on a nice blue ocean also known as “Benin-Blue”. There are several diving centers that divers can connect with, but it’s not easy for divers from other countries. At the Ogasawara islands, most of the marine sports operators don’t speak fluent English. Fortunately, I can speak a little bit of Japanese, and my dive guide tried to give as much information as possible in English while I was diving with him. I dove with a dive center called “Papa’s Diving Studio.” They have a nice diving boat with a dry area. I was surprised that even though I was the only diver going out, they took me on the nice boat with a great dive-guide-to-diver ratio of 1:1!

 

 

 

Conditions

Diving conditions at Ogasawara were not what I expected. I was there for 12 days from the middle of May to the end of May, and it was hot on land. However, it was so cold underwater that some divers from Taiwan thought they needed drysuits! Even though it was a nice tropical region, the water temperature was between 22 to 25 degrees Celsius (71 to 77 F). We were usually at depths of 15m to 25m (50 to 80 feet), but we went deeper when I was looking for some big fish like sand tiger sharks and pelagic rays. Diving could be either easy or difficult, depending on what you want. Most of the diving around coral reefs was relatively easy. However, looking for some big fish made diving quite difficult. Some of the diving locations in Ogasawara had crazy current in which I was not able to move forward at all with my ScubaPro Jet Fins.

 

 

Tuna

In this high-current environment, it was easy to see schooling dogtooth tunas; however, I don’t recommend bringing a fancy camera rig for photography! I cannot forget diving around Minamijim, as I saw tunas and eagle rays there, but I couldn’t hold my camera with my one weak arm against the current. But don’t worry, I was able to see tunas in much better conditions on a special trip Yomejima. One of the diving points there is called “Maguro Ana” which means “Tuna Hole” in English. Under the arch, there were many dog tooth tunas swimming around and chilling, and I got some chances to shoot photos of them.

 

 

Whales and Dolphins

The Ogasawara islands are also known for whales and dolphins. I was there during the season that Humpback whales and Sperm whales are expected to show up close to shore. So, I went on a Sperm whale trip for two days, but instead of Sperm whales I got to see Humpbacks!

Dolphins, on the other hand, are common around the Ogasawara Islands throughout the year. There are two species around the islands: Spinner and Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins. I was lucky enough to see them almost every day I went diving, and the owner of the Papa’s Diving Studio, Mr. Hoshino, allowed me to jump into the water and take photos of them. This was one of my favorite things I did while I was on the island. The dolphins were friendly enough to hang out with divers for couple of minutes!

 

 

Endemic Fishes 

Around Ogasawara, there are also a few endemic species of fishes, including varieties of clownfish and butterflyfish. I didn’t get to see any of the clownfishes, but I got to see Wrought Iron Butterflyfish for the first time in my life, which look like they are covered by iron armor. They were really neat!

 

 

My Thoughts

Was it worth spending a lot of money and time to go the Ogasawara islands? Yes, and I will go back there again. Along with enjoying the diving, I also enjoyed the culture and people there. Even though I was a foreigner who could speak a minimal amount of Japanese, people were so helpful and friendly. What is more is that I was invited to a BBQ party at a bar called “Yankee Town,” whose owner is an ex-military soldier! I had good time learning about the history of Ogasawara, with good drinks there with other divers.

If you are willing to go these exotic islands, I highly recommend doing some dolphin swimming and whale watching. Swimming with dolphins is almost guaranteed and there is a good chance of seeing whales, during the whale season. Also, kayaking and snorkeling around is fun. When walking around the island with my wetsuit and camera, I found good place called “Sakaiura Beach,” which had a ship wreck. I snorkeled and took some nice over-under shots there. What more can I ask from the Ogasawara Islands?

Additional Reading

Jin Woo Lee shoots with a compact camera, the Sony RX100 V. Check out our detailed RX100 V review, which has more of his great photos as well! 

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