Underwater Settings for the Sony RX 100

Scott Gietler & Travis Ball
Suggested settings for a variety of underwater situations using the Sony RX100

Underwater Settings for the Sony RX-100 

Best underwater settings for underwater photography

Text by Scott Gietler & Travis Ball

Example images by Carolyn Wang



Sony RX 100









Suggested Settings depending on the situation

Anemone - Manual, ISO 100, F11, 1/500

Sony RX 100 settings for Macro

  • Manual mode, F8, 1/500th, ISO 100; 
  • Zoom out
  • Auto white balance, flash on forced flash mode
  • Strobe on TTL, or set it to manual power; adjust strobe power as needed
  • A wet diopter is highly recommended for macro when using the RX-100
  • Shoot at F2.8 to try to get some better bokeh and a blurred background

Urchin - ISO 100, F11, 1/500

When using a diopter like the Dyron 67mm or Subsee macro lens

  • Zoom all the way in
  • Shoot at F11 for maximum depth of field
  • Use a good focus light like the Sola 800 to help the camera focus

Sony RX100 Settings for Wide-Angle and Fish

  • Manual mode, F6.3, 1/125th, ISO 100
  • Zoom out
  • ** Adjust shutter speed as needed to control background exposure
  • Auto white balance, flash on forced flash mode
  • Strobe on manual power; adjust strobe power as needed
  • When shooting into the sun, you will need to increase your aperture to F11 and/or increase your shutter speed to 1/1000th or faster.

If you don't have an external strobe / flash

You are shooting with the internal flash. I highly recommed using a diffuser with the internal flash.

Kelp Forest - ISO 200, F5.6, 1/500

RX 100 Battery Advice

To be safe, it is always recommended to change the batteries after 3 dives.  There’s nothing worse than going down on your third dive only to have the camera die after 10 minutes.



ISO 100, F8, 1/160

Suggested RX100 Menu Settings in General

Quick Menu Info - what to change from defaults


Detailed Menu info


Camera Menu #1

Image Size - (Menu - Camera 1 - [Image Size] ) - L: 20M

Larger images contain more pixels, which means more detail.  This should automatically be set to Large if you change your Quality to RAW (see below)

Aspect Ratio - (Menu - Camera 1 - [Aspect Ratio] ) - 3:2

Set aspect ratio to 3:2 to mimic standard film.  This is recommended in case you want to print images in the future as most photo prints are based on this ratio.

Quality - (Menu - Camera 1 - [Quality] ) - RAW or RAW+J

I advise to shoot raw if it's available.  You may need extra software to process your images but it is worth it.  The flexibility of a raw file to be changed cannot be underestimated.  If you want to shoot JPEGS while shooting raw, then use RAW+J.  Both of these should also set your image size to Large.

Panorama: Size  - (Menu - Camera 1 - [Panorama: Size] ) - IGNORE

Not used underwater

Panorma: Direction  - (Menu - Camera 1 - [Panorama: Direction] ) - IGNORE

Not used underwater


Camera Menu #2

Drive Mode - (Menu - Camera 2 - [Drive Mode] ) - Single Shooting

Single Shooting is the only way to go for underwater photography as it gives you more control over every image you take and, more importantly, gives your strobes a chance to recharge for the next shot.

Continuous might be useful for shooting fast moving subjects. 

Note: Continuous, aks Tracking, focus can cause problems when attempting to compose images as the focus will be shifting from subject to subject as you adjust the framing.  Best to stick with Single-shot.

Flash - (Menu - Camera 2 - [Flash Mode] ) - DEPENDS

Set this to OFF for ambient light shots.  Set this to "Fill Flash" for using a strobe or the internal flash.

Focus Mode - (Menu - Camera 2 - [Focus Mode] ) - Single-shot

Single-shot is what we recommend as a base line setting.  Continuous focus might be good if shooting fish but in our experience many of the fish are too fast for you to adapt to their movement.

Note: this camera will automatically refocus on the subject when you move the camera, which helps it focus faster.  DMF mode is very cool when used with peaking levels.

Autofocus Area - (Menu - Camera 2 - [Autofocus Area] ) - Center

I always shoot with center item focusing.  I know exactly where the camera will take the focus from and then I can compose the image once I have locked the focus by adjusting what is where in the frame.

That being said, you can set this to flexible spot, which allows you to move the focus point by pressing the center button of the rear control wheel and then the direction in which you wish to move the focus point.

Soft Skin Effect - (Menu - Camera 2 - [Soft Sking Effect] ) - OFF

No need for this underwater

Smile/Face Detect - (Menu - Camera 2 - [Smile/Face Detect] ) - OFF

These two are not needed underwater and may mess with your settings.  YOU want to be in control, not the camera.

Auto Port. Framing - (Menu - Camera 2 - [Auto Port. Framing] ) - OFF

Leave this off as well.


Camera Menu #3

ISO - (Menu - Camera 3 - [ISO] ) - 100

In general you want your ISO to be set as low as possible to produce as fine a quality as you can get.  Sometimes a low light situation dictates a change in your ISO, but start at a base of 100 and adjust as needed from there.

Note:  The higher you raise your ISO, the more noise you will see in your images. For ambient light photos, you will want to raise the ISO. Read more about ISO underwater

Metering Mode - (Menu - Camera 3 - [Metering Mode] ) - Multi

Set your metering mode to Multi so that it creates a well-balanced exposure from the entire frame of the image, not just a small portion.

Flash Compensation - (Menu - Camera 3 - [Flash Comp] ) - 0.0

You will either be shooting without a flash (ambient light) or with strobes on your housing.  Neither of these will make use of a stronger/weaker flash so just leave it at the default.

White Balance - (Menu - Camera 3 - [White Balance] ) - AUTO

When shooting with strobes, keep your white balance set to auto. 

DRO / Auto HDR - (Menu - Camera 3 - [DRO / Auto HDR] ) - OFF

Anything like HDR that is done in the camera can be done with much more control on a computer after the dive.

Creative Style - (Menu - Camera 3 - [Creative Style] ) - Standard

Again, creative effects can be added with much more control after you've taken your images. Better to add something to an image later then want to remove it later and not be able to do so.

Picture Effect - (Menu - Camera 3 - [Picture Effect] ) - Off

See the resons above for DRO /HDR  & Creative Style.


Camera Menu #4

Clear Image Zoom - (Menu - Camera 4 - [Clear Image Zoom] ) - OFF

As this setting doesn't work in RAW mode (which we recommend you shoot in), you might as well keep this setting set to OFF.  This basically adds a little bit of zoom to your optical zoom without decreasing the image quality too badly.  

Digital Zoom - (Menu - Camera 4 - [Digital Zoom] ) - OFF

This adds even more zoom than the Clear Image Zoom but your image quality will degrade much worse.  It's best to keep both Clear Image Zoom and Digital Zoom set to off.

Long Exposure Noise Reduction - (Menu - Camera 4 - [Long Exposure NR] ) - On

Not used underwater.  The default is set to ON and it's safe to leave it there.  This reduces noise on exposures over 1/3 seconds in length.  Odds are good you won't be making this long of an exposure underwater.

High ISO Noise Reductoin - (Menu - Camera 4 - [High ISO NR] ) - Normal

This setting is not available for RAW images so if you shoot raw you won't need to worry about it.  It sets the priority of noise reduction while taking images.   The concern of setting this to high is that the camera might not allow you to take more images while it is processing the noise reduction.

AF Illuminator - (Menu - Camera 4 - [AF Illuminator] ) - OFF 

This function emits a red light to assist the camera in focusing.  Keep off unless you are using a clear housing and are not using a focus light.

SteadyShot - (Menu - Camera 4 - [SteadyShot] ) - ON

Keep this set ON to help prevent as much camera shake in your images as possible.

Color Space - (Menu - Camera 4 - [Color Space] ) - sRGB

sRGB is the defualt setting.  Adobe RGB is for applications or printers that support color management and DCF2.0 option color space.  Using some applications or printers that do not support them may result in or print images that do not faithfully reproduce the color.

ISO 100, F5.6, 1/500

Camera Menu #5

Shooting Tip List - (Menu - Camera 5 - [Shooting Tip List] ) - see description

Displays all shooting tips installed on the camera.  Look through the table of contents and select the tip you want to read.

Write Date - (Menu - Camera 5 - [Write Date] ) - OFF

Selects whether to include a shooting date on the still image

Scene Selection - (Menu - Camera 5 - [Scene Selection] ) - see description

This is only used when the dial is set to SCN (scene selection) and tells the camera which scene you're shotting.  Since you should be shooting manual or program, you shouldn't have any need of this.

Memory Recall - (Menu - Camera 5 - [Memory Recall] ) - desired number

When the mode dial is set to [Memory recall], follow the steps below to make new selections if you want to recall other settings.

Memory - (Menu - Camera 5 - [Memory] ) - desired number

Allows you to register up to three often-used modes or camera settings in the camera. You can recall the settings using [Memory recall].


Video List #1

File Format  - (Menu - Video 1 - [File Format] ) - AVCHD

AVCHD format is theoretically a better format but does not work on Apple computers.  If you're working with an Apple, select MP4

Record Setting  - (Menu - Video 1 - [Record Setting] ) - Default

This will depend on whether you selected AVCHD or MP4 above.  In any case, most users will get buy with the default for either.

Image Size (Dual Rec) - (Menu - Video 1 - [Image Size] ) - Large (17M)

This setting sets the size of an image taken while a move is shooting.  The default is set to a larger image and we recommend staying with the default.

SteadyShot  - (Menu - Video 1 - [Steady Shot] ) - Active

Setting this to active reduces the amount of camera shake and is highly recommended for video.

Audio Recording  - (Menu - Video 1 - [Audio Recording] ) - On

Assuming you'll want to hear what you're shooting, keep this set to On.

Wind Noise Reduction  - (Menu - Video 1 - [Wind Noise Reduct.] ) - Off

This should only be used if the wind is blowing strongly and you need to record audio.  If turned on, recorded sounds might be difficult to hear.

Movie   - (Menu - Video 1 - [Movie] ) - Program or Manual

When set to program mode, the camera will automatically adjust exposure as you move the camera.  If you want full control, set it to manual but be aware that you will need to adjust exposure as you move the camera.


Gear Menu #1

Red Eye Reduction  - (Menu - Gear Menu 1 - [Red Eye Reduction] ) - OFF

Do not use red eye reduction as it may interfere with strobe function.

Grid Line  - (Menu - Gear Menu 1 - [Grid Line] ) - OFF

This shows gridlines on the display.  We recommend keeping this turned off but this is really a user preference.

Auto Review  - (Menu - Gear Menu 1 - [Auto Review] ) - 2 seconds

We like 2 seconds, although some people may want it set off, or set to 5 seconds.

DISP Button (Monitor)  - (Menu - Gear Menu 1 - [DISP Button (Monitor)] ) - User preference

This changes what is shown on the display.  Options are: graphic display, display all info, no display info, level, and histogram.

Peaking Level  - (Menu - Gear Menu 1 - [Peaking Level] ) - OFF / High

For general usage, keep this set to off as you won't make use of it and it may interfer with your image taking.  Macro shooters, however, may want to try this:  1) set peaking level to high, 2) set peaking color to yellow, 3) set focus mode to DMF.  This will show you exactly what is in focus and allow you to move the focus range with a visual reference. 

Peaking Color  - (Menu - Gear Menu 1 - [Peaking Color] ) - Yellow

We've found yellow to be the best color for this feature, but it really comes down to personal preference.


Gear Menu #2

Control Ring - (Menu - Gear Menu 2 - [Contrl Ring] ) - Standard

Keep this set to standard to keep the function of the control ring optimized based on your shooting mode.

Control Ring Display - (Menu - Gear Menu 2 - [Control Ring Display] ) - ON

Sets whether or not to display the animation.

Function Button - (Menu - Gear Menu 2 - [Function Button] ) - see description

This allows you to change what options are available when you hit the "Fn" button on the back of the camera while shooting.  There are 7 slots here where you can put menus you might access often, such as white balance or exposure compensation.  

Function of Center Button - (Menu - Gear Menu 2 - [Func. of Center Button] ) - standard

Allows you to select frequently used functions and assign them to the center button on the control wheel.  The default "Standard setting" sets the function assigned to the center button on the control wheel as different depending on the [Autofocus Area] setting.

Function of Left Button - (Menu - Gear Menu 2 - [Func. of Left Button] ) - ISO, Auto Focus or White Balance

Allows you to select frequently used functions and assign them to the left button.

We suggest you reprogram this to ISO, auto focus or white balance as the default is set to drive mode.

Function of Right Button - (Menu - Gear Menu 2 - [Func. of Right Button] ) - see description.

Allows you to select frequently used functions and assign them to the right button.

Default mode is set to Flash mode.  Just set this to a function you use frequently.

MF Assist - (Menu - Gear Menu 2 - [MF Assist] ) - On

Enlarges the image on the screen automatically to make manual focusing easier in Manual Focus or DMF mode.

Focus Magnification Time - (Menu - Gear Menu 2 - [Focus Magnif. Time] ) - 2 seconds

Enlarges the image for 2 seconds when using the MF Assist mode.  Adjust as needed.

Face Priority Tracking - (Menu - Gear Menu 2 - [Face Priority Tracking] ) - OFF

Although you shouldn't be using face tracking mode, just keep this turned off.

Face Registration - (Menu - Gear Menu 2 - [Face Registration] ) - Ignore

Complicated face tracking function - just ignore this.


Wrench Menu #1

Menu Start - (Menu - Wrench Menu 1 - [Menu Start] ) - as desired

Allows you to select whether to always display the first screen of the menu or to display the screen of the item previously set.

Mode Dial Guide - (Menu - Wrench Menu 1 - [Mode Dial Guide] ) - as desired

Sets whether to display the mode dial guide (description for each shooting mode).

LCD Brightness - (Menu - Wrench Menu 1 - [LCD Brightness] ) - Auto

Set manually to a lower brightness to save battery power; set to SUNNY if you are having trouble in bright sunny water

Power Saving Start Time - (Menu - Wrench Menu 1 - [Power Saving Start Time] ) -

Sets the length of time until the camera turns off automatically. If you do not operate the camera for a certain period of time while the power is on using the battery pack, the camera turns off automatically to prevent wearing down the battery pack (Auto power-off function).

HDMI Resolution - (Menu - Wrench Menu 1 - [HDMI Resolution] ) - as desired

When you connect the camera to a High Definition (HD) TV with HDMI terminals using an HDMI Cable (sold separately), you can select HDMI Resolution to output images to the TV.

CTRL FOR HDMI - (Menu - Wrench Menu 1 - [CTRL FOR HDMI] ) - as desired

This setting allows (TV) remote control of a camera that is connected to a “BRAVIA” Sync TV using the HDMI Cable (sold separately).




For Wrench Menu #2 and #3, assign settings as desired.  These have to with how the camera functions and how it interacts with outside devices.  These settings will have no effect on how you shoot pictures.


Questions about the RX100? 

Head on over to our forums and post a question for our Compact Camera Experts


About the Authors

Scott GietlerScott Gietler is the creator of the Underwater Photography Guide and owner of Bluewater Photo Store. An avid marine naturalist, Scott is the author of the Field Guide to Southern California Marine Life. He was the LAUPS photographer of the year for 2009, and his photos have appeared in magazines, coffee table & marine life books, museums, galleries, and aquariums throughout California. 



Travis Ball is a travel blogger and underwater photographer who recently finished 30 straight months of travel. He believes everyone should enrich their lives with travel and all the experiences it has to offer.





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 Fun Beach Diving

Brent Durand
Great tips to consider for shore diving and special considerations for your camera

10 Tips for Fun Beach Diving

A few tips from an experienced California beach diver and underwater photographer

By Brent Durand

January 2013


Reef Scene in Malibu

Great beach dive conditions in Southern California.



The sun is shining, the surf is small and your next boat trip isn’t for two more weeks… Time to do some beach diving.  A successful beach dive is both safe and fun, and it takes preparation to consistently walk onto the beach smiling.

The tips and tricks to diving from the shore are learned through many dives, common sense, diving with those more experienced, and time spent in and around the ocean regardless of whether you have a tank(s) on your back.  Here are a few tricks to jumpstart that process.

Malibu Reef Scene

Another great California beach dive.

Check Ocean Conditions

The most basic consideration is determining ocean conditions.  Is there swell in the water?  If so, what is the angle?  The swell period?  What has the wind been up to?  The tides?  Each of these factors has an effect on the waves, surge during the dive and overall visibility.  Different dive spots are affected differently – some may develop a surface current due to wind, some may lose visibility dramatically as the tide drops and some may have excellent vis even though there’s a solid South swell in the water.  The key is to know the ideal conditions for your local beach dive sites.  Many online forecasting tools are available, and they’re getting better every day.


Some swells may trick you into thinking the ocean is flat before pulsing in a long procession of waves.

Study the Swell

Once at the beach, a smart diver spends a few minutes watching the ocean, learning the rhythm of the swell sets.  Some swells may have very consistent small waves and some may trick you into thinking the ocean is flat before showing up in a long procession of 6 foot faces.  By watching the sets, divers can time their entry (and exit) immediately after a set of larger waves, making the swim through the impact zone hassle-free.  As photographers, it’s well worth the time in order to avoid battling through surf with a camera rig.  And don’t stop paying attention once submerged – you can often feel the surge from sets rolling along the bottom mid-dive.

A Tip When Descending

Boat divers are often treated to an anchor or stern line to use as an aide in descending.  Beach divers don’t have this luxury and instead will do a free descent.  In poor visibility it’s easy to feel sensations of vertigo, but an easy fix is to focus on your dive computer while descending, or strands of kelp if available.  Just make sure to optimize buoyancy before hitting the bottom – the last thing an underwater photographer wants is to touch the sand or reef and stir things up.

Beach Diving Split Shot

There are many tricks to navigating without a compass while beachdiving.

Navigation Tricks

Compasses are useful for navigation for obvious reasons, however beach divers can also navigate by looking at the ridgelines in the sand.  These ridges form parallel with the shore and will aid in swimming out and back or at a diagonal line from the shore.  Strong surge can cause sand to drift over the ridges but it’s usually possible to find a gap in between surges for reorientation or to find darker-than-sand objects to maintain orientation.  Sand moves much faster in surge than a hovering diver does.

Don't Forget to Rinse!

This is an obvious tip that most don’t think about…. Rinse off!  Some public beaches have showers, but many don’t.  My solution is to bring a small jerry-can filled with hot water.  The jerry-can is wrapped in neoprene and stays as warm as I filled it for hours.  Then I wrap my towel around it.  Nothing beats this warm water flush and a warm towel after exiting from a cold night dive while changing on windy PCH.

Philidiana Hitoni

A Philidiana hiltoni nudibranch scowls while being swung back and forth in the surge.

Camera Rinse Tank

Along these lines, photographers should try to carry a portable rinse tank.  I keep a large tupperware bin with water in it in my car, and my camera rig goes in there as soon as I open the car up.  This is a great soak for the housing and strobes, and once home I push the buttons and am ready to dry off my gear – no additional time required.  Very helpful after long weeknight dives when it’s already 12am.

Beach Entry with your Camera

There are a few tricks to carrying a heavy underwater camera rig while beach diving.  The first is to attach the rig to your chest for entry and exit.  This allows a diver to keep arms and legs free with a balanced center of gravity.  Check out Michael Ziegler’s article on how to do this here.  I also put my gloves between the back of my housing and my BC to avoid scratching on long walks and hikes up/down cliffs.

Sea Lions Split Shot

Sometimes long hikes and swims are required to access remote beach dive sites.  The reward is often there.

How to Handle Your Rig

The other useful carrying technique is to use a handle on your underwater photo rig.  This is great as a handle for boat dives in position 1, but also turns into a shoulder strap (position 2) in case you have a long walk without your BCD/tank to clip to.  I made my camera handle with fisherman knots and two small caribiners.  Michael Zeigler offers a great tutorial on creating a different handle here

Camera Handles


Stay Fit

The second-to-last tip is to stay fit.  Beach diving can be strenuous, whether you’re swimming to a deep reef or exiting the water in steep soft sand.  Fitness plays a major role in preventing injury and over-exertion and doesn’t have to be a grueling workout at the gym.  Hiking, riding bikes, swimming, surfing, freediving and other sports are all great cross-training activities to prepare you for a comfortable beach dive.  And dive two.  And dive three.

Start With a Warm Suit!

The last tip for beach diving comes from years of surfing until after dark and paddling back out before sunrise the next morning in the winter.  If you’re ever dreading putting an icy cold and wet wetsuit back on in the morning, turn it inside out and put it on the floor of the passenger seat in your car.  Then crank that heat by your feet on the way to the beach and change into a toasty warm suit.  If that doesn’t put a smile on your face, then get on that next boat asap!


About the Author

Brent Durand is an avid California beach diver and underwater photographer. You can follow UWPG on Facebook and also read Brent's Story Behind the Shot: Melibe leonina nudibranchs.



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!



Top 5 Settings To Improve Your Underwater Photos

Travis Ball
From shooting manual to checking your histogram, thinking about these settings will dramatically improve your underwater photography.

Top 5 Settings That Will Improve Your Underwater Photography

From shooting manual to checking your histogram, thinking about these settings will dramatically improve your underwater photography.

Compiled by Travis Ball with input from Scott Gietler


Starfish on jetty photo - F18, 1/320th, ISO 100, Nikon D7000, Tokina 10-17mm lens at 10mm


1) Shoot Manual

Ask any professional photographer what you can do to be a better photographer and the first thing the vast majority will tell you is to shoot manual.  What they’re really telling you to do is to take control of your camera.   This is the single most beneficial thing you can do to improve your photography, both underwater and top-side. Read more about manual settings underwater.

Oil rigs in California, F8, 1/25th, ISO 250.

Shooting manual really means understanding the relationship between shutter speed, aperture, and ISO.  By getting a good handle on each of these concepts, and especially on how they relate to each other, you’ll understand how your camera works, when to change a setting for a creative effect and how to compose your images using photographic techniques.  This is the single most important set of concepts you can learn as a photographer, and there are many articles that explain these settings in detail.

Manual Flash 1

Reef in Anilao

2) Manual Flash

When you get right down to it, photography is all about light.  The settings on your camera change how that light gets to the sensor.  If you can also control your light sources, that’s one more aspect of the image you can dictate.

Manual Flash 2

Barracuda on the Liberty wreck in Bali

Think about how a magazine photographer uses high-end flash systems combined with softboxes and umbrellas to create an image.  That same concept works underwater with how much light you tell your strobes to produce and where you place those strobes.  Think about how you want to create an image and then do what it takes to make that happen. 


Cormorant on the oil rigs

3) Focus Focus Focus

Generally speaking, the more expensive the camera gets, the more focusing options you gain access to.  Because every camera is going to have various modes and settings available, we’re going to talk generally here about two settings that you should consider using if you have access to them.

The more common of the two goes by many names.  Whether it’s called Continuous-Servo (Nikon), AI Servo (Canon) or tracking focus (compact/mirrorless cameras), they both do much the same thing – track a moving subject.  If you’re subject is a stationary or slow moving macro subject, stick to Single-Servo (Nikon), One-Shot (Canon) or your camera’s equivalent.  However, if you’re following a moving subject, especially one that moves quickly like a seal or dolphin, make sure your focus is set to track.

Angel shark at catalina island

The other setting is backbutton focus.  If you’re shooting on a DSLR, odds are you’re pressing your shutter button half-way down to determine focus and exposure before fully pressing it to take your image.  Backbutton focus assigns the focusing aspect of this routine to a button on the back of the camera (hence backbutton) and removes it from the shutter. 

This effectively duplicates manual focus, which is great for underwater photographers who might have limited access to manually focusing their lens underwater.  It also means you don’t have to refocus everytime you let go of the shutter because you lock it in using the back button.  As long as you and your subject maintain the same distance, your focus is locked on your subject. 

Lastly, this allows you to stay on Continuous/AI-Servo mode almost all the time.  You just hold the focus button down when you want it to track and let go when you want the focus locked.  This is great when the water is surging and you want to use the tracking focus to stay with a subject. Read more about focusing fast underwater.

4) Histogram

The underwater environment is distracting to say the least.  You’ve got to keep an eye on your buoyancy, air, the currents, and your buddy among other things.  Add to that finding a subject you want to shoot and dialing in your settings and you’ve got a pretty chaotic environment to shoot in.  Why not make evaluating the images you’re taking a little easier?

The Histogram is essentially a bar graph display that gives you an idea of the exposure of an image when you review it.  For an even exposure, you’d want the histogram to make a nice hill from one edge to the other.  This isn’t to say that a graph showing lots of dark or light is bad if that’s what the subject calls for.   A white rabbit in front of a snowy background wouldn’t contain much middle or dark information, but might still be a great photo.

The importance here for underwater usage is the ability to quickly look at the graph and determine if your exposure is where you want it.  Most often you’ll be looking for an even exposure without any loss of information.  The histogram can give you that at a glimpse so you can adjust quickly before your subject swims away.  Usually all it takes is a changing a menu option to turn this on. Read more about using histograms underwater.

Focus point was placed on the rhinophores

5) Single Spot Focus

Another focus setting to use, if you aren’t already, is a single focus point.  The idea here is that the more you narrow down the focus point, the more you can control your composition.  As Michael Zeigler says “you can move the focus point and be very specific about what you want to focus on.  You leave nothing up to chance.”

One common technique is to use the center point on your camera to focus and, once you have the focus locked, you can move the subject to another point in your frame that creates a better composition.  Play with your focus points and see what works best for you.

Bonus Setting – High ISO

Many photographers who learned on film are used to the idea that an ISO higher than 400 means lots of noise.  These days that is simply not the case.  With each new generation of camera, the ISO setting can be set at a higher number without introducing as much grain as the generation before.  This is because the quality of the sensor keeps getting better.

This means that your options in low light situations have drastically improved, and will only get better as we go into the future.  That being said, there’s generally still a point you don’t want to go past or you’ll see lots of noise.  Experiment a little with your ISO settings and find a point where you don’t like the amount of noise.  Then stay at least one setting below that. Read more about using ISO underwater.


About the Author

Travis Ball is a travel blogger and underwater photographer who recently finished 30 straight months of travel. He believes everyone should enrich their lives with travel and all the experiences it has to offer. His photography and writing can also be seen at his blog http://flashpackerHQ.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!



Top 5 Tips for New Underwater Photographers

Michael Zeigler
Improve your underwater photography by learning from these common mistakes made my new underwater photographers.

Top 5 Tips for New Underwater Photographers

Learn from these mistakes to help improve your underwater photography

By Michael Zeigler



We've all done it. We get home after a long trip abroad or after a few dives on a local dive boat. We upload our photos, and... *dang it.* "Had I only been closer and spent more time with that *insert awesome subject*, that shot would have been perfect!" Underwater photography is a journey, and every dive provides a chance for us to learn from our mistakes. Here, I share not only a few of the mistakes I've made along the way, but share tips to help remedy the most common mistakes we've observed by new underwater photographers over the years. 

Firstly, before taking a camera beneath the waves, it is my personal opinion that you have the attributes of a good diver: great buoyancy control, navigation skills, pre-dive planning, and the other aspects you've learned throughout your scuba training. I cannot emphasize this enough.


Top 5 Tips for New Underwater Photographers


#1: Get Close

I would have to say that by far the #1 mistake made by new underwater photographers (and seasoned photographers for that matter) is not getting close enough. You've heard it before. Get close, then get closer. There are several good reasons for this. 

Getting close to your subject minimizes the amount of water you're shooting through, and therefore improves the color, saturation, and contrast of your photos. In addition, your strobes are more effective the closer they are to the subject.


Shooting at 10mm with my Tokina 10-17mm FE, the bottom urchin is about 2 inches from my 6" dome. Getting this close (and moving my strobes in close) allowed me to get the lighting I wanted, and get great color, contrast, and saturation.


#2: Have Patience

It's so easy to see a great subject, focus, fire, and move on. This is often referred to as the "happy snappy" approach. The next time you see a subject with great potential (e.g. sitting proudly on the reef, great negative space, cool behavior, etc.), I would encourage you to take a deep breath, take note of your air supply and remaining bottom time, and take some time shooting the subject.

The place where you first see your subject may not be the best place from which to take the best shot. "Work" your subject. When you think you have "the shot," take one more. There's a reason you have a 16GB card in your camera.


I saw this cool southern sea palm while at 80fsw. With the sunball high above and lots of fish swimming around nearby, I saw the potential for a "keeper." After getting the ambient and strobe light dialed in, I just waited. This was the tenth, and best, frame.



#3: Shoot Up

There are few things that separate a decent photo from a great photo more than by shooting up. Getting down at eye level (or lower) with a subject allows the viewer to get a much better sense of connection with the subject. It also, among other things, helps you separate the subject from some of the distracting background environment. 

Not every subject (read: most) will allow you to get down and shoot up. Be mindful of your surrounding environment when considering to engage a subject. It's often best to move on and search for a subject more suited for shooting up. 

Tip: Seek out reef heads surrounded by *unoccupied* sand, which will allow you search for subjects higher on the reef, while being able to get down low on the sand and shoot up.


Shooting up at this majestic giant sea bass helps give a sense of scale and connection with the subject. In this case, it may have helped by being a less threatening approach than from above.


#4: Move Your Strobes

It's way too easy to set your strobe(s) to one position at the beginning of the dive, and leave them there for the entire dive. Most, if not all arm systems have adjustable segments that allow for easy movement of the strobes. Take advantage of that, as each subject you encounter will likely benefit from different lighting than the previous subject.


I really wanted to accentuate the holes along the top of this gray moon sponge. Had I left my top strobe in its "standard" location, strobe light would have filled the holes and eliminated the effect I was after. A slight adjustment of the strobe to the side did the trick.


#5: Shoot Vertically

No, I don't mean you, I mean your camera's orientation. Just like #4, it's easy to just shoot horizontal photos all day. Ask yourself this question when you're approaching a subject: which camera orientation would best portray this subject/scene? Besides, if you ever have aspirations to get one of your photos on the cover of a magazine, they're all vertical shots!

Reef scenes are often best portrayed vertically (portrait), and most often include the surface of the water. In this case, if I shot this scene horizontally (landscape), I would not have been able to include the towering kelp in background, which leads the viewer's eye to the surface. Next time you shoot a wide-angle reef scene, try both ways, and see which you prefer.


About the Author

Michael Zeigler is editor-at-large of the Underwater Photography Guide, trip leader and instructor for Bluewater Photo, and is an AAUS Scientific Diver. Michael's underwater photography and blog can be seen at SeaInFocus.com.

Join Michael as he leads an amazing underwater photography workshop at the famous Wakatobi Dive Resort 11/21/13 - 12/2/13!



Further Reading



Support the Underwater Photography Guide

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


Top 5 Underwater Cameras for Christmas 2012

Travis Ball
Our top 5 underwater camera recommendations that would make excellent Christmas gifts

Top 5 Underwater Cameras for Christmas 2012

By Travis Ball


Sony RX100



2012 was an amazing year for underwater photography.  With seemingly every major manufacturer putting out new or updated cameras over the course of this year, the decision of what to get can be a difficult one.  From the more inexpensive compact cameras to the high-end DSLRs, here are our top 5 camera picks for the underwater photography enthusiast in your family.


#1 – Sony RX-100


Sony Rx100 Front

RX100 Back

With a tiny size, a sensor three times the size of other compacts, three housing choices, and great wet lens capability, the RX-100 is a powerhouse that sets a new standard for compact cameras.  See our full review of the RX100.


  • Huge sensor for a compact camera
  • Great wet lens options with all housings
  • TTL in manual mode
  • Faster auto-focus than other compacts, but not quite up to the speed of new mirrorless cameras
  • Tiny size, small housings

Example Images:


Banded Coral Shrimp by Kevin Stokell


Octopus by Kevin Stokell


#2 - Olympus OM-D E-M5

Olympus OMD E-M5 Camera

Olympus OM-D EM5 Back

The king of mirrorless cameras, this 16 megapixel newcomer shoots DSLR quality images, a wide range of lenses, an extremely fast auto-focus, and a much improved image stabilization system.  Check out our in-depth review of the Olympus OM-D E-M5.

  • DSLR quality images
  • Great lens selection - fisheye lens, wide-angle zooms, and 45 and 60mm macro lenses
  • A high-quality Nauticam housing to go with it
  • Fast auto-focus
  • Great high ISO images, even at ISO 3200
  • Amazing image stabilization (hot link to E-pl5 image stabilization tests again OM-D)
  • Great controls
  • Electronic viewfinder

Example Images:

Short Nose Bat Fish

Short Nose Bat Fish by Mel Moncrieff

Diver in Florida Waters

Diver in Florida Waters by Mel Moncrieff

Blenny Reindeer?

Blenny Raindeer? by Mel Moncrieff


#3 - Olympus E-PL5

Olympus EP-L

The "little brother" of the OM-D, the E-PL5 is a little smaller than the OM-D but has the same sensor and so shoots the same great quality images.  With the same fast auto-focus of the OM-D, the only things you're missing are the Electronic Viewfinder, the 5-axis image stabilization and two control dials.


  • Same sensor as the OM-D E-M5
  • Fast auto-focus 
  • Smaller than the OM-D
  • great price, and the Olympus E-Pl5 housing is a great value (coming mid-December 2012)

Example Images:


A photo of a mural using the 14-42mm kit lens, at 42mm, F7, 1/320th, ISO 200


In this 100% crop of the mural, we see stunning detail.  Nice EPL-5!


#4 - Nikon D800

Niken D800

If you're a Nikon fan, you couldn't be happier with the D800.  Focusing on Pixels over ultra-high ISO performance, this is the competitor to the Canon 5D Mark III.  What sets this camera above the rest on this list is the stunning auto-focus system.  For a look at how the D800 competes with similar cameras, read our D800 comparison.  Recommended housings are made by NauticamIkeliteSea & Sea and Aquatica.


  • 36 megapixels, amazing resolution for landscape and macro; best on the market for outdoor, nature, large prints
  • best auto-focus system on our camera list
  • pop-up flash for firing strobes via fiber optical
  • excellent performance and resolution with a range of Nikon lenses (but beware of  N.A.S.

Note: the D7000 is our top-rated crop sensor camera and factory refurbished D7000s are a steal at $789, which includes a 1-year warranty.

Example Images:


Chestnut Cowry

Felimare Californienses

#5 - Canon 5D Mark III 

Canon 5D Mark III

While not the flagship of the Canon cameras, the 5D Mark III is argueably the most used of the high end Canon DSLRs, especially when it comes to underwater photography.  With unsurpassed color, high ISO performance (up to ISO 102,000), and an incredible dynamic range, this camera is a top choice for professionals.  Best on the market for sports and action,  this camera is capable of taking some unique wide-angel shots with the Canon 8-15mm circular fisheye. Take a look at our comparison of the Mark III with the Nikon D800 and the 5D Mark II.  Recommended housings are made by Nauticam, Ikelite, Sea & Sea and Aquatica.


  • Remarkable color
  • Fast shooting speed
  • Best video on the market, including video bit rate
  • High ISO Performance
  • Incredible dynamic range
  • Upgraded auto-focus system from the 5D Mark II

Example Images:


Canon EOS 5D Mark III, EF 8-15mm Fisheye @15mm 1/320sec @ f/11

Canon EOS 5D Mark III, EF 8-15mm Fisheye @8mm 1/200sec @ f/8, Ikelite 160s


Canon EOS 5D Mark III, EF 8-15mm Fisheye @15mm 1/125sec @ f/9, Ikelite 160s


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!



Shooting Underwater with Big Cameras, Wide Lenses and Large, Powerful Strobes

Matthew Meier
Shooting Underwater with Big Cameras, Wide Lenses and Large, Powerful Strobes


Shooting Underwater with Big Cameras, Wide Lenses and Large, Powerful Strobes


By Matthew Meier




If you have been thinking of upgrading your underwater system or simply want to jump straight into the deep end, here are a few pros and cons for shooting with a Professional Level, Full Size, Full Frame DSLR, Wide Angle Zoom Lenses and Large, Powerful Strobes.

The observations listed here are based on my experience with a Nikon D3 and 17-35 mm f/2.8 lens, along with Sea & Sea YS-250 strobes, yet many thoughts will hold true for camera equipment by Canon, Fuji, Hasselblad, etc.

Advantages of high-end full-frame dSLR

Full size, full frame DSLR cameras have several advantages that go far beyond the envious comments that inevitably spring forth from your neighbor, as you begin to assemble your underwater rig on a dive boat. For starters, these cameras are the flagship model for a particular camera company and as such are equipped with the greatest number of features and custom functions, thereby allowing the most creative freedom for you, the photographer.

The large body size denotes a large, robust battery, which equates to a long battery life and a high frame rate when shooting continuously. The viewfinders are expansive and bright, with 100% coverage for easy composing, which is especially important when looking through a mask, then a housing and finally the camera. The larger individual pixels in the full frame sensors perform better in low light and generate less noise at higher ISO’s, both of which are an advantage underwater. Utilizing the most advanced focusing systems on the market; these cameras also provide incredibly fast and accurate autofocus capabilities, in multiple focusing modes.

The downside of these full size camera bodies is that they are big, heavy and expensive. They require a larger housing, which equates to additional expense, plus more weight and bulk to carry on land, underwater and through airport security. As checked bag fees continue to rise and weight limits become more restrictive, this is a serious consideration. Also, when diving, these larger housings are harder to push through the water, especially in current.

Full-frame lenses for underwater

Professional level, wide-angle zoom lenses allow for a wide range of subject options, combined with the benefit of a fast, fixed aperture and close focus capabilities. The small aperture makes for a brighter image in the viewfinder and allows for faster focusing, especially in low light and low contrast scenarios. The constant aperture maintains those benefits throughout the entire zoom range. The ability to focus within inches of the dome port, at such a wide angle, makes these lens perfect for CFWA (Close Focus Wide Angle) shots, forced perspective shots and of course shots of large pelagic critters and reef scenes.

The downside of these lenses is the same as with the camera bodies, in that they are large, heavy and expensive. Requiring long extension tubes for your dome port and perhaps added floatation to maintain neutral buoyancy.

Big, powerful strobes

Powerful strobes like the Sea & Sea YS-250’s are a must if you want a balanced foreground exposure while looking up into the sun. To go along with that power, the strobes also have a wide beam angle for excellent coverage and a fast recycle time, which is powered by a large, rechargeable battery. To precisely control exposure, the strobes have an incremental power adjustment dial. The immense power generated by these strobes however, is more than is needed for most other shooting scenarios and so they will most often be used at ½ or even ¼ power. This is an added bonus as it allows for even faster recycling times and extends the battery life greatly. In my experience, I can easily get 4 dives a day out of a single charge.

Here again the negatives are size, weight and cost. These large strobes are harder to push through the water and take up more space when traveling. The weight of these strobes adds to your luggage totals and makes your entire rig heavier and harder to maneuver. Financially, the initial cost is greater than other strobes and you will likely pay more for replacement parts and batteries as well.

Newer strobes on the market boast a similar power output capacity with a much smaller size and weight. However, they are typically powered by AA batteries and as such, have a much slower recycle time and drastically shorter battery life.


While debating your next camera, lens and strobe purchase, I hope the above points are of help in your decision making process.

Publisher's notes

Shooting a full-frame camera underwater is truly a joy. You will get the optimal speed, color, image quality, and a complete lack of noise. However, the housings can be quite big. Unless you already own a Canon 1DX or a Nikon D4, I'd highly consider looking into the smaller Canon 5D Mark III or a NIkon D800.

For shooting action, nothing can quite keep up with the Ikelite DS-160, or the king of strobes, the Sea & Sea Ys-250. Sometimes bigger is better.

Lenses like the Sigma 15mm fisheye, Canon 100mm macro lens, and Nikon 105mm VR are a joy to use on a full-frame camera underwater. Once you go under with a big camera, big strobe and big lens, you may never turn back! - Scott Gietler


About the Author


Matthew Meier is a professional photographer living in San Diego, CA. His work is available as fine art prints and for commercial license. To view more of Matthew’s work, please visit his website.



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!



Best Micro-four lenses for underwater photography

Scott Gietler
Scott takes you through the best micro-four thirds lenses for underwater photography

Best micro four-thirds lenses for Underwater Photography

For the Olympus OM-D, E-PL3, E-PL5, Panasonic GX1, GF2 and more...

By Scott Gietler



There are many good options for lenses if you're an underwater photography who owns a mirrorless micro four-thirds camera like the Olympus E-PL1, E-PL2, E-PL3, OM-D E-M5, E-PM1, or the Panasonic GF1, GF2, GH2, or GX1. Let's take a look at some of my favorites for underwater:


Wide-angle lenses

Panasonic 8mm fisheye lens - top choice

panasonic 8mm lens underwater photo micro four thirds
Photo by Kelli Dickinson, with Panasonic 8mm fisheye lens

This is my personal favorite wide-angle lens. With a 180 degree angle of view, and focusing right in front of the lens, It allows you to create stunning wide-angle shots. This lens is perfect for coral reefs, divers, whale sharks, mantas, and large schools of fish. It is especially good for close focus wide angle. The only downside is you need to be close to the subject, or it can appear small in the photo. Beginner photographers may get frustrated in locations where there is a lack of appropriate subjects. Read our Panasonic 8mm fisheye lens review.

best panasonic lenses for underwater photography
Panasonic 8mm fisheye lens, lobster in kelp, photo by Kelli Dickinson

starfish and diver
Starfish and diver, E-PL2, F10, 1/180th, ISO 200


Panasonic 7-14mm lens

panasonic 7-14mm underwater photo
Photo from Palau, 7-14mm lens at 7mm, photo by Eric Gebhart

If I was going to do topside landscape photography, this would be the lens I would use. Underwater, this is a good lens for divers, whales, wrecks, and sharks. I don't think the results are as stunning as using a fisheye lens. Unfortunately this lens is very expensive, and it needs a larger dome port for sharper results. With a 6-inch dome port, the corners are ok but not great at 7mm, they are better at 9mm

panasonic 7-14mm lens underwater photography
Panasonic 7-14mm lens at 9mm


Olympus 9-18mm lens

olympus 9-18mm lens underwater photo
Photo by Curtis Mueller, 9-18mm lens at 9mm

This is a nice lens for the casual wide-angle photographer, or for someone who wants a lens that can be used for a mix of wide-angle, large fish / skittish shark shots, and topside use.

best olympus micro four thirds lenses
Olympus 9-18mm lens at 9mm, photo by Jonathan Mclean


Here is a Olympus 9-18mm lens review for underwater photography


Mid-range lenses

All these lenses are solid choices in your underwater arsenal, and are the least expensive when purchased with your camera. They are also excellent topside lenses to have.

Olympus 14-42mm II kit lens

olympus 14-42mm lens underwater photography
Photo by Jim Lyle, taken with Olympus OM-D E-M5, 14-42mm II lens


This is a solid, fast focusing lens. Although it doesn't do true macro or true wide-angle, you can shoot a variety of subjects, and get good macro with a strong wet lens like the Dyron +7 or Subsee +10 lenses.

Olympus 12-50mm lens

Another good kit lens, that comes with the Olympus OM-D. More expensive than the Olympus 14-42mm, it has a slightly larger range, but again doesn't do true macro or wide-angle. With a wet macro lens, you can get very good macro results. Focus is good, right on par with the 14-42mm lens.  

This lens is perfect for video because the electronic zoom provides a stable and consistent zooming ability. If you do not want to get a dedicated macro lens, this may a good lens for you. Currently only Nauticam supports a zoom gear for this lens, which is very expensive, but do note that the installation of the 12-50mm zoom gear requires both time and patience.

Panasonic 14-42mm kit lens

This lens works well, just like the Olympus 14-42mm kit lens, but it doesn't focus as close. For a little more money you may want to look at the Panasonic 14-42mm PZ lens.

Panasonic 14-42mm PZ lens

I really like this lens, it has excellent silent auto-focus for video, and it focuses closer and is smaller than the non-PZ version of the lens.


Micro four-thirds Macro lenses

Panasonic Leica 45mm macro - great choice

panasonic micro four thirds 45mm lens underwater photo

This is a sharp, high quality macro lens, good for small subjects and fish of all sizes. It is a great macro lens to start out with because of it's perfect focal length for underwater. The downside is that it is an expensive lens, and it is a little slow to focus when you get near 1 to 1 magnification. Here is a 45mm lens mini-review.

panasonic 45mm macro lens underwater photo
Photo taken with the Panasonic G1X, 45mm macro lens


Olympus 60mm macro - top choice

olympus 60mm micro-four thirds macro lens underwater photo

This macro lens gives you a little more working distance than the Panasonic 45mm macro lens, and the same 1:1 magnification, at a better price. It is perfect for small marine life, shy subjects, and small fish. The extra working distance also makes it easier to use a wet diopter for supermacro. Highly recommended! Read our Olympus 60mm macro lens review.

olympus 60mm macro lens micro four thirds lens underwater photo
Photo by David Sutcliffe, Olympus 60mm macro lens, F8, 1/250th, ISO 400



Micro four thirds lens chart




Diagonal Angle of View

Max Repro Ratio1

Cropped sensor equiv

35mm equiv

USD Price2

Pany 8mm fisheye



11mm fisheye

16mm fisheye


Pany 7-14mm

114 - 75





Oly 9-18mm

100 - 61





Oly 14-42mm

75 - 29




Kit lens

Oly 12-50mm

84 - 24




Kit lens, $200 more

Pany 14-42mm

75 -29




Kit lens

Pany 14-42mm PZ

75 -29




Kit lens, $200 more

Pany 45mm






Oly 60mm







1)      A lens with a 1:1 reproduction ratio can take a photo 18mm (.7 inches) across at the closest focusing distance. A lens with 1:10 reproduction ratio can take a photo 180mm (7 inches)

2)      Approximate price in the USA in November 2012


About the Author

Scott is the founder of Bluewater Photo and the Underwater Photography Guide, and one of the world's leading experts in underwater photography education and camera / lens reviews..

An avid marine naturalist, Scott is the author of the Field Guide to Southern California Marine Life. He was the LAUPS photographer of the year for 2009, and his photos have appeared in magazines, coffee table & marine life books, museums, galleries and aquariums. 


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!



Top 10 Tips for Amazing Portraits

Michael Zeigler
We share our top ten tips for capturing amazing underwater portraits.

Top 10 Tips for Amazing Underwater Portraits

Use these useful tips for your next underwater adventure!

By Michael Zeigler



Have you ever taken a photo, reviewed it on the LCD screen, and thought to yourself, "Nailed it!"? Chances are you have, and chances are it wasn't on accident. 


We've compiled our Top 10 Tips for Amazing Portraits, and we'll share some of our favorite underwater portraits as well.  Be sure to take some notes, and refer back to them before your next underwater adventure. Hey . . . I don't see you writing!


Giant Sea Bass at Catalina Island, CA. With this portrait in mind, I knew where these critters reside, and had an idea of the strobe settings/positions. After spotting it from afar, I took a few test shots to make sure I had the ambient light dialed in. Then I moved in very slowly, with relaxed breathing and avoiding direct eye contact (except through the viewfinder).


Top 10 Tips for Amazing Underwater Portraits

1. DO YOUR HOMEWORK: Whether it's via the internet, books, or talking to fellow divers, be sure you know what you're looking for, and where to find it.  Knowing how to approach certain subjects is paramount as well. You've invested of money and time before you even giant-stride off the boat.  You may as well go the extra mile and study your subject.

2. FILL 2/3rds of the FRAME: Successful portrait images tend to dominate a majority of the image.  The subject occupies most of the frame, and may include a bit of its environment.


A fantastic example of the subject filling 2/3rds of the frame. In this case, the image was shot with open water in the background, allowing Scott Gietler to create a dynamically contrasting black background.  This was accomplished by using small aperture with a Tokina 10-17mm lens at 17mm, getting close to the subject and waiting until it swam above the substrate. F11, 1/80th, ISO 400


3. BE PREPARED: You never know when a potentially great subject will present itself.  When entering the water while shooting wide-angle, I always start with my camera settings set to my default southern California settings: 1/125, F11, ISO 320, strobes out to the sides at 1/2 power.


Soupfin shark at San Clemente Island. Had my camera been set to something other than my default settings, I most likely would have missed this shot. I only had time to think, "zoom in!" and then she was gone. This was my first encounter with this species of shark in 475 dives in southern California.


Being ready, and persistent, enabled Scott Gietler to capture this awesome portrait of a cormorant! F10, ISO 200, 1/250th. Tokina 10-17mm lens @17mm.


4. CONNECT WITH THE VIEWER: This is most often done by having solid eye contact with the subject.  Just make sure that the eyes are in sharp focus.


This is a fantastic example of sharp, direct eye contact.  This is a portrait by Luis Miguel Cortes Lozano, who won 1st Place in the 2011 Ocean Art Photo Contest with this photo, "Twins".

5. CUTE or RARE SUBJECT: These always seem to get the attention of the viewer.  How can you go wrong?  Obviously rare subjects are harder to come by, but are more rewarding when you do capture an image of one. 


6. USE THE RIGHT LENS FOR THE SHOT: This ties back to #1, but it's imperative that you have the right equipment to get the shot you're after.  Do you need more working space for a skittish or shy critter? Then use a 105mm macro lens instead of a 60mm. Do you need to carry a close-up lens?


In anticipation of seeing such a small nudibranch, I used my 105mm macro lens, and carried a +10 SubSee diopter.  I'm glad I did.  This image is uncropped at F25, 1/160, ISO 200.


7. GET CLOSE: Getting close is the underwater photographer's moniker. And sometimes that means getting uncomfortably close.  I am by no means endorsing getting anywhere near a dangerous critter. However, Todd Winner did, and the image below is awesome.


A bit too close for my comfort level, but Todd Winner makes it work.


Erin Quigley gets up-close and personal with this Great White, which earned her 4th place in the 2010 Ocean Art Photo Contest.


8. USE THE SURFACE: Reflections are a great way to enhance an underwater marine life portrait, as it not only shows the viewer exactly where the subject is in the water column, but also adds an artistic touch to the photograph.


A great use of the reflective surface, by Todd Winner.


9. AVOID DIRECT EYE CONTACT WHEN APPROACHING: How you approach a subject can be the difference between getting the shot and, well, ... not. I've found that eye contact is ok, as long as it's not both eyes staring right at the subject. Animals often interpret direct eye contact as a threat, since you're focused solely on them. Avoiding this will allow you to get relatively close and capture that crisp, colorful photo that you prepared for.


10. SHOOT HEAD-ON: Instilling a sense of "I'm looking at YOU" to the viewer is a great way to create a successful portrait.  In the example below, I do this by waiting until this female sheephead is facing my dome port head-on, with both eyes facing forward. In my opinion, this portrays their inquisitive nature. I have several other frames showing just one side of the fish or the other, but to me, this is the best of the bunch.


Here's lookin' at you, kid!


About the author


Michael Zeigler is editor-at-large of the Underwater Photography Guide, trip leader and instructor for Bluewater Photo, and is an AAUS Scientific Diver. Michael's underwater photography and blog can be seen at SeaInFocus.com.

Join Michael as he leads an amazing underwater photography workshop at the famous Wakatobi Dive Resort 11/21/13 - 12/2/13!


Further Reading


Support the Underwater Photography Guide

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


Get a Handle on your Housing

Michael Zeigler
UWPG editor Michael Zeigler shows you how he constructed his own rope lanyard for his underwater housing.

DIY Project: Underwater Housing Rope Handle

How to make a reliable rope handle for your underwater housing

By Michael Zeigler



Fun fact #324: This hobby is expensive. Protecting my invesment is of utmost importance to me, and at the same time I like to help the boat crews that I frequent make handling my rig as easy as possible. 

Handing a rig (large or small) to a crew member near the swim-step of a swaying vessel can, at times, be less than easy. After too many close calls of a dropped rig, or a rig grabbed by a sync cord (only takes once), I decided to look into getting a lanyard handle for my housing.


The finished product.


I know that Nauticam makes one, but a Google search for purchasing one basically came up empty. I have seen many DIY handles on various rigs that include a series of knots, but I wanted one that avoided knots, since these are weak points in the rope. 


The DIY Rope Handle Project

After some research, I determined that creating an eye-splice would be one of the strongest and "cleanest" ways of creating the loop for the handle. After searching the internet for an easy-to-follow tutorial for how to make an eye-splice without the use of tools, I finally found one here. Then I bought all of the materials below at my local hardware store (rope, shackles, and shrink tubing) for a whopping grand total of $11.50.


Materials needed

  • 3/8" nylon rope (see below for estimating length needed)

  • 2 stainless steel anchor shackles (3/16" size)
    • these have a working load limit of 530 lbs...each
  • Package of 3/4" Polyolefin Heat Shrink Tubing (2 in a pack)
    • these shrink down to 3/8" when heated with a hair dryer
    • this will typically be found in the electrical section of the store
  • Tape for the ends of the rope strands

  • Lighter to melt the ends of the nylon rope

  • Scissors for, well, you know


The only ingredient not shown here is a "can-do" attitude.


The steps

  • Determine the length of rope you'll need. In my case, I decided to attach the handle to the base of my ULCS arms. After setting them to their widest position, I took a measurement, taking into consideration the shackles. 

  • For the purposes of this project, and for the strength of the handle, I chose to back-splice 6" on each side. So, for my 16" handle (finished length), I purchased 36" of rope. Obviously I had a bit left over for wiggle room and unforseen errors, but at 27¢ per foot, why not?

  • Unravel ~6" of one end of your rope, then singe the ends with the lighter, and wrap with tape. The tape makes the splicing process a lot easier.

  • Follow the step-by-step eye-splice directions here. Helpful hint: on that tutorial, you can move your cursor over each numbered step manually, so you can move at your own pace.

  • Once you've finished creating your first loop, roll the splice between your two palms to help smooth out the splice. Nice work!

  • Measure and mark where you want the middle of your next loop, and splice the other end.

  • Once you're done with other end, take a step back and admire your work. Job well done.

  • Now comes the fun part. Slip one of the 3/4" Polyolefin Heat Shrink Tubing sleeves over one of your splices. These sleeves are ~6" long, so they'll cover the splice nicely. Grab the nearest hair dryer, set it to high heat, and watch the magic happen. Once sufficiently "shrunk," this acts to protect the splice.

  • Repeat previous step with the other shrink tubing sleeve on the other end.

  • Attach your new, awesome rope handle to your rig with the two anchor shackles. 

  • You're done!


Now handling my rig is easier than ever, especially for the crew, when I'm entering and exiting the water.


Although there are many versions of handles out there, this happens to be one of the strongest, most customizable, and cost efficient.  Enjoy, and have fun with it!


About the author


Michael Zeigler is a contributor, instructor, and trip leader for the Underwater Photography Guide and Bluewater Photo, as well as an AAUS Scientific Diver. Michael's underwater photography and blog can be seen at SeaInFocus.com.



Further Reading


Support the Underwater Photography Guide

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


Photographing A Perfect Sunburst

Todd Winner
Tips and techniques for how, when, and where to get the best possible sunburst shot underwater.

Photographing A Perfect Sunburst

Tips and techniques for how, when, and where to get the best possible sunburst shot underwater

By Todd Winner


Including elements of the sun can have a huge impact on your wide-angle images. If you thumb through your favorite dive magazines or table books I bet you'll find yourself drawn to these kinds of images. Even though digital cameras have greatly improved over the years, they still can create difficulties when it comes to reproducing very bright highlights. I would love to tell you to use a certain technique and that it will give you the perfect results each time, but I can't. One of the most important things I've learned over the years is sometimes you just need to be at the right place at the right time. That being said, there are a number of things you can do to greatly improve your chances of coming away with a “wow” sunburst image.



Canon 7D, EF 8-15mm @ 10mm, 1/320, f11, ISO 100


One of the most important things you can keep in mind is not to overexpose. If you include the actual sunburst in your image, it's almost impossible not to burn out some pixels. That is to say, the pixels have become pure white and there is no way to recover any detail information from them. You can usually get away with a small number of overexposed pixels, but go too far and there is no saving the image. An easy solution for this is to put something between the hottest part of the sun and your image. This can be achieved with a silhouette or with a subject that you plan to light with your strobes. 


Things You Need To Know


  • Use low ISO: Using low ISO settings, around 100, will help prevent overexposure from the sun. 
  • Use small f-stops: Because you are shooting into the sun, you are usually at very small apertures of f11, f16 and even f22, so getting close to your subject and having powerful strobes, like the Sea & Sea YS-D1 or Ikelite SD-160, can make the difference between a “wow” image and one for the trash bin.  


Canon 7D, EF 8-15mm @ 10mm, 1/250, f11, iso 100


  • Shoot at a fast shutter speed: This is going to be around 1/200 to 1/320 for most dSLR shooters, but the faster you can sync, the better chance you have of freezing the light rays from the sun.  
  • Get shallow: I've taken what I consider to be usable sunburst images at almost every depth, but my favorites tend to be those from shallow depths. Shooting shallow allows me to maintain the fast shutter speed, small aperture and low ISO.  
  • Shoot early or late in the day: One of my favorite times for light rays is the hour or so before sunset. You can get similar results directly after sunrise, but I personally don't like to get up that early. At these times of the day the sun is too low to include the actual sunburst itself, but what you get are some of the most dramatic and golden rays of light I have ever seen underwater. Many photographers refer to this as 'dappled light.'


Nikon D2X, Tokina 10-17mm @ 10mm, 1/160, f8, iso 100 Late in the day dappled light.


  • Use a current RAW converter: The simple act of upgrading from Lightroom 3 to Lightroom 4 improved my sunbursts immensely. The new Adobe converter does a much better job of handling highlights and it is also better at recovering lost detail.  


Canon 7D, EF 8-15mm @ 15mm, 1/125, f9, iso 100 Late in the day dapple light


If you try some of these techniques, I'm sure you will see vast improvements in your sunbursts. Like I said in the beginning, sometimes you just need to be in the right place at the right time, so don't beat yourself up if it's just not your day. Sometimes there are just enough particles in the water to reflect back beautiful beams and the next day it may be gone. If you can see it, you can shoot it, so don't let a great opportunity pass you by.


Further Reading


Support the Underwater Photography Guide

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


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