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

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



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


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What I Learned On The Anilao Photo Workshop

Nayan Savla
The little things I learned in Anilao that made a big difference in my underwater photography.

What I Learned On The Anilao Photo Workshop

The little things I learned in Anilao that made a big difference in my underwater photography

By Nayan Savla
I recently took a two week vacation to the Philippines for diving, the first half of which was a photography workshop organized by the Underwater Photography Guide.
It's been only about a year since I started shooting with a dSLR and I love my Canon T1i, even though it's ancient. I also use a Tokina 10-17mm fisheye for wide-angle and have a Tamron 60mm with 1.4x teleconverter for macro shoots.
Here are some things I learned during the photo workshop.

1) Using ISO to shoot at a higher f stops:

I usually never play around with my ISO, but I found that by increasing the ISO I could shoot at higher f stop and control the lighting in my photos much better.
I normally set my camera to 100 ISO and forget about it, but I took some pictures with ISO 200 and was happy with them at the higher f stop, so I've started to mess around with my ISO a bit more than usual.
This has especially helped me while taking sunball shots, and I'd have never thought to do this before the workshop.
F 11, ISO 200 10mm 1/200 tokina 10-17 fisheye.


2) Strobe positions:

Strobe positions are very important, especially while shooting wide-angle. There have been so many times that my shots would show backscatter around the edges, but I found that by just moving my strobes backwards I could easily eliminate it.
If I had known this during my North Carolina trip last year, I would have been a little less frustrated while taking my shots.
F 5.6, ISO 200 10mm 1/125 tokina 10-17 fisheye.
I wish I had a before and after comparison, but this shot was saved by moving my strobes back. There is still some backscatter on the right but, as I mention below, patience is something I'm working on.

3) Using servo focus mode:

I have always shot using the focus lock, where I press the shutter halfway and wait for the camera to focus and then take the picture, but with a 1.4x teleconverter on the camera it takes a lot more time to focus, and even though I can see that the subject is in focus it tries to focus again!
This got really frustrating, to the point where I would normally just give up on the shot. Then I found that with the continuous AF focus mode I didn't have to wait for the camera to lock focus and then take the shot. I can still press the shutter halfway so that the camera focuses, but if I press it completely it will take the photo regardless of whether the camera thinks it's in focus or not.
I wish i had known about this before the mandarin fish dive where I couldn’t get a picture of them mating because the camera wouldn't focus fast enough in the red light.

4) Composition:

Most of my compositions have been without any specific theme or method in mind, but it was good to learn the different ways to compose a picture and how to make it better for different subjects.
Of course it is very subjective, but it was good to know the “standard” ways to compose a shot.

5) Post processing (white balance):

When I use the red light on my SOLA the camera shoots a little warm, and because I never thought to touch the white balance in Lightroom the red was always still present in my photos.
It was helpful to finally figure out that by adjusting the white balance I could make my pictures appear the way I wanted them to be. 

6) Taking multiple shots:

I have seen people just shoot, shoot and shoot, but sometimes get lazy and usually just take a couple of pictures of the subject and move on. I have to force myself to spend more time with a particular subject and take more shots.
One of the reasons behind this is about being courteous to other photographers, but you can let them have their time with the subject and then return when no one is waiting, which is something I've started working on.
F 9.5, ISO 100 tamron 60mm+1.4x tele convertor 1/200.
I did take a few shots of this Christmas tree worm before getting this one, though i could have lingered longer and played with the settings more.

7) Patience:

This ties into the point above - I don't wait and hang around a particular subject long enough. I've learned that once you find something interesting, don't let it go so easily. You have to be mindful of other photographers, but keep following up on it if you can.
These are some of the things I learned in Anilao through the many workshops, slideshows and just talking with Mike Bartick and Scott Gietler. 
It was a really awesome experience and I would love to do it again. Life is always a learning experience, and I look forward to many more trips like these.

About The Author

You can read more about Nayan Savla and his adventures at See his entire gallery here!


Further Reading


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From Compact To dSLR: Preparing For The Switch

Eddy Wong
An underwater photographer describes his evolution from shooting with compact to dSLR, with valuable tips and information

From Compact To dSLR: Preparing For The Switch

An underwater photographer describes his evolution from shooting with compact to dSLR, with valuable tips and information

By Eddy Wong

This is the first article in a series of three chronicling the switch from diving with a compact camera to a dSLR. For me, this journey was several years in the making. In these articles I describe some of the dilemmas, tips, pitfalls and lessons learned from the transition, and hopefully provide some useful info for photographers in the same situation.



The Beginning

When I first got into underwater photography, I didn't know much about it. I just stopped at B&H in New York City and bought the first reasonable package that they recommended to me. That was a big mistake. Regular camera retailers know very little, if anything, about underwater photography. I started out with a Sony Cybershot DSC-P9 with a Sony Marine Housing. When I saw the results of my pictures, they came up with the familiar blueish/greenish color:
Grouper with no colors
"What's going on? This doesn't look like the pictures in NatGeo," I said to myself. So I set out to learn as much I could about underwater photography in order to improve my pictures. I went to conferences like Beneath the Sea (in NJ) and Boston Sea Rovers. I attended many underwater photo seminars by known underwater photographers like Cathy Church, Jack and Sue Drafahl, Larry and Denise Tackett, Marty Snyderman among others. The seminars only got me to a certain point, I needed a more experimental approach. At one of those seminars, I learned that Cathy Church ran a store and training facility in the Cayman Islands. It happened that one year I had the chance to go on a liveaboard around the Cayman Islands. So I took the opportunity to stay a bit longer at Grand Cayman and take a couple of lessons.
The lessons were well worth it. It is a shame that regularly you cannot "test drive" the underwater photo equipment you want to buy. By test driving, I really mean by diving with it. Here in the Caymans, I was able to rent equipment and dive with it. I learned about using manual mode and about a neat little camera: the Olympus SP-350 (today's equivalent of a Canon G12, more or less). This camera was an "advanced" point-and-shoot with manual mode and a hot shoe. The Olympus housing that goes with it had an electrical bulkhead, a rarity at that time. So you could have a setup very similar to an underwater dSLR with a fraction of the money. I liked the setup so much that I ended up buying it. Suddenly, I was the new owner of the Olympus SP-350 with a Heinrichs-Weikamp electrical bulkhead capable of doing TTL, just like a dSLR.

Should I've Gone Straight for a dSLR?

While at Cayman, I saw that they rented and sold dSLRs and dSLR housings. If you asked anybody in the underwater photo business, of course they would point you to getting a dSLR, especially if you had the money. At the time, I was not ready. I wasn't ready to go on to the expense and having to deal with the number of buttons, knobs, handles, port changes and parts. I didn't even have a dSLR for land shooting! I said to myself that one day I will go for a dSLR, but prepare for it over time and not get everything in one single swoop. My plan was to use the SP-350 as "training wheels" and have fun in the meantime.

Buying Equipment that is Transferable

I made a conscious decision to buy equipment that would be transferable to a dSLR set-up. My tendency was to buy a new piece of equipment every time I went on a scuba trip. Over time, I got a second strobe (Sea & Sea YS-110a), the corresponding "Y" cable for two strobes, Ultralight arms, and a Sola Photo 600 focus light. Eventually my set-up looked almost as big as a dSLR setup and very similar as well. In fact, some fellow divers didn't even notice that I was using a compact camera. This is what my setup looked like:
SP-350 Underwater Setup

Getting Comfortable with Manual Mode

I got very comfortable with shooting in manual mode underwater. I had custom settings programmed in my camera for wide-angle, macro and night shooting. I also understood the relationship of ISO/f-stop/shutter speed underwater and how the positioning of the camera and strobes around the subject improved the results on an image. I was becoming good enough with my camera to the point of reaching top places at photo contests, but I was running into a wall with my camera. In particular:
  • Shutter Lag - This is a drawback that most compact cameras have: when you press the shutter the camera does not respond immediately. It might take some time to autofocus. Fast moving subjects like sharks, rays or other fish can be difficult to shoot. The trick is to half-press the shutter for quicker response, but then you are locked to a particular focus distance.
  • Focal Length - The range of the apertures is comparatively small. You only get a range of f2.8 to f8 in the case of the SP-350. This limits your creativity range for depth of field in a macro scenario. In general, it was very difficult to get an image with shallow depth of field with my camera, almost everything on the image was in focus.
  • ISO Sensitivity - Any ISO setting higher than 100 resulted in noisy pictures. So for murky water situations or fast moving subjects (sharks) where you are using quite a bit of ambient light, I was limited. Resulting images tended to come out either too noisy or too dark.
  • Image Quality - The sensor inside a compact camera is rather small (compared to the one in a dSLR), so if your image has lots of contrasting details, that information has to be packed in a smaller area, causing some information to be lost. This is the case in sunburst images or manta rays with backlighting. This drawback combined with the ISO sensitivity made my camera very limited for big animal images in which ambient light is prevalent.

Taking the Plunge with a dSLR

I knew the limitations of my camera and knew that no matter how much I tweaked the settings, I was not going to get a better images, in particular, in some high contrast situations or big animal situations. It was time to move to the next level. In following my approach of "upgrading gradually" I decided to get a dSLR, but only for land use. I got a Nikon D300. I was already a Nikon shooter from the days of film (I had a Nikon FG SLR) and I was really impressed with the D300 sensor capabilities, in particular the quality of the color and low-light sensitivity. When the D300 came out, it was also a generational shift, in terms of its sensor.

At the time, I did get not an underwater housing for the D300, but kept shooting with it on land to become more familiar with it. These are some of the activities that helped me learn about my DSLR:
  • Participate in photography meetups ( - This was a way to meet other like-minded camera enthusiasts and also have peer feedback on your images. We would get together and go to different places to shoot skylines, night scenes, close-ups, sporting events, and fireworks. At these different occasions I became more aware of when to use (A)perture, (S)hutter and (M)anual modes, as well as auto-ISO.
  • Buy lenses that you might need underwater - I made a conscious decision to get dSLR lenses that are useful underwater. I first got the Nikon 105mm and used it on land for macro pictures of flowers, butterflies and food. For these kinds of shots, I also used the Nikon SB-800 flash off-camera with a hot shoe cable. Later on, I got the Tokina 10-17 (fisheye) and the Tokina 11-16 (rectilinear wide angle). I used them mostly for landscapes and architectonic pictures.
  • Play with rear curtain sync - At parties and family events, I played with rear curtain sync with an external flash on the camera. A rear curtain sync picture gives you a well-defined subject on the foreground (lit by the flash) with some trails that give you an impression of motion and a blurry background. I've seen pictures of sharks using this technique and I thought that shooting people dancing would be a good way to practice.
  • Take flash photography classes - One summer I signed up for a flash photography course at the New England School of Photography ( and guess what, the instructor taught us to use manual mode with a flash during day time, just like you do underwater. I also went to one-day workshops on portrait photography and table-top photography ( In both workshops, we dealt with multiple sources and kinds of light. The tips and knowledge from these classes translated to many situations underwater.


Going for the Housing

On a recent trip to Saba/St. Kitts, my venerable SP-350 got flooded. It was time to upgrade to a dSLR. I knew that I was eventually going to reach this point, but now I was ready for it. I could not squeeze better pictures from a camera like the SP-350 and I've been "training" myself with the D300 for several years now. My entire strobe and arm setup was transferable as well as my focus light. I was not going to be shocked by having to tweak 10 different things all at the same time. Some of these, like using manual mode and repositioning the camera and strobes, had already become muscle memory.

The Shopping Dilemma

It had been a couple of years since I bought my D300 and I was faced with the dilemma of buying a housing for this camera or getting a new camera altogether. These are some of the decisions that I had to make:
  • Consider mirrorless cameras - There was a new class of cameras coming on the market, the "mirrorless" or "micro four thirds." They were similar to dSLRs in terms of the interchangeable lenses and sensor size, but had the body of a compact, ie no moving mirror. Many underwater housing vendors had come out with housings for these cameras. The price point was attractive, usually between a high-end compact and low-end dSLR. The mirrorless camera also "fixed" or improved all the drawbacks that I had with compacts such as shutter lag, focal length, image quality and ISO sensitivity. For me, I had already gone the dSLR route to shoot on land, so the prospect of traveling with two sets of lenses, batteries and chargers was a non-starter. The "dream" situation would have been if camera manufacturers came up with a mirrorless body that is compatible with dSLR lenses! The options to consider for mirrorless cameras are Sony NEX, the Olympus Pen and the Nikon 1. If I had not started on the dSLR path, I would have considered a mirrorless camera very seriously.
  • Canon vs. Nikon - For me this was a moot decision, since I had already gone the Nikon route. However, considering the Canon EOS 7d would have been a wise choice if I wasn't already familiar with Nikon. If you do go for the dSLR underwater, you should restrict your choice to either Canon or Nikon. They are the two vendors that are well supported by underwater manufacturers.
  • New camera (D7000) vs. old camera (D300) - The D300 had a couple of drawbacks that I did not like for an underwater camera. It did not have video and the live mode was not very usable (autofocus was limited). A new Nikon camera had come out by then, the D7000. It had rave reviews and its electronics were a generation better than the D300. In addition, it had HD video and improved autofocus in live mode. The price was right as well, much lower than the D300.
  • Ergonomics - In deciding on a housing, I went for middle of the road and observed what other divers had been buying in recent years. I also observed what housings had poor designs as I witnessed many dSLR floods on my dive trips. I was really impressed with Nauticam. Even though they were a new company, they reacted very quickly to changes and with many innovations that made their housings easier to use.


And so ... I decided for the Nauticam housing for the Nikon D7000!
Here's what my new dSLR set-up looks like. I was able to "reuse" the Ultralight arms, strobes and Sola light:
Look out for my next article, in which I will talk about my experience taking my new camera for a spin!

About The Author

Eddy Wong is a contributor to the Underwater Photography Guide. He lives in Revere, MA and his interests are scuba, software, travel and photography. Eddy started his underwater photography from "the ground up" with an inexpensive point-and-shoot. Over the years he evolved into a more advanced photographer and received several awards for his underwater images. For more of his evolution as an underwater photographer, photography tips, reviews and dive travel stories, visit his blog.


Further Reading


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Learning Super Macro in Papua New Guinea

Ron Watkins
How I discovered a whole new side to underwater photography while shooting the tiny critters in the depths of Papua New Guinea.

Learning Super Macro Photography in the PNG

How I discovered a whole new side to underwater photography while shooting the tiny critters in the depths of Papua New Guinea

By Ron Watkins
I have always been fascinated by the super macro images that I have seen online, in magazines and in underwater photo competitions. As I prepared for my trip to Papua New Guinea (the “PNG” as many call it), I decided to take the plunge, invest in some new equipment and give super macro shooting a try.
I was unsure where to begin or exactly what equipment I would need, so I consulted several online resources, including Scott Geitler’s article on "Underwater Super Macro Photography." I use a Nikon D300 dSLR with a 105mm VR lens in a Sea & Sea housing, and was looking for an economical way to get started. After doing my research and talking with people at Bluewater Photo, I decided that the SubSee +5 Wet Diopter and adapter was my best option. I choose the +5 diopter instead of the +10 to start because of the larger depth of field (DOF), making it easier to focus. I wanted to increase my chances of success and minimize the frustration that I had heard comes with shooting super macro.
The S&S macro port requires a custom-made adapter from ReefNet that took about one week to be manufactured and delivered. Scott has written two very informative articles on this diopter set-up and adapter, so I won’t repeat the details of the equipment here. I read both “Super Macro with the New SubSee Wet Diopter” and “SubSee Adapter and Diopter Review” as a way to familiarize myself with the new equipment and learn about technique.
Above image: Backlit soft coral. ISO 140, F29, 1/250 sec, with +5 diopter.

Testing the Equipment

Before my trip, to become familiar with my new equipment I tried to duplicate above water the same results that I saw and read about online. This proved to be a great investment of time because it takes a lot of practice and patience to learn how to shoot super macro. I didn’t want to be fumbling around with my new equipment for the first time while underwater in PNG! I quickly realized that the narrow depth of field and difficulty getting your desired subject in focus is truly a challenge. I first took photos at 1:1 magnification without the diopter, at a distance of about 5 inches from my subject. I used autofocus to find the minimal focusing distance, but then switched to manual focus and flipped the diopter on. I was then able to get within about 3-4 inches of my subject for about a 50% magnification. 
Another tricky task is getting the strobes positioned closely for proper lighting. I heeded the advice to go small on the aperture and wasn’t afraid to try up to F45 with fairly good results. Here are test shots with the 105mm lens with and without the +5 diopter!
(Note: None of the super macro images in this article were cropped and are shown full frame as composed in the camera.)
1 ¾“ Turtle Pirate (no diopter): Nikon 105mm VR F36 at 1/250th and dual S&S YS250 strobes.
Turtle Pirate at minimum focal distance of about 5” (no diopter): Nikon 105mm VR, F45 at 1/250th and dual S&S YS250 strobes.
Turtle Pirate at minimum focal distance of about 3” (with +5 diopter): Nikon 105mm VR, F36 at 1/250th and dual S&S YS250 strobes. Notice that the left eye is just a little out of focus because it is not exactly inline with the focal plane.

The Journey Begins

After a long journey of over two days in the air and roaming through airports, I arrived at the docks of Walindi Resort on Kimbe Bay in New Britain, PNG, where the boutique liveaboard MV Febrina was waiting for me. My bags were loaded on the boat and before I had my shoes off, then we were untied and pulling away from the dock. After a quick briefing I dumped my clothes in my cabin and set my camera gear up. For this article, I have focused on super macro, but look for my trip report about the MV Febrina (coming soon!) with details of the boat, itinerary, diving conditions, photography tips and many more images.
On the MV Febrina with Nikon D300 housed in S&S MDX300 housing with 45 degree 1.2X magnification viewfinder, 105mm VR lens, SubSee +5 diopter on adapter, dual S&S YS250 strobes and Light and Motion Sola 800 focus light.
The third dive of the voyage was at South Emma, where I decided that it was time to get my diopter wet. I started off with some nice easy macro subjects of nudibranchs and coral, then my keen-eyed dive master Digger motioned that he had found something small for me. It was a tiny cowrie on a large red soft coral at about 80 feet deep on the side of the pinnacle. I flipped on the diopter, carefully positioned myself and looked through the viewfinder. All I could see was fuzzy red and orange anemone and no sign of the cowrie. I looked all over the place, peeked out over the camera for reference and then tried again to no avail. The narrow quarter-inch DOF makes it difficult to locate a subject. Digger, sensing my frustration, stuck his finger right next to the cowrie. I was able to find his finger, follow it down to the nail and there it was. I tightly pressed my mask against the viewfinder to see and focused in on the tip of his finger with autofocus. Then I switched to manual focus, slowly moved in and out about an inch and when the cowrie looked crisp, I gently pressed off a few shots.
Upon review in the LCD, the images were completely under-exposed because my strobes were not close enough, not turned up enough and I was shooting at F32. I repositioned the strobes in tight, changed the aperture to F22 and took about 30 seconds finding the little cowrie again and fired off some more shots with much better results. We ended up doing three dives at South Emma, and Digger found me all kinds of great super macro subjects like transparent shrimp, blennies, soft coral crabs and a crinoid shrimp.
Digger, pointing out tiny cowrie. ISO 200, F22, 1/250 sec, with +5 diopter.
Coral Polyps feeding. ISO 200, F32, 1/250 sec, with +5 diopter.
Soft coral crab. ISO 200, F32, 1/250 sec, with +5 diopter.

Diagonal composition of transparent shrimp in bubble coral. ISO 200, F36, 1/250 sec, with +5 diopter.
Face-on shot of a flatworm. ISO 200, F36, 1/250 sec, with +5 diopter.
Blenny peeking out of wormhole. ISO 200, F32, 1/250 sec, with +5 diopter.

Super Macro Tips & Tricks

  • Safety first! You will get absorbed in the task of taking super macro shots and be concentrating on your subject, but make sure to check your gage periodically and do not get distracted while trying to get the perfect shot. Your subject can stay down longer than you can, and it is your responsibility to monitor your remaining bottom time.

  • The custom fit adapter with the flip-out diopter is a great design. It allows for shooting both macro and super macro on the same dive. When folded back, it does not get in the way. I preferred to position it so that I could flip it back to the side in a slightly upward direction (refer to the camera set-up picture). It is also more compact than the other models I have seen.

  • A good focus light is a must! I upgraded my focus light for this trip to the Light and Motion Sola 800 and immediately appreciated the adjustable bright and even beam. It is easy to turn on/off with the magnetic switch and change between the three white and three red intensity settings. I observed that the red definitely helped on the night dives with skittish subjects.

  • A viewfinder with magnification is helpful and I don’t believe I would have been able to see focal points without it.

  • It is very difficult to focus while diving off of a wall in a current of any kind. No shot is worth damaging the reefs, so try to find a bare part of the reef and use a pointer to balance yourself to minimize your impact on the reef. Practice on a sand or rubble bottom where you can easily steady yourself and the camera.

  • I tried autofocus and it is difficult to lock in on the subject even with a good focus light. I preferred to lock down the focus at the minimal focal distance and use manual focus. I mostly just slowly rocked back and forth with my camera until the subject was in focus. When using autofocus with the Nikon 105mm VR lens, it spends a lot of time zooming in and out and will focus on anything floating in the water.

  • Try to find 2-3 points you want to focus on for your composition (fish eyes and mouth, rhinophores and mantle of a nudibranch or shrimp eyes and claws). Position yourself parallel to the focal plane and move back and forth until they are all in focus. I focus in on the two points that are easiest to see and fire away when they are in focus to maintain that plane to get the other points crisp. It is easier said than done with mild surge and a moving subject, so start by shooting stationary items. When you do finally nail a shot, it is very rewarding and the results will be quite dramatic with the right subject, camera settings and lighting.


Super Macro Opportunities in PNG

The Witu Islands and Father’s Reef North of New Britain, PNG, are world famous for healthy reefs full of corals, large schools of fish, sharks, and unlimited wide-angle opportunities. It seemed that I was always changing back and forth between the macro and wide-angle setup, but managed to do 1-2 macro dives per day. The MV Febrina’s Northern itinerary does not have a lot of muck diving, but Dickey’s Place is a great volcanic black sand muck dive featuring rare and unusual macro subjects. We found a tiny green oxynoe sea slug that contrasted well with the black sand. There must have been a recent hatching of baby squid because we found several swimming about and clinging to blades of grass. Digger even found one attached to the tail of a robust ghost pipefish that it probably had mistaken for a blade of grass. We also had fantastic macro dives later in our trip at Kirsty Jane’s Reef, Fu Man Chu, Elaine’s Reef and Norman’s Wall, finding unnamed soft coral crabs, flatworms, arrow crabs, saron shrimp, and boxer crabs. 
Green oxynoe sea slug. ISO 200, F36, 1/200 sec, with +5 diopter.
Tiny crab on a sea cucumber feasting on snails. ISO 200, F36, 1/200 sec, with +5 diopter.
Freshly hatched baby squid on a blade of grass. ISO 200, F32, 1/250 sec, with +5 diopter.
Unnamed soft coral shrimp. ISO 200, F36, 1/250 sec, with +5 diopter.
Cowrie on soft coral. ISO 140, F29, 1/250 sec, with +5 diopter.
After this trip, I am hooked on shooting super macro. Once I got over the initial frustration of focusing, it became addictive. I was excited every time an even smaller subject was found, and I enjoyed the challenge of trying to create new compositions with this very artistic form of photography. I heard the dive master on several occasions laughing at me trying to take super macro pictures while I was struggling with the current and my uncooperative subjects and having difficulty focusing. But after relaxing, finding a safe way to get close enough to the subject, and attempting to get the elusive ‘perfect shot,' I had a fantastic time. I can’t give enough credit to the crew of the MV Febrina and my incredible dive master, Digger, because if you can’t find the subjects you can’t shoot them. Hopefully this article has eliminated some of the mystery about shooting super macro and maybe even inspired you to get started! The next time you get wet, give super macro a try and discover the fun of learning underwater photography all over again.


About the Author

Ron Watkins is an international award winning photographer and writer. He has been passionate about underwater photography since 1996 and his photography has appeared in magazines, websites, juried art displays, national aquariums, libraries and private collections. More of Ron’s photography may be viewed at and, which features his unique underwater portraits of children. 


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!


Visualization to Realization

Mike Bartick
Improve your underwater photography through visualization and learning to be more proactive than reactive.

Visualization to Realization

Improve your underwater photography through visualization and learning to be more proactive than reactive

By Mike Bartick



When shooting critter photos underwater, nature presents itself in many wondrous ways that make for many incredible photo opportunities. As a photographer it’s my job to take the time to get the shot right. Developing an idea for a shot in my mind’s eye helps me create a photo long before the opportunity arises, which ensures that I'm ready when that unique critter jumps into my lens

In an interview Ansel Adams said, “you don’t take a photograph, you make it.” When I think about that statement I realize that that's what I've been doing for a long time. Ansel isn't saying that we should have all the elements planned and staged, he's talking about going in prepared. 
So, as underwater photographers what can we do to prepare ourselves?


The first and arguably most important step is visualization. Visualization techniques will help you get an idea of what the photo will ultimately look like, and from there you will be able to map out a way to get there. Picturing the shot in our mind's eye will help us remain focused and achieve the type of photos that we're after.
You can think of visualization techniques as our own built-in software for creativity. Just like photo software on the backside, using visualization will help shape our photos on the front end of the process. As we become better at using this technique we will learn to become more proactive rather than reactive to any given circumstance underwater.
Mushroom coral pipefish F16 at 1/125.
Case in point, I wanted a specific type of photo of a mushroom coral pipefish. I was searching around when I saw what looked like the perfect target, only something didn’t seem right. As I approached the mushroom coral I realized there was more than just one pipefish living there. This discovery changed everything, especially when I realized there were actually three pipefish. Wow! If you've ever tried to shoot a photo of one of these guys then you know how difficult it can be. It’s a never-ending chase to try and capture one sharp image of a single pipefish, let alone three. Granted, no matter how much I prepare or visualize, sometimes all bets are off, but by knowing the shots I want to achieve I can try to capture the photo the way I want it. 
I love contrast in photos, and using the f-stop and lighting to help create it is critical. In the shot above I wanted to see the detail of the white pipefish against the contrasting background of the green mushroom coral. Now if only they would just cooperate and hold still!

Getting a shot vs. getting the shot right

It's true that perfection is more of a journey then a destination, but it doesn’t hurt to aim for perfection. Getting a shot versus getting the shot right is the question. What is the photo you're trying to get and what are you trying to achieve? All of these things run through my head, forcing me to slow down and think effectively while still reacting fast enough to get the shot. 
Chasing subjects doesn’t work either, so by keeping my lens in one set position and allowing the critters to come to me I will increase my chances of getting it right. Finally the three pipefish came together and began moving in unison, allowing me just a few shots. My planned shot will have to wait for another day, but hey, three pipefish in one frame, I'll take it!
Cardinal fish aren’t an unusual sight, but the colors of these are striking. Thinking about making this type of photo in post-production and visualizing helped me to focus and create. 
Polarized school of cardinal fish F5.6 at 1/125.
This is an unusual shade of orange and green and I wanted to make the eyes of the cardinal fish seem like they're coming out of the orange mist and swimming past my lens. By selecting my point of focus (the eyes) I used a shallow f-stop to blur the details, creating the colorful mass while allowing the viewer sharp eye contact. I consider this shot a work in progress since I am still working on the end result. I know what I want it to look like but I have to wait for Mother Nature to do the rest and present me with a small school of cardinal fish.
Polarized catfish F14 at 1/125.
I loved the lines of these catfish and I wanted to pull them through the photo, but my main goal was to see how many eyes I could get in focus in one full frame. With a little more f-stop to gain a greater depth of field I remained in position and again let these pesky, venomous catfish come to me.

Practice hands-on techniques with common subjects

Sometimes the most common subjects can make great targets. Practicing some basic hands-on techniques to help build your skills is what it’s all about, you don't always have to wait for the most exotic creatures. 
Goby on a colorful detailed sponge F5.6 at 1/125.
Going to the extremes with the f-stops can prove to be as challenging as it is fun. I think this goby was intrigued by it's own reflection. It was the green and white mottled background that I wanted to catch, the unusual pattern and colors struck me as a really cool design, and the goby helped to break the pattern but allow for contrasting textures. When I set up to shoot, the resident gobies scattered except for this poor guy. He slowly crept forward and into the range of my lens, I hope I didn't scare him with my strobes!
Peacock flounder F5.6 at 1/125.
This colorful flounder kept one eye on me and the other on his escape route. The slow approach works well, and remaining calm allows your subject to regain confidence and sometimes make an approach.
The shallow depth of field helped me to create an illusion of the flounder’s colors melding with the sand. The sharp eye contact gives the flounder a bit of personality.

Incorporating models

Ornate ghost pipefish F14 at 1/125.
I often like to incorporate a model into my macro photography shots for several reasons: scale, personal contact, plus the added dimension can make the photos a bit more dynamic. My model used a handheld modeling light for constant off-camera lighting on the pipefish while I shot using only ambient light. I set up to watch a small group of ornate ghost pipefish work their way around a small patch of coral and between two mooring ropes. I signaled my model to approach slowly, which also helped to corral the pipefish toward my lens. Making the best out of a challenging set-up, dealing with limited access or hard angles is always a challenge, but by switching my strobes off she helped to backlight our subject and create something unique.

Mother Nature dishes out the rest

Ghost pipefish, cerratasoma nudibranch and imperial shrimp
Sometimes while lining up to shoot one photo another will often appear. This ghost pipefish wouldn’t leave me alone, swimming back and forth in front of my lens and begging for a free headshot. I really wanted to have them all lined up just right, but sometimes you have to be happy with what you can get. Being there to capture the photo using the visualization techniques we have discussed help to create the photos ahead of time, but as always, Mother Nature dishes out the rest.
Keeping my head in the game and frame
Self portrait, Tokina 10-17 F14 at 1/125.
Overall, using skills like visualization helps us slow down enough to think effectively and ultimately be more proactive than reactive. Self-critique using your standard editing software and re-composing in post-processing will also help to visualize new ideas. Shooting photos on the fly or capturing the photos in their organic and unaltered state can be as challenging with a compact camera as it is with an SLR. Conceptualize, visualize, and shoot for yourself, but remember that no matter how much we plan for a shot, nature will always be the wildcard, for better or worse.
Now get out there and have an adventure!


About the Author

Mike Bartick is an avid and experienced scuba diver, and Marine Wildlife Photographer. He has an insatiable love for nudibranchs, frogfish, and other underwater critters, and he is the official critter expert for Underwater Photography Guide. See more of Mike's underwater photos at, and at


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