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Learn how to come home with incredible marine life photos by following these 7 simple steps
By Scott Gietler

Master Class Tutorial - Planning for a Great Shot

Scott Gietler
Learn how to come home with incredible marine life photos by following these 7 simple steps

How to plan for great shots

 

When I started my underwater photography career, I wanted to photograph everything, everywhere. It was a blast. Over time, I got more selective – and now I realize I've entered a phase where I simply want to get a handful of amazing photos each trip, instead of 20 or 30 good ones. This takes a different approach, one that I've been honing for the last couple years and I wanted to share with you.

 

Last month I made a trip to Atmosphere Resort and dived Apo Island in Dumaguette, Philippines. This article is a summary of the approach I took on the trip. I should point out that the groupers and Lemon shark photos are from my July 2017 trip to French Polynesia.

 

This is the first in a series of master class underwater photography articles, and I hope you enjoy it! Look for more master class tutorials every week on the UWPG website.

 

Researching your chosen location is a must

 

It is of vital importance to research the location you are going to. Talk to photographers who have been there, google trip reports, and try to find images from that location. That will give you idea of what kind of subjects are seen, where they are seen, and how likely you are to see them.

 

If it is mandarin fish - which side of the reef are more of them seen? If it is a macro subject, what is the habitat? If it is a school of jacks, what depth are they usually at? Does their depth depend on the current?

 

In researching Apo Island, turtles, sea snakes and nice coral kept coming up. I also noticed that many people scheduled just 1 Apo Island trip during their stay, as it had a small additional cost and was marketed as a “special trip”. After arriving at the resort and diving at the island, I decided it was best to view Apo Island as a standard dive site that I dived every other day, if not every day – a different approach than others seem to have taken.

 


Schooling Jacks at Apo Island, Dumaguette. This is from my 3rd dive at the dive site with the jacks. Talking to the dive guide on the boat was essential for planning the photo - we discussed use of his dive light, fin position, and where he would look.

 

Give yourself enough of time

 

By diving Apo Island several times during my trip, it allowed me to get to know the dive sites, the subjects, and their behavior much better than if I only went for 1 trip. Knowing where on a dive site to spend most of your time can be very important – the dive guides are often moving you along, and some of my best photos were after I told the dive guides repeatedly “don't move from this location, we want to stay here during the dive”. Dive guides by nature often move around, particularly at wide-angle dive sites, so it is important to reinforce this point several times with a guide and get them to repeat it back to you, to ensure success.

 


Groupers in French Polynesia. My takeaway from this photo is, that if you see something truly amazing underwater, it is of vital importance that you assume you will never see it again. 

 

Talk to the dive guides

 

This should be obvious, but I think it is an important point to reinforce. When you arrive at a location, it is important to interview 2 or 3 dive guides, and ask them the following questions: Where is the best place to see my subject? What are the necessary conditions? What is the best time of day? How often is the subject seen? By asking these questions multiple times, I was able to determine which of two dive sites with schooling jacks would be better for a wide-angle photo, saving myself valuable dive time. I was also able to eliminate the dive site with the highest concentration of sea snakes from my dive list, after determining that it lacked the necessary background subjects for my photos – all without wasting precious dives.

 

Revisit the dive sites

 

Revisiting the dive sites multiple times was essential for getting great photos of the turtles, jacks and sea snakes. Conditions, animal behavior and opportunities varied tremendously from dive to dive. I suggest a minimum of 3 dives at key dive site if possible, to get the right opportunities and conditions.

 

Sea snake from my 1st sea snake dive. Although I was happy with the elements in this photo, the face was soft and I knew it was important to return to the dive site again at least twice and focus on getting a better shot (no pun intended!). F16, 1/200th, ISO 500

 

Focus on one subject

When a dive site frequently has a key subject such as a turtle, sea snake, or a school of jacks - it is important to focus on one subject and one type of shot throughout the dive. This means having a thorough discussion with the dive guide regarding what you want to accomplish on the dive site, and where you want to spend your time. It also means spending addition time with photo subjects, even after taking multiple photos, in case their behavior changes or they decide to eat something or mate with another animal. 

Spending prolonged time with the sea snakes, jacks and turtles paid off time after time. Interestingly, my encounters seemed to follow a "3 dive rules", one great encounter for every 3 dives I did at the dive site with the subjects. Of course your mileage may vary.

 

 

Preset your camera & strobes

 

 

When you enter the water, you should have one particular photo in mind for that dive. Arrange your settings and strobe positions when you start your dive, before you see the subject. Do a couple of tests shots, so when the subject appears you are all dialed in. For the sea snake, I knew I wanted an upward angle close-up shot of the snake, and there would be no time to change settings or strobes. So I guessed at the exact angle my shot, and prepared everything based on that angle.

 

The final result - a sea snake photo I was very happy with. This was a fast-moving snake and I actually had to "run" from the snake first to get enough of distance between us. F11, 1/250th, ISO 400. When I saw the fast-moving snake, I swam down-reef fast for about 10 seconds, then turned around. Luckily the snake was still coming towards me, and I had a couple of seconds to get into a low positon where I thought the snake would swim.

Run from the subject

 

If you aren't having luck getting close to your subject, try running away from it. I say this in jest, but with sea snakes and sometimes turtles, it is the best approach. Sea snakes move quickly, and I found that when I saw a snake swimming towards me, it always covered the distance to myself much too quickly. For my best snake shot (shown above), I actually had to immediately turn around and swim as fast as I could down the reef, and hope that the snake continued its path. So the next time you see someone running from a subject, they might not be crazy – they may be giving themselves an opportunity to get in front of the subject and compose properly.

 

Sea turtle from underneath. Doing multiple dives with turtles is essential to maximize good encounters, behavior sightings, and to get to know the dive site.

 

Equipment Used, Settings & the D850

Nikon D810, Tokina 10-17mm fishyeye lens at 15mm, dual Sea & Sea strobes, Zen 4-inch glass dome port, Sea & Sea Nikon D810 Housing, Beneath the Surface buoyancy floats, Light & Motion Sola 800 photo light.

 

Shots were taken at F11, ISO 200, shutter speeds from 1/125th to 1/250th unless otherwise stated. Focus mode was "AF-C", and "auto" focus mode was chosen because it uses a large focus area, which works well for large marine life that moves around like snakes, turtles, sharks and schooling fish - as opposed to spot focus or tracking modes.

 

I am now seriously considering the Nikon D850, here is my Nikon D850 pre-review.

 


Turtle face, taken on dive #3 at Turtle City, Apo Island. F16, 1/250th, ISO 640. We repeatedly dived this site to get maximum number of turtle encounters. It was only after around 20 turtle encounters that I was able to experience behavior such as this.

What's next? Next steps...

 

I hope you found some this advice useful. I realize none of it may be ground-breaking, but it helps to have it re-enforced and put into writing. If you plan on trying some of this advice, or just want to say hello, please send me a note at scott@bluewaterphotostore.com and let me know where you'll be diving next!

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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

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

SUPPORT THE UNDERWATER PHOTOGRAPHY GUIDE:

The Best Service & Prices on u/w Photo Gear

 

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

 


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

 

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

 


By Matthew Sullivan

Photographing Guadalupe's Great Whites

Matthew Sullivan

I recently returned from Guadalupe Island off Mexico, considered one of the best places on earth for photographing the ocean's most famous predator. South Africa and South Australia may boast larger popluations, but nowhere are the conditions as conducive to photography as this rock in the Eastern Pacific.

Evolution achieved perfection when it created the Great White Shark. These animals are magnificent. And huge. Even the 'small' ones have a presence. I was asked frequently on the trip how I was going about photographing the animals and have been asked numerous times since I got back so I decided to do a quick write up explaining my approach.

 

 

An issue I quickly discovered on the first day was that my strobes seemed to be dying on me. They weren't putting out power like they should've been. Knowing that limitation, I switched up my approach and decided to aim to make natural light images while keeping my strobes on just in case I got a ridiculously close pass. I also am a fan of black and white big animal imagery. I think it brings a dramatic simplicity to the image. The best cases on my trip for such pictures were during high contrast situations.

 


When shooting natural light, shooting WITH the sun will give you color and detail (above), while shooting against the sun will give you a more silhouetted look, less detail, muted color, but crazy sun beams. In all honestly, the shot below was meant to be strobe lit and would look more dramatic if it had been, but again, dying strobes...

 

 

 

Time of day was definitely the most important factor in determining my approach in the water. During the morning, the water was quite blue but when the sun was low, the detail and contrast was muted. Late morning through early afternoon, the suns beams seem to radiate up from the deep (above), while during the golden hour of the late evening, the beams stream down from the surface (below). Those are the two times I would recommend being in the water. *Again, the image below would've been far more impressive had my strobes been functioning, but it gives an idea of what is possible and something to strive for when I go back.

 

 

The sharks seemed to be most active and make the most close passes during the last few hours of daylight. The Great White in the image below, whose name is Scarface, was the star of the show this trip. During the evening hours he became quite inquisitive and constantly cruised slowly past the cage time after time. Locking eyes with such an incredible predator is a feeling that is not easily replicated. 

 


I am eagerly (impatiently) awaiting my return to Guadalupe next month/year when I'll be leading photo workshops. Hopefully the sharks are obliging and I can improve my own images while helping my guests achieve their photographic goals of these magnificent animals. Please join me!

http://www.bluewaterdivetravel.com/guadalupe-trip-2018 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Matthew Sullivan is an underwater and conservation photographer based out of Los Angeles, CA. For more of his pictures follow him on Instagram or on his website mjsimaging.photoshelter.com

SUPPORT THE UNDERWATER PHOTOGRAPHY GUIDE:

The Best Service & Prices on u/w Photo Gear

 

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

 


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

 

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

 


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

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

Kelli Dickinson
Setting recommendations for the E-M1 Mark II Camera when shooting underwater.

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

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

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

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

Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II Shooting Settings

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

  • Manual mode, F16-22, 1/2500th, ISO 200

  • Auto white balance, camera flash on "fill in flash", Strobe on TTL

    • Or set the strobe to manual power and adjust power as needed

    • For manual power set the on camera flash to manual to save battery life (see below for instructions)

  • TIP: Shoot at lower F stops like F5.6 or F2.8 to try to get some better bokeh and a blurred background

  • TIP: You'll need to open up your aperture to around F8 when shooting fish; at F22, your strobes won't "reach" very far and the photo will look black.

  • ** These settings are also useful with the 12-50mm lens in Macro Mode **

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

  • Manual mode, F16-22, 1/250th, ISO 200

  • Auto White Balance, camera flash on "fill in flash", Strobe on TTL

    • Or set the strobe to manual power and adjust power as needed

    • For manual power set the on camera flash to manual to save battery life (see below for instructions)

  • Zoom all the way in

  • Shoot at lower F stops like F8-F11 to try to get some better bokeh and a blurred background, you can open up to F2.8, but will have a very small depth of field

  • Remember working distance is limited when using a wet diopter, move carefully to avoid spooking your subject and get very close.

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

  • Manual mode, F8, 1/125th, ISO 200 

  • Auto White Balance, camera flash on "fill in flash", Strobe on TTL

    • Or set the strobe to manual power and adjust power as needed

    • For manual power set the camera flash to manual to save battery life (see below for instructions)

  • Important: use the shutter speed to control your ambient light (background exposure). A slower shutter speed (e.g. - 1/60th will let in light when shooting in darker waters, a faster shutter speed will allow less light in when shooting in bright conditions).

  • TIP - when the sun is in the photo, set the shutter as fast as possible (1/250th), and you'll need to stop down your aperture to F16 or F22 to avoid blowing out the highlights

  • TIP - for ambient light photography, you may need to open your aperture to F5.6 or F4 and increase the ISO to ISO 400, 800 or 1600 to let in more light.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Set Up Menu (wrench icon) -> Rec View

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

NOTE: this does not affect RAW files

Accessible through the SCP / Quick Menu or Shooting Menu 1

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

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

Set Up for Nauticam Housings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Set Up for Olympus Housings (PT-EP14)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Olympus OM-D E-M1 Specific Menu Settings

The Olympus E-M1 Mark II has an extensive menu system, with the ability to control, customize or select many options to create the perfect camera for your shooting style. The menu layout is essentially the same as the E-M1, though the color / style has changed, and there are now more options available. We will get a detailed list of these options up shortly, but for now just refer to the settings above for specifcs, or the E-M1 article for a review of what each menu option controls and if it is important for underwater photography.

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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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Create New and Unexpected Images with Common Household Items
By Indigo Bolandrini

Creative DIY Bokeh

Indigo Bolandrini
Create New and Unexpected Images with Common Household Items

You would expect a 15 year old girl to be begging her mother to buy her nail polish so she can lighten up her nails with the snazziest new trend. However, in my case, I’m begging for nail polish for my underwater photography craze… yes, you read that right. So, how exactly does nail polish correlate to underwater photography? 

My name is Indigo Bolandrini, I’m 15 years old and a underwater photography addict. I live in a small town on the coast of the Red Sea, and since I was 11, diving has always been my passion. I’m not your ordinary 21st century girl, I prefer to spend my free time diving, editing photos and making a mess in my mum’s kitchen with my DIY projects. My room is filled with posters ; of diving things, not Justin Bieber, and my closet has more wetsuits than dresses.

 

 

Well, let me explain. I love macro photography, it’s challenging, brings out even the smallest detail, and hey, it’s pretty awesome. I love to experiment with techniques to enhance my macro photography and make it glow, compared to standard macro photography. This ranges from my DIY snoots with carved out shapes to double exposure. However, my all time favorite DIY technique is my ‘nail polish slates’. For those who haven’t already kind of figured out what it is, It is a clear piece of plastic with nail polish and glitter combined. I hold this behind my subject, which with a wide aperture, creates a beautiful color frenzy bokeh. It’s easy, cheap and most of all, beautiful.

 

 

It is extremely easy to make, all you need is:

  • Nail polish (color of your choice )
  • Glitter
  • Super glue
  • Small plastic square
  • Sharp scissors 
  • Sand paper 

 

 

Just spread the base color of nail polish onto the plastic slate, go glitter crazy and then add a top coat of super glue to make sure the glitter stays on.You would need scissors and sand paper if you have to cut the plastic slate yourself – as I did in my case.

It might get a bit messy while making it, but it will for sure add shimmer to your photos!

 

 

What I like to do is make a few small square slates, each with a solo color, alongside have a bigger one with a mix of colors or a rainbow pattern ( which is in my dive club at the moment ) I then puncture a small hole in each corner and run string through it so it iss easy to access underwater

 

Sample Photos:

 

 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Indigo Bolandrini is a 15 years old, and a passionate underwater photographer. She started diving when she was 11, and since then has been hooked on this magical hobby. At 12, Indigo became one of PADI’s youngest Junior Master Scuba Divers, and now has just over 700 logged dives, and an around 25 certifications from different agencies. Indigo has become extremely eager to save our deteriorating oceans and hopes to use her photos to make a positive impact on the marine life that inhabits this world. 

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How to Get Results Using a Snoot for Underwater Photography
By Brook Peterson

Acting Snooty!

Brook Peterson
How to Get Results Using a Snoot for Underwater Photography

Snoot photography can be a fun and rewarding way to up your game in underwater photography.  Besides being a quirky word, a snoot is a tool photographers use to manipulate light. Underwater, it is most often used in macro photography, but can be a valuable tool for wide angle shooting, especially in less than stellar conditions.  Take a look at the following images to get an idea of what a snoot can do. The image below was taken using two strobes to light the subject.  Although the image is not a bad one, it is a little bit busy and can be made much better.

 

 

This image is of the same Harlequin Shrimp just moments later, using a snoot with the light coming from directly overhead.

 

 

You can see how the light illuminates the subject without lighting the surrounding environment.  This has the effect of isolating the subject so that it stands out.  This can be especially valuable when you have a very busy background, or the animal is in a place where it is hard to visually separate it from its environment.  There are several different types of snoots, and each one works differently, although they all give similar results.

The Retra LSD Ultimate Light Shaping Device  focuses the light from your strobe down to a point that can be shaped like a spotlight on a small object.  This will block the light from reaching the surrounding area, isolating the subject.  It has templates that you can use to customize the shape of the light (such as a square, or different sized circles.)  With the focus light on your strobe turned on, it is easy to focus on the subject, as the light coming down through the snoot will illuminate the area that will be lit. The closer the snoot is to your subject, the more pronounced the circle of light will be. This Melibe nudibranch, for example, has the snoot very close to it giving the light a hard edge. 

 

 

Another type of snoot is made by Reefnet and uses fiber optic technology to direct the light to your subject. This snoot works by sending the light from your strobes through a bundle of fiber optic cables toward your subject.  The advantage of a fiber optic snoot is that you have the ability to articulate the light in any direction you want.  You can move the bendable arm so that the light is coming from any direction.  It is also a bit more compact than the Retra, although the quality of the light is not as rich.

The following image of a Doto greenmayeri nudibranch was taken using two snoots;  the Reefnet Fiber Optic Snoot with the light coming from underneath the nudibranch, as well as the Retra LSD with the light coming from above.

 

 

Lighting the nudibranch this way required an assistant to help hold the snoots, and the effect is that the nudibranch looks as though it is lit from the inside, without lighting up much of its surrounding environment.

There are many other snoots on the market such as the 10 BAR snoot.  This one takes the light from your strobe and directs it through graduated tubes to make it smaller.  It is also possible to make a homemade snoot this way using graduated PVC.  The principle is the same:  the light from your strobe is made a smaller diameter so that just your subject is lit.

Another advantage of using a snoot is that you can backlight your subject.  Sometimes you have an animal that has an interesting shape, but that shape can be lost using strobes.  Take this Rhinopias frondosa, for example.  It has a lot of detail that can easily get lost against its environment.  I was lighting it with one strobe (from the right) so that the animal's own shadow would help isolate it from its background.  It worked, somewhat, but the image has a lot of distractions.

 

 

This Rhinopias was lit using just a snoot from behind and slightly face on.  It is a much more dramatic and interesting image.

 

 

Some animals are more translucent than others, and lend themselves better to front lighting or backlighting.  This Ceryece elegans nudibranch was shot using a snoot both from the front and from behind.  When the light comes from different directions, the animal has a completely different look. 

 

 

 

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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Rejuvenate your creative photography with these tips to sort through the multitude of photo opportunities during a dive trip
By Jeff Milisen

How to Shoot Your Way Out of a Slump

Jeff Milisen
Rejuvenate your creative photography with these tips to sort through the multitude of photo opportunities during a dive trip

I recently checked Raja Ampat off my bucket list.  I wanted to see it all - fish schools thick enough to block the sun, coral gardens many acres large, and biodiversity like nowhere else on the plant - and Raja exceeded my every expectation.  And yet, after the first few days, I had only a select few photos that I was marginally happy with.

After about a dozen frustrating dives, I had to figure out where I was going wrong and how to fix the problem. The trouble was, in the face of such an incredible amount of life, I was out of my element.  I was having troubles picking out a coherent subject in the maelstrom of life.  And when I found something, there was often a diver in the background.  And then there was the visibility; at 20 meters it was okay, but it wasn’t my Kona gin. Anyone can shoot well on clear days in sunny, familiar waters.  Traveling forces you to try your best in the given conditions, because you might not get a do-over.  This article is meant to help you re-center your photographic zen when you find yourself out of your comfort zone.

Related: Read our Raja Ampat Scuba Diving Guide.

 

 

Isolate a Subject

One of the challenges in shooting a place like Raja Ampat is sorting through the cacophony to find a subject.  This was especially challenging at sites like Cape Kri, Melissa’s Garden, and Karaug Bayangan, where the fish form disorganized masses over lush but unbroken coral reefs.  Just pointing your camera at the cloud of fish isn’t going to capture the beauty.  You will still need to work to find an anchor for your photo’s story.

Start simple.  Find a large, sessile subject, and just expose it.  In Raja, that might mean a wobbegong or a particularly bright coral head.  Snap off a few simple portraits.  This will give you a few pics to take home, and it will start to pull your headspace out of the gutter.  With a few portraits in your back pocket, you can start branching out to get more complicated.  Close focus wide-angle shots are made for locations like Raja, but be sure to pick your subject carefully.  Not only does the subject have to look compelling, but CFWA relies on a working background, too.  I ended up having some luck finding a subject, and then just camping out waiting for the background action to align perfectly.  

 

 

 

Managing People

Whenever you are diving with others, they can either be a subject in the photo or a nuisance.  When living and diving in isolated, cramped quarters with a small group of others, a small annoyance can snowball into a fight if you aren’t careful.  Trouble can be quickly averted when photographers form something of an alliance.  On this trip, we all understood that all of our photos would benefit if we could work together.  We worked out a few hand signals that politely meant, “hey, you’re in my shot.”  If you were in the way, this meant to finish your photo and please move.  No offense, no egos, just excuse me for a minute.

A different sort of issue can arise over macro subjects, especially on muck dives, where a diver might want to camp on a rare subject.  Again, we all have to work together, so communication is key.  I recommend a rotation system for when a line is forming around a particular subject.  Agree beforehand that, if someone is waiting, you have x number of shots before you are expected to let the other person have a turn.  You can always go back, but it isn’t fair to hog the rarest creature on the reef.

 

 

Limited Visibility

This is a tough one, especially for wide-angle photography that relies so heavily on background color.  Sure, you can switch to macro and shoot for a black background, but then you will miss the larger opportunities and sweeping reefscapes.  For starters, forget about animals that are further away than a few feet.  Most of the reef sharks, while cool to watch, will be well outside of this range and not worth considering for good photos.  In really turbid water, it helps to stay with action that is as shallow as possible to make use of as much ambient light as you can.  Don’t forget to set your strobes wide and angled out.  Even so, you can expect to spend some time post-processing backscatter out of most of your images.  On the bright side, sunny days in the mid-morning and mid-afternoon produce beautiful God-rays among the speckles in the water.  Set your camera for a fast shutter-speed and shoot at 90° to the sun for the most dramatic shots!

 

 

Go Back to the Basics

Don’t get so tangled up in missing a few idealized photos that you forget to apply tried and true techniques to the beautiful spot you have found.  A solid portfolio from a location should include a healthy mix consisting of the following: split-shots, close focus wide angle, macro, snoot macro, models as the subject, models in the background, snell’s window, marine-life portraits, silhouettes, and black backgrounds.  If what you are doing isn’t working, then it is time to switch it up and try a different technique!

 

 

Accommodations 

I would be remiss if I failed to mention the incredible hospitality and unique accommodations of the SMY Ondina liveaboard.  The unique ship was fashioned using hand-tools from the forests of Sulawesi.  The plane-marks and cordage stuffed betwixt the floorboards are evidence of the extreme skill required to piece together such a work of floating art.  The crew/guides were equally amazing and were quick to drop what they were doing at the slightest hint of a request.  I cannot speak highly enough of the experience they provided.  To Fede, Hugo, Jobel, and the rest of the crew of the Ondina, cheers!

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

From cone snails to sharks and many things in between, Jeff Milisen has interests firmly rooted in anything related to marine science. Such a varied career has led him to spend considerable time in remote habitats. When not plying the open ocean or poking around the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, he visits the multitude of dive sites around his home in Kona. Wherever his exploits go, he is sure to have his dive gear and camera packed and at the ready. 

Website: Iphotograph.fish     |     Social media: @JeffMilisen

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Tips for lighting wide-angle scenes while reducing backscatter, including strobe positions for close-focus, big animals and reefs
By Brook Peterson

Strobe Positioning for Wide-Angle Underwater

Brook Peterson
Tips for lighting wide-angle scenes while reducing backscatter, including strobe positions for close-focus, big animals and reefs

Mastering the light in an image is perhaps one of the most challenging skills we learn as photographers.  Underwater, that skill must be developed even more because of the limitations we face with available light, and technology. The strobes on your rig are versatile tools that can help make beautiful images when used correctly.  There are several positioning and lighting techniques that can help you become a proficient and talented underwater photographer.

Backscatter. Everyone worries about backscatter. But truly, there is one rule that you can use to avoid most backscatter issues and that is to be sure your strobes are back behind your dome port. The rule of thumb for me is that the heads of my strobes are no further forward than the handles on my housing.

 

 

There are many ideas out there on how to further avoid backscatter.  Since backscatter is caused by particles in the water reflecting the light from your strobes back into your lens, many people will turn their strobes slightly out or in, so that the angle of reflection bounces away from your camera lens.  You can try this too as it may be a solution for you, especially if you dive in lower visibility conditions.  However, I have had the exact same results with my strobes facing straight forward, so I prefer not to worry so much about the direction the light is going to bounce.  Instead, I will put more effort into how high the power is on my strobes.  Often, just turning the power down a bit on one or both strobes will reduce backscatter.

Strobe position is another hot topic and there are a lot of ideas out there.  How close should the strobes be to your housing?  How high or how low? What if you want to make a vertical image? What about close focus wide angle?  What about big animals?  Each circumstance merits consideration as the position of your strobes may require a change for each one.  The basic position that I use for a good majority of my work is to have the strobes about 8-12 inches away from the housing, facing straight forward, with the strobes at nine and three o'clock.

 

 

Variations of this are fine, but generally speaking this is the position I will use when I am just swimming around looking for my next subject.  Then, if something like a sea lion approaches suddenly, I am ready to shoot.

Tip:  A good rule of thumb for how close the strobes should be to your housing is to place them about as far apart as you are from your subject.  In other words, the strobes in the picture above are about 18-24 inches apart.  Using this rule, I should be about 18-24 inches from my subject to get proper lighting.

The height of the strobes depends on how large a subject you want to light.  If you are trying to light an entire reef, you might consider putting your strobes up above your housing so that the light can be cast evenly over a large area.  You can adjust the distance that the strobes are from each other according to how wide an area you want to light.  Keep in mind, however, that the light comes out from the strobes in a cone shape, and you want that cone of light to cross in the middle so that there is not a dark area in the middle of your image.

 

 

Vertical images can be a challenge and there are a couple of different ways you can light them up.  When you turn your housing so that it is vertical, you will have one strobe on the top at twelve o'clock, and one on the bottom at six o'clock.  This is just fine if you are shooting a large scene, or you are a few feet from your subject.  It becomes a problem when you are close to your subject, or you want to shoot something where one of the strobes (usually the one on the bottom) is too close to the subject.  This may result in part of the image being blown out.

Tip:  The solution to this is to turn the bottom strobe down (quite a bit) until the light on the top matches the light on the bottom.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo left:  Improperly lit with too much light from the strobe on the bottom.
Photo right:  Properly lit image with bottom strobe power set to 1/4 power and top strobe set to 3/4 power.

 

Another strobe position for vertical images is to move the strobes so that they are positioned at nine and three o'clock when the housing is turned into a vertical position.  This takes a bit of effort, but the reward is a properly lit image without having to adjust the power of your strobes as much.

Close focus wide angle photography is when you have a relatively small subject in the foreground along with something in the background such as a diver or the sun.  In these images it is important to light them so that the subject, surrounding area and the background light blend together.  You want the viewer to see the image as one beautiful picture, instead of noticing that you have used artificial light on part of it.

 

 

For example, the gorgonian fan in the image above was only a few inches from my dome port. It and the reef around it looks like there is no artificial light and the ambient light in the surrounding kelp forest blends with the light from my strobe.  It appears that the light comes from above all from the same light source.  That should be your goal in any close focus wide angle image. I achieved this by putting my strobes a little above my housing which was in vertical position, at about ten and two o'clock.  The strobe on the right is set at a slightly higher power than the one on the left because the reef was a bit further away on that side.

Lastly, big animals can be a challenge to light properly for several reasons.  In most cases, I expect to be from two to three feet away from a large subject such as a shark.  In this case, I will pull my strobes apart to about two feet and turn the power up to one stop under full power.  I will also meter for the ambient light at the depth I am shooting at.  A good guess for settings in clear blue water is f/8 and 1/125th with ISO at around 400.  This can vary greatly, but it is a good place to start.

 

 

This turtle was very close to my strobes and is entirely lit by them, while camera settings are adjusted for the bright sunlight at f/16, 1/320th and ISO 200.

 

 

This shark is also entirely lit by my strobes and I am about two or three feet away from it in this image.  The strobes are two feet apart, facing straight forward and set on the highest power.  My camera settings are exposed for the ambient light at f/9, 1/200s, and ISO 320.  Had there been no strobe light on the shark, it would appear as dim and dark as the reef in the left corner.

Photographers spend their entire careers mastering light in their images.  Utilizing a few tips such as these can help you on your way to conquering light in a way that will make your images stand out from the crowd.  Don't be afraid to experiment and change up the rules.  Sometimes we get hung up on how to accomplish a task, rather than experimenting with our equipment. The main goal is to make your images look like they are naturally and evenly lit.  Remember this and you cannot fail.

 

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


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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Improve your shark photography with these tips for composition, creativity and behavior during shark dives in all water conditions
By Mike Ellis

Tips to Capture Fintastic Shark Shots

Mike Ellis
Improve your shark photography with these tips for composition, creativity and behavior during shark dives in all water conditions

When you mention sharks, most picture in their mind a killing machine. To photograph and portray the beauty of these apex predators has its own obstacles and rewards. I feel the challenges are worth it as a way to make people aware, and to care about what is more scary... their startling rate of extinction.

When I started working on a charter vessel that specialized in catering to photographers who wanted cageless (a.k.a. “the lunchbox”, we’d joke) encounters, the first challenge was attracting the sharks and having them stick around for a week. Back 10 or 15 years ago there was just a small group of boats heading to the Little Bahamas Bank to do this type of charter and we had about a 75% success rate getting large sharks to show up.  Now over the last 10 years, we have changed that rate to nearly 100% with the increase in the amount of boats, the frequent chumming and of lately (more so in the last 5 years) hand feeding.  It’s not uncommon these days to have 5 or 6 species of sharks on a trip.  Three of them being apex predators (Bulls, Tigers and Great hammerheads) and that can make for some incredible mixed species captures.  The rewards are repeated sightings of some of our favorite sharks week after week, longer encounters and larger numbers of sharks in this beautiful patch of ocean.

 

 

Include Props in Your Composition

Diving and photographing sharks, large and small, can be great fun and can be made better by using some imagination and some already in and/or on the water props. If you are in shallow water with a sandy bottom, use the sand as a giant reflector and dial down your strobe output to help in continuous shooting. It will really lighten up the lighter underside of the shark without washing out the shark's shadow. Look to add interest, as in getting the dive boat in the background or the addition of the human element in the photo. Look up and see what is going on above your head and look down to see if there are contrasting ripples in the sand that will help the shark stand out. Watch if the sharks are swimming over the reef or turtle grass to help plan your next shot. Find what works for you on that day and time and how to best convey the true nature of these magnificent creatures and not the hyped up Hollywood image.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo left:  Nikon D90 with 10.5mm fisheye lens. F10, 1/200, ISO 200. Photo: Mike Ellis
Photo right:  Nikon D70s with 10.5mm fisheye lens. F11, 1/320, ISO 200. Photo: Mike Ellis

 

Always be Experimenting

If the weather turns bad, if the expected sharks don’t show or if you left that favorite lens at home, look at it as an opportunity to try new things. I cannot tell you how many “pea soup green” days in the water there have been where I had a level of disappointment to overcome. Guests would be highly disappointed as well, at least until I’d show them a good capture I was able to pull off in bad conditions. Then they would be inspired to jump back in or experiment shooting from the back deck with over-under shots. Lose the strobes on bad viz days as it leads to a lot of unwanted backscatter. If you don’t have your fisheye lens, don’t be afraid to use a wide or macro lens instead. I found that the 12-24mm Nikkor tends to give a softer image, but if I used an f-stop of 14 or higher, stayed close to the subject and away from the zoom it worked better to produce a sharper image. I have also used a 60mm macro and got some interesting shots.

 

 

Relax and Observe

My photo teacher in high school had a full length banner across the blackboard that stated “RELAX”.  That’s what you should do when you enter the water: relax and observe. Look at your subjects and see how they are behaving with you and with the other sharks in the water. Or their behavior with bait in the water. Look at which direction the sun is shining from. Sharks that swim up into a chum slicked current can set up a great shot. Pay attention to their different postures of arched backs and protruding pectoral fins.  Observe, relax and keep things natural as possible to get the best experience they can offer you in their environment, their home. Continually look in all directions to find your best shot.  That’s the best way to make it happen. Blend in, make yourself at home and don’t draw to much attention to yourself.

 

 

 

Try to learn as much as you can about your subjects, dive operator, location and underwater environment as possible. I have been on and worked on a lot of dedicated shark trips. Sometimes I knew beforehand that the weather was going to be undiveable due to high winds and large swells. Do use good judgment on diving in unsafe conditions with large predatory animals. Remember that they rely on surprise and that diving in low to no vis means they have the added advantage. This is their realm and their eyesight and sensors are well adapted for it. Also remember to make eye contact to establish that you are aware of their presence.

I have learned that some research can go a long way. Try to find out if there is a certain time of year that attracts more or different types of sharks. Is there a certain color of water you are looking for like clear shallow turquoise blue or a bottomless deep blue? Increase your chances for success by choosing a week long live aboard or a shore base operation that offers multiple days to a few different sites. Connect with other photographers/divers that share your passion and enjoy one another's tips and ideas on how/what to shoot.  Make sure the Capt. and boat have the necessary experience, license and safety equipment aboard. Make sure also, that you to are up for the task and are a competent diver that has the safe skill set to undertake this new photo adventure.

Remember to RELAX, have fun and to take in all that is happening around you.

 

 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mike Ellis: Sharing bottom time with some of the smartest & friendliest in the ocean to some of the largest & most feared (by some), has given me unique opportunities to photograph the popular, playful Atlantic Spotted Dolphin, to the less popular, agile Tiger Shark & much more.  It has also strengthened my compassion towards them & the vital roll they play in the delicate balance of the oceans.  It is my hope to convey this thru my photography.  That people will look upon my images & share my concerns of acts of greed & inhumanness that bring many to their plight. And also to feel the heart n' souls of the ocean & how we all need each other.  "For the oceans!"

onaiaphoto.com   |   Instagram.com/onaiaphoto   |   Facebook.com/mike.ellis.9678067

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An introduction to ambient light shooting, plus instructions for setting manual white balance for underwater photo and video on the Sony a6300 and a6500
By Steve Harms

Guide to Manual White Balance on the Sony a6500

Steve Harms
An introduction to ambient light shooting, plus instructions for setting manual white balance for underwater photo and video on the Sony a6300 and a6500

We share our underwater photos with others in the hope of inspiring awe for what we see and experience in our dives.  Personally, I hope that awe translates into respect which encourages ocean conservation.  To that end, ambient light provides the ability to offer a more realistic view of what we actually see underwater.  Colors fade out more naturally and subjects appear more part of their environment.  It also offers the secondary benefit of making our rigs much smaller and more compact.

Read our Sony a6500 First Look or in-depth Sony a6300 Review.

 

 

Setting Ambient Light on the Sony a6500

Ambient light is completely dependent on sunlight.  Bright days are wonderful and cloudy days are challenging.  I find the key to shooting in natural light is adding custom white balance to the list of factors used in determining settings.  I took a Sony a6300 on a recent trip to Roatan, Honduras.  Both the a6300 and the a6500 support custom white balance and offer the ability save three different custom settings.  You’ll need something white or gray as a reference for setting white balance.  I carry a 5” X 7” piece of a white plastic cutting board on a lanyard with me to use a reference.  The following steps are used to set Custom White Balance on the a6300 and a6500:

  1. By default, the C1 button is set for White Balance adjustment.  Press this to start the process.  If you’ve changed the value for this custom button, you can use the Menu to choose another custom button for White Balance.  If you have none to spare, the white balance is available from the Menu as well. 

  2. Use the dial to scroll down to the Set Option (You’ll pass the 1,2 and 3 settings to get there)

  3. Push the middle dial button to Enter the setup.  A small round circle will appear on the screen. 

  4. Point the camera so that the circle is on your reference slate or if you don’t have one, a patch of white sand will work in a pinch, and push the middle dial button again to accept the setting.

  5. The camera will sound like it just took a picture and present you with the option to Select a Register.  Whichever on you last selected will appear but you can use the dial again to change to 1,2 or 3.  The camera may throw and error but this can be ignored.  Not sure why it happens but it does not appear to impede the process.

  6. The custom setting is now saved and ready for use.  Since the setting is saved to one of the registers, you can return to that setting by pressing the C1 button again and scrolling to the Register you want to use.  I use these registers to save setting at different depths, for example, 1 is at 15’, 2 at 30’ and 3 at 45’.  More precise color balance adjustments can always be made in post processing. 

 

 

Settings for using Manual White Balance

In addition to the Custom White Balance, the settings for ISO, aperture and shutter speed still play a huge role.  Maximizing available light means striking the balance between these values.  This is where the elegance lies.  ISO tends to be the biggest variable so generally I set this set to Auto with a Max value of 1600 and let the camera figure it out.  The Sony cameras have excellent processors so even at relatively high ISO, you can get good image quality.  Aperture I set for f/5 - f/8 and shutter speed between 1/125 and 1/200 depending on the subject and how much available light I have.  Cloudy days are challenging. 

If you’re shooting a smaller subject, the trade-off of ambient light is that you can’t get as close and get a good depth of field due to the higher aperture required to get light.  If you’re in shallow water with lots of light, you can shoot smaller subjects with a tighter aperture but you may need to slow down your shutter speed and increase your max ISO depending on how much your subject moves.  Play around with the settings and find what works best for you. 

Shooting with ambient light offers some real challenges but the rewards of being able to capture subjects in their natural habitats, and landscapes as we see them is worth the effort. 

 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Steve Harms lives in Palm Harbor, Florida and has been diving since 1971.  He has been taking underwater photographs since 2004.  When he’s not out blowing bubbles and shooting pictures, he spends his time as a husband, father of three daughters and grandfather to two and works as a computer geek. 

SUPPORT THE UNDERWATER PHOTOGRAPHY GUIDE:

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Philip Thurston shares his tips in creating an epic backlit wave photos
By Philip Thurston

The Art of Backlighting Waves

Philip Thurston
Philip Thurston shares his tips in creating an epic backlit wave photos

The fundamental principle to good photography is understanding light; where it’s coming from, and where it is going. In this article we are going to explore the art of backlighting when it comes to moving masses of water and waves.

If you’re on an east facing coast, morning is going to be your time to get creative with back lit lighting. For western facing coasts, you don’t have to get up as early, as it’s the evening that’s going to provide these kind of shooting conditions. Light bounces and reflects off surfaces with greater densities, so when it shines down into or across water, it creates all kinds of refractions, sending light in all sorts of weird and wonderful directions, creating a myriad of beautiful colours. To utilize this natural phenomena, it comes down to positioning - where you are in the water in relation to the wave and the sun. The position the sun rises throughout the year is always moving, and so is the place in which a wave breaks. The variables to consider can be swell direction and size, tides and winds on the day.

Having to align so many conditions and elements can be difficult, but that’s one of the joys and burdens of wave photography. Getting a really top notch shot is hard, and if you miss an opportunity, it might not come back around for awhile, if ever. The key to nailing an epic backlit wave shot is to align yourself with the wave and light source (sun) as best as possible, so that the wave breaks through the light, illuminating the pitching lip, face of the wave and back of the wave as it breaks past you.

 

The Hulk

A favourite of mine shot on the South Coast, NSW, Australia. On a running tide, reefs like this can create all kinds of crazy shapes, all the more angles for light to bounce off!
Canon 5D Mark 2 and Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 at 1/1000, f/5.6, ISO 160. 

 

Spend Time in the Water

Shooting backlit waves may sound easy enough, but it’s a multitasking mastery of sorts that really only comes with good old experience and practice! To progress, get out and swim around as much as you can with your camera and housing, so that changing settings on the fly and keeping yourself composed becomes second nature. The more things that become second nature to you, the more capacity you will develop when it comes to capturing that finite moment. While you’re at it, be mindful of how the changing light direction affects the waves.

Practice is going to teach you the fundamentals about handling the wave environment. Honestly, the biggest advantage I have in wave photography is simply being comfortable amongst the waves. I’ve spent enough time amongst them that all the stressful elements that comes with shooting waves like tidal surges, undertows, impact zones and hold downs, whitewash and wipeouts, creatures and impending crests, don’t stress me out as much because of the experience I’ve had with them. Thus I’m able to focus more on positioning myself to get the shot. It’s all about getting in the right spot - having the correct settings and pressing the shutter is the easy part.

 

Atomic

A stormy morning (which often provides amazing lighting) shot when the sun just popped out for a minute or so, illuminating the lip of the wave with the turquoise and green colours.  Shot on the south coast, NSW, Australia.
Canon 7D Mark 2 and Canon 8-15mm f/4 at 1/1000, f/4.5, ISO 640.

 

Exposure for Backlit Waves

With a backlit subject, you can generally approach the shot in one of two ways. You can expose for the shadows, creating a very high key effect, or expose for the highlights, creating a silhouetted sculpture of the wave. Both have equally epic and very different qualities to them. I’d encourage mixing both of them up by experimenting with your shutter speed, aperture and ISO.

Time of day is obviously important as well. For me on the southeast coast of Australia, early morning is going to be the opportune time to get out and get creative with backlighting, and depending on the time of year, that low lying light doesn’t last long! (Tongue twister right there..)

 

Generous

An open ocean bombie that the sun was rising directly behind - a recipe for epic shots! While beautiful, it was a nightmare to stay in the right position with the huge amount of water swirling and moving around, and no real defined sweet spot or channel to sit in. Shot on the South Coast, NSW.
Canon 5D Mark 2 and Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 at 1/1000, f/5.6, ISO 320.

 

The Hydra
A great example of backlighting, exposed in between the highlights and shadows, shot early in the morning on the south east coast of NSW. Not even really sure what is happening in this image!
Canon 5D Mark 4 and the 70-200mm f/2.8 at 1/1600, f/6.3 and ISO 100.

 

Time Warp

A combination of back lighting and in-camera shutter blur to create this effect. Something that a lot of practice will help you achieve, as you really need to be comfortable in the water enough to give your full focus on the camera controls. 

 

Viper
An image created by exposing for the shadows, creating a high key effect in the highlights with a bit of golden light leaking over the lip. Shot on the south coast, NSW.
Canon 7D Mark 2 and 50mm f/1.2 at 1/1000, f/5.6, ISO 100. 

 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Philip Thurston:  My goal with Thurston Photo is to create beautiful imagery and literature that provokes positive thought and inspires people to see life from a new perspective. Through my experiences and lessons learnt, I've come to know my purpose in life is to inspire faith in others to live a life of fullness with an eternal perspective, and to help others realise their own dreams, potential and purpose that's worth pursuing with all their heart. I strive to be conscience of this with my words, output and actions. I really do enjoy what I do and I think that makes a big difference with the result. I'm known to happily spend hours straight in the ocean or spontaneously launch myself into the wild in the hope of encountering and capturing creation in a new and exciting way.

Website:  www.thurstonphoto.com          Facebook:  /thurstonphoto          Instagram:  @thurstonphoto

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!

 


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

 


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