Creating Simple and Strong Compositions

Ken Kiefer
A tutorial on how to compose your images for the most visual impact

 

Creating Simple and Strong Compositions


A tutorial on how to compose your images for the most visual impact

Text and Photos By Ken Kiefer

 

Underwater Photo Composition

 

 
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Creating a strong image that holds visual appeal requires many components working together, including an interesting subject, lighting, focus and depth of field.  One of the most important elements in a good image is composition, which unfortunately, isn’t a straightforward science. While composition has some general rules, it involves the photographers’ artistic involvement and can be very subjective.

As underwater photographers we bring the element of diving to our photography, making it even more challenging.  Not only are we now trying to use the perfect settings for our shot, but we must keep track of strobe placement, watch our buoyancy, check our gauges and follow the divemaster – all in addition to composing the shot through a mask and a tiny viewfinder! 

For shooting wide-angle and big animals there are several things that can help with composition and capturing a strong, appealing image.

 

 

CONTROL YOUR BACKGROUNDS

Be aware of what the background in your shots will contain.  Don’t only pay attention to your subjects, but understand what may be distracting or could enhance your shots.  A sure way to help a subject pop is to get close and have nothing but clear blue water surrounding it.  Likewise, a sandy bottom can work in conjunction with your subject as a great background.

 

Underwater Photo Composition

The incredible blues of the deep ocean surrounding Cat Island provides an amazing backdrop for the sun’s rays over this oceanic whitetip.

 

Underwater Photo Composition

This mother and daughter Atlantic Spotted Dolphin glide through the clear Bahamian waters over a beautiful white sand background.

 

 

FILL THE DIAGONAL

Subjects that trend towards the diagonals of the frame, either through position or patterns help catch the eye and provide a good balance to an image.  Combining a diagonal with the horizon line of the water surface or sea bottom is also a helpful technique.  The placement of horizon lines is important as well, relating to the important Rule of Thirds concept.  Generally, you want the portion of the image with the most interest to be in the 2/3 area of the image. 

 

Underwater Photo Composition

While in Isla Mujeres, my freediver buddy mimics this whale shark as it begins to go vertical to gulp in large amounts of fish eggs.

 

Underwater Photo Composition

This lone Great Hammerhead shark glides over a perfect background of white sand.

 

 

STUDY YOUR SUBJECT AND LOCATION

Pay attention to animal tendencies and direction of the sunlight to help put you in the best position when possible.  Sometimes you may want the sun directly in your face to get a silhouette or sunball shot.  Other times you want the best clarity and contrast from having the sun at your back.  Some of these options aren’t available to you on every dive, but keeping your options in mind on every dive will enhance your photo composition opportunities. 

 

Underwater Photo Composition

I tried for this shot for a week before it finally happened.  A split second after I snapped this shot, the cephalofoil of the hammer banged into my dome port!

 

Underwater Photo Composition

This Nurse Shark creates a great diagonal line with the horizon lines of the water’s surface and the sandy bottom.  I watched her approach the surface and then dive several times and was able to move into position to capture this action.

 

 

BE READY FOR THE UNEXPECTED

Don’t put on blinders that may keep you from missing a great opportunity.  It’s great to have a ‘shot sheet’ of looks and angles that you want to accomplish, but keep an open mind and watchful eye so that you are ready for other options, fast actions and unique behaviors. 

 

Underwater Photo Composition

I was chasing my wife and a pair of dolphins trying to get a shot of them together, when I saw this pair of males out of the corner of my eye.  I readjusted quickly and was able to frame them for a quick shot.

 

Underwater Photo Composition

This oceanic whitetip was swimming near me with nothing in sight but deep blue ocean.  I love the shot in color, but using the black and white adjustment tool allowed me to make the blue into black and further isolate the subject.

 

 

USE YOUR DIVE BUDDY

I’ve heard many photographers complain about inconsiderate divers ‘ruining their shot’ by not paying attention and just swimming around without considering other divers.  This can sometimes be a problem, but when it can’t be avoided, look for ways to incorporate divers into a shot to provide scale and as a way to balance the composition. 

 

Underwater Photo Composition

My dive buddy was in a good position to balance out this shot.

 

Underwater Photo Composition

This was the first whale shark that my wife and I ever encountered.  It has a huge gouge from a propeller that has healed over.  Having her in the shot provided a great way to judge the size of the shark.

 

 

AIM FOR BLACK AND WHITE

One of my favorite ways to bring out the intensity of an image is through the use of black and white.  Black and white can help simplify an image to bring out the essential subjects.  It can also add great drama and clarity.  Shooting with black and white in mind helps focus my thoughts and eye for composition towards the key ingredients for a strong image, including background clutter.  

 

Underwater Photo Composition

The Freediver provides a wonderful balance to the hammerhead and making the image black and white adds drama and contrast.

 

 

 

Further Reading

 

About the Author

Ken Kiefer is an underwater photographer that specializes in big animals and fashion/fitness shoots.  He uses his images of sharks to educate children about the realities of sharks –vs- media portrayal.  

View more of Ken's work at: www.kenkiefer.com

 

 

Author's Gear Profile

Canon 5D3 in Ikelite 5D MkIII housing

Pair of Ikelite DS161 strobes

Canon 8-15mm fisheye lens

 

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When to Use GoPro Filters Underwater

Brent Durand
Video Demo and Guide to Using GoPro Filters and Underwater Lights

 

When to Use GoPro Filters Underwater


Video Demo and Guide to Using GoPro Filters and Underwater Lights

Text and Photos By Brent Durand

 

 

 
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Producing high quality underwater video has never been easier. Small, easy-to-use cameras at great prices have lowered what was once a very high barrier to entry. GoPro leads this charge, which comes at no surprise if you’ve been on a dive trip in the last couple years. On every trip you’ll spot several divers with GoPros, whether mounted on poles, trays, handles, larger camera housings or even diver heads.

It’s a simple thing to take the GoPro out of the box and press the record button a few times, instantly becoming a bonified underwater videographer. But how do you take it to the next level? How do you capture video you will actually look at on your computer? What gear should you add to your GoPro Hero kit to increase the quality of your video.

In this latest installment of UWPG’s GoPro tutorial series we show you some examples of using underwater filters, video lights and more.

 

Using Underwater GoPro Filters

Underwater filters are designed to bring color and contrast back into your underwater video. These colors are lost as we descend in the ocean, starting with red, which is why these filters are red or magenta. By bringing the reds back, the GoPro will also be able to select a more accurate white balance when recording clips. You can see the differences that filters make in the sample screenshots below.

I always recommend using a filter with your GoPro, unless you are using video lights for a close focus wide-angle shot (see section below on video lights).

A Red filter is the most commonly used. This filter is optimized for use in blue water, while a magenta filter is optimized for use in green water. During my test dive in Anilao, Philippines, the water was definitely a bit green, but nothing like in the photos I see from BC and the Pacific Northwest, or off the beach in Malibu when we have an algae bloom. You’ll notice in the video below that the red filter nicely brings the colors back into the video, while the magenta filter doesn’t make much difference. It's important to point out that you should definitely keep that magenta filter on hand, as you never know when you'll come across that green water.

I was happy to be using my GoPro Hero4 Silver for this review since it has an LCD screen built into the back, allowing me to view the changes made by the filters. Of course, the screen helps with composition too. If you have another GoPro model, you can purchase an LCD Touch BacPac to make sure you can see every shot you make.

GoPro underwater filters review

GoPro Filter Test Photos

 

GoPro underwater no filter

No Filter.  GoPro Hero4 Silver video screenshot.

 

GoPro underwater red filter

Red Filter.  GoPro Hero4 Silver video screenshot.

 

GoPro underwater magenta filter

Magenta Filter.  GoPro Hero4 Silver video screenshot.

 

GoPro underwater no filter

No Filter.  GoPro Hero4 Silver video screenshot.

 

GoPro underwater red filter

Red Filter.  GoPro Hero4 Silver video screenshot.

 

GoPro underwater magenta filter

Magenta Filter.  GoPro Hero4 Silver video screenshot.

 
 
GoPro underwater red filter

Red Filter.  GoPro Hero4 Silver video screenshot.

 
 
GoPro underwater magenta filter

Magenta Filter.  GoPro Hero4 Silver video screenshot.

 

 

Using Video Lights with GoPro

GoPro underwater filters are perfect for shooting subjects that are more than a couple feet away from the camera, however if your subject is close to the camera, you will get much better video by using video lights.

Video lights are similar to the underwater strobes that still photographers use in that the artificial light brings all the color back into the reef. It’s the same reason that most smart divers use a flashlight when looking at details of the reef or critters – even with the sun high overhead.

There are two things to keep in mind when using video lights with your GoPro underwater. The first is to make sure you are close enough to the reef (or swimming subject) so that it is well lit by the light(s). This is generally less than 4 feet. The second thing to be aware of is that the GoPro has a minimum focus distance of 12 inches, meaning that you cannot place the camera less than 12 inches from the subject or it will not be in focus (sharp focus is essential for a good video clip). This is tricky because you won't be able to tell if focus is sharp while underwater - only once you have loaded the video onto your computer. That said, Polar Pro makes a macro wet lens that magnifies the scene and decreases that minimum focus distance.

 

GoPro underwater video lights

GoPro underwater video lights

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My GoPro light setup, built from some spare parts and powered by two I-Torch Venom38 video lights.

 

GoPro underwater video lights

Video Lights, no filter. GoPro Hero4 Silver video screenshot.

 

 

Custom White Balance

I’ve added a section on custom white balance for advanced GoPro users who are shooting in Protune mode with the intention to post-process video clips and create a movie of their dive or trip.  In short, custom white balance will allow the GoPro user to select a custom white balance to best fit the scene they are shooting. Choices include Auto, 3000K, 5500K, 6500K and Native.

Finding the right white balance will depend on the filter (or video lights), depth and water conditions, so make sure you're using an LCD display if you plan to set your own WB.

 

 

GoPro Filters & Lights Demo Video

 

 

 

 


Purchase the GoPro Hero4 Black from Bluewater Photo

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UWPG's GoPro Tutorial Series

 

Other Recommended Reading

 

About the Author

Brent Durand is a weekend wanderer, story teller and image-maker from California. Brent is editor of UWPG. Follow UWPG on Facebook for daily photos, tips & everything underwater photography. View more of Brent's work or follow his imagery through www.BrentDimagery.com.

 

 

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Macro Wide Open

Mike Bartick
A Macro Photo Tutorial on Shallow Depth of Field

 

Macro Wide Open


A Macro Photo Tutorial on Shallow Depth of Field

Text and Photos By Mike Bartick

 

 

 
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Is underwater macro photography trendy? Of course it is. The key to great shots is to try not to get caught up in the regular macro styles, but to try something different. When you do, all kinds of good things are bound to happen.

‘Macro wide open’ uses the bottom end of your lens’ f-stop range to help create extreme bokeh in your images. In fact, these images are mainly comprised of the bokeh with just the slightest anchor points of sharpness for the viewer’s eye to hold on to. Leaning towards reverse ring macro, this wide open technique is a sure fire way to expand your portfolio right away without spending more money on expensive or confusing gear.

 

Its All About the Bokeh….

First, lets address the creamy, buttery portions of the image referred to as bokeh. Simply put, bokeh is the natural depth in an image and occurs naturally in photography/cinematography. This natural depth is created in an image by framing the sharp focal point that then fades away out of focus through the frame. The focal range creates a plane of focus and shallow depth of field that many shooters attempt to forever enlarge by increasing their f/stop settings (to create more depth of field and less bokeh).

The amount of bokeh is dictated primarily by the f-stop setting of the lens and can expand or collapse depending on the shooter’s desired aperture selection. Nearness to the subject and background, light and other elements including lens build also play heavily into creating interesting bokeh.

So what would happen if we concentrated on dramatically expanding the soft area before and after the focal point, creating an image with the narrowest depth of field possible? What would happen if we were to isolate an anchor point and to exaggerate the bokeh to the maximum? What would happen if the image were all about the buttery and creamy portions of the image; more importantly, how do we get there?

 

Mike's Gear Box:


 

Purchase the gear Mike uses at Bluewater Photo.

 

Camera:  Nikon D7100

Lenses:  Nikkor 60mm, Nikkor 105mm

Housing:  Sea & Sea MDX D7100 Housing

Strobe(s):  1 or 2 Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes

Arms/Clamps:  Ultralight / Beneath the Surface

Accessories:  1 high-powered diopter (like the SubSee +10)

(Aquako or Subsee are both used in this write up to decrease DOF)

Accessories:  1 FIX modeling light

 


 

What is "Wide Open"?

Shooting Wide Open means just that: shooting at the bottom end or lowest aperture number (smallest number) of your lens. In fact, for this wide open project the lower the better. By simply dialing back your f-stop to its widest setting, like f/2.8, you will notice a few things occurring immediately and be met with the following challenges:

1  -  A rush of incoming light and overexposed images

2  -  Blurry, soft images

3  -  Lack of color or a color shift in your images

4  -  Extreme narrowness in the depth of field

 

Take on each of the above challenges one at a time to conquer them. This can be done quite easily and you will soon be on your way to gaining a better understanding of your lens, lighting, composing with more bokeh and how they all combine in creating your image.

Breaking away from some of the rules of composition (like shooting up) to shoot at a downward angle will help to increase the bokeh while working with very tight compositions or when the background is very close to your subject.

Load your images onto your computer and check them for the best results, as the LCD on your camera isn't a very good way to appreciate or grasp what is happening in the image. Look hard into the bokeh and see how the light ripples, buckles, kneads up or swirls. The newer lenses work hard to avoid this effect but older lenses can be easily obtained to create more interesting natural bokeh.

 

 

Tutorial in Photos

 

Peppermint Patty

Gear:  60mm lens, + 15 diopter to decrease depth of field, f/3.2 @ 1/320

Technique:  Medium power constant lighting and lowest power on the strobes for color in the foreground.

Caption:  Candy Crabs are interesting and common subjects that mimic the soft corals on which they are found. Their lightly colored carapace are easily over exposed and will make a great test subject. Review your images and adjust your strobes and modeling light.

 

Purple Polka Dots

Gear:  105mm lens, +15 diopter to decrease depth of field, f/3 @ 1/250

Technique:  Foreground lighting with FIX modeling light on lowest power and low power on the strobes.

Caption:  Having both eyes reasonably sharp for this image was important, and getting them both evenly distanced from the lens was hard work but is necessary on all these kinds of images.

Notice how the light distorts and begins to buckle. Some of this is created while locking the focus and then pulling back, as most diopters are the sharpest in the center. This technique will help to decrease the DOF even further than the aperture setting.

 

Donuts

Gear:  60mm lens, +15 diopter to decrease DOF, f/4.5 @ 1/100

Technique:  Front lit with FIX light. Background is lit with low strobe power.

Caption:  Knowing that the light in the background would create pastel colors and distort the bokeh, the strobe lighting really came into play while making the image. Notice the hydroid and how the bokeh begins to bead up into soft round orbs; this is regarded as good bokeh.

The now-hated mirror lenses of the 70’s and the 80’s created a certain donut shape in the bokeh that many photographers ripped apart and regarded as poor bokeh. I happen to like it, especially since creating that with a quality (new) lens is nearly impossible.

 

Lemon Drop

Gear:  60mm lens, using Retra Snoot, f/16 @ 1/200

Caption:  These small Lemon Gobies are very popular to photograph when they take up residence in bottles, and photos of them are seen frequently as they are a habitat conducive to creating cool images. This one is shot using a snoot at a higher f-stop for a greater depth of field and dark negative space that fills the frame. I’m rim lighting the subject and the bottle, but as much as I like this mage its seems a bit ordinary.

 

Lemon Butter

Gear:  60mm lens, f/3.2@ 1/160

Technique:  FIX constant lighting in the foreground

Caption:  Here is an example of the same Goby in the same bottle but shot in a different manner. At f/3.2 the narrow depth of field and nearness of my lens to the subject creates an extreme example of the buttery bokeh that I find interesting and quite different from the rest.

 

Dippin Dots

Gear:  60mm lens, f/3.2 @ 1/250

Technique:  Two YS-D1 strobes, low power

Caption:  The plane of field is also something to play with when shooting this shallow. I liked the way the light played out in this image with the lavender colors. The Anemone is quite different and filled the frame nicely for this image.

 

Pika Chu

Gear:  60mm lens, +15 diopter to decrease depth of field, f/3.2 @ 1/250

Technique:  Front lighting with FIX constant light and backlit with YS-D1 strobe, low power

Caption:  The Bokeh swirl is also another dreaded pitfall for some, and something that lens manufacturers try to avoid. Slightly apparent in this image, the swirl is caused by locking the focus and pulling back slightly to the most minimal focal plane possible without losing the sharpness on your anchor point.

 

Comet Trail

Gear:  60mm lens, f/3.2 @ 1/250

Technique:  Two YS-D1 strobes, low power

Caption:  Dropping the angle of view and capturing the whip coral in the background with such a low f-stop created a very smooth and textured swath of color behind our common subject. In my imaginative mind I see a goby riding a comet!.. No comments please..

 

Phoenix

Gear:  105mm lens, f/4.2 @ 1/320

Technique:  Front lit with FIX constant lighting, back lit with two YS-D1 strobes

Caption:  This Tambja nudibranch, sitting on a hydroid perched with the back of its foot just touching the rocks behind it, begged for a creative image. The first few shots were so generic and full of muddled clutter in the background that I nearly swam off. Taking a few minutes and thinking about what was being presented quickly had me changing my strategy on how to shoot the nudi. The result was much more gratifying than the prior images and a lot more fun to make.

 

 

In Conclusion

Shooting wide open is a fun and challenging way of creating images that closely resembles “reverse ring” image making without the added costs. It’s also much more convenient. Experimenting in shooting wide open will quickly teach you how to shoot using the full range of your lens and expand your portfolio. Have fun!

 

 

Further Reading

 

About the Author

Mike BartikMike Bartick is an avid and experienced scuba diver and Marine Wildlife Photographer. He has an insatiable love for nudibranchs, frogfish and other underwater critters, and is the official critter expert for the Underwater Photography Guide. Mike is also one of the UWPG trip leaders. See more of his work at www.saltwaterphoto.com.

 

 

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The Quick Guide to Macro Composition

Gaby Barathieu
Basic Tips and Advice to Help you Start Shooting Amazing Macro Images

 

The Quick Guide to Macro Composition


Basic tips and advice to help you start shooting amazing macro images 

Text and Photos By Gaby Barathieu

 

 

 
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Composition is paramount in underwater macro photography. Poor composition can quickly make a photo of a very interesting subject look drab and boring or give it the spark to stand out from all the others.

It is essential to always be aware of composition when thinking about your shot – even before you move into shooting range. Most good underwater photographers will know the composition, settings and strobe position they will be using before even looking through the viewfinder.

Here are 3 crucial rules and quick guide for macro composition. Keep these in mind on your next trip and you’ll be sure to bring home some great images!

 

1)  The Basics

The best macro compositions depict the subject from the front or the side view (profile).

We all know that harrassing marine life is never acceptable. Along these lines, no one wants to see a photo of a fleeing subject (typically from the back or as it moves in avoidance). If the subject is not interested in staying in place for a photo – move on. Experienced divers and photographers can easily tell when a subject has been manipulated, so don’t insist on capturing those images. Instead, spend your limited bottom time with more willing subjects.

Another major rule is never to shoot a subject from above, as it tends to make the subject look flat in the image. A careful approach is best, making sure to get low and get close!

 

Harlequin Shrimp (Hymenocera picta)

 

2)  Composition

The most important rule of composition is to avoid placing the focal point of your subject (or all of your subject) in the center of the frame. It is much better to use what is called the Rule of Thirds, where you place this focal point at the intersection of one of the third lines.

Along these lines, it is important to leave some open space in front of the subject. For example, if the subject is facing right, there is open space to the right, as in the photos below. This is sometimes referred to as "swim space" or "negative space". And while it important to leave some space, too much negative space will make the subject too small in the frame.

In the photos below, the negative space is on the right side of the subjects, in front of the faces. Notice that the negative space takes up only about 1/3 of the frame while the subject takes up 2/3 of the frame. You don’t want to use more negative space than that, as you will lose detail and focus on the subject.

 

Twin chromodoris (Goniobranchus geminus)

 

Large toothed cardinalfish (Cheilodipterus macrodon)

 

 

3)  Depth of Field

It’s common to think that photography is a two-dimensional art, but good photographers strive to create three dimensions !!!!!!!

Depth of field gives relief (aka depth) to the picture. Very shallow depth of field can also be used to highlight a specific point of a photo, like the eyes of a fish. This is most common when photographing a subject from very close and often with a diopter. The further you move back from the subject, the more depth of field is natually included in the image.

Shallow depth of field is particularly useful if you have a background that is distracting and drawing attention from your subject. You can experiment with this by testing your camera and lens at different focal distances to find a style that works for you.

 

Whip coral goby (Bryaninops yongei)

In the photo above, I chose a very short depth of field in order to highlight the eyes of the gobi.

 

Crinoid Shrimp

 

Conclusion

These are the basic rules to capture a great macro shot.

But like with many rules in art, they exist so that you can bend them. Each subject, enviroment and shooting style will dictate the use of different rules, but with these basic tips you will be well on your way to bringing home some great shots.

 

Juvenile Emperor Angelfish

 

 

Also by Gaby Barathieu

 

Further Reading

 

About the Author

Gaby Barathieu is a passionate underwater photographer based on Reunion Island. He and photographer Yann Oulia run the Reunion Underwater Photography website and Facebook page, sharing the incredible diving and wildlife encounters in the waters near their home. View their photography at www.RUP.re or on their Facebook Page.

 

 

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Photo Tips for Blackwater Diving

Jeffrey Milisen
Tips for Amazing Pelagic Invertebrate Encounters and Capturing Jaw-Dropping Photos

 

Photo Tips for Blackwater Diving


Tips for Amazing Pelagic Invertebrate Encounters and Capturing Jaw-Dropping Photos

Text and Photos By Jeffrey Milisen

 

 

 
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Are you the kind of person who will end each dive with a biology lesson?  Do you pride yourself on knowing everything you can about the natural underwater world? So tell me, hotshot, what do you know about perhaps the most common animal on earth: thaliaceans?

For starters, they are probably the most efficient animals that we know of. They pump water through a barrel-shaped body using very little energy and filter out plankton to feed. Thaliaceans can also reproduce and grow faster than any other multicellular animal and can be so thick that they clog up nuclear power plants. That’s because they lead two lives; a communal asexual phase where they reproduce very quickly through a process called selfing, and a sexual one where, well, you get the picture.  You might know them as salps or sea squirts and they are just one of the animals you will become intimately familiar with on a blackwater dive.

Blackwater diving is a special kind of night dive where participants are taken miles offshore over deep oceanic water. Weighted downlines are then tied to the boat.  Each diver is then attached to the downline via a shorter tagline.  These harness systems ensure that divers can’t wander too far from the boat, because if you find the bottom in 3000 feet of seawater, something has gone terribly wrong. 

 

The key to finding pelagic subjects like the pelagic nudibranch (Phylliroe bucephala) is to look small.

 

Clear photographs of salps and other gelatinous plankton can be tricky. They are always on the move, they don’t contrast against the background and finding the right camera settings can be tricky, but once you are all dialed in, making breathtaking photographs of a huge variety of body plans can be like shooting fish in a barrel.  Photo contest macro winners are frequently made on blackwater dives. This article will help troubleshoot three of the main issues unique to photographing while diving blackwater.

 

Phyllosoma and ctenophore. Larval animals often look nothing like their adult counterparts. This is a larval lobster carrying a ctenophore for reasons we cannot comprehend.

 

 

Focusing in Blackwater

Shooting gelatinous animals isn’t like photographing reef fish, corals or other typical subjects. As opposed to reef subjects that can hide against or behind objects in the substrata, pelagic animals have body structures that are designed to disappear in constantly moving open water.

One thing that will become pretty obvious from the moment you splash is that more light is better. Focus lights on a reef at night don’t have to be terribly bright to be effective, but gelatinous animals can soak up a lot of light before they appear in front of you. Also, try holding the light at an oblique angle to the camera. This will better illuminate odd angles on the animal better than lights that face directly forward.

Your camera’s sensor will be working extra hard to see through the backscatter to pick out the subtle contrasts and focus on the subject. It helps to have a DSLR with a dedicated focusing sensor, which in Canon and Nikon DSLRs is known as phase-detect AF. This passes a sample of light from the main aperture through a series of small lenses to produce two images. The distance between the images can be measured with a line sensor to tell the camera exactly where to focus. For comparison, contrast-detect AF is used in most compact and mirrorless cameras and is more of a trial and error process (Sony mirrorless cameras are the exception). Contrast-detect AF is much slower and can have a difficult time picking up clear plankton. Contrast-detect autofocus systems are at a disadvantage in the open ocean, but there are a few things you can do to help any camera system focus on what’s important.

One trick is to find the most contrasting point on the clear animal and place it on an autofocus point. This will force the camera to look at the animal instead of a piece of backscatter drifting between your port and the subject. And because the animal and photographer are affected differently by the movement of the ocean, keeping the autofocus mode on Al servo (or continuous focusing) will allow multiple shots of the same subject. 

Finally, some animals, such as the squid Megalocranchia, have highly contrasting pigment marks and body parts that the camera will want to pick up on instead of a preferred focusing point such as the eyes.  This brings us to the last tip to help focus on your subject. Many blackwater animals are very small and will be shot near the minimum focal distance for your macro lens. Because of this, it is helpful to use a wide depth of field with a very small aperture to help sharpen any mishaps in the focusing process and bring more of the subject into focus.  

 

Exocoetid. Many animals will reside within 10 inches of the water's surface. It can be very productive to spend some of your dive in just 5 or 10 feet of water looking up.

 

Strobes and Exposure

The two ways that small animals camouflage themselves in the open ocean is through clear gelatin and highly reflective body parts that blend in by bouncing available light back, matching the surrounding water almost perfectly. Some animals rely on both reflection and transparency. For a photographer striving to attain proper exposure, these two properties can prove be a nightmare. 

Open ocean animals almost invariably require an external strobe to illuminate properly. There are several benefits to using strobes. First, the wider beam angle illuminates clear animals better. Second, wide angled strobes reduce backscatter. Third, external strobes produce more light than onboard flashes, which in the case of gelatinous animals, means more detail in the final shot. Finally, external flashes enable the photographer to use direct, non-diffused light that will reflect off the gelatinous surfaces to better show the body forms.

One special case is when an animal such as a larval fish relies on both transparency and reflective body parts to blend in. In the case of the larval flounder, when the body is properly exposed, the eyes are blown out. Instead, it is preferable to expose for the eyes, thus preserving the detail in the raw image. The underexposed body details can then be brought back with the exposure bar in post-production.  Finally, use the burn tool (in Adobe Photoshop) to reclaim the details in the eye. 

 

Chascanopsetta prorigera. For animals that are both clear and reflective, expose for the reflective eye and bring back detail in the clear parts during post-processing.

 

Movement

The final challenge of the open ocean that must be overcome is the constant movement of everything in it. The boat moves differently from the divers that move differently from the plankton, and when that rare dolphin or shark does come through, they move much faster than anything else. It helps to understand what forces are acting on each element in order to be in the best position to capture the image.

A boat’s drift is a result of both current and windage. In the absence of wind, the boat and divers will move with the current at the same speed, giving the impression that there is no current at all. As soon as the wind picks up, however, the boat will act like a sail and drift in a different direction, dragging the divers with it. Animals will come flying out of the darkness in a unidirectional manner. To the divers, this will seem an awful lot like current. Many divers will just sit back and let the harnesses drag them around. The attentive divers, however, will swim against the apparent current until they come across an animal they wish to observe. Then they can simply drift back and photograph the animal until they reach the end of their down-line and are again being towed. This strategy gives photographers the most time with their subjects.

Controlling yourself in a soup of plankton is a somewhat different challenge. Small animals will be acted on by different forces than act on the divers, creating a somewhat chaotic effect that can be tough to follow through your eyepiece. Buoyancy and good body positioning are especially important when trying to focus on plankton. One errant fin kick or an unexpected stream of bubbles will not only ruin your shot, but probably destroy the animal you were trying to shoot. 

Finally, anything larger than a football (generally classified as nekton) is going to be able to move much faster than the clumsy divers. Blackwater divers are sometimes treated to the real rarities of the open blue such as tuna, dolphins, squids, and even oceanic sharks. There really is no big hint to getting into position for pelagic nekton except just being lucky. 

 

Xiphias gladius. Encounters with large nekton such as this swordfish are rare but can serve as a high point in just about any diving career.

 

Megalocranchia. You never know what you'll see when blackwater diving.

 

In Conclusion

Blackwater diving has a different draw for everyone. Some want to face the primal fear of the dark unknown. Others want to experience a whole community of animals they have never seen before. No matter how alien the pelagic environment may seem to us, billions of incredible life forms call it home. And that’s where the strange salp offers a sense of familiarity through a crucial body part called a notochord. In a watery world of sea freaks, it might be comforting to know that this harmless looking barrel-shaped organism is one of our most primitive relatives from a time when our distant ancestors had a spinal chord without any supportive skeleton. So when you look into the vast blackness and find a small pulsating ribbed drum, you will be forgiven if the first word that comes to mind isn’t “grandpa.”  But go ahead and give one a hug all the same.

 

Salp. Think of this salp as your distant cousin, only slimier.

 

 

Also by Jeff Milisen

 

Further Reading

 

About the Author

Jeff Milisen is a relatively new content writer for the Underwater Photography Guide who specializes in black water and big animals.  When not behind a camera, Jeff is a marine biologist working to reduce overfishing by improving methods for farming fish.  Milisenphotography.yolasite.com

 

photo: Kelsea Sanborn

 

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Olympus PEN E-PL5 Underwater Settings

Kelli Dickinson
Best underwater settings for the Olympus PEN E-PL5 and previous PEN cameras.

Olympus PEN Underwater Settings

by Kelli Dickinson

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The Olympus PEN cameras (E-PL5, E-PL3, E-PM1, E-PL2, E-PL1) have become by far the most popular mirrorless cameras used in underwater photography. In this article we discuss our recommended settings for getting the most out of these excellent cameras.

Below I've compiled several good starting camera settings for different shooting situations. Next is a list of the most important, or required, settings that are crucial to change in your PEN system when shooting underwater. In addition I take an in depth look at all the menus on the camera so you can fine tune your camera for the best underwater shooting experience.

Olympus PEN Underwater Settings

Actual settings will vary based on your diving location and conditions. Take a look at the following suggestions below as a great starting point for shooting with your Olympus PEN camera. These settings were written with the Olympus PEN E-PL5 as the basis, previous models may not offer all the same features, or may have different limitations. Where I know a difference I have noted it.

Settings for Macro with the 45mm or 60mm Macro Lens:

  • Manual mode, F22, 1/250th, ISO 200;
    • For Previous PEN cameras, max shutter sync was 1/160th
  • Auto white balance, camera flash on "fill in flash", Strobe on TTL
    • Or set the strobe to manual power and adjust power as needed
    • For manual power set the camera flash to manual  also to save battery life (see below for instructions) 
  • TIP: Shoot at lower F stops like F5.6 or F2.8 to try to get some better bokeh and a blurred background
  • TIP: You'll need to open up your aperture to around F8 when shooting fish; at F22, your strobes won't "reach" very far and the photo will look black
  • ** These settings are also useful with the 12-50mm lens in Macro Mode **
    • Available in the Nauticam E-PL5 housing only.

Shallow Focus achieved with an open F-stop - Octopus, OM-D E-M5 w/ 45mm, ISO 200, F2.8, 1/250

 

Settings for Macro using the kit lens (14-42mm / 12-50mm) with a wet diopter:

  • Manual mode, F22, 1/250th, ISO 200;
    • For Previous PEN cameras, max shutter sync was 1/160th
  • Auto White Balance, camera flash on "fill in flash", Strobe on TTL
    • Or set the strobe to manual power and adjust power as needed
    • For manual power set the camera flash to manual  also to save battery life (see below for instructions)
  • Zoom all the way in
  • Shoot at lower F stops like F8-F11 to try to get some better bokeh and a blurred background, you can open up to F2.8, but will have a very small depth of field
  • Remember working distance is limited when using a wet diopter, move carefully to avoid spooking your subject and get close. 

Christmas tree worm, photo by Jim Lyle. F14, 1/250th, ISO 200, 45mm macro lens

 

Settings for Wide Angle with 8mm Fisheye or 9-18mm lens:

Note: These settings also are great for starting points for shooting with the kit lens on, and for fish portraits with the 60mm macro lens.

  • Manual mode, F8, 1/125th, ISO 200 
  • Auto White Balance, camera flash on "fill in flash", Strobe on TTL
    • Or set the strobe to manual power and adjust power as needed
    • For manual power set the camera flash to manual  also to save battery life (see below for instructions)
  • Important: use the shutter speed to control your ambient light (background exposure). A slower shutter speed (e.g. - 1/60th will let in light when shooting in darker waters, a faster shutter speed will allow less light in when shooting in bright conditions).
  • TIP - when the sun is in the photo, set the shutter as fast as possible (up to 1/250th), and you'll need to stop down your aperture to F16 or F22 to avoid blowing out the highlights, remember to turn up your strobe power.
  • TIP - for ambient light photography, you may need to open your aperture to F5.6 or F4 and increase the ISO to ISO 400, 800 or 1600 to let in more light.

Sheephead & Oil Rigs, Olympus OMD E-M5, 8mm Fisheye ISO 200, F5, 1/80

 

Olympus Camera Set up for Underwater Use

The Olympus PEN cameras work well straight out of the box, however there are some important menu and setting changes that you will want to make sure to do for the best shooting experience.

Most Important Settings for Underwater Use:

1) Custom Menu Options - On the PEN cameras the Custom Menu is usually not turned "on" There are many important features (such as Live View Boost) that you can only access in the custom menus.

Menu -> Set Up Menu (Wrench icon) -> Menu Display and click OK. The Custom Menu is the small cogs icon, hit the right button, and then the down button followed by ok to activate this menu.

2) Live View Boost - this is very important so that you can see your LCD underwater. This mode disables the live view of exposure settings, since underwater shooting with a strobe, usually results in dark settings in the camera. This function will brighten your LCD so it is always at a good viewing brightness. Note: the LCD does not accurately reflect the exposure settings for the camera.

Custom Menu -> D: Disp/PC -> Live View Boost -> On

3) Flash modes - if you are using an underwater strobe with TTL you will use the single lightning bolt "Fill in Flash" mode on the camera. However, if you are planning to use the underwater strobe in manual mode you can save battery life by changing the camera flash mode to "Manual Value" through the quick menu. This is also beneficial because using the internal camera flash at a lower power means less recycle time and helps eliminate any delay on being able to take a picture.

OK -> scroll to flash icon -> scroll over to select "Manual Value Flash" -> Press Info to change flash power -> scroll to 1/64th power -> OK to confirm

5) Rec View - this sets the length of time an image review is displayed after taking the picture. Default is 0.5 seconds. For underwater use, 2 seconds is usually recommended so you have a chance to quickly gauge that exposure and focus look good before taking another picture. If 2 seconds is too long, set it to what you desire, or simply press the shutter halfway down to cancel the review.

 Set Up Menu -> Rec View

7) Picture Mode - the default is natural, but jpeg shooters may prefer Vivid

NOTE: this does not affect RAW files

Accessible through the SCP / Quick Menu or Shooting Menu 1


OM-D, F16, 1/100th, ISO 200

Set Up for an Olympus Housing:

The Olympus housing is a well designed option if you are on a budget and don't want to spend the money on one of the more expensive Nauticam housings (if available). There are a few limitations, but for the most part set up is the same.

PEN cameras are the slimmed down versions of their big brother "OMD" series cameras. They do not offer as many button options or customizeable features. These cameras are effectively plug and play. Once you've changed the settings listed above to ensure the camera will function properly in the housing you are pretty much good to go.

 

PEN Menu Settings

This info is helpful for fine tuning your camera for the best underwater settings. If a menu item is not listed that is because it does either does not affect shooting pictures or does not affect a setting that would be used underwater. 

Shooting Menus

These set your cameras defaults, general settings that it will revert to after shutoff.  

Shooting Menu #1 

Picture Mode  - This menu sets the look of your pictures, it is completely a personal choice to change, I prefer the default, Natural, then fine tuning the image on the computer afterwards.  Some users prefer Vivid, especially if they are shooting jpeg, because it enhances reds & oranges.

Picture Quality (pixel icon)  - Sets the default quality mode for the camera. Set this to RAW for still images, default for video is FullHD Fine, leave it there unless you know you want a lower quality. 

*Note: if you do not have software on your computer that can read and edit RAW files then leave it set to .jpg (LF). I highly recommend shooting RAW for the most flexibility with in computer editing. 

Image Aspect - Leave at the default standard image aspect ratio of 4:3 unless otherwise desired.

Digital Teleconverter  Leave at default of OFF.  

Shooting Menu #2 

Burst/ Time Mode - Leave at default of Single Shot Mode, you can change this from the quick menu later for specific shooting instances. 

Image stabilizer - Leave at default  - this engages full stabilization in all directions (Default is S-I.S. 1)

Flash RC Mode - Leave at default of OFF

** NOTE - If you are using the Olympus UFL-2 strobes, you can increase your shutter sync speed with the PEN and OMD cameras to 1/500 using the RC feature of the camera and strobes. Check out the strobe manual for this, but it can be very useful for getting great sunbursts in wide angle shots

 

Custom Menu Options

The custom menu offers more detailed camera adjustments, however, these can get overwhelming. When in doubt leave it at the default, unless otherwise noted in the Important Settings section above.

Menu A: AF/MF

AF Mode - I recommend setting this to S-AF (single AF). This is default for still images but not for video. C-AF, continuous auto focus, I find is too slow to accurately catch moving subjects and often hunts more frequently in the low light underwater conditions. You can halfway press the shutter during video to refocus when needed. Note: continuous auto focus has been significantly updated on the E-M1, so it can be a more useful tool with that camera.

Full-time AF - OFF

AEL/AFL -  This is a very handy feature, especially for underwater as it allows you to set focus lock separately from the shutter button, so that you can lock focus and then take several images without refocusing. This option isn't as great in the PEN housings when an Fn button is available due to the location of the button the housing. For the E-PL5 it may work OK if you assign the Fn button to AEL.

Here are the settings I would pick if you would like to do so, however these are only effective if you have assigned AEL/AFL to one of the customizable buttons through the B Custom Menu.

S-AF - Mode 3 - this will basically keep the camera as standard, half shutter focuses, full shutter press takes the picture

C-AF - ignore (leave at default of Mode 1)

MF - ignore (leave at default of Mode 1)

Reset Lens - OFF - leaving this ON resets the lens focus of the lens to infinity after the camera is powered off. For most shooting situations this is not a big deal, though when using specific lenses, like the 60mm macro, it can cause initial focus hunting in the beginning. Turning it off will save the last focus distance used in the camera.

MF Assist - ON - very useful with macro - magnifies center of image 10x to aid in focusing 

AF Set Home - SINGLE- this sets the "home" position for the AF target for each AF mode. It will return to the position selected after power down. Default is full matrix, change this to Single Auto Focus Point for more control. 

AF Illuminator - OFF - this is the small red AF assist light on the camera. It won't shine through the black housing so turn it off to save battery life. If you use the camera both topside and underwater and don't want to hassle with constantly changing it then leave it on, it will not affect picture taking. 

Face Priority - OFF - this automatically focuses the camera when it detects a "face" however underwater it can mis-detect and cause issues, will not detect faces in masks so it is not needed.  

Menu B: Button / Dial 

Button Function - PEN Cameras - Older versions may not have an Fn button, the E-PL5 does and the button can be customized for quick access to a variety of features. I prefer setting it for "One touch WB". This takes the lengthy process from the "quick" menu down to a very quick and easy two step operation. (Note: if you want to split out focus for the E-PL5 as mentioned above, then you MUST assign the Fn button to AEL/AFL)

Other settings in Button Function menu allow you to modify the action of the keys listed. Note: L-FN refers to the button available on some lenses.  

Button Function - You can customize the Fn button to your liking, there are a variety of options to choose from. My recommendation, as stated above, is to select "One touch WB" which shortens the white balance process. However as outlined previously you can also choose AEL/AFL if you want to try to split out your focus. 

You can also customize the Rec button and assign its own function (this could also be used for the "One touch WB" or the AEL/AFL setting if you don't plan to use the video function. Other settings in the Button Function menu allow you to modify the action of that key listed. To gain customization of the up and down arrows you need to change the setting of the four arrows option just below them. I recommend:

Arrow Keys - Direct Function

Right Arrow - Flash Mode

Down Arrow - ISO (or leave a shot mode for quick access to burst and self timer if you use topside frequently)

Dial Function - This menu allows you to set the functions of the control dials for the camera. Functions are set per shooting mode indivually.

PEN cameras - this is the control wheel on the back of the camera (E-PL3 and E-PL5 only). For the PEN cameras, this function is moot because the Olympus housings do not have a wheel on the back.

Dial Direction - can be set to change which way you turn the dial to increase shutter or F stop. Set to personal preference or leave at default  

Dian Lock - leave a defaul "ON"

Menu C: Release 

Rls Priority S / C - this option allows you to set whether the shutter can be released even when the camera is not in focus. I recommend leaving it at the default of OFF for S-AF to help limit out of focus pictures. (can be set individually for S-AF and C-AF modes) 

Burst FPS H / L - leave a default - this sets the frame rate for each burst mode option 

Burst + IS Off - OFF - allows for image stabilization during sequential shooting when turned OFF  

Menu D: Disp / Beep / PC 

This menu customizes display and sound options. Set these to your preference, they don't affect picture taking, except for a select few.

Camera Control Settings - this gives you options for the display of the quick menus. When the EVF Auto switch is turned off you can only access one of these. Default is the Live Control, Olympus' standard type menu. The other option is the Super Control Panel, the new style for the OM-D that mimics many dSLR cameras. To activate the SCP, turn off the LC and turn on the Live SCP.

Info Settings -  Under this menu is LV-Info. These options allow you to streamline your LCD view information. By turning each on or off you choose which viewing modes you would like to be able to see when you press the INFO button on the camera.

Live View Boost -  This must be turned on to aid in viewing the LCD underwater in dark shooting conditions. See section above with instructions.

I would also set the SLEEP mode and Auto Power Off modes as desired to save battery life. 

Menu E: Exp / Metering / ISO 

EV Step - leave at Default 1/3EV - this gives access to all "in between" stops, for more fine tuning your picture settings. It controls the size of the increments for shutter speed, aperture, etc. 

NOISE / NOISE FILTER / ISO - leave at defaults

Metering - Default (Digital ESP Metering) - this evaluates the entire image for the best overall exposure. For more specific metering you can choose center weighted or spot.

AEL Metering - Default (AUTO) - if you use the AEL function leave this at the default and it will automatically choose the same metering you are currently using.

**OM-D Cameras - leave ISO / ISO Step / ISO Auto-Set / ISO-Auto options at default

Bulb / Time Timer, Live Bulb, Live Time - default (this won't be used underwater)

Anti-Shock - Default OFF - this creates a delay between when the shutter is pressed and actually released to aid in limiting camera vibrations. Not needed underwater.

F: Flash Custom

X-Sync - Default (1/320 for E-M1, 1/250 for E-M5 and EPL5, 1/160 for earlier PEN models) this sets the fastest default Shutter Speed at which the flash can fire.

Slow Limit - Default (1/60) - You can adjust this lower as desired.

NOTE: These flash settings do not matter for Manual Mode, the flash fires based on the shutter speed selected when in Manual Mode. However 1/250 is the highest option available for the OM-D and EPL5, 1/160 for earlier PEN's.

Flash Exposure + Exposure - Default (OFF)

G: Pixels / Color / WB

Pixel Set / Pixel Count / Shading Comp - leave at Default

WB - Auto (default) - this sets the default WB mode, you can adjust for certain instances through the quick menu

All WB Evaluation - default - this changes the overall WB compensation for all modes except custom WB

WB-Auto Keep Warm Color - default - keeps colors warm for Auto WB mode.

Flash + WB - default (auto)

Color Space - default sRGB (unless you specifically know you want a different color space)

H: Record / Erase

Set these to your preference, they do not affect picture taking

I: Movie

Movie Mode - Default - P - this sets the default mode for movie capture (unless you are doing more video and want a specific mode, such as Manual, Aperture or Shutter to be the default)

Movie Mic - Default - ON - turns mic on or off. Turn off if you do not want to record any sound.

Movie Effect - Default - OFF - disables movie effects

Wind Noise Reduction - Default - OFF - reduces wind noise

Recording Volume - Default - Standard

J: Camera Utility (PEN Cameras)

Set as desired, these do not affect picture settings

 

Setup Menu

Set Date / Time, LCD brightness, upgrade your firmware, etc. The most important item on this menu is:

Rec View - this sets the amount of time an image is displayed for review after taking it. Default is .5 seconds, which is very fast. 2 seconds is a good average to set this to so that you can check exposure and focus on the LCD before taking another picture. If you need to take the next shot quickly this review disappears with a 1/2 shutter press.

Menu Display - this allows you to activate the custom menu. It is highly recommended to make sure the custom menu is turned on.

 

Additional Settings for the Olympus E-PL7

Be sure to read Bluewater Photo's Best Settings & Shooting Guide for the Olympus E-PL7.

 

If you have any further questions on setting up your Olympus camera or any issues with camera functionality, please post a question in our forums.

 

Essential Tips for Nudibranch Photography

Mike Bartick
Best Camera Settings, Anatomy Guide and Photo Tips for Shooting Nudibranchs

 

Essential Tips for Nudibranch Photography

Best camera settings, anatomy guide and photo tips for shooting nudibranchs

Text and Photos By Mike Bartick

 

 

 
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Nudibranchs are perhaps the most photographed sea creatures of all time. They come in a wide variety of show-stopping shapes, colors and body textures that create a perfect storm for photographers of every level. But this does not mean that they are easy subjects to photograph, and even though they tend to be sluggish, bringing home high quality images can be surprisingly elusive. Every underwater photographer who strives to break away from the simple 2-dimensional ID shot knows that it is a continuous challenge to create striking nudibranch images.

 

Nudibranch Anatomy 101

It is extremely important to understand the anatomy of a nudibranch at even on the most basic level (as discussed below), and arming yourself with a little knowledge will help improve your images right away.

Nudibranchs, also known as slugs, are evolved mollusks. Some have lost their shells as part of evolutionary development while others have internalized their shells. Slugs are all both female and male but cannot reproduce without a mate of the same species.

 

Nudibranch Terminology

Nudi-Branch means Naked Gills

Aeolids – A type of nudibranch shaped a bit differently than most, as they do not have the conspicuous gills like the dorid type slugs. The hairy appendages or tufts on their back or running up the sides are called Cerata.

Cerata - The Cerata can contain nematocysts absorbed while feeding on hydroids. These nematocysts cells are stored within the Cerata and fire off with the slightest touch, defending the slug against would-be predators in the same fashion as a stinging jellyfish. The Cerata also function similarly as the gills on a Dorid and can be very colorful. The Cerata of Phylodesmius nudibranchs also produce food through photosynthesis.

Gills or Bronchial Plume - This elegant feature is located at the back of the slug and carries out the vital process of the gas exchange (breathing). There is also an anus hidden in the plumes. This area can retract quickly when the slug has been startled, so be careful when moving in for a photo. It is not uncommon to see a shrimp in the gill area feeding on the organic bio matter and keeping the slug healthy and clean.

Notum - Body of the entire slug, can be a solid color or multi colored and textured, very detailed or mundane.

Rhinophores - Are different for many types of slugs; they can be rolled, finned, bulbous or surrounded by a protective crown as with the Dendronotids. These sensory organs are located on the front of the slug and look like antennae, which are used to smell. These should be thought of as the eyes of the nudibranch (although they do not use them to see) and should be sharp in your images.

Oral Tentacles - These are two little nubs used to detect and guide food into the nudibranch’s mouth, which can be seen when a slug rears back on its haunches.

Oral Veil – This feature is more obvious with Melibe style nudis that vacuum up mysid shrimp by enlarging their hood and trapping food underneath. The mouth of other nudis, such as Felemaris, can be very colorful as well, adding another dimension to capturing their feeding behavior.

 

Nudibranch Photo Gear Essentials

Not all nudis are created equally. In fact, Nudibranchs are the world’s most diverse animal, so be prepared to meet this unique photography challenge. Increasing magnification can limit composition and depth of field but is essential for the smallest of the nudibranchs you will encounter.

 

Diopter and Adapter 

Because nudis come in all sizes, a diopter with flip adapter setup is always recommended and in some cases is a vital tool for getting the shot. The increased magnification helps for small nudis while the adapter makes it easy to flip down in front of your port.

We recommend these diopters:

 

Modeling Lights and Strobes

A modeling light is extremely important as it will help to illuminate your subject and allow your eye to gain a better sense of color and focus. A modeling light will also assist your camera autofocus by creating contrast – one of the elements used to lock focus. Your modeling light can also supplement and in some cases replace a strobe depending on your camera system and power of the modeling light. 

A strobe will definitely add color and sharpness to your images, and help the nudibranch stand out from the background. Remember: lighting is everything with photography and quality strobes will last for many years.

 

 

Nudibranch Photo Tips

Try applying the following to help you to break through to your next level of nudibranch photography.

1)  Research and know the basic anatomy of your subject. Take it a step further with Dave Behrens’ Nudibranch Behavior book.

2)  Get Low, Get Close, Shoot Up – this is macro 101; use this formula to dramatically improve your images.

3)  Compose with negative space and room to move within the frame. View UWPG’s underwater composition tutorial.

4)  Use higher shutter speeds – using you maximum flash sync shutter speed will help to keep out the ambient light.

5)  Try to photograph behavior: mating, eating and laying eggs.  This is the peak of the action for nudibranchs.

6)  Look for symmetry - nudibranchs are almost always exactly the same on each half of their bodies. Head-on images (portraits) are okay when the subject allows it.

7)  Be creative with depth of field - Pay close attention to the features of your nudi subject - while it’s important that the Rhinophores are sharp, other parts of the nudi, like the gills, can be out of focus.

8)  Take advantage of black background opportunities – If the subject is perched up high, create a black background. But be careful of slugs with black Rhinophores as they will easily blend in with the background.

9)  Experiment with best settings - A slight increase or decrease of your f-stop can bring out subtle details in the texture of your subject.

 

 

Nembrotha lineota. Get low, get close and shoot up. Use negative space and be sure your subject's Rhinophores are sharp.

 

Nembrotha chamberlaini. If there is an anomaly of some sorts that sets your subject apart for the norm be sure that this anomaly is the center of the viewers’ attention.

 

Chromodoris leopardis. Laying eggs is always a very interesting behavior to capture. The eggs are often brightly colored and textured. If eggs are found alone, inspect them, as other nudibranchs often feed on them.

 

Showing nudibranch symmetry works well, like with this shot of a Nebrotha kuberyani. I particularly like to shoot these guys because of their interesting facial features, texture and vibrant colors.

 

Glossodoris cincta. These larger nudis will fill your frame easily with or without a diopter. Paying close attention to the camber of your subject's Rhinophores will help with head-on composition. The gills of the cincta actually vibrate as they move and are fun to watch.

 

Mimicry is another behavior that an entire article could be written about, especially with these amazing Lobiger sp. Sap suckers live on algae that resembles green grapes. This image was shot in very shallow water in broad daylight. Using a high shutter speed will enable you to control the incoming light, even on the sunniest days. When a subject is tall, try turning your camera to the portrait position.

 

Miamira tenue aka Ceratasoma tenue can grow to impressive sizes. Some are large enough to sport accessories like this emperor shrimp that lives a symbiotic lifestyle with its host. Keeping its hosts gills cleaned and rummaging for food as the nudi moves along the substrate is priority number 1 for the shrimp, and getting photos of them on the nudi are great behavioral images.

 

Using a quality diopter of +10 or greater will dramatically increase the size of very small subjects and allow you to fill the frame with very little cropping. These Castosiella kuroshimae are miniscule and nearly impossible to detect. Look on small algae on sandy dive sites.

 

Extreme depth of field isn’t always necessary, but on a larger subject its hard to resist, especially when one is as colorful as this Hypseledoris. Backing away from your subject is an easy way to slightly increase your DOF when working with nudibranchs.

 

 

In Conclusion

Be sure to practice these simple steps as discussed above to help improve your chances at shooting your next jaw dropping slug image no matter where you are or what ever system you are using. Take your time and remember to always have fun!

 

 

Further Reading

 

Other Articles by Mike Bartick

 

About the Author

Mike BartikMike Bartick is an avid and experienced scuba diver and Marine Wildlife Photographer. He has an insatiable love for nudibranchs, frogfish and other underwater critters, and is the official critter expert for the Underwater Photography Guide. Mike is also one of the UWPG trip leaders. See more of his work at www.saltwaterphoto.com.

 

 

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Canon 7D Mark II Best Settings for Underwater

Brent Durand
A Review of the Best Settings and Lenses for Underwater Photo and Video with the 7D Mark II

 

Canon 7D Mark II Best Settings for Underwater 


A Review of the Best Settings and Lenses for Underwater Photo & Video

By Brent Durand

 

 

 
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The Canon 7D Mark II is a great semi-pro DSLR for underwater photo and video. Boasting a 20.2 MP dual-pixel CMOS AF sensor, 65-point all cross-type autofocus system, Servo AF during Live View, dual DIGIC 6 processors, full HD video and many more features, this workhorse camera is earning its place in u/w photographers' gear bags.

If you haven't yet, be sure to read our 'Canon 7D Mark II Review for Underwater Photography'.

We recently published the 7D MkII review linked above, so this tutorial will focus on the best settings for underwater photo and video with the camera. I had the opportunity to make three dives with the 7D Mark II in the Ikelite housing (read our Ikelite 7D MkII housing review) to get a feel for the camera. Here are the tips, tricks and best settings for photo and video.

 

Setting up the 7D Mark II Menu

In this section we'll go through the camera menu one screen at a time, mentioning the most important settings for underwater photography and settings we changed from the camera default.

 

SHOOT MENU TAB

Screen 1

  • Image Quality:  Set to RAW. If you are shooting RAW and JPG at the same time, you can set the JPG quality as well.
  • Image Review:  2 seconds
  • Beep:  Disable
  • Release button without card:  OFF.  By setting this to OFF, you eliminate the chance that you think you are recording images when you are not. If there is no memory card in the camera it simply won't fire and you will know immediately to 1) add a card, or 2) enjoy your dive without worrying about a camera.
  • Lens aberration correction:  Enable Peripheral illumination and Chromatic aberration. If you don't do this, your final images will still be ok because your post-processing software also has these camera and lens correction algorithms built-in, and worse case, you can manually compensate for these individual lens characteristics.
  • Flash Control:  If you are using TTL flash power, then no changes are necessary. If you are using manual strobe power, then you will want to turn the built-in flash to manual power and set it to the lowest setting for fastest recycle time. Do this by entering Flash Control, then selecting Built-in flash settings, then setting Flash mode to Manual. After that, move down to flash output and set that to 1/128. Done!

Screen 2

  • Auto Lighting Optimizer:  OFF.  We don't want the camera making these types of exposure assumptions for us.

Screen 3

  • Picture Style:  Standard. This is my personal preference so that the LCD shows me an idea of how my photo will look after post-processing the RAW file. Some prefer neutral so that they see what the unprocessed RAW file will look like. It's totally up to you. If you have a special processing style, you can even create custom picture styles.

 

Screen 4, 5 and 6 do not need any changes from the default settings except for advanced users who know exactly why they are adjusting those settings.

 

 

 

AF MENU TAB

The Autofocus menu also doesn't need any adjustments before shooting underwater. The menu allows for detailed control of your AF system for different shooting situations, however the default settings are the most versatile for beginner and intermediate underwater photographers. Let's skip on ahead!

 

 

PLAYBACK MENU TAB

The first two menus in the playback tab do not need to be adjusted from the default settings. The third screen, however, has two adjustments that I like to use on my EOS DSLRs.

  • Highlight alert:  Enable.  This feature makes over exposed highlights blink during image review. While distracting, this let's me know whether highlight areas of subjects are blown out before inspecting the histogram.
  • AF point disp.:  Enable.  This feature puts a red square over the area the camera's autofocus used to focus. If you were aiming for an eye and this box is on the dorsal fin, then on first glance you know the eye will be out of focus.

 

 

SETUP MENU TAB

Screen 1

  • The most important setting on this screen is the Format card function. Selecting this will allow you to format either card in your camera.

Screen 2

  • Auto power off:  2 min.  This is up to you, but 1 min. or 2 min. are nice choices to save battery when shooting underwater.
  • Date/Time/Zone: This is where you set the camera's date and time, which is very useful to have in your metadata.

 

 

CUSTOM FUNCTION MENU TAB

This entire menu tab also doesn't require any adjustments before shooting underwater. Advanced shooters will dig further into this menu to customize their camera based on shooting style.

 

 

MY MENU TAB

This tab is a nice place to put your frequently-accessed menu items, saving you from digging though multiple menus in order to change a group of settings. It's also a convenient menu to leave as first-to-open when shooting underwater, allowing you to access these favorit settings with a single push of the menu button.

 

 

 

 

7D Mark II Wide-Angle Settings

Wide-angle settings on the Canon 7D Mark II will vary depending on whether you're shooting sharks, reefscapes or sunbursts, as well as depth, distance to the subject, angle of sun and clarity of the water. A great starting point for wide-angle with the 7D Mark II is:

  • ISO: 160
  • Aperture:  F9
    • To create a blurred background, try opening up the aperture more
    • To shoot towards the sun, try stopping down the aperture. Also see our tutorial 'Guide to Shooting Striking Sunbursts'
  • Shutter speed:  1/125s

 

Lenses:

There are two types of lenses available for shooting wide-angle: fisheye and recilinear wide-angle lenes. Fisheye lenses are great all-around underwater lenses while wide-angle lenses are best for shooting subjects that are further away, like sharks and schools of fish. Video shooters will often select their wide-angle lens over the fisheye for tighter framing in their shots.

The Tokina 10-17mm fisheye is hands down the most popular lens for wide-angle use underwater for both Canon and Nikon crop sensor shooters. Keep in mind that there's a lot that goes into choosing the right lens, especially if you also plan to use it topside. Some of these include: price, weight, filter sizes (77mm vs. 82mm), vignetting properties with your favorite filters, as well as lens speed (for bokeh or low light use).

Bluewater Photo's top recommendations for the Canon 7D Mark II are the Tokina 10-17mm fisheye and the Canon 10-22mm as a wide-angle option - you'll be very satisfied with both!

 

Useful Reviews & Comparisons:

 

nauticam 7d mark ii underwater photo

A garibaldi greets the camera at Eagle's Nest, Catalina Island.

Canon 7D Mark II, Nauticam 7D Mark II housingTokina 10-17mm fisheye lens.

 

nauticam 7d mark ii underwater photo

Purple hydrocoral and gorgonian at Farnsworth Bank, Catalina Island.

Canon 7D Mark II, Nauticam 7D Mark II housingTokina 10-17mm fisheye lens.

 

A horn shark poses for a photo on a typical Malibu reef.

7D Mark II, Ikelite 7D Mark II housing, Tokina 10-17mm lens, ISO 320, 1/160, f/10

 

 

 

7D Mark II Macro Settings

The Canon 7D Mark II shoots great macro shots, especially when paired with the sharp Canon 100mm f2.8L macro lens. Like in wide-angle shooting, there are no right or wrong macro settings; the settings will change depending on the subject and style of shot you're after.

Recommended settings for macro:

  • ISO:  160
  • Aperture:  f18  (*increase this to f/25 or f/32 with a +10 diopter)
  • Shutter Speed: 1/160s (*increase this to 1/250s to help create a black background)

 

Diopters:

  • There are two diopter brands that Bluewater Photo recommends for the Canon 7D Mark II with the 100mm f2.8 macro lens. SubSee diopters have been the go-to for years, but the newer Nauticam SMC has become a popular choice for those buying new.

 

Useful Reviews & Comparisons:

 

A spanish shawl nudibranch lays eggs.

7D Mark II, Ikelite housing, Canon 100mm macro lens, ISO 200, 1/125, f/22

 

Sharp detail on a California spiny lobster.

7D Mark IIIkelite housingCanon 100mm macro lens, ISO 160, 1/125, f/18

 

Butterflyfish at Catalina Island. Shot with Canon 7D Mark II.

 

 

Video Settings for the Canon 7D Mark II

The general rule for shooting video is to select a shutter speed roughly double the frames per second you're shooting. So for 30fps, you should be using a shutter speed of 1/60. Since this is fixed, the variables that control exposure become aperture and ISO.

 

Aperture:

Selecting the right aperture for your shot is a balance between depth of field and available ambient light. Stopping down the aperture provides more depth of field but limits the ambient light hitting the sensor. When you open up the aperture you decrease depth of field but allow more light to reach the sensor, which is especially important for crisp color from your video lights. But if you get too close to the subject or use too small an aperture, you'll notice that background elements in the scene are out of focus. While this is ok in some macro shots it's not ideal for wide-angle. In summary, aperture settings will vary depending on each shot you're setting up.

 

ISO:

The easiest setting is to leave your ISO on auto. You can also limit the ISO range through the 7D MkII's menu, setting an upward limit of 6400 (for example). This is nice if you're panning or looking for quick shots. Advanced video shooters will opt for manual ISO control to make sure the exposure doesn't change mid-shot if the camera meters the scene differently.

 

Pro Tip:

Shoot All-I and not IPB. These files are not compressed as much and deliver higher-quality video. That said, make sure you have a fast memory card to support more data being written to your card.

 
 

Sample Underwater Video from the Canon 7D Mark II

 

 

Underwater Housing Options

 

Available at:

Bluewater Photo

  

 

 

Nauticam 7D Mk II Housing

 

  Nauticam NA7D Mk II Housing

  Nauticam 7D Mk II Housing Review

 

Aquatica A7D Mk II Housing

 

  Aquatica A7D Mk II Housing

 

Ikelite 7D Mk II Housing

 

  Ikelite 7D Mk II Housing

  Ikelite 7D Mark II Housing Review

 

Sea & Sea 7D Mk II Housing

 

Sea & Sea MDX-7D Mk II Housing

 

 

 

 

Further Reading

 

About the Author

Brent Durand is a weekend wanderer, story teller and professional image-maker from California. Brent is editor of UWPG. Follow UWPG on Facebook for daily photos, tips & everything underwater photography. View more of Brent's work or follow him through www.BrentDimagery.com.

 

Support the Underwater Photography Guide:


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Visit Bluewater Photo & Video for all your underwater photography and video gear. Click, or call the team at (310) 633-5052 for expert advice!

 


The Best Pricing, Service & Expert Advice to Book your Dive Trips

 

Bluewater Travel is your full-service scuba travel agency. Let our expert advisers plan and book your next dive vacation. Run by divers, for divers.

 


 

 
 
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How to Use In-Camera Image Overlays

Francesco Pacienza
Pro Tips and Instructions for Creating Amazing Underwater Scenes from Two Images

 

How to Use In-Camera Image Overlays


Pro Tips and Instructions for Creating Amazing Underwater Scenes from Two Images

Text and Photos By Francesco Pacienza

 

 

 
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Image overlays, possible with many modern digital cameras, allows us to work on our photos directly in-camera - a creative direction that doesn’t rely on the use of computers for post-production.

The image overlay technique, in some respects similar to multiple exposure HDR, allows us to combine two different frames into a single image, provided that they are taken in RAW format with the same camera and still stored on your memory card. The final fused image is also a RAW file, numbered sequentially, which allows for adjustments during post-processing.

In underwater photography, this technique is most often seen as a combination of a macro subject with a light blue sunball in the background. These photos are quite popular in underwater photo competitions because they have so much visual impact.

 

Seahorse and sunball.

Image 1: Nikon D300s, Tokina 10-17mm @11. ISO 100, 1/30, f22

Image 2: Nikon D300s, Tokina 10-17mm @17. ISO 100, 1/2000, f22

 

 

How to Create Image Overlays

Step 1:  Composing and Shooting the Images

 

When shooting image overlays, we must always remember to compose the image and frame the subject with the image overlay in mind. This will make the job of combining images much easier, since the subject and the sunball above it each have their space in the combined frame.

Our camera does not allow us to rotate photos used in an image overlay, so if we are using horizontal framing, then both shots must be horizontal. The same rule applies for vertical pictures.

 

Best Lenses for Capturing the Water Surface

When shooting the sunball at the water surface, it is best to shoot a series of shots, placing the glow at various points in the frame: high, middle, right corner, left corner, etc.

If the photo of the water surface is made using a wide-angle lens like the Tokina 10-17mm, we will see a very nice effect that makes the final image appear to be a close-focus wide-angle shot.

I also use a macro lens (like the Nikkor 40mm micro) to capture the water surface, since good results are also obtained, as you can see in the photos. Since this lens is not as wide as a wide-angle lens, it allows us to keep a nice deep black color in the frame around the sunball, making the image appear much more natural and less like two images fused together. That said, each photo can be shot with a different lens – it depends completely on your preferences.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Left Image 1: Nikon D7100, Tokina 10-17mm @17. ISO 100, 1/25, f18

Left Image 2: Nikon D7100, Tokina 10-17mm @11. ISO 100, 1/640, f20

Right Image 1: Nikon D90, Nikkor 60mm Micro. ISO 100, 1/200, f22

Right Image 2: Nikon D90, Nikkor 40mm Micro. ISO 100, 1/800, f18

 

 

Step 2:  Fusing the Images In-Camera

(Instructions for Nikon DSLRs)

After we have our two images to overlay, we access the RETOUCH MENU and select the item IMAGE OVERLAY. At this point we find ourselves in front of the screen as shown in the images below.

 

Entering the retouch menu.

 

The Image overlay menu.

 

In the first panel we will position our first shot. It doesn’t matter which of the images you select first, but note that the EXIF data of the first image is what will be used in the final image. So if you shot the sunball with a wide-angle lens and want to create a wide-angle image, select this image first.

Immediately below this image is an opacity indicator set at the default value of 1.0. This indicator allows us to increase or decrease the opacity of the image that we are going to overlay.

In the second frame we will enter the second image and set a higher or lower opacity if desired. Our final image will appear in the third box. Once we like the result, we can save the image.

 

Images with opacity control underneath.

 

In the examples A and B (below), you can see what happens to the opacity of our pictures if you make changes by increasing or decreasing the values relative to each other. These adjustments will allow us to obtain very realistic image fusions.

 

A. Opacity on image 1 bumped up to 2.0.

 

B. Opacity on image 2 bumped up to 2.0.

 

 

In Conclusion

The image overlay technique can be used whenever you’d like and with any popular lens for underwater photography. We can overlay images made with a wide-angle lens or mix a macro photo with a wide-angle photo. The only limit is our knowledge and mastery of the technique, plus our imagination.

 

 

Further Reading

 

About the Author

Francesco Pacienza is a professional photographer who graduated from the European Institute of Design, is a professor of photography at IED and author of technical books on photography. Francesco started as an advertising photographer and photographs still-life to communicate through his art. Photography combined with his great passion for the sea creates a perfect alchemy... Francesco uses the light and the sea as a painter's canvas and colors ... inspiring the observer. Since 2006, Francesco has been the Technical Coworkwer and testimonial producer for Easydive, an Italian company and leader in making universal underwater housings: the Leo series.
 
More info and news available on Francesco's website: www.francescopacienza.it

 

 

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Guide to Shooting Striking Sunbursts

Brent Durand
Tips, Techniques and Settings for Shooting Underwater Sunbursts

 

Guide to Shooting Striking Sunbursts


Tips, Techniques and Settings for Shooting Underwater Sunbursts

Text and Photos By Brent Durand

 

 

 
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We descend through the water column to explore the underwater world below, but sometimes the most mesmerizing scene is found looking up through the looking glass. Some of my favorite moments underwater have been during full-moon night dives in Malibu, light off, cruising along the reef watching the moon rays dance through the surface of the sea into the water column. 

Light and water create magic that we don't always notice on our regular dive trips. The sun lights everything in it's path, creating a high-framerate alternate world that sooths divers until it's time to surface. But what if we look for just one of those moments - freeze just a single frame to admire the sunlight and water interacting? 

This is why we shoot sunbursts.

 

Gear for all photos:

  • Canon 5D Mark III

 

 

Tips for Shooting Underwater Sunbursts

 

1.  Use a Low ISO

The sun is a bright source of light (bright enough to support life on earth), so we want to make sure our camera is set up for shooting in bright conditions. The first step is adjusting ISO, which is the camera sensor's sensitivity to light.

Manual Shooters:  Adjust your ISO to 100.  Done!

Auto ISO Shooters:  If you are using an evaluative or partial metering mode, then the camera should default to a low ISO. If you're using point metering, you should switch to evaluative or partial for shooting sunbursts. If the camera meters for the small spot of bright light, the rest of the frame will be very, very dark.

 

A gorgonian catches the current on a big wall in Bunaken National Park, Indonesia.

 

 

2.  Use a Fast Shutter Speed

Sun rays are constantly piercing through the surface of the water, and water is constantly moving. By using a fast shutter speed (often your maximum flash sync speed) we can 1) freeze the motion of the water, catching the sun rays illuminating shafts in the water, and 2) control the ambient light, which is abundant when shooting straight up towards the surface.

 

Sponges are shaded by a huge wall in Bunaken National Park, Indonesia.

 

 

3.  Use a Smaller Aperture

Stopping down to a higher f-stop decreases your aperture, meaning that less light is hitting your sensor. Like our other two settings adjustments above, this is done primarily to keep the sunburst from becoming too over exposed.

One bonus to stopping down is that you have increased the depth of field of the image. This helps keep everything in the scene in focus, especially if you are using a close focus wide-angle composition.

 

A grean sea turtle swims in next to a wall in Bunaken.

 

 

4.  Use High Strobe Power

This fourth tip helps create some interest in our sunburst photo, unless the goal is a silhouette (where no strobe light is needed). Because we're using a low ISO, fast shutter speed and smaller aperture, the foreground (and everything aside from the open water) will be very dark. Our strobe(s) help illuminate this darkness but need to be on full or almost full power to light the scene enough for a proper exposure.

 

A small school of goatfish swims along a steep reef in Bunaken.

 

A school of fish swims away above a lettuce coral reef in Raja Ampat, Indonesia.

 

 

When combined these underwater camera settings will help deliver excellent sunburst shots time and time again. When you're on your next dive, just remember to look UP!

 

 

Further Reading

 

About the Author

Brent Durand is a weekend wanderer, story teller and professional image-maker from California. Brent is editor of UWPG. Follow UWPG on Facebook for daily photos, tips & everything underwater photography. View more of Brent's work or follow him through www.BrentDimagery.com.

 

Support the Underwater Photography Guide:


The Best Service & Prices on u/w Photo Gear

 

Visit Bluewater Photo & Video for all your underwater photography and video gear. Click, or call the team at (310) 633-5052 for expert advice!

 


The Best Pricing, Service & Expert Advice to Book your Dive Trips

 

Bluewater Travel is your full-service scuba travel agency. Let our expert advisers plan and book your next dive vacation. Run by divers, for divers.

 


 

 
 
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