Shooting with a Single Strobe

Brent Durand
Tips for Strobe Positioning, Power Settings & General Shooting

 

Shooting with a Single Strobe


Tips for Strobe Positioning, Power Settings and General Shooting

Text and Photos By Brent Durand

 

 

 
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Strobes are a light in the darkness for underwater photography – literally. We learn in open water scuba classes about light falloff (starting with red) as we descend in the water column. We also know that the water itself gets darker as we descend, especially when visibility is less than 30ft (10m), when clouds block the sun or (obviously) at night. Using a strobe will bring not only light, but also vivid color and contrast back into the scene.

There are a number of strobes and strobe manufacturers on the market, each with different pros and cons. The vast majority will attach to camera housings via fiber optic cables or sync cords. Both of these connections serve to relay the flash signal (via light or electric signal) that tells the strobe to fire.

Most new underwater photographers start with a single strobe. Shooting with a single strobe means less weight and bulk on the camera rig, less task loading during the dive and a much better opportunity to learn how to use a strobe before handling two of them.

 

Single Strobe Positioning

Before positioning a strobe, the diver must decide how he or she would like to compose the photo. This includes any background and mid-ground elements, direction of the ambient (sun) light, secondary subjects or simply eye contact with a macro subject. Once this has been determined, the diver should adjust camera settings and only then move in for the shot. Below are a few strobe positions and photos showing the effects of light and shadow.

 

Overhead light

Placing a single strobe above and in the direction of the subject is a great option for macro photography as well as shooting large fish or mammals. It's essential to aim the strobe so that the corner of the beam touches the scene in order to reduce backscatter. This will also help prevent the photographer from placing the strobe right in front of the subject, and create shadows similar to those we see outside in the sun – a very natural look.

 

Single strobe placed above and to the left of the housing.

 

Side Lighting

Placing a single strobe to the side of a subject creates an artistic lighting effect, resulting in a well lit and a shadowy side of the subject. These photos are edgy and can be used really nicely in portraits.

 

Single strobe placed to the side of the subject to create an edgy feel with harsh shadows.
 

 

Spotlight Effect

A single strobe can be positioned to bring color back into an interesting subject in a wide-angle scene. The position of the subject within the composition will determine where to place the strobe to create the best angle of light.

 

Single strobe used to highlight a yellow tube sponge under a sunball and boat.

 

TTL or Manual ?

Many underwater housing and strobe combinations allow photographers to use their strobe in manual or TTL (automatic) mode. Most experienced underwater photographers shooting two strobes gravitate to manual settings as they know what strobe power they want to use with varying subjects, shooting conditions and stops of light added/lost when changing camera settings.

Those who don’t have this experience will opt for using their strobes in TTL mode. Sealife, Ikelite, Sea & Sea and other manufacturers allow use of TTL, where the camera sends out a very small pre-flash to meter light in the scene before triggering the full flash at appropriate power.

Shooting a strobe in TTL is very reliable for macro photography, where focusing distance and light do not change much. It is also reliable in close-focus wide-angle photography for the same reasons. TTL's weakness is with fast moving subjects that move towards or away from the camera. Playful sea lions and fast schools of fish are perfect examples.

So should you shoot in TTL? Certainly. These days it’s easy to switch between TTL and manual strobe settings, so try both, experiment, and find a shooting style that works for you.

Single strobe used to illuminate the reef in this close-focus wide-angle composition.

 

 

Conclusion

Shooting with a single strobe will bring a world of color into the photos of those not currently using a strobe, as well as some very artistic lighting for even the most experienced underwater photographers. Positioning and using the strobe is very easy and the results are incredible. Happy shooting!

 

Interested in a strobe?  Call the team at Bluewater Photo to learn about the perfect strobe for you.

 

 

About the Author

Brent Durand is an avid California beach diver, photographer and writer dedicated to capturing unique underwater, ocean lifestyle and adventure images. Brent is editor of the Underwater Photography Guide. Make sure to follow UWPG on Facebook for updates on everything underwater-photography.

 

 

Further Reading

 


Where to Buy

Please support the Underwater Photography Guide by purchasing your underwater photography gear through our sister site, Bluewater Photo & Video. Click, or call them at (310) 633-5052 for expert advice!


 

 
 
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Shooting Underwater Panoramas

Rico Besserdich
Advanced Technique: Capture Wide Underwater Vistas

 

Shooting Underwater Panoramas

Advanced Technique: Capture Wide Underwater Vistas

Text and Photos By Rico Besserdich

 

 

 
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Panoramas are used very frequently in landscape and architectural photography, showing scenes that no lens in the world could capture with one single image - at least not with proper quality.

Photographic panoramas consist of a series of several photos shot in the same place, at the same time, and from the same shooting position. During post processing, the images of the series are stitched together using imaging software like Adobe Photoshop, Panorama Studio PRO or Panorama Maker.

Panoramas are a nice option for portraying underwater scenes in a really wide format, helping us to express what we've seen with our eyes during a dive through a single image.

Note: Panorama photography is complex and requires special equipment, often including tripods and nodal point adapters. These precise techniques can be applied underwater, but to keep things simple and to open this interesting style to all underwater shooters, I would like to introduce my “free-style” technique that works without any special equipment.

 

Fiddle Garden, Sharm El Sheikh/Red Sea. Canon 40D, Tokina 10-17mm, f/7.1, 1/100s, ISO 100.

 

What We Need

 

  • A camera, preferably equipped with a wide lens. Side note: the old-school of land-based panorama photography recommends using a 50mm prime lens as wide-angle lenses present perspective problems (i.e. stretching or warping near the edges) that are not always appreciated. But as a first step into underwater panorama photography, let's keep the optical issues aside and use the gear we have on the table. I've worked with the Sigma 10-20mm and with the Tokina 10-17mm and found them both to be suitable for u/w panoramas (although I prefer non-fisheye wide-angle lenses).
  • A nice wide subject/scene to shoot (wrecks, underwater landscapes, etc.)
  • Good underwater visibility. At least 15 meters (45ft) but 20 or more is better.
  • Excellent diving and buoyancy skills. Half of this technique depends on your diving skills.
  • Image editing software that is able to stitch images together, such as Photoshop or specialized tools like Auto Stitch, Autopano Pro or PanoramaPlus X4.

 

Dunraven Wreck, Red Sea. Canon 7D, Tokina 10-17mm, f/9, 1/125, ISO 400.

 

The Technique

 

1.  First, find yourself a nice subject/scene. Underwater landscapes, reefs, and wrecks have great panorama potential. Staying relatively shallow and working with ambient light brings the most pleasing and natural results.

2.  If possible, switch to manual focus. If this option does not exist, set the autofocus to center spot only. Back-button focus is another option to lock focus manually.

3.  Adjust your camera settings by measuring the scene/object you plan to shoot. Set your shutter, aperture, and ISO. Take a few test-shots across the entire scene, monitoring to the histogram in your camera's LCD display. Choose the best settings to create even exposure across the scene.

4.  Now stabilize your own position. Check your buoyancy, as it is important that you maintain the exact same position throughout the series of shots. Imagine a monopod. You are this monopod now. Get in an upright position (like standing in the water) and look through your camera's viewfinder.

5.  Stay in position; without changing depth, turn a bit to the left by pivoting as if your body is a monopod on a vertical axis. A very slight kick with your right fin should do the trick.

6.  With your eye through the viewfinder, frame the elements of your composition and take the first shot.

7.  While keeping your eye in the viewfinder, turn a bit to the right and frame the next image of the scene. Try to keep the overlap between single images to around 30%. In other words, the right border of image number 1 should not be the left border of image number 2 – each should overlap a bit. This is important for image stitching later.

8.  Take your second shot. Remember; stay in position. You are ‘standing’ in the water and you turn only around your own vertical axis. There is no swimming to the right or to the left, and definitely no change of depth. As mentioned before, half of this technique is a diving skill.

9.  Turn once more to the right and shoot the third photo of the scene. You could proceed with image 4, 5 and 6 of the panorama, however a 3-image composition is best while learning the technique.

 

Dakota airplane wreck, Bodrum/Turkey. Canon 40D, Sigma 10-20mm, f/10 , 1/6s, ISO 250.

 

Later, when reviewing the photos and selecting those to stitch together into a panorama, you might get slightly confused as to which image belongs to the panorama series and which one doesn’t. Here’s an easy way to remember: Shoot your own hand before and after each series. The pictures ‘between the hands’ belong to the panorama. Believe me - it helps!

 

Some Quick Tips:

  • Manual white balance saves you time when editing.
  • Once all settings are made, try to shoot the single images of your panorama series quickly. The longer you wait between the single shots, the higher the risk that your depth and shooting position will change, ruining the panorama.
  • Keeping a few meters distance from your scene lowers the risk of irreparable image distortions known as "parallax errors".
  • Never change camera settings in between images of a single panorama - all images need to be made using the same settings.

 

Close to shore, Bodrum/Turkey. Canon 40D, Sigma 10-20mm, f/8, 1/80s, ISO 125. 

 

Post Processing & Stitching

 

I rely on Photoshop’s PhotoMerge tool during post processing, starting by opening all images of the panorama in Adobe Camera Raw.

At this point you will want to adjust the white balance (if you used auto WB while shooting) and possibly make other adjustments including curves, contrast and color. Using the lens correction profiles of ACR comes in handy too. Be sure to apply any changes to one image to ALL images of the series by choosing “select all” -> “synchronize” in ACR. The panorama will look unbalanced if 3 images of 1 panorama have 3 different white balance corrections. Avoid any cropping at this stage as this comes in the final step.

Next, open the images in Photoshop and select "File" -> "Automate" -> "PhotoMerge". Tell PhotoMerge to add the opened files. There are a couple of options to select or deselect. I usually leave all of those at the default settings.

With a final OK, Photoshop will begin to merge your images into 1 panorama. This could take a little while so grab a coffee while you wait.

If all goes well, Photoshop presents you a single stitched image. The image might look a bit weird with uneven corners, so you will need to use the crop tool to create a clean rectangle crop. Once happy with your crop, merge the layers into one and perform any final image adjustments. Voila, your first underwater panorama shot. Congratulations!

 

Troubleshooting

Photoshop occasionally fails with the merging job, giving you an error message stating, "impossible to merge selected files".

Reason no 1:  You've moved around too much while shooting the series.

Reason no 2:  You've modified one of the RAW images in ACR but forgot to synchronize those alterations with the other images of the series/panorama.

Reason no 3:  Insufficient overlapping of images while shooting the series.

 

Ras Bareika, Red Sea. Canon 7D, Sigma 10-20mm, f/8, 1/80s, ISO 200. 

 

Photoshop’s panorama tool makes merging images very simple, however it’s still not perfect. A failure rate of 30% is quite normal due to the photographer’s “mistakes” while using the free-style panorama technique, so it’s always best to shoot each panorama series a couple of times. But after a little practice you will be able to shoot u/w images of a "different vision"!

 

 

About the Author

Rico Besserdich is a professional underwater photographer, artist & journalist based in Izmir/Turkey. He has been involved in photography since 1978 and became specialised in underwater photography in 2001.

He has written more than 100 photography-related articles that are published in various magazines all around the world, translated into 9 different languages. Beside his activities as photography contest judge, writer, photographer and lecturer, he is the photography editor of the Australian magazine 72&rising and the Artistic Underwater Photography workshop leader at the Saar College of Fine Arts (HBK Saar), Germany.  www.maviphoto.com

www.facebook.com/RicoBesserdichPhotography

 

 

Further Reading

 


Where to Buy

Please support the Underwater Photography Guide by purchasing your underwater photography gear through our sister site, Bluewater Photo & Video. Click, or call them at (310) 633-5052 for expert advice!


 

 
 
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Tips for Dive Model Photography

Christina & Eusebio Saenz de Santamaria
Photographing an Underwater Dive Model Made Easy

 

Tips for Dive Model Photography


Photographing an Underwater Dive Model Made Easy

Text and Photos By Christina & Eusebio Saenz de Santamaria

 

 

 
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There is an old saying that goes “never work with animals or children due to their unpredictable nature”, but I guess the actor W.C. Fields, who coined this phrase, never tried his hand at dive model photography! The underwater realm is a far cry from the dry safety of a movie set, however the mercurial mixture of water, wildlife and breath-holding models presents a very different and sometimes equally challenging equation to work with. We have devised the following tips from years of experience freediving and shooting that we hope will help underwater photographers and models alike.

 

Model Aptitude

The model is just as important as the photographer since you will be working together as a team; both must have an aptitude for the job at task. It is essential to work with a model who is comfortable underwater and who can hold their breath with composure and bodily awareness. Freedivers or competitive swimmers make great oceanic subjects. Bear in mind that pool photography is vastly different to shooting with models in the ocean where there are different variables to contend with, including waves, currents, water temperatures and marine life. This is particularly pertinent when working with models together with creatures like sharks or marine mammals. Both model and photographer not only need to be comfortable in the water, but also have thorough knowledge of the animal and their behavior in order to achieve optimal photo results and in some circumstances, safety! Freediving with the large Caribbean reef sharks of Roatan, Honduras was a perfect example where both photographer and model needed knowledge, awareness and confidence to dive and shoot in quite exhilarating conditions.

 

 

 

Creative Concepts

Pre-planning and discussing a creative vision or concept for a photographic shoot with your model is essential in order to ensure that you are working in artistic unison. It is important to remember that seeing a human underwater with no breathing apparatus is a very curious sight for viewers since we have placed our model in a sublime submerged realm. Underwater, humans are dream-like and ethereal, so play with ideas that convey these emotions and sensations within the underwater landscape you are shooting. The most significant photo-shoot that comes to mind is our exploration of the Cenotes of the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. These sunken pits in the jungle have deep mythic connections to the ancient Mayan civilization and with pristine waters, jagged limestone walls and piercing cathedral light we were able to create some striking, other-worldly images.

 

 

 

 

Be Spontaneous and Flexible

Pre-plan, however also be spontaneous and prepare for the unexpected. Creative concepts are essential, but don’t be restricted by them and always be ready to go with the flow of the ocean and all of her surprises. Unexpected angles of light, shadow, currents, water visibility and particularly marine life will mean that you need to be flexible and creative on the spot, both as a photographer and a model. Although it is advisable to choose a dive location that you have knowledge of beforehand, the ocean is it’s own beast and will throw many different variables at you - both the good and the bad. There have been circumstances where we have decided to call it a day when the conditions simply weren’t working in our favor and thus save our energies for the coming days, so take note to factor additional days into your shooting schedule. For the most part, the ocean has surprised us with the fantastic and fun, particularly when working with marine life. Freediving with the wild spinner dolphins of Hawaii was the perfect example of both model and photographer working together and improvising as the dolphins would play, twirl, twist and follow us as they wished.

 

 

 

 

Freediving versus Scuba Diving

As an underwater photographer, you need to ask yourself what is the best way to capture your image, on scuba or on breath-hold? While some photographers might not be strong freedivers, shallow water shooting may not require demanding breath-hold capabilities and may be more beneficial for the circumstances. As a freediving photographer there are many advantages, including being able to rise to the surface and discuss how the shoot is developing, what changes you want to make with your model or new spontaneous ideas that come to mind. Freediving also enables the photographer to move around freely and shoot from the surface to the depths all in one dive and thus capture different angles with ease. Marine life is more curious of people underwater without the noise and bubbles of scuba and so you are more likely to get closer shots. That said, you do need to be a reasonably strong freediver to be able to hold your breath, carry the equipment, frame your subject and stay safe. The first priority of freediving is safety, so this is only an option for photographers who have the required knowledge and experience.

Of course scuba diving is the most conventional option as a photographer, and it is very advantageous to stay underwater for an extended length of time. Scuba diving is also the best option for those who are not experienced with freediving. Before an underwater shoot on scuba, be sure to prepare clear communication hand signals with your model so that you can ‘talk’ underwater and adapt your shoot as the dive progresses.

 

 

 

Mermen and Mermaids

Women have conventionally been the subjects of underwater model photo shoots, probably because water possesses fluid feminine characteristics or because the myth of the mermaid lives on. Men, however, make great underwater models as well. When working with either, consider which angles, poses and compositions work best for females and for males and how this will contrast or compliment the underwater landscape, light and shadow. Women naturally appear more graceful and gentle underwater, which can easily be emphasized by the model and her body positions, whereas men need to consider angles and attitudes that convey masculinity and strength.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On a final note, communication is key throughout all the pre-planning, shooting and even post-editing in order to achieve the best results for both model and photographer. You need to work together as a team, and in one way the photographer and model are very much like the director and actor on a movie set, except with the exciting and wildly unpredictable ocean as your stage.

 

About the Author

‘One ocean One breath’ is a creative collaboration between professional freedivers, husband and wife duo, Eusebio and Christina Saenz de Santamaria. Eusebio from Spain is the co-founder of ‘Apnea Total’, one of the world’s largest freediving education systems, and is one of the few men to have surpassed 100 metres (328 feet) in depth in the self-powered disciplines of freediving. Christina, originally from Australia, holds the record as the deepest Australian female freediver in history with dives to 82 metres (270 feet) in depth, and ranked in the top 5 deepest women in the world.

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

For more information, please visit their websites:

www.oneoceanonebreath.com

www.apneatotal.com

 

 

Further Reading

 


Where to Buy

Please support the Underwater Photography Guide by purchasing your underwater photography gear through our sister site, Bluewater Photo & Video. Click, or call them at (310) 633-5052 for expert advice!


 

 
 
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5 Reasons to go Mirrorless

Matt Krumins
Is a Mirrorless Camera Right for You?

 

5 Reasons to go Mirrorless


Is a Mirrorless Camera Right for You?

Text and Photos By Matt Krumins

 

 

 
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As an underwater mirrorless shooter and u/w photography instructor I am frequently quizzed about why I shoot micro-four-thirds and not dSLR. Compact camera shooters often ask for advice on whether they should take the next step into the interchangeable lens systems.

The truth is that in my experience (from point-and-shoot to full frame dSLRs) the current generation mirrorless systems has struck the perfect balance between high-end image quality and physical practicality. Even in my commercial photography, our business is transitioning from our full frame kit to the more affordable and far more flexible Olympus OMD EM-1 mirrorless camera. Time and time again I have left gear at home because it was too cumbersome to lug around. They say, “the best camera is the one you always take with you”, but what if it could actually deliver top image quality as well? Cue the mirrorless cameras, where convenience meets quality.

 

 

 

1. Bigger Doesnt Always Mean Better

Saving your back and your excess luggage bill

With divers carrying around tens of kilos/pounds of dive equipment, the weight and size benefits of mirrorless camera systems has already swayed many photographic pros and enthusiasts.

Think back to the first television in your household. Do you ever yearn for ‘the good old days’ of the tube TV? Or, like me, do you kick back in front of your flat screen and admire how amazing the HD picture quality is and how convenient it is that this technology can sit so elegantly, mounted flush against your wall? This is exactly how I see the digital camera space. While no one is questioning the capability of dSLRs, they are still modeled around a bulky mechanical mirror system that was patented in 1861 (slightly older than the modern typewriter, patented in 1867). But like the flat screen TV, the mirrorless systems have replaced archaic components with miniaturized digital technology to achieve a smaller yet equally capable camera.

My entire Olympus OMD EM-5 rig, including camera, lenses (for both underwater and land), strobes, housing, glass dome port, tray & arms, all fits in my hand luggage when traveling…. just.

 

 

 

2. Bang For Your Buck

A bigger oven does not a good chef make

I recently read a story where somebody was hosting dinner and was complimenting an attending photographer on his images by saying something along the lines of, “I love your photographs; you must have a big professional camera,” to which he responded, “why thank you. And this is an amazing dinner; you must have an amazingly large oven.” When all is said and done, your photographs are the product of your hard work and your gear is simply a set of tools to help you best achieve it. Your images should be what make you a good photographer, not your ability to remortgage your house to afford a camera rig.

With imaging technology advancing so quickly, we are seeing that the gap between image quality on even the top dSLR and mirrorless systems reduced to the perception of ‘pixel-peepers’ and lab tests. The reality is that in your everyday shooting, pixel by pixel examination is irrelevant. A jaw-dropping photograph is art not science.

To that end, lets debunk the most common misconceptions about mirrorless image quality. This is based on my firsthand experience:

 

Rumor:  The noise levels on mirrorless cameras can’t stand up to high-end dSLRs.

Fact:  This is the most common criticism when comparing systems, but the reality is that the noise differences are only obvious in very extreme circumstances at rarely used high ISO ranges.

 

Rumor:  The high-end mirrorless cameras are only 16MP.

Fact:  While true, this is actually more than enough pixels for even large prints (look at the $6500 flagship 16MP Nikon D4S).

 

Rumor:  Lens sharpness on mirrorless systems can’t compete and the lenses aren't fast enough for the low depth of field I need.

Fact:  This comment predates the latest generation of fast primes and super-pro constant aperture lenses available. We’ve included some images in the article as rock-solid evidence.

 

Finally, it is important to note that these general comparisons are against the high end dSLRs on the market. The latest high-end mirrorless systems are capable of blitzing the low-mid end dSLR models.

To put this into context as divers, it is important to understand that while we shoot in extreme conditions physically, we generally bring light with us (strobes or otherwise), meaning that the high ISO advantage of top-end dSLRs is actually irrelevant to most of our shooting (90% of my own work is shot below ISO400). Over the past two years, my Olympus mirrorless prints have never been questioned when it comes to image quality, even when printed in large formats.

 

 

 

3. Keeping it Simple

Built-in tools to get results

When I go diving I am in my own tranquil bubble of heaven; my cares and concerns in the terrestrial world melt away and for that hour of scuba-silence my life feels complete. I am completely enthralled in viewing the underwater world with an artistic eye and capturing the things that I see as simply and as creatively as possible. This is where mirrorless cameras really shine.

Having an electronic viewfinder (EVF) and Live View LCD screen means mirrorless shooters can take advantage of a lag-free ‘live view’ experience traditionally found on point-and-shoot cameras. I change a setting and my live preview is immediately updated. This takes some of the guesswork out of your shooting and eliminates much of the trial and error associated with light metering with an optical viewfinder. This leaves you free to focus handy focusing tools like focus peaking and spot magnification, giving underwater shooters precise focus control in macro situations. It is also worth noting that being a completely digital experience, you are also able to switch these features on and off if you prefer the more traditional approaches.

When you look at a stunning image, do you scrutinize over how the photographer calculated the camera settings or simply admire the creative result? Personally, if I can capture an image with half the effort I am one happy person.

 

 

 

4. Everybodys Doing It

A fully supported camera system

Unfortunately for those seeking fame as a mirrorless pioneer, you are too late. These days almost every manufacturer is producing underwater housings, ports and accessories for the mirrorless systems and there is overwhelming evidence that these systems are not only here to stay, but the future. Any accessory you can get for your dSLR, you can almost certainly get for your mirrorless at a fraction of the cost.

In addition to underwater accessories, it is also worth noting that many mirrorless systems have access to a full range of lenses suited to underwater shooting. The micro-four-thirds system, used by Olympus and Panasonic, has over 45 lenses currently available as well as an extensive range of lens adaptors for ‘Franken-camera’ enthusiasts.

 

 

 

5. Upgrading Without Fear

Making the move from Compact to Mirrorless

The mirrorless systems are welcome news for compact shooters who traditionally would have been looking at dSLRs when upgrading. Being able to retain many of the same compact-camera image control characteristics (such as live view mentioned above) means that rather than re-learning how to shoot using an optical viewfinder, you are able to apply your current knowledge and style to your new mirrorless while taking advantage of the dSLR functionality.

In the past, there have been many reasons not to upgrade from a compact camera, but in 2014 the mirrorless system breaks down many of these barriers, offering low cost, feature-rich alternatives that are less intimidating and easier to learn.

A larger sensor, fit for dedicated lenses (rather than the wet-lens adaptors of compact cameras), as well as professional-grade accessories are just a few of the key advantages you can expect to enjoy when upgrading. But perhaps most attractive to compact shooters will be the lack of shutter-lag and lightning quick focusing speeds. In fact, the Olympus OMD EM-1 mirrorless camera has an incredibly fast autofocus that rivals high-end dSLR cameras. This bump in speed can be the difference between capturing your subject and missing it by the blink of an eye.

 

 

 

Conclusion

Mirrorless cameras are a relatively new player in the history-rich photographic game and are a format that should be recognized and applauded for breaking tradition. The top mirrorless brands have ensured a fully supported system that offers a progression of models catering to everyone from amateurs to pro shooters. In the underwater environment, mirrorless systems allow newer users to devote more attention to achieving creative results and allow pros to travel with a larger arsenal of lenses, ports and accessories without breaking the scales at airline check-in. These systems are also breaking down the cost barrier for talented compact shooters wanting to upgrade to a more capable system, and can be seen as a catalyst for enthusiasts and pros to jump ship form their traditional cameras and embrace the future of imaging. 

 

Mirrorless camera guide

 

You can find out some of the best mirrorless options for underwater photography by visiting the Bluewater Photo guide to the best mirrorless cameras, published by our sister site which is also run by Scott Gietler.

 

About the Author

Matt Krumins is the owner and operator of Deeper Than Diving UW Photography and ambassador to the Olympus underwater housing range. His experience in UW photography is concentrated around the Asia Pacific region and it has led him to launch his own unique, fun and contemporary brand of UW photography courses based in Australia. To follow his photography and course information jump onto www.facebook.com/deeperthandiving and be sure to check out www.deeperthandiving.com.  

 

Further Reading

 

 


Where to Buy

Please support the Underwater Photography Guide by purchasing your underwater photography gear through our sister site, Bluewater Photo & Video. Click, or call them at (310) 633-5052 for expert advice!


 

 
 
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Tips for Artistic Macro Shooting

Rico Besserdich
Thinking Outside the Box to Capture Stunning Macro Detail

 

Tips for Artistic Macro Shooting


Thinking Outside the Box to Capture Stunning Macro Detail

Text and Photos By Rico Besserdich

 

 

 
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Macro is arguably the most popular underwater photography category, attracting divers in all corners of the globe.

Classic underwater macro photography has its own styles, techniques and objectives. We have all seen the great images produced with these techniques, but sometimes the images start to look very similar to each other, especially after the 100th pygmy seahorse or frogfish photo. This is when the desire to shoot different macro images begins to grow in u/w shooters’ hearts.

Abstract macro images keep things fresh for me, and in this article I introduce a few tips for artistic macro shooting. These aren’t meant to replace the classic macro techniques, but simply to serve as a little inspiration :-)

 

Equipment:

I use a CANON 7D in an Easydive LEO II Pro housing, 2 Sea&Sea YS110alpha strobes. My lens of choice for macro is the CANON EF-S 60mm Macro. On rare occasions I use a SubSea +10 wet diopter attached to my housing's macro port, but in most cases I am more than happy with just the 60mm lens. All my camera and strobe settings are manual.

Any underwater camera system capable of shooting macro can be used for artistic macro shooting. The photographer’s creativity is always more important than the specific gear.

 

Canon 7D, 60mm macro lens. 2 x Sea&Sea YS-110alpha strobes. F/8, 1/125s, ISO 200.

 

Tip 1:  Abstract

"Like abstract art, abstract photography concentrates on shape, form, color, pattern and texture. The viewer is often unable to see the whole object. The focus is often only a small part of it. Viewers of an abstract shot may only know the essence of the abstraction or understand it by what is implied. Normally the object or image will not be a literal view of the subject. The subject tends to come second to seeing…" - Damon Guy

 

Shooting abstract compositions can be a very powerful tool for underwater macro shooting. The idea is to capture specific details on a subject to create an open-ended "message" that can be interpreted by the imagination of the beholder, instead of fish IDs or bland shots of marine life documentary value.

Look for patterns, textures and color variations, as well as curves, shapes and geometry. Almost every common macro subject has abstract potential and we just need to recognize it and then capture that idea with the camera.

Shooting Tip:  Any aperture/shutter combination works here as long as it provides a properly exposed photo. Proper macro / super macro strobe positioning is crucial since we are shooting very small detail.

 

Canon 40D, 60mm macro lens, Ikelite DS125 strobe. F/11, 1/80, ISO 200.

 

Canon 7D, 60mm macro lens. Easydive "revolution" video light. F/2.8, 1/250s, ISO 250.

 

Tip 2:  Bokeh

Using bokeh (shallow depth of field) plays a very important role in artistic macro shooting. A common practice in macro photography is to strive for maximum depth of field by using very small apertures, but for artistic shots we often do the exact opposite, using the blurriness as a creative tool. This technique can be used to keep the main subject well isolated from the background, which this comes in handy when the background is distracting (rocks, coral or other disturbing structures right behind the subject). It’s important to have a calm hand, since achieving sharp focus on an exact point of the subject can be difficult.

Shooting Tip:  When working on Bokeh shots I often set my camera to f/2.8 or f/3.5 – basically a wide-open aperture. The shutter speed is then set to 1/250s (max. strobe synchronization speed of my camera) and my strobes are usually set to minimum power output.

 

Canon 7D, 60mm macro lens. 2 Sea&Sea YS110alpha strobes. F/3.5, 1/160s, ISO 200.

 

Canon 40D, 60mm macro lens. 1 Ikelite DS125 strobe. F/2.8, 1/250s, ISO 200.

 

Tip 3:  High-Key

In simple terms, the high-key lightning technique intentionally overexposes key elements of the composition, most often the image's background. We see this technique used frequently with models in a studio, but not often in underwater macro photography. Ideally, the overexposed background will be a clean white color.

The easiest way to shoot high-key is to find a subject that already has a bright background, such as sand or bright-colored rocks. For me, sand always works best. An important step if shooting strobes on TTL (or still images with a video light) is to set the light measurement of the camera to spot metering, which measures the exposure of the main subject in the dead center of the frame and not the sand around it. This way the camera will expose for the darker subject, leaving the light background overexposed. Voila...a white background!

For high-key shots, my strobe is generally mounted on 40cm strobe-arms on top of the housing, pointing straight down towards the subject. The idea behind is to have the sandy ground reflect the strobe light. Sometimes I use a second strobe that comes from the left and works as a fill light (very useful when it comes to dark nudis).

 

Canon 7D, 60mm macro lens, 2x Sea&Sea YS110alpha strobe. F/3.5, 1/250, ISO 100.

 

Canon 40D, 60mm macro lens with +10 diopter. 1 Sea&Sea YS110alpha strobe. F/4, 1/250, ISO 100.

 

Conclusion:

Do you always shoot macro with maximum depth of field? If so, try the opposite! Black backgrounds? Try the opposite! Documentation / Fish ID style photos? Try the opposite!

Artistic and abstract u/w photography is a fun way to add variety to your portfolio and can be used with very common subjects to help make your images stand out from the masses. Experimentation and creativity are key, so give it a try on your next dive!

 

Canon 40D, 60mm macro lens with +10 diopter. 2 x Sea&Sea YS110alpha strobe. F/4, 1/180, ISO 100.

 

About the Author

Rico Besserdich is a professional underwater photographer, artist & journalist based in Izmir/Turkey. He has been involved in photography since 1978 and became specialized in underwater photography in 2001.

He has written more than 100 photography-related articles that are published in various magazines all around the world, translated into 9 different languages. Beside his activities as photography contest judge, writer, photographer and lecturer, he is the photography editor of the Australian magazine "72&rising" and the "artistic underwater photography" workshop leader at the Saar Academy of Fine Arts (HBK Saar), Germany. View Rico's website at www.maviphoto.com or follow him at Facebook.com/RicoBesserdichPhotography.

 

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Top 5 Shooting Tips for Underwater Snoots

Matt Krumins
Creating Artistic Photos with Narrow Beams of Light

 

Top 5 Shooting Tips for Underwater Snoots

Creating Artistic Photos with Narrow Beams of Light

Text and Photos By Matt Krumins

 

 

 
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Unlike some of my warm water counterparts, my diving patch is located in Victoria, Australia. It rarely cracks 20 degrees Celsius, 20m visibility is astonishing and the vast majority of our ocean floor is a messy and complicated mix of weeds, sponges, broken shell and sand. Luckily, this visually puzzling bottom composition camouflages a treasure trove of macro life that surrounds our piers, and it can all be found in just a few meters of water.

The challenge faced by underwater photographers is this: how do you photograph such a small critter amongst its camouflaged home without all of your images becoming bland scientific identification shots? How do you take a photograph with an artistic spin that is more suited to an art gallery than a textbook?

When you consider that photography is simply the art of creatively capturing light, it makes sense that as an underwater photographer you should have the ability to actually control your light beyond the standard intensity dial. With the exception of some strobes such as the ‘zoomable’ Olympus UFL-2, you are usually limited to a 100-degree light output flooding your entire scene; weeds, critter and all.

 

 

The Snoot in Underwater Photography

For those who don’t know, a snoot is a device that affixes to the end of your strobe and narrows the 100-degree beam down to a fine point or ‘spotlight’. Some strobes do this via a series of plastic tubes representing a kind of funnel, but quite new to the market is the RetraUWT LSD (Light Shaping Device). This device allows different aperture discs to be used, projecting a variety of light patterns in a number of shapes. The beauty of this is that you have more control than ever, it’s quick to change apertures, it’s custom built for your strobe’s model and (importantly) it’s neutrally buoyant.

 

 

The concept of the snoot is easy enough to understand, so straight out of the box I had some high expectations on what I was going to achieve on my first dive; but as per usual with new toys, there was a whole new learning curve. So after a number of practice dives and snoot-shooting dives, I want to share with you my top 5 tips to help you skip the hardships and get straight to the results.

 

1. The Right Snoot with the Right Strobe

This tip is short and sweet. When you are trying to aim your snoot at your subject, the only thing that can accurately show you where it is pointing is the strobe’s focus/modeling light (which is also being focused down through the snoot). I have seen people try to line it up visually without a focus light guiding them, and I have seen every one of them leave the water cursing their gear. Keep in mind that focus lights can become extremely dull due to light loss within the snoot itself if the light and snoot aperture do not line up. Strobes with a focus light in the center work best, however there are snoots designed for off-center lights as well. It is always best to check compatibility with your supplier.

 

 

2. The Right Conditions

As you’re aware, dive conditions like visibility don’t generally affect macro photography. The same goes for macro snoot photography, however there are some condition considerations when taking the snoot down. First, you need to accept that with snoot photography you are generally photographing very small critters with a very small beam of light, which means that you are going to want to choose dive conditions with very little surge, helping you to stay steady without destroying a dive site.

The other less obvious consideration is to choose days where the lighting conditions are a little darker; overcast days, early morning, late afternoon or (ideally) taking your snoot out on night dives. The reason for this is that your camera settings are likely limited to a max shutter speed of 1/250th, which in bright sunlight means you will need to stop your aperture down to extreme levels in order to darken out your surroundings (f/16-22). This can cause a loss of sharpness and also limits your ability to maintain shallow depth of field. Having naturally dark or dim conditions makes it easy to achieve black backgrounds as well as helping to see the focus light beam when aiming your snoot (believe me, there is nothing more frustrating than trying to see your focus light with a snoot when the sun is beaming above you).

 

 

3. Snoot Placement

When you see most snoot shots, they are taken with the snoot placed directly above the critter. This is usually done with a series of arms, clamps and a few minutes of set-up to align the snoot’s ‘spotlight’ to the center of your frame. My issue with this is that for every different subject you want to photograph, you will find yourself loosening clamps, moving your snoot, and realigning the ‘spotlight’ only to realized that your critter has moved along to a more interesting and daring photographer. Experience has taught me that it is actually much simpler to live on the edge and hand-hold the snoot in your left hand, freeing up your right hand to operate the shutter release. After all, your arm is far quicker and more flexible than a ball and clamp system.

The other advantage of hand-holding your snoot is that you are not limited in your lighting creativity. Spot lighting subjects is one creative approach, but how about playing with selective lighting with different snoot angles? You will be surprised at how many photographic opportunities this will open up if it is quick and easy to reposition your light. Take my nudibranch rhinophore shot (below) as an example! The only thing you need to ensure is that you are using the optimal working distance for the snoot. This is the distance from your snoot to the point of the subject where the beam of light is in focus. If it is too close or far away it becomes a soft beam with little definition. You can find the working distance for your snoot by looking at the snooted light beam from your focus light and moving the strobe in and out from your subject.

 

 

4. Controlling Strobe Power

Once you have maxed our your shutter speed and stopped your aperture down to create black backgrounds, you will find that most prosumer strobes will need to be cranked to high power to illuminate your subject. However if your strobe is too bright when being focused down to a precise dot of light, you tend to get light spill onto the surrounding areas, leaving you with beautifully spot-lit subjects but no defined spotlight. Finding the balance between the power required to light your subject subtly and not blowing out the exposure can be a bit tricky, but practice makes perfect. The important thing to remember is that from an eco-diving point of view, you are best starting dimmer and working your way up to the perfect balance. Your strobes are very powerful and many critters are very sensitive to light; fried fish are not my cup-of-tea. Once you have your level set you will only make minor adjustments throughout the dive.

 

 

5. Processing the Blacks

All RAW files require some form of post production, especially snoot images. Light spill from strobes, slightly off-center subjects and imperfectly shaped ‘spotlights’ are just a few of the common problems faced when snoot-shooting. Using tools in Adobe Lightroom such as the crop tool and the Radial Filter allow you to clean up any of these slight imperfections and really make your subjects ‘pop’. The other particularly helpful tool is your ‘Blacks Slider,’ which allows you to crush the blacks in your image. When editing, be sure to monitor your histogram and sample your subject surroundings to make sure that the blacks are in fact pure black.

Ultimately, practice makes perfect when using a snoot and like everything in life, some things will work for some and not for others. To me, the most important thing is to never limit your creativity and always dare to try something different.

 

 

 

About the Author

Matt Krumins is the owner and operator of Deeper Than Diving UW Photography and ambassador to the Olympus underwater housing range. His experience in UW photography is concentrated around the Asia Pacific region and it has led him to launch his own unique, fun and contemporary brand of UW photography courses based in Australia. To follow his photography and course information jump onto www.facebook.com/mattkrumins and be sure to check out www.deeperthandiving.com.  

 

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Shooting Fast Action Underwater

Todd Winner
Tips for Capturing the Moment of Peak Action

Shooting Fast Action Underwater

Tips for Capturing the Moment of Peak Action

Text and Photos By Todd Winner

 

 

 
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There's nothing quite like capturing the moment of peak action when shooting a fast subject. Whether it's a sea lion or billfish swimming by at breakneck speed or a small jawfish poking its head out of the hole, timing is everything.

This is one of those areas where a camera/lens with fast autofocusing will excel. High-end DSLRs will perform the best, although compact and mirrorless cameras should not be overlooked, especially in situations with lots of light. Regardless of camera, every underwater photographer will find a benefit in using the tips below to come away with the perfect shot.

 

Lower Strobe Power

Most strobes take at least two seconds to recycle after a full dump, so by setting your strobes to a lower power setting you will be able to shoot a lot faster. If you're not getting enough strobe light with the lower settings, go ahead and increase your ISO.

If you're shooting TTL with an internal pop-up flash you will have to wait for the internal strobe to recycle. This will take longer if the camera is telling the flash to fire close to full power. If this is the case and you find that you're spending too much time waiting for the internal flash to recycle, you can shoot your strobes on manual power and set your internal flash to the lowest power setting (reducing recycle time). Other alternatives are to switch to electronic sync cords or a fiber-optic trigger, depending on your camera, housing and strobes.

 

Mantis Shrimp cleaning out its burrow. Catalina Island, California.
Canon EOS 5D Mark lll, 100mm, 1/160, f/8.0, iso 100, 2 Ikelite DS160

 

Use Continuous Shutter Mode

Setting your camera to take multiple images as you hold the shutter release down can give you a slight advantage when shooting fast action. As long as your strobes are set to a lower power they should be able to keep up with a few shots before needing to fully recycle. Many cameras have both a high and low setting for continuous shutter. I find the low setting to be fast enough for most underwater shooting scenarios.

Another advantage is that most strobes tend to still fire after the first couple shots, but at a lower output. This results in some bracketed strobe exposures, which might save an image that might have been blown out by your default power setting (i.e. if a subject passes by closer than expected).

 

Shark Handler putting a blue shark into tonic immobility. California
Canon EOS 5D Mark lll, 16-35 @16mm, 1/250, f/10, iso 640, 2 Ikelite DS160

 

 

Fast Memory Cards with Large Capacity

If you have any worry about filling up your memory card then you definitely need one with a larger capacity. The exact size will ultimately depend on your camera and shooting style. I typically use 32G cards with my Canon 5D Mark III. When you first take an image the file is stored in the camera’s buffer, and by using memory cards with a fast read and write speed the camera can clear the buffer faster so that you can continue to shoot. If you use a card with a slower read speed, then the camera’s buffer may fill while writing the data to the memory card. Fast write speeds will also make downloading images onto your computer much faster. Learn more about choosing a memory card for underwater photography.

 

Market Squid mating. Redondo Beach, California.
Canon EOS 5D Mark lll, 8-15 @16mm, 1/100, f/13, iso 320, 2 Ikelite DS160

 

 

Multiple Autofocus Points

When you're shooting larger subjects like sea lions or dolphins in clear water, try using multiple autofocus points. It's not as precise as using a small focus point but it can be much faster for the camera to lock focus, especially as subjects move around and enter/leave the frame. I recommend using the largest autofocus selection that will get the job done.

For macro, I prefer to use a single focus point most of the time since depth of field is oftentimes more critical than for wide-angle.

 

Blue Spot Jawfish feeding. Sea of Cortez, Mexico.
Canon EOS 5D Mark lll, 100mm, 1/200, f/11, iso 160, 2 Ikelite DS160

 

Focus and Recompose

When you are using a single or small cluster of autofocus points, the quickest way to capture a shot is to focus on the point you’d like and then recompose before pushing the shutter. This can be done with the help of either focus lock or back button focus. You could use the half-press focus method, but you will need to refocus between every shot, which is not ideal for capturing fast action and behavior. Regardless, both of these techniques will enable you to capture more “keepers” than trying to manually move the focus point in the viewfinder.

 

Pikeblenny fight. Sea of Cortez, Mexico.
Canon EOS 5D Mark lll, 100mm, 1/200, f/11, iso 100, 2 Ikelite DS160

 

Octopus fight. Redondo Beach, California.
Canon EOS 5D Mark lll, 16-35 @35mm, 1/50, f/13, iso 320, 2 Ikelite DS160

 

 

About the Author

Todd Winner is a professional underwater photographer and cinematographer, PADI scuba instructor and owner of Winner Productions, a boutique post production facility catering to Hollywood's most elite cinematographers. Since taking up underwater photography in 1990, Todd Winner has won over 60 international underwater photo competitions. His images have been published in numerous magazines and online publications. His work has been featured in commercial advertising, museums and private galleries.  To see more of Todd's work or join him on an underwater workshop, please visit www.toddwinner.com.

 

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Shallow Depth of Field Underwater

Victor Tang
Settings, Shooting Tips, Composition, Focusing & More

 

Shallow Depth of Field Underwater

Settings, Shooting Tips, Compositions, Focusing & More

Text and Photos By Victor Tang

 

 

 
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Most new underwater photographers learn quickly that capturing sharp images of subjects is essential. When I first started shooting, internet research led me to realize that one of the best ways to ensure sharp photos is to have as much depth of field (the extent of the photo that is in focus) as possible, which led me to use an aperture of F8 on my Canon G12 almost all the time when shooting macro. F8, along with a fast shutter speed of 1/250s, became my default setting as I happily shot away with my Canon G12. That magic setting was bumped up to F22 after upgrading to a DSLR with larger image sensor.

It was not long before I started to be transfixed by photos where only select areas of the macro subject was in sharp focus, drawing the viewer to appreciate that part of the marine creature and presenting it in a new light. I had already been experimenting with these focal points and soon realized that the technique I was applying was a shallow depth of field (DOF). I now use the technique frequently to add some fresh dimension to my dive trip portfolios.

 

Peacock Mantis Shrimp. Nikon 105VR, Kenko 1.4x Teleconverter, 2 Sea & Sea YS-D1s. ISO100, F8, 1/250s. 

 

 

Preparing To Shoot Shallow DOF

Taking photos with a shallow DOF is essentially normal macro photography but with a few changes. Below are some tips to help make the learning curve less challenging:

 

  • POWER DOWN YOUR STROBES!!! This point can not be emphasized enough. Creating a shallow DOF requires aperture settings that are much wider than standard macro photography, and that means more light will reach the image sensor. Using the strobe power settings from an F22 shot will guarantee a grossly overexposed image when shooting at much shallower depths of field (a result of the wider aperture). Start off with the strobe power settings between the minimum and one to two steps stronger until you can anticipate the power needed.
  • It is very hard to get a black background. Shooting at wide apertures means that more ambient light will be present in the shot, especially in DSLR systems where there is a limit to the shutter speed when using flash (remember, shutter speed controls ambient light). More often than not, the area behind the subject will be visible.
  • Try to compose the image with as much depth as possible. In other words, “Fish ID” side profile compositions may not work because the bulk of the subject will likely be in the same plane of focus, resulting in minimal depth. Head-on facial portraits work the best since most of the subject's body will be behind the thin plane of focus, ensuring that it creates depth and forms a blurred background (bokeh).
  • Move the camera’s focus points around the frame. Shooting with shallow depths of field allows very little leeway in placement of the focal point in order to have the correct area in focus, whereas deeper DOFs allow much more leeway in placing the focal point before the critical area becomes noticeably out of focus.

Keep these things in mind when working with shallow depth of field on your next macro dive!

 

Squat Shrimp. Nikon 105VR, Kenko 1.4x teleconverter, 2 Sea & Sea YS-D1s. ISO100, F6.3, 1/250s. 

 

Ribbon Eel. Nikon 105VR, 2 Sea & Sea YS-D1s. ISO100, F5.6, 1/250s. 

 

Lovely Headshield Slug. Nikon 105VR, 2 Sea & Sea YS-D1s. ISO200, F6.3, 1/320s. 

 

 

5 Common Subjects for Shallow DOF

Capturing interesting photos of subjects with a shallow DOF get easier with practice. Here are some subjects that can easily be found on many reefs, allowing underwater photographers to track their progress and improvement:

 

1)  Corals and Sedentary Worms

The single greatest advantage of shooting these stalwarts of the reef with a shallow DOF is that they tend to stick around for the whole dive (and then some). This allows the photographer to get a feel of how different aperture settings will affect the results of the shot without fear of the worms or corals scooting away like marine creatures tend to do.

A good learning exercise is to start off with the widest aperture and progressively take shots with smaller and smaller apertures to better appreciate how different settings will affect the image. This is also a good opportunity to play around with strobe settings to get a feel of how much flash power is needed to attain optimum exposure at each setting. One might think this a waste of a dive, but this understanding of aperture can go a long way to reducing the time needed to get that perfect shot with more skittish subjects.

 

Mushroom Leather Coral. Nikon 105VR, 2 Sea & Sea YS-D1s. ISO100, F4.2, 1/250s. 

 

Feather Duster Worm. Nikon 105VR, 2 Sea & Sea YS-D1s. ISO200, F6.3, 1/320s. 

 

 

2)  Lizardfish

As ambush predators, they rely on the art of inactivity to feed themselves and are some of the best candidates for shooting shallow DOF. The lizardfish’s flat and sharply tapered anatomy has eyes perched at the top of the body, and more often than not there is nothing directly behind the eyes, making it easier to create depth.

Lizardfishes, however, are slightly more skittish than other ambush predators. As a result, they have to be approached slowly and with care. They tend to be pretty sizable, so it's easy to use a longer focal length lens like a 105mm to fill the frame and still be far enough away not to scare them off.

 

Lizardfish. Nikon 105VR, 2 Sea & Sea YS-D1s. ISO200, F8, 1/320s. 

 

 

3)  Yellow Tail Blenny

This particular species, commonly found in little nooks and crannies in the reef, is by far the least camera shy of the Blennies. It may scurry back down its little refuge if approached too aggressively, but more often than not they come back out to stare right at the lens port as if hypnotized by their own reflection. I have seen lens ports come very close to the Yellow Tail Blenny without them flinching, so shorter focal length lenses like a 60mm can be deployed quite easily.

One potential downside is that the holes they reside in tend to be “flat” in nature, which may lead to a distracting background. This is where the Blenny’s friendliness can come in handy. If you find the Yellow Tail Blenny to close to the entrance of its hole, retreat a little, stay still and soon it may extend itself out of the hole and towards you! One can then move slowly closer to frame the Blenny and blur the background more. The transparent rims of its eyes form an integral part of the image, thus for best results try to focus on the rims and not the round black pupil.

 

Yellow-tail Blenny. Nikon 105VR, 2 Sea & Sea YS-D1s. ISO200, F9 and 1/320s. 

 

 

4)  Hermit Crabs

Hermit Crabs lend themselves very nicely to shallow DOF photography because of the uniqueness of their eyes. They stick out far from the body, helping the photographer immensely to find the distance to blur the background. There is just one pretty dampening downside: the eyes of the hermit crab are tiny and they move around a lot!

An effective method for shooting shallow DOF with a hermit crab is to first watch the crab and compose your background. Think of where the eyes should be in the image and slowly observe the crab's eye movements to determine where they usually stop. Next, place the focus point at that spot, making adjustments to framing as necessary. Then it’s just a matter of patience and seizing the chance to take the shot when everything is lined up. This may take some time to achieve and a bit of luck is needed, but well worth the effort. Hermit crabs' mainly sedentary nature means a 60mm lens may suffice, although a longer focal length could be just the thing to accord them enough personal space to really come out of their shells.

 

Dark Knee Hermit Crab. Tamron 60mm, 2 Sea & Sea YS-D1s. ISO200, F5.6, 1/320s. 

 

 

5)  Banded Coral Shrimp

These essential cleaner shrimps, mainly found in crevices on the reef or beneath human rubbish like tires, serve up something interesting and versatile for shallow DOF photography. Banded Coral Shrimp eyes are situated more or less in the center of the creature lengthwise. This means that we can create depth, not just in the background with the shrimp’s body, but also have a strong foreground with its claws out in front.  

Banded Coral Shrimps do pose some challenges for underwater macro photography. They tend to prefer the comforts of their crevices when not out cleaning, and when they do come onto the reef they tend to move all over the place, forcing the photographer to react quickly. Trying to get their tiny eyes in focus was just not hard enough! This is definitely a job for a 100mm macro lens, as the shrimps’ long antennae can sense you at a distance and send them into flight mode.

 

Banded Coral Shrimp. Nikon 105VR, 2 Sea & Sea YS-D1s. ISO100, F5, 1/250s. 

 

 

An Essential Skill In The Toolbox

The underwater world is full of the weird and wonderful, with marine life displaying an array of abilities and adaptations that simply boggle the mind. Using a shallow depth of field to isolate and feature these facets of the deep is undoubtedly one of the most effective methods an underwater photographer can use to showcase their beauty to the masses. There are other options in macro photography, but mastery of this technique will open up new perspectives and opportunities, and it has always been but a command dial away.

 

 

About the Author

Victor Tang is the founder of Wodepigu Water Pixel, an adventure dive company and photography consultancy with a nose for off the beaten track dive destinations.  When not stranded on shore with other pursuits as a musician and TV producer, Victor is on the prowl around Southeast Asia searching for new pristine waters to explore. His sister will always tease him for taking an oath never to take a camera underwater again after his first try in Malapascua, but lately he carries a camera anywhere he goes.

 

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Stunning Super Macro with Diopters

Victor Tang
Stacking Diopters: A Guide for Compact and DSLR Cameras

Stunning Super Macro with Diopters


Stacking Diopters: A Guide for Compact and DSLR Cameras

Text and Photos By Victor Tang

 

 
 
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Most of us have been intrigued at some point by things we cannot see with the naked eye. Scientists are continuously making new discoveries in the oceans, and underwater photographers are keeping pace by documenting the large and very small elements that make up our oceans. In my view, there are two developments in the last 15 years that have helped spur the growth in underwater super macro photography to the level we see today:

  1. The availability of digital cameras. Being freed from the limits of film and having the luxury to instantly review images, photographers now have the latitude to attempt shots at higher magnifications.
  1. The continual discovery of really tiny marine species. Although the Bargibanti Pygmy Seahorse was first discovered in 1969, six more species have been discovered since 2000 and have become the darling of underwater photographers since.

The almost insatiable thirst for greater detail while shooting underwater has spurred the development of waterproof macro lenses, or wet diopters, with ever increasing magnification capabilities. There are now many brands of wet diopters with varying magnifying strengths on the market. Inon was one of the pioneers and now others like ReefNet Subsee, Dyron, F.I.T. and Nauticam have become popular choices. They range in strengths from +5 to +16 when used on land, but their true magnifications are often greatly reduced when deployed underwater.

Filling the frame with a pygmy seahorse, which on average is about 2cm long, can now be achieved with a wet diopter. The challenge now is to obtain higher magnifications to capture even more detail (for example, a facial portrait of a pygmy seahorse). So what is the easiest way to increase magnification? Stack diopters on top of one another!

 

Hippocampus Bargibanti. Taken with Canon G12 and 2 Sea & Sea YS110As at ISO100. Manual Mode at F8 and 1/250s. Subsee +10 and Dyron +7 Diopters.

 

Stacking Macro Lenses on Compact Cameras

Many compact cameras are designed and marketed with macro photography in mind,  providing focusing capability as close as one centimeter from the subject.

In photography, a lens is considered to have macro capabilities if it can shoot a subject at a minimum reproduction ratio of 1:1, which means the true size of the subject is reflected on the photograph. In other words, if the subject you are capturing is 20mm long and the image sensor in your camera is also 20mm in length, then the subject taken should totally fill the length of the resulting photograph.

This is not possible in compact cameras. For instance, my G12 has a maximum reproduction ratio of 1:4, which infers that I can only capture subjects at a quarter of its actual size on my photos. With my G12 totally zoomed in to its longest focal length I only get a reproduction ratio of 1:11, not to mention a minimum focus distance of 30cm! Because of this, compact cameras will benefit greatly from stacking diopters.

 

Bubble Coral Shrimp. Taken with Canon G12 and 2 Sea & Sea YS110As at ISO100. Manual Mode at F8 and 1/250s. Subsee +10 and Dyron +7 Diopters.

 

Sea Pen Crab. Taken with Canon G12 and 2 Sea & Sea YS110As at ISO100. Manual Mode at F8 and 1/250s. Subsee +10 and Dyron +7 Diopters.

 

PROS

  • Compact camera users can capture macro shots with a macro diopter, and super macro shots by adding a second diopter. The first diopter added should take a compact camera very close to the magical 1:1 reproduction ratio. The next one will bring you to more than 1:1 for super macro shots. For example, using Reefnet's Magnification Calculator, when a +10 diopter is added to a G12 at its longest focal length the reproduction ratio improves to 1.1:1, which is right in the macro range. Adding another +7 diopter improves it to 1.9:1, within super macro territory.
  • To achieve the greatest magnification the compact camera has to be fully zoomed in while the diopters are attached. Attaching diopters while at the widest setting will cause substantial vignetting.
  • Closer working distances with diopters also means there is less water between the lens and the subject, reducing the risk of getting backscatter in your photos.
  • The LCD screens on compact cameras tend to show a deeper Depth of Field (DOF) than the viewfinders of DSLR cameras, making focusing much less of a challenge comparatively. Some camera models even come with a focus assist function, where the area over the focus point is enlarged even further on screen, allowing for better fine-tuning.
  • The smaller sensors used on compact cameras create greater DOF compared to DSLRs, so more of the image will be in focus, even with diopters.

 

Clownfish Eggs. Taken with Canon G12 and 2 Sea & Sea YS110As at ISO100. Manual Mode at F8 and 1/250s. Subsee +10 and Dyron +7 Diopters.

 

Juveniles Sea Cucumber Crab and Emperor Shrimp. Taken with Canon G12 and 2 Sea & Sea YS110As at ISO100. Manual Mode at F8 and 1/250s. Subsee +10 and Dyron +7 Diopters.

 

CONS

  • If you thought focusing with one diopter lens was challenging, adding another further compounds the difficulty. It takes more time and patience to achieve sharp focus with stacked diopters than before. Practicing good buoyancy and learning to stay still while capturing the shot are separate challenges in themselves.
  • Stacking diopters greatly decreases the depth of field of the image. Compact cameras usually have their smallest apertures between f8 – f11, which after stacking diopters means the DOF of the photo could be much shallower than you'd expect. So order to have a usable photograph, care must taken to choose the area of the subject to focus on. This can be used to your advantage, however, by achieving focus on parts of the subject to which you want to draw attention (like the eyes).
  • The much closer focus distance means that if you are using strobes, you may need to position your strobes further forward and closer to the camera. A good starting position is with your strobes close to the front edge of the outmost stacked diopter, angling the strobe face away from the subject.

 

Skeleton Shrimp. Taken with Canon G12 and 2 Sea & Sea YS110As at ISO100. Manual Mode at F8 and 1/250s. Subsee +10 and Dyron +7 Diopters.

 

 

Stacking Macro Lenses on DSLR Cameras

Capturing tiny subjects with DSLRs proves relatively simple with dedicated macro lenses that attain a 1:1 reproduction ratio. A diopter isn’t needed to achieve this ratio, and when used, immediately take subjects into the super macro realm.

 

Brain Coral. Taken with Nikon D300 and 2 Sea & Sea YS-D1 at ISO100. Manual Mode at F22 and 1/320s. Nikon 105VR with Subsee +10 and Dyron +7 Diopters.

 

Damselfish Eggs. Taken with Nikon D600 and 2 Sea & Sea YS-D1 at ISO100. Manual Mode at F32 and 1/250s. Nikon 105VR with Subsee +10 and Dyron +7 Diopters.

 

PROS

  • You can achieve truly large magnifications. If I stack both my Subsee +10 and Dyron +7 diopters with a 105mm macro lens, the combination yields a reproduction ratio of 3.2:1, meaning I can take subjects as small as 8mm and fill the frame.
  • The focus distance will be very close, so backscatter will be less of an issue. In fact, at such huge magnifications the little particles that cause backscatter might actually show up clearly and in focus as part of the photo!

 

CONS

  • Stacking diopters works best for macro lenses with longer focal lengths (100mm and above), as they have minimum focus distances that are further away from the subject, providing more space for stacking diopters. Lenses with shorter focal lengths (like 60mm) have very close working distances, leaving little space to add any diopters. If you have been using 60mm lenses exclusively, you may have to think of investing in a new macro lens and the corresponding ports.
  • A close focusing distance can be a double-edged sword. Stacking diopters on a DSLR means focusing distances so close that it may be hard to illuminate your subjects with your strobes. Using the combination mentioned above I found myself focusing at around one centimeter, and I had to be very careful and creative in placing my strobes to light up the scene.
  • Depth of Field will be very shallow, so very small apertures (as high as f/32) may be needed to create the DOF needed to have all of your subject in focus. Using such small apertures also means sharpness will be compromised due to diffraction.
  • Modern DSLRs leave the aperture blades wide open before taking a photo to keep the viewfinder bright, stopping down to the required aperture only when capturing the image. The resulting picture on the viewfinder will look like you are capturing the image at the widest aperture of the macro lens, usually f2.8. This, combined with the razor thin focal plane of stacked diopters, makes achieving sharp focus challenging.
  • Such shallow DOFs make autofocus perform very slowly. It may be more effective to use manual focus instead, rocking the camera (ever so slighty) back and forth and pressing the shutter when the photographer can tell that the subject is in focus. This can take many attempts and some time.

 

Shooting Tips with Stacked Diopters

Here are some suggestions to improve your chances of success when shooting with multiple diopters:

  • Look for subjects that tend not to move. The less they move the easier it is for you to focus. Corals are the perfect starting point.
  • Make sure to find a relatively stable and relaxed position that does not damage to your surroundings when attempting the shot. It tends to take a substantial amount of time to achieve the shot desired, so you better get comfortable.
  • Use a focus light whenever possible to help achieve focus. It is hard enough to focus with such thin DOFs. A focus light will greatly help your autofocus system.
  • The subjects chosen when stacking diopters tend to be very small and thus fragile. Always ensure the well-being of the subject during the photo taking process, as it can be easy to touch them with the front of the diopter.

 

Commensal Shrimp. Taken with Nikon D600 and 2 Sea & Sea YS-D1 at ISO100. Manual Mode at F32 and 1/250s. Nikon 105VR with Subsee +10 and Dyron +7 Diopters.

 

Galaxea Coral. Taken with Nikon D300 and 2 Sea & Sea YS-D1 at ISO100. Manual Mode at F22 and 1/320s. Nikon 105VR with Subsee +10 and Dyron +7 Diopters.

 

Is It Worth The Hassle?

It might seem that stacking diopters is more trouble than it is worth. The difficulty lies in achieving sharp focus regardless of camera style, and this takes up precious bottom time. It does make one wonder if it is worthwhile to invest time and effort to get that one shot of a subject so small and seemingly insignificant, especially when other dive buddies are snapping away happily at many other wonderful creatures at more 'manageable' sizes?

The happy truth is that, if one can get comfortable with super macro photography, it actually opens up a plethora of opportunities to take wonderful photos. Whales, sharks and other pelagic fish may continue to steal the limelight, but at the other end of the scale there are unique textures and details that are no less fascinating. With a little creative composition, subjects that seem run-of-the-mill can be transformed into amazing images with that special WOW factor. Gone are the days when you “see nothing” on a dive, because with a keen eye one may spot a small scene worth stacking the glass to shoot. A boring dive? Never again.

 

About the Author

Victor Tang is the founder of Wodepigu Water Pixel, an adventure dive company and photography consultancy with a nose for off the beaten track dive destinations.  When not stranded on shore with other pursuits as a musician and TV producer, Victor is on the prowl around Southeast Asia searching for new pristine waters to explore. His sister will always tease him for taking an oath never to take a camera underwater again after his first try in Malapascua, but lately he carries a camera anywhere he goes.

 

Further Reading

 


Where to Buy

Please support the Underwater Photography Guide by purchasing your underwater photography gear through our sister site, Bluewater Photo & Video. Click, or call them at (310) 633-5052 for expert advice!


 

 
 
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Essential Drift Diving Photo Tips

Brent Durand
Maximize Photo Opportunities and Capture Great Shots on your Next Dive

Essential Drift Diving Photo Tips


Maximize Photo Opportunities and Capture Great Shots on your Next Dive

Text and Photos By Brent Durand

 

 

 
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Planned drift dives are a sublime experience as one floats weightless through a colorful reef amongst the fish. That is, unless you’re a photographer. Drift diving requires close contact with a constantly moving group, meaning that photographers have very limited time to spend with subjects and compose photos. There are a number of additional challenges, including swimming against the current, losing sight of the group and stabilizing for a shot without touching the reef (with body or fin wash). The good news is that there are a few techniques to keep in mind that will make capturing great images much easier.

 

Anticipate Photo Opportunities

This is the best way to capture photos on any dive, and it is particularly important while drift diving. If you’re not thinking ahead to the next shot, chances are you’ll already be drifting by a beautiful composition or interesting critter by the time you notice the photo potential. At that point it’s often too late to try and swim up current.

As soon as a potential photo opportunity comes into sight it’s wise to start preparing to duck out of the current. As soon as you can, take note of the surrounding area so that you can position yourself properly to duck quickly out of the current without disturbing reef or sand. This idea also applies when searching cracks and ledges for nurse sharks, fish and smaller critters.

 

I drifted into position for a shot after noticing this diver examining the back of a coral head. The magnifying glass was a pleasant surprise.

 

One must constantly scan for reefscape composition elements while drift diving.

 

Focus on One Composition Style

The less there is to change between shots the more quickly you can frame and capture an image. If you set your strobe position for vertical compositions, leave that position for a while and scan the reef for elements that will create a good photo. With a basic position set, all that is required are minor adjustments of strobe position and power.

Camera settings like ISO, aperture and shutter speed are critical for properly exposing ambient light in the water (wide-angle backgrounds). Once you’ve properly exposed for the water in a direction relative to the sun, try to shoot in that direction for a while before changing the camera settings again.

 

Grunts and many other fish like to hide away from the current - great subjects for those searching nooks and crannies for photo opportunities.

 

In Cozumel, divers will often find green moray eels and nurse sharks under ledges - sometimes in the same spot!

 

Dive at the Front of the Group

Diving at the front means that you’ll have more time to shoot before the group has drifted to the edge of sight, whether you’re diving with 3 or with 20. This is helpful to gain extra shooting time and can allow you to compose images with silhouettes of the approaching divers. If you’re not looking for other divers in the frame, shoot off to the side, away from the drift path of the other divers.

Additionally, stopping for a photo while at the front of the group allows the guide to know that you’ve intentionally stopped. They’ll prefer this much more than trying to locate your bubbles up current if you disappear off the back of a group.

 

Photographers who anticipate divers moving into the frame can create great diver-in-scene images by waiting patiently for the right pose before pushing the shutter.

 

Incorporating boatmates into a photo is always fun.

 

Be Ready to Enter the Water

Drift diving requires entering the water and descending quickly in order to keep groups together and dial-in buoyancy before coming into contact with the reef. Once the boat driver has triangulated the position it’s always GO time. As a photographer, being one of the first in the water gives you a chance to start prepping your camera (wave bubbles off the port, extend strobe arms, etc) before the descent. This is important because you never know when you will drop in on that rare, skittish subject!

 

Being prepared with the right camera settings helps capture fleeting moments at the start of a drift dive.

 

Keeping all my gear together at a seat with easy camera storage helps to enter the water as soon as the OK is given.

 

Conclusion

Drift diving is a lot of fun and presents some very unique photo opportunities. Many fish and marine life will let a calm, drifting diver approach much closer than someone kicking and breathing hard, and with preparation and smart camera skills it’s possible to capture some amazing images. It’s just up to you to make it happen!

These photos are from a recent trip to Cozumel, Mexico. Special thanks to Scuba Club Cozumel, Scuba Du, Aqua Safari and Living Underwater. Email brent@bluewaterdivetravel.com for questions on Cozumel diving and help booking your next trip.

 

About the Author

Brent Durand is an avid California beach diver, photographer and writer dedicated to capturing unique underwater, ocean lifestyle and adventure images. Brent is editor-in-chief of the Underwater Photography Guide. Make sure to follow UWPG on Facebook for updates on everything underwater-photography.

 

 

Further Reading

 


Where to Buy

Please support the Underwater Photography Guide by purchasing your underwater photography gear through our sister site, Bluewater Photo & Video. Click, or call them at (310) 633-5052 for expert advice!


 

 
 
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