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An introduction to underwater photography while freediving
By Pavol Ivanov

Freediving Photography with the Olympus TG-5

Pavol Ivanov
An introduction to underwater photography while freediving

A Note from the Editor: The Olympus Tough TG-5 is an award-winning camera known for its versatility, ruggedness, fantastic macro capabilities and extremely high performance-to-cost ratio. After we reached out to our dedicated readers and customers, freediving instructor Pavol Ivanov shared his insights into underwater photography from his fascinating world of breath-hold diving. - Bryan Chu, Associate Editor.

Check out our full review of the TG-5 here!

Underwater Photography - Why we do it!

This sounds like very stupid question… but have you ever asked yourself “why do we really spend so much money on underwater photography equipment?” Well, there is the obvious reason, which is to share the experience with other people. But then there is the less obvious one: creativity! We have this amazing technology at our disposal which enables us to tell a story! And as they say, ‘’a picture is worth a thousand words!’’

Breath-hold Diving in the Past and Now - Accepting the challenge

For those who don’t know what freediving is (no, it is not free-of-charge scuba diving), it is the activity of diving underwater using only one breath taken at the surface. In the past, freediving was commonly used to harvest sea sponges, shellfish, fish and other sea goods, either for self-consumption or for sale on the market. Some people still practice this method of artisanal living today!

Now, recreational freediving is being taught worldwide. It is practised as a competitive sport, including freediving photography (in some countries)! For many people, the decision to learn to freedive comes from wanting to challenge themselves in a very extraordinary way. Who doesn’t want to be a Marvel hero? After only 2 or 3 days of learning and training, being able to dive to about 20m depth (66 ft) on one breath sounds pretty incredible, doesn’t it? However, taking good shots with a camera, while holding your breath and swimming underwater, takes a bit longer than just a few days. Same as with scuba, mastering diving first and then taking shots later requires more than just a few dives under one’s belt.

Photography Equipment for Freediving

Correct streamlining, buoyancy, equalisation, head positioning, movement, awareness, and relaxation are some of the many very important components of freediving. Every inefficiency costs you precious oxygen, of which you have a very limited amount. Having heavy equipment and pushing big lenses, strobes, lights and strobe arms through the water costs air. Less air means less time and distance under water. This is why most freediving photographers choose more compact designs; cameras which are easy to control, setup, and swim with.

In freediving, we have to be very aware of our buoyancy, as it is something which is changing constantly. Most of the time, we are very positively buoyant in shallow water and very negatively buoyant in deep water, which can both help and hinder us. (Editor’s note: since freedive weighting is constant, but at depth air spaces become significantly compressed, freedivers will always be less buoyant the deeper they go. Safe freediving weighting ensures that the diver has positive buoyancy in shallower water so they can make it to the surface in an emergency). In deep water we can enter into something called freefall, which can often allow us to drop right on the top of our subject, sometimes getting very close without being detected. However, the positive buoyancy in shallow water sometimes gets in the way of taking our shot; in this particular situation, exhaling all of our air can help, but of course this sacrifices our bottom time for that dive.

I have chosen as my weapon of choice the Olympus TG5, with the Olympus underwater housing and the UWL-04 wet wide angle lens. Most of the time I prefer to shoot in ambient light as I believe that this can be one of the great advantages in freediving; getting underwater scenery with a nice, natural look. If I need to highlight a particular scene or object I use a video focus light; the key with this is to get as close to the subject as possible.

My Thoughts About Shooting with the TG-5

Since this camera doesn’t have full manual mode, having 2 programmable modes (C1 and C2) straight on the dial of the Olympus TG5 is one of the key functions for usability. I choose to shoot in Aperture priority mode. It is possible to save any setting of any mode under one of the two C1 or C2 quick dial options. My most used mode is for wide angle photography, so this is my C1 option. Since we don’t have an option to set the shutter speed, we have to start with ISO setting first as this will give us more options for Aperture setting later. Depending on the light available, the shutter speed I need (automatically adjusted by the camera) and the subject, I dial ISO in with just a couple of clicks on the quick menu.

Normally, when shooting relatively shallow I keep the ISO low at 100. For deeper photos in less light I will go up to ISO 400, which will immediately give me more shutter speed, especially with Aperture at 2.0 or 2.8. It is really difficult to shoot with much smaller apertures when in deep water, even in clear waters, with this camera. Another trick to use is to change the exposure compensation, again very quickly on the quick menu on the shooting display, to change and improve the shutter speed as needed. However, most of the time we end up pushing the ISO. Correct shutter speed is very important in freediving photography, as we keep moving almost all the time and it can also be used to give a sense of speed in the water to moving objects.  

I highly recommend using the RAW photo format. Normally I use single photo shoot mode, but I do also sometimes use sequential photo mode up to 20fps and Pro Capture mode, which has helped me to capture great over-under photos even on rough surface days. My C2 programmable dial is set for shooting macro, where I can just remove the wet wide angle lens and take nice macro shots, getting the subject really close to the lens of the camera. Again, to save this mode I would actually use microscope mode and dial in ISO. In Microscope mode I cannot adjust the Aperture directly, but I take advantage of the manual focus and colour focus peaking mode, which can be set up in the main menu of the camera. There are some amazing macro shots to be taken with this small setup. I also think that for a beginning photographer, seeing how aperture and ISO affects the shutter speed and behaviour of the camera is a great way to learn about manual options for the future.

For lights, I use a set of iDiving 105 video lights, which are pretty small and light and produce 1500 lumens each (at 5800K). It is not much but they help me to bring up some colours on the subjects I shoot. Most of the time I prefer to shoot with ambient light, since where I dive most we are lucky to have a lot of sunshine and clear water. I do take the video lights most of the time for shots which are a little deeper, or shots where I am shooting against the surface (though I would like a bit more lighting power in these situations). In the future, I am planning to test this setup with strobes, so perhaps my next article I will talk about that!

My original idea was to go for larger setup like the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II. However, for me the most important criteria was how easy I can set up, move and take care of the camera, since I do use it a lot during my work and on trips with clients as a freediving instructor. I also quite like that the camera itself is waterproof, so I don’t have to worry too much about any potential leaks or accidents. The camera is capable of taking good photos, though of course it would be nice to have a bigger sensor and full manual shooting options, as well as better lens options. I will have to keep that in mind for my next setup.

Space for Creativity and Stepping Out of the Crowd

The biggest difference between scuba and freediving photography, in my opinion, is the ability to quickly adjust angles and the positioning of the photographer relative to the subject. This provides a lot more space for creativity, and this is one of the biggest factors which motivates me to shoot pictures while freediving. If it is a picture of a diver descending on the way down, at the bottom gliding next to the animal or object, on the way up, or even on the surface, all of this can be done in one single dive. For this reason I really value having quick saveable custom modes which I can dial in by just a turn of the button, any time during the descent or ascent as I need.

As far as macro, this is one area where scuba wins big time! It is really hard to stay down, find the perfect frame and focus while holding your breath and fighting buoyancy. Because it is very difficult (but not impossible) to do in freediving, any successes are very rewarding! So I welcome the challenge and I am a very big fan of the TG5’s incredible microscope mode, which does allow the acquisition of some great-looking macro shots! 

Pros and Cons - Your Choice!

Freediving as a sport is growing; as an instructor I see more and more people of all age groups wanting to learn to freedive! Taking photos while freediving is a natural progression, and adds another element of creativity which can be very enjoyable for both photographers and the audience. The obvious disadvantage of breath hold diving is counteracted by the freedom of movement, as well as the ability to be in the water for a very long time (over the course of the day) and move in a large area without having to worry about air supply and decompression time. The ability to fly on an airplane immediately after freediving is a big benefit as well!

The big disadvantages are that you lose out on the ability to capture incredible macro shots, the ability to look deep into caves, or the ability to spend lots of time searching for very little animals. Having the privilege of air supply and being able to really take your time makes me want to learn to scuba dive as well! And in the end, I think scuba and freediving both complement each other very well. Being able to freedive instantly improves comfort and air consumption in scuba diving, and being able to scuba dive gives a lot more potential for great macro shots and more time to work with your camera underwater. It seems like the best choice is to do them both! (Editor's note: as a dedicated Scuba diver who recently took a beginner's freediving course, I agree 100% with this). 

Wishing you happy and safe photo hunting!


Gear Links

Additional Reading

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Pavol Ivanov grew up in a landlocked country where the sea and the ocean were only a dream. He grabbed a mask and fins at his first opportunity and has not let go of them since. Keeping with his fascination with the underwater world, and inspired by his idol Jacques de Vos, he trained to become a professional freediver. He swapped his old fully manual 35mm camera, which he got as a present from his father on his 6th birthday, for a digital one in an underwater housing. He now shares his fascination with the ocean and the sea for a living, capturing everyday life in his underwater “office” in Tenerife, Canary Islands with his camera. He lives there with his family. You can follow him on Facebook Atlantis Freediving and Instagram Pavol Ivanov

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2018 Updated: Settings, Filters, Lights, Shooting Tips, Editing & more
By Updated by UWPG Staff

Beginner's Guide to GoPro for Underwater Video

Updated by UWPG Staff
2018 Updated: Settings, Filters, Lights, Shooting Tips, Editing & more

GoPro video cameras have become incredibly popular with divers over the last couple years, set up in a variety of ways to capture fleeting moments underwater. Pole cams, selfie poles, housing mounts, handles, trigger grips, dome ports, tray/arm setups, mask mounts, spear gun mounts and all sorts of other accessories are allowing divers to capture their underwater visions and share them online.

Let’s take a look at the basic functions of the GoPro Hero cameras and how to capture beautiful underwater video. 

Note:  I've revised this article for the HERO6 Black, but it still applies to all GoPro models 3 and above.

Read our GoPro HERO6 Review or view all of our GoPro Tutorials & Articles.

 

How do I Start Shooting Underwater Video?


Preparing the Camera

 You can shoot video with your GoPro almost right out of the box. Step one is to charge the battery. This is done by inserting the battery into the camera and then connecting the camera to a USB plug via the supplied cable. You can also buy a GoPro dual battery charger for a more convenient method of charging batteries.

 

Batteries

You should use a fully charged battery for every dive. You can plug the USB cord in between dives. Or it’s easier to purchase spare batteries, and swap out a full battery after each dive. You can probably stretch out one battery over 2 dives, but it's not worth worrying if the battery is going to die. Having a battery die on you underwater and missing out on a video of a lifetime is not worth trying to stretch out the life of a battery. With a fully charged battery, you can keep the screen at 100% brightness and set the "Auto Off" to "Never," and the "Screensaver" to "Never." This way the LCD screen will always be on and you can see what you are shooting. If you do not set this to Never, the default setting is 1 minute. After 1 minute, your GoPro LCD screen will go black and you will not be able to see what you are shooting.

 

Charge your batteries the night before your dive and make sure you create a system of where the fully charged battery and the used battery is located so you do not mistakenly put in the used battery between dives. It's always a good habit to power up your GoPro and check the battery before each dive.

 

What Micro SD memory card should I use?

Not all Micro SD cards will work in your GoPro, and every GoPro model is a little different. I have tried the wrong memory card before on dives and the camera will lock up in "saving mode." You don't want this to happen in the middle of your dive when there is absolutely nothing you can do about it. Check this link for the official Micro SD card recommendation for the version of your GoPro.

https://gopro.com/help/articles/Block/microSD-Card-Considerations

The higher your resolution and frame rate, the faster your memory card will fill up. I recommend at least a 32gb to 64gb memory card. Anything less will fill up fast. You should be able to make 3 or 4 dives on one memory card.  If you are on longer dive trips with several days of diving, I recommend downloading your files each day to a laptop or external hard drive.

 

Download latest GoPro firmware.

While your battery is charging on your new GoPro, take this time to download the GoPro App on your portable device. The app has a lot of great functions you will find very useful. The app connects your device with your GoPro and allows your GoPro to update the latest firmware.  Updating to the latest firmware will insure your GoPro camera is running at its peak potential.

 

Underwater Dive Housing

The Hero5 and Hero6 are waterproof up to 33ft. Anything past 33ft, you will need a dive housing. If you are using the GoPro Super Suit dive housing, you will need to remove the lens cover before putting the camera inside. The lens cover can be removed by twisting it to the left.  There are 3rd party dive housing where the removal of the lens cap is not needed.

GoPro Hero4 or Hero3 are not waterproof at all. You will need a dive housing to protect your camera from any source of water.

I recommend keeping your camera in a dive housing whenever possible to protect your GoPro from accidents that can easily happen on a dive boat.  

Also pay special attention to the white rubber O-ring on the back cover of the housing. Make sure it is free of hair, lint, dust, sand, or any other debris. A clean O-ring will prevent the chance of water leaking inside and flooding your camera. 

 

Start Recording Underwater Video

To turn on the GoPro Hero5 or Hero6 camera, hold the side mode button down for 2 seconds and release. Push the top button to start recording. Push the top button again to stop the recording. Small red LED lights will flash on front and back of the housing while actively recording video.

 

 

What Video Resolution do I use?

If you are just starting off and don't want to get into intense editing, stick with the default settings of 1080 resolution, 60 frames per second (fps), and Wide field of view. 1080 resolution is what you see on your TV at home and is also referred to as HD. The actual resolution is 1920x1080. 1080 resolution is easier to edit, and is also what you want to post on social media networks to share with your friends and followers.  

If you want to explore higher resolutions, I would recommend 2.7k or 4k. Keep in mind that 4K is difficult to edit. Higher resolutions like 4k require a powerful computer and powerful graphics card to review and edit. The file size can be 4-8x greater (depending on your frame rate) than shooting 1080. There are not many social media platforms where you can share 4K video. If you have no use for 4k, I would recommend staying at 1080 resolution. You can post your 1080 file on social media for your friends and followers.

 

What Frames Per Second should I use?

Frames Per Second (FPS) is the number of frames (pictures) the camera will be creating during every second of video. The more frames that are being shown per second, the smoother the video will be. Hollywood sometimes uses 24 fps in TV and Film to create a more cinematic and dramatic look. This does not work well in the underwater world. Higher frame rates produce better results.

60 frames per second (FPS) is what you should be using underwater.  30 fps is too slow and will result in a more blurred movement. 60 fps is the sweet spot. You can also slow 60 fps down in your editing process and get a slow-motion look.

You can experiment with higher frame rates like 120 and 240. This fps rate is best used in fast action events like a great white eating a tuna head off the side of a boat. Or it is nice to use when filming someone jumping into the water and seeing the splash in slow motion. When you slow down the playback in your post editing software, it creates a nice slow-motion video. Keep in mind that these higher frame rates also mean larger file sizes. This could really fill up your memory card, and could be difficult to play back on your computer. Most of the time anything over 60 fps is an overkill setting for underwater use.

 

Best GoPro Settings for Underwater

If you want to keep things simple I would start off using these settings.

Resolution 1080, 60fps, wide

Auto Exposure, Auto White Balance, Auto Shutter, Set your ISO to 400, Sharpness to High, Color to GoPro.  Turn Screensaver and Auto Off to Never.

If you want more control over color correction in post-production editing software, experiment with the ProTune options. Change the color to "Flat." This will give you more of a raw file that you can adjust in a more complex editing process. 

 

HERO5:  Be sure to check out our GoPro HERO5 Review and Best Settings for Underwater.

Hero4:  Be sure to read our GoPro HERO4 Review and Settings.

 

GoPro Studio for Underwater Video

Tutorial:  Editing underwater video with GoPro Studio 2.0.

 

When do I use a Red or Magenta Filter?

Note: No filters are needed on the GoPro Hero6 Black

Filters are used in underwater video to bring red light back into the picture, providing more color and contrast for the scene. Red filters bring the red color back into blue water while magenta filters are for green water. You can even use different filters at different depths, we recommend the Flip5 filter pro pack.

We do not recommend using filters with underwater lights or in shallow water with plenty of natural sunlight.  Your video will result in a pinkish tone and will not look natural.

To learn the specifics of using filters on the GoPro HERO5, HERO4, Hero 3+ and Hero 3, check out:

Guide to GoPro Underwater Filters

Video:  When to Use GoPro Filters Underwater

 

Should I use video lights?

Video lights are highly recommended when creating underwater videos. The white light from a video light adds missing wavelengths of light that are absorbed in the depths of the water. This will bring out the best possible colors and contrasts in underwater environments. Any light is better than no light. With a wide range of options and costs for underwater lights, the choice can be overwhelming. Use what you can and practice as much as possible.

Underwater lights are good up to about 5 or 6 feet away, depending on the number of Lumens of the light and the visibility of the water. The higher the Lumens on the light, the better. After 5 or 6 feet, the light is absorbed by the water and is overpowered by the blue ambient light that exists underwater. Subjects closer to your lights will have better results than those further away. The direction you point your lights will result in different outcomes (e.g., more or less shadow, softer or harder light, etc.). Experiment around with different angles, adjustments, and power settings until you create your own look and style.  

 

Learn more about lights for underwater video.

View more GoPro Underwater Mounts.

 

How do I Create a Time-lapse for my Dive Video?

Time-Lapse video is really simple with the GoPro Hero4, Hero5, and Hero6. There is a time-lapse setting. Push the mode button to time-lapse or navigate on the LCD touch screen to time-lapse options and select video. You will have an option for how often you want your GoPro to take a shot for the video. The options are in seconds and include .5, 1, 2, 5, 10, 30, and 60 seconds. The faster your scene is moving, the lower the number you want to use. The slower your scene is moving the higher the number you want to use. For example, use a .5s interval for a packing timelapse but a 5 or 10s interval for a sunset with moving clouds. I would recommend staying closer to a lower number on the seconds interval. It's better to have more frames and not need them. You can always speed up the video in editing software if the results are too slow.

Keep in mind that your camera needs to be very steady for a long period of time. Make sure your GoPro is secured tightly and is in a place where nothing can move or bump into your camera.

 

Quick Shooting Tips

1)  Wipe the lens cover on the GoPro and the lens inside the dive housing before every use to make sure no smears, dirt, lint or anything else is on the lens. Even a quick finger touch with sunscreen on your hand will leave a smear on your lens and ruin all of your shots. I wish someone had told me that when I started underwater video. Carry a dedicated small clean towel to clean the lens, and maybe even a can of compressed air is nice to have to blow out any unwanted debris like a small cotton fiber from a towel.  

2)   We all love macro, however your GoPro will only deliver a sharp image if 12 inches or further from the subject. To get closer, check out the PolarPro Macro & Red Switchblade Filter.

3)   Try to hold the camera as steady as possible. Sharp movement, shaking and vibration in your video will make even hearty sailors seasick. Make sure to be slow and smooth when panning the camera.

4) Swap out a fully charged battery before every dive so you won't have to worry about your GoPro dying in the middle of your dive.

5) Use the GoPro App to easily change your camera settings, control your camera, download latest firmware, and instantly review your video shots!

6)  Keep your GoPro at the same temperature as the outside. Bringing a cold GoPro from an air-conditioned hotel room or dive boat to the warm humid outdoors will fog up your dive housing. Keep moister out of your dive housing too. One small drop of water will heat up in your housing and cause it to fog up. 

7)   If you’re not using a tray and handles, make sure your knuckle isn’t visible in the image! Yes, I know this from personal experience.

Want more tips? Read our 3 Tips for GoPro Underwater Video.

 

What’s Next?

All photographers and videographers develop their own personal styles over time. These will lead divers to some of the best underwater photo destinations while also requiring different accessories. Bluewater Photo has listed some of these GoPro underwater video accessories to help you take it to the next level, and check out their amazing holiday specials on video lights.

 

Most of all, stay aware while diving and have fun!

 

 

Manatees at Crystal River by Brent Durand. Filmed with GoPro Hero 3

 

Underwater Videos with the GoPro HERO4 Silver

Anilao, Philippines

 

La Paz, Mexico

 

View all of our GoPro Tutorials & Articles.

 

GoPro Camera Reviews

 

GoPro Tutorials

 

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.

 


How shifting your mindset can significantly improve your underwater photography
By Bryan Chu

Are You Playing to Win or Playing Not to Lose?

Bryan Chu
How shifting your mindset can significantly improve your underwater photography

I went to the Galapagos in April of 2017 for a photo workshop with Bluewater Photography and Travel. I’m not the most experienced diver or underwater photographer (I hit dive 150 while on the trip), and I had been on one previous workshop, which had mostly been focused on macro. I was shooting with the Olympus 8mm F1.8 fisheye lens on my Olympus OM-D E-M1 rig, meaning that to get a good shot of a skittish pelagic like a hammerhead or a mola, I would need to get reallllly close. That, or risk just ending up with a bunch of "ID Photos" (ie photos that show that I saw <insert subject here>, but that's about it). 

Playing to Win

But now I was in the Galapagos. This was a once-in-a-lifetime trip, and there was no way I was going to walk away with only mediocre shots of all the awesome pelagics. So I made a deal with myself at the start of the trip – I would play to win, rather than playing not to lose. Sure, you’re thinking – obviously I should be trying to win. Isn’t everyone always trying to win when they take photos? Actually, it turns out that by my definition, many people are not. So let me define what I mean:

Playing not to lose: when you see something cool, your first thought is “I had better not miss out on this opportunity.” 

 Playing to win: when you see something cool, your first thought is “where can I go and what can I do to have the best chance of getting that amazing contest-winning photo? The one where my subject fills the frame, I get some good eye or face action, the background is perfect and my strobes light everything up evenly?” 

Well, that sounds easy enough, right? Everyone should just be playing to win all the time. But what I saw on this Galapagos trip, with people of varying levels of experience, is that a large portion of the UW photographers seemed to be playing not to lose more often than not. So why is this? 

Well, it turns out that humans are impacted much more by losses than by gains, with some studies finding people were impacted twice as much by a loss as by a gain of the same magnitude. Psychologists call this loss aversion, and what it means is if you finish a dive having missed a great opportunity, it can be quite painful! Playing not to lose is a perfect example of this, as it's driven by people wanting to avoid a loss, to avoid missing out. Playing to win, on the other hand, is based on your vision of the perfect photo, and trying your best to achieve that ideal, even if it means missing out on a significant number of lower-quality opportunities.

The First Test - Eagle Rays

I know what you’re thinking – enough with the psychology already! So let’s get back to underwater photography. We were doing a dive at Wolf. After very poor luck getting close to anything large in 8 dives at Darwin, we were seeing the same thing at Wolf and getting disheartened. So, as we were kicking along, fighting with the current and surge, all of a sudden, a couple of massive eagle rays came around a corner and started heading in our direction! The photographers in our group all rushed towards the first large eagle ray. The guy in the lead was close enough to get in position for a nice shot, and the others getting something, maybe, but nothing really worth showing the group at the end of the day.

I thought about playing to win, which meant I needed to be in front of and below one of these beauties, without other divers in the way, and without getting some kind of rushed, blurry shot against a confusing background of rocks. I looked at the path they were taking and took off to get in front of them and position myself where I thought they would swim by. This was in close to the opposite direction of that taken by the other photographers. I got down in the rocks, checked my settings and waited…and then they changed directions and swam off. Rats! Immediately I started to second-guess my plan, because the other divers all had at least one photo of a large eagle ray, and here I was with nothing at all to show from the encounter. But that’s part of the risk of playing to win, which I had to be willing to accept.

Over the course of this trip, I had quite a few failures; times where playing to win left me with nothing, rather than a mediocre or even a decent photo. And I never did get a good eagle ray photo. But I also had a number of times where this philosophy gave me some of the best photos I have ever taken. 

Hammer Time

Wolf Island, dive 11 of the trip. Scott, our fearless trip leader, had hammered into our heads the perfect setup for a hammerhead shot. Looking up at an angle towards it, so we can expose the white belly and get an eye in the photo. As close as possible...4-5 feet or even less if we could pull it off.

So there we were, creeping towards a school of hammerheads, and trying to balance out bottom time with chances of getting that awesome shot. I had been doing test shots all dive and getting everything prepared, waiting for one good moment...just one good moment, that's all I needed. 11 out of 16 dives at Wolf and Darwin, and I still had zero good hammerhead photos. As Scott guided my movements from rock to rock, I got into position, and finally, I saw a hammerhead coming my direction. I knew that if it got spooked, like if someone behind me fired off a strobe, I would miss my shot. I watched it on my viewfinder as it slowly grew bigger with its approach.

I slowly raised my rig above my head to get the right angle, made sure the exposure looked OK. It continued to get closer, and I felt the urge to take the picture. My playing not to lose voice was screaming at me. "It’s a good photo! It’s a better photo than you’ve ever taken of a shark! And if you don’t take it right now, you might leave the Galapagos, after 16 dives at Wolf and Darwin, with no hammerhead photos!! Do you want to be a failure?" But I waited a bit longer, as it got even closer. 10 ft. I held my breath. Still too far for my strobes. 8 ft. Still too far, and still too small with the fisheye. 6 ft. Still too far, but I had the focus locked in and everything at the ready. 5, and it was at the perfect angle, coming over my head…this was as good as it was going to get…click! It spooked. I had one shot. I checked my viewfinder – success!!

Secret Cave

We dove a location called secret cave, which on first glance was dark and not particularly photogenic. But here’s where a second facet of the playing to win mentality came up, which is not so immediate as when trying to capture a skittish hammerhead, but is still very important. My playing not to lose voice was saying "well just get a couple of photos to show you were in a cave and then you're good." So I fired up my strobes to illuminate some area to show what it looked like, and it was mediocre at best.

I slowed down and started thinking about alternatives. What would playing to win look like? There weren’t any cool cave formations here. The rocks were fairly bland and a bunch of sediment had been kicked up, so strobes were no use. OK, what about divers silhouetted against the ambient light coming in from the opening to the ocean? That could be interesting. So I turned off my strobes, turned out my dive light and positioned myself behind the group as they headed back out of the cave. I imagine they thought I was a weirdo, if anyone even saw me hanging back in the dark, but that was OK with me. I closed my aperture to darken the diver silhouettes, and as I sat back and waited, I saw a very cool image develop on my viewfinder. Bingo.

Mola Mola, Mola Mola

We were diving Punta Vicente Roca, and it was our second dive of the day at a well established mola mola cleaning station. We already had some great mola mola encounters on the first dive. However, in the scrum and mad scramble, with dive computers going off all around as people hit their depth limits, I could not get close enough for a good mola photo. That's another aspect of playing to win, though - know your limits and stay within them. I had about 10 feet deeper to go for a good mola shot when I hit my depth limit, so that was it for me - no mola photo.

After that first dive, one of the divers in my group, Mikhail told me about how he stuck around after the first mola encounter by himself. He said that, some time after the rest of the group went on, the mola returned and he had it to himself. I thought about the rest of the dive...schools of fish, sea lions and turtles, which are all cool, but certainly not mola equivalent. What does playing to win look like here? A close encounter with molas, at the expense of all else, clearly.

So, back to this second dive. After the initial excitement of a big mola, and getting a couple of decent shots from one who came pretty close, I was feeling good. But I still figured I could do better. The rest of the group headed off, while Mikhail and I waited around. We stayed at a shallower depth to conserve bottom time, and checked back on the cleaning station every now and then. On my third time going down to check, I saw perhaps the most magical moment of my short dive career. Two molas appeared out of the blue ahead of me, decending down to the cleaning station like alien spacecraft. Googly eyes rotating in all directions, they parked themselves vertically, side by side, and waited for their turn being cleaned. I went and grabbed Mikhail, and we went down to the molas by ourselves. They both watched us, eyes spinning crazily, as we approached. Closer, closer, closer...nice and calm, nice and slow, no sudden movements. And then, finally, click. Two molas in one photo, and one of the best diving experiences of my life!

Penguin Safari

After the crazy mola dives at PVR, three of us went on a panga to try snorkeling with penguins. That's another piece of the playing to win mindset - making opportunities when you get a chance. After motoring around the bay for awhile, we finally spotted a penguin darting around near the rocks. Galapagos penguins are notoriously difficult to approach, but we figured it was worth a shot. So, two of us hopped in the water and swam towards the rocks. The penguin swam into a bit of a rocky inlet, which could be accessed by the main entryway to the water, or by reaching over some rocks on the side of it. I was at the part where I could reach over the rocks, and I saw the penguin zipping around in the inlet. The other guy was at the mouth of the inlet.

My playing not to lose voice was screaming at me "reach over the rocks and get a photo of that penguin! You need to get a photo right now before it swims off! This is your only chance to get a photo of a Galapagos penguin!" But then I thought about what playing to win would look like. That would be a photo with the penguin at the surface, and water in the background, not some random snap of it zipping around against a rock background.

So I swam around to the mouth of the inlet, positioned myself, made sure my shutter was fast enough to avoid any motion blur, and then waited. I was worried the penguin would swim below or otherwise evade us, but this was the best chance of getting a winning shot. And the penguin decided to slow down and take a leisurely pass right by the two of us. Yeah!!

Galapagos Penguin

 

Manta Madness

Cabo Marshall, the last of the really good dives for the trip. We were told there was a good chance to see large mantas. As I had only ever seen a couple from a distance, this was very exciting. On our second dive of the day the divemaster took us to a small seamount to hang out for a bit. I was not sure why we were there at first, but all of a sudden a big manta passed by! It was too far away for good photos though. 

A few minutes later, an even larger manta showed up. My dive group all went straight for it in a flurry of kicks and bubbles. My playing not to lose voice was going again. "Big manta, this is your first big manta, you have to go straight for it to get a photo or else you're going to miss it!" By this point it was getting easier to quash, so quash it I did. Thinking about playing to win, I knew I wanted to get right underneath of the manta for that classic shot of the white belly and markings framed in Snell's window. And heading straight for it would not come close to accomplishing that.

As the group headed for the manta, I headed off perpendicular to them, kicking as quickly as I could to get into a position where I thought the manta would pass over me. It swam around a bit, and then left behind the members of my dive group. At this point I realized it was coming right towards me! My heart was pounding, partly from the burst of speed and partly from nervousness for the upcoming moment. It kept coming straight at me as I made my final checks: proper exposure settings for a bright surface background, strobes on at the right power and fiber optics plugged in (you never know what can get bumped during a dive). 

As it passed almost directly over me, I felt a level of breathless awe that went beyond me merely being out of breath. So cool. And fortunately, in the midst of this amazing experience, I remembered the most important part; hit the shutter button! Not perfect and not quite centered in Snell's window, but pretty decent!

Manta Ray

On a subsequent dive at Cabo Marshall we encountered a school of juvenile barracuda. I spotted it first and went right for it, taking a few decent photos, and my dive group followed. As others were lining up their photos, I checked mine; good, but not great. I knew what I needed to do to play to win, especially with the fisheye lens; get as close as possible to the school. No, even closer than that. So after the group finished, I went back to the school and swam straight at it. The barracuda were shy but as they got out of my way, they made some very cool patterns. This is what got the first photo in the article; again, not being satisfied with a decent shot, but looking for and working for that winning one.

Conclusion

The playing to win mindset is risky, and you will miss some shots when doing it; I did not get any eagle ray photos the whole trip. And if I had screwed up that hammerhead photo or that penguin photo, I would not have gotten any of those either. But the point is, I was able to override my "playing not to lose" voice and I took a number of risks while playing to win. As an end result, I missed a decent number of opportunities, but also came home with a number of the best photos of my life.

To recap, here's how to live this mindset:

  • Know what an amazing shot of <insert subject here> looks like and think about what it would take to get it
  • When you see your subject, get yourself into position for the amazing shot in case it happens, even if it means missing the mediocre or even the decent one
  • Don't be satisfied with mediocre shots unless you've at least tried to take something more exciting. Always be thinking about what you could do in a given situation for an award-winning shot
  • If your shot is decent, and you have an opportunity to experiment or improve, then do it! Don't worry if everyone else thinks you're being a weirdo - sometimes it will be worth it!
  • Don't forget to slow down and really check your photos every now and then - check for exposure, composition, focus, background and so on, just to make sure that you're ready for the next opportunity when it presents itself
  • Always stay safe - never compromise your safety for that winning shot

Thanks for reading and I hope this helps you to take some cool photos! If you have any comments or questions I'd love to hear from you at bryan@uwphotographyguide.com.

Gear Links

Shoot me an email (bryan@uwphotographyguide.com) if you plan on trying out any of these items or have any questions about the gear I used. My OM-D E-M1 rig is what I learned underwater photography on and I would love to chat about my experience and what you might be looking for! Same goes if you're looking at a Galapagos trip or you have one planned and want to know a bit more about what to expect.

 

Upcoming Galapagos and Socorro (Big Animal) trips

Additional Reading

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bryan is an assistant editor for the Underwater Photography Guide. He loves any activity that takes him out into nature, and is especially fond of multi-day hiking trips, road trips to National Parks, and diving. Any kind of diving. He discovered the joy of underwater photography on a Bluewater trip to the Sea of Cortez, and after "trial and erroring" his way to some level of proficiency, has been hooked ever since. He has not done nearly as much diving as he would like, but has so far taken underwater photos in a diverse range of places, including BC, the Sea of Cortez, Greenland/Iceland, Northern Norway and the Galapagos. 

After working as a chemical engineer at a major oil & gas corporation for 9 years, Bryan finally had enough (and it didn't help that he was living in landlocked Edmonton, Canada with frigid winter temperatures and no real diving to speak of). He and his girlfriend decided to pack up their things and travel the world; they will start their journey mid-2018 and visit a number of great dive locations along the way. He is very excited to expand his underwater photography experience and skills while experiencing new cultures and exciting parts of the world. Though he is also a bit worried about the following equation that has so far defined his dive travels: Corporate job ($$) = Dive travel ($) + Underwater Photography ($). Taking away the left side of that equation seems like it might put things a bit out of balance. But as he reasons, what's the point in life if you can't take some big risks and have some fun along the way?

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Cold water diving the mountain lakes of the Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Ice and Altitude Diving (with bonus crayfish)

Cold water diving the mountain lakes of the Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains.

I think there is a lot of benefit to diving the same sites over and over. However, to grow as a photographer and keep the creative process flowing, it's important to mix things up!

 

So when the crazy idea to learn how to dive under the ice crept into my head, I went for it. I shot a quick Facebook message to a friend and the next thing I know, I'm gearing up at over 7600 feet of elevation looking at the edge of a scenic lake in the eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains less than two weeks later.


The Location

 

The first set of dives were at Silver Lake, near the Ansel Adams Wilderness. It was truly unique to start and end my dives with a backdrop like this. With that said though, you definitely notice the altitude gearing up!

 

For the ice diving portion of the trip, we headed even further up the mountains to find ice. Due to warmer temperatures, most of the lakes the group normally dives were completely free of ice; something my instructor has only seen a few times in the last 30 years. After gearing up for safety, and a short run of the chainsaw later, we had a hole cut out and were ready to dive!

 

 

About the Diving

For normal diving destinations, there is a lot of planning and research done ahead of time to get a feel for what subjects you'll see and what sort of images you want to shoot. Here, not so much. With the compressed timeframe there was almost no research (or planning) and as a result, I stumbled upon something completely unexpected, a croc-adile fish!

 

 

Get it!? Because... ok, ok... bad puns aside, crayfish!  

 

 

These high mountain lakes are home to an abundance of signal crayfish, a species introduced to California, possibly as early as 1898. Since then, they've continued to spread through a number of watersheds and as a result, made some pretty unique subjects when I finished with my training dives.

 

 

About the Shots

Photography in these conditions can be challenging. With frigid 38-40F temps, time in the water is limited. Extremely silty bottoms with no water movement leave little room erratic fin kicks, and bulky drysuit and thick gloves limit mobility and dexterity, making simple changes to camera settings difficult. When shooting the Tokina 10-17, a mini dome was essential to getting up close to these crayfish, and due to the dark, murky water, a focus light such as the Kraken Hydra 1k was crucial as well.


 

Slowing down the shutter speed and bumping the ISO will add a little background color and careful strobe positioning to light the foreground will give you a good starting point to capturing these unique critters. There is definitely room for improvement, but no regrets going out of my comfort zone trying something new!

 

 

 



ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Aaron Halstead is an avid diver, critter enthusiast and underwater photographer living in Southern California. He is pretty addicted, send help.

More work can be found on his InstagramWebsite, or Facebook page.

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Mating Squid Captured in 4K Definition!
By Nirupam Nigam

Sony A7R III 4K Underwater Video

Nirupam Nigam
Mating Squid Captured in 4K Definition!

Check out our full review of the Sony A7R III here! 

(http://www.uwphotographyguide.com/sony-a7r-iii-camera-review)

 

Sony placed itself at the forefront of photographic technology with the introduction of the A7, A7R, and A7s series featuring full frame, 35 mm sensor mirrorless cameras. The release of the Sony A7R III 4K has made new strides in the realm of videography as well. The A7RII boasts 4K video (3840x2160 pixels) with multiple frame rates up to 30 fps and a bitrate of up to 100 mbps. Full HD can be shot up to 120 fps. Upgraded from the A7R II, the A7R III also features a hybrid log gamma profile, 15-stops of dynamic range, and 2.2x the battery life of the A7R II. Without a doubt, underwater videographers, whether professional or amateur, will not be disappointed!

 

For best results change the Youtube video quality settings to 4K (2160p)!

Story Behind the Video

During most California winters, California market squid (Doryteuthis opalescens) congregate on the shallow continental shelf in numbers reaching millions in order to mate, lay eggs, and die. It is a spectacular event to witness where mating squid become so thick in the water column, you can’t see two feet in front of you. Then, after a few wild nights, all that’s left is a desolate moonscape of incubating eggs. Although, I missed the initial squid run this year, a small secondary run occurred at Redondo Beach in the middle of January, 2018. I took the opportunity to film the squid with the new Sony A7R III and Sony 28 mm lens in a Nauticam housing. I also simultaneously tested the Kraken Hydra 2500 macro video light, the Kraken KRL-01 wet wide-angle lens. No color adjustments were made in post-production in order to showcase the white balance of the A7R III and the color of the Kraken Hydra 2500 video light. Overall this combination of equipment is an excellent choice for anyone wishing to shoot wide-angle and close-focus wide-angle underwater video.

The opening shot of the video features a pair of mating squid. The male sees the female, chases it, and latches on. Then, in a brief moment, the male places a sperm sack into the female’s mantel. Due to the speed of the mating process, I had to slow down the video to 50% in post-production. The squid appear out of focus as they get close to the lens only because I didn’t have enough time to adjust my focal point and refocus. The video also depicts a juvenile horn shark, a juvenile bat ray, and a female squid laying its egg sack and promptly passing away.

Underwater Video Gear Used

Nauticam Housing for the Sony A7R III

The Nauticam A7R III housing is ergonomic, safe, and astutely designed for the Sony A7R III. Video is very simple. Pushing the bottom right lever easily turns the video function on and off. Adjusting aperture and shutter speed is the same as when shooting photographs – there are two rotating dials placed within finger distance from the grips. The auto focus point can be moved and refocused when shooting video. The housing includes a moisture alarm and can be modified to include a vacuum seal as double insurance against a flood.

Kraken Hydra 2500 Macro Video Light

Top side photo of Kraken Hydra 2500 Macro Video Light

Although touted for being a macro video light, the Kraken Hydra 2500 is very versatile. The beam angle of 100 degrees was wide enough for my wide-angle video shot with a single light. The color temperature of this light ranges from 5000-5500 K. At full power, I found the color of the white light to be very accurate. The light also features red and blue light options and a strobe mode for underwater photographers. The Kraken 2500 is rated to 100 m/330 ft with 55 minutes of burn time at 2500 lumens. Check out my review of the Kraken 2500 for more information.

Kraken KRL-01 Wet Wide-Angle Lens

The Kraken KRL-01 is an ultrawide wet conversion lens that is screwed onto the front of housings with a 67 mm thread. It is perfect for compact and mirrorless videographers wishing to produce high-quality, detailed video of wide-angle and close-focus wide-angle scenes. The lens is made with high-quality optical glass and coated with multi-layer BBAR coating for anti-reflection and optical clarity. Combined with the Sony 28 mm lens, I was able to take excellent video with almost no minimum focusing distance and a 118.6 degree field of view. The field of view can increase even further if used with a recommended 24 mm lens. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nirupam Nigam is a dedicated underwater photographer and fisheries scientist. While growing up in Los Angeles he fell in love with the ocean and pursued underwater photography in the local Channel Islands. He received degrees in Aquatic and Fisheries Science and General Biology, as well as a minor in Arctic Studies, at the University of Washington. Now he works as a fisheries observer on boats in the Bering Sea and North Pacific. When he is not at sea, he is traveling with his fiancee and taking photos. 

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When art meets technique and mythology inspires conservation
By Chiara Salomoni

Mermaids and Underwater Fashion Photography

Chiara Salomoni
When art meets technique and mythology inspires conservation

At some point in our lives, we all wonder what is hidden beneath the ocean’s depths. This same curiosity for the sunken world has inspired the minds of many throughout history. Fantasy become myth, folklore, and timeless literature. Such is how the mythical figure of the mermaid came to life and never really stopped intriguing us. 

Turning Myth into Reality

Photography takes an ocean tale and pushes it a step forward, transforming it into a reality. At some point, as photography took its place among the arts, someone decided to experiment underwater, making a new medium available to our craft. 

Water is where fashion takes a new shape and gives us the chance to bring history’s wildest dreams to life. Not only have we reinvented the figure of the  mermaid, but we have given her a new meaning. An advocate for ocean conservation is born from this myth, inspiring change throughout the world.

 

From Fashion to Conservation

In an environment free from gravity’s rules, we can create concepts and share our vision with the world. With underwater photography we can make our own art – reaching the minds of those who don’t speak our language and inspiring compassion in those who won’t listen to simple words. Coral bleaching, pollution,  and captivity become important concepts made visual through photography.

Photoshoot after photoshoot, my transition from photography to conservation photography happened almost on its own. Shoots went from being just fashion related to carrying conservation concepts. It soon became my focus. Now I travel to make underwater and mermaid photoshoots available to everybody. This brings ocean awareness around the world. My traveling has also created the opportunity for me to go to schools and teach children about ocean conservation.

 

From the Studio to the Water

Techniques in underwater photography often go hand in hand with those you would use in the studio. The major difference is the addition of dedicated camera housings and waterproof strobes powerful enough to work through a dense medium like water. I find most housings are great for pool shoots, as long as they can be synced to a strobe and vacuum sealed. I prefer to work with underwater housings that allow you to work in deep water as well, like Nauticam, Aquatica and Easydive. Personally, the ocean is where I have the most fun during my photoshoots. All photographs in this article were shot with a Nikon D800, Nikkor 24mm f/1.4 lens, and Sea & Sea YS-250 PRO strobes.

Lighting and Technique

Lighting a subject is the biggest challenge in fashion shoots. Adapting powerful strobes from shooting underwater wildlife to portraits of people can be difficult - how well you light a scene can set you apart from other photographers. In the pool I often light my subjects with remote strobes using an optical slave flash trigger built into my Sea & Sea YS-250 strobes.

When using stationary lighting, a photographer will have to learn how to move in the water to capture the best light as the subject moves. In the pool it is best to work with your model at the shallow end without a scuba tank. Constantly reposition the model, keeping your lights on tripods. If you are using strobes with a slave function, make sure all the lights are in visual range of one another. They trigger via light waves so if they are obstructed, they won’t fire. In the ocean, the best results are achieved once the whole team is on scuba and the model is weighed down in one spot.

Pool vs the Ocean

In the pool, underwater photography comes together easier than in the ocean, where conditions are usually completely out of one’s control. The advantage of working in the pool is the ability to control almost everything (water temperature, visibility, etc.) under a small budget. In the ocean and even freshwater environments, backgrounds are more beautiful, and there is always the potential to be visited by curious wildlife. However, adding props becomes costlier, and building a set takes more time and effort in an environment that changes conditions extremely quickly. In the ocean, safety divers are often used to make sure your concept will be executed smoothly and safely.

Conclusion

Underwater photography has allowed me to follow my dreams of a life spent in the water, connecting me with incredible and caring people working in conservation around the world. As technology becomes more advanced, limits fade away, leaving us with the privilege to experiment and create our own path in the history of photography.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Chiara is a photographer specialized in underwater wildlife and fashion. She grew up in Italy, experiencing the beauty of the sea since a really young age. In 2010, Chiara graduated from the Brera Academy of fine Arts in Milan and then moved to California to study photography at Brooks institute, Santa Barbara. CoFounder of Project Mermaids, a project with profits donated to SaveOurBeach.org, she is now working with Keiko Conservation leading its Italian chapter. Most recently she co-created Mermaids for Change, an organization built around education, ocean conservation, and photography.

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An Expert's Perspective on a Newly Emerging Art Form
By Mike Bartick

The Art of Blackwater Photography

Mike Bartick
An Expert's Perspective on a Newly Emerging Art Form

The idea of back rolling into the open ocean at night, may not be a fun idea for the uninitiated. In fact, open ocean diving at any time of the day sends chills up a diver's spine. The 360-degree environment can be intimidating to say the least, but once a diver’s skills have been mastered, exploring the open ocean is limitless.

Blackwater diving is reaching a fever pitch with underwater photographers worldwide. What started out as just a few who dared to venture into the open ocean at night, is rapidly becoming the next big thing for underwater photography. 

In this short article, I will try to introduce some of the key dive skills needed for blackwater diving as well as photo tips for capturing blackwater images - how to find the subjects, how to approach them, and the special gear needed to do it.

Blackwater Diving vs Bonfire Diving

So as not to confuse the terms and to establish a clear difference, there is “Blackwater diving” and “Bonfire diving”.

Blackwater diving is done in the open ocean; it is NOT an ordinary night dive with a subject photographed in the dark. Blackwater diving is done where there is no bottom, over very deep water, using a downline and lights to attract larval and pelagic subjects.

Bonfire diving is done over a shallow area by using torches planted in the sand or hanging them in the water (or both) facing deeper water. During a Bonfire dive, one can expect to see subjects that are still larval but closer to the settling stages of their lifecycle. Bonfire style dives are also a great way to learn the dive skills, hunting skills and photo skills needed for blackwater diving but without the stress. 

Both styles of diving are equally important to gain a better understanding of the marine world. Both will expose divers to a variety of jellyfish, salp, comb jellies, pterapods. shrimps, octopus, squids, the list is endless…

Technique and Tips

Dive technique is critical to capturing better images, and never more importantly then when black water diving. Limiting your hand movements and fin kicks are essential as personal pressure waves cause your target subjects to close up, spin away, or worse, disintegrate. Using a strong hand-held torch with a tight beam, search the dark water for reflective subjects or anything that might catch your eye. Once found, use the subject’s momentum to drift along with it, and photograph it to the best of your ability. Mastery over dive skills really plays an important role in this environment, and it will take a few dives to get it dialed in.

Camera Settings

When shooting blackwater subjects, I suggest the following settings:

• Higher ISO – (360-600 for DSLR)

• Higher F-stops – (f/18-f/25)

• Shutter speed – 1/200 sec

I prefer higher ISO so that I can push my f-stop higher while using a lower strobe power. This allows my strobes to recycle faster for repeat exposures. If the subject is shiny, quickly increase your f-stop to reduce over-exposures. If the subject is a little further away, open your f-stop.

Lens Choice 

DSLR’s with a crop sensor are best with a 60mm lens. For Nikon shooters with a full framed sensor, experiment in the DX mode while using the 60mm. A wider angle of view is very helpful for framing your subject and for working at a closer distance. The further your subject is from the lens, the more backscatter and haze will occur in the frame. Canon shooters with a full frame can try a 100mm lens. Diopters are not normally used in blackwater diving but hey, it’s your dive, go for it.

Strobe Positions and Lights

For close work, aim your right strobe to the 8:00 O’clock position and the left strobe to the 4:00 O’clock position. Try not to aim the strobes at each other across your lens port. If the subject is further from the lens, position the strobes 12 inches from the handles on each side, facing slightly out. This works well for squid, octopus, larger jellyfish and more.

For my focus light, I prefer to use the Hydra 2800 from kraken sports. It has a nice, even cast of light that I point bdown and over my lens port. This allows the camera to focus quickly so that I can see my subject better when shooting. I also use the Hydra 1k hand held torch to search the water for my subject. When I see something interesting I keep my torch on the subject and work myself into position until my focus light can take over. Using a torch with a tight beam to search with, will allow you to see further into the darker water then a wide bright light. Diving with a wide bright torch is similar to driving through the fog with your high beams on.

Backscatter is an inherent hazard of shooting photos while doing blackwater dives. While critical backscatter might distort your subject, and should be avoided, I don’t get hung up on non-damaging backscatter. This is the environment, and I think a little backscatter even adds to the photo by adding dimension and space, rather than a pure black background.

Photo Workshops

Anilao, Philippines is quickly becoming established as the best place to pursue blackwater photography.

Join our April/May 2018 Anilao photo workshop for the opportunity to experience the surreal world of blackwater diving!

 

April 19 - April 29, 2018 (10 Nights)

&

April 29 - May 6, 2018 (7 Nights)*

 

10 Nights: $2,299 Shared Room, $2,849 Private Room
7 Nights: $1,699 Shared Room, $2,199 Private Room

*We will hold some rooms from May 6-9, so guests can stay for 10 nights


In Search of the Missing Link

Most ID books introduce the reader to the three main phases of marine life development – juvenile, sex or reproductive phase, and terminal phase. What books don’t cover are the pre-juvenile stages that I find to be fascinating – the larval and settling stages. Larval and settling subjects look completely different than their adult counterparts, have different behaviors, and make for some truly unique photo ops.

All of the ocean-going subjects that we see on reefs or swimming around us begin as plankton (except mammals and sharks). They drift and migrate vertically and horizontally as the current dictates. Some of these plankton will spend their entire lives at sea while others will develop fur-ther and settle into sand or continue as ocean-going pelagic fish.

Its these larval subjects that are the real jewels on blackwater dives. Once found, take as much time as you can with them to watch and photograph them.

Just because you’re in deep water, doesn’t mean you need to go deep to find the subjects. Many times, the action is in the top 45 feet or near the surface. If its calm and the water is glassy, take advantage of it and try to get the reflection of your subject near the surface

I have recently started a Facebook page called “Blackwater Photo Group”. There are shooters from all over the world adding to the forum each day. Many of the members are also scientists and have helped to assign ID’s to our subjects. I invite everyone who reads this to pursue that forum for more images like these and to ask questions about blackwater diving.

Enjoy the experience and remember to keep safety first when blackwater diving.

- Mike Bartick

Special Thanks to Kraken Sports for supporting the exploration teams in Bali, Anilao, and Ambon.

Special gear used - Kraken Hydra Solar flare 10k, 8k, 5k, 2800 and 1k for drifting downline and hunting.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mike 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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Scott reveals the ten secrets to getting beautiful photos of mating Mandarin Fish underwater
By Scott Gietler

Master Class Tutorial - Great Mandarin Fish Photos

Scott Gietler
Scott reveals the ten secrets to getting beautiful photos of mating Mandarin Fish underwater

Mandarin Fish Photos - an introduction

Welcome to the 2nd article in a series of Master Class tutorials on the Underwater Photography Guide. Today we are going to talk about photographing mandarin fish, which I consider to be one of the most difficult underwater subjects to photograph. Mandarin fish pose many challenges: they are shy, difficult to find, difficult to focus on, and the peak of the action moment only lasts for a brief second.

Mandarin fish generally mate almost every night at sunset, rising over the reef for a mere second or two before releasing their eggs and "fleeing the scene". Many of my mandarin fish photos have simply ended up being eggs with no fish in the photo.

In this article, I want to set expectations accordingly. Getting a great mandarin fish photo often involves a lot of time and effort in terms of research, practice, equipment purchases, and repeated dives. But I am confident that if you put in the work and follow these steps, eventually you will take a photo you will be very proud of.

 

mandarin fish underwater

 

#1 - Go where the Mandarin Fish are

Many dive resorts around the world have reliable dive sites with mandarin fish. Examples are Anilao, Lembeh, Dumaguete, Yap, Sipadan, Wakatobi and Palau.

 

#2 - Get the right camera / lens

You want to use the best underwater camera setup you can afford, in order to quickly focus in low light on the mandarin fish. With a compact camera, this type of photo will be very difficult, although using a Sony RX100 series or Canon G7X series camera will be better than using other compact cameras.

The next step up is a mirrorless camera with an Olympus 60mm macro lens. You can also use the Sony 90mm macro lens if you have a Sony mirrorless camera, but it is not known as the fastest focusing lens on the market.

However, the best option by far is a newer model NIkon or Canon dSLR with a 100mm or 105mm macro lens. Full frame cameras will give you more room for error with respect to composition, than a cropped sensor camera.

 

#3 - Get a red focus light

This is perhaps the most important advice. Without a good red light, your goal of a great mandarin fish photo becomes significantly more difficult. I use the Sola 800 photo light (mention this article for an additional discount from the Bluewater Photo staff). Mandarin fish do not like white light, and if you repeatedly shine a white light on them, it is likely that they will never leave the reef to mate.

female Mandarin fish

#4 - Learn how to find your own Mandarin Fish

It is not difficult to learn the habitat of mandarin fish, and where to find them on the dive site. They usually live in dead Acropora coral in shallow water. The dive guides will usually get you to the dive site before sunset, giving you time to slowly swim around the coral and look for some mandarin fish. Before the sun sets, they will be sitting still or moving slowly inside the coral. Your objective is the largest, fattest mandarin fish you can find - I've generally had the best overall luck with these.

 

#5 - Taking the practice shots

After finding your mandarin fish, you want to take some practice shots. These shots should not have the mandarin fish in them. Instead, you should take a photo of coral about 2 or 3 feet away, the same distance your great mandarin fish photo will hopefully be. I generally shoot at F9, ISO 400, 1/250th with my dSLR. Strobes should be pointed slightly outward, and the strobe power turned down so the coral is correctly exposed. 

 

#6 - Watch the activity

Your mandarin fish needs to find a mate. As sunset approaches, the mandarin fish and its mate will do a dance in the coral, hopping around and possibly eluding you. Keep a careful eye on your fish. The activity will gradually increase, and your pair of fish will get closer and closer together. You need to be ready for them to rise up and mate at any time.

 

 

#7 - Get the right angle and background

The problem with shooting fish in dead coral, is that the coral is often in the photo, and it does not make for a pretty background. Ideally you would find a pair of fish that are at a "high point" in the coral, so when they rise up, there is not coral directly behind them. It will help to get low, get close and shoot up. If there is coral in the background, you want it to be out of focus as much as possible. Using a long lens or zooming in if you have a compact, getting as close to the fish as possible, having the coral as far away as possible, and shooting at a fairly wide-open aperture will all help blur the coral in the background.

 

#8 - Be kind to the fish and give them space

Mandarin fish do not like lots of attention. They don't like divers getting close or hovering over them. They hate strobes. They hate dive lights. They don't like bubbles. They tolerate a little bit of red light. The more space, privacy and peace & quiet you can give them, the more likely they are to "do the act" and not be rushed doing it. You have to find the right balance between giving them space, and keeping an eye on them while they move around and increase their activity so you don't lose them or miss the moment.

 

#9 - Pray to the underwater photo gods

Even if you do everything right, the underwater gods may not favor your photo. Do not despair if the fish do not mate, or if they mate so quickly you miss the shot. I would plan on at least 2 dives on the site, on 2 different nights, so you get familiar with where the fish live, how active they become before they rise up, and have a better chance that they will mate on at least one of the 2 nights.

When the mandarin fish are about to mate, I like to watch the fish through the viewfinder, keeping my eye on the viewfinder and my finger on the shutter. Note that the first time you do a mandarin fish dive, it will be difficult for you to know when this moment will occur. That is why it is important to do the dive more than once.

They will rise up for 2 to 3 seconds, release the eggs, and then disappear. If you press the shutter too early, the fish will be too low, with too much coral in the background. You need patience to wait for them to rise up. As soon as they stop rising, that is the moment to take the photo. Take the photo too early, and they might separate before mating.

 

 

#10 - Book your trip! 

You won't get a great mandarin fish shot reading this article. :)  Here's some great opportunities to get a great shot

Anilao Dec 2017 (1 spot left)

Anilao April / May 2018 with Erik Lukas & Mike Bartick

Dumaguete June 2018 at Atmosphere Resort

Lembeh at NAD Resort in Oct 2018 (email for details)

 

Mandarin fish with eggs

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Scott Gietler is the owner of Bluewater Photo, Bluewater Travel, and the Underwater Photography Guide. Bluewater Photo, based in Santa Monica, CA is one of the world’s largest and most prestigious underwater camera stores, serving many thousands of customers each year, where nothing is more important than customer service. The Underwater Photography Guide is the world’s first website to feature free tutorials on underwater photography, and has become the most trafficked resource on underwater photography worldwide. Bluewater Travel is a full-service dive travel wholesaler sending groups and individuals on the world’s best dive vacations. 

Scott is also an avid diver, underwater photographer, and budding marine biologist, having created the online guide to the underwater flora and fauna of Southern California. He is the past vice-president of the Los Angeles Underwater Photographic Society, has volunteered extensively at the Santa Monica aquarium, and is the creator of the Ocean Art underwater photo competition, one of the largest underwater international photo competitions ever held in terms of value of prizes. He lives in California with his wife, newborn girl and scuba-diving, photo taking 4 year old son.

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Newly updated - settings recommendations for the E-M1 Mark II Camera when shooting underwater.
By Kelli Dickinson

Best Underwater Settings for the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II Camera

Kelli Dickinson
Newly updated - settings recommendations for the E-M1 Mark II Camera when shooting underwater.

Navigation:

Olympus has long been a forerunner in high quality mirrorless cameras, with models that not only work well topside, but also work wonderfully underwater. The OM-D E-M1 further pushed the quality of these cameras with a more professional body style and more functionality. Now, with the release of the E-M1 Mark II camera, Olympus continues to improve on these great mirrorless cameras.

Learn about the E-M1 Mark II in our full Review.

The OM-D E-M1 Mark II offers 4K video recording, improved autofocus, a megapixel increase from 16 to 20 MP with improved image processing, improved battery life, and faster sequential shooting, among many other upgrades. The only downside is that the high shutter sync speed of 1/320th on the E-M1 was reduced back down to 1/250th with the Mark II.

Below I've compiled several good starting camera settings for different shooting situations. Following that is a list of the most important, or required settings that are crucial to change on your E-M1 Mark II when shooting underwater. Last, we'll take an in-depth look at the menu system of the OM-D E-M1 Mark II so you can fine tune your camera for the best underwater shooting experience.

Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II Shooting Settings

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

  • Manual mode, F16-22, 1/2500th, 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 on camera flash to manual 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 **

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

  • Manual mode, F16-22, 1/250th, 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 on camera flash to manual 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 very close.

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Settings for Wide Angle with 8mm Fisheye or 9-18mm 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 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 (1/250th), and you'll need to stop down your aperture to F16 or F22 to avoid blowing out the highlights

  • 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.

Note: These settings also are great for starting points for shooting with a kit lens (14-42mm), and for fish portraits with the 60mm macro lens.

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Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II Set Up for Underwater Use

The E-M1 Mark II works well straight out of the box, and some of the features that needed to be changed in previous models are now set default, making it an even easier transition to underwater.

1) Live View Boost - this is very important due to the way we shoot underwater. Many shots, macro specifically, are taken with very little ambient light coming into the camera. If left off the LCD on the camera would appear black, making it impossible to compose your image. The E-M1 Mark II offers the ability to set the Live View Boost depending on your shooting mode. Here are our recommendations:

  • Manual Mode - ON1 - this is the default and means your LCD will not display the exposure settings, but rather will show a bright screen for the best viewing. Note - this is actually the camera default.
  • Bulb Time / Live Composite - you can skip for underwater
  • Others - ON1 - this is for any other setting (P / A / S and Art Modes). Since these are auto settings, which should adjust other settings automatically you should always be able to compose based on the LCD, but to be safe turn ON the Live View Boost to always have a bright easy to see screen image.

2) EVF Auto Switch - the E-M1 Mark II offers an electronic viewfinder and the camera is set up to automatically switch between the LCD and the EVF when you put your eye up to it. This is problematic underwater, as the rear housing door will trip the sensor and the view will always be on the EVF. Follow these steps to disable the Auto Switch.

Custom Menu -> I: EVF -> EVF Auto Switch -> OFF.

3) The Flash - if you are shooting with an underwater strobe, do not forget to attach the accessory flash to the camera. All uw strobes fire via fiber optic and require the flash to fire from the camera.

4) Flash Modes - if you are using a 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 strobe in manual mode* you can save battery life by changing the 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

*Remember - if you change the flash mode on the camera, you are also changing the pre-flash. When shooting manual flash on the camera, make sure you are using a no pre-flash mode on your strobe.

5) Rear Control Buttons - the default setting on the E-M1 rear arrow key buttons controls only the focus point, limiting the functionality of those buttons. You can customize two of the buttons instead to gain quick, one-touch access to important features.

Custom Menu -> B: Button/ Dial/Lever -> Button Function -> Key Function (option with the four arrow key icon) -> Direct Function -> OK

Now you have access to change the right and down arrow key controls on the back of the camera. (Up gives control of Aperture / Shutter Speed without the dials and Left gives control over the focus point, these are NOT customizable). You have the same options for both customizable buttons, I suggest reviewing each and picking the ones that best suit your needs. For example, I left my camera at the default to have direct access to the flash mode via the right arrow key and direct access to the sequential shot/ timer mode for the down key. (The sequential shot is not something used much underwater but I find i use it alot topside, so it was important to have direct access for me.)

6) 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 after taking a photo.

 Set Up Menu (wrench icon) -> 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

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OM-D E-M1 Mark II Button & Auto Focus Set Up:

The auto focus set up on the E-M1 Mark II is very similar to the E-M1. The camera will work smoothly right out of the box, for for more control, you can set up an advanced autofocus system to aid in your underwater photography.

Set Up for Nauticam Housings

The Nauticam Housing is designed much like their DSLR housings with built in handles and a leverl style shutter release. They reposition buttons to make a more streamlined user experience and help you have the right controls within easy reach. Here are our recommendations to take full use of the AEL / AFL button and advanced focus options.

Button Functions (Custom Menu -> B: Button / Dial / Lever -> Button Function)

Previously you had to assign, or reassign some buttons to create an advanced autofocus system, now that is no longer needed. Scroll through the options in the setting to choose special functions you'd like control over. For example Fn1 is well placed on the Nauticam housing to act as your "One Touch White Balance" control... Here are the options I selected:

  • Fn1 - One Touch White Balance (useful for video and ambient light shooting)
  • Fn2 - MF - this allows you to quickly switch between Manual Focus and your current focus mode (S-AF or C-AF). This comes into play when using the AEL / AFL focus lock feature.
  • REC - I leave this as record, for quick movie capture.
  • AEL / AFL - I leave this as is so you can have access to the focus lock function
  • All other customizable buttons - I have not changed any of those, you can view the options and decide what works best for your shooting style.

Focus Settings for the Nauticam Housing - use this advanced set up to allow you to split out the focus from the shutter release. This can be extremely useful for macro shooting.

  • AEL / AFL - set the Auto Focus Lock settings to separate focus from the shutter based on the focus mode on the camera.
    • S-AF - Mode 1 - this is the default, standard focus on a camera. Press the shutter half way to focus, all the way to take a photo. I leave S-AF as default for topside and underwater wide angle shooting, when I don't want to miss a focus, and am often needing to refocus between shots.
    • C-AF - Mode 3 - this separates the shutter release from the auto focus so you can refocus the camera from the AEL/AFL button and not risk taking a photo. I use C-AF primarily for video, so it is helpful to be able to refocus mid clip and not risk having the clip split by taking a photo.
    • MF - Mode 3 - same as C-AF, this separates the shutter release from the auto focus so you can lock focus and then take as many exposures as you like without refocusing the camera. When using this mode on Manual Focus you get the ability to both manually focus the camera with a focus gear in the housing, or use the AEL/AFL for auto focus. It is a perfect set up for shooting macro.

Now that you have set up these modes, you can shoot a picture "normally" (half shutter to focus) when in S-AF mode. Simply press Fn2 to swith from S-AF to MF focus mode and now when you press the shutter release halfway nothing happens. Focusing is done through the AEL/AFL button, or manually with a focus gear on the lens. This is perfect for macro shooting when a macro lens, like the 60mm, may hunt some and not lock exactly where you want. A minor adjustment towards or away from the subject brings your focus in line much easier than trying to refocus the lens. In addition, by using Fn2 to switch between focus modes, you have both a wide set up (or topside) and a macro set up ready to go at the touch of a button. You will not have to dig through the menu to fix focus options again.

Using the 1:2 Lever on the Camera - the 1:2 lever is a nice addition to the Olympus Cameras, allowing quick change of controls without many button presses. You can ignore this feature or assign it however you like, here are the functions to set this up.

  • Custom Menu -> Fn Lever Settings -> Fn Lever Function
    • I chose to leave this on Mode1 which means when you flip the lever it changes the function of the two primary control dials on the camera. Mode 3 may also be useful if you switch between video and photo shooting and want more than the quick record option or clicking the mode dial around to the dedicate movie mode.
    • Switch Function - OFF - I do not use the HDR / AF button on the left of the camera when underwater, so I don't have the 1:2 affect the modes of that button.
  • Fn Lever / Power Lever - If you want to be able to have single hand control, you can move the ON/OFF function from the dedicate power lever to the 1:2 lever switch. I don't need this, so just leave that option at Fn for function control.
  • Dial Function - here is where you can select which specific function each dial controls based on the position of the 1:2 lever. This is broken down all the way to specific shooting mode, giving you a lot of control on the set up of the camera. My primary shooting mode underwater is Manual, so scroll down to the M option and click OK. I don't change the 1 position function (Shutter and Aperture.. but you can flip them if you prefer aperture on your rear dial). Then press INFO to get to the function options when the lever is in the 2 position. I choose WB (white balance) and ISO. Click OK to save.
    • Now that this is set up, you can test it. In manual mode, with the lever in position 1 the shutter speed and aperture number will be green, or active. If you rotate the dials you'll see those change. Now flip the lever to position 2 and you'll notice that the ISO and WB icons are now green. If you rotate the front dial ISO changes. Click OK to save. If you rotate the rear dial, you can select a White Balance mode. OK to save. To get back to shutter and aperture, just flip the lever to position 1.
    • You can set it up as you like for all other shooting modes (P / A / S / Menu / Playback)

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Set Up for Olympus Housings (PT-EP14)

Improvements have been made on the Olympus housing, making it a nice option for those on a budget. However, unlike Nauticam, Olympus does not move controls around much on the housing, so some compromises have to be made regarding set up.

You can set up an advanced auto focus system by splitting out the focus function from the shutter, but as the AEL / AFL button is not repositioned, it is somewhat harder to reach and not recommended for use in this scenario. Instead, reassign the Fn1 button to control AEL / AFL, then follow the mode set up below.

In addition, with the change of the accessory flash, you no longer have to use Olympus' dedicated underwater mode to get the flash to fire. This means you do not have to assign that function to a button, and gives you more custom control over how your system is set up.

Preparing the Camera for the UW Housing - follow these steps to ensure the camera is ready to be installed in the housing.

  • Remove the camera strap and any filters from the lens.
  • Remove the Eye Cup from the Electronic Viewfinder

If you leave those items attached you may not be able to install the camera (strap for example). Others, like a filter or the eye cup, can put pressure on the housing and lead to a flood.

Focus Settings for the Olympus Housing - use this advanced set up to allow you to split out the focus from the shutter release using the Fn1 button for focus. This can be extremely useful for macro shooting.

  • Button Function -
    • Fn1 - AEL / AFL - because the Fn1 button is better positioned to use for focusing.
    • Fn2 - MF - this allows you to quickly switch between Manual Focus and your current focus mode (S-AF or C-AF). This comes into play when using the AEL / AFL focus lock feature.
    • REC - I leave this as record, for quick movie capture.
    • AEL / AFL - you can ignore or assign for one touch White Balance.
    • All other customizable buttons - I have not changed any of those, you can view the options and decide what works best for your shooting style.
  • AEL / AFL - set the Auto Focus Lock settings to separate focus from the shutter based on the focus mode on the camera.
    • S-AF - Mode 1 - this is the default, standard focus on a camera. Press the shutter half way to focus, all the way to take a photo. I leave S-AF as default for topside and underwater wide angle shooting, when I don't want to miss a focus, and am often needing to refocus between shots.
    • C-AF - Mode 3 - this separates the shutter release from the auto focus so you can refocus the camera from the Fn1 button and not risk taking a photo. I use C-AF primarily for video, so it is helpful to be able to refocus mid clip and not risk having the clip split by taking a photo.
    • MF - Mode 3 - same as C-AF, this separates the shutter release from the auto focus so you can lock focus and then take as many exposures as you like without refocusing the camera. When using this mode on Manual Focus you get the ability to both manually focus the camera with a focus gear in the housing, or use the Fn1 for auto focus. It is a perfect set up for shooting macro.

Now that you have set up these modes, you can shoot a picture "normally" (half shutter to focus) when in S-AF mode. Simply press Fn2 to swith from S-AF to MF focus mode and now when you press the shutter release halfway nothing happens. Focusing is done through the Fn1 button, or manually with a focus gear on the lens. This is perfect for macro shooting when a macro lens, like the 60mm, may hunt some and not lock focus exactly where you want. A minor adjustment towards or away from the subject brings your focus in line much easier than trying to refocus the lens. In addition, by using Fn2 to switch between focus modes, you have both a wide set up (or topside) and a macro set up ready to go at the touch of a button. You will not have to dig through the menu to fix focus options again.

Using the 1:2 Lever on the Camera - the 1:2 lever is a nice addition to the Olympus Cameras, allowing quick change of controls without many button presses. You can ignore this feature or assign it however you like, here are the functions to set this up.

  • Custom Menu -> Fn Lever Settings -> Fn Lever Function
    • I chose to leave this on Mode1 which means when you flip the lever it changes the function of the two primary control dials on the camera. Mode 3 may also be useful if you switch between video and photo shooting and want more than the quick record option or clicking the mode dial around to the dedicate movie mode.
    • Switch Function - OFF - I do not use the HDR / AF button on the left of the camera when underwater, so I don't have the 1:2 affect the modes of that button.
  • Fn Lever / Power Lever - If you want to be able to have single hand control, you can move the ON/OFF function from the dedicate power lever to the 1:2 lever switch. I don't need this, so just leave that option at Fn for function control.
  • Dial Function - here is where you can select which specific function each dial controls based on the position of the 1:2 lever. This is broken down all the way to specific shooting mode, giving you a lot of control on the set up of the camera. My primary shooting mode underwater is Manual, so scroll down to the M option and click OK. I don't change the 1 position function (Shutter and Aperture.. but you can flip them if you prefer aperture on your rear dial). Then press INFO to get to the function options when the lever is in the 2 position. I choose WB (white balance) and ISO. Click OK to save.
    • Now that this is set up, you can test it. In manual mode, with the lever in position 1 the shutter speed and aperture number will be green, or active. If you rotate the dials you'll see those change. Now flip the lever to position 2 and you'll notice that the ISO and WB icons are now green. If you rotate the front dial ISO changes. Click OK to save. If you rotate the rear dial, you can select a White Balance mode. OK to save. To get back to shutter and aperture, just flip the lever to position 1.
    • You can set it up as you like for all other shooting modes (P / A / S / Menu / Playback)

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Olympus OM-D E-M1 Specific Menu Settings

The Olympus E-M1 Mark II has an extensive menu system, with the ability to control, customize or select many options to create the perfect camera for your shooting style. In this section we've listed out all the custom menu options on the E-M1 Mark II as they relate to underwater photography. 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 Vivid, because it enhances reds & oranges. NOTE: this only affects photos shot as .JPG, RAW images will not be affected.

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 

Bracketing* - Leave at default of OFF

HDR* - Leave at default of OFF

Multiple Exposure* - Leave at default of OFF

*These settings all control creative photo styles. You may choose to experiment with them, but for most normal shooting situations you'll leave them off.

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 A1: 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.

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. The set up will vary depending on which housing you use, so please see the Housing Settings section above for specific details. 

AF Scanner - This option controls how quickly the camera will stop hunting when an image is out of focus or in low contrast lighting situations. For most shooting leave at the default of mode2. This will run the scanner once. If the camera does not lock focus then release the shutter and try again. I find this quicker than sitting there holding the shutter and waiting for the camera to lock in when in a hard to focus situation. Using a focus light will limit these issues as well.

C-AF Lock - OFF - unless you are using the C-AF, this won't be necessary. If you are using that Auto Focus mode, this feature adjusts how sensitive the target activity level of the AF sensor is during continuous AF. Set it to the level you desire if using C-AF.

AF Limiter - This limits the range that the camera will focus. You can preset the distance yourself. I choose to leave this OFF so I retain full range of my lens.

AF Target Mode Options - Allows you to activate or deactive the various Auto Focus Target Modes.

AF Area Pointer - Allows you to choose how the green AF square is displayed.

Menu A2: AF/MF

AF Targeting Pad - leave at default.

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.
 

AF Custom Settings - Allows you to set up how the AF settings are controlled. Fine to leave at defaults unless you prefer your own set up.

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. 

AF Focus Adj - Adjusts target AF points based on the lens you're using, advanced operation only, I recommend leaving at default setting, OFF.

Menu A3: AF/MF

Preset MF Distance - Allows you to preset a distance for Manual Focus

MF Assist -Allows controls of magnification and peaking for manual focus, this is only useful if using a Focus Gear with the 60mm Macro lens. If using a focus gear with manual focus, both options can be useful to accurately lock focus.

MF Clutch - **VERY USEFUL** The MF Clutch is the manual focus ring on the Olympus PRO lenses. This allows for fast change between Auto Focus and Manual Focus. However, for us UW photographers, it can be a big problem, if you accidentally set up your gear with this engaged in manual focus you lose all focus control. However, this menu setting allows you to deactivate the Clutch, which returns normal auto focus controls to your camera regardless of what position that ring is in. Never miss a dive due to an error in set up!

I leave this as Operative (for topside shooting), but it's good to know where to find it so you can quickly change it should you accidentally set up the camera with the ring in Manual Focus.

Focus Ring - Allows you to set which direction the focus ring control direction. Set to your preference or leave as is.

Bulb / Time Focusing - Allows for control and set up of Bulb / Time Focusing, not needed underwater, leave at defaults.

Reset Lens - This will reset the lens position after the camera is turned off. If you want to maintain the last position of the lens, turn this to OFF.

Menu B: Button / Dial / Lever

Button Function - There are 2 Fn buttons on the OMD and each has a variety of functions you can set. You can also customize the Rec button and assign its own 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 choosing Direct Function and setting the two customizable options for whatever best suit your needs.

 

For customization of other buttons, check out the Important Settings and Focus Settings Sections above for more detailed information on why I've set these options and how to use them.

Dial Function - This menu allows you to set the functions of the control dials for the camera. Functions are set per shooting mode indivually. If you want to change the default set up, simply select the option for each control outlined in the image on the selection screen, and remember that they depend also on the position of the 1:2 lever.

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  

Fn Lever Settings - MODE 1 - this gives quick access to ISO and White Balance which are two useful settings for underwater

Fn Lever / Power Lever - leave at Fn, otherwise this changes On/Off control to the Function lever and disables the power lever.

Elec. Zoom Speed - allows you to adjust the electronic zoom speed when using an electronic zoom lens (such as the 12-50mm)

Menu C1: Release / Burst / Image Stabilizer

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 

Menu C2: Release / Burst / Image Stabilizer

Image stabilizer - Leave at default, Auto - this engages full stabilization in all directions

 

Halfway Rls with IS - ON - this allows for Image Stabilization to begin when the shutter is pressed halfway.

Lens IS Priority - allows you to choose priority for IS from the lens or in camera. I leave at 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.


Menu E1: Exp / ISO / Bulb

Exposure Shift - leave at default. This allows you to adjust the optimal exposure for each metering mode, advanced set up only.

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. 

ISO Step / ISO Auto-Set / ISO-Auto - leave these options at the default

Noise Filter - leave at defaults

 

Menu E2: Exp / ISO / Bulb

 

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

Menu E3: Exp / ISO / Bulb

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.

Spot Metering - Default (all selected) - this allows you to choose when spot metering applies, regular, highlights or shadows.

F: Flash Custom

X-Sync - Default (1/250 for E-M1 Mark II) this sets the fastest default Shutter Speed at which the flash can fire.

**If using the YS-D2 Strobes you can override this max by using the Nauticam Flash Trigger, which allows firing at higher sync speeds. From our tests, the camera will sync with the flash up to 1/500th!**

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 E-M1 Mark II, 1/160 for earlier PEN's.

Flash Exposure + Exposure - Default (OFF)

Flash + WB - leave at default, WB Auto.

G: Pixels / Color / WB

Pixel Set - leave at default, this allows you to change the JPG recording modes for different combinations of image size and compression. Does not affect RAW shooting.

Pixel Count - leave at default, this allows you to change the size of the M and S JPG size modes.

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

J: Built in EVF

These do not affect picture setting, adjust as you prefer. The only important setting in this menu is:

EVF Auto Switch - OFF - this disables the automatic switch between the LCD and EVF. This is important for underwater use because the housing will always block the sensor and it will be stuck on the EVF only.

 

J: Camera Utility

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.

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Further Reading

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kelli Dickinson is an avid diver and underwater photographer who shoots primarily on mirrorless cameras. Familiar with a variety of cameras and housings she tries to shoot on as many different options as possible to improve her overall knowledge of underwater camera systems. In addition she is Manager of Bluewater Photo. In her spare time she can be found running, hiking or underwater. 

Connect with her on instagram @kelnkelp or at www.kelnkelp.com

She can be reached via email at kelli@bluewaterphotostore.com.

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Choosing the proper lens for the proper task underwater.
By Brook Peterson

Best Lens Choices for DSLR Underwater Photography

Brook Peterson
Choosing the proper lens for the proper task underwater.


Underwater photography has its challenges and chief among them is having the right lens for the shot you hope to achieve. Compact camera users have an advantage in this regard, as they can switch strategies underwater by adding a wide angle wet lens or diopter as needed. DSLR shooters, however, have to make a choice before the dive and stick with it. That means more than just a choice between macro and wide angle. It also means choosing the right macro lens or wide angle lens. 

MACRO

Many budding underwater photographers start their adventure shooting images of small animals such as octopus, fish, and nudibranchs. My advice, whether you are shooting with a crop sensor or a full frame camera, is to use a 60mm macro lens. This lens allows the photographer to get close to the subject and fill the frame. It is especially good for subjects about the size of a small melon. With its wide focusing range, it can take images both extremely close up and at a distance. It is a good underwater choice for poor visibility as well because of its short working distance.

Rhinopias frondosa, 60mm lens, f/18, 1/320, ISO 100

Although the 60mm lens is a good all around macro lens, some photographers prefer to shoot smaller subjects or larger subjects at a greater working distance. In this case, I recommend Canon's 100mm macro Lens, or Nikon's 105mm macro lens. These lenses are compatible with both crop and full frame sensors and allow the photographer to fill the frame with a subject while maintaining a comfortable working distance. My favorite application with this lens, however, is to pair it with a wet diopter, such as the Subsee +5 or +10, or the Nauticam SMC-1 or SMC-2. When paired with one of these lenses, the working distance is reduced to just a few inches, and teeny tiny subjects smaller than an ant can be photographed, and still fill the frame.

Costasiella sp. Nikon d810, 105mm lens, SMC-1, f/20, 1/320, ISO 100

Both the 60mm and the 100mm or 105mm lenses can be enhanced with a wet diopter, teleconverter, or even extension rings. However, the wet diopters are the most versatile as they can be attached to an adapter that flips them out of the way when changing between subjects of different sizes. Although the choice to shoot macro still has to be made before making a gaint stride, these lenses give the photographer the option to shoot a head and shoulders portrait size of a diver all the way down to something the size of a grain of rice. To illustrate the versatility of this lens, the image above was taken with the same lens as the image below, Nikon's 105mm lens.

Nikon d810, 105mm lens, f/8, 1/125, ISO 200

WIDE ANGLE

It turns out, there are several choices for wide angle shooters as well as macro shooters. For crop-sensor cameras, the overwhelming majority of photographers use the Tokina 10-17mm Fisheye lens. This lens is very versatile as it focuses extremely close to the lens while giving tremendous depth of field. You can see the kelp in the image below is pretty much in focus throughout the image, although some of it is touching the dome port, and some of it is meters away.

Nikon d7000 with Tokina 10-17mm lens, f8, 1/30, ISO 200

Another option for both full frame and crop sensor shooters is the circular fisheye lens. If you are shooting a crop sensor, you will have to use a 4.5mm circular fisheye lens, to account for the smaller sensor size. Full frame shooters can use an 8mm circular fisheye. Sigma makes both lenses and it is a good choice if you want to have this option in your bag. Canon, and recently Nikon, both make an 8-15mm fisheye lens which I find to be the most versatile. The 8mm lens is sometimes touted as a gimmick to get judges to notice your photo in a contest, but I believe it is a tool just like any other and should be utilized under the right conditions. At 8mm (or 4.5 if shooting crop sensor), the lens sees 180 degrees in every direction creating a circular effect. It is a challenging lens to use because you must have the strobes pulled way back to reduce backscatter and the subject must be placed in the frame where it will not be too heavily distorted.

Nikon d810, sigma 8mm circular fisheye lens, f/11, 1/100, ISO 320

At the 15mm end of the 8-15mm fisheye lens, the frame is filled, has great depth of field, and the lens makes exceptional underwater images. Because there are very few straight lines in underwater photography, a fisheye lens works well to capture close focus wide angle photography.

Nikon D810, 8-15mm lens at 15mm, f9, 1/125, ISO 400

There are times, however, when straight lines are more desirable, such as the inside of a shipwreck, or the supports under a jetty. Full frame shooters have the option of using a 16-35mm wide angle rectilinear lens. This lens also works well for large animals that are not so large as to fill the frame with a 15mm shot, such as sea lions, dolphins, and giant groupers, so being able to zoom in to 35mm is helpful.

Nikon d810, 16-35mm wide angle rectilinear lens, f/11, 1/80, ISO 500

These lenses are not the only options available to underwater photographers, but they are commonly used and give both wide angle and macro shooters lots of options for better underwater photography. DSLR users will benefit from deciding what types of images they would like to create before the dive and going on the dive with those goals in mind. Of course, there is always Murphy's law that you will see a whale when you are set up for a nudibranch. But if you are prepared for the nudibranch, at least you will have the safistfaction of being ready when that new, undescribed species shows up.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Brook Peterson is an avid scuba diver and underwater photographer who enjoys capturing the beauty of the under water environment throughout the world. She is an original member of the SEA&SEA Alpha program. Her work has been featured in both print and online magazines.  She is the owner of Waterdog Photography and authors a blog on underwater photography and techniques.  More of her work can be found at:

www.waterdogphotography.com  |  Facebook  |  instagram@waterdogphotography_brook.

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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