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.
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.

SUPPORT THE UNDERWATER PHOTOGRAPHY GUIDE:

The Best Service & Prices on u/w Photo Gear

 

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

 


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

 

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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 the editor of the Underwater Photography Guide and leads several photo trips and workshops for Bluewater Photo (see below).  Email Brent at brent@uwphotographyguide.com.

Bali & Lembeh Strait Workshops (Sept '16)   |   La Paz Big Animal Photo Trip (Oct '16)   |   Sri Lanka Wrecks & Reefs OR Whales & Dolphins Workshops (Feb '17)   |   Alor, Indonesia small group Photo Trip (Oct '17)

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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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Learn why portrait orientation is a powerful composition tool and when to apply the technique
By Tracey Jones

3 Reasons to Shoot Vertical

Tracey Jones
Learn why portrait orientation is a powerful composition tool and when to apply the technique

Whether above or below the water, many new photographers only take pictures in a horizontal orientation. This can be limiting because composition is one of the key ingredients needed to make a great photo, and orientation is the first thing to consider when composing a shot.

In this article I will explain three reasons why a portrait composition can sometimes be better with underwater photography.

 

Adding a Sense of Depth

 The vertical presentation is brilliant for showing how deep a reef is. Drop offs and walls are a good example of this; the top of the image will be bright with the sunlight from the surface, but as the viewer’s eye follows the line of the wall down, the image will get darker because less light filters through the water. The darkness gives the viewer a perception of endlessness as they are not able to see the bottom.

 

Sunlight from the surface lands on the top of the reef illuminating the coral in the center of the image, whilst the wall drops off getting darker towards the bottom. ISO 800, f/10, 1/125

 

The crop emphasizes the shape and separates the jacks from the smaller surgeon fish in the foreground. ISO 250, f/7.1, 1/125

 

Vertical Lines

 Lines can be found in most pictures; they are used to lead the viewer’s eye through the photo, often creating a sense of distance. Underwater there are many subjects that can create vertical lines: corals, wrecks, piers, walls, eels, fish, bubbles and even sunbeams. If you constrain these lines within a horizontal frame, they will appear shorter and the subject may seem squashed. Turning the camera sideways will allow for the lines to stand out and take the viewer on a journey through the picture.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo left:  These three corals are placed one behind the other creating a line drawing you into image. ISO 400, f/6.3, 1/125
Photo right:  The break in staghorn coral creates a line leading up towards the surface. ISO 400, f/9, 1/125

 

Fish Portraits

 As the name suggests, portraits look best in a portrait presentation. There are many marine creatures which naturally fit a portrait frame: eels, snakes and fish schooling in tornadoes to name a few. However, most fish are a natural landscape shape, so photographers often shoot them that way. Cropping just the head and shoulders of the fish in a portrait frame can create a closer and more revealing image of the fish.

 

This image was originally in a landscape orientation but after experimenting I cropped it like this to emphasis the line of the snake’s body coming out of the black.  ISO 2000, f/8, 1/125

 

Shooting in portrait orientation provides many different options for creating stunning compositions that will make you stand out from the crowd. These are just three examples of where portrait images work well, but almost any underwater scene can be shot in a vertical frame. Taking the time to stop and think about a composition can inspire a new approach. Just go out and experiment, take your time and think about every shot, but don’t forget to have fun.  

 

 

About the Author

Tracey Jones has been working as an underwater photographer for the past four years in South East Asia. She currently works for Bali Reef Divers (Amed, Bali) where she photographs students and teaches photography courses. For more examples of her work please visit:

www.traceyjonesphotography.com   |   www.facebook.com/traceyjonesphotography

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Photo tips, best gear, camera settings and photo essay on capturing epic wave shots from the water
By Ben Thouard

The Essentials of Wave Photography

Ben Thouard
Photo tips, best gear, camera settings and photo essay on capturing epic wave shots from the water

Wave photography has become a huge passion for me. Waves are fascinating; they are all different and provide an endless subject to photograph. When shooting waves, my goal is to make people feel the energy that can be found in the ocean thru the different shapes of the waves.

There are some unique moments out in the ocean, especially when the best light comes and changes it all! The light plays with the surface of the water, while the wave dressing up creates some unique reflections, shadows and forms that only a photo can translate. It all happens in a split second - a very short moment when the water looses gravity and delivers its raw power.

It’s so amazing to swim out there searching for those moments that it has become a drug to me.

 

 

Equipment for Wave Photography

To start shooting waves you need to get a bit of specialized equipment. Of course a camera and a lens are first on the list. I would suggest a 50mm to start, as everybody is shooting waves with a fisheye, and in the end, all those photos look the same. You’ll certainly get more results with a fisheye, but only a few of the photos will really stand out from all the others. I think a 50mm allows you to capture more details, reflections and shapes of the wave.

Next you need a housing designed to shoot waves in the surf - not a dive housing. Surf housings are much lighter than dive housings and use a pistol grip that allows you to hold the housing with one hand and continue shooting the wave above your head while you begin diving under. Surf housings are also built to resist heavy impacts from the lip of the wave.

I've been using Aquatech housings for the last 8 years, and even though there are a few others on the market, they are definitely my favorite out there. They are light, functional, and very safe for your camera. You can order a front port for any lens you’d like to use in the water as well as a flash housing if you’d like to light up some photos. Note that they use speedlight flashes instead of the underwater strobes common for scuba diving.

Lastly, Aquatech housings are not only surf housings - they can also be used in many other situations from the surface to 33 feet deep. I've shot a ton of whales and other marine animals in Tahiti and the surf housing works perfectly.

 

Here is my set up for wave photography. I use 2 Aquatech housings and just a pair of fins.

A Delphin housing for the Canon EOS 1DX mII here with a 24mm.

A Elite housing for the Canon EOS 5DSR here with a 50mm.

I mostly shoot with fixed lenses as it forces you to think about the frame you want to get and the position to be in. That's my preference, but you can also use almost any zoom lens with a zoom gear.

 


Check out our favorite Aquatech housings and accessories.


 

 

Wave Photography Techniques

So let’s go back to shooting waves. You need to learn (if you don’t know already) how breaks a wave to be able to get into the right position to shoot it. It could be very dangerous if you are in the wrong place and get surprised by a wave.

It is best to shoot waves early morning or late afternoon as the light gets low. You’ll get many more reflections and details on the surface of the water. And if you manage to get the right angle, you’ll get some reflections of the sun on the wave, and that’s when it starts to be interesting.

After that it’s a question of timing, searching for great waves, waiting for the right conditions and countless hours swimming in the waves with your camera.

It's fascinating and always different!

 

 

 

 

 


 

About the Author

I’m Ben Thouard, a watersport photographer based in Tahiti for 8 years. I mostly shoot surfing, however I love spending time in the ocean shooting a bunch of different things. I now dedicate a lot of my time to shooting empty waves because I love it - it’s fascinating. All the waves are different and the light you can capture reflecting on the surface of the ocean is amazing. Check out more of my work here:

Website:  www.benthouard.com

Facebook page:  www.facebook.com/Ben.Thouard.Photography

Instagram:  www.instagram.com/benthouard

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Overview of the best video settings for using the Sony a7R II underwater
By Brent Durand

Sony a7R II Best Video Settings for Underwater

Brent Durand
Overview of the best video settings for using the Sony a7R II underwater

The Sony a7R II is widely acclaimed for shooting video in 4K resolution. This is the selling point for many underwater photo and video shooters who have been flocking to the camera, choosing it over older competitors like the Canon 5D Mark III and Panasonic GH4.

Like all cameras, the Sony a7 II series has certain settings that must be used to capture nice video, certain settings that are optional depending on experience level, and certain settings that will enhance camera performance in certain shooting situations.

I've had a chance to dig into the menu of Bluewater Photo's rental Sony a7R II and underwater housing in order to put this guide together. I have not had a chance to shoot much underwater video or conduct any head-to-head quality comparisons of certain recording features, but have strong recommendations based on other cameras, office tests and much online research. The settings guide specifically mentions the a7R II but applies to the a7 II and a7S II camera bodies. Here we go!

If you haven't yet, be sure to read our complete Sony a7R II Review for Underwater Photography.

Or, read our extremely detailed Sony a7R II Settings Guide (for still photos).

 

Settings Guide Sections

Key Features   |   Basic Settings   |   Video Focus Tips   |   Best Lenses   |   Important Menu Settings

 

Sony a7R II Key Video Features

Below are the key video features we will explore further in the menu settings section of this guide.

  • Video recording in 4K resolution

  • Multiple file formats: XAVC S 4K, XAVC S HD, AVCHD, MP4

  • Recording bitrates up to 100MBs

  • Increased dynamic range with S-Log2 gamma picture profile (*pros only)

  • 5-Axis image stabilization built-in

  • Zebra Pattern for precise exposure control

  • Focus peaking for manual focus

  • APS-C/Super 35mm record mode

  • 3 programmable custom buttons

 

Basic Camera Settings for Underwater Video

There are two approaches to shooting underwater video. The first is to shoot away on automatic (or "P for professional" mode) and share the raw video or clip right on social media. This is easily done with the Sony a7R II's built-in WiFi and Sony's downloadable apps. The second approach is to carefully consider each and every shot, often working to complete a pre-planned storyboard. This is when consistent settings become useful, as you will often be combining footage from topside cameras during post-processing.

We recommend shooting full manual in order to give you precise control of each shot.

 

Shutter Speed

The general rule for video shutter speed is to double the frame rate. If you are shooting 4K at 30fps, then set your shutter speed to 1/60.  If you are shooting 1080p at 60fps, then set your shutter speed to 1/125. Experienced shooters looking for a cinema look may opt to shoot 25fps and 1/50 (*NTSC - PAL is available).

Why? This ratio provides the right amount of motion blur for natural-looking playback. Using a faster shutter speed will make the footage look very choppy, while a slow shutter speed will not look sharp. 

 

Aperture

Aperture will control the depth of field of the shot, and to a lesser extent, the vibrance of the color brought out by video lights and overall exposure of the scene. Because of this, there is no right or wrong aperture. For wide-angle shooting we recommend an aperture of f/9 as a starting point. For macro with strong video lights, try stopping all the way down to f/25 or f/29 in order to have enough depth of field. A powerful video light will easily produce enough light for proper exposure.

 

ISO

ISO is often the variable for shooting underwater video, and the Sony a7R II stands up to the challenge. The exact ISO will depend on the water clarity and available light, plus the chosen aperture. For wide-angle underwater video, this could be anywhere from 200 to 3200 or even 6400. Note that the higher you push the ISO, the more noise grain you will see in the footage.

We recommend an ISO of 100 for macro video, since your video lights will be producing more than enough light.

 

 

Sony a7R II Video Focus Tips

There are several focus modes available on the Sony a7R II, and different schools of though on using them. It boils down to three main categories that you can choose between. I've labeled them so as to make the most sense.

1.  Manual Focus.  The benefit here is that you have full control and can add creative shots like focus pulls. The downside is that you need to carefully focus each shot after composing, which can be challenging during fast action, in heavy surge, etc.

2.   Semi-Manual Focus.  This is the most versatile and my preferred method of focus for underwater video. Set the Focus Mode to AF-C (continuous) and make sure the a7R II is in manual camera mode, not movie mode. The camera will autofocus whenever you half depress the shutter (or other assigned focus button). This allows you to either 1) focus and then take finger off so the camera stops focusing and you run no risk of AF hunting, or 2) keep the shutter half-depressed to continually focus from one object to another - say from a reef to a passing fish. This is very versatile, offering the benefits of manual focus, the ease of single autofocus, and the simplicity of continuous autofocus.

3.  Full Automatic Continuous Focus.  This method is for those who want less to do while filming. Simply shoot video in the camera's movie mode and the autofocus will continually focus on the most prominent subject as determined by the camera. One unfortunate side effect is AF hunting, when the camera goes in and out of focus while hunting for crisp focus. This will ruin a shot for serious videographers but might not even be noticed by beginners.

 

Best Lenses for Underwater Video

Sony makes a very nice range of lenses for their mirrorless camera line. In addition, Canon shooters can use their lenses via a Metabones adapter, often creating a cheaper transition for those heavily invested in Canon glass. We recommend the following lenses for shooting Sony a7R II underwater video.

Wide-Angle

  • Sony FE 16-35mm F4 ZA OSS Lens

    • This rectilinear wide-angle zoom lens is a staple for wide scenes like reefscapes and skittish subjects like sharks. it is designed for full frame sensors.

  • Sony 28mm F2 lens + Fisheye Converter

    • This fisheye setup provides a 180 degree angle of view, perfect for capturing very wide scenes and for close focus wide-angle shots.

  • Sony 10-18mm F4 OSS Alpha Lens

    • This rectilinear wide-angle zoom lens is designed for APS-C (crop) sensors. Why do I list it? Because many Sony a7R II shooters will use APS-C/Super 35 mode for shooting video. The 10-18mm will provide a much wider field of view when shooting in this mode. Note that it will be unusable in full frame mode due to severe vignetting.

Macro

 

a7R II Important Menu Settings

The Sony a7R II settings discussed in this section help capture the shot with the image quality best suited for your level of underwater videography. We dive through the menu, skipping settings for photography and those that aren't concerns for video, highlighting just what you need to know for video. The settings we recommend are based on the casual videographer purchasing the Sony a7R II. Pros can and will often use different settings to achieve specific goals.

 

Camera Menu Tab

 

SCREEN 2

File Format and Record Setting

    Option 1:  XAVC S 4K - 30p 100M

  • This combination delivers the highest resolution at a very fast bitrate. One pro is that you can crop down during post to fill the frame more. One con is that you need a fast SCXC memory card (Class 10 with 64GB+ storage), plus a "fast" computer in order to edit the footage.

   Option 2:  XAVC S HD - 30p 50M

  • This combination will deliver full HD (1080p) video with excellent quality. One pro is that it's easier for most people to work with during post-processing, and is the resolution most commonly shared online. One con is that you could be recording at a higher resolution. BONUS:  Record at 60p in order to slow down footage for slow motion.

Dual Video REC:  This is useful if you want to record high quality video for post-processing, plus a quick MP4 for easy sharing online. Generally, leave this OFF.

SCREEN 3

  • Focus Mode:  Continuous AF (see Focus Tips section)

  • Focus Area:  Flexible Spot.  This allows you to select a precise area of focus.

SCREEN 4

  • AF drive speed:  Fast

  • AF Track Sens:  High

SCREEN 5

  • White Balance:  Auto.  This is best for general use, with and without video lights. That said, there are many situations where manual white balance is beneficial. One of the Custom buttons can be programmed for quickly setting manual WB.

  • Creative Style:  Standard

SCREEN 6

  • Picture Effect:  Off

  • Picture Profile:  Off

SCREEN 7

  • Center Lock-on AF:  Off

  • Smile/Face Detect:  Off

SCREEN 8

  • Movie:  Manual Exposure.  We highly recommend shooting in manual. That said, you could change this to Program Auto for auto video settings.

  • SteadyShot:  On. We recommend leaving this on, unless your shot calls for specific camera movements.

 

Settings Menu Tab

 

SCREEN 1

  • Zebra:  Off.  This feature is invaluable for advanced shooters who want to ensure no section of the image is blown out, but may prove distracting to new videographers.

  • MF Assist:  Off.  This feature is for manual focus only.

SCREEN 2

  • Peaking Level & Color:  Not relevant - these functions are for manual focus only.

SCREEN 6

  • APS-C/Super 35mm:  On or Off.  This setting is subject to much debate. Long story short, shooting in APS-C/Super 35 is said to produce a higher quality video with less compression (no pixel binning). Great, so why would you not use this?  Because your 16-35mm lens is now being shot with a 1.6 crop factor (instead of using the full full-frame sensor), reducing the field of view. Because of this, savvy video shootinger using Super 35 mode opt for the Sony 10-18mm, which is designed for the APS-C crop. But this lens is unusable outside of Super 35 mode because of vignetting. If field of view is not a primary concern, try shooting in Super 35 mode!

SCREEN 8

  • MOVIE Button:  Always.  You want to be able to record while in camera modes. See Video Focus Tips section.

 

Sample 4K Video - Sony a7R II

 

Best Housings for the Sony a7R II

Our detailed Sony a7R II camera review has a great overview of underwater housings from Aquatica, Sea&Sea, Nauticam and Ikelite.

 

Purchase the Sony a7R II

Check out camera info, lenses, underwater housings, accessories, and buy the Sony a7R II camera on Bluewater Photo.

 

Conclusion for Underwater Video

The Sony a7R II, a7S II and a7 II are some of the best options on the market for shooting underwater video. I hope these settings get you on the way to shooting some incredible video. As always, you can contact the team at Bluewater Photo for full details on shooting Sony mirrorless cameras.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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

Brent is the editor of the Underwater Photography Guide and leads several photo trips and workshops for Bluewater Photo (see below).  Email Brent at brent@uwphotographyguide.com.

Bali & Lembeh Strait Workshops (Sept '16)   |   La Paz Big Animal Photo Trip (Oct '16)   |   Sri Lanka Wrecks & Reefs OR Whales & Dolphins Workshops (Feb '17)   |   Alor, Indonesia small group Photo Trip (Oct '17)

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Wide angle underwater photography tips from professional photographer, Craig Dietrich.
By Craig Dietrich

9 Wide Angle Underwater Photography Tips

Craig Dietrich
Wide angle underwater photography tips from professional photographer, Craig Dietrich.

I've been fortunate enough to make a living pursuing my two passions:  underwater photography and scuba diving.  Living in South Florida, I have the opportunity for amazing diving in my own backyard, and have also been fortunate enough to travel to see amazing marine life in other parts of the world.  I'm in the water as often as possible, as I know first hand that missing a dive could mean missing that perfect shot.  I love to shoot wide angle, as I feel it gives the viewer the feeling of being in the Blue themselves, with big sweeping images and a simple reminder of how small we really are.  I also love the challenges that wide angle photography brings, there are a lot of moving parts to get a great shot--but when it all comes together, the payoff can be breathtaking.

Below are 9 techniques I use to capture creative underwater images:

 

1. Slow Down your Shutter Speed

Due to the fact this school was moving very slowly, a slower shutter speed helped pick up the ambient light as a result, lightened the blue water in the background.

Craig Dietrich - Bronze Ball

 

2. Take Chances!

I saw this whale breach and begged the Captain of the liveaboad to take me out to that area. Since he had never seen a mother let anyone get near when a calf was around, he told me I'd never get close enough to get any good shots, but I persisted and was the only one who grabbed a mask, snorkel and fins. Although it took some time for the mother humpback to be comfortable enough to get close to me, I eventually captured this image of she and her calf.

Craig Dietrich - Motherly Love

 

3. Get Close

Get as close as possible so the strobes can bring out the natural detail in the subject.

Craig Dietrich - Painted Turtle

 

4. Be Patient

Sometimes it's best to let the scene unfold to see what shot might present itself.  If I had not waited, I never would have seen this Mother pushing her calf to the surface to teach her to breach.

Craig Dietrich - Baby Steps

 

5. Be Ready!

When possible, assess the situation before you get in the water and be ready for anything (i.e: dolphins jumping INTO the water).

Craig Dietrich - Takin' A Dive


6. Expose for the Background

Sometimes the image warrants closing down and exposing for the background, allowing for this silhouette of the manta.

Craig Dietrich - Black Manta


8. Use the Sun to your Advantage

To add additional drama, use the sun to your advantage.  Get close to the subject, let the strobes fill in the shadows, and expose for the background.

Craig Dietrich - Sunball Manta

 

9. Shoot at an Upward Angle

Shooting upward can add additional drama to an already interesting image.

Craig Dietrich - Close-Up Shark

 

Want to learn more?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Craig Dietrich is a former Naval and family/children’s photographer.  An avid scuba diver, his two loves of diving and photography came together and now Craig is based out of Pompano Beach, Florida.  View more of Craig’s work at www.dietrichunderwater.com.

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Tutorial and experiences shooting over-under split shots in French Polynesia and Hawaii
By Renee Grinnell Capozzola

How to Capture Stunning Splits

Renee Grinnell Capozzola
Tutorial and experiences shooting over-under split shots in French Polynesia and Hawaii

Ever since picking up a camera and taking underwater photos, I have been mesmerized by over-under or split shots.  After all, people cannot naturally see both above and below the surface at the same time, so splits really catch your eye.  I quickly wondered how these striking and unique images were taken - and what I could do to get some myself! 

 

Equipment for Split-Shots

First off, splits are easiest with the right equipment.  You will need to obtain a wide-angle lens, either fisheye or rectilinear.  These types of lenses will yield a wider angle of view and pull more scenery into your frame, both above and below the water line.  The Tokina 10-17mm f/3.5-4.5 fisheye is a fantastic choice and works perfectly with both cropped sensor DSLRs and full frame sensors (from 15-17mm).  In addition to having a wide-angle lens, you also will greatly benefit from a super large dome port.  In fact, as the saying goes, “the bigger, the better!”  A 9-inch dome port or larger is ideal, but under the right conditions, splits can still work well with 7-8 inch ports and are even possible with smaller diameters.  Keep in mind that the smaller the port, the calmer the water will need to be in order to have a thinner meniscus (curve of water against the dome port) and the less surface area you will have available.  Furthermore, larger dome ports focus better since the virtual image is further away than with smaller domes.  With regard to glass versus acrylic dome ports, my preference is certainly glass.  From my personal experience, they really do shed water droplets so much better, but glass is more expensive.

 

Sony A6000, Sony 10-18mm, Nauticam 7” dome. f/16, 1/200, ISO 320

 

Composition and Shooting Technique

Next, you will have to think about composition.  Of course, splits are always possible on the fly, but pre-planning your shot can make all the difference as to whether you nail it or not.  Choose interesting subject matter not just underwater but above the water line as well, if possible.  For example, above the surface you could have a boat, an island or beach in the background, cool clouds in the sky, or the subject itself if it is breaking the surface.  Be sure to focus on the subject that is underwater. 

 

Canon 7D Mark II, Canon 18-22mm, Nauticam 8" dome. f/18, 1/160, ISO 320

 

Ideally, the water should be calm so that you capture all of your subject matter cleanly, since waves and water movement can cut off some of your image.  However, if you can get the timing right, it can be fun to incorporate some of the water movement into your image (see below).

 

Canon 7D Mark II, Tokina 10-17mm, Nauticam 8" dome. f/16, 1/100, ISO 400

 

In my opinion, splits are easiest to do when snorkeling since you don’t have to worry about running out of air and can stay in the water as long as you want, waiting for the right moment.  Of course, I have popped to the surface while scuba diving to follow a marine creature such as a sea turtle going up for air, but most of the time I don’t get what I want because there isn’t enough time to plan my shot.  If you can change your settings quickly, then you may be successful with these impromptu shots.

 

Canon 7D Mark II, Tokina 10-17mm, Nauticam 8" dome. f/18, 1/125, ISO 320

 

Best Settings for Split-Shots

Speaking of settings, knowing how to use your camera in manual mode is crucial.  First, you will want to use a small aperture in order to get everything in focus, including the background.  Generally speaking, an aperture of f14-f18 works well in most situations provided the sun is out.  If it isn’t very bright, you can widen the aperture but keep in mind that the wider the aperture, the less sharp your background will be.  Note that the underwater portion of your image will be underexposed as compared to the topside portion, but that’s easy to adjust in Adobe Lightroom with the graduated filter.

Next, you will need to bump up your ISO to compensate for the small aperture so your image isn’t too dark and enough light hits the sensor.  Provided the sun is out, I like to start with ISO 320 on mirrorless and cropped DSLRs. On full frame DSLRs I can increase the ISO much more without added noise, which allows me to use a smaller aperture.  As mentioned, it needs to be sunny to capture well exposed splits.  The sun shouldn’t be too low in the sky and ideally be behind you (or directly above you) to achieve the most color saturation and to minimize the exposure difference above and below the water line.

 

Canon 7D Mark II, Tokina 10-17mm, Nauticam 8" dome. f/16, 1/200, ISO 320

 

Lastly, you will have to set the shutter speed.  For slow moving subjects like turtles, I usually use 1/125, and for faster moving subjects like sharks, I use 1/200 or higher.  Strobes can help to lighten and freeze the underwater subject as well, but I generally prefer to not use strobes with splits if it is bright and sunny because they are cumbersome, often get in the way, and can make the lighting look somewhat artificial.  However, if lighting is not ideal or it is sunset, then strobes can be really helpful to brighten the underwater section of your image.

 

Sony A6000Sony 10-18mmNauticam 7” dome. f/16, 1/160, ISO 320, dual Sea&Sea YS-D1 strobes

 

If your camera can be set to back-button focus, you will certainly want to set your camera so that the shutter and focus are separate.  Normally, when you press the shutter halfway, the camera focuses, and then you press the shutter all the way to take the shot.  However, when trying to shoot a quickly moving subject, it is advantageous to activate the focus independent of the shutter button.  In other words, you want to manipulate your camera so that the shutter button doesn’t control the focus.  Most mirrorless and DSLRs have the ability to program a button on the back of your camera to perform this back-button focus.  On most of these cameras, it is the AF-ON button that needs to be programmed.  You can read UWPG’s complete back-button focus tutorial for more info.

 

Canon 5D Mark III, Tokina 10-17mm, Nauticam 9" dome. f/18, 1/200, ISO 320

 

One other thing to consider is getting a camera that has an optical viewfinder.  I learned the hard way that using the LCD under bright, sunny conditions made splits almost impossible.  With a viewfinder, you can see what you are looking at and will be able to compose a nice shot.  With splits, the LCD is basically useless when it is really bright outside.

 

Canon 5D Mark III, Tokina 10-17mm@15mm, Nauticam 9" dome, f16, 1/200, ISO 640

 

Lastly, people always want to know how to minimize water droplets on their dome port.  In my opinion, the most helpful thing you can do is use a glass dome port.  However, if that isn’t possible, then there are some other strategies to employ.  First off, when you raise your camera out of the water, it takes a few seconds for most of the water to drain off the port.  It’s been my experience that waiting a few more seconds for more of the water to drain off the port yields better results.  Also, if you swim around with the upper half of your dome port out of the water, most of the remaining water droplets will dry pretty quickly.  You can also try rubbing shampoo on the outside of your dome port and then let it dry before submersing it into the water.  If this strategy is effective, it will have to be repeated every so often.  Last but not least, you can always remove those pesky water droplets with Lightroom or Photoshop.

 

Canon 5D Mark III, Tokina 10-17mm, Nauticam 9" dome. f/18, 1/200, ISO 320

 

With a little practice and the proper equipment, anyone can be successful with taking striking split images.  It is a good idea to practice your splits in a pool or calm lagoon at first if possible.  Of course, ideal conditions including calm water, clear visibility, bright sun, and an interesting subject matter really help, but splits certainly give you the opportunity to use your imagination and creativity!  

 

Canon 7D Mark II, Tokina 10-17mm, Nauticam 8" dome. f/16, 1/200, ISO 320

I’d like to thank Scott Gietler for first introducing me to splits during an amazing Bluewater Photo group trip to French Polynesia in 2014, which I believe is one of the absolute best places to capture these types of images.  With Scott’s help and expertise on techniques and proper equipment, I was able to start shooting over-unders with good results.  I’d also like to thank Mark Strickland for introducing me to back button focus and Ron Watkins for his camera and Lightroom expertise.

 

About the Author

Renee Grinnell Capozzola is an avid underwater photographer from Southern California who is passionate about marine organisms and hopes her pictures, along with those from other underwater photographers, will help bring about positive change.   “I believe underwater photographers help employ constructive change for our deteriorating seas through the use of striking images.  With my pictures, I hope to increase the awareness of our fragile marine ecosystems and encourage others to help protect our oceans.”  More of her photography can be found on her website:  www.beneaththesurfaceimaging.com

SUPPORT THE UNDERWATER PHOTOGRAPHY GUIDE:

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

 


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