3 Tips for Underwater Macro Video

Sascha Janson
Bring your macro video to the next level with these simple tips


3 Tips for Underwater Macro Video

Bring your macro video to the next level with these simple tips

By Sascha Janson




Most cameras nowadays are able to capture HD video (some even do 4K), and more and more underwater photographers want to take advantage of that movie feature to take home some video of the amazing macro life seen while diving. It can be tricky at first, but don’t give up after one dive. Here are three tips that will help you get better results.


Use a Lot of Light

When shooting macro video, we want to overpower the ambient light whenever possible to get the most vibrant colors.

In the image below (screenshots from video) you can see the difference between footage filmed with only ambient light and with a high power underwater LED video light – the colors get more vibrant with the more light we put on the subject.



You can also watch the video here:

This video was shot with a Canon 7D Mark II, 60mm macro lens. 1/60sec, f13, (ISO was set to AUTO to show the different results best)


For shooting macro video with DSLRs I recommend using two LED video lights with a wide, even beam and at least 2000 lumens. Using more powerful lights will let you close the aperture on your camera further, which gives you more depth of field. If the lights are too powerful for some scenes, you can always choose a weaker power output. It’s not impossible to get good footage with a weaker light (below 2000 lumens), but the more power you have on a light, the easier it will be.



Use the Magnify Button

Of course shooting macro video with a DSLR is more challenging than wide angle, because most DSLRs generally don’t autofocus well in video mode (some of them only focus manually). Judging the focus in the Live View on the camera’s LCD (or even on a larger monitor) is sometimes very tricky. Using the “Magnify” function and manual focus helps to fine tune the focus.



In this example of a hairy frogfish it is very difficult to see if the eye is actually in focus or not, because the whole subject is on the LCD and the eye itself is tiny.



By moving the little white square to the point of interest (here the eye) and then pressing the magnify button (red arrow) we are able to fine tune the focus.



Now we have a 5x magnification preview, which is enough most of the time to be able to judge the focus (by pressing the magnify button again, we can even have 10x magnification) and we can easily fine tune the focus manually. When the eye is in focus we can start our recording. Unfortunately, this only works before we hit the record button, we cannot do this while recording. This works best with stationary subjects or at least subjects that don’t move fast.

I used a Canon 7D in a Subal CD7 housing for this tutorial, so note that the buttons are in different positions on other housings. Newer DSLRs like the Canon 7D Mark II actually do a pretty good job with continuous auto focus, but for really small subjects, camouflaged subjects or when shooting at larger apertures the magnify button and manual focus are still essential.


Use a Tripod

It is very important for macro videography to be steady. Even super sharp focus, perfect light and composition will fail if your audience gets seasick. Use a tripod to get steady footage!

Example video of handheld vs. tripod underwater macro video.


There are many different models of tripods available – you have to choose which one is the right one for you. I prefer a tripod which doesn’t add extra height to the the housing so I’m able to shoot with the port down as low as possible, but this would not be my tripod of choice for shooting pygmy seahorses.


DIY locline elements tripod.




Further Reading


About the Author

Sascha Janson is passionate about diving and photography and spends a couple hours underwater every day with his camera to capture special moments of the underwater world. When he’s not diving, he’s running the photo-center ‘Cameras@Lembeh Resort‘, where he helps fellow underwater photographers with camera problems, teaches courses and produces underwater videos (click here for the Lembeh Resort video gallery). You can see more of his work at uw-pix.com.



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Top Tips for Super Macro Photography

Scott Gietler
Advice that will make huge improvements in your Super Macro


Top Tips for Super Macro Photography

Make dramatic improvements in your underwater supermacro photos

Text by Scott Gietler, Photo by Scott Gietler & Brent Durand


top tips for supermacro underwater photography
Mantis shrimp eyes, Nauticam SMC diopter F20, 1/250th, ISO 320



Supermacro can be a very demanding, frustrating, and ultimately rewarding segment of photography. Acheiving focus, depth of field, and sharpness can be very difficult, and can finding the proper subjects and conditions. It takes a lot of practice, and there will not be many "keepers". However, it can be mastered, and your persistence will pay off.

Below are a few tips that can immensely help your super macro underwater photography. If you have never done supermacro before, read our intro to supermacro article.


#1  Hold your left hand under your port 

Most people hold both of their tray handles when taking a macro or supermacro photo. When shooting super macro, let go of your left handle and instead support your port or wet diopter from below. It will feel strange at first, but you will find out it is a much more stable setup, and you'll be able to find your subject easier and keep it in the frame longer.

Supermacro tutorial underwater
Single soft coral polyp from Anilao, taken at F18


#2  Brace yourself with excellent buoyancy

Supermacro photography requires excellent buoyancy skills, as it is very important not to hit the reef or damage any marine life. There are many reefs that have so much coral and reef, I don't even like to shoot supermacro there because of the danger of bumping into something.

I usually look for supermacro subjects on large areas of open sand or over large areas dead coral, so I can gently brace my entire rig using a finger, a metal stick, or in some cases using my using a very small area of my left wristbone on the ground. This must be done in conjunction with the technique explained in tip #1 above. By using tip #1 & #2 together, you'll get a rock-solid super macro rig that can lock in your target with a minimal amount of "having your subject fly around in the frame".

Note that it is very important not be laying on the reef, or have your fins or knees touch the ground. You must keep your contact with the reef to an absolutely minimum, and only if the area you are contacting is dead. It will help to have a photo instructor watch you shoot and give you feedback your technique and buoyancy. 

Using a backplate/wing for better buoyancy, and using stiff paddle fins can help make this exercise easier.

After you are done shooting your supermacro subject, gently inflate your BCD slightly, turn away from the subject, and slowly frogkick away, keeping your eye on the subject to make sure your fin kicks don't propel water into your subject. 

Tiny single "knob" of a starfish, F25, bracing myself with my wristbone on dead rubble


#3  Align your key focus points in one plane

If you subject has 2 eyes or 2 rhinophores that you want to get in focus, they must be aligned in the same plane. If the subject is a shrimp with 2 eyes and 2 claws, now you have 4 points that need to be in 1 plane. Think of it as a geometry test! This tip is very important because your depth of field is very limited when taking a super macro photo.

Tiny Hairy shrimp from Anilao. I carefully aligned the shrimp so it was all in the same plane

Brent was able to expertly get the shrimp eyes and front claws in one plane, resulting in a great photo. From Manado, Indonesia



#4  Point your strobes inward

To bring out the detail and texture of your supermacro subject, point your strobes inward towards your port. You'll see some photos of this techinque at the bottom of our underwater strobe position article

X-mas tree worm closeup, strobes pointed inward, F22, 1/250th, ISO 320


#5  Get enough depth of field

When shooting supermacro, you have only a tiny depth of field. Unless your subject is fairly flat (in which case you can get away with a larger aperture to keep more detail), you'll need to shoot at a very small aperture. F8 for compacts, F11 for Sony RX100's & G7X, F18 - F22 for mirrorless setups, and F22 - F29 for cropped sensor dSLR and F25 - F36 for a full-frame dSLR. Do keep in mind that you are gaining depth of field at the expense of detail at the 100% crop level. However, for many super macro photos, the additional depth of field will be more important.

Spanish shawl, D7000, Subsee +5, F32, photo by Scott Gietler


supermacro tips for underwater photography
Spanish shawl eggs,  D810, 105mm VR lens, Nauticam SMC, F40. By shooting at F40, I was able to get most of the eggs in focus, although at 100% crop you can see the effects of diffraction.


#6   Practise on land first

This is possible the most important tip. I have literally seen fifty different photographers try to take supermacro photos underwater, without understanding that when you use a macro lens, you can only focus at one particular distance, usually 2 -4 inches from the port. Try your setup on land first, on a table, to find out what that distance is. Rock and back and forth until you see your subject in focus. Once you learn that distance, you'll notice that you can only take a supermacro photo at that distance.


#7 Compact shooters - zoom in!

If you are using a compact camera with a zoom, like the Canon G16 or the Sony RX100 series, you will be better off if you zoom *all the way or most of the way in* when using a wet diopter. This will give you two huge benefits. #1 - you will get more magnification, and #2 - you will get more working distance. Yes, more working distance! I know it is counter-intuitive, but just try it. Note - when using tip #7, you must also follow my instructions in tip #6 above to avoid massive frustration.

Sony RX100, F11, Nauticam CMC, zoomed in, strobes pointed inward


#8   Get a great macro lens

There are several good wet diopters (macro lens) on the market - I've used the Bluewater +7, Subsee +5, Subsee +10, the Nauticam Super Macro Converter, and the Nauticam Compact Macro Converter. I've used them alot! Feel free to email me to see what would be best for you.


5D Mark III, 100mm lens, Subsee +10 from Bali


Olympus E-M1, 60mm macro lens, Bluewater +7 macro lens


#9   Join a macro workshop

We have great macro workshops coming up in Bali, Lembeh, and Anilao. Check them out - these destinations offer great guides, a cornucopia of macro subjects and excellent conditions for supermacro photography (e.g. - not too much surge). Our LaPaz trip this September will also offer some good macro.

Anilao Dec 2015

Anilao April / May 2016

Bali Sep 2016

Lembeh Sep 2016



About the Author

Scott Gietler is the owner of Bluewater Photo, Bluewater Travel, and the Underwater Photography Guide. He is a passionate marine life advocate who authored the guide to the underwater fauna and flora of Southern California, and is on the board of ReefCheck.org



Author's SuperMacro Gear Profile

Nikon D810, 105mm VR macro lens, Nauticam SMC, Sola 800 focus light, dual YS-D1 strobes



Further Reading



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3 Tips to Capture Manta Ray Action

Rodney Bursiel
How to capture dramatic photos of manta rays in shallow water


3 Tips to Capture Manta Ray Action

How to capture dramatic photos of manta rays in shallow water

Text and Photos By Rodney Bursiel


socorro manta ray



I recently read an article that noted human encounters with giant mantas are very rare. This may be true in most areas, but not in the Socorro Islands. If you are looking for the perfect opportunity to photograph these gentle giants, this is the place. The dive site El Boiler off the island of San Benedicto is a cleaning station where the mantas come in for a cleaning by the resident clarion fish. They tend to be very curious and love getting bubble baths from the divers.

Below are a few tips that will help you bring home some exciting images.



Book Your Trip to the Socorro Islands

Bluewater Travel can help you plan and book the perfect Socorro Islands dive trip. Visit BluewaterTravel.com for more info.



Have the Right Equipment 

There are just a few simple things that I would recommend in order to get the best shots of the mantas at Socorro. The more important tip for capturing great manta shots takes place before you get into the water:  you need to have the right equipment. You will have the opportunity to get extremely close to the mantas, so I would highly recommend a fisheye lens. For these shots I had a Nikon 10.5 DX fisheye on my Nikon D800, which I’m actually looking to trade for a 16mm FX. The lenses are essentially the same, but the 16mm FX will provide better results for my large prints. 


socorro manta ray

This is where the fisheye lens really comes in handy. I was within 3 feet of this manta and still able to get his whole body and also get some pop from the strobes.


Know Your Lighting

I was shooting with dual Ikelite DS-160 strobes, but these were not necessary since the average depth for this dive was about 40 ft. You can go deeper, but in my experience there was better action in the shallower water, and better light if you don’t have strobes. I used the strobes for a certain effect; I liked adding that pop to the picture. Just be careful not to have them too strong if you are especially close. The white on the mantas is highly reflective and can wash out your shot. Also, when not using strobes, make sure the sun is behind you to light the subject with ambient light, unless you are going for a silhouette.



Position Yourself and Be Patient

Be patient and let the manta rays come to you. The mantas will make their rounds checking out all the divers, so don’t waste your energy chasing them around. You will get a much better shot if you wait. When I see a manta approaching me, I like to position myself just above or just below its intended path. Straight-on shots just aren’t as dramatic-looking in my opinion, as I like to capture more of the animal to get more energy into the shot. I also like to include the bubbles of the other divers. To me it creates a much more interesting photo. If you are going for the bubble shot though, make sure to clean them off your dome port before you shoot. 


socorro manta ray

I’m positioned slightly above the manta so I can see his whole body. Including the bubbles in the shot, rising from below the manta, creates more drama. With no bubbles, this shot wouldn’t have been as interesting.


Go Have Fun

Shooting mantas is pretty simple. Just relax and let them come to you, and remember: they love the bubbles, so the more bubbles around you the more action you will get. Be careful and pay attention to your surroundings – Socorro is in the middle of the ocean. It’s easy to get caught up in the moment with one of these guys and stray off course. And remember to have fun!


socorro manta ray

This is a prime example of positioning yourself and being patient. I had the sun behind as this manta pulled up in front of me. It was out of range of my stobes but the sun lit it perfectly.


socorro manta ray

Another close up with the fisheye. Positioned just below the manta. The sun is directly above so the strobes gave that nice pop on the belly. Otherwise this shot would have been too dark.



Also by Rodney Busiel


About the Author

Rodney Bursiel is a music, surf and underwater photography. When he is not at home in Austin photographing the music scene, he is traveling the world chasing waves and capturing the underwater world. You can see more of his work at www.rodneybursiel.com


Author's Gear Profile

Nikon D800 with Nikkor 10.5mm fisheye lens. Dual Ikelite DS160 strobes.



Further Reading



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Creating Simple and Strong Compositions

Ken Kiefer
A tutorial on how to compose your images for the most visual impact


Creating Simple and Strong Compositions

A tutorial on how to compose your images for the most visual impact

Text and Photos By Ken Kiefer


Underwater Photo Composition



Creating a strong image that holds visual appeal requires many components working together, including an interesting subject, lighting, focus and depth of field.  One of the most important elements in a good image is composition, which unfortunately, isn’t a straightforward science. While composition has some general rules, it involves the photographers’ artistic involvement and can be very subjective.

As underwater photographers we bring the element of diving to our photography, making it even more challenging.  Not only are we now trying to use the perfect settings for our shot, but we must keep track of strobe placement, watch our buoyancy, check our gauges and follow the divemaster – all in addition to composing the shot through a mask and a tiny viewfinder! 

For shooting wide-angle and big animals there are several things that can help with composition and capturing a strong, appealing image.




Be aware of what the background in your shots will contain.  Don’t only pay attention to your subjects, but understand what may be distracting or could enhance your shots.  A sure way to help a subject pop is to get close and have nothing but clear blue water surrounding it.  Likewise, a sandy bottom can work in conjunction with your subject as a great background.


Underwater Photo Composition

The incredible blues of the deep ocean surrounding Cat Island provides an amazing backdrop for the sun’s rays over this oceanic whitetip.


Underwater Photo Composition

This mother and daughter Atlantic Spotted Dolphin glide through the clear Bahamian waters over a beautiful white sand background.




Subjects that trend towards the diagonals of the frame, either through position or patterns help catch the eye and provide a good balance to an image.  Combining a diagonal with the horizon line of the water surface or sea bottom is also a helpful technique.  The placement of horizon lines is important as well, relating to the important Rule of Thirds concept.  Generally, you want the portion of the image with the most interest to be in the 2/3 area of the image. 


Underwater Photo Composition

While in Isla Mujeres, my freediver buddy mimics this whale shark as it begins to go vertical to gulp in large amounts of fish eggs.


Underwater Photo Composition

This lone Great Hammerhead shark glides over a perfect background of white sand.




Pay attention to animal tendencies and direction of the sunlight to help put you in the best position when possible.  Sometimes you may want the sun directly in your face to get a silhouette or sunball shot.  Other times you want the best clarity and contrast from having the sun at your back.  Some of these options aren’t available to you on every dive, but keeping your options in mind on every dive will enhance your photo composition opportunities. 


Underwater Photo Composition

I tried for this shot for a week before it finally happened.  A split second after I snapped this shot, the cephalofoil of the hammer banged into my dome port!


Underwater Photo Composition

This Nurse Shark creates a great diagonal line with the horizon lines of the water’s surface and the sandy bottom.  I watched her approach the surface and then dive several times and was able to move into position to capture this action.




Don’t put on blinders that may keep you from missing a great opportunity.  It’s great to have a ‘shot sheet’ of looks and angles that you want to accomplish, but keep an open mind and watchful eye so that you are ready for other options, fast actions and unique behaviors. 


Underwater Photo Composition

I was chasing my wife and a pair of dolphins trying to get a shot of them together, when I saw this pair of males out of the corner of my eye.  I readjusted quickly and was able to frame them for a quick shot.


Underwater Photo Composition

This oceanic whitetip was swimming near me with nothing in sight but deep blue ocean.  I love the shot in color, but using the black and white adjustment tool allowed me to make the blue into black and further isolate the subject.




I’ve heard many photographers complain about inconsiderate divers ‘ruining their shot’ by not paying attention and just swimming around without considering other divers.  This can sometimes be a problem, but when it can’t be avoided, look for ways to incorporate divers into a shot to provide scale and as a way to balance the composition. 


Underwater Photo Composition

My dive buddy was in a good position to balance out this shot.


Underwater Photo Composition

This was the first whale shark that my wife and I ever encountered.  It has a huge gouge from a propeller that has healed over.  Having her in the shot provided a great way to judge the size of the shark.




One of my favorite ways to bring out the intensity of an image is through the use of black and white.  Black and white can help simplify an image to bring out the essential subjects.  It can also add great drama and clarity.  Shooting with black and white in mind helps focus my thoughts and eye for composition towards the key ingredients for a strong image, including background clutter.  


Underwater Photo Composition

The Freediver provides a wonderful balance to the hammerhead and making the image black and white adds drama and contrast.




Further Reading


About the Author

Ken Kiefer is an underwater photographer that specializes in big animals and fashion/fitness shoots.  He uses his images of sharks to educate children about the realities of sharks –vs- media portrayal.  

View more of Ken's work at: www.kenkiefer.com



Author's Gear Profile

Canon 5D3 in Ikelite 5D MkIII housing

Pair of Ikelite DS161 strobes

Canon 8-15mm fisheye lens


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When to Use GoPro Filters Underwater

Brent Durand
Video Demo and Guide to Using GoPro Filters and Underwater Lights


When to Use GoPro Filters Underwater

Video Demo and Guide to Using GoPro Filters and Underwater Lights

Text and Photos By Brent Durand




Producing high quality underwater video has never been easier. Small, easy-to-use cameras at great prices have lowered what was once a very high barrier to entry. GoPro leads this charge, which comes at no surprise if you’ve been on a dive trip in the last couple years. On every trip you’ll spot several divers with GoPros, whether mounted on poles, trays, handles, larger camera housings or even diver heads.

It’s a simple thing to take the GoPro out of the box and press the record button a few times, instantly becoming a bonified underwater videographer. But how do you take it to the next level? How do you capture video you will actually look at on your computer? What gear should you add to your GoPro Hero kit to increase the quality of your video.

In this latest installment of UWPG’s GoPro tutorial series we show you some examples of using underwater filters, video lights and more.


Using Underwater GoPro Filters

Underwater filters are designed to bring color and contrast back into your underwater video. These colors are lost as we descend in the ocean, starting with red, which is why these filters are red or magenta. By bringing the reds back, the GoPro will also be able to select a more accurate white balance when recording clips. You can see the differences that filters make in the sample screenshots below.

I always recommend using a filter with your GoPro, unless you are using video lights for a close focus wide-angle shot (see section below on video lights).

A Red filter is the most commonly used. This filter is optimized for use in blue water, while a magenta filter is optimized for use in green water. During my test dive in Anilao, Philippines, the water was definitely a bit green, but nothing like in the photos I see from BC and the Pacific Northwest, or off the beach in Malibu when we have an algae bloom. You’ll notice in the video below that the red filter nicely brings the colors back into the video, while the magenta filter doesn’t make much difference. It's important to point out that you should definitely keep that magenta filter on hand, as you never know when you'll come across that green water.

I was happy to be using my GoPro Hero4 Silver for this review since it has an LCD screen built into the back, allowing me to view the changes made by the filters. Of course, the screen helps with composition too. If you have another GoPro model, you can purchase an LCD Touch BacPac to make sure you can see every shot you make.

GoPro underwater filters review

GoPro Filter Test Photos


GoPro underwater no filter

No Filter.  GoPro Hero4 Silver video screenshot.


GoPro underwater red filter

Red Filter.  GoPro Hero4 Silver video screenshot.


GoPro underwater magenta filter

Magenta Filter.  GoPro Hero4 Silver video screenshot.


GoPro underwater no filter

No Filter.  GoPro Hero4 Silver video screenshot.


GoPro underwater red filter

Red Filter.  GoPro Hero4 Silver video screenshot.


GoPro underwater magenta filter

Magenta Filter.  GoPro Hero4 Silver video screenshot.

GoPro underwater red filter

Red Filter.  GoPro Hero4 Silver video screenshot.

GoPro underwater magenta filter

Magenta Filter.  GoPro Hero4 Silver video screenshot.



Using Video Lights with GoPro

GoPro underwater filters are perfect for shooting subjects that are more than a couple feet away from the camera, however if your subject is close to the camera, you will get much better video by using video lights.

Video lights are similar to the underwater strobes that still photographers use in that the artificial light brings all the color back into the reef. It’s the same reason that most smart divers use a flashlight when looking at details of the reef or critters – even with the sun high overhead.

There are two things to keep in mind when using video lights with your GoPro underwater. The first is to make sure you are close enough to the reef (or swimming subject) so that it is well lit by the light(s). This is generally less than 4 feet. The second thing to be aware of is that the GoPro has a minimum focus distance of 12 inches, meaning that you cannot place the camera less than 12 inches from the subject or it will not be in focus (sharp focus is essential for a good video clip). This is tricky because you won't be able to tell if focus is sharp while underwater - only once you have loaded the video onto your computer. That said, Polar Pro makes a macro wet lens that magnifies the scene and decreases that minimum focus distance.


GoPro underwater video lights

GoPro underwater video lights








My GoPro light setup, built from some spare parts and powered by two I-Torch Venom38 video lights.


GoPro underwater video lights

Video Lights, no filter. GoPro Hero4 Silver video screenshot.



Custom White Balance

I’ve added a section on custom white balance for advanced GoPro users who are shooting in Protune mode with the intention to post-process video clips and create a movie of their dive or trip.  In short, custom white balance will allow the GoPro user to select a custom white balance to best fit the scene they are shooting. Choices include Auto, 3000K, 5500K, 6500K and Native.

Finding the right white balance will depend on the filter (or video lights), depth and water conditions, so make sure you're using an LCD display if you plan to set your own WB.



GoPro Filters & Lights Demo Video





Purchase the GoPro Hero4 Black from Bluewater Photo

Contact us for Expert Advice!



UWPG's GoPro Tutorial Series



Other Recommended Reading


About the Author

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



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


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Macro Wide Open

Mike Bartick
A Macro Photo Tutorial on Shallow Depth of Field


Macro Wide Open

A Macro Photo Tutorial on Shallow Depth of Field

Text and Photos By Mike Bartick




Is underwater macro photography trendy? Of course it is. The key to great shots is to try not to get caught up in the regular macro styles, but to try something different. When you do, all kinds of good things are bound to happen.

‘Macro wide open’ uses the bottom end of your lens’ f-stop range to help create extreme bokeh in your images. In fact, these images are mainly comprised of the bokeh with just the slightest anchor points of sharpness for the viewer’s eye to hold on to. Leaning towards reverse ring macro, this wide open technique is a sure fire way to expand your portfolio right away without spending more money on expensive or confusing gear.


Its All About the Bokeh….

First, lets address the creamy, buttery portions of the image referred to as bokeh. Simply put, bokeh is the natural depth in an image and occurs naturally in photography/cinematography. This natural depth is created in an image by framing the sharp focal point that then fades away out of focus through the frame. The focal range creates a plane of focus and shallow depth of field that many shooters attempt to forever enlarge by increasing their f/stop settings (to create more depth of field and less bokeh).

The amount of bokeh is dictated primarily by the f-stop setting of the lens and can expand or collapse depending on the shooter’s desired aperture selection. Nearness to the subject and background, light and other elements including lens build also play heavily into creating interesting bokeh.

So what would happen if we concentrated on dramatically expanding the soft area before and after the focal point, creating an image with the narrowest depth of field possible? What would happen if we were to isolate an anchor point and to exaggerate the bokeh to the maximum? What would happen if the image were all about the buttery and creamy portions of the image; more importantly, how do we get there?


Mike's Gear Box:


Purchase the gear Mike uses at Bluewater Photo.


Camera:  Nikon D7100

Lenses:  Nikkor 60mm, Nikkor 105mm

Housing:  Sea & Sea MDX D7100 Housing

Strobe(s):  1 or 2 Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes

Arms/Clamps:  Ultralight / Beneath the Surface

Accessories:  1 high-powered diopter (like the SubSee +10)

(Aquako or Subsee are both used in this write up to decrease DOF)

Accessories:  1 FIX modeling light



What is "Wide Open"?

Shooting Wide Open means just that: shooting at the bottom end or lowest aperture number (smallest number) of your lens. In fact, for this wide open project the lower the better. By simply dialing back your f-stop to its widest setting, like f/2.8, you will notice a few things occurring immediately and be met with the following challenges:

1  -  A rush of incoming light and overexposed images

2  -  Blurry, soft images

3  -  Lack of color or a color shift in your images

4  -  Extreme narrowness in the depth of field


Take on each of the above challenges one at a time to conquer them. This can be done quite easily and you will soon be on your way to gaining a better understanding of your lens, lighting, composing with more bokeh and how they all combine in creating your image.

Breaking away from some of the rules of composition (like shooting up) to shoot at a downward angle will help to increase the bokeh while working with very tight compositions or when the background is very close to your subject.

Load your images onto your computer and check them for the best results, as the LCD on your camera isn't a very good way to appreciate or grasp what is happening in the image. Look hard into the bokeh and see how the light ripples, buckles, kneads up or swirls. The newer lenses work hard to avoid this effect but older lenses can be easily obtained to create more interesting natural bokeh.



Tutorial in Photos


Peppermint Patty

Gear:  60mm lens, + 15 diopter to decrease depth of field, f/3.2 @ 1/320

Technique:  Medium power constant lighting and lowest power on the strobes for color in the foreground.

Caption:  Candy Crabs are interesting and common subjects that mimic the soft corals on which they are found. Their lightly colored carapace are easily over exposed and will make a great test subject. Review your images and adjust your strobes and modeling light.


Purple Polka Dots

Gear:  105mm lens, +15 diopter to decrease depth of field, f/3 @ 1/250

Technique:  Foreground lighting with FIX modeling light on lowest power and low power on the strobes.

Caption:  Having both eyes reasonably sharp for this image was important, and getting them both evenly distanced from the lens was hard work but is necessary on all these kinds of images.

Notice how the light distorts and begins to buckle. Some of this is created while locking the focus and then pulling back, as most diopters are the sharpest in the center. This technique will help to decrease the DOF even further than the aperture setting.



Gear:  60mm lens, +15 diopter to decrease DOF, f/4.5 @ 1/100

Technique:  Front lit with FIX light. Background is lit with low strobe power.

Caption:  Knowing that the light in the background would create pastel colors and distort the bokeh, the strobe lighting really came into play while making the image. Notice the hydroid and how the bokeh begins to bead up into soft round orbs; this is regarded as good bokeh.

The now-hated mirror lenses of the 70’s and the 80’s created a certain donut shape in the bokeh that many photographers ripped apart and regarded as poor bokeh. I happen to like it, especially since creating that with a quality (new) lens is nearly impossible.


Lemon Drop

Gear:  60mm lens, using Retra Snoot, f/16 @ 1/200

Caption:  These small Lemon Gobies are very popular to photograph when they take up residence in bottles, and photos of them are seen frequently as they are a habitat conducive to creating cool images. This one is shot using a snoot at a higher f-stop for a greater depth of field and dark negative space that fills the frame. I’m rim lighting the subject and the bottle, but as much as I like this mage its seems a bit ordinary.


Lemon Butter

Gear:  60mm lens, f/3.2@ 1/160

Technique:  FIX constant lighting in the foreground

Caption:  Here is an example of the same Goby in the same bottle but shot in a different manner. At f/3.2 the narrow depth of field and nearness of my lens to the subject creates an extreme example of the buttery bokeh that I find interesting and quite different from the rest.


Dippin Dots

Gear:  60mm lens, f/3.2 @ 1/250

Technique:  Two YS-D1 strobes, low power

Caption:  The plane of field is also something to play with when shooting this shallow. I liked the way the light played out in this image with the lavender colors. The Anemone is quite different and filled the frame nicely for this image.


Pika Chu

Gear:  60mm lens, +15 diopter to decrease depth of field, f/3.2 @ 1/250

Technique:  Front lighting with FIX constant light and backlit with YS-D1 strobe, low power

Caption:  The Bokeh swirl is also another dreaded pitfall for some, and something that lens manufacturers try to avoid. Slightly apparent in this image, the swirl is caused by locking the focus and pulling back slightly to the most minimal focal plane possible without losing the sharpness on your anchor point.


Comet Trail

Gear:  60mm lens, f/3.2 @ 1/250

Technique:  Two YS-D1 strobes, low power

Caption:  Dropping the angle of view and capturing the whip coral in the background with such a low f-stop created a very smooth and textured swath of color behind our common subject. In my imaginative mind I see a goby riding a comet!.. No comments please..



Gear:  105mm lens, f/4.2 @ 1/320

Technique:  Front lit with FIX constant lighting, back lit with two YS-D1 strobes

Caption:  This Tambja nudibranch, sitting on a hydroid perched with the back of its foot just touching the rocks behind it, begged for a creative image. The first few shots were so generic and full of muddled clutter in the background that I nearly swam off. Taking a few minutes and thinking about what was being presented quickly had me changing my strategy on how to shoot the nudi. The result was much more gratifying than the prior images and a lot more fun to make.



In Conclusion

Shooting wide open is a fun and challenging way of creating images that closely resembles “reverse ring” image making without the added costs. It’s also much more convenient. Experimenting in shooting wide open will quickly teach you how to shoot using the full range of your lens and expand your portfolio. Have fun!



Further Reading


About the Author

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



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The Quick Guide to Macro Composition

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


The Quick Guide to Macro Composition

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

Text and Photos By Gaby Barathieu




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

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

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


1)  The Basics

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

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

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


Harlequin Shrimp (Hymenocera picta)


2)  Composition

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

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

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


Twin chromodoris (Goniobranchus geminus)


Large toothed cardinalfish (Cheilodipterus macrodon)



3)  Depth of Field

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

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

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


Whip coral goby (Bryaninops yongei)

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


Crinoid Shrimp



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

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


Juvenile Emperor Angelfish



Also by Gaby Barathieu


Further Reading


About the Author

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



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Photo Tips for Blackwater Diving

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


Photo Tips for Blackwater Diving

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

Text and Photos By Jeffrey Milisen




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

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

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


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


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


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



Focusing in Blackwater

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

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

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

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

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


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


Strobes and Exposure

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

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

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


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



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

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

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

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


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


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


In Conclusion

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


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



Also by Jeff Milisen


Further Reading


About the Author

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


photo: Kelsea Sanborn


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Olympus PEN E-PL5 Underwater Settings

Kelli Dickinson
Best underwater settings for the Olympus PEN E-PL5 and previous PEN cameras.

Olympus PEN Underwater Settings

by Kelli Dickinson


The Olympus PEN cameras (E-PL5, E-PL3, E-PM1, E-PL2, E-PL1) have become by far the most popular mirrorless cameras used in underwater photography. In this article we discuss our recommended settings for getting the most out of these excellent cameras.

Below I've compiled several good starting camera settings for different shooting situations. Next is a list of the most important, or required, settings that are crucial to change in your PEN system when shooting underwater. In addition I take an in depth look at all the menus on the camera so you can fine tune your camera for the best underwater shooting experience.

Olympus PEN Underwater Settings

Actual settings will vary based on your diving location and conditions. Take a look at the following suggestions below as a great starting point for shooting with your Olympus PEN camera. These settings were written with the Olympus PEN E-PL5 as the basis, previous models may not offer all the same features, or may have different limitations. Where I know a difference I have noted it.

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

  • Manual mode, F22, 1/250th, ISO 200;
    • For Previous PEN cameras, max shutter sync was 1/160th
  • 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  also 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 **
    • Available in the Nauticam E-PL5 housing only.

Shallow Focus achieved with an open F-stop - Octopus, OM-D E-M5 w/ 45mm, ISO 200, F2.8, 1/250


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

  • Manual mode, F22, 1/250th, ISO 200;
    • For Previous PEN cameras, max shutter sync was 1/160th
  • 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  also 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 close. 

Christmas tree worm, photo by Jim Lyle. F14, 1/250th, ISO 200, 45mm macro lens


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

Note: These settings also are great for starting points for shooting with the kit lens on, and for fish portraits with the 60mm macro 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  also 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 (up to 1/250th), and you'll need to stop down your aperture to F16 or F22 to avoid blowing out the highlights, remember to turn up your strobe power.
  • 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.

Sheephead & Oil Rigs, Olympus OMD E-M5, 8mm Fisheye ISO 200, F5, 1/80


Olympus Camera Set up for Underwater Use

The Olympus PEN cameras work well straight out of the box, however there are some important menu and setting changes that you will want to make sure to do for the best shooting experience.

Most Important Settings for Underwater Use:

1) Custom Menu Options - On the PEN cameras the Custom Menu is usually not turned "on" There are many important features (such as Live View Boost) that you can only access in the custom menus.

Menu -> Set Up Menu (Wrench icon) -> Menu Display and click OK. The Custom Menu is the small cogs icon, hit the right button, and then the down button followed by ok to activate this menu.

2) Live View Boost - this is very important so that you can see your LCD underwater. This mode disables the live view of exposure settings, since underwater shooting with a strobe, usually results in dark settings in the camera. This function will brighten your LCD so it is always at a good viewing brightness. Note: the LCD does not accurately reflect the exposure settings for the camera.

Custom Menu -> D: Disp/PC -> Live View Boost -> On

3) Flash modes - if you are using an underwater 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 underwater strobe in manual mode you can save battery life by changing the camera 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

5) 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.

 Set Up Menu -> 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

OM-D, F16, 1/100th, ISO 200

Set Up for an Olympus Housing:

The Olympus housing is a well designed option if you are on a budget and don't want to spend the money on one of the more expensive Nauticam housings (if available). There are a few limitations, but for the most part set up is the same.

PEN cameras are the slimmed down versions of their big brother "OMD" series cameras. They do not offer as many button options or customizeable features. These cameras are effectively plug and play. Once you've changed the settings listed above to ensure the camera will function properly in the housing you are pretty much good to go.


PEN Menu Settings

This info is helpful for fine tuning your camera for the best underwater settings. If a menu item is not listed that is because it does either does not affect shooting pictures or does not affect a setting that would be used underwater. 

Shooting Menus

These set your cameras defaults, general settings that it will revert to after shutoff.  

Shooting Menu #1 

Picture Mode  - This menu sets the look of your pictures, it is completely a personal choice to change, I prefer the default, Natural, then fine tuning the image on the computer afterwards.  Some users prefer Vivid, especially if they are shooting jpeg, because it enhances reds & oranges.

Picture Quality (pixel icon)  - Sets the default quality mode for the camera. Set this to RAW for still images, default for video is FullHD Fine, leave it there unless you know you want a lower quality. 

*Note: if you do not have software on your computer that can read and edit RAW files then leave it set to .jpg (LF). I highly recommend shooting RAW for the most flexibility with in computer editing. 

Image Aspect - Leave at the default standard image aspect ratio of 4:3 unless otherwise desired.

Digital Teleconverter  Leave at default of OFF.  

Shooting Menu #2 

Burst/ Time Mode - Leave at default of Single Shot Mode, you can change this from the quick menu later for specific shooting instances. 

Image stabilizer - Leave at default  - this engages full stabilization in all directions (Default is S-I.S. 1)

Flash RC Mode - Leave at default of OFF

** NOTE - If you are using the Olympus UFL-2 strobes, you can increase your shutter sync speed with the PEN and OMD cameras to 1/500 using the RC feature of the camera and strobes. Check out the strobe manual for this, but it can be very useful for getting great sunbursts in wide angle shots


Custom Menu Options

The custom menu offers more detailed camera adjustments, however, these can get overwhelming. When in doubt leave it at the default, unless otherwise noted in the Important Settings section above.

Menu A: AF/MF

AF Mode - I recommend setting this to S-AF (single AF). This is default for still images but not for video. C-AF, continuous auto focus, I find is too slow to accurately catch moving subjects and often hunts more frequently in the low light underwater conditions. You can halfway press the shutter during video to refocus when needed. Note: continuous auto focus has been significantly updated on the E-M1, so it can be a more useful tool with that camera.

Full-time AF - OFF

AEL/AFL -  This is a very handy feature, especially for underwater as it allows you to set focus lock separately from the shutter button, so that you can lock focus and then take several images without refocusing. This option isn't as great in the PEN housings when an Fn button is available due to the location of the button the housing. For the E-PL5 it may work OK if you assign the Fn button to AEL.

Here are the settings I would pick if you would like to do so, however these are only effective if you have assigned AEL/AFL to one of the customizable buttons through the B Custom Menu.

S-AF - Mode 3 - this will basically keep the camera as standard, half shutter focuses, full shutter press takes the picture

C-AF - ignore (leave at default of Mode 1)

MF - ignore (leave at default of Mode 1)

Reset Lens - OFF - leaving this ON resets the lens focus of the lens to infinity after the camera is powered off. For most shooting situations this is not a big deal, though when using specific lenses, like the 60mm macro, it can cause initial focus hunting in the beginning. Turning it off will save the last focus distance used in the camera.

MF Assist - ON - very useful with macro - magnifies center of image 10x to aid in focusing 

AF Set Home - SINGLE- this sets the "home" position for the AF target for each AF mode. It will return to the position selected after power down. Default is full matrix, change this to Single Auto Focus Point for more control. 

AF Illuminator - OFF - this is the small red AF assist light on the camera. It won't shine through the black housing so turn it off to save battery life. If you use the camera both topside and underwater and don't want to hassle with constantly changing it then leave it on, it will not affect picture taking. 

Face Priority - OFF - this automatically focuses the camera when it detects a "face" however underwater it can mis-detect and cause issues, will not detect faces in masks so it is not needed.  

Menu B: Button / Dial 

Button Function - PEN Cameras - Older versions may not have an Fn button, the E-PL5 does and the button can be customized for quick access to a variety of features. I prefer setting it for "One touch WB". This takes the lengthy process from the "quick" menu down to a very quick and easy two step operation. (Note: if you want to split out focus for the E-PL5 as mentioned above, then you MUST assign the Fn button to AEL/AFL)

Other settings in Button Function menu allow you to modify the action of the keys listed. Note: L-FN refers to the button available on some lenses.  

Button Function - You can customize the Fn button to your liking, there are a variety of options to choose from. My recommendation, as stated above, is to select "One touch WB" which shortens the white balance process. However as outlined previously you can also choose AEL/AFL if you want to try to split out your focus. 

You can also customize the Rec button and assign its own function (this could also be used for the "One touch WB" or the AEL/AFL setting if you don't plan to use the video function. Other settings in the Button Function menu allow you to modify the action of that key listed. To gain customization of the up and down arrows you need to change the setting of the four arrows option just below them. I recommend:

Arrow Keys - Direct Function

Right Arrow - Flash Mode

Down Arrow - ISO (or leave a shot mode for quick access to burst and self timer if you use topside frequently)

Dial Function - This menu allows you to set the functions of the control dials for the camera. Functions are set per shooting mode indivually.

PEN cameras - this is the control wheel on the back of the camera (E-PL3 and E-PL5 only). For the PEN cameras, this function is moot because the Olympus housings do not have a wheel on the back.

Dial Direction - can be set to change which way you turn the dial to increase shutter or F stop. Set to personal preference or leave at default  

Dian Lock - leave a defaul "ON"

Menu C: Release 

Rls Priority S / C - this option allows you to set whether the shutter can be released even when the camera is not in focus. I recommend leaving it at the default of OFF for S-AF to help limit out of focus pictures. (can be set individually for S-AF and C-AF modes) 

Burst FPS H / L - leave a default - this sets the frame rate for each burst mode option 

Burst + IS Off - OFF - allows for image stabilization during sequential shooting when turned OFF  

Menu D: Disp / Beep / PC 

This menu customizes display and sound options. Set these to your preference, they don't affect picture taking, except for a select few.

Camera Control Settings - this gives you options for the display of the quick menus. When the EVF Auto switch is turned off you can only access one of these. Default is the Live Control, Olympus' standard type menu. The other option is the Super Control Panel, the new style for the OM-D that mimics many dSLR cameras. To activate the SCP, turn off the LC and turn on the Live SCP.

Info Settings -  Under this menu is LV-Info. These options allow you to streamline your LCD view information. By turning each on or off you choose which viewing modes you would like to be able to see when you press the INFO button on the camera.

Live View Boost -  This must be turned on to aid in viewing the LCD underwater in dark shooting conditions. See section above with instructions.

I would also set the SLEEP mode and Auto Power Off modes as desired to save battery life. 

Menu E: Exp / Metering / ISO 

EV Step - leave at Default 1/3EV - this gives access to all "in between" stops, for more fine tuning your picture settings. It controls the size of the increments for shutter speed, aperture, etc. 

NOISE / NOISE FILTER / ISO - leave at defaults

Metering - Default (Digital ESP Metering) - this evaluates the entire image for the best overall exposure. For more specific metering you can choose center weighted or spot.

AEL Metering - Default (AUTO) - if you use the AEL function leave this at the default and it will automatically choose the same metering you are currently using.

**OM-D Cameras - leave ISO / ISO Step / ISO Auto-Set / ISO-Auto options at default

Bulb / Time Timer, Live Bulb, Live Time - default (this won't be used underwater)

Anti-Shock - Default OFF - this creates a delay between when the shutter is pressed and actually released to aid in limiting camera vibrations. Not needed underwater.

F: Flash Custom

X-Sync - Default (1/320 for E-M1, 1/250 for E-M5 and EPL5, 1/160 for earlier PEN models) this sets the fastest default Shutter Speed at which the flash can fire.

Slow Limit - Default (1/60) - You can adjust this lower as desired.

NOTE: These flash settings do not matter for Manual Mode, the flash fires based on the shutter speed selected when in Manual Mode. However 1/250 is the highest option available for the OM-D and EPL5, 1/160 for earlier PEN's.

Flash Exposure + Exposure - Default (OFF)

G: Pixels / Color / WB

Pixel Set / Pixel Count / Shading Comp - leave at Default

WB - Auto (default) - this sets the default WB mode, you can adjust for certain instances through the quick menu

All WB Evaluation - default - this changes the overall WB compensation for all modes except custom WB

WB-Auto Keep Warm Color - default - keeps colors warm for Auto WB mode.

Flash + WB - default (auto)

Color Space - default sRGB (unless you specifically know you want a different color space)

H: Record / Erase

Set these to your preference, they do not affect picture taking

I: Movie

Movie Mode - Default - P - this sets the default mode for movie capture (unless you are doing more video and want a specific mode, such as Manual, Aperture or Shutter to be the default)

Movie Mic - Default - ON - turns mic on or off. Turn off if you do not want to record any sound.

Movie Effect - Default - OFF - disables movie effects

Wind Noise Reduction - Default - OFF - reduces wind noise

Recording Volume - Default - Standard

J: Camera Utility (PEN Cameras)

Set as desired, these do not affect picture settings


Setup Menu

Set Date / Time, LCD brightness, upgrade your firmware, etc. The most important item on this menu is:

Rec View - this sets the amount of time an image is displayed for review after taking it. Default is .5 seconds, which is very fast. 2 seconds is a good average to set this to so that you can check exposure and focus on the LCD before taking another picture. If you need to take the next shot quickly this review disappears with a 1/2 shutter press.

Menu Display - this allows you to activate the custom menu. It is highly recommended to make sure the custom menu is turned on.


Additional Settings for the Olympus E-PL7

Be sure to read Bluewater Photo's Best Settings & Shooting Guide for the Olympus E-PL7.


If you have any further questions on setting up your Olympus camera or any issues with camera functionality, please post a question in our forums.


Essential Tips for Nudibranch Photography

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


Essential Tips for Nudibranch Photography

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

Text and Photos By Mike Bartick




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


Nudibranch Anatomy 101

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

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


Nudibranch Terminology

Nudi-Branch means Naked Gills

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Nudibranch Photo Gear Essentials

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


Diopter and Adapter 

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

We recommend these diopters:


Modeling Lights and Strobes

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

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



Nudibranch Photo Tips

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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



In Conclusion

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



Further Reading


Other Articles by Mike Bartick


About the Author

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



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