Technique/Tutorial

Underwater photo tutorials, techniques and tips for all types of underwater photo and video, including macro, supermacro, wide-angle, composition and best camera gear.
Improve your underwater wreck photography with these essential tools and tips for lighting, composing and shooting different scenes
By Brook Peterson

5 Tips for Creative Wreck Photos

Brook Peterson
Improve your underwater wreck photography with these essential tools and tips for lighting, composing and shooting different scenes

Every scuba dive brings a new adventure, and there is something about diving on a shipwreck that awakens the little kid in me.  Maybe it is the mystery of the ship's sinking, or maybe the fantasy that there will be a hidden treasure chest, or maybe it is even a sense of the wandering spirits who are forever trapped in their watery grave. Whatever I am feeling as I explore a shipwreck, I want to capture that moment in my photography.  But photographing shipwrecks can be challenging, and how do you convey your experience to others?  It all starts with having a good foundation of photographic tools to draw from.

 

 

One of the most apparent challenges of wreck photography is how to light the wreck.  Most shipwrecks are much bigger than our strobes can cover, so we are limited to either shooting with ambient light, (which we can leave natural or turn to black and white in post processing) or we can shoot just a portion of the wreck.

When we photograph a wreck using ambient light, we must adjust the camera settings to let in as much light as needed so that the background is a nice blue, and the wreck is properly exposed. I would suggest you test shoot several images to get the exposure right.  Start by using a shutter speed around 1/80 - 1/125 and adjust the aperture and ISO.  Remember that if you want good depth of field you will need a higher aperture, so ISO is the most likely adjustment you will make.  With today's newer digital cameras, you should be able to adjust the ISO to a fairly high number without too much noise. Look on the LCD to see if there is good detail in the wreck.  You will want to see a range of shadows and highlights.

 

It is also important to note which direction the natural light from the sun is coming from.  If the sun is behind you, you can expect more detail in the subject.  If the sun is behind the wreck, you can expect it to be in silhouette. In the image above, the sun is behind me.  This image also works well processed as a black and white photograph because of the detail and contrast in the image.

 

Another tool you can use to light a large wreck is a filter.  Magic Filters™ are developed for underwater photographers and help compensate for the lack of reds in the water.  They work best without strobes, with the sun at your back and your camera angled slightly down.  You will need to set your camera to manual white balance, so that the image is processed in camera with the correct colors.  The advantage to using filters is that you have good color throughout the image, including the blue water, which often looks washed out without them.

 

If you are using strobes, then it is important that you capture areas of the wreck that are identifying elements, and that they are small enough to be covered by the strobes.  Popular elements are propellers, ladders, winches and rudders.  The image below is of a locomotive that lies in 100 feet of water next to the Thistlegorm in the Red Sea.  You can see that only the very front of the car could be captured by the strobes.

 

The next image is of the steering quadrant on a ship called the SS Perseus which was sunk by the infamous vessel "The Wolf" during World War I.  This element of the ship is important because it helped to identify the ship as being from the WWI era, and ultimately identify which ship it was, as only two vessels from that time period are known to have sunk here.  Taking images of significant elements such as these is artistic because it illustrates the story.

 

Another tool that is always present in good underwater photography is a sense of depth.  We often take images of a fish, with a reef behind them, and perhaps a diver in the background to give a sense of depth.  On a wreck, it is important to give that same sense of depth.  But if you are photographing something inside, that can be a challenge.  A way to overcome this is to look for ways you can use ambient light in the background.  In the image below, you can see a cargo hold filled with stacks of Italian tile.  The ambient light in the background helps convey the vastness of the space.

 

Sometimes there is no possibility of bringing in ambient light, and you still want to convey a sense of depth. A tool you can use for this would be a remote strobe, or 'off camera' strobe. This is an additional strobe that is triggered remotely by the light from your strobes. You can place it wherever you want to create dimension to a closed space. This truck is in a closed portion of the cargo hold of the Thistlegorm in the Red Sea. There are several trucks in this space, so I put the remote strobe in the cab of the second truck giving depth to the area.

A remote strobe can also be used to light something in a room such as the boiler, or steering wheel, or some other interesting element. The image below shows a lot of dimension with the use of a remote strobe to light the back room, and blue water and fish in the background.

 

Light beams from the sun give moodiness to an image so if they are available, use them to create atmosphere.  Beams of light can be difficult to capture, especially in a dark space.  In this image I am using an ISO of 1250, f/5, 1/60.  There is enough particulate in the water that the sunbeams are captured by it, even with a slow shutter speed.

 

Using different lighting techniques goes a long way when you are trying to transfer your underwater experience to your audience.  Don't be afraid to experiment with your strobes as well as ambient light, filters, remote strobes, and sunbeams.  They are all tools that you can use to improve your underwater photography, and give value to your images.

 

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

 

Be sure to read all of our Shipwreck Photo Tutorials.

 

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.

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The best settings and menu selections for shooting pro-level video with the Panasonic GH4 mirrorless camera
By Bobby Arnold

Panasonic GH4 Underwater Video Settings

Bobby Arnold
The best settings and menu selections for shooting pro-level video with the Panasonic GH4 mirrorless camera

The Panasonic GH4 captures incredible 4K video quality and color, rivaling cameras costing many times more. Having shot underwater video with the GH4 since it was released in 2014, I want to share with you what I have learned to get the most of this camera to be able to produce the best possible underwater films.

 

GH4 Basic Video Settings

Format & Quality

The first setting to make in the GH4 menu is the recording format and quality. Either MP4 or MOV should be selected for the format, and 4K-100MB/30P should be selected for the record quality. This mode actually records 3840x2160 pixel Ultra High Definition (UHD), which is the format and resolution of nearly all 4K TVs sold today. The GH4 is also capable of shooting Cinema 4K (4096x2160 pixels) for those who have a specific requirement for shooting at this resolution. Note that if you shoot in Cinema 4K but play the footage on your home 4K TV or display, you will either need to crop the footage or have black bars on the top and bottom of the screen. The framerate of 30p allows for the best capture of motion of aquatic sea life.

Photo Style

The next setting is Photo Style. The GH4 has many preset Photo Styles, each geared toward a specific style of filming. With a very capable camera like the GH4, I try to get the best possible image in camera at the time that I am filming. For this I choose the Cinelike V Photo Style. While delivering a very useable clip, it also allows for making adjustments in post without deteriorating the quality of the footage.

Exposure Mode

The final basic setting is Exposure Mode. I choose to shoot video in the full manual (M) mode. This allows me to control all aspects of exposure, and match it for each shot. This also ensures that your exposure will not fluctuate as slight changes to ambient light occur. The one exception I have for shooting in this mode is when I’m trying to film a fast moving subject (like a sea lion). For that situation, where the background and ambient light is constantly changing the shutter priority (S) mode may be a better option.

 

Panasonic GH4 Focus Settings

After much experimenting with the focus modes on the GH4, I have settled on using manual focus much of the time. Two of the lenses I shoot with regularly, the Olympus 60mm macro and the Panasonic 7-14mm allow for manual zoom control. Whether I’m using these lenses or the Olympus 12-50mm lens (my go-to lens when I can’t make my mind up on shooting macro or W/A), I always start with using the camera’s autofocus to get me as close as possible, then make any fine manual adjustments needed using the manual focus knob or distance to the subject (for the 12-50mm lens), before finally framing my shot and recording. The focus peaking feature of the GH4 helps with this (more on that below).

One “trick” I’ve learned to get the most out of manual focus on the GH4 is utilizing back button focus. Most DLSR/M4/3 cameras allow for back button focus. This essentially turns off the autofocus that occurs when partially or fully pressing down on the shutter button. Instead, focus is assigned to another button on the back of the camera. To set up the GH4 for back button focus, follow these steps:

  1. Change the “Shutter AF” custom menu option to OFF. This stops the auto-focus from engaging when pressing the shutter button.
  2. Change the AF/AE Lock custom menu option to AF-ON. This causes the camera to auto-focus when the AF/AE LOCK button is pushed. The Nauticam NA-GH4 housing has a large thumb-controlled lever for pressing this button. My thumb rests on this lever most of the time I’m filming so that I can engage back-button focus as needed.

Now you have the ability to autofocus with the camera while in autofocus or manual focus modes. I shoot in manual mode when I want to lock focus for the entire shot. If I have a slow moving subject, or one that I can keep the camera centered on, I use autofocus mode, and hold down the AE/AF lock button to keep refocusing on the subject. When in autofocus mode, push the Fn3 (AE Mode) button to select either Pinpoint or 1-Area. The cursor for the focus can also be moved to anywhere on the screen depending on where you would like your subject to be framed. This also allows you to hold down the AE/AF LOCK button to track focus for you while you are shooting, with less of a chance of the camera hunting due to an ever-changing background.

 

Important GH4 Menu Settings/Tips

Three other menu settings are a MUST when shooting video with the GH4. The first is (focus) Peaking in the custom menu. Changing this setting to ON causes your display to highlight (using yellow, blue or green) the areas of the image that are in focus. Next is the Zebra pattern. This shows the areas of your frame that are likely to be overexposed. Two zebra patterns are available, and the sensitivity can be manually selected. Finally, the Histogram custom menu setting should be set to ON. This displays a histogram while filming.

While the GH4 does a great job at displaying the various icons for your current settings and exposure controls, sometimes all of that information can get in the way. Pressing the DISP (display) button cycles through various LCD display modes, including one that removes all icons/text, and only shows what the camera is capturing (plus any grid lines for composition, if you are using them).

 

GH4 Underwater Video

My hope is that these settings will improve your underwater video footage from the Panasonic GH4, and also challenge you to think of other settings that the GH4 offers that will help in your style of underwater videography.

 

2014-September-2 Day Northern Channel Islands with BlueWater Photo from ScubaBob on Vimeo.

 

Oil Rigs: Thriving Life from ScubaBob on Vimeo.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bobby Arnold starting shooting underwater video in 2001. In 2004 he made the switch to HD using the first available consumer HD video camera. 8 years later he moved from traditional video cameras, to the mirrorless Micro 4/3 cameras, opting for the ability of full manual control in a compact package, with a large selection of lenses to match the needs of each dive location. Bobby lives in Orange County, Southern California and enjoys dives locally as much as possible.

 

Bobby's video productions can be viewed here:

https://vimeo.com/user786715

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Explore a creative technique to get the most from wide-angle color when shooting with a single strobe and video light
By Brent Durand

How to Combine Strobe and Video Light

Brent Durand
Explore a creative technique to get the most from wide-angle color when shooting with a single strobe and video light

Sometimes our creative inspiration comes from difficulties with gear in the field. This is the time when a solid understanding of the principals of photography might help save the shoot, the dive, and even the trip. During the recent Bluewater Photo workshop in Bali, Indonesia, the bulb on one of my YS-D1 strobes bulbs blew on day one. I heard the pop and was immediately bummed thinking of all the diving left in the trip, plus my desire to get some great shots with the new Sony a6300 mirrorless camera.

Luckily, Bluewater Photo put a rental YS-D2 strobe in the mail that next day, but I still had a week of single strobe wide-angle shooting to do while the replacement strobe was in transit. Challenge accepted!

 

Ambient Light vs. Artificial Light

Before trying to combine our strobe and video light sources into one frame, we need to understand a little bit about light sources and the camera settings required to capture light from those sources. We work on this during photo workshops but have summed the principals up below.

Ambient light (aka available light) is light that the camera sees. Generally we think of this as sunlight shining through the water from above, but for shooting photos we can also include video light as ambient light. Why? Because the settings to capture the light from the sun and the video light will be the same. The ambient light illuminates the mid-ground and back-ground of the composition, while the video light illuminates the subject in the foreground.

Artificial light will come from our strobe. And yes, a video light can be viewed as artificial, but that's a different line of thought from this discussion.

 

Settings to Combine Light Sources

Now that we understand the light sources we can figure out the best camera settings for combining them. To do this, we start with ambient light. Keep in mind that we're close to the subject, but not shooting close focus wide-angle. A good starting point is a low ISO (100 on compact, 100-200 mirrorless/dslr), 1/100 shutter speed, and aperture of f/5.6 (compact) or f/8 - f/11 (mirrorless/dslr). Check the histogram to make sure that the exposure is metering where you want it, and that you're seeing the ambient light from your video light illumating the foreground from that direction. Usually 1/125s is a great starting point for wide-angle with strobes, but when we want to include video light, we slow down the shutter at least 1/3 stop to let in more ambient light. These shots all were all using 1/100 or 1/80s at depths of 50-75ft (15-23m).

Next, we add our artificial strobe light. The strobe will generally be set to 1/2 - 3/4 power (preferably on manual, otherwise on TTL with no flash exposure comp). When we push the shutter, the strobe should illuminate most of the foreground, the video light should fill in the shadows, and the blue water and structure in the background should be a nice blue color. Bam!

 

Finding the Right Composition

So why do we want to combine strobe and video light in the first place? Because a single light source will deliver very strong shadows on the subject when shooting wide-angle, even with a diffuser.

The lumen rating of your video light will determine how much water the light will shine through, and with my I-Torch Venom 38 (3800 lumens) I liked to stay within a couple feet for my shots. At this range the video light would appear in the images, filling in the shadows of the strobe.

Ideally, you will find a foreground that is not too large, which would be difficult to light completely.

 

Learn More, Shoot More

Want to improve your underwater photography technique and composition?  Join me for a workshop in 2017!  You can email Bluewater Travel or look at the spots left on our Sri Lanka Wrecks and Reefs liveaboard trip in February '17.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Brent Durand is a weekend wanderer, story teller and image-maker from California.
BrentDurand.com   |  Facebook  |  Instagram

Brent is managing editor of the Underwater Photography Guide and leads occasional trips for Bluewater Photo.  Email Brent at brent@uwphotographyguide.com or email Bluewater Travel about Brent's custom photo workshops.

SUPPORT THE UNDERWATER PHOTOGRAPHY GUIDE:

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Keep these tips in mind to create crisp, engaging underwater macro photos on compact, mirrorless or dslr cameras
By Brent Durand

3 Tips for Better Underwater Macro

Brent Durand
Keep these tips in mind to create crisp, engaging underwater macro photos on compact, mirrorless or dslr cameras

Underwater macro photography takes us deep inside the reef, exploring the nuances of a complex, symbiotic ecosystem that many divers swim right past. The inhabitants of this world display the shapes, colors, patterns and textures that inspire even the most radical of sci fi junkies, and it's our priviledge to document those critters and show them to the world.

There are many macro diving hotspots in different corners of the globe, each with a deep lineup of photo-friendly critters. It's easy to pause, snap a photo and then move on. But is that the best photo you could have taken? Are you making the most of that expensive camera gear?

Below are three tips for shooting better macro photos. The first two will bring the best results from your gear while the third helps make photos a bit more engaging.

 

Shoot at Minimum Focus Distance

Most macro lenses (or built-in lenses on compacts) have a wide range of focus, and it's easy to simply point the camera at the subject and push the shutter. By inching the camera forward, you will keep focusing at a closer distance - at least until you reach that minimum focus distance. This will create a crisper image since there is less water between port and subject, will fill the frame more, and create more depth in your image. If you've joined me on a photo workshop, you may still hear my voice in your head saying get it right in the camera and try not to rely on cropping!

On the flip side, some larger subjects must be shot from farther away, and some tiny subjects may require some cropping.  But in general, try to shoot at the minimum focus distance.

 

This whip coral shrimp fills the frame at the minimum focus distance. Shot in Anilao, Philippines with Canon 7D Mark II and Canon 100mm macro lens.

 

We see crisp detail on this crinoid shrimp shot at the minimum focus distance. Anilao, Philippines with Canon 7D Mark II.

 

Reposition the Focus Box

We all probably know that critical focus on the subject's eye is paramount in capturing an intriguing macro photo... unless you're shooting a nudibranch! There are two ways to achieve this. The first is to leave that focus box in the center, focus on the eye, and then recompose the image before pushing the shutter the rest of the way down.  This is fine for some situations, but isn't ideal when you have a brief moment to capture a macro critter in just the right position. As you move the camera there are several variables subject to change: distance to subject, habitat movement, shadows & strobe position.

When we move the focus box to the point in the frame where the eye (or rhinopore) appears, we can push the shutter in one movement, eliminating the movement of the variables above and capturing a sharper image.

 

A pinkeye goby swims just above some coral. While close to center, I made sure to position the focus box right where the closest point of the eye would appear in the frame. Shot in Anilao, Philippines with Canon 7D Mk II.

 

Shooting a crinoid shrimp is often a fast endeavor since the crinoid continues to move its arms once disturbed. By placing the focus point precisely where I wanted it in the frame, I could press the shutter the second everything looked right.

 

Tell a Story

Photojournalists are constantly striving to tell a story in a single image, and I believe this translates well into macro photography. Telling a story with the image doesn't always need to fall into the 'marinelife behavior' category either - something like swimming can tell a story but isn't very interesting behavior (unless you really, really like swimming!).

Try to find something unique about your subject and how it interacts with the environment around it and you'll find yourself shooting a more engaging image that people spend more time viewing.

 

A juvenile spotted sweetlips moves fast, erratic patterns around it's home. Slowing down the shutter allowed me to capture some motion blur, portraying this fast movement. 

 

This porcelain crab is sitting on the top of a soft coral at night, moments away from releasing eggs. By clearly including the eggs and soft coral polyps in the frame, we spend an extra moment with the photo to absorb the scene.

 

 

These tips for underwater macro photos apply to any type of camera in many different macro shooting situations. You can always practice on land before your next dive trip so that you maximize your time shooting in the water, or join one of our workshops for a week of intensive photo instruction. Be respectful and have fun out there!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Brent Durand is a weekend wanderer, story teller and image-maker from California.
BrentDurand.com   |  Facebook  |  Instagram

Brent is managing editor of the Underwater Photography Guide and leads occasional trips for Bluewater Photo.  Email Brent at brent@uwphotographyguide.com or email Bluewater Travel about Brent's custom photo workshops.

SUPPORT THE UNDERWATER PHOTOGRAPHY GUIDE:

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How to use Diopters to shoot supermacro photos, including best aperture, strobe position and best camera lenses
By Mike Bartick

Tips for Shooting with Diopters

Mike Bartick
How to use Diopters to shoot supermacro photos, including best aperture, strobe position and best camera lenses

Macro photography has always been my first love for shooting underwater. Taking time to find just the right subject can force me to slow down and enjoy the dive, explore a little more and concentrate on just one thing: making an image. Once that special subject is found, the next task is to photograph it in just the right manner. For this there could be a myriad of options depending on my camera set up. As an SLR shooter, I prefer to use my Nikkor 105mm macro lens on almost every macro dive. The nice thing about shooting with a longer lens like the Canon 100mm or Nikkor 105mm is the option to use a diopter for supermacro photo opps. Sure a 60mm lens will work in a pinch but having a diopter with my longer lens is a true luxury.

The market for diopters has been saturated with some very good wet lenses and some not-so-good wet lenses, and trust me - I have used many of them, including some DIY diopters in days gone by.

Diopters come in variable strengths (magnification factors) and are designed for a variety of camera systems including compact, SLR and mirrorless. And while the strength of magnification varies, we can also stack multiple diopters in order to further increase magnification.

 


This screenshot of a very rare white hairy shrimp is right out of my RAW files and illustrates a good example of a "bullseye" image composition. The illusion of being off-set comes from working the subject into the frame from back to front and is a great place to start with composition when using a diopter.

(Nikon D7100; 105mm macro lens + Nauticam SMC;  F25 @ 1/200; ISO 360; Single Sea & Sea YS-D2 strobe at medium power)

 

Making small things big isn't always what macro shooting is all about. Of course, this is a major aspect of underwater macro photography, but there is so much more that goes into creating an image, specially when using diopters.

Aside from the technical challenges created by adding a diopter to your lineup, the mechanical function of being able too attach and use them should also be considered. A diopter/wet lens which is used on the outside of the camera housing needs to be immediately accessible, preferably by using a hinged diopter adapter. If you need to screw your wet lens on and off, photo ops will be lost and eventually, so will your diopter. Consider this as well; positioning the diopter so that it locks into place each time you use it. Consistency and reliability are an essential ingredient and shouldn't be overlooked.

 


A Bryozoan Goby (Undescribed) is seen with its eggs. Paying close attention to the focal plane and pushing my F-stop as much as i could allowed me to capture this "framed" subject composition. Using the focus selector to line up the shot and then locking that down with my focus lock, I waited for the subject to move in and oxygenate the eggs. Each time this occurred I was able to capture an image.

(Nikon D7100; 105mm macro lens + Nauticam SMC; F32 @ 1/250; ISO 360; Single Sea & SeaYS-D2 strobe at medium power)

 


Filling the frame with your subject and the background is another composition that I enjoy shooting with for supermacro. Because of the shallow depth of field, creating creamy bokeh is easy to achieve even at higher F-stops.

(Nikon D7100; 105mm macro lens + Nauticam SMC; F29 @ 1/320; ISO 360; Single Sea & Sea YS-D2 strobe at medium power)

 

Diopter Dilemmas:

  • Magnification decreases depth of field
  • Diopter/wet lenses are usually sharpest in the center
  • Attaching them to your camera - using adapters

Depth of field can be reduced by as much as 3 stops depending on the strength of the diopter, which effects several aspects of the image that cannot be corrected in Lightroom or Photoshop.

Getting some of that depth back will be the first topic we discuss and can be achieved with some quick adjustments I like to think of as “Supermacro” mode. If your camera menu is cumbersome, then i suggest using your presets for this simple step.

F22 is the minimum aperture I'll start with when trying to achieve greater depth, pushing it all the way to F36. Lighting can become problematic at that range so I will attempt to correct that by increasing my ISO to 360. Shutter speeds control the ambient light, as usual, so getting black negative space isn't an issue.

SLR Settings:   F32 @ 1/200 ISO 360

Compact Settings:   F9 @ 1/500 ISO 300

 

Strobe angle can also become easier to manage with these settings.  I recommend using a single strobe for this kind of tight macro work.

 

 

The butterfly slugs are not only small but can be challenging to photograph due to their eratic movements. Knowing your subject helps to key into its special features like eye spots.

(Nikon D7100; 105mm macro lens + Nauticam SMC; F36 @ 1/320; ISO 360; Single Sea & Sea YS-D2 strobe at medium/high power)

 

The second issue we're faced with (with diopters) is composition, and this is where the rubber meets the road for shooting supermacro. Because most lenses are sharpest in the center, adding a diopter, which is also sharpest in the center, increases that same issue. This can be overcome with the right composition. Sometimes Photoshop and Lightroom can assist you with the final adjustments in this step, however we should never shoot with the intention to use this software to fix an image.

Set your personal goal high for supermacro by reading contest rules and getting an idea of what is really acceptable in the supermacro world. This, of course, depends on how you choose to disseminate your images. The amount of “croppin and shoppin” that you do is all up to you.  

 


Opening your F-stop can produce really cool bokeh and should also be experimented with.  Composition doesnt always have to reflect the position of the subject but can also include more visual textures.

(Nikon D7100; F13 @ 1/200 + Nauticam SMC; ISO 360; Single Sea & Sea YS-D2 strobe at medium/high power)

 

 

This hornet shrimp is highlighted by using a continuous snoot developed by INON. The LF800-N is quite handy and works well with video and macro shooting. I've never seen this shrimp before and nicknamed it The Hornet on the spot. The composition is a bit top-down, but in this angle I was able to pickup a little more of its unique detail.

(Nikon D7100; F22 @ 1/200 + Nauticam SMC; ISO 360; 1 INON LF-800 N - with condenser filter)

 

 

Conclusion

Diopters should be regarded as an essential tool for shooting macro images. Familiarizing yourself with the function of the lens can actually be accomplished on a workbench using a ruler to measure working distance in front of small objects. Remember that your new diopter should be regarded as a new lens purchase and will surely add another layer of image styles into your portfolio. So keep practicing and try some of the simple adjustments as recommended above on your next outing.

Good Luck!

Special thanks to Maluku Divers in Ambon, Indonesia.

 



Diopter Spotlight

View a wide selection of Underwater Diopters


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.

SUPPORT THE UNDERWATER PHOTOGRAPHY GUIDE:

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Tutorial on how to approach big animals and shoot powerful images in blue water, including photo gear and settings
By Todd Thimios

Capture Great Photos in Blue Water

Todd Thimios
Tutorial on how to approach big animals and shoot powerful images in blue water, including photo gear and settings

 

Shooting photographs in open blue water can be one of the most challenging and yet rewarding forms of underwater photography.

For me it has always been the most exciting way to shoot underwater as it requires all kinds of patience and experience while also being full of surprises and split second opportunities. And when all the right factors come into place the encounters can be life changing.

I'm familiar with these big trips to find pelagic ocean life and know what’s at stake with each photo opportunity, so I've put together 5 topics to take into consideration when attempting blue water photography.

 

 

 

DO YOUR RESEARCH

We all want to nail that shot or be in that right place at the right time, but what does it really take to put yourself in “the spot’’? I have always been a firm believer in educating yourself about new environments before arrival. Understanding your subject’s behavior and characteristics and also understanding migratory, feeding and habitual patterns of your subjects all increase your chances of experiencing something special.

 

 

THE RIGHT GEAR AND SETTINGS 

When photographing large marine life in open blue water it is pretty fair to decide on a wide-angle lens straight away. The beauty of wide-angle lenses, on top of allowing us to frame the entire subject, is their ability of close focus and the amount of light they allow. Giving the shooter the extra pleasure of shooting with a faster shutter speed and not a crazy high ISO.

A few things with equipment setup to consider:

  • Why flash? Unless you have a shark rubbing its nose on your dome port in limited ambient light, consider removing your strobes.  You should be shooting with a shutter speed around 1/250th or more.  Most SLR strobes won’t sync beyond 1/250th and only light up an area roughly 2 meters in front of you.  On top of all this, and probably most importantly, think mobility! You’re going to be free diving and making fast movements. You want and need be agile, and big strobes, arms and clamps will slow you down.
  • Shoot in continuous shooting mode with a large memory card and a spare battery. Don’t be afraid to shoot from the ‘’hip’. It’s not every instance that you get the chance to compose through your view finder. Put that camera’s shutter to work.
  • Understand your camera's different focus options and learn about your camera's capabilities with follow (tracking) focus. Lastly, practice selecting multiple focus points on your camera and see what gives the best results.
  • I find great comfort in shooting in TV (shutter priority mode). The reason for this is you don’t always know the direction you are going to be shooting. The subject could come and go from a number of different directions with your camera reading different values of metered light.    

What shutter priority does is it allows you to fix your desired shutter speed, with the aperture chosen by the camera in real time as it calculates stops of light needed to achieve a safe exposure. I don’t want to be changing settings when Sailfish or Dolphins are darting around me from all different directions.  Don’t get me wrong, I still shoot manual in blue water, but only when I decide that the ambient light wont be changing no matter which direction I face and when I can always ensure my histogram supports the decision.

 

 

BE COMFORTABLE IN YOUR SURROUNDINGS

Let's consider your environment when photographing Whales, Sharks, Dolphins, Mantas and so on in the open ocean.  Normally we’re looking at very deep water a long way from land. This brings me to my point; you need to be comfortable in the open water! Some of the best photographers I’ve worked with were free divers, spear fisherman or even surfers before picking up a camera. They know how to read the ocean and marine life, reserve energy and in some cases hold their breath longer than one would think possible. You can image the advantage they have.

Lastly, take note of the sun's location to you and your subject, as this will play a critical role in shooting in ambient light.

 

 

ANIMAL BEHAVIOUR

I love it when I achieve strong eye contact with my subject. I feel it just takes the experience to a new level. It gives your audience more connection with the image, and to me personally, it leaves a more definitive memory. On the contrary, learn when to back off as well. It can be easy to see in photographs that the subject is agitated or distressed, so learn the warning signs and respect your subject. 

 

 

GET CLOSE BUT RESPECT

Ok here it is… get close!!! Yes, you’re photographing some thing huge and yes your lens is wide, but wide-angle lenses also display the image further away and smaller than the natural eye sees it (due to the wide field of view). We want to see the detail and beauty of what you're photographing, so get close.

Enjoy and dive safe.

 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Todd Thimios is a Dive Guide/Instructor for private cliental. A submersible pilot and expedition leader, but foremost a lover of underwater photography/cinematography and marine conservation, with a lust for remote travel and wildlife.  He has circumnavigated the globe by private yacht and includes living on a remote Pacific island for 6 years with 500 people as - “as good as it gets.”

www.toddthimios.com   |   Instagram.com/toddthimios   |   Facebook.com/toddthimios.tv

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Detailed settings information for using the Sony A7R II camera underwater
By Kelli Dickinson

Best Underwater Settings for the Sony A7R II Camera

Kelli Dickinson
Detailed settings information for using the Sony A7R II camera underwater

Quick Navigation:

The Sony A7R II camera has come on to the scene with incredible specs and delivering the highly detailed, excellent quality results we’d expect from a full frame camera. With a smaller footprint than the larger pro style DSLR cameras, it makes it a bit easier for housing and using underwater. However this small size does not hinder the camera in any way* as it still delivers top notch functionality, controls, customization and more. Everything you’d want in a larger DSLR body is available in this smaller mirrorless system. For a full look at the Sony A7R II Camera for underwater photography read our in depth review

*Except maybe battery life. :(

With the expansion of the native lens line, the A7 series is even more desirable, and with three different camera options to choose from, photographers can really hone their system specifically for their desired use. 

I’ve been using the A7R II camera in a couple different housings over the last months, and have dug through the menu’s to find and use the best set up I feel possible for ease of shooting and excellent results while taking advantage of the many options this camera allows.

Please keep in mind as you read there may be a few options that are not possible or differ on the other camera models - A7 II and A7S II - but hopefully nothing too different! 

 

If you are a video shooter, be sure to read Sony a7R II Best Video Settings.



Important Camera Settings

There are several settings that must be changed from the default in the camera menu before using the camera underwater. Make sure to go through your menu to properly select these options in order to maximize your A7R II underwater and have an enjoyable time shooting!

Automatic Switch Between the Electronic Viewfinder and the LCD Screen

The Sony A7R II automatically switches between the LCD and EVF when you put your eye up to the EVF. Underwater this is problematic as the housing blocks the sensor tricking the camera into thinking an eye is up to the EVF so it will not switch back to the LCD automatically. The Nauticam housing uses a light blocker to allow the auto switch to work, however I have found that it does not always work as it should. Aquatica and Ikelite need to have the auto switch shut off or you will be limited to using only the EVF. 

To turn off the automatic switch between EVF and LCD: Menu —> Settings (Cog Icon) —> Screen #4 —> Finder / Monitor —> Select either Viewfinder (Manual) or Monitor (Manual) —> OK to confirm.

This will give you the option of selecting EVF, Auto or LCD. For manual control choose the one you will most often use (either EVF or LCD). The camera will default to that screen when you turn it on. 

To be able to switch between the EVF and LCD quickly you need to program one of the custom buttons for this function. I choose C3 as its located on the back of the underwater housings, making it not great for quick access, but easy enough to reach when you need it.

To assign the EVF/LCD switch function to the C3 button, follow these steps: Menu —> Settings (Cog Icon) —> Screen 7 —> Custom Key Settings —> Custom Button 3 —> Finder / Monitor Sel —> OK to confirm. Now when you press the C3 button it will switch between the EVF and LCD. 

Allow for Easy Image Composition When Using Strobes

The A7R II does not take into account the external strobes we’re using underwater, and the out of the box default for the EVF or LCD screen brightness is to accurately reflect the effect that the camera settings will have on exposure. This means that if you set the camera to F22, 1/250th, your screen will be black! In order to be able to properly compose your image you need to turn this function off so that the screen will always display a bright image. Just keep in mind that what you see is not what you will get! Keep an eye on the meter (which takes into account the flash) or shoot a test shot to refine your exposure. 

To turn off the setting effect follow these steps: Menu —> Settings (Cog Icon) —> Screen 3 —> Live View Display —> Setting Effect OFF —> OK to confirm

Control Your Focus Point

The A7R II comes set up with no easy way to quickly change your focus mode or choose a specific focus area. In order to change the mode or focus area you have to navigate through a few menus unless you customize the path. I recommend assigning the Center (OK) button to control Focus Settings so you gain one touch control of your focus point.

To assign this function follow these steps: Menu —> Settings (Cog Icon) —> Screen 7 —> Custom Key Settings —> Center Button —> Focus Settings —> OK to confirm.

Now when you hit the center button it will automatically bring us the focus area and allow you to move it. (Applicable for Zone, Flexible Spot and Expand Flexible Spot). To quickly change your focus mode you can assign that to one of the other Custom Buttons, or leave the cursor highlighted on the field when you press the Fn key so its ready to be selected without additional scrolling.

Turn Off the AF Illuminator

This is unnecessary in any underwater housing as it is blocked completely. Turn this off to save a little bit of battery life. 

Menu —> Camera Icon —> Screen 4 —> AF Illuminator —> OFF —> OK to confirm

Display Rotation

For whatever reason the A7R II camera defaults to no image rotation during playback. This means if you shoot a portrait oriented image when you go to review it, you’ll see the small version on the horizontal orientation and it will not change to fill the screen if you rotate the camera. To keep from going crazy, turn on the auto display rotation.

Menu —> Playback Settings (Play Icon) —> Screen 1 —> Display Rotation —> Auto —> OK to confirm

Check Your Image Format

Before shooting always check that you are shooting in the mode you want. Make sure you’ve selected RAW, or the correct JPEG option. Do the same if you shooting video to confirm your settings are correct. 

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Lillies Cenotes

 

A7R II Focus Settings

Focus Mode Options

Knowing how your camera is focusing is half the battle with getting that perfect, sharp focus in your images. The second half is properly using those focus modes to your advantage. Here is a quick outline of the A7R II’s focus modes for photography, and my recommendations of which to use underwater. 

AF-S

This is single auto focus, where a half shutter press will lock the focus and that focus will stay locked in place until you depress the shutter. The next half shutter press will lock focus again, etc. 

AF-C 

The camera will continuously focus while the shutter is held half depressed. Once you release the shutter it takes the photo. You can even specify in the camera menu whether you want the priority of the shutter release in AF-C mode to be on locking focus or on releasing the shutter. If you set it to “Release” then the shutter will release even if the camera is not 100% locked in focus. This can mean catching quick action that you would have missed while waiting to lock focus and may be useful in certain shooting situations. The default is “Balanced Emphasis” where the camera chooses the best option for that moment, although I do not know what criteria it uses to decide which to prioritize.

AF-A

This is a more advanced focus mode that is seen on many cameras and may be useful for underwater wide shooting. It effectively lets the camera decide whether to use AF-S or AF-C focusing based on how it sense movement in the frame. If the camera sense that the subject is stationary when you half depress the shutter button it will lock focus. However, it if senses that the subject is moving it will continuously focus while the shutter is half depressed. The downside here is that you may want a specific focus option but the camera may choose differently.

DMF

This is an autofocus mode that allows you to tweak the focus lock manually while holding down the focus. I personally do not feel this one is that useful for underwater as it requires alot of pressing and holding. To use this function you would half depress the shutter and hold it while manually focusing the lens. The risk of accidentally engaging the shutter the rest of the way and taking a photo is too high for me, I prefer the AF-S lock and rocking in and out method to tweak focus for macro shooting.

MF

If you have a lens that is compatible with a focus gear you can use manual focus underwater. I recommend also engaging focus peaking and or manual focus assist to aid in nailing manual focus control.

 

Focus Mode Recommendations for Underwater

Wide Angle Focusing

For shooting wide angle scenics (reefs / wrecks, etc), I tend to prefer to leave the camera set up in a standard configuration with the autofocus engaging at a half shutter press. It makes it easy to focus and shoot a photo, in addition you’ll never forget to lock focus when shooting engaging big animal action. 

The wide angle focus mode I prefer using is AF-C, as this continually allows the camera to refocus while I hold down the shutter half way which is great for moving animals.

In addition I like to select the menu option for PRE-AF (Menu —> Settings (Cog Icon) —> Screen 3 —> Pre-AF —> On) so that the camera is adjusting focus before I take the photo. **Keep in mind this will cause more battery drain when on** 

When shooting reef scenes, wrecks or other large stationary objects you can choose any focus area you like, as nailing focus right away is not a huge deal - your subject is not going anywhere. When shooting big animals I prefer to use either the Wide Focus Area, Zone Focus Area or the Expand Flexible Spot. The Wide option will take into account all the focus areas in the frame and select the best one. It will show the green focus square around the area it selected. If you want to specify a specific area use the Zone, which allows you to select a section consisting of 9 focus areas. The camera will then choose one of those nine. Lastly expand flexible spot allows you to choose a specific focus area. If the camera cannot lock focus on that spot it will use the focus points around that spot as a secondary priority area to focus.

Socorro Manta

 

Macro Focusing

When shooting macro I find its best to work with the AF-S focus mode. This allows me to lock focus once. I also split the focus away from the shutter so that I can take multiple exposures without refocusing.

Any of the focus area options will work fine for macro, however I prefer to use the Flexible Spot so that I can pinpoint exactly where I want the camera to focus (ie: eyes). If the macro subject is quick to move I’ll use a different mode, but for most macro work I select Flexible Spot - Medium. For even more fine tuning select Flexible Spot Small!

A7R II Macro

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Macro Settings

Shooting macro typically means blocking out the ambient light so you can control the scene using your strobes or video lights. Here are my recommendations for starting when shooting with the 90mm Macro lens. 

  • Manual Mode, F22, 1/250th, ISO 100
  • Auto White Balance
  • Most systems will use manual control only on the strobes, but for Ikelite you can set them to TTL if you desire
  • Set Focus Mode to Flexible Spot so that you can easily target a specific area of the image to focus.

TIP - Watch your shutter speed! The A7 cameras do not have a max shutter speed sync stop when plugged into the hot shoe. This means you can easily dial down the shutter past 1/250th, however once you do so, you’ll start to see that black bar across your photos as the exposure is too fast for the flash!

TIP - Get creative - Open up your aperture to F5.6 or lower for blurred background and shallower depth of field

TIP - When shooting fish portraits with the 90mm open your aperture to F11 to start. This will give you strobes more reach, as the camera is letting in more light. Slow your shutter speed down to allow for ambient light to come into the sensor if you don’t want black backgrounds in your portraits.

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Wide Angle Settings

The opposite of macro where you block out ambient light, wide angle needs the ambient light to capture the surrounding views. Adjust your aperture and shutter to allow more light in, while still getting sharp, detailed photos. Here are my recommended starting points.

  • Manual Mode for Reef Scenes, Wrecks, Etc, F8, 1/ 125th, ISO 100
  • Auto White Balance
  • Strobes on Manual or TTL when available
  • Set Focus Mode to Wide to capture all possible focus points, or Expand Flexible Spot when trying to isolate one area for focus, but want some added padding in locking focus.

TIP - Use Aperture or Shutter Priority when shooting big animals or faster moving subjects.

TIP - Remember, shutter speed controls your background exposure for wide angle. Slow or speed up the shutter speed to get the perfectly exposed, nice blue background in your photos. 

TIP - When shooting into the sun you’ll need to set the shutter speed as fast as possible (1/250th to properly sync), also stop down the aperture to avoid blowing out the highlights (increase strobe power)

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Video Settings

The A7R II camera really shines for video shooting, with the ability to shoot full 4K (100M bitrate at up to 30p). In addition the backlit sensor dramatically improves the low light performance, an added bonus for video shooting. The best option for shooting video if your editing system can handle it would be to shoot 4K, then down res the footage when exporting to which ever format you prefer. If you don’t have a robust editing system that can handle the 4K shooting, then our recommendation is to shoot using the high quality XAVC S HD codec (vs MP4 or AVCHD). This will give you nearly 2k resolution, which is still more than you need for online sharing and the max of what most current TV’s display. Here are the basic settings to start with for HD (not 4k) video on the A7R II:

  • XAVC S HD
  • Either 30p or 60p (allows for more control with slowing down motion)
  • Manual control so you can set the correct shutter speed and control aperture and ISO to get a proper exposure / depth of field

For a more detailed look at proper settings and camera control when shooting video, check out our video specific settings article for the A7R II

Underwater Video with A7R II, 1080 30p - Socorro Islands

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Recommended customization for the Aquatica Housing

When installing the camera onto the camera tray, make sure you pop out the LCD screen so that it sits on the tray at an angle. Take care to make sure the ON/OFF lever on the housing is in the same position as the camera (ie: both set to OFF). This will ensure functionality for turning the camera on / off after the housing is closed. In addition you will want to pull up the bracketing and mode dials so that the camera can slide in easily. If you are using a lens with a zoom or focus gear be sure to pull out the zoom knob on the housing also. 

If you have also adjusted the Important Camera Settings there is nothing else you have to change to enjoy the A7R II in the Aquatica housing underwater. However, if you want quick access to ISO or to use some more advanced options such as splitting out the focus lock from the shutter release, here are my recommendations for customizing the camera for the Aquatica housing. 

ISO Control

One great feature of the Aquatica housing is that you have access to a third control wheel, the one surrounding the center button on the back. I love this control, as it allows me to access and change my ISO on the fly when shooting video or ambient light.

To set the rear control wheel for ISO: Menu —> Settings (Cog Icon) —> Screen 7 —> Custom Key Settings —> Screen 1 —> Control Wheel —> ISO —> OK to confirm

Split Out Focus Lock

Aquatica did not extend the AF/MF button on the back of the camera, so I have found the best option for splitting out the focus when shooting macro is to use the C1 button. They made this a longer lever that you can access with your thumb.

To set this up: 

  1. Assign the focus control to the C1 button: Menu —> Settings (Cog Icon) —> Screen 7 —> Custom Key Settings —> Screen 1 —> Custom Button 1—> AF On —> OK to confirm
  2. Remove the Autofocus from the Shutter Release so you can take multiple photos without refocusing: Menu —> Settings (Cog Icon) —> Screen 5 —> AF w/ shutter —> OFF —> OK to confirm

To quickly go back the standard (focus with half shutter release) set up simply turn back ON the AF w/ Shutter option.

White Balance Access

You may want quick access to White Balance control as well. I would recommend assigning this to the either the down button on the back of the camera or the C2 button. On the Aquatica housing the C2 button is a small lever that may be easier to access than the down button, but that is your choice.

To set this up: Menu —> Settings (Cog Icon) —> Screen 7 —> Custom Key Settings —> Screen 1 or 2 —> Custom Button 2 or Down Button —> White Balance —> OK to confirm.

Aquatica Housing Review

Be sure to read our complete Aquatica a7R II Housing Review.

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Recommended Customization for the Nauticam Housing

When installing the camera onto the camera tray, make sure you pop out the LCD screen so that it sits on the tray at an angle. Take care to make sure the ON/OFF lever on the housing is in the same position as the camera (ie: both set to OFF). This will ensure functionality for turning the camera on / off after the housing is closed. 

If you have adjusted the Important Camera Settings there is nothing else you have to change to enjoy the A7R II in the Nauticam housing underwater. However, if you want to use some more advanced options such as splitting out the focus lock from the shutter release, here are my recommendations for customizing the camera for the Nauticam housing. 

Split Out Focus Lock

To easily be able to split out the focus I recommend assigning the focus control to the small button on the back of the camera - AF/MF/AEL. On the Nauticam housing they have designed the control of this button as a lever that is easily controlled by your right thumb.

To set this up: 

  1. Assign the focus control to the AF/MF button: Menu —> Settings (Cog Icon) —> Screen 7 —> Custom Key Settings —> Screen 2 —> AF/MF Button—> AF On —> OK to confirm
  2. Remove the Autofocus from the Shutter Release so you can take multiple photos without refocusing: Menu —> Settings (Cog Icon) —> Screen 5 —> AF w/ shutter —> OFF —> OK to confirm

To quickly go back the standard (focus with half shutter release) set up simply turn back ON the AF w/ Shutter option.

White Balance Access

Lastly you may want quick access to White Balance control as well. I would recommend assigning this to the down button on the back of the camera (Nauticam agrees as they have even labeled it in parenthesis on the housing). Menu —> Settings (Cog Icon) —> Screen 7 —> Custom Key Settings —> Screen 2 —> Down Button —> White Balance —> OK to confirm.

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Recommended Customization for the Ikelite Housing

Coming soon….

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Other Menu Options

The menu of the Sony A7R II camera is very detailed and there are so many functions you can choose to use or not use which can help create the perfect shooting system for your needs. Below I’ll outline a few key settings that you may want to use underwater, however we will not be going through all the options in detail. For more information on every menu option I recommend referring to Sony’s Expanded Manual which is available online here

Camera Menu

ISO AUTO Min SS

 This is an awesome feature on the Sony A7R II and can be especially useful underwater. When shooting in Aperture priority mode, this menu item allows you to specify a minimum shutter speed. This means that you can set it to the lowest shutter speed desired, then choose AUTO ISO and the camera will bump the ISO up instead of dropping the shutter speed to get the proper exposure. When shooting big animals, you’ll never have blurry motion again! (Keep in mind, if its dark you may end up with a very high ISO which will add grain to your photos, test this function out and only use it in conditions that will allow the ISO to stay in your desired range. To make use of this function set your desired minimum shutter speed through the menu, set the camera to A mode and the ISO to auto. The camera will choose the correct shutter speed keeping ISO at 100. If the exposure is too dark and the camera reaches your desired minimum shutter speed then it will begin to bump up the ISO instead of slowing the shutter!

Settings Menu

MF Assist

Turn this on if you’re using manual focus with a focus gear. It will magnify the image so you can focus more easily.

Auto Review

This is the length of time the image review shows on the screen after exposure. 2 seconds is default and may be too short for some. Set to your desired duration.

Peaking Level

Another useful manual focus tool this shows a color along edges in the photo when they are in focus. Choose Mid for peaking level to get good results without being too distracting

Peaking Color

I prefer red, but you can also choose white or yellow, pick whichever shows up best for your preference (again only used for manual focusing)

Priority Set in AF-S / Priority Set in AF-C

Controls the emphasis on shutter release or autofocus lock for those two focus modes. Refer to the section on focus settings above and set to your preference

APC-S / Super 35mm

Here is another great tool that can get you that extra bump from your lens while shooting. Selecting this mode will effectively crop the image in camera resulting in the same field of view you’d see on a cropped sensor camera. You’ll lose resolution from 42 mp down to 18 mp but you’ll gain additional zoom. Use this for macro shots when you want a little extra magnification and don’t plan to crop in post (or are not allowed to crop for the contest you’re entering), it can also be useful when shooting video.

Custom Key Settings

As described above there are many customizable buttons on the A7R II camera. Set these as desired, or as recommended above to create a personalized camera set up.

Sony a7R II Resources:

If you have any questions, feel free to email me at kelli@bluewaterphotostore.com.

 

Sony a7R II Housing info, with recommended ports & lenses

 

     

    

    

 

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Purchase the a7R II Underwater Housing


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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Start shooting energetic surf photos with these fundamental tips, including focus, settings and camera gear
By Stan Moniz

5 Tips for Surf Photography

Stan Moniz
Start shooting energetic surf photos with these fundamental tips, including focus, settings and camera gear

There's something to be said about capturing a breaking wave - locking yourself into a barrel with a surfer, stopping time - and capturing that precise moment on camera. Surf photography is a very demanding art form that doesn't only require technical skill, but high physical endurance and a great knowledge and understanding of the surroundings in and out of the water. Critical timing is everything when trying to engage with a surfer. Here are five tips to get you started in the right direction.

 

Tip 1:  Safety First

Although it isn't a specific camera technique, safety and understanding your surroundings are huge assets  to a striving surf photographer. I've seen it time and time again: first time surf photographers getting hurt really bad or nearly drowning after hitting the waves, anxious to take their new set-up in the ocean.

I have been in the ocean for most of my life surfing and photographing everything from small surf to the out of control double head shore breaking wave that you would never want be a part of. I have my limits and know when to say no. Rip currents, shallow sandbars, and a powerful under tow are only a few things that you need to be aware of when out in the lineup. I would highly recommend starting out in some smaller surf and getting used to the weight of your new setup in the water and to get a feel of what you can and cannot do in the ocean. And Hey! Some of my best surf photos were in perfect glassy conditions with waves only about a foot or two in height. There is no harm in starting off smaller and getting to know your gear before trying to go big right of the bat.

Being a avid swimmer plays another huge part in the role of a surf photographer. Being an experienced ocean swimmer is essential if you want to dive into the world of bigger surf photography or photographing and working with surfers in the water.  Knowing where to compose yourself in a barreling wave while a surfer is coming at you is a crucial thing that only experienced surf photographers can decide in the blink of a eye.

 

Tip 2:  Set it and Forget it

People new to the sport of surf photography often ask me what camera settings they should be using, especially for shooting shore break. My go-to advice, and what I still follow from time to time, is a no brainer - just "set it and forget it." In shutter priority mode (or "TV mode") set the shutter to 1/1000 of a second, set your ISO to Auto and your exposure compensation down 2/3rds of a stop (see tip #4).  This setting will most likely yield excellent results, especially after sunrise and before sunset. I've captured some of my most memorable images with this setting, including an image that graced the September 2014 cover of Outdoor Photographer magazine.

One of the most confusing things for a newbie to the sport to encounter is trying to figure out settings in the ocean while trying to capture the beauty of a curling wave. This basic setting keeps things fun as a beginner until you feel comfortable and want to experience new ways of shooting in the water.

 

Tip 3:  Hyper Focus

Another big question I get asked all the time is, "Where do I set my focus."

I highly recommend starting surf photography with a wide-angle lens like the Tokina 11-20 f2.8, which is and has been my favorite wide-angle lens for quite some time. The reason being, when you find that perfect spot where everything is in focus you just switch the lens to manual and lock it down by using a piece of painters tape. Then you're good to go and don't need to worry about focus for the rest of the session! You can only use this hyper focusing technique at these wider angles of view.  I have found that any focal distance longer than 20mm will give you a false sense of focus and is better suited for auto focusing.

The magic hyper focus distance is 3 feet. It's worked for me in the past and still works for me today. We won't dive too deep into the definition of hyper focusing (and trust me that's opening a entire new can of worms), but just know that everything from 3 feet and beyond will be in focus. Obliviously, if you're using a higher Fstop (such as  f11 where I like to roam around at) you will capture an image that has more depth of field than an image captured at f2.8.

How do I set this hyperfocal distance? I start by setting my camera to Aperture priority mode (or "AV mode") and  then set the aperture to f7.1. This is a great aperture for shooting surf photos on crop sensor and full frame cameras. I measure out 3 feet from my car's license plate and stand there with the camera at that exact distance. Then I take a shot and zoom in to see if everything is sharp and to my liking. If it's all good to go I tape it down - easy as that! Of course, you can test out your focus on any other subject, but a license plate has great detail in the highlights and shadow areas, which will give you a great read out on how sharp your image is.

Utilizing hyper focusing will allow you camera to shoot faster without the delay in focus you'd experience if using autofocus. For a beginner, it strips away the confusion of focusing first and then firing and adds to the fun factor of why you wanted to get into surf photography in the first place.

 

Tip 4:  Exposure Compensation

I touched on exposure compensation briefly in tip 2. Believe it or not, there are a ton of photographers out there (even experts) that don't know what exposure compensation is or how it could benefit their imagery in the surf.

Dropping your exposure compensation by 2/3rd of a stop or even a full stop when shooting directly shooting into the sun works wonders! It helps retain more detail, helping you capture a less blown out image. And if you're working in the water, say with a Sony A7rII camera, the amount of shadow and highlight recovery you can bring back is jaw dropping thanks to this simple technique. Dropping your "expo comp" also helps raise your Fstop, especially in dark shooting conditions like the morning hours before the sun rises. Instead of shooting at f2.8 you might be at f4 with shutter speed of 1/1000 because of the drop.

 

Tip 5:  Get a Reliable Surf Housing

I've seen it happen a few times. A friend of mine and even someone I recently met at the beach went out and bought the best camera and lens money could buy. Then they bought the cheapest water housing they could find on Ebay, using that to protect their 3-4 thousand dollar camera investment. And that's where they went wrong.

They take the new kit out in big surf and get slammed a few times. The buttons start sticking, they can't change their ISO or shutter speed, and then the water housing starts leaking. This, in turn, destroys the electronics in the camera. If you're going to invest in an  awesome camera body and lens, invest in a quality surf housing that has been proven and can take a beating in some heavy surf.

I am an ambassador for Aquatech imaging solutions and been part of the team for about 4 years now.  I have trusted my gear in their housing systems 100% - and I'm not just saying that - from when I started out with Nikon to the Sony mirriorless camera bodies I use now. Each and every water housing I have tested and used the years has been like a little tank in the water. Water damage to my camera is the last thing I care about in the water. More focus can be put on capturing that epic image and just plain out having fun! Investing properly in your gear is not an overstatement.

 

 


Take a look at Bluewater's full line of Aquatech Surf Housings.


 

 

About the Author

Extreme photographer Stan Moniz was a water baby at birth, raised in the quiet surf town of Waialua, Hawaii. He became a professional body boarder at the age of 18 and remains an avid surfer. His passion for music brought him to Southern California in 2000, and after a very successful career in a professional touring band, he ultimately set his sights on his other great passion: photography. In 2010, he reacquainted himself with his love for the ocean, adventure and capturing the beauty of the world we live in. Stan, now equipped with a camera, travels the earth, capturing those timeless moments to share with the world.

www.stanmoniz.com    |    www.facebook.com/stanmonizphotography

Instagram: @StanMoniz    |    Twitter: @StanMoniz


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Use your dive or video light to create vibrant underwater photos with your compact camera without use of a strobe
By Brent Durand

How to Shoot Stills with a Video Light

Brent Durand
Use your dive or video light to create vibrant underwater photos with your compact camera without use of a strobe

The rare red rhinopias rocked forward through the perfect photo composition, greeted with a muffled "clack clack clack" as I fired off three shots at just the right moment. All three frames had excellent exposure, as there was no dark frame indicative of a strobe recycling to full power. There were also no flashes; these photos were shot using just my underwater video lights.

Most underwater photography instruction points towards using strobes. But if you listen carefully, you'll hear murmurs of shooting still photos with video lights from the kelp forests of California to the reefs of Anilao. There are pros and cons to using strobes versus video lights, so we'll take a look at those before exploring the techniques required to capture great still shots with your video or dive lights.

The photos below were shot in Anilao, Philippines with a Canon G16 compact camera in a Fantasea FG16 housing, using either one or two I-Torch Venom38 video lights.

 


More info and purchase the Fantasea FG16 Housing Bundle

More info and purchase the I-Torch Venom38 Video Light


 

 

Pros to Shooting with Strobes

  • Speed of 1/10,000 of a second freezes any fast action

  • High power (guide number) results in vibrant color that easily overpowers ambient light (that green/blue tint)

  • No constant light that may stress out a photo subject

 

Pros to Shooting with Dive or Video Lights

  • Ability to shoot fast action - shoot with multiple fps burst - no waiting for strobe or pop-up flash to recycle

  • Ability to see exposure and color on camera LCD screen before shooting

  • Ambient light shooters can reduce harsh shadows without sacrificing the ambient light look

  • A kit with a video light(s) is ready to shoot well-lit video on any dive

  • Video lights are (generally) cheaper, more compact and easier to maintain than strobes

 

 

Camera Settings

The light from your dive or video lights is considered ambient light, which means that we can adjust our exposure and light positioning even before firing the first frame. There are two important tools for this:

1)  Camera metering:  This is generally represented by a line graphic showing +/- 2 stops of exposure. When the little line is in the center (at the 0), then the exposure is right on.

2)  Histogram:  Everyone who has joined me on a workshop knows how much importance I place in the histogram. You can cycle through the "info" (or "disp") button to display the histogram on your screen while adjusting camera settings, light intensity and beam angle. When all the information falls within the histogram, then you will not lose any picture data through under or overexposure.

 

Compact Camera Settings

Shooting in manual seems intimidating at first, but is very simple once you take the first step. It also provides the ability to capture the exact photo you envision.

ISO:  Keep this low on your compact camera.  ISO 100 to 160 will work well if you have a strong dive or video light.

Aperture:  This controls the depth of field in your image, and how much of the subject is in focus. F5 is a great starting point for macro on a compact camera.

Shutter speed:  This should be fast enough to avoid motion blur but not so fast that it cancels ambient light (from your video light). Set this between 1/100 and 1/160 (provided a strong video light). This is my most variable setting, since ISO and aperture get locked down early in creating the composition.

Video light:  Depending on the strength of your video light, you may not need to set it to full power. The goal is to properly expose your image (using the histogram and/or metering graph) and make sure that the lit part of the frame does not have a green/blue tint to it. We want the video light to be strong enough that it overpowers that ocean-ambient light tint.

That said, ambient light shooters who use manual white balance will notice that using a light in dark situations will help them lower the ISO and stop down to achieve enough depth of field. In this situation, the light intensity should be enough that you can work down into the proper settings without the light becoming too strong and taking away from the ambient light styling of the image.

 

 

Video Light Positioning

There are several ways to mount and position a video light on your compact camera housing. You can mount it via the the coldshoe mount on top of the housing, attach a tray and handles with arms/clamps or flexconnect, or simply hand hold your video light. Ultralight Control Systems makes a wide range of accessories for getting your light(s) into any position.

In Anilao, I used all three of these methods depending on whether I was shooting with one or two lights. The goal with light positioning is to angle the light so that your subject is well lit, the shadows fall naturally, and there is minimum backscatter. Below are a few tips.

1)  Shoot with the light facing your subject. This fills in shadows that might otherwise fall on the face of the subject, which is the most important feature in connecting the viewer to the image. Leaving the light straight over the top of the subject will result in harsh, linear shadows.

2)  Never light from below. We are used to seeing shadows below features of everything lit by the sun: people, trees, pure white seagulls flying over aqua water in the Sea of Cortez... If you light your underwater subject from below, it might look like a Halloween jack-o-lantern! Let's avoid this.

3)  Watch the highlights. Keep a careful eye on the white highlights of your subjects. If you position the light too closely, these highlights will get blown out with no way to recover them during post-processing, especially if your ISO is above 100.

4)  Use the edge of the light beam. By using the edge of the cone of light to illuminate the subject without illuminating any extra water, we minimize backscatter in our shots. This is a technique I cover in-depth during workshops, as it is fundamental for shooting anytime you have open water above and/or behind your subject.

 

Conclusion

Video lights are a fantastic way to bring some vivid color into your underwater photos without breaking the bank on strobes. People who choose to shoot with ambient light will also find that using a video light as "fill light" will help get rid of shadows around ledges, crevices or holes, making many more shots possible.

So try it out! Break away from the standard photo instruction and shoot some still photos in a whole new light!

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Brent Durand is a weekend wanderer, story teller and image-maker from California.
BrentDurand.com   |  Facebook  |  Instagram

Brent is managing editor of the Underwater Photography Guide and leads occasional trips for Bluewater Photo.  Email Brent at brent@uwphotographyguide.com or email Bluewater Travel about Brent's custom photo workshops.

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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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Reefscapes, schooling fish and photo tips for capturing unique wide-angle photos in some very rarely dived areas of India
By Erik Lukas

Wide-Angle in the Andaman Islands

Erik Lukas
Reefscapes, schooling fish and photo tips for capturing unique wide-angle photos in some very rarely dived areas of India

I had the privilege of joining Bluewater Photo’s Mark Strickland on an amazing 10-day underwater photo workshop to the Andaman Islands, on the beautiful Infiniti Liveaboard. For those who are unfamiliar with the Andaman Islands, they are a territory of India, situated in the Bay of Bengal between India to the west, and Myanmar and Thailand to the east.

The itinerary would be bringing us to several locations over the 10-days, but what I looked forward to the most were the remote and uninhabited, Narcondam and Barren Islands.

In addition to the remote, infrequently visited locations we would be diving, the Andaman Islands are known for their amazing soft and hard coral reefs as well as large schools of fish, both of which make great subjects for wide angle photography. In this article I wanted to share some tips and techniques for capturing engaging wide angle photos.

 

Get Close, then Get Closer ... and finally, Get Even Closer

 

One of the most dramatic techniques in wide-angle photography is Close Focus Wide Angle. This technique leverages the extreme close focus capability and tremendous depth-of-field attributes of a super wide-angle lens. It allows the photographer to place a subject very close to the lens, while still capturing a wide angle of view of the background scene. In this example, I used the Canon 8-15mm f/4L fisheye lens behind a Zen DP-100 (4 inch mini dome), and framed a Crown-of-Thorns starfish just a few centimeters from the dome port. The small size of this dome allowed me to position the subject as close to the minimum focusing distance of the lens as I could, while still providing a wide angle of view for the rest of the scene. An exposure of 1/200th at f/16 and ISO 160 allowed me to sharply capture both the closest thorns and the furthest rocks, plus the rays of sun, and the rich blue of the water. The Sea&Sea YS-D1 strobes were fired at full power and were positioned slightly behind the camera housing. They were pulled in very close to the handles, and aimed away from the subject to prevent backscatter. The use of two large diffusers allowed the soft light to wrap around and illuminate the entire subject.

 

Get Low, Take a Deep Breath, Then Get Set

There is no better way to transport your viewer into your photo than to give them a scene they can relate to. Having a diver present in the photo is perhaps the best way to allow the viewer to relate to an image ... they can imagine themselves in the diver's position. I was framing a scene of some colorful soft corals at a dive site called Black Magic when my dive buddy tugged on my fin to alert me to the freight train of Jacks barreling past us behind my back. As I turned to look, I noticed two things: the massive size of this school of fish and one of the dive guides hovering about 8-10 feet above the bottom, and only 4-6 feet away from the school. Knowing this scene would be fleeting, I took a deep breath, cleared my mind and ran through what I would need to do to set up for this shot. I turned both of my strobes off and made two test images to adjust the camera settings for the ambient light. I then made sure the diver was placed in the upper right third of the frame, and had the fish swimming into the frame from the upper left. Without the use of strobes, I was able to capture the deep blue of the water, the diver in silhouette, and was able to use the ambient light to reflect off the silver skin of the fish.

 

Go Full Circle

All fisheye lenses are wide-angle, but not all wide-angle lenses are fisheye. The Canon 8-15mm f/4L is a full 180° circular fisheye lens. At the 15mm zoom setting it fills the frame with a complete 180° field of view, but zoomed out to the 8mm setting, it gives a complete circular image that is surrounded by a black frame. It’s certainly not a setting that is conducive to all situations, but used judiciously and in the right conditions, it can create some very engaging images that have the viewer leaning in to get a closer look. I had found a beautiful patch of branching hard corals at a site called Lighthouse Reef at Narcondam Island, but what caught my attention was a single smaller coral head that was separated from the larger colony by about 15-20 feet. I had worked on a few close focus shots of the coral, and after getting an image I was pleased with (first image from above) I thought it would be an ideal scene to try with a full circular fisheye view. As you can see from the results, both images are interesting, but the full circular image really does leave a lot to the imagination...almost appearing to be an image of our own planet, and pulling the viewer in for a closer inspection.

 

 

I hope this brief article gives you a few ideas on ways to explore your wide angle photography.  There are countless ways to create an image that will engage the viewer, and these are just some that I like to think about while searching for scenes to capture.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Erik Lukas is an active diver and photographer based in Los Angeles, CA. He is a volunteer scuba diver at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, CA. You can expect to find Erik diving many of the amazing Pacific Ocean sites of Southern California, camera in hand, at any chance he can get.

See more of his underwater photography on Instagram at SeeUnderSea, or visit his website at www.seeundersea.com

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