Technique/Tutorial

Underwater photo tutorials, techniques and tips for all types of underwater photo and video, including macro, supermacro, wide-angle, composition and best camera gear.
Tips and tricks for improving your underwater macro photos
By Brook Peterson

Five DSLR Life-hacks for Great Macro Photography

Brook Peterson
Tips and tricks for improving your underwater macro photos

If you are new to underwater photography, chances are you are starting to discover the wonderful world of tiny critters that await their turn in front of your lens. Not knowing where to start, what lens to use, what camera settings work best, and many other uncertainties can prevent a budding photographer’s success. Fortunately, you can get great results no matter how advanced your photography skills are, by using the following five tactics.

 

The Right Macro Lens

If you are using either a full frame or a crop sensor DSLR camera, a 50mm or 60mm lens is a good choice for macro photography.  It enables you to shoot critters from the size of a basketball to the size of a golf ball.  You can add a diopter or tele-converter as your skills improve for shooting tinier subjects, and the lens allows you a minimum working distance of about 7-9 inches.  Another good choice for both crop sensor and full frame cameras is a 100mm or 105mm lens.  This lens is my personal favorite because of its versatility.  When paired with a diopter it is capable of shooting critters that are just millimeters big, but it works well as a portrait lens too. I have even used it for large subjects in a pinch.

 

Brook Peterson bat ray in sand

 

Brook Peterson Pygmy Seahorse Macro

 

Brook Peterson wonderpus octopus

 

Lighting Techniques

Artificial light is essential to good macro photography.  You can achieve great results with either one or two strobes.  TTL works well for macro subjects because the output of light coincides with your camera’s settings, giving the optimum amount of light for the conditions you are shooting.  My preferred method, however, is to set the strobe power manually.  If you choose manual settings, start with your strobes on half power, check the image in the LCD, and adjust them up or down according to what you see.  Keep in mind that if you have two strobes, they don’t have to be set at the same power.  You can get nice texture by setting one of your strobes on a lower output than the other.

 

 

ISO

ISO is one of the three settings every DSLR user must understand.  In simple terms, ISO is how sensitive your camera is to available light.  A low number such as ISO 100 is less sensitive and a high number such as 1600 is more sensitive.  For macro photography, you can get great results every time with an ISO of 100.

 

Shutter Speed

Like ISO, shutter speed has an effect on the amount of light that hits the sensor and is measured in fractions of a second.  For macro photography, the strobes are doing all the lighting work, so the goal of shutter speed is to block ambient light from hitting the sensor.  Fortunately, you can set your camera to the highest shutter speed your camera’s flash will sync with.  1/250th of a second is standard, but you can use 1/320th if your camera allows (or 1/200 for many Canon shooters).

Aperture

Aperture describes the size of the opening in the lens.  Called an f-stop, a high f-stop such as f/18 is a small opening, and a low f-stop such as f/5.6 is a large opening.  The opening in the lens also has an effect on light, but it has another function referred to as depth of field.  If you want to have a lot of depth of field to produce a tack sharp image you should use a high f-stop such as f/22 or higher.  If you want a shallow depth of field, use a low f/stop such as f/5.6 or lower.  Keep in mind that a higher f/stop will require more light from your strobes, and a lower f/stop will require less.

 

Brook Peterson macro

 

Photo left: This image was created using an open aperture of f/5.6 to blur everything except the animal's face. Nikon D810, ISO 100, 1/320th, f/5.6

Photo right: This animal had an interesting gill plume in the back that I didn't want to lose, so I used a greater depth of field to capture that detail. Nikon D810, 105mm lens, ISO 100, 1/250th, f/22

 

 

Mastering manual camera settings can be an overwhelming task, but one that is well worth the effort. I recommend starting with a 50mm or 60mm lens, one or two strobes on low power, an ISO of 100, Shutter Speed of 1/250s, and an aperture of your choosing.  With these five settings, you are sure to get great images every time. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Brook Peterson is an avid scuba diver and underwater photographer who enjoys capturing the beauty of the under water environment throughout the world. She is an original member of the SEA&SEA Alpha program. Her work has won numerous awards and has been widely published.  She is the owner of Waterdog Photography and authors a blog on underwater photography and techniques.  More of her work can be found at www.waterdogphotography.comFacebookFlikr and instagram@waterdogphotography_brook.

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Exploring the situations and techniques used for quick shots from the hip
By Mark Gray

Shooting from the Hip

Mark Gray
Exploring the situations and techniques used for quick shots from the hip

Shooting from the hip is a technique where one pulls the trigger without looking directly through the camera viewfinder.

So why should you shoot from the hip when you can use the traditional method of looking through a viewfinder?

Shooting from the hip, when the circumstance warrants it, gives the photographer the ability to follow a moving subject with the camera while keeping one eye on the subject and the other on the surroundings.  This technique also allows the photographer to anticipate the subject’s movements and give the photographer more shooting time. This is especially important when shooting more aggressive subjects because you need to know what the subject is doing and also spot any other hazards in the water (think open water shark diving).

 

Bull Shark in Beqa Lagoon

Shooting from the hip is highly recommend when shooting feeding Bull Sharks as they come at you in all directions.  Beqa Lagoon, Fiji.
Nikon D7000 (Aquatica Housing), Ikelite DS-161 Strobe x2, Nikon 10.5mm Fisheye.  f8, 1/160th, ISO160

 

When to Shoot from the Hip

There is a time and place when shooting from the hip can be very successful, and more often than not it is when the subject is close to you and comfortable with your presence. This includes interactions with sharks, rays, turtles, whales and other large animals. Shooting from the hip allows the photographer to move with the subject, providing the opportunity to shoot different angles that would not normally be possible. One-handed shots and positioning the lens for sunbursts on moving subjects are just a couple examples.  Shooting from the hip takes some practice to master and having the right underwater camera setup will increase your image success rate.

 

Grey Nurse Sharks of Fish Rock, South West Rocks, Australia.
Nikon D7000 (Aquatica Housing), Ikelite DS-161 Strobe x2, Nikon 10.5mm Fisheye.  f9, 1/250th ISO100

 

The Right Camera Gear and Settings

Fisheye Lens

My success in shooting from the hip has come from having a camera setup that is suited for the task at hand.  I like to use a fisheye lens because the 180-degree field of view allows the photographer to fill the frame with large subjects when they are close to the camera without cutting off parts of the animal, while also allowing a good spread of light from supporting strobe(s).  This wide field of view is also very forgiving in the sense that it allows the photographer more chance of capturing the subject in the frame when shooting from the hip. Another benefit of modern fisheye lenses is their ability to autofocus very close to the dome port, which is essential with subjects that come very close.  I prefer a larger dome port (8 inch or more) to balance my camera setup.

 

Shooting Continuous Frames

Choosing a camera body that can shoot continuously is important when shooting from the hip. Since the whole idea behind this technique is to spend more time with your subject, you will want the ability to hold the trigger down with one hand and rack up as many good shots as possible before either the camera’s buffer bogs down or your strobe recycle time doesn’t keep up with the frame rate.


15-shot sequence of a Loggerhead Turtle shot from the hip whilst swimming in front of it. Byron Bay, Australia.
Nikon D7000 (Aquatica housing), Ikelite DS-161 Strobes, Tokina 10-17mm.  f10, 1/320th, ISO100

 

Each camera and strobe combination has its ideal relationship between camera continuous frame rate, strobe power, strobe recycle time and camera buffer size.  Remember to use a fast memory card. I have found that reducing strobe power increases the recycle time when shooting on continuous. The right strobe power will depend on the light needed and how many frames per second your camera shoots plus the recycle time of your strobe – there is no universal setting.

 

Leopard Shark (AKA Zebra Shark) perfectly timed shot from many frames shot on continuous and from the hip.  Byron Bay, Australia.
Nikon D7000 (Aquatica housing), Ikelite DS-161 Strobes x2,  f10, 1/320th, ISO100

 

Focus

Another important aspect of shooting from the hip is choosing the right autofocus setting. I have found that AF-S with single spot has produced the most accurately focused images on my Nikon DSLR.  I have used the continuous focus setting (AF-C), which is suggested to be better suited for moving subjects, but have found that I was getting a lot more out-of-focus shots than with single focus.  I adjust the single spot to line up with the dominate feature of the subject; for example, if the shark is moving right to left I have the spot towards the left, as it will line up with the shark’s head, allowing precise focus on the mouth and eyes.

 

Camera Balance

Another factor to be aware of with setting up your underwater camera is its balance and weight in the water.  Having well balanced, almost neutral setup is a great help, especially when shooting with one hand and swimming along with your subject.

 

Strobe Positioning

Strobe position is another factor that must be considered if you are getting really close to subjects.  I find that having my strobes in close and behind the front of the dome and angled slightly away from the dome allows good coverage of light on the subject, even at very close distances. Using diffusers produces nice and even lighting. This strobe position covers most wide-angle shooting and makes your setup slightly more compact so that you don't have to worry about strobes getting bumped out of position.

 

Shooting Grey Nurse Shark one handed whilst swimming underneath. My face and mask seen in the bottom right hand corner.
Nikon D7000 (Aquatica housing), Ikelite DS-161 Strobes x2, Nikon 10.5mm Fisheye.  f9, 1/250th, ISO100

 

General Tips for Shooting from the Hip

Once you have picked the ideal settings for your underwater camera setup, it comes down to diving and the ability to find and shoot your subjects.  I think this is the most important part of the learning how to shoot from the hip as this is when you can try to create the image you’re after.

Streamlining your dive gear and correct weight is an important part of diving in general, but even more so when you are shooting from the hip.  You need the ability to focus on the subject and your photos without worrying about your buoyancy or having gear dragging on your surroundings.

Moving in a streamlined and efficient manner allows you to get close to subjects - especially those that are shy and timid.  A subject that doesn't feel threatened will stick around - often allowing you much more time to shoot.  Being selective and finding these subjects will lead to the best photo opportunities.

 

The Great White Shark requires caution especially when close to the cage. One hand on the cage door and another shooting from the hip. Neptune Islands, South Australia.
Nikon D7000 (Aquatica housing), Ikelite DS-161 Strobes x2.  f8, 1/160th, ISO100

 

In Conclusion

Shooting from the hip takes effort in getting your camera rig set up for the task at hand and takes time to master.  Through practice I have increased my success rate with more printable frames per dive that would not be possible while trying to look through the viewfinder. There is a time and place to shoot from the hip, so don't be afraid to apply some of these techniques on your next dive.

 

About the Author

Mark Gray works for Sundive Byron Bay at one of the top 10 dive sites in Australia. Over the past 12 years, Mark’s passion for photography has grown, especially involving the endangered Grey Nurse shark and its conservation efforts.  Mark has won several local awards and has recently been voted Photographer of the Year 2015 by Australian Marine Conservation Society.  Mark’s passion is mainly wide-angle photography, and living near one of the Australia’s best dive sites allows for a large range of subject to choose and learn from.


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Getting great underwater photos with your full-frame Nikon dSLR
By Scott Gietler

Nikon D800 & D810 underwater settings

Scott Gietler
Getting great underwater photos with your full-frame Nikon dSLR

The Nikon D800 and D810 have the capability to take amazing underwater photos, if the settings, composition, and lighting all come together. Oh - and you have to be using the right lens. And you thought underwater photography was easy? In this article, we try to help with one part of the equation - settings. For more info, I highly encourage you to read my full Nikon D810 review.

Lot of the advice in this article are my long-developed secrets, so please don't tell anyone about this article or share it with anyone - this is secret advice just for you and your immediate family. 

Disclaimer - these settings are only meant as starting points. Depending on the subject and conditions, you may have to vary these settings greatly. These settings assume you are using strobes.

Macro - nudibranchs

F16, 1/250th, ISO 100, strobes pointed inward to side-light the subject

Nikon D810 best underwater settings

Macro - small fish

F8, 1/125th, ISO 200, strobes pointed outward to reduce backscatter, spot focus

Nikon D800 best underwater settings

 

SuperMacro

F29, 1/250th, ISO 100, strobes pulled in close, spot focus

Christmas tree worm underwater

Wide angle - sharks

F10, 1/125th, ISO 200, strobes pointed out, don't breathe, hold your fire (thanks Kadu)

Close focus wide angle

F14, 1/250th, ISO 200, strobes carefully adjusted to light the subject evently (can be difficult)

Nikon D810 close focus wide angle

Large schools of fish

F11, 1/200th, ISO 200, strobes turned down and pointed out

Schooling fish

Sunballs

F22, 1/320th, ISO 100, get close to the subject, point strobes at subject. If you are deeper or the sun is partially blocked, open up aperture to F14 - F20.

nikon d800 settings for underwater photography

Split shots

F22, ISO 800, adjust shutter speed as needed for proper exposure - slightly under exposure the photo, focus on the underwater subject.

Focus settings

I don't like using AF-S mode because it sometimes prevents me from taking a shot. I use AF-C mode, focusing by using the shutter halfway (the default) for macro & fish. To switch between AF-S and AF-C mode, you hold down the front left button that is inside the AF/M switch, then rotate the rear command dial. Rotating the front command dial lets you switch between "S", "D 51" and "Auto". 

You can move the focus off the shutter to the back focus button (AF-ON button) when shooting pelagics to prevent your camera from hunting in the blue water. Change menu item A4 to "AF-ON Only". In addition - I highly recommend getting a viewfinder - they are expensive but help immensely.

This article is an excellent read in explaining focus modes - a must read.

 

Flash settings

IF you shoot with sync cords, a flash trigger, or an optical TTL converter - you will be very happy when shooting action shots that you can shoot quickly. If you are using the pop-up flash, and you are NOT using your strobe in TTL mode, set your flash setting to manual flash power, 1/80th power, for faster internal flash recycle time.

Misc settings

I like to shoot in JPEG + RAW, auto-white balance, metering on center-weighted. Make sure you turn the AF-assist light off (very important!)

Menu items to change:

A10: AF-ASSIST - OFF
E1: FLASH SYNC SPEED - 1/320th

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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

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

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Leave the marine life lenses at home – time to learn what’s needed for a pool photo session.
By Ken Kiefer

Inside Look: Gear for Shooting Models in Pools

Ken Kiefer
Leave the marine life lenses at home – time to learn what’s needed for a pool photo session.

Shooting models in a pool is quite a bit different than the underwater nature photography that most of the readers on Underwater Photography Guide are familiar with.   Most of us are trying to capture the wildlife in the oceans and lakes in its natural environment with natural movements.  Generally, you observe the animals and determine how best to capture the angle or activity that you are hoping for.

Although many of us wish it were so, water is not a natural environment for humans.   The unnatural aspect creates some difficulties compared to land, but does come with a huge plus – communication.  You can ask a shark or fish to please face a certain direction, or repeat a great move, but probably without much luck.  Models, on the other hand, are much more amenable to direction.  You don’t have to wish a face were a little more to the right, or hope for a repeated action; you can ask for it! 

Direction and feedback is a very important component of underwater model photography.  I’m very lucky in this aspect, because I’ve been able to use my wife as a model and for testing.  This makes her a wonderful asset during shoots, since she knows what my goals are, what works, what doesn’t work, how to overcome difficulties in the water and can help guide and coach the models through the process. 

The gear for shooting models in the pool can actually be the same gear that you use for other underwater photography, or can be modified depending on your goals.

 

For years, the only time I shot anything or anyone in a pool was to test new gear, or to practice techniques/lighting/settings/etc. before a dive trip.  Once I started shooting in a pool frequently, my knowledge and familiarity with all of my gear increased tremendously.  This is very helpful for all underwater photographers, not only for the expanded knowledge and better results; but the repetition helps you become more accustomed to the assembly and maintenance of your gear.

Gear choices can be very varied, just like all photography endeavors.  I don’t have enough varied experience with multiple housings/strobes/etc. to give valid reviews on the pros and cons of the choices out there; so, I’m just going to explain the reasons that I have settled on my own setup. 

 

Cameras for Pool Photography

Currently, I use either a Canon 5D Mark 3, or a 5Ds.  For me, they are pretty much interchangeable.  I generally don’t need the much larger file sizes of the 5Ds, and mostly use the 5D3.  What I do prefer, and the reason for these cameras in my setup is the fact that they are full frame cameras.  This is a personal choice based on the fact that I like to minimize the water between my model and myself and still fit as much as possible in the frame.  Being closer allows you to get better isolation between the subject and the background.  Plus, less water between the model and your lens will help you achieve more clarity.  

 

Lenses for Pool Photography

The lens that I use the most often lately is the Canon 16-35 f/4 IS.  I’ve used the 16-35 f/2.8, both the current and the older version.  I’ve used the 8-15 f/4 fisheye and the Canon 15 f/2.8 fisheye.  For models, I prefer the aspherical lenses to the fisheyes to avoid the fisheye distortion to the model, props and background.  The 16-35 f/4 IS has proven itself to me as having more punch and clarity with less corner blur than the other Canon 16-35 lenses.

 

Underwater Housing

To protect my camera and lens, I use an Ikelite housing with an 8” dome port.  I’ve used the smaller domes, but gain a small amount of corner sharpness with the 8”.

Ikelite housings are clear, which allows you to see whether an O-ring is installed correctly or has become twisted or possibly gathered hair or dirt.  Plus, it allows me to use every button/function that I have ever needed, both easily and consistently.  The customer service that I have experienced from Ikelite for over 10 years has always been top notch.  They stand behind their products!  

 

Strobes for Pool Photography

Lighting is a big variable with shooting models in the pool.  Depending on the look that you are working towards, lighting can range from ambient sunlight to a combination of multiple strobes with lighting outside the pool.  The setup that I use most of the time is a pair of Ikelite DS-161 strobes mounted to my housing with a pair of Ikelite DS-125 strobes placed off camera to be used as slaves.  I like having Ikelite’s rechargeable lithium-ion batteries for quick change and long battery life.  Plus, the strobes themselves have a nice warm color temp and wide beam angle both with and without the diffusers. 

 

Other Gear for the Pool

Some of the other ‘gear’ that I like to use includes backdrops/chairs/props/mirrors/tents, and, of course, my lovely assistant.  Having a model with a black background really makes them pop.  I’ve done this with and without the use of backdrops, and without is much easier.  If the pool you are using is big enough to allow you to use high aperture and have the strobe light only light your model, it saves the hassle of the backdrop and creates a much more complete black.  Using a backdrop is unwieldy in a pool and gets in the way fairly often, but in smaller pools it might be the only way to achieve your goals.  The black is not complete using this technique usually because the light is going to pick up the imperfect black of the backdrop.

Experimenting with chairs and props is a really fun way to be creative.  The irritation at multiple ‘fails’ is quickly overlooked when you find something really cool that does work out!  Sunglasses/wigs/umbrellas can all add to images in different ways.

Having an assistant is invaluable at times.   Having my wife around and in the water during a shoot is one of the most valuable things I can take to a shoot.  She can move fabric and hair in the direction that I want, retrieve gear, move lights, etc. much more easily than I can while holding my camera setup.

Underwater shooting is always pretty gear intensive, and everyone will develop their own preferences in every aspect.  Hopefully my experiences can help a few of you down the path to your own creativity.

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.

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A wide-angle underwater photography tutorial
By Scott Gietler

Wide Angle Tutorial on the Oil Rigs

Scott Gietler
A wide-angle underwater photography tutorial

The Southern California Oil Rigs have long been a hidden gem for California's underwater photographers, but the word is slowly leaking out. With sea lions, mola mola, cormorants and huge schools of fish visiting at different times of year, the Oil Rigs can rival some of the world's best dive sites on a good day.

I'm going to show you some classic underwater scenes from the Oil Rigs, and share some times for getting good color, composition and exposure.

All photos taken with the Nikon D810, Tokina 10-17mm fisheye lens, Zen 4-inch glass dome port, dual Sea & Sea YS-D1 or YS-D2 strobes.


Diving California Oil Rigs - underwater photography
F11, 1/100th, ISO 250. Using a fisheye lens is a must for large subjects, if you want good colors. It lets you get closer to the subject. I use a 100 degree diffuser with my strobes. Keep your strobes wide, get low, get close, shoot up. My 180 degree viewfinder helps me compose carefully.

 


Diving California Oil Rigs - underwater photography
Sea Lion and diver. When shooting sea lions, I wait until the very right moment to take a shot, and try to follow the sea lion around with my eye on the viewfinder. Having a camera with a low shutter delay really helps. On the rigs I usually do not have to shoot blind, because I can get below the subjects.

 


Diving California Oil Rigs - underwater photography
F10, 1/80th, ISO 250. I always try to remind myself to shoot vertically (portrait style) 50% off the time. I need to do it more. To get fish in patterns like this, you often have to wait until they are being chased.

 


Diving California Oil Rigs - underwater photography
F10, 1/160th, ISO 320. I always try to get different compositions of subjects - the whole body, close-up of the head, far away, and top-down.

 


Diving California Oil Rigs - underwater photography
F9, 1/100th, ISO 250. Cormorant trying to catch a fish.

 


Diving California Oil Rigs - underwater photography
F13, 1/80th, ISO 250. The closer I get to my subject, the more I stop down my aperture so the photo will be sharp. I was lucky that F13 allowed me to get the octopus and Garibaldi in focus, any closer to the octopus and I would have needed to be at F16. Pull your strobes in and point them straight instead of outt when switching from schooling fish to close-focus subjects. Although I pulled my strobes in close, with close-focus wide angle shots like this you may still have dark areas in the lower center of the photo - the adjustment brush in Lightroom will help brighten these up.

 


Diving California Oil Rigs - underwater photography
F10, 1/125th, ISO 200. It always helps to have a diver in the photo, try to encourage your dive buddies to come into the picture. Read out underwater dive model tips

 


Diving California Oil Rigs - underwater photography
F9, 1/80th, ISO 320. Who says you have to shoot up? Here are more composition ideas

 


Diving California Oil Rigs - underwater photography
F13, 1/40th, ISO 200. When inside a school of fish, I try to breathe slowly or not breathe at all, and move very slowly, so the fish gradually get closer and closer to me. Here are more schooling fish tips. 

 


Diving California Oil Rigs - underwater photography
F14, 1/100th, ISO 320. My dive model and I took turns taking photos of each other, and I stopped down to F14 to get the foreground and background in focus. I also had to pull my right strobe in close, to light the starfish which was close to my port.

 


Diving California Oil Rigs - underwater photography
F9, 1/125th, ISO 250. When shooting schools of fish, you often have to wait for the right moment when something scares the school, creating a sense of motion in the photo.

 

Southern California Oil Rigs
F10, 1/80th, ISO 250. Exposuring silvery fish properly can be very difficult, I try to take a test shot at a very close distance to the fish, and then I'll usually turn my strobes down 1 or 2 notches until the photo looks good. Taking all photos at the same (close) distance is key. I keep my strobes wide and pointing out slightly for silvery fish.

wide angle underwater photography oil rigs
100% crop of above photo

 


Diving California Oil Rigs - underwater photography
Mola mola and diver, with a D7000. Mola mola need to be approached slowly and carefully, or they will quickly flee.

 

Email me if you enjoyed this article, or to find out our Oil Rigs trip schedule. Also check out our international underwater photo trip schedule.

 

Further Reading

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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

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

SUPPORT THE UNDERWATER PHOTOGRAPHY GUIDE:

The Best Service & Prices on u/w Photo Gear

 

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

 


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

 

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

 


The quick or the dead – 5 tips to make sure you capture fast action underwater
By Shane Gross

Capturing Fast Ocean Action

Shane Gross
The quick or the dead – 5 tips to make sure you capture fast action underwater

Let’s face it – we humans are pathetically slow in the water. Even Michael Phelps’ top speed of 4.4 mph (7.1 km/h) pales in comparison to a yellowfin tuna’s estimated speed of 45 mph or, the fastest fish in the ocean, the sailfish’s 70 mph. With such a chasm between us, how can we possibly dream of capturing images of these fast animals? Here are a few tips to help you get the most out of shooting the fastest of the fast.

 

1) Study the Animal's Behavior

The good news is most animals are not travelling at their top speed most of the time. Before you head out to shoot those speedy dolphins or sharks you may want to soak in their behavior as best you can. YouTube, Vimeo and other online video sharing sites are an amazing resource because you can watch how the animal moves under conditions similar to what you may experience.

 

 

2) Use a Fast Shutter Speed

Unless you are going for an artistic motion-blur image crank the shutter speed to the max. If you are using strobes find out what your max sync speed is – on my Nikon D90 it’s 1/250th of a second. Most high-end, full frame DSLR’s can go up to 1/320th. If you are not using strobes you can go even faster as long as there is enough natural light. Choosing a fast shutter speed will help to freeze the action and keep your images sharp. While shooting baby lemon sharks for the first time I used 1/160 and still the eye was often not sharp because the pups would turn away at high velocity as soon as they would see my camera. Going up to 1/250 and using strobes made all the difference.

 

 

 

3) Work as a Team

If you are searching for sailfish in the open ocean you cannot do it alone. You will need a good boat captain to get you in position and tell you when to drop in. The more people on the boat looking for birds (the give-away of a baitball) the better chance you have of finding one of the most amazing natural displays on Earth.

 

 

4) Be Prepared Before you Hit the Water

If you are jumping in the water with a blue whale (or, hopefully, quietly sliding in) you will not have time to turn on your camera, adjust your settings, take a test shot, etc. Though they are the biggest animal in the world their slow, cruising speed is significantly faster that you can swim even with super long freediving fins. This means the best you can hope for is that the whale swims past you within view – that’s it. If you are in clear blue water in the middle of the day you may already have a good idea what settings you will need. If not, searching out whales can mean long days on the water with lots of down time. Ask the captain to stop for a quick minute and stick your camera over the side and do a test shot to dial in. That way when the whale pops up right next to the boat and your adrenaline starts pumping you can hop in and start clicking.

 

 

5) Shoot on Burst Mode

Once you are in the water with your sailfish and baitball you will have very little reaction time. You will basically have to point your wide-angle lens in the baitball’s direction, and when a sailfish approaches hold down the shutter button and hope – the old spray and pray approach. With enough time in the water you will come away with some shots you like.

 

 

 

Conclusion

Shooting fast action is a hit and miss game where good results come about from getting lots of chances and filling up memory cards. So get out there, shoot from the hip and hold down that shutter button. Don’t forget to have fun and enjoy the moment. Sharing the water with these fast animals is a privilege few get to experience. 

 

Further Reading

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Born in Canada, Shane Gross has been living in the Bahamas for the past three years working as a SCUBA dive instructor and freelance underwater photographer/writer. His work has been widely published in books, magazines, ad campaigns, etc. He is an outspoken conservationist and ocean advocate who wishes to inspire those around him to do their part.

www.grossphotographic.com  |  facebook.com/shanegrossphotography

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Some of the most stunning macro images show portraits of tiny fish. What does it take? Find out in this tutorial.
By Christian Skauge

How to Improve your Fish Portraits

Christian Skauge
Some of the most stunning macro images show portraits of tiny fish. What does it take? Find out in this tutorial.

A portrait is a painting, photograph, sculpture, or other artistic representation of a person, in which the face and its expression is predominant. The intent is to display the likeness, personality, and even the mood of the person, says Wikipedia.

Fish portraits go by the same definition, and you’ve seen the kind of images we’re talking about time and time again in scuba magazines and online competitions: The tiny goby or pygmy seahorse staring you right in the eye, beautifully framed – not too much else than a curious and funny face.

But every time you try to do the same you end up with an unsharp image with lots of backscatter, and the fish is looking timidly away. How do you get to the point where you’re able to capture the details, the expression and the curiosity of the fish? Luckily, there are a few techniques you can employ to get to where it matters – when you press the shutter and capture a beautiful portrait.

 

One Task, Many Challenges

There are a great many aspects to shooting fish portraits. Needless to say you need to have a steady hand, you need to know how to get close enough, and know what to do when you get there. Camera and strobe settings must be second nature, otherwise you won’t be able to concentrate enough on your subject. When you’re in the right position your only task should be to press the shutter every time the fish is in exactly the right position.

 

 

You also need to choose your fish carefully – it takes two to tango. The smaller the fish is, the harder the shot gets. Fish have a quick and easy way to avoid predators: They swim away. Since divers are usually perceived as a threat, they tend to keep their distance - especially true for free-swimming species.

Going for an easier shot may be a good idea to begin with. A fish that lives on the bottom or rests on coral or rocks is often a good choice, and species depending on camouflage are often a lot easier to work with than a lot of other fish. Scorpionfish, sculpins, frogfish and many flatfish seem to believe that their camouflage is so good that you cannot see them, and are less inclined to take off. Blennies living in a hole or clownfish in an anemone are also good choices, as they don’t want to abandon their home just because they feel a little intimidated. Often the latter will attack rather than hide.

 

 

 

Stay Calm and Collected

In order to get a good portrait you want to be more or less in front of your finned friend, which will often make it want to leave the scene: the quickest way for a fish to escape is going forward - and you’re blocking the way. This will usually make the fish turn away from you to have a line of retreat. Some fish, like frogfish, also look beautiful from the side and this may be a viable approach if you cannot get in front of them.

To be able to get close enough to shoot a portrait, you have to make the fish believe you’re not an immediate threat. To build trust you need to patient and try to inch closer to the fish without making any sudden movements. Try not to bump into the bottom, as many species are sensitive to vibration and will take off immediately if they think T-Rex is coming.

You also want to avoid coming in too fast and having to stop suddenly, as your “bow wave” will create water pressure which scares the fish. Also, your strobes must be positioned where you want them before approaching to avoid flailing arms – another sure way to scare your subject well into next week.

 

 

Fish Hypnosis

I find that shooting some “dummy” images from a distance and as I’m getting closer seems to make the fish get used to the strobes going off, making it less timid. If you wait until you’re exactly in the right spot before you shoot, your first flash may literally scare the living daylights out of your subject.

Going “upstream”, meaning against the current, is also a very good idea. If you touch the bottom any debris will drift away behind you instead of ruining your second, third and so on images with backscatter.

Once you’re in front of the fish and have started shooting, you will often find that the fish is looking anywhere but in your lens. Fish tend to get skittish when you get in their face, and will be looking for a safe exit in case things get too hairy. There’s a neat little trick you can use to remedy this. Fish are very wary of movement, which you can take advantage of: Hold your camera with the right hand, ready to push the trigger, while you quickly snap the fingers of your left hand above the camera. The fish will automatically look to where the sudden movement is – and that’s when you snap your shot!

 

 

Look for Opportunity

Shooting fish portraits is less about photography and more about diving technique, a few clever tricks and a lot of patience. Don’t underestimate knowing your camera settings by heart, and know that finding the good opportunities and being able to exploit them properly is what will bag you those brilliant, jaw-dropping portraits that make your peers drool and your mum write proud (and slightly embarrassing) comments on Facebook.

Photographically, the images are quite straightforward: You want the face of the fish to fill as much of the frame as possible. You can play with different angles – full frontal, from the side, at an angle or even from above (which works great on some flatfish). You can also play with depth of field to get a nice bokeh or try to get as much of the fish sharp as possible, but with the smaller subjects the lens often decides for you. Shooting fish that perch on a coral or rock allows you to use the water for a silky black or heavenly blue backdrop depending on your F-stop.

You should also try to vary your distance: Some fish work really well when you’re extremely close-up, while others deserve a little bit more environment. Sometimes the fish is too small or too timid to give you a choice – but shooting different shots if you can is always a good idea. Sometimes you’ll be surprised which image is the best in a series.

 

 

 

Free-Swimming Fish

If you take your time, you’ll often find that fish have a territory. Many tend to patrol around their nest, algae garden or anemone – and they may have an almost fixed route. This is something you can exploit if you take the time to observe the fish long enough to see the pattern. Find a spot where the fish is coming towards you, move your camera accordingly and just wait for the fish to swim into the viewfinder. Manual focus may be necessary to get these shots – you will have hundreds of throwaways, but hopefully also a sharp-as-tack gem on the memory card when you’re done.

With slightly bigger fish, cropping it so tight that you actually only show a part of the face may also be very effective – and perhaps a bit different. Shooting portraits of big fish, sharks, dolphins, manatees and the like basically adheres to the same rules, at least in terms of what fills your frame.

The challenge here is that they move a lot more and a lot faster, and getting in front may be all but impossible. Since this also often includes a wide-angle lens and trickier strobe positioning it’s really hard work – a lot of swimming is often required. There are no shortcuts to great portraits of bigger animals, unless you use bait or somehow manage to get the animal interested in you rather than the other way around.

 

 

 

 

Get the Shot

One of the few things I find easy about shooting fish portraits is the choice of lens: You’ll want to have good working distance, so you don’t have to be two centimeters away from the fish to fill the frame. For Canon shooters this means using a 100mm macro, while Nikonians will definitely benefit from using the 105mm VR – for both bottom-dwellers and especially free-swimming species.

Personally, I tend to shoot a lot of my fish portraits in portrait (pardon the pun) or tall format – not because it’s easier, but simply because I find that it often fits the subject matter better. It’s easier to fill the frame and background clutter is reduced to a minimum.

No matter how you choose to shoot your fish portrait, the important thing is getting the eyes sharp above all else, and having the fish look into the camera. This provides a special connection between the viewer and the animal because it looks back at him or her, interested instead of being scared - it looks natural instead of intrusive.

Don’t expect it to come together the first, second or third time you try - shooting fish portraits takes practice on many levels. Try to keep the above mentioned techniques in mind next time you see a beautiful hawkfish perched on a piece of coral – it will give you a better shot at getting the shot!

 

 

Further Reading

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Christian Skauge is a former Nordic Champion of underwater photography and has won several international photo contests. He writes articles about diving and underwater photography and is published regularly in magazines around the world. He also runs underwater photo and marine biology workshops. Check out his website for more info: www.scubapixel.com.

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Tips and tricks for capturing shark portraits in the blue, from the open water to behind the bars of a cage
By Caine Delacy

Shooting Great Portraits of Sharks

Caine Delacy
Tips and tricks for capturing shark portraits in the blue, from the open water to behind the bars of a cage

There are a lot of opportunities to photograph sharks in the world, but getting a shot unlike others can be difficult task.  If you’re aiming to get a unique shot that is likely to capture people’s attention, then some of these rules may help with that.

 

Look Through the Viewfinder

I often see divers with cameras ‘shooting from the hip’ so to speak, especially around sharks. Street photographer Mark Cohen shot over 800,000 images from his hip through the streets of New York and made a career out of not looking through the viewfinder, but underwater photographers don’t have this luxury of ample time. We are limited to encounters, only during dives, only during trips. Shooting from the hip is a poor waste of precious bottom time, since you are unlikely to frame your shark well well enough to create a compelling composition. You’ll have a higher rate of out-of-focus shots, or those shots where the dorsal fin is in focus but the eye is not. So make sure to use your viewfinder!

 

A classic example of not looking through the lens, or perhaps not having time to readjust the focus point on the camera as the shark entered the cage. Nonetheless, expect images that are soft, or with the in-focus part of the subject not as you wished when not looking through the camera.

 

By looking through the viewfinder (and getting half my body out of the cage to get closer), I was able to target the eye for this shot and get the focus spot on.

 

While we’re on the topic of shooting from the hip, another reason not to do this underwater is to follow a lesser-known rule of portrait photography. Steve McCurry of ‘Afghan Girl’ fame uses the following intriguing and subtle technique to create some of the most compelling portraits ever photographed.  The technique has likely been part of his great success in shooting captivating portraits of people all over the world for decades, and there’s no reason why it can’t work for sharks.  What is the technique?  It is as simple as placing the dominant eye in the center, or on the vertical center of the frame. Yes, this could somewhat go against the rule of thirds and conventional wisdom, but to get into the soul of a human (or animal) this is a sure fire way to capture the essence of that being.  Try doing that without looking through your viewfinder!

 

To frame this shot, I had to wait for the shark to come towards me. Since it was so far off, I would not have been able to compose this image without looking through the viewfinder.      

 

 

Wait for the Right Moment

While strobes are getting faster and faster at refreshing their power for the next frame, you never want to rattle off those 3-5 frames at the peak moment, only to have the first two lit-up and the 3rd or 4th failing.  And as fate would have it, it seems that it’s always those later frames that are the keepers. So be selective when that shark is coming near you. Don’t start firing off frames until the frame you are anticipating and have imagined is about to occur - the peak moment.

In addition to saving strobe bursts for the right moment, waiting also allows you to observe the sharks and their behavior, and also gives you time to compose the image. Sharks are smart, attentive, and curious, but they are wary too.  If you are shuffling around, doing 360’s to try and photograph everything, then the shark might want to have little to do with you. But by being slow and deliberate in your movements and keeping a calm heart rate, and breathing slowly, that elusive shark will come closer and closer on each pass, and hopefully close enough to nudge your dome port!

 

This is an example of good fortune, I burnt my strobes’ recycle rate before this frame so they didn’t fire, but given the clear water I was able to recover the shot and got a unique perspective of this sharks oversized pectoral fins.

 

To get this shot, instead of trying to get every shot of every shark that happened to be near us, I focused on watching the sharks’ behavior, and as they were swimming in opposite directions I decided to try to get them crossing paths. I would have missed this shot if I kept going for one or the other sharks in the vicinity.

 

 

Imagine, Plan, Execute

Many moments underwater are unpredictable and are often the product of a chance encounters. But as a photographer, you should always have a catalogue of shots in your mind that you imagine getting if that chance encounter occurs. Yet the challenge lies in thinking of an exciting new way to shoot a subject that has been photographed thousands if not millions of times. Think of Emma the (iconic) tiger shark at Tiger Beach.

With some forethought, planning, and imagination you may find yourself looking through the view finder at a moment, and a composition that no-one else has ever seen. Even now, every year there seems to be that one shot of a hammerhead or tiger shark taken at a popular destination that I’ve never seen before. This is not to say that these unique images are always planned, but planning never hurts.

 

I had the opportunity to shoot baby blacktip reef sharks while in the Seychelles, doing research, and they were very inquisitive, however all my side profile shots never get that feeling across. I decided to get low and try get the shot from the shark’s perspective. I was rewarded with a very curious approach from a very small shark about 2 ft long.

 

 

Enjoy the Moment

If all that the shark(s) is doing is swimming around you, not coming in close, and all you can mange to get are side profile shots, it’s time to put the camera down for a moment and just watch these amazing animals swim around you. You only have limited bottom time, so don't waste it getting side profile shots, spend it logging that moment to your memory, and who knows, you may observe a behavior or trait that will help you get the shot next time. 

 

 


Book the Perfect Shark Dive Trip

Bluewater Travel can help you plan and book the perfect Shark Dive Trip.

 

Email bookings@bluewaterdivetravel.com for more info.

 

 

Further Reading

Author's Gear Profile

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Caine Delacy has spent his life pursing underwater adventures. It first started with a mask and snorkel, then progressed to a PhD in Marine Ecology. He has dived and conducted research all over the world including being one of the principle investigators on the biggest reef fish survey of the East African coastline. It was natural for Caine to start photographing underwater, and this has become a major outlet of his conservation efforts and exposing the world to the wonders of the underwater world, and the issues that it faces.

www.CaineDelacy.com

Follow Caine on:  Instagram  |  Twitter  |  Facebook

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Shooting tips, light casts, best subjects and techniques for using a snoot underwater
By Mike Bartick

Ultimate Guide to Snoot Photography

Mike Bartick
Shooting tips, light casts, best subjects and techniques for using a snoot underwater

Its been said many times before that lighting is everything in underwater photography. Lighting is without a doubt a prime method to create drama, add color and contrast, create shadows, add dimension and much more to each image. Controlling that light is totally up to the photographer and his/her ability to manipulate it.

In the macro world, even the most interesting of subjects are easily lost on a confusing backdrop of sponge, hydroid or algae. Macro subjects tend to hide themselves within the substrate so well that even the best of attempts can result in a linear image. 

Snoots are a highly effective tool that will enable you to isolate your subject by surgically controlling and manipulating your strobe flash to precisely where and how you want your subject to be lit. This precise method of lighting will create the desired negative space in the frame, and with a little practice, result in some new striking compositions.

 

What is a Snoot?

Snoot, snoot, snoot what the heck is a snoot anyways? Well I'm glad you asked... Simply put, a snoot is a tool placed over the strobe head. The snoot controls and directs your strobe flash by creating a narrow or broad light beam in its cast, depending on the effect the shooter desires. Snoots do not create the flash – they are merely a tool used with your existing strobe to direct the light. 

 

How to Choose a Snoot

Not all snoots are created equally, so try to find the one that best fits your shooting style and budget. There are many snoot brands on the market and depending on the build quality, they can deliver dramatic differences in performance. Optical snoots are made with lock line filled with polished fiber optic cables, while others are more barrel-style with a diffused collector and iris masks to control the diameter of the flash beam. Other designs resemble funnels, and I've even seen a beer cozy being used with the bottom removed. And while all of these different snoots might work to some degree or another there are a couple of functional features that you will want to pay close attention to.

 

Light Quality

This is the first important feature, and should never be compromised. You will need the light at the end of the snoot to be just as clean and bright as when it leaves the strobe head. Any loss of light means compensating with higher ISO or a wider f-stop, which can result in digital noise, shallow DOF, too much contrast, etc.

 

Flash Iris

Aka the diameter size options for the beam. You will want your snoot to have interchangeable tips or a way of controlling the light from a wide cast to a narrow beam without major changes of your strobe’s position. Once your snoot is in the right position, having the ability to narrow the beam quickly is a highly desirable feature.

 

Quick tips for learning how to use your snoot:

 

•   Attach the snoot to your left strobe so that quick adjustments can be made and you can easily check images. Task loading your right hand is extremely cumbersome.

•   Tripods are another method that ads to the task load and takes away from the organic feel and freedom of attaching the snooted strobe directly to your housing (via strobe arm).

•   Use a wider lens like a 60mm lens (DSLRs) or 30mm lens (mirrorless). This will help you to see the tip of the snoot or the flash point in the top of the frame and to create a variety of compositions.

•   Make subtle changes and move the camera around slightly for final corrections rather than moving the strobe head.

 

The most common snoot technique in the beginning is direct lighting from above, but as you learn to use your new tool you will discover other ways to create drama in the frame. Front, back or side lighting, rim lighting and even super-macro techniques can all be applied.

Your images can still be over/under exposed and contrast is greatly affected by the nearness of the snoot’s tip in relation to the subject. As the snoot tip moves closer to the subject the result will be a hotter strobe flash and tighter beam. Pulling it up or away will decrease the harshness and broaden the beam, much like shining a flashlight on a table.

 

 

Underwater Snoot Photos

 

Hairy frogfish have always posed a challenge for me to shoot well. Whether the contrasty colors, sandy or algae habitat or even dark water at night, for some reason all of the shots just feel plain and very common. The first time I shot one with a snoot, I knew I was on to something different. By pulling the snoot tip up and allowing the cast to broaden, I was able to capture a slightly larger subject.

Nikon D7100

1 YS-D1 strobe 

Subsee Optical snoot

60mm lens

F9 @ 1/250

 

A brightly colored yellow ribbon eel is easily separated from the rocks directly behind it in this image. Having an undesirable or confusing background can take away from an image very easily. I enjoyed the challenge of shooting this one and trying to get it to line up properly.

Nikon D7100

1 YS-D1 strobe

Retra-LSD

105mm lens

F18 @ 1/320

 

Creating a little drama, the snoot effect will not preclude the user from shooting a black subject. Opening the aperture a little will allow for better exposures with darker subjects.

Nikon D7100

1 YS-D1 strobe

105mm lens

F13 @ 1/160

Subsee optical snoot’s

 

Blennys are a great subject to work with as they don't normally bolt from their hole when you begin to photograph them. The biggest challenge is separating them from their surroundings. What I like about the Retra snoot is that once the critter is dialed in, you can change the shape of the light cast by moving the light shaping mask. Starting with a broad and more forgiving beam and then work your way down to smaller casts. 

Nikon D300s

1 YS D1 strobe

105mm lens

f14 @ 1/320

Retra- LSD

 

Even in bright shallow water, negative space is easy to achieve when using your snoot with a fast shutter speed. Sometimes I like to see the circle of light that surrounds the subject as well. 

Nikon D7100

105mm lens

F18 @ 1/320

1 YS D1 strobe

Retra LSD

 

Snoots aren't just for exotic waters either - they can be used anywhere and at any time. One of the hidden and added benefits is less backscatter. This can be very helpful for better lighting when diving on a silty substrate or in an area that has low visibility.

Nikon D300s

105mm lens

F18 @ 1/320

1 YS-D1 

Retra LSD

 

S. smaragdinus perfectly match their algae host, both resembling green champagne grapes. The snoot lighting is a great tool for translucent subjects, as the light seems to help create the glow effect while eliminating the extra light. A wide and direct strobe flash can be a bit overpowering at times, over-lighting an area and taking away from the subtle details of your subject.

Nikon D7100

60mm lens

F22 @ 1/160

1 YS-D1 

Retra LSD

 

Re-visiting a subject with a new trick can sometimes be just what it takes to freshen it up. Setting up the snoot becomes second nature as you gain a natural feel for your lens’ working distance. The Retra snoot allows the user to operate the aiming light on the strobe and line it up with the subject. This is very helpful for subjects that aren't sensitive to it. 

Nikon D300s

105mm lens

f29 @ 1/320

1 YS-D1 strobe

Retra LSD 

 

 

The subsee snoot gives a shooter just a little more distance to work with for shooting long macro images - great for flighty subjects. The light quality is good and the lock line articulates well. 

Nikon D7100

105mm lens

F13 @ 1/250

1 YS-D1 and Subsee snoot

 

 

Snoots are a great tool to add to you kit and should be on your list of things to take on your next dive trip (to Crystal Blue - =) ). Remember, lighting is everything, so why not enhance your lighting skills, create something new in your portfolio and challenge yourself at the same time. And like always….

Have fun!

 

Further Reading

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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

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Essential tips, advice and best accessories for capturing wave photos and videos with your GoPro camera
By Brent Durand

How to Shoot Wave Photos with your GoPro

Brent Durand
Essential tips, advice and best accessories for capturing wave photos and videos with your GoPro camera

GoPro Hero cameras are tough, easy-to-use and produce great photos, making them a great tool for wave photography. Traditional scuba diving housings are not designed for shooting waves – they’re bulky, heavy and use the wrong ergonomics for the positions you’ll be shooting waves from. Surf housings for DSLR cameras address all these issues but they’re expensive. So, this leaves many of us shooting waves with GoPro.

There are many experienced photographers shooting waves out there, but these are some basic tips from my experiences with GoPro surf photography.

You can view a slow motion video of a breaking wave filmed with GoPro here.

 

 

GoPro Camera Reviews

 

GoPro Tutorials

1  Get the Right Accessories

Handholding your GoPro just doesn’t work… unless your fingers are the size of a jellybean. Investing in a nice handle or trigger grip is essential for good surf photos with a GoPro. The handle provides much more reach, especially for keeping the camera inside the wave as it passes by. 

There are a number of different handles and triggers available.  A great, versatile GoPro handle is the BTS GoPro MultiGrip Handle. It’s very tough, but you will need to push the camera shutter button (in burst mode) with your second hand. There are many other brands of GoPro handles available for shooting surf photos or just general use.

Be sure to wear a wrist lanyard, because at some point, the ocean will knock the camera out of your hand and you'll be glad it is attached.

 

gopro wave

Right on the sand. Malibu, California

 

gopro handle for waves

My GoPro handle for shooting waves. I have no trigger on this, but had these Ultralight parts laying around to make a great, multi-angle GoPro handle.

 

2  Use the Right GoPro Setting for Waves

Waves move surprisingly quickly; I’ve been in, on and around them my entire life and still get surprised. The best GoPro setting for wave photos is the burst mode, which has a number of different options. Chances are that your battery will die far before you run out of space on your memory card, so try shooting with 30 frames over 2 seconds. This will allow you to capture every moment of the breaking wave and then select your favorite frame. Note that the GoPro takes a second to begin firing after you press the shutter button, so account for this as the wave is about to break and you're moving into final position.

Yes, this is a bit of “spray and pray”, and you’ll have thousands of photos to glance through, but it’s the best way to ensure you get the best shot and maximize your time in the water.

 

gopro wave

Burst mode settings on the GoPro HERO4 Silver.

 

3  Stay Still and Let the Wave Come to You

Chasing a wave is a bit like chasing a fish – it’s going to outmaneuver you most of the time. The best way to shoot GoPro wave photos is to wait at the point where the wave is breaking, whether on your feet close to shore or treading water further from shore. If you read the waves well and position yourself at that spot where the wave is breaking, you’ll find yourself in “the green room” every time.

 

gopro wave

Frothy. Malibu, California

 

gopro wave

Crisp. Venice, California

 

4  Stay Safe

The ocean, and waves in particular, can be dangerous and unpredictable. Most of the wave photos you see are from photographers with many years of experience surfing, body boarding, paddling, lifeguarding and other waterman activities. Many of the photos (unless you’re Clark Little) are also shot in waves much smaller than you would expect, so there’s no reason to go out if the waves are big and there are dangerous currents and rip tides.

 

gopro wave

gopro wave

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

gopro wave

Pangea. Malibu, California

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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

Brent is the editor of the Underwater Photography Guide. He is leading several dive trips in 2016, linked below.  Email Brent at brent@uwphotographyguide.com.

Cenotes & Sailfish (Feb '16)  |  Bali & Lembeh (Sept '16)  |  Bimini Spotted Dolphins (Jun '16)  |  La Paz (Oct '16)  |  Kimbe Bay, PNG (Nov '16)

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