The Quick Guide to Macro Composition

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

 

The Quick Guide to Macro Composition


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

Text and Photos By Gaby Barathieu

 

 

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

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

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

 

1)  The Basics

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

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

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

 

Harlequin Shrimp (Hymenocera picta)

 

2)  Composition

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

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

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

 

Twin chromodoris (Goniobranchus geminus)

 

Large toothed cardinalfish (Cheilodipterus macrodon)

 

 

3)  Depth of Field

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

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

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

 

Whip coral goby (Bryaninops yongei)

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

 

Crinoid Shrimp

 

Conclusion

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

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

 

Juvenile Emperor Angelfish

 

 

Also by Gaby Barathieu

 

Further Reading

 

About the Author

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

 

 

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Photo Tips for Blackwater Diving

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

 

Photo Tips for Blackwater Diving


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

Text and Photos By Jeffrey Milisen

 

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Focusing in Blackwater

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Strobes and Exposure

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

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

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

 

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

 

Movement

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

In Conclusion

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

 

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

 

 

Also by Jeff Milisen

 

Further Reading

 

About the Author

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

 

photo: Kelsea Sanborn

 

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Essential Tips for Nudibranch Photography

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

 

Essential Tips for Nudibranch Photography

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

Text and Photos By Mike Bartick

 

 

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

 

Nudibranch Anatomy 101

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

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

 

Nudibranch Terminology

Nudi-Branch means Naked Gills

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Nudibranch Photo Gear Essentials

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

 

Diopter and Adapter 

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

We recommend these diopters:

 

Modeling Lights and Strobes

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

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

 

 

Nudibranch Photo Tips

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

In Conclusion

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

 

 

Further Reading

 

Other Articles by Mike Bartick

 

About the Author

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

 

 

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Canon 7D Mark II Best Settings for Underwater

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

 

Canon 7D Mark II Best Settings for Underwater 


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

By Brent Durand

 

 

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

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

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

 

Setting up the 7D Mark II Menu

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

 

SHOOT MENU TAB

Screen 1

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

Screen 2

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

Screen 3

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

 

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

 

 

 

AF MENU TAB

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

 

 

PLAYBACK MENU TAB

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

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

 

 

SETUP MENU TAB

Screen 1

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

Screen 2

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

 

 

CUSTOM FUNCTION MENU TAB

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

 

 

MY MENU TAB

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

 

 

 

 

7D Mark II Wide-Angle Settings

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

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

 

Lenses:

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

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

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

 

Useful Reviews & Comparisons:

 

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

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

 

 

 

7D Mark II Macro Settings

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

Recommended settings for macro:

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

 

Diopters:

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

 

Useful Reviews & Comparisons:

 

A spanish shawl nudibranch lays eggs.

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

 

Sharp detail on a California spiny lobster.

7D Mark II, Ikelite housing, Canon 100mm macro lens, ISO 160, 1/125, f/18

 

 

 

Video Settings for the Canon 7D Mark II

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

 

Aperture:

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

 

ISO:

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

 

Pro Tip:

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

 

 

Underwater Housing Options

 

Available at:

Bluewater Photo

  

 

 

Nauticam 7D Mk II Housing

 

  Nauticam NA7D Mk II Housing

 

 

Aquatica A7D Mk II Housing

 

  Aquatica A7D Mk II Housing

 

Ikelite 7D Mk II Housing

 

  Ikelite 7D Mk II Housing

  Ikelite 7D Mark II Housing Review

 

Sea & Sea 7D Mk II Housing

 

Sea & Sea MDX-7D Mk II Housing

 

 

 

 

Further Reading

 

About the Author

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

 

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How to Use In-Camera Image Overlays

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

 

How to Use In-Camera Image Overlays


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

Text and Photos By Francesco Pacienza

 

 

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

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

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

 

Seahorse and sunball.

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

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

 

 

How to Create Image Overlays

Step 1:  Composing and Shooting the Images

 

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

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

 

Best Lenses for Capturing the Water Surface

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

Step 2:  Fusing the Images In-Camera

(Instructions for Nikon DSLRs)

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

 

Entering the retouch menu.

 

The Image overlay menu.

 

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

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

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

 

Images with opacity control underneath.

 

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

 

A. Opacity on image 1 bumped up to 2.0.

 

B. Opacity on image 2 bumped up to 2.0.

 

 

In Conclusion

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

 

 

Further Reading

 

About the Author

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

 

 

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Guide to Shooting Striking Sunbursts

Brent Durand
Tips, Techniques and Settings for Shooting Underwater Sunbursts

 

Guide to Shooting Striking Sunbursts


Tips, Techniques and Settings for Shooting Underwater Sunbursts

Text and Photos By Brent Durand

 

 

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

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

This is why we shoot sunbursts.

 

Gear for all photos:

  • Canon 5D Mark III

 

 

Tips for Shooting Underwater Sunbursts

 

1.  Use a Low ISO

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

Manual Shooters:  Adjust your ISO to 100.  Done!

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

 

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

 

 

2.  Use a Fast Shutter Speed

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

 

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

 

 

3.  Use a Smaller Aperture

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

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

 

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

 

 

4.  Use High Strobe Power

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

Further Reading

 

About the Author

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

 

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GoPro Underwater Housing and Mount Tips

Brent Durand
An overview of GoPro mounting options on trays, handles and poles, with additional tips on housing maintenance

 

GoPro Underwater Housing and Mount Tips


An overview of GoPro mounting options on trays, handles and poles, with additional tips on housing maintenance

By Brent Durand

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GoPro cameras are becoming more and more prevalent on dive boats around the world, and for good reason - they shoot excellent video in a small, affordable package.

Here at the Underwater Photography Guide, we're continuing our GoPro tutorial series with this installement on GoPro housing use and maintenance, plus all the mount and accessory options to get the most from your camera. GoPro systems are flexible depending on your budget and type of diving, providing a great way to remember those best moments of your trip.

 

The GoPro Underwater Housing

 

GoPro Depth Ratings

GoPro's underwater housings for the HD Hero Original, HD Hero 2 and Hero3 are rated to a depth of 60 meters (197 feet). The Hero3+ and Hero4 standard housing is rated to 40 meters (131ft), while the dive housing is rated to 60 meters (197ft). Note that maximum depths will change when adding the BacPac Backdoor or other Backdoor accessories. Be sure never to dive with the Touch BacPac Backdoor, as that is only rated to 3 meters (10ft).

 

GoPro Housing Maintenance

Like all underwater housings, GoPro housings need some simple maintenance after use. This falls into two steps: one once you're done using the GoPro and one before you close the housing for use.

Ideally you will have the ability to hold the GoPro in a tub of fresh water and push the buttons several times so that no salt or sand builds up around the spring behind each button. If you're not able to do this right away, no problem, just try to soak the camera in luke-warm water later on to dissolve those salt crystals and work the sand away.

The second maintenance area on the GoPro housing is the white o-ring that seals the backdoor to the housing. This o-ring seal is what stops water from through the crack into the housing. If there is dirt or debris blocking a perfect seal, the pressure underwater will force water into the housing, flooding the camera. Maintenace is simple - just keep it clean! Before you close the housing, inspect the o-ring on the backdoor to make sure there is no sand, hairs, lint or any other debris. Make sure to also check the groove on the housing where the o-ring will sit as well. Keep an eye on it while closing and then you're good to go!

 

The o-ring is attached to the GoPro Backdoor and must always be kept clean and free of debris.

 

 

GoPro Mounts, Trays, Handles and Poles

GoPros have become popular not just because of the video quality produced but because they can be mounted virtually anwhere. This versatility is apparent when you start looking at the variety of underwater videos and photos produced with different GoPro mount setups. There are bar mounts, tray mounts, trigger handles, selfie poles, mask mounts, headstraps and all sorts of other ideas to get that unique perspective in your shots.

 

Screengrab of the author recording GoPro Hero3+ video with Light & Motion's Action Camera Tray and Flex Arm plus GoBe light.

 

 

Benefits of GoPro Mounts

Mounting your GoPro to a tray with handles has many benefits. First, it's easier to hold on to, since you can grip one or two handles. Second, your footage will be more stable since the tray and handle setup is less prone to small shakes and movements in the water. Lastly, the handles provide a way to add one of two GoPro video lights to your setup.

 

Mounting your GoPro

There are two ways you can mount the light(s) to your GoPro tray - either through a rigid handle or a flex-connect arm. The rigid handle will allow for a light to be attached directly to that handle, or may be used with arms and clamps so that you have more flexibility in positioning the video light. A flex-connect arm can be flexed and twisted in any direction to postion the light. Choosing one of these options is really a matter of personal preference.

Other great GoPro mounts come in the form of single handles or telescoping selfie poles. The benefit here is that they are easy to hold with a single hand. With a telescoping pole you can hold the GoPro out in front of you to get closer to marine life, or turn the camera around to shoot diving selfies.

 

Finding the Right GoPro Mount

To view a wide-range of GoPro mounting options and get advice on the best mounts and accessories for scuba diving, visit:

Bluewater Photo's GoPro Mounts page

 

 

The author swims through a California kelp forest. Selfie shot with the GoPro Hero4 Silver.

 

 

UWPG's GoPro Tutorial Series

 

Other Recommended Reading

 

 

About the Author

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

 

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

 


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Tips to Create Striking Ambient Light Photos

Christina and Eusebio Saenz de Santamaria
5 Elements you Must Incorporate into your Ambient Light Photos

 

Tips to Create Striking Ambient Light Photos


5 Elements you Must Incorporate into your Ambient Light Photos

Text and Photos By Christina and Eusebio Saenz de Santamaria

 

Ambient Light Underwater

 

 
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As underwater freedive photographers, we use only ambient light for all our images. At first this was due to practicality, as it is easier to move fluidly in the water without the cumbersome drag of strobes. However, against conventional modes of thought we now prefer to always shoot this way, as using only the natural light available has driven us to be more creative, thoughtful of every frame we capture and has given us a sense of freedom to experiment.

Below are five elements that we consider before every frame we shoot.

 

Contrast

When shooting in ambient light, aim for a strong contrast between your subject, other objects, the background and landscape. There needs to be a strong separation between the subject and the background in order for your image to be striking and for your subject to take center stage and ‘pop’ from your frame. Framing silhouettes against natural backlight is one way to create strong contrast in your images, however it is best to photograph recognizable shapes, such as a person or an animal. Freediving in the cenotes of the Yucatan, Mexico provided us with a dramatic contrast between sharp rays of light and dark shadows, which allowed us to experiment with silhouettes. However we also discovered that the cathedral light created such a dramatic otherworldly mood that we could play with the sense of place, and we could stage our subjects directly in the strong rays of light.

 

Ambient Light Underwater

The silhouette of Christina as she freedives to the depths, her black form contrasted against the light limestone background and strong midday sunlight.

 

Ambient Light Underwater

Christina ascending directly into an ethereal beam of sunlight.

 

Time of Day & Angle of Sun

The time of day you choose will depict how strong or soft the sunlight will be and the angle in which it enters the water. On bright sunny days, midday light is strong and provides great contrast. There are many ‘rules’ in photography, with one being to always shoot with the sun to your back. But these ‘rules’ were made to be broken! Experiment and don’t be afraid to shoot into the light source as well as at an angle to the source. The results might positively surprise you. Furthermore, afternoon golden light is soft, dappled and dreamy and can help reate for an ethereal mood, which may suit your subject and the concept for your photo shoot. For example, we found the afternoon September rays in Ibiza, Spain to be meditative and silky.

 

Ambient Light Underwater

Shooting into the sunlight as Eusebio ascends from a deep freedive.

 

Ambient Light Underwater

Eusebio in the dappled light of ‘Golden Hour’.

 

Don’t Fear Depth

Shooting in ambient light means that you are shooting in low-light conditions and the deeper your dive, the less natural light and therefore color of your subjects you have to work with. However don’t fear depth! Although it is easier to capture ambient light near the water’s surface or while creating over-unders, you can also shoot at depth while taking care of some technical considerations. Limit the ISO on your camera and know the limitations of your camera’s sensor; the higher the ISO, the greater the chance for ‘noise’ in the image. You also need to evaluate the artistic considerations of your photo shoot including the subject, composition and aims that you have by shooting at depth with the available light. It is best to shoot at depth in waters with very good visibility, which we discovered in the blue marine waters of the Caribbean on the island of Roatan, where we could convey a sense of oceanic depth and emphasize the solitude and minuteness we feel as freedivers against the magnitude of the enormous coral drop-offs and endless blue abyss below.

 

Ambient Light Underwater

Eusebio descends into the dark depths.

 

Wildlife

Oftentimes when shooting underwater wildlife ambient light is best, as strobes can make animals nervous and skittish. As freedivers we don’t have cumbersome or noisy scuba equipment, which means that we have the advantage of animals approaching us more closely and with greater curiosity. We want to encourage this natural interaction without the distraction of artificial light flashes, which is particularly pertinent when diving with sharks and dolphins. Furthermore without the drag and extra weight of strobes you are more agile in the water and can move more freely with animals who might move at a quick pace.

 

Ambient Light Underwater

A large but shy tiger shark cruises peacefully over Christina in The Bahamas.

 

Ambient Light Underwater

The fast and playful spinner dolphins of Hawaii follow Christina to the surface.

 

Post-Editing

As freediving photographers, we are often taking photos from the surface down to 40 metres depth. For this reason we always white balance in the post-editing process and ensure that we are always shooting in RAW. As a scuba diver you have the time to white balance underwater, however we find that when shooting in ambient light we can white balance, retouch the tones, contrasts and exposures with more ease in post production. Furthermore, in this process you will discover that although some images look good in color, they look more striking in black and white, thus giving you the freedom to be more creative with your images.

 

Ambient Light Underwater

Caribbean reef sharks float in unison over the reefs of Roatan.

 

Ambient Light Underwater

Christina descends to the dark depths.

 

 

 

In conclusion, sometimes the less equipment we carry the more creative we become. Our advice is to select some appropriate photo shoots to lose the strobes in order to discover a new sense of freedom and creativity by exploring the endless possibilities of natural ambient light.

 

 

Also by Christina & Eusebio

 

Further Reading

 

About the Author

‘One ocean One breath’ is a creative collaboration between professional freedivers, husband and wife duo, Eusebio and Christina Saenz de Santamaria. Eusebio (from Spain) is the co-founder of ‘Apnea Total’, one of the world’s largest freediving education systems, and is one of the few men to have surpassed 100 metres (328 feet) in depth in the self-powered disciplines of freediving. Christina, originally from Australia, holds the record as the deepest Australian female freediver in history with self-powered dives to 85 metres (279 feet) in depth, and sled-dives to 105 metres (345 feet) in depth, which ranks her among the top deepest women in the world.

When not teaching or training on their island home of Koh Tao in Thailand, they are exploring the world’s ocean on one breath with camera in hand, learning and discovering more about their passions for freediving, underwater photography and filming.

For more information, please visit their website:  www.oneoceanonebreath.com

 

 

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Macro Methods: Sharp Eyes and Nice Bokeh

Brent Durand
A Tutorial on Capturing Sharp Eyes and Nice Bokeh in your Underwater Photos

 

Macro Methods: Sharp Eyes and Nice Bokeh


A Tutorial on Capturing Sharp Eyes and Nice Bokeh in your Underwater Photos

Text and Photos By Brent Durand

 

 

 
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Shooting Macro is the hands-down most popular form of underwater photography these days. And it's no wonder why once you see the detail, colors and character of the subjects we love to shoot.

Dive guides are better than ever, keeping tabs on even the rarest critters at sought-after dive sites (many are talented macro photographers themselves), new cameras and lenses deliver sharp detail with crisp autofocus, and diopters bring an entirely new tiny world into view. In short, it's a great time to be an underwater macro photographer.

But even with the best camera and talented guide finding the perfect shot (obviously without moving, touching or otherwise harassing the critter), there are essential techniques to bring home those WOW images. Here are two major apects of your macro photography to think about on your next dive trip.

 

Capturing Sharp Eyes

Capturing sharp eyes in your macro shots is very important, as the eyes establish a connection between the viewer and the subject. If the eyes are out of focus, then that connection is lost because a) the viewer's eyes are instead attracted to the point of focus in the image or b) the critter is out of focus.

There are a number of techniques to get the eyes of your subject in focus. Different photographers will prefer different techniques for achieving focus, so there is no right or wrong method as long as the end result is the same. I might even use all the methods below on a single dive if the subjects, compositions and behaviors warrant it.

  • Lock your autofocus point on the eye and pull the shutter.
  • Lock focus on the eye of the subject and then recompose before pulling the shutter.
  • Manually focus and then rock back and forth ever so slightly (move the camera a milimeter closer or further from the subject) until focus is crisp on the eye(s).

 

A Hippocampus bargibanti pygmy seahorse hangs near the edge of a sea fan in Tulamben, Bali. Canon 5D Mark III, Aquatica housing.

 

A skeleton shrimp on feather hydroid in Tulamben, Bali. Canon 5D Mark III, Aquatica housing.

 

Candy crab in Manado, Indonesia. Canon 5D Mark III, Aquatica housing.

 

 

Creating Nice Bokeh

Bokeh is a Japanese word used in photography to describe the out-of-focus part of a composition. In underwater macro, this part of the composition generally falls behind the primary subject.

The bokeh is dependent on two main factors: the aperture selected and distance from the front of the lens to the subject. The circular quality of the bokeh is another conversation entirely, as it results from a relationship between lens blades and aperture.

Underwater macro photography uses many different depths of field / apertures to capture different styles of shot, and many of these styles can be used interchangeably on the same subject. For example, you might have a photo of a fish where the mouth is out of focus, the eyes are in focus and the body goes back to out of focus. Or you can stop down your aperture and shoot that same fish from the same distance, but capture detail from teeth to tail.

The decision is up to you as a photographer. You never want to shoot a second frame unless you know what you are changing from the frame prior, so make sure to consider bokeh in composing your images.

Tip:  Note that if you stop down to a higher aperture to achieve more depth of field, less light will be able to hit the sensor and you will need to increase strobe power.

 

 

A blue-ringed octopus in Manado, Indonesia. Canon 5D Mark III, Aquatica housing.

 

A coconut octopus in the Lembeh Strait, IndonesiaCanon 5D Mark III, Aquatica housing.

 

A goby models for the camera in Indonesia's Lembeh Strait. Canon 5D Mark III, Aquatica housing.

 

A wonderpus octopus moves across the sand in Indonesia's Lembeh Strait. Canon 5D Mark III, Aquatica housing.

 

 

Further Reading

 

About the Author

Brent Durand is a weekend wanderer, story teller and image maker from California. Brent is editor of UWPG. Follow UWPG on Facebook for daily photos, tips & everything underwater photography. Follow Brent on Instagram, Twitter and his Adventure Blog through www.brentdimagery.com.

 

 

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It's All in the Flash

Mike Bartick
How to Capture Fast-Action Flashing & Attention-Drawing Behavior Underwater

 

It's All in the Flash


How to Capture Fast-Action Flashing & Attention-Drawing Behavior Underwater

Text and Photos By Mike Bartick

 

 

 
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Birds do it, fish do it, and even humans beings do it. If you’re trying to attract a mate, sometimes it’s just impossible to find the right words, so body language has to do all the work. In the animal kingdom, the body language of your subject might be just a quick movement, subtle and even undetected to the human eye, while others flash gaudy and unmistakable displays (such as a peacock), which can be seen from deep space.

The best underwater photo strategy is always to take your time and observe your subject prior to attempting to photograph them. By doing this you will soon realize that it’s all about the flash!

Shooting animal behavior underwater is not unlike topside photography, where lens choice is critical for getting close enough to the subject without scaring them. Proper buoyancy, your hunting technique and stalking your subject play heavily into the end result, which is allowing the subject enough space to act naturally.

Different signals mean different things too, but I don’t speak blenny very well so deciphering their language is best left to the true experts. Regardless of what they are saying, the action and form of their communication is the action that you want to try and capture in your image. “Stop action photography” and “Peak of the action” are two phrases that I like to focus on when discussing this style of photography.

 

Remember this simple 3 step approach when preparing for your next outing Lights-Camera-Action!

 

Lights

Strobe lighting is very important for capturing well-lit action images. Don’t be afraid to adjust your strobe positioning at any time, and remember to increase your ISO and to turn down the strobe power to increase your recycle times. With faster flash recycle times, you can shoot a burst of images during peak action.

 

Camera

Camera settings cannot be overlooked for stop action photography or you will miss the shot. Shutter speeds must be fast enough to keep your image sharp and eliminate ambient light but still allow you to capture a strong, well-lit image. Your F-stop will vary depending on the depth of field you envision for the shot, as well as the distance light has to travel from strobe to subject back to camera.

Tip: Move your strobes closer to the subject so that the light has less distance to travel.

 

Action

Wait for it! Your subject will soon relax if your movements are minimized. If your subject becomes relaxed enough, it will begin its natural behavior. This is when you shoot, since capturing this behavior has the potential to become an award winning shot!

 

 

Techniques to Capture the Flashes

 

Sailfin Blennies (Emblemaria hypacanthus) are easily mistaken as a common blenny if the diver approaches quickly, as they tend to be on the skittish side. But when a diver approaches slowly and quietly, allowing the fish to relax, it will then begin to quickly raise and lower itself from its hidey hole, flashing its beautiful fin at the same time. It's best to watch and study the movements for a few moments before blasting away, as careless strobe flashes can and will scare the blennies back into the safety of their hole, resulting in a long waiting game.

 

 

In full regale - a Sailfin blenny will sit in the peak-a-boo position staring out of its hole for a very long time before it feels relaxed enough to expose itself. When it finally decides it is safe enough to begin signaling it will quickly emerge from its hole, extending its sailfin, and begin bobbing up and down rapidy. Remember: Lights, Camera, Action… be ready as this could be your only oportunity to get the shot!

 

 

Cephalopods are well known for signaling and flashing their colors as a danger signal or to mate with a prospective partner. The cranberry colors of the hunting cuttlefish might be showing a passive coloration to fool their prey or might be a warning for me to step back.

 

 

Hunting Blue Ring –There’s no mistaking the vibrant flash of the Blue-Ringed Octopus. When at rest the blue ring looks much like an ordinary octopus but once they become agitated or excited, the blue rings glow with blue indigo intensity. Their venomous bite is legendary and could also explain what their flashing signals are all about.

Octopus and other cephalopods have the unique ability to flash simultaneous messages showing aggression on one side (right) and a passive side on the other( left).

In this image the Blue Ring was hunting and moving from right to left, its leading side is lighter in coloration indicating a more passive coloration while the aggressive colors on the right protect it from a predator moving in from behind. This is commonly seen with mating where 2 males are attempting to mate with a single female.

 

 

Agitated by my strobe flashes, this blue ring flushes with a golden hue while its blue rings are vibrant and apparent. This octopus was actually hanging upside down under a coral head resting, until my modeling light disrupted it.  

 

 

The Matote Blue Ring changes from a brownish sedate color that closely resembles the sand to a brilliant striped and nearly yellow coloration. The single blue ring on each side of its body also glows with Indigo-blue intensity.

 

 

Perhaps one of the most under photographed critters on all of the reefs is the flasher wrasse. They are extremely addictive to photograph once the subject is seen actually flashing. The fast movements are highlighted when they extend their pinnate dorsal spine and anal fins. Flasher wrasse become active in the late afternoons when the ambient light begins to fade, adding to the difficulty capturing a good shot, along with the fact that they don’t appreciate modeling lights.

 

 

The common lionfish makes for a brilliant image when they flash their spines and open up. This is a typical behavioral image documenting how lionfish use their fins to corral their prey or to signal each other.

 

 

Magnificent Shrimp Gobies (Flabellagobius sp.) use their fins for several reasons. One is of course to signal their buddy, but I have watched them actually cover the shrimp as they move up and down, cleaning out their hole, providing camouflage for their little buddy.

 

 

Lights-Camera-Action!

Remember to prepare before setting out to hunt these amazing creatures and others.Take your time and allow them to relax before blasting away with your strobes. Quantity doesn't mean quality when it comes to flashing behavior shots. Keep your eye in the viewfinder and your finger on the shutter release as the fast action never waits... it is always a surprise!

Even the most mundane creature can give you a big surprise, since its all in the flash!

Special thanks to Crystal Blue Resort

 

Gear:

Nikon D7100 in Sea & Sea MDX-D7100 housing

Nikon 105mm macro lens

BTS long flex arms

Dual Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes

 

 

Further Reading

 

About the Author

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

 

 

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