Fascinating Fluoro Photography

Mike Bartick
Amazing Photos & the Essentials for Great Fluoro Diving

Fascinating Fluoro Photography

Amazing Photos & the Essentials for Great Fluoro Diving

Text and Photos By Mike Bartick


A common subject shot with traditional white light (left) and blue light (right).


Underwater Fluoro photography has been slow to gain in popularity since its early beginnings. Logistically, this technique has been out of reach for many non-professionals for several reasons (mainly the cost of lights), but recently a few companies have emerged with new products and have re-introduced Fluoro diving and photography to the industry.



What is Required?

To get started shooting Fluoro photos underwater, a basic 3-part kit is needed.

  • 1 (blue) light
    • Nightsea Sola or similar product. The light can be hand held or attached to your housing via strobe arms, which I prefer.
  • 2 barrier filters
    • One filter is put over your mask and the other over your housing’s flat port. The mask filter allows the user to see what is fluorescing; the filter over your camera port allows you to photograph the fluorescence.


Fluorescence Defined

In a nutshell, fluorescence is the name for the absorption of light at one wavelength or color, and its re-emission of light at another wavelength. As explained to me by Charlie Mazel, a pioneer in underwater fluorescence technology: “What that really means for you as a photographer is that you will need to explore the divesite and shine the bright blue light on the reef. The greens, yellows and reds will glow back at you and the hardest part will be deciding what to photograph first.”


Polyps of a Fungia mushroom coral - ISO 3200 - F11 @ 1/80

The green color cast and glow is the first and most pronounced color that you will see. Scattered on the sandy and now invisible bottom the hard mushroom coral’s all seemed to glow. When I found my starting point I turned out my regular dive torch, working by moonlight I slipped the barrier filter over my mask then turned the blue light on and instantly was surrounded by a new divesite.


ISO 3200 - F10 @ 1/80

I later experimented by adding a second Sola with the red light turned on and set to a low level. I positioned the light very high from the subject which helped to create a little contrast, but isn’t 100% on-point.


Blue vs. Ultraviolet Light

While most people think of ultraviolet light when they think of fluorescence, it turns out that blue is much more effective at making underwater organisms glow than UV. There are more subjects that glow more brightly. The light is best delivered by the new generation of high intensity LEDs. To get the best out of the viewing experience you must wear a yellow filter visor over your mask. The yellow is designed to remove the reflected blue light and transmit only the fluorescence from the underwater life. For more info on blue vs. UV light click here.


Beyond the Green Color Cast

There are other very subtle colors that can be seen and photographed. At first you will begin to see the variance of colors while post processing and discover that there really is more to it than what meets the naked eye. Asserting control over your camera and having a strong working knowledge of your system helps, but it isn’t vital and almost anyone can capture great images no matter what system they are using.


2 Fungias hard coral plates - ISO 3200 - F11 @ 1/50

The same type of organisms often had a different colorcast. I stacked these two mushroom corals to show the differences.


My Gear

  • Nikon D300s
  • 60mm macro lens 
  • Basic 3-part kit as described above.
  • 1 Sola Nightsea light. The light has 2 modes, spot and flood and 3 power intensity options: low med and high. Like using a strobe, the angle and power make a world of difference, so be sure not to get too close to the subject since you can still overexpose the highlights.


General Settings to Get Started

  • ISO-1600-3200: (note: watch for digital noise in the images)
  • Aperture: f5.6-f10
  • Shutter: 1/80
  • Due to low light from using just a single Sola Nightsea light (instead of 2), it was necessary to shoot at a higher ISO, slower shutter speed and a larger aperture. This can be problematic when shooting hand held so try to brace your camera with a second hand under the lens port for stability. I don’t recommend a tri-pod as it takes too much time to set up the shots.


Moray Eel (Muraenidae) - ISO 1600 - F7.1 @ 1/60     

The bright glow of this Morey could be seen from a good distance away. Sometimes I would see several Moreys at a time but they seemed a bit sensitive to the intensity of the blue light and would disappear into their holes, being ready before you move in to shoot the photo is helpful.


Best Dive Sites for Fluoro Photography

  • Fringing hard coral reefs, walls and sandy muck sites all seem to be good for fluoro photography.
  • Open sandy areas tend to be a bit slower than the reefs and yield occasional anemones, crabs etc.
  • Hard corals like Cycloseris, Ctenactis, Acropora, Cyphastrae, Fungia, Favites and others all glow with amazing intensity while the soft corals are less reflective.


ISO 3200 - F11 @ 1/50

Using just the blue light will allow you to see the intricate folds and shadows of the corals. The green spot in the background is the beginnings of a new baby coral formation. The Blue light is used in labs to find such new growths for studies and many other applications.


Glowing Abalone - ISO 2500 - F6.3 @ 1/80

I would have never noticed this gem without the Nightsea light. Not having the advantage of being able to stop down, I was sure to focus in on the key elements of this photo, the eyes.


ISO 2000 - F11 @ 1/80

Moving away from the reef I discovered that some of the fish seemed to really glow, while others did not. The ones I thought would glow, like frogfish remained colorless, this Raggy Scorpionfish glowed with a sullen red and the coral below it offered nice contrast. Notice the highlights under on coral blowing out. Be careful if your handholding the light source, close doesn’t always mean better.


ISO 2000 - F11 @ 1/80


Nembrotha kubaryana - ISO 2500 - F6.3 @ 1/100

The common becomes uncommon with the Blue Light. I was simply amazed when I spotted this common Nembrotha, talk about stunning. Knowing your subjects like this one helps to capture strong images by bringing out the details. Again with the lack of a flash and the slow shutter speeds, sharpness can be easily affected.



In Conclusion

My first few Fluoro dives seemed a bit uneventful and almost overwhelming. It took me a few nights to really begin to catch on and to begin applying the techniques to create better images. I recently learned that there are additional products on the market, such as strobe filters that will assist in creating better images.

Im always looking forward to a new challenge and Fluoro Photography now seems like its here to stay.

Special Thanks to Charles Mazel, “a true pioneer in underwater fluorescence technology.“



About the Author

Mike BartikMike Bartick is a Marine Wildlife Photographer based in South East Asia. 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 and Photo Pro at Crystal Blue Resort. See more of his work at www.saltwaterphoto.com.



Further Reading


Where to Buy

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



The Secrets of Shooting Amazing Patterns

Christian Skauge
Tips for Capturing Mesmerizing Underwater Graphics

The Secrets of Shooting Amazing Patterns

Few things are more intriguing than some of the out-of-this-world patterns one encounters under the water. Here are some tips to capture mesmerizing underwater graphics.

Text and Photos By Christian Skauge




Patterns can be found almost anywhere under water - in hard or soft coral, fish, mussels and other invertebrate animals. If you look closely, you’ll find some kind of pattern in more things than you’d think. Still, it takes a little more than “point and shoot” before you’re able to translate what you see into a great image.

As with any kind of underwater images, first you need to find what you want to photograph. I often find beautiful patterns in fish, especially around the eyes or in the scales themselves. Parrotfish is a dead giveaway when talking about fish patterns, but many other species are worth a closer look too.


Fill the Frame

To really capture the pattern and let it speak for itself, you need to capture just the pattern and nothing else. Filling the frame is the mantra here: Half a fish doesn’t really cut it, no matter how intricate and beautiful its pattern is – it’s still just half a fish.

There is one very simple way to achieve this: Get closer. It’s only when the pattern completely fills the frame that you really see it for what it is – a thing of beauty in itself.

Fish provide an endless source of beautiful patterns, but most of them are notoriously difficult to approach and photograph. It’s hard to get as close as you need to be able to frame just a part of the fish.

There are two solutions to his – focal length and night dives: Most fish sleep during the night, and by careful maneuvering you should be able to get what you want. Enough focal length (more about this later) means you don’t have to be almost touching the fish when taking your shot. Learn more about filling the frame.


Many fish have beautiful and colorful patterns around the eyes, presumably to make it harder for predators to see which way is forward. Get close enough and you’ll get some very interesting images.


When there’s enough of something and you let it fill the frame, even leather coral polyps form a beautiful pattern.

Baby Garibaldi eye, photo by UWPG / Bluewater photo owner Scott Gietler. D7100, 105mm VR lens


Be Gentle

Remember that fish are very sensitive to changes in water pressure. Their fine-tuned lateral line allows them to sense almost anything sneaking up on them, even if they can’t see it. That means you have to be very careful and not push too much water ahead of you in a sudden burst – that will most likely spook any fish, sleeping or not.

Another thing to consider about sleeping fish is that disturbing them leaves them vulnerable to attack and injury. This is especially important when it comes to parrotfish: When they go to sleep they produce a “sleeping bag” made of mucus, designed to protect them from predators. When spooked, they leave it behind and have to do it all over again.


Parrotfish provide an endless source of colorful patterns, provided you can get close enough.


Coral fans give you the opportunity to capture sort of a pattern against a black background.


The back of the pectoral fins are stunningly beautiful on many scorpionfish, but it might be very hard to capture it “on film”. This lionfish was sleeping, which made it a whole lot easier.



Echinoderms are another rich source of patterns. To me, sea urchins are more interesting dead than alive, because the spines get in the way of their intricate shells. Looking closely at starfish and sea cucumbers is usually much more rewarding: Some species have their entire bodies decorated by beautiful patterns. All you have to do is to find a suitable crop, as these animals will let you shoot on forever without running away.

If you’re lucky (meaning look closely) you often find minute crabs and shrimp living on these animals too – and this may add a little something extra to your image besides the pattern. If you’re able to combine two things, your image will benefit greatly.

When you carefully flip a starfish on its back, you often get a pleasant surprise: Some of them have the most incredible patterns underneath, especially around the mouth. It’s a bit controversial to touch your subjects, but if you’re careful no harm will come to the animal.

Observe the starfish before you do anything to make sure it’s not feeding – if it moves it should be okay. After getting your shot make sure you turn the co-operative fellow back on its right side in the exact spot you found it before you leave.


Some starfish make your jaw drop when you turn them gently over. This species, found in Lembeh Strait, has patterns all over.


Sea cucumbers are always interesting, and show off many different types of patterns and even textures. Close up this one looks almost like elephant skin, apart from the yellow spikes.


Even ascidians (sea squirts) can display beautiful patterns. The closer you look, there more you’ll find!


Endless Patterns in Coral

Coral provide plenty of opportunities in terms of patterns. By design many of them are just a bunch of repeating structures! By carefully searching and selecting your frame or crop, it’s pretty easy to produce some eye-catching images. Brain and star coral are obvious choices, but many other species have cool patterns too.

Even soft coral can sometimes have breathtaking patterns, especially on their stems. They are also a good place to find little fish and crustaceans, so checking them carefully may pay off in more ways than one.

Coral fans are also a good place to look. They can be almost lace-like in their structure, and have the added benefit of letting you shoot them with a black background. This can provide an interesting change for images which are all filled with color and pattern.

A nice, uniform coral pattern becomes even more interesting when there’s a little fish sitting on it.


Play with depth of field to create interesting effects.



When capturing patterns I often find it best to shoot at a 90 degree angle. Most of the time I choose “flat” light – in effect the same strobe output on both sides. This hides most of the surface texture, letting the colors and patterns stand out in their own right.

If you use different strobe power on one side, you will instead make the texture stand out more. This can also produce some very nice images, and I really encourage you to try shooting with different techniques – but for patterns, flat light does the trick best in my book.

Playing with depth of field can also produce some nice effects, but here too you will quickly find yourself drifting away from shooting actual patterns into something else. I often shoot with as high an F-stop as I can to iron out any out-of-focus areas in the image, which to me often ruins the pattern. A fast shutter is, as always, a good idea.


Pattern or texture? Subtle changes in strobe output can make it go either way.



In most cases, shooting patterns is macro job. Which lens you choose depends on the size of your subject, but most of the time we’re talking small stuff here so a 100/105 mm will be a good choice – maybe even with a teleconverter on top.

In theory, a 60 mm lens will produce the same image as the 100/105 mm (they’re both 1:1), but you will have to get a lot closer than you need to with a longer lens. I often find that when I get too close I run into trouble with the light: It comes too much from the sides, producing more of a texture than a pattern.

This is why I love the 105 mm for my pattern jobs. When trying to capture fish details you’ll definitely appreciate the working distance offered by a 100/105 mm lens – unless we’re talking about the lovely pattern found on the back of a whale shark.

In the end it’s not extremely difficult to shoot patterns. You don’t need to be a star photographer to get some good results – being good at spotting subjects is at least as important as mastering the subtleties of your camera. Happy shooting!


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


Further Reading


Where to Buy

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



The Ultimate Guide to Shooting Wrecks

Todd Winner
Tips and Tricks to Bring your Wreck Photos to the Next Level

The Ultimate Guide to Shooting Wrecks

Tips and Tricks to Bring your Wreck Photos to the Next Level

Text and Photos By Todd Winner




Shipwrecks have always been fascinating to me. Almost every wreck has some amazing history, an interesting story or some unsolved mystery attached to it. Wrecks make great artificial reefs (whether sunk intentionally or not) and marine life is often abundant around them. As photographers, there are some wrecks where we can portray both tragic loss of life and beauty in the same image.

Diving and photographing shipwrecks presents many challenges. Oftentimes their size and depth makes it impossible to see the whole site on a single dive. Even when we have the opportunity to do multiple dives on the same site we are still limited to (non-deco) bottom time and air.

Part of successful wreck photography is limiting your attention to the most important shots. This often involves shooting extremely large objects, sometimes way too big to light with strobes. To get the most out of shooting wrecks, you will need to use ambient light, strobe light and sometimes a combination of both to achieve your shots. Many photographers will even use filters and slave strobes for shooting wide wreck scenes. It's up to you to recognize when to use the variety of lighting techniques available.

Certain wrecks require extra care when diving since cables, nets and other items may present an entanglement hazard for divers. Like any diving activity, stay within your comfort and training level.

The following are my five top tips to get the ultimate wreck shots:


Shoot an Establishing Shot

This is most likely going to be an ambient light or ambient with filter shot, as most wrecks are too big to light with strobes. If the visibility is good enough this is often the first shot I go for. If possible, descend to the site before the other divers to have a chance in order to capture a diver-free image.  Having a diver in the shot can add scale but too many divers will often ruin the shot. If divers are penetrating the wreck you can have bubbles escaping the wreck for hours after the last person has exited. This can make for an interesting image in itself, but if you are after a bubble-free shot you will need to get there first.


Establishing image of a Japanese float plane. Palau


Get the Signature Shot

Many wrecks are just too big to do on a single dive, so get the signature shot before moving on to other things. And unless you are the first person to ever dive the site, there is probably already an established and well-known signature shot. This image is an important part of the ship or an artifact inside the wreck. It can be the bow gun, prop, ship’s bell or anything that is easy to recognize on the wreck.


Signature shot of R2D2, an old compressor inside the Fujikawa Maru. Truk Lagoon


Look for Silhouettes

Most wrecks are loaded with great silhouettes, whether you use them in the background with a strobe-lit foreground or on their own. The king posts, masts and ship guns are all good places to look for silhouette potential.


Silhouette of diver and bow of ship. Solomon Islands


Shoot Some Color

The steel hulls on many wrecks attract sponges, soft corals and other colorful marine animals. Take some shots that show how the wreck has transformed. The key is to include something in the shot that still makes it recognizable as a wreck; otherwise it will just look like a colorful reef.


Colorful soft coral on a life boat davit. Fujikawa Maru, Truk Lagoon


Interior and Skylight

This is my favorite type of wreck shot and it is not always possible on every wreck. It is essentially some item or artifact lit by my strobes inside the wreck along with light from a skylight, porthole or other opening in the hull that lets in some ambient light. I think these types of shots really give the viewer an idea of what it is like to be inside the wreck. Note that your exhaust bubbles from open circuit will dislodge particles from the ceiling when working inside a wreck, and that it doesn’t take long before you are shooting in what looks like a snow globe. It's also important to work fast and maintain good buoyancy to avoid disturbing even more sediment.


Diesel engine and skylight. Kensho Maru, Truk Lagoon


Many of the wrecks we dive have gone down with the loss of human lives. Some still contain bones to this day. I feel it's important to treat such wrecks with the same respect you would show at any other gravesite and I hope you will do the same.


Eerie reminder that not everyone made it out alive. Yamagiri Maru, Truk Lagoon


If you would like to join me in shooting shipwrecks, please check out UWPG's Truk Lagoon Trip in February of 2015.



About the Author

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


Further Reading


Where to Buy

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



Easy Ways to Eliminate Backscatter in your Photos

Brent Durand
The Secret to Backscatter-Free Photos

Easy Ways to Eliminate Backscatter in your Photos

The Secret to Backscatter-Free Photos

Text and Photos By Brent Durand




Backscatter is the underwater photographer’s arch nemesis. We’ve all taken shots riddled with the distracting white specs, whether they dot the whole picture or form two semi-circles on the edge of the frame. Backscatter can (and often does) destroy an otherwise-excellent image. The good news is that there are some universal techniques for eliminating backscatter that can be applied to a variety of composition styles, from macro to wide-angle.


What is Backscatter?

Backscatter is created when particulates in the water are illuminated by strobe light, and is most commonly seen in the space between the lens and the subject. Have you every noticed that if you hold a light in front of your face in bad vis you see many more particulates than if you hold the light to the side or below? Same principal. Diving in good visibility is obviously the best solution to eliminate this, but those of us who dive in lower-vis are challenged with every push of the shutter.

In order to reduce backscatter in photos we do two things: minimize potential backscatter-causing particles and use techniques to avoid illuminating the remaining particles. Here are some easy ways to accomplish this no matter where you’re diving.


A Blenny looks out of a hole with surge-lifted sand drifting back and forth in front of
his face - backscatter.


Eliminate Backscatter Now!


1)  Reduce Space Between Lens & Subject

The easiest way to reduce backscatter in an image is to reduce the potential backscatter-causing particles. Photographers need to be close to the subject, minimizing space between the front of the port/dome and what is being lit by the strobe(s). When closer to your subject (without touching it!) you also benefit from more compelling compositions, such as filling the frame and intimate eye contact with critters.

You can also minimize space between lens and subject by shooting for the conditions. Don’t shoot wide-angle if the vis is poor. Save the dome port for the clear and sunny days (unless you’re on a timeline for a specific shot).


I chose to shoot macro this day knowing the visibility would be under 10 feet and surgy. The result is a usable photo with minimal backscatter, most of which could be removed in post.


This target shrimp actually landed on my dome for a second, unable to swim down to the sand in the frantic energy of a recent squid run. Notice the sand in the water everywhere except in front of the shrimp’s body… now that’s close.


2)  Finely-Tune Your Strobe Position

Now that we’ve minimized shooting distance we need to focus on eliminating backscatter created by strobes. This is done by using the edge of the cone of light generated by the strobe to illuminate the subject without illuminating the space in front of the lens.

There are a few factors to consider when positing the strobe. First is the beam angle of the strobe. Here are some sample beam angles:

  • Sea & Sea YS-D1 is 100 or 120 degrees depending on diffuser
  • Ikelite DS161 is 100 degrees with diffuser
  • Inon Z240 is 110 degrees with diffuser

The beam angle will determine the angle you’re positioning the strobe away from the subject. Note that the distance to the subject will also affect the angle of the strobe. See the graphic below.

strobe positioning for backscatter


3)  Practice Perfect Buoyancy

Divers are frequently responsible for kicking sand and silt into the water column, whether they’re aware of it or not. All it takes is one errant fin kick or a hand touching the sand for stability to push up a cloud of sand and silt. Your own body will also stir up a sandy bottom if you’re close to the sand in significant surge.

When diving with a buddy, make sure they know to keep a bit of distance as you’re moving in for a shot. They can explore the nearby reef or hover above and to the side, waiting their turn to check out the critter (if they haven’t yet). This will minimize the chance of them kicking sand into your shot.

When diving in sandy areas, keep an eye on your own fins. The frog kick is great for moving slowly (especially in drysuit). A properly executed scissor kick can propel you quickly across sand without stirring anything up.


My buddy and I found this Dendronitus iris moving across algae-covered sand while scouting the area around a deeper reef in Malibu. We were coving a lot of ground quickly, always ensuring not to lift any sand, since it would have ruined potential photo opportunities like this.


My buddy stopped to shoot a photo on a recent boat dive trip. Instead of moving in close where I might have stirred up the visibility or otherwise messed up the photo opp, I kept my distance allowing him to focus on nailing the shot.


There you have it. Three tips to accomplish the two secrets to eliminating backscatter from your photos. It takes practice, but the reward is worth the hours underwater.


About the Author

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



Further Reading


Where to Buy

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



5 Best Underwater Video Editing Tips

Anastasia Laity
Use these tips to turn your home movies into professional-quality underwater videos!

5 Best Underwater Video Editing Tips

Use these tips to turn your home movies into professional-quality underwater videos!

Text, Photos & Video By Anastasia Laity




You've started taking underwater video and are slowly accumulating hours of raw footage on your hard drive - now what?

It turns out actually shooting underwater video is only the beginning: you still have to edit it into something people will actually want to watch! A good underwater video is more than just a string of clips set to music: it tells a story.

This article goes over some basic editing principles that will help turn your growing collection of underwater video clips into interesting videos.


#1: Plan Ahead

Editing starts before you even get in the water. The best underwater videos (just like the best topside videos) are planned in advance, including scripts and shot lists. If you do most of your shooting while traveling on vacation, you may not have the luxury of going diving again and again until you get exactly the shot you want. But even then, it's possible to prepare the basic framework of a video based on shots you know you can get. One of my first videos, Dive Buddies, won the Kona Classic competition this way: the footage is nothing special, but the story makes it interesting.


Click below to watch Dive Buddies Video:

dive buddies video

When you're underwater, remember to "shoot to edit." Always be thinking about what you'll need when you're editing: leave handles at the beginning and ends of your clips; take long enough shots of your subject with no shaking or zooming; get wide, medium and close shots of the subject whenever possible. Don't forget to shoot some "B-roll" footage: divers gearing up and getting in and out of the water; establishing shots of the location above and below water; wide angle pans of the underwater scenery.

Once you start importing the footage into your editing software, make sure to name, tag, and organize clips in a way that works for you. Shots that don't make it into the video you're working on right now may turn out to be just what you need to fill in a gap in next year's project, so make sure they're all easy to find! I usually organize clips by trip as I go, and also keep a catalog of my favorite clips organized by subject (wrecks, kelp, nudibranchs, sea lions, etc.), which I may dip back into once I have "enough" footage of a subject to make a video.


#2: Keep it Short and Sweet

You just came back from your vacation to the tropics with hours of amazing footage that you can't wait to show your friends! But trust me: not even your loving family members want to sit through it all, even after you've narrowed it down to just the "keepers." My rule of thumb is to keep all my videos between two and five minutes. This keeps things well within the attention span of your friends and family members, and has the added bonus of being within time limits for most underwater video competitions.

Be absolutely ruthless about removing clips that don't contribute to the final product. If you have ten amazing shots of the same subject, pick one. Slightly shaky, out of focus shot of a critter you really, really wanted to include in the video? Trust me, it'll only drag down the rest of the video if you leave it in. Sometimes a terrific shot just doesn't quite fit anywhere in the video you're working on; don't include it just because you can't bear to leave it out. "Leftover" clips like this can still be great for posting to Facebook or emailing to your dive buddies, and you might find a place for them in another video someday!

I also recommend keeping things simple: if you have a good story and halfway-decent footage, you don't need fancy effects. Throwing lots of different styles of transitions in, or testing out all the iMovie effects and filters can backfire and make your video come off amateurish.


#3: Audio is Important

Some subjects lend themselves better to a "music video" style, others to a "documentary style" with more narration. Decide early in the editing process which one you're aiming for.

Start cutting to music early in the editing process, as it will often inform the placement of your edits. Once a music track is laid down you may find obvious places where shifting a clip makes the action line up just right with something in the music. Be careful not to go overboard with timing cuts to land on beats in the music; it's useful for major transitions between sections but can get distracting and dull if overused.

I start by using a "temp track", a piece of music out of my iTunes library that has the overall sound and tempo that I need. Once I'm farther along in the editing process, I replace this with royalty-free music that will be the final score, and then I make additional edits to the video based on the music.

There are several ways to get your hands on music that can be legally used as your soundtrack. If you search for "royalty-free music," quite a few options will turn up, such as royalfreemusic.com, JewelBeat, or Audio Jungle.

You can also try arranging your own score using a tool like Apple's GarageBand; I put together the music for A Really Good Day over a weekend using the GarageBand loops.


Click below to watch A Really Good Day video:

A Really Good Day - Anacapa, 2007

If you're narrating your video, it's worth investing in a decent microphone to record voiceover. (Search for "podcasting microphone" on Amazon to see quite a few options in the $50-$130 range.) Speak more slowly and clearly than usual, and pronounce consonants gently to avoid popping and clicking sounds. After watching Kona After Dark, my own mother asked me who does the voiceover for my videos - it's me, but at a much slower pace than real life! Record a few different versions of the narration, read in slightly different styles, so you can decide later what works best.


Click below to watch Kona After Dark video:

Kona After Dark - 2009


#4: Don't Skimp on the Finishing Touches

I've probably devoted the most hours of editing time to tweaking the smallest details of my videos: deciding when to use hard cuts versus fades; setting fade lengths; making slight adjustments to the in and out points of clips. Seemingly minor things can have a surprisingly large effect on the overall feel of your finished product, and on how professional it looks.

For underwater video, it's especially important to apply some color correction. Obviously it's best to get good white balance while you're shooting, but learning how to use the basic color correction tools in your video editing software will help you salvage the occasional too-red clip, or match the color balance of clips taken at different times and places.

Finally, don't forget the titles! Your editing software will have several ways to generate titles and text, or you can get a little fancier with software like Motion or After Effects. If you plan to enter your video in competitions, don't forget to make a version where the title cards do not include your name. If your video includes lots of interesting critters, like this Philippines video, think about including some subtitles to keep your friends from constantly interrupting viewings to ask what's on the screen.


Click below to watch The Philippines: Beauties & Beasts video:

The Philippines: Beauties & Beasts - 2010


#5: Share!

Far too many videographers take hours and hours of terrific footage... which then languishes on their hard drive, forever unwatched. Don't be that person: share your work! Whether it's a carefully-planned and edited, competition-winning video, or just a few clips from today's trip that you want your friends to see, get it out there!

Your editing program will have multiple options for outputting or sharing a video, so think about where it's going before you pick a setting (if you're burning to BluRay you want full quality; uploading to Facebook can and should be much smaller and compressed). Experiment with different settings for your software to find out what makes the best combination of file size and video quality for each use case.

Keep an eye on underwater photography websites (like The Underwater Photography Guide!) for news of upcoming competitions. Most of them include one or two video categories, and trust me: you DO have a chance at winning, but only if you enter!


About the Author

anastasia laityAnastasia Laity is a SCUBA instructor and underwater videographer residing in Pasadena, California.  In addition to her day job as a computer geek (in a non-SCUBA field), she is currently the Vice President of the Los Angeles Underwater Photography Society (LAUPS), regularly teaches SCUBA classes for Hollywood Divers in Universal City, and dives for fun and video as often as she can.  You can see more of her work, as well as her husband Jeff's still photography, at http://laityphoto.com.


Further Reading


Where to Buy

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



10 Tips for Shooting Underwater Video

Anastasia Laity
Tips you Need to Know when Shooting and Editing Video

10 Tips for Shooting Underwater Video

Tips you Need to Know when Shooting and Editing Video

Text, Photos & Video by Anastasia Laity




This article includes tips I've picked up in a decade of shooting underwater video - from other videographers, books or articles, and my own experience.  Some may be familiar to those of you who started off shooting still photography; others address issues unique to video. Hopefully these 10 tips will help you get started, but remember that the best way to get better at shooting underwater video is just like anything else: practice!


1: Hold Still

Avoid shaky movements. Sounds easy, right? After all, your camera is surrounded by water and should be nice and stable. While it's true that most underwater footage isn't prone to the kind of rapid shake that handheld cameras usually produce topside, any amount of wobble can be extremely distracting to your viewers. Hold the housing as close to your body as possible to help stabilize it, or use a tripod (see tip #3!).


Click video beow to see handheld vs. tripod:


Make sure you keep the camera steady on your subject for long enough to get a good, usable shot. Count to 10 in your head once you've got the subject in frame and don't re-adjust where you're pointing the camera or change the zoom during that time. A 60-second shot full of slight moves, shakes, or zooming isn't really a 60-second usable shot, and it's surprisingly easy to sabotage yourself by thinking you've been "on" something long enough when you never have more than a few steady seconds at once!


2: Move Around a Little

Videos are more interesting if they contain a variety of shots. So along with all your nice, steady, still clips, you probably want to have a few taken while moving.

Practice panning the camera by twisting at the waist to aim the camera all the way to one side, hitting record, and then slowly unraveling yourself back to the other side (don't try to turn your whole body using your fins as this will introduce more shaking).

Each kick of your fins makes the camera wobble for a moment, so try panning over or past your subject by frog-kicking. If you get a strong enough start, you can film a nice long, stable shot while coasting after each kick.


3: Use a Tripod

It's almost impossible to hold the camera completely steady - especially in the frequently-surgey waters here in Southern California. You can get rid of that last trace of shakiness by using an underwater tripod. Several manufactures make mounts for different housing, and tripod legs to suit your diving style and price range.


Pictured: Tripod mounting bracket and legs from xit404.


Using a tripod will kick your macro footage up to the next level. It's also surprisingly useful when shooting wide angle. Extend one of the legs out to one side and use it as a handle to give your housing a wider, more stable platform. Or, extend a leg toward your own body to use as a monopod that braces against your chest.

You can also leave your tripod set up on your subject and swim away - fish are much friendlier to cameras that don't have divers behind them.


Shot with a tripod while after we swam away (click to watch):


4: Follow the Action

When shooting a moving subject, keep it in frame and with plenty of "headroom" - just like shooting stills, you want to make it look like your subject still has room to move.

You can't follow any critter forever, though, and if you try you wind up with a wobbly shot trying to "catch up" with it. After you've captured some amount of motion, hold the camera still and let the subject swim out of frame to "end" the shot gracefully.


5: Keep Rolling

Tape and memory cards are cheap - go ahead and take lots of footage! Some cameras take a moment to get rolling after you hit "record," and that usually turns out to be the moment with all the action. If something cool is hanging around in the area, I just leave the camera recording, but put my hand over the lens so I can easily see later that there's nothing "here".

Of course, the flip side of this is that you're going to have way, WAY more footage than anyone should ever be forced to watch. Keep in mind that the more footage you take, the more editing will be required. Some videographers truly enjoy the editing process, but those who don't often learn to be better "in-camera editors," only hitting the record button once they've got their shot all lined up and ready to go.


6: Get a Variety of Shots

When it's time to edit your video together later, you'll want to have a variety of shots to choose from. In particular, you want to try to get wide (establishing), medium, and close up shots of your subject whenever possible.

Try shooting your subjects from different angles, with different lighting. Take your time and give yourself lots of options for later.

Don't forget the shots that will help glue the story together: divers gearing up or entering and exiting the water, wide angle shots showing the overall appearance of the dive site, empty shots of blue water or diver bubbles that can be useful while running credits, etc.



7: White Balance

Get familiar with your camera's white balance functions. If you're shooting macro with lights, you can probably just leave it on 'auto.' But if you're using ambient light, even with a red filter, manual white balance is going to be your friend.

Manual white balance normally entails pointing the camera at something white (or close to white) and hitting a button, or an annoying series of buttons. Sand usually works, though in some locations the sand has too much red or yellow in it to make a good white card. Dive slates can work, but may need to be held at a bit of a distance and slanted so they aren't glaringly reflective. If all else fails, point straight up towards the sun (or make your buddy wear white fins).

It's often tempting to stop fiddling with white balance and just "fix it in post." But trust me: fixing it in the camera will look much better!


Ambient light and red filter; manual white balance.


Ambient light and red filter; automatic white balance.


8: Know When to Use Lights and Filters

Here are my rules of thumb - with the caveat that your mileage may vary based on your camera's performance in different lighting situations:

  • Wide-angle, 45' or shallower: Use a red filter and ambient light. Manual white balance whenever you change depth or the lighting changes.
  • Wide-angle, deeper than 45': if shooting something close, turn on your lights (extended above and to the sides of the housing to cut down on backscatter) and remove the red filter. If you're trying to shoot something larger than the area illuminated by your lights, you may just have to settle for having extremely blue footage. Putting the red filter on may help you white balance, but at depth it also cuts out way too much light and leads to grainy footage.
  • Macro: lights on, no red filter. Experiment with different light locations. I usually put one light right next to the lens aiming directly at the critter, and use the other light to backfill some of the shadows from the side or above.


9: Deal with Divers

Other divers have a knack for getting in the way of a shot. One way to mitigate the damage is to get some nice footage of your fellow divers that can be cut into the video later - seeing bubbles suddenly streaming up behind your subject will be much less jarring if your next cut is to a shot of a diver looking at that subject.

If you dive with a still photographer, try to shoot your clips when they aren't flashing the strobes. If your perfect shot is "ruined" by having a strobe go off in the middle of it, you can salvage it by cutting to a clip of a photographer taking a picture.


10: Check Your Footage

Those tiny little screens on video cameras help you figure out where to aim, and hopefully tip you off if you're terribly out of focus or badly white-balanced. But to really get a good look at your footage, you need to look at it on a big screen.

Often I've taken what I thought was great footage - only to play it back on my HDTV at home and discover there's a bit of dust on the inside of the lens that mucked up the autofocus. If you're traveling and go days without really looking at your footage, you can miss things that ruin days of footage, so it's worth it to take the time and make sure you're getting the results you want at full resolution!



About the Author

anastasia laityAnastasia Laity is a SCUBA instructor and underwater videographer residing in Pasadena, California.  In addition to her day job as a computer geek (in a non-SCUBA field), she is currently the Vice President of the Los Angeles Underwater Photography Society (LAUPS), regularly teaches SCUBA classes for Hollywood Divers in Universal City, and dives for fun and video as often as she can.  You can see more of her work, as well as her husband Jeff's still photography, at http://laityphoto.com.


Further Reading


Where to Buy

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



5 Photos you Need in your Portfolio

Christian Skauge
Essential Tips for Building you Underwater Photo Portfolio

5 Photos you Need in your Portfolio

Essential Tips for Building you Underwater Photo Portfolio

Text and Photos by Christian Skauge


Wreck of the KT-12 located outside Orosei, Sardinia.

The point of having a portfolio is to showcase your very best images to potential clients, to gain the respect of your peers, to show your ex-boss you actually made it and last but not least, to impress your mum. Pretty much in this order. But that’s when you have to stop and think: Should impressing your parents count when you plan to spend time and money on creating a website? Of course not!

You will get all the admiration and likes you deserve on Facebook, so your portfolio should only contain those few, top-quality images that define you as an underwater photographer. Think about what you like to shoot, because you’re most likely better at that than what you don’t enjoy and don’t shoot too often.

Still, a portfolio needs to show a broad range of different images – at least if you’re planning to hitch some new clients with through your website. They might consider using you for a commercial shoot in a pool or to send you off on a trip to shoot images for a magazine feature, and they need to know there’s a reasonable chance you’re worth the money.

If you only shoot macro photography that’s fine, but it should come across when viewing your portfolio. If you include wide angle it better be pretty good – and vice versa. If wrecks and caves is your thing, don’t include mediocre macro shots.

The kind of images you include could be many things, but there are some rules of thumb you might want to consider. I’ll talk you through five photos I think it is important for any underwater photographer to have in their portfolio.


1. The Wide-Angle Shot

Wide-angle can be many things, but usually includes reefscapes and/or wrecks. Reef panoramas are always popular, and you can’t go wrong showing off a stunning underwater landscape, diverse fish life or an interesting close-focus wide-angle subject. This is certainly not limited to tropical coral reefs – a great looking cold-water reef or even some fresh water eye-candy could spark some extra interest and set you apart from the crowd.

I chose to include several images in this first category: A cold-water and a tropical reef, as well as a fresh water “reefscape” to show diversity and a different perspective on wide-angle images. It is important to remember that if you can’t show merit in this field, you’ll most likely never be asked by a magazine to do a feature for them.


underwater photographer

Diver at Gulen Dive Resort on the Norwegian west coast.


coral reef

Coral Reef at Siladen Resort in North Sulawesi, Indonesia.


flooded forest underwater

Reefscape is from lake Lygnstøylsvatnet in Norway.


If reefscapes isn’t you thing, perhaps you like shooting rust. Most of the time a stunning shot showing a whole wreck will work much better than a close-up of some rusty debris. It could be wise not to choose the Thistlegorm or any other wreck that has been shot by thousands of others – some of those images have a pretty generic feeling. That is, unless your shot is truly stunning.

Since I dive mostly in cold waters, a WWII wreck is a natural choice for me, and on the international scene these images often attract some attention just by being different. I chose an image of the stern of the wreck Frankenwald, a 122 meter (400 ft.) German freighter on the Norwegian west coast. I included the wreck of the KT-12 (see photo below title) to show some warm-water merit as well.


frankenwald wreck



2. The Big Animal Photo

Big animals are hard to ignore, be it sharks, whales, mantas or any of the other “classic” choices. If you choose to use any of these animals, make sure the images you present are truly unique - there are millions of great shark pictures out there. I chose a manatee - a cute and adorable animal that attracts lots of attention outside the diving community.



Manatee in Crystal Springs in Florida, USA.


Perhaps you have some great crocodile shots or even an elephant? I have seen people shoot dogs, pigs and whatnot over the years, and surprisingly often these images turn up on newspaper websites. Attracting attention by choosing something a little out of the ordinary might be a good thing, but by all means throw in a shark or two if you have some good ones.



Salt water crocodile shot in Walindi, Papua New-Guinea. I love the angry look in its eye! Good thing I was at a safe distance… (actually, no I wasn’t – this was shot with a 10.5 mm fisheye and will definitely NOT impress my mum!)


3. The Macro Portrait Shot

I think it is good advice to avoid clownfish and similar clichés – everybody has these shots. Of the five types of images, this is perhaps the category that leaves you with the most room to play, where you can really show that you have the eye and talent to capture a unique image, and that you have the creativity others may lack.

Good choices for your macro portfolio may be nudibranchs or fish portraits. Try to pick images where the viewer immediately connects to the image – eye contact is very important. Remember that many people viewing your portfolio don’t have the same intimate knowledge of marine animals that you do. It is important to choose something that is easy to identify, colorful and striking at the same time.

Striking color and tight, well-composed pictures always make an impression, and for me it is also very important to have a uniform, tidy background to further enhance the subject.

A keen eye is necessary to capture these images, not just knowledge of camera settings or finding critters. I always scout for suitable backgrounds when I dive my favorite sites – and sooner or later there is something sitting on that little red sponge or orange soft coral.



This nudibranch creates excellent contrast against the bright red background.


macro fish eyes

Interesting compositions and creative camera settings provide excellent variety for your portfolio.


4. The Rare ID or Behavior

Everyone loves to show off pictures of extremely rare creatures – and there’s nothing wrong with that. You must however try to put your fond emotions for an image aside when you consider what to include here – the viewers don’t necessarily share your joy of finding something rare and will quickly dismiss the image if it isn’t stunning.

Showing off some rare critters will, on the other hand, tell people you’re a good diver/critter finder as well as a photographer, and it will increase your chances with the magazines. If you’re able to catch rare or eye-catching behavior it’s perhaps even better that just using a rare animal – it proves you’re not only good when you have plenty of time, you get it done even when the action is happening quickly.


Capturing interesting behavior shows that you've got the camera skills when it matters most.


Demonstrating an ability to capture a great photo when the opportunity presents itself is very important in building a portfolio.


5. The Pool Shot

Most underwater photographers don’t spend much time in pools. This can however be a fun experience and a great opportunity to add something to your portfolio that many potential clients may be looking for. Many commercial shoots are done in the pool, and showing off this experience will open doors beyond exclusively selling images within the dive community or to marine biology book publishers. The opportunity might be to portray celebrities taking part in a TV show in a new and different way, to shoot a baby swimming session or to do an underwater fashion shoot (which has become quite popular).


pool photography


I chose to include a pool shot set up for a photo competition; something a little different from those typical “nice girl with long hair and too much make-up in flowing dress” images you see everywhere on Facebook. After working for two whole days to get everything right I had a great series of images. This image has been a great door opener, perhaps because non-divers can easily relate to it and are impressed at the same time. The above shot won me a gold medal in the Nordic Championships!


Abstracts and Other Images

If you specialize in other types of images, you will of course have to take this into account when putting together your portfolio. I shoot a lot of abstract images and felt the need to include the photo below, entitled “Conception.



Although it looks like something completely different, it’s actually just a close-up of the leaf of a water lily. I carefully angled the camera and manipulated the depth of field to make it look like genesis.

Unfortunately, images like these are not very sellable, and are probably not what future clients will be looking for – unless they’re publishing an art book.

Other types of images you might want to include in your portfolio could be travel images, landscapes, people or architecture. This depends on what you normally shoot, what you’re good at and last but not least, what you want to sell.


Keep it Clean and Uncluttered

I’m not going to plunge deep into how you should best present your portfolio online, but one thing is very important to keep in mind: Keep it simple! Don’t make your portfolio into a mystery game – present it clean, uncluttered and easy to navigate. And don’t forget to add your contact info on every page!

My own website is perhaps a good example on how NOT to do it – I don’t even have a proper portfolio at the moment. When I started building my website I opted for a searchable, custom gallery that makes finding images easy for magazines and others that might be interested, but I really do need to set things straight and make a proper portfolio showcasing my best images as soon as possible.

We can all agree that there are no easy ways to a stunning portfolio. For most people it takes years to produce a range of great shots within these different categories, and some never make it all the way. It boils down to what you want with your portfolio: If it’s to impress mum you don’t have to take it to a professional level, but if you plan to get actual paid work you need to be determined – and hard on yourself when choosing what to showcase. It’s better to have a smaller portfolio with stunningly beautiful images than having a larger one containing many borderline keepers.

Remember, your portfolio is only as good as your worst image!



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


Further Reading


Where to Buy

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



5 Tips for Awesome Over-Under Shots

Brent Durand
Master Split-Shots with these Easy Techniques

5 Tips for Awesome Over-Under Shots

Master Split-Shots with these Easy Techniques

Text and Photos by Brent Durand


Over-Under Split-Shot



Diversity is essential in any photo portfolio. The first thing we learn when presenting photos is that less is more; it’s better to show 5 excellent photos than 25 mediocre photos. The next trick in presenting photos is finding those “wow” photos, which is done through variety that keeps the audience looking forward to your next visual surprise. Over-under shots, aka split-shots, are perfect for mixing into your macro and wide-angle collection.

Below are 5 essential tips for shooting over-under shots.


1.  Use a Large Dome

The surface of the ocean is likely to be rolling at most dive sites, whether short period or long period energy. And like wide-angle photography underwater, a good split-shot is comprised of several elements: a strong topside scene, a strong underwater scene and a water line across the frame. The larger the dome port, the more surface area to split the water and create this water line. The big dome provides more room for the water and your hand-held housing to rise and fall while still splitting the water. For more advanced split-shot shooters, this allows the creativity of working with the water line (straight vs. a wave) and precise angle of the shot.

The downside is that big domes are tougher to travel with (due to their size compared with a standard 4” dome) and not the best option for Close-Focus Wide-Angle photography. A big dome is helpful with wide-angle lenses and large subjects like whale sharks and (obviously) split-shots.

Over-Under Split-Shot

Bangkas on a beach in Anilao, Philippines. Shot with an 8" acryllic dome.


2.  Use a Fisheye or Wide-Angle Lens

This is an obvious tip, but very important. Don’t be afraid to use your fisheye lens for split-shots. Sure, the surface scene may appear warped, but sometimes that effect is pretty cool. Oftentimes the water line accents the slight warp of topside objects. If the fisheye warp effect is not desired, post-processing programs like Adobe Lightroom feature lens distortion tools that can straighten it out. A wide-angle lens can also be used for certain over-under scenes.

Over-Under Split-Shot

Medano Beach in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Shot with the Tokina 10-17 fisheye lens. I decided to leave the image as shot and not correct the lens distortion.


3.  Use a High F-Stop

Shooting split-shots is similar to landscape and close-focus wide-angle photography in that you need a large depth of field in order to keep the entire image in focus. In most split-shot scenes, there’s an underwater subject (sand, rocks, etc.) within a meter or two of the lens and also a topside subject that can be anywhere from 3 to hundreds of meters away. Stopping down to a low f-stop (ie F16 or F18) allows you to keep both scenes in focus, including the water’s surface just in front of the dome. When shooting with a small aperture it’s essential to closely monitor shutter speed, which will need to be at or over 1/60 for a sharp image. ISO will oftentimes need to be bumped up in order to expose the image with a fast shutter speed.

Over-Under Split-Shot

Waterfall in the Los Padres National Forest, California. By stopping down I was able to capture the detail above and below water, as well as the sunburst. As a result, I had to bump the ISO up to 1250 in order to expose the image properly with a shutter speed of 1/5. This scene is an exception to the fast shutter speed rule above because I wanted a blur effect on the waterfall and used a tripod to minimize shake/movement.


4.  Look for the Right Conditions

Water is very dark compared to the light scene we seetopside, and there are some essential conditions to look for before deciding to shoot a split-shot. The first is decent visibility in the water. If the visibility is poor then the subject underwater will not be as detailed and result is a boring image. The second condition is mid-day sun. When the sun is overhead it penetrates and lights up the water – ideal for split-shots. If shooting earlier or later in the day, the image should be composed with the sun somewhere at the back of the camera so that the light falls in front of the scene (vs. shooting into the bright sun and seeing silhouettes). Other tricks can be used as well, like using strobe light.

Over-Under Split-Shot

Freediver at Russian Gulch in Mendocino County, California. Shot on a cloudy day. You can tell that conditions aren't ideal for split-shots with ~10ft visibility and overcast skies. The result is the dark water and white sky in the image.


5.  Keep Water Drops off the Dome

Even the best split-shot will be unusable if blurred out by water droplets on the dome port. My preferred method of keeping drops of the dome is to use my custom mask antifog – spit.  That’s right. Putting some spit on the dome will help shed water for a spot-free image, at least for several seconds. Just spit, dunk the dome, shoot, then repeat. Other photographers have success with sponges/conditioner or other creative methods. Glass domes also shed water better than acrylic domes but come with a much higher price tag.  Read more on glass vs acrylic domes here, as well as interesting facts on the virtual image created by dome ports.

Over-Under Split-Shot

Venice Beach, California. Even when frequently clearing water off a large dome, there are oftentimes droplets (see left side of the pier) that may need to be removed in post-processing. If a droplet happens to cover critical details then the image is often unusable.


Split-shots are a creative way to enhance your photo portfolio and these tips will help you bring home some great shots! Have fun and remember that the shooting doesn't stop when you reach the surface.


About the Author

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



Further Reading


Where to Buy

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



The Breakdown on Back Button Focus

Todd Winner
The Secret to Sharp Focus on Fast-Moving Subjects

The Breakdown on Back Button Focus

The Secret to Sharp Focus on Fast-Moving Subjects

By Todd Winner




Back button focus first appeared on Canon SLR film cameras over 20 years ago. Pro photographers wanted a way to separate the Auto focus function that is typically connected to the shutter release. Every Canon DSLR body is capable of back button focus either through a dedicated AF button or another button on the back that can be programmed.  Nikon also has dedicated AF buttons on the back of some of their models, and the AF lock can be programmed for focus on most bodies. In the simplest terms, back button focus allows us to auto focus by pushing a button on the back of the camera body with our thumb and taking the picture by depressing the shutter release button with our index finger.  So let's take a closer look and see if back button focus is for you.


Setting up your Camera

First, if you're planning to use back button focus underwater, make sure your housing gives you easy access to back focus and the shutter with thumb and forefinger at the same time. Next, we need to disable the focus function (depressing the shutter halfway) from the shutter release. This will vary slightly depending on camera make and model, but the setting should be found in your custom control menu.

After focus is disabled, the camera will meter with a half press of the shutter button and take an image with a full press. If you have a dedicated back focus button, you're ready to start shooting. If not, you will need to program one of the buttons on the back to meter and focus. This is also typically found in the custom control menu.



You can use single or continuous focusing, but one of the real advantages I find is with continuous. As long as I keep my thumb depressed I can continue to track and focus on a subject. If I want to stop focus, I just release my thumb and I can shoot images at any time by depressing the shutter. This setup essentially gives me the benefits of single and continuous autofocus without having to switch back and forth.


When is it Useful?

Let's take a look at a few situations where back button focus could be useful. If you have ever shot something like a small jaw fish popping in and out of a hole you know how frustrating it can be. You wait and wait only to have the auto focus hunt and fail as the fish finally emerges. No matter how hard you push the shutter button the camera won't take a picture because it can't lock focus. You can pre-focus, and either hold focus with a half press or focus lock, but this can get tedious after a few minutes. On the other hand, if I use back button focus, I can pre-focus and as long as my distance from my subject does not change I can fire off a shot every time the fish shows itself.

Taking images with your subject dead center in the frame is usually not the most flattering.  Most of us are aware that we can move the auto focus points around in the viewfinder, but this method is usually slower than focusing with the center focus point and then recomposing while holding down the shutter half way. The problem is that once I take the shot using the above method, I have to preform the whole procedure of focusing and recomposing for each addition shot. If I'm using back button focus I only need to focus once. As long as my distance from the subject does not change I can fire away at will.

A Tip for Supermacro

When shooting supermacro, one very useful technique is to pre-focus for the basic composition and magnification and then rock a little back and forth to achieve the sharpest focus. When the important area becomes sharp you take the picture. If using the half press method, you must repeat the whole process after the first photo. If using the auto focus lock, you can continue to shoot as long as you hold in the AF lock button, but this can be strenuous on your hand. Once again, back button focus is the smart choice for this type of shooting. You can concentrate on composition, rock back and fourth to achieve sharp focus and take a shot whenever you like.  

In Conclusion

If you have shot for a long time using the typical index finger focus and shutter release, then back button focus will take some time to get used to. That being said, I don't know one photographer that has given back button focus a real try and switched back to using a single button focus and release. Once you start using it it, I'm sure you will start to see the advantages for yourself.  So why not give it a try?  It may change the way you shoot forever.


Back Button Focus In-Action

Just Hatched

Check out Todd Winner's Story Behind the Shot Article on Hatching Octopus, shot with back button focus.

Hatching Octopus


About the Author

Todd Winner is the technique editor for the Underwater Photography Guide and an instructor and trip leader for Bluewater Photo Store in Santa Monica, CA. You can see more of his work at www.toddwinner.com.


Further Reading


Where to Buy

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



How to Use the Zoom-Effect Underwater

Lill Haugen
Add some Speed and Action to your Images with a Creative Zoom-Effect

How to Use the Zoom-Effect Underwater

Add some Speed and Action to your Images with a Creative Zoom-Effect

By Lill Haugen


Hawksbill Turtle

Hawksbill Turle in Tubbataha, Philippines. Nikon D300,10-17/3.5-4.5, f/20, 1/13, 400 ISO


Shooting underwater should certainly not be an obstacle in trying creative photographic techniques, since most of them will work just as well in the water as on dry land. Playing around with shutter speed, zooming and camera movement can reward you with interesting and unique underwater images.

”Zoom-effects" in underwater photos can easily be made with Photoshop-filters, but most agree that using these is cheating. Why not get it right in the camera as you’re shooting the image? This article shows how to master zooming shots.


It’s Not That Difficult

The main thing is to slow down your shutter speed – like you would do when shooting deep wrecks in poorly lighted conditions. Only now you go a bit further! The zoom-effect is similar to the “panning effect”, but uses the lens zoom and slow shutter speed to create motion, instead of a sideways camera movement. This technique will create a blurry background/motion effect in your picture but at the same time, when successfully executed, leave your main subject nice and sharp. Strobe light is what freezes the main subject. There are many different creative slow shutter speed shots, including moving with the subject, moving the opposite direction and pivoting the camera. The zoom shot is just one of many exciting options.


Coral Fan

Stay put! As always, in underwater photography it is easier to try new techniques or equipment on something that doesn’t swim away while you adjust your settings – like a sea fan…


The Technique

First of all you, need a lens that allows you to zoom (like the Tokina 10-17mm or Nikon 12-24mm fisheye) and an underwater housing/port that allows you to zoom manually. Next, you need to manually set a slow shutter speed on your camera. It must be slow, but still within the range where you can hold your camera fairly still. 1/20 to 1/6 seems to work well, but really depends on the photographer, subject and diving conditions.

Sufficient strobe light increases the chance of success and brings some color back into the image. This is because your strobes fire fast enough to freeze fast motion (moving subject, panning, zooming, etc). In shallow reefs with plenty of light you will need to stop down your aperture to F11-F16, as the water may be too bright with a slow shutter speed. Then, you will need to put your strobes on “full” to be able to light your subject. Also, it is a good idea to set your camera flash to “rear curtain sync”. This fires the strobe at the end of the exposure, meaning that blurry streaks will be behind your subject, showing forward movement. If the strobe froze the motion at the beginning of the exposure, the subject would look to be moving backwards, which is unnatural.

Ready to try it out? Find your desired subject and zoom all the way in. Next, zoom OUT in one smooth motion as you simultaneously push down the shutter while also holding the camera as still as possible.



Masked Butterfly fish, photographed and “zoomed” at dusk in the Red Sea, Egypt. The schooling reef fish are sharp, colored and frozen by the strobe light even though the background is slightly zoomed, which adds some drama to the photo. The focal point is set to the right, which makes the zoom effect asymmetric. Nikon D300, 10-17/3.5-4.5 mm, f/11, 1/13, 640 ISO.


Shooting Tips

Creating a good zoom-effect is harder to achieve if your background is clean, like open blue water. The opposite (a “messy” reef) is more suitable to create pronounced zoom stripes and separate your subject from the background.

One last tip - don’t go out and zoom on everything you see! Effects like this have the most impact if used sparingly and at the right moment. To get a great photo, you STILL need good composition and you STILL need to tell a story. Use the zoom-effect to enhance your image rather than having the effect carry your photo. Good luck!


Bull Shark

If you can’t zoom, try panning. A bull shark in Beqa Lagoon, Fiji gets more speed through the combination of a slow shutter speed, strobe light and panning the camera while shooting. Nikon D300 in Nexus underwater housing with Ikelite DS-160 strobes, 10-17/4.5 on 17 mm, f/9, 1/15, 400 ISO.


Red Sea Diver

“Just for fun…” Playing around with the zoom effect can enhance a funny picture. Shot in the Red Sea. Ras Mohammed. Nikon D300,10-17 /3.5-4.5, f/16, 1/15, 400 ISO.



Frog fish attack? Nikon D300,10-17/3.5-4.5 f/14, 1/13, 400 ISO.


Kelp in Current

Kelp in motion, photographed in a tidal current in the North West of Norway. A slow shutter speed, combined with slight camera movement in the current, creates a subtle blur. Nikon D300,10-17/3.5-4.5 on 11 mm, f/10, 1/5, 640 ISO.


About the Author

Lill Haugen is a Norwegian underwater photographer based in Oslo. Lill shares glimpses of the underwater world in a variety of magazines and publications worldwide. Despite regularly visiting prime dive destinations all over the world, most of her diving is done in the cold fjords of Norway. She is twice Norwegian Champion in underwater photography (2010, 2011), awarded in Nordic and international competitions including the CMAS World Championship 2011, Ocean Art 2011, Deep Indonesia 2012. Lill is passionately involved in the conservation of our oceans, especially shark conservation, through telling tales from the underwater world and showing its beauty, while also raising awareness of the huge environmental challenges of the oceans: overfishing, destruction of habitat, pollution and climate changes. www.lillhaugen.com


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