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Full Article: An Immersion into Evolution: Galapagos Photo Essay

The Galapagos – A Painting of Evolution and the Circle of Life…

A trip to the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador is on the bucket list of virtually every nature enthusiast, for good reason. The Galapagos are an immersion into evolution with an abundance of creatures – many endemic – each riding the train of natural selection. They are a geological wonder with a shallow, seismic hot spot under the Nazca tectonic plate spitting out islands at a rapid rate – at least on a geological timescale.

The islands themselves are a lesson on the circle of life.  Barren lava heaps slowly become dense with vegetation as organic matter saturates the soil. But in the end, harsh winds and seas erode land back below the surface.  The engine behind the incredible biodiversity of the Galapagos islands is the convergence of the plankton-rich Humboldt and Cromwell currents – which produce one of the world’s most dramatic food chains. 

 Darwin Island, Where the Big Animals Roam

Our exciting Bluewater Travel journey on the Galapagos Master began with an overnight passage to Darwin Island – the remote northern outlier of this island chain.   The introductory advice from our experienced guides was to keep our mouths closed while on the observation deck. At first it was amusing, but it soon felt very sensible as we found ourselves beneath countless soaring cormorants, frigate birds, and blue-footed boobies.

It is not possible to grow habituated to the presence of hammerhead sharks, but this would be the place to try.  Every dive was not so much a question of whether we would see hammerheads, but rather how many – with schools of thirty or more sometimes cruising past.  Very large schools of jacks, tuna, and barracuda were complemented by plentiful free-swimming giant morays and tranquil green turtles.

The "wows" on this trip never stopped – from leaping mobula rays to dolphins that stuck around long enough for us to jump in for a look.  Silky sharks lazily surrounded the boat, while Galapagos sharks circled below, and a pod of orcas passed by at a distance.  We were even treated to what seemed like the biggest whale shark ever, most likely pregnant, on one of the safety stops.

In the Heart of the Galapagos

After several amazing days at Darwin and Wolf islands, we headed back south, into the heart of the Galapagos Archipelago.   While hammerhead sightings tailed off, they were more than adequately replaced by encounters with playful sea lions, eagle rays, fur seals, and massive schools of fish.  Dives at islands such as Fernandina and Isabela had their own magical gems.  From pre-historic red-lipped bat fish, to marine iguanas feeding underwater, and giant Southern Ocean sunfish (Mola ramsayi), to countless breeding sea hares, to Galapagos penguins – every dive had something special to offer.

Top-Side Expeditions

This trip also provided some shore-based exploration opportunities – for closer looks at the sea lions, iguanas and nesting sea birds.  Of course a trip to the Galapagos would not be complete without seeing Darwin’s finches along with a face-to-face encounter with the Giant Tortoises, whose saddle shaped shells gave the island chain its name.  Several guests started or ended their time on the boat with an extra day or two in pleasant San Cristobal – where sitting on a park bench might first require convincing a sun-bathing sea lion to move on.  Respecting the two-meter distance rule in these well-protected islands is not always easy – particularly when the animals approach you.    

If the Galapagos Islands are not on your bucket list, it is probably time to review your priorities.  This is a unique and magical place – and what better way to see it than with BlueWater Travel aboard the Galapagos Master.

Join us for our upcoming trips!

 2018 Galapagos Islands Group Trip

Led by Katie Yonker of Bluewater Travel

May 21 - 31, 2018

Special Bluewater pricing, lower than published price:

Lower Cabin $7,075 $6,600 per person

Upper Cabin $7,225 $6,750 per person


2019 Galapagos Islands Underwater Photo Workshop

May 13-23, 2019

Lower Cabin - $7,075
 Upper Cabin - $7,225
 * Rates are based in USD


 

Full Article: Inon Z330 Strobe - a Photographer's Review

Out with the old, in with the new

If you’re anything like me, you cried when you heard that Inon had discontinued its flagship strobe, the Z-240. For me, Z-240 was the most reliable strobe in my arsenal. Although my YS-250’s are my preferred strobe of choice for big, fast animal action, they are bigger and heavier than the Z-240.

Fortunately, I am lucky enough to have several sets of the old Inon Z-240’s, so I didn’t find myself in a bind for a new strobe. I looked at Retra flash, read all the reviews, and thought about buying a pair due to their super sleek look, although the price is higher than my Z240's were.

Then fast forward a few months and I wake up to the news we Inon lovers wanted to hear:  Inon was releasing the all-new Inon Z-330.

Strobe Specifications

The Inon Z-330 was officially released on December 24, 2017.  One of the major highlights of the Z-330 is the intelligent beam design. Making use of a dome lens on the front of the strobe and Inon’s T-shape twin flash, the 110 degree beam does not need a conventional translucent diffuser which would normally sacrifice output. This strobe is 110 degrees at full output!  

Tip: The light dome is easy to bang up and scratch; you must take care in handling and packing. The diffuser protects it on dives from getting scratched when banged around in a wreck or rinse tank. 

Key features of the Z-330:

Built-in light shade that rotates 360 degrees to reduce ghosting, flare, and backscatter

Radiation system that releases built-up heat inside the strobe

220 lumen shutter-linked auto-off focus light for macro critters

Phosphorescent back panel which helps improve visibility of the main control panel

More intuitive control dials

Larger dials for use with thick gloves

S-TTL / 13-Step Manual Flash Mode with 1/2 EV increments

Wide variety of dome filters and bayonet system for filters

Optical/Electrical triggering supported (Nikonos Type 5 pin sync connector and slave sensor to trigger optically)

Guide number of 33

110 degree beam

The Inon Z330 is available now at Bluewater Photo!

Preparing to put the Z-330s to the test

When I received the Z-330 in the mail three weeks ago, I felt like a kid at Christmas – eyes-wide and excited to get in the water to test them out. 

Two days later I was on a flight to Dumaguete, Philippines for two weeks of shooting at Atlantis Dive Resort. 

On this assignment, I used –and always use– either the Canon 5D Mark III or Canon 5D Mark IV, both in Aquatica housings with either a macro port or 9.5-inch glass mega dome. All of my lenses are Canon L series USM lenses, including: 100mm, 16-35 USMIII, 11-24mm, 8-14mm and 14mm USM II. I shoot strictly on manual, and Aquatica custom designs all four of my housings with Nikonos connectors straight to hot shoe without a board.

Recycle Rate

With visibility at 50 feet, diving in Apo Island was the only time on the trip I used the strobes at full power. Eneloop-pro batteries are great for getting the best possible recycle rate with at full power. Even at full power, the recycle time at least as good as my previous Z-240.  We are never going to see recycle times that compare with the Sea & Sea YS-250 – which I why I hold onto the 4 pairs I have as if they are made of gold – but the new Z-330s recycle faster than my Retras. The Retra battery extension enables it to charge 3/10ths of a second faster. However, the price point ends up being higher than the Z330.

Strobe Power – Upgraded from the Z-240

The flash is so powerful that I rarely needed a full burst of power. With Eneloop-Pro batteries I got 4 dives with over 750 shots without a battery change. In the photo below I captured mating mandarin fish.  Shooting with a Canon 5D MKIV with 100mm at approximately one meter from my subject, I shot at 1/200, f/11, ISO 200 with my strobe set too manual at -3.

Now at that same dive site, same scenario, same settings with the old Z-240 the strobe was set to manual at -1.  Both were captured using the soft diffuser.

Diffusers

The power of this strobe is simply incredible. Every diffuser we have seen hit the market in the last few years has been domed in shape to give you even, soft white light without the burn spot. Instead, Inon has created a strobe whose flash is domed to achieve incredible, soft, even light, even without the use of one if its three diffusers.  The theory not only makes perfect sense, it works incredibly well.

The Z-330s have many new, common-sense features that make them a vast improvement from the already incredible Z-240’s. In addition to the design of the strobe itself, the bayonet style attachment for diffusers is genius. I am sure it will end up creating a buffet of aftermarket snoots and accessories. Taking the diffuser on and off with just one hand very useful.

Controls for any conditions

The controls are easy to read, easy to use, and for those of us with big fingers – no more buying extensions! They are easy to grab and sensibly designed with a few special features. The first being the “M” or manual switch position is exactly where it should have always been, far right, with full burst being one click left. This way, when you’re in the dark you can simply operate by touch. The new phosphorescence back panel is a great addition under optimal circumstances and conditions. However, it’s not always as readable as we’d like, so making it easy to find your correct setting blind is a great addition. Also new is the updated power switch that no longer turns 360 degrees. It now stops at -6 and -.5 to allow you to easily set the power without actually having to see the controls.

Strobe Light Shade 

The strobe light shade is a new feature intended to block part of the beam that shines towards the camera in order to suppress ghost or flare. The shade rotates 360 degrees. While I like this feature, I have some reservations. First, it is extremely tricky to remove underwater, and slightly cumbersome. The plastic thread is not always very smooth. Once you remove the shades, you must have some place to put them; I found that clipping them to my BCD was the best option. However, they do perform as advertised – with some exceptions. A clear line in the beam can form if a subject is closer than 2 meters to your port. This means that if you’re shooting close-focus wide-angle or there are any objects in the immediate foreground, you have to remove the shade. Otherwise you will end up with a very clear line of unlit image where light has been blocked. I found that unless I am shooting an 8-15mm, 11-24mm (on the 11 side) or in a rare case my 14mm, the shade is useless and does more harm than good to my photo.

Heatsink for improved heat tolerance and efficiency 

The Z-330 strobe is equipped with a circular metal heatsink linked to an inner circuit component that releases heat from strobe usage effectively. This has led to an improved heat efficiency as the strobe does not need to stop working in order to cool down. It also lowers the risk of a blown bulb. 

Improved S-TTL, Manual Exposure Control, and Slave Sensor

The Z-330 comes with an enhanced S-TTL auto exposure system. Additionally, the slave sensor had been updated to react to even a faint or somewhat damaged fiber optic cable. Exposure control is in 13 steps in 1/2 EV increments.  

 

When shooting on a Mandarin dive with my strobe power set to manual at -3, shooting F.11 at 1/200th, I could fire the strobes none stop 7-10 burst with minimal recycle time and no detectable heat build up.

A new era for my underwater lighting

As for me, these strobes will undoubtedly be my new workhorse. When you’re traveling six months a year, logging 400-plus dives a year with your camera, this is the type of strobe my work demands.

All in all, this is a great strobe at a price point of only $650.00. Inon strobes have always been reliable, compact, lightweight, and easy to travel with.  If the strobe needs service, it is readily available around the world.  This is the next generation of Inon strobes - welcome to the era of the Z-330.  

Sample Images

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

The Inon Z330 is available now at Bluewater Photo!

Full Article: Sony A7R III 4K Underwater Video

Sony placed itself at the forefront of photographic technology with the introduction of the A7, A7R, and A7s series featuring full frame, 35 mm sensor mirrorless cameras. The release of the Sony A7R III 4K has made new strides in the realm of videography as well. The A7RII boasts 4K video (3840x2160 pixels) with multiple frame rates up to 30 fps and a bitrate of up to 100 mbps. Full HD can be shot up to 120 fps. Upgraded from the A7R II, the A7R III also features a hybrid log gamma profile, 15-stops of dynamic range, and 2.2x the battery life of the A7R II. Without a doubt, underwater videographers, whether professional or amateur, will not be disappointed!

 

For best results change the Youtube video quality settings to 4K (2160p)!

Story Behind the Video

During most California winters, California market squid (Doryteuthis opalescens) congregate on the shallow continental shelf in numbers reaching millions in order to mate, lay eggs, and die. It is a spectacular event to witness where mating squid become so thick in the water column, you can’t see two feet in front of you. Then, after a few wild nights, all that’s left is a desolate moonscape of incubating eggs. Although, I missed the initial squid run this year, a small secondary run occurred at Redondo Beach in the middle of January, 2018. I took the opportunity to film the squid with the new Sony A7R III and Sony 28 mm lens in a Nauticam housing. I also simultaneously tested the Kraken Hydra 2500 macro video light, the Kraken KRL-01 wet wide-angle lens. No color adjustments were made in post-production in order to showcase the white balance of the A7R III and the color of the Kraken Hydra 2500 video light. Overall this combination of equipment is an excellent choice for anyone wishing to shoot wide-angle and close-focus wide-angle underwater video.

The opening shot of the video features a pair of mating squid. The male sees the female, chases it, and latches on. Then, in a brief moment, the male places a sperm sack into the female’s mantel. Due to the speed of the mating process, I had to slow down the video to 50% in post-production. The squid appear out of focus as they get close to the lens only because I didn’t have enough time to adjust my focal point and refocus. The video also depicts a juvenile horn shark, a juvenile bat ray, and a female squid laying its egg sack and promptly passing away.

Underwater Video Gear Used

Nauticam Housing for the Sony A7R III

The Nauticam A7R III housing is ergonomic, safe, and astutely designed for the Sony A7R III. Video is very simple. Pushing the bottom right lever easily turns the video function on and off. Adjusting aperture and shutter speed is the same as when shooting photographs – there are two rotating dials placed within finger distance from the grips. The auto focus point can be moved and refocused when shooting video. The housing includes a moisture alarm and can be modified to include a vacuum seal as double insurance against a flood.

Kraken Hydra 2500 Macro Video Light

Although touted for being a macro video light, the Kraken Hydra 2500 is very versatile. The beam angle of 100 degrees was wide enough for my wide-angle video shot with a single light. The color temperature of this light ranges from 5000-5500 K. At full power, I found the color of the white light to be very accurate. The light also features red and blue light options and a strobe mode for underwater photographers. The Kraken 2500 is rated to 100 m/330 ft with 55 minutes of burn time at 2500 lumens.

Kraken KRL-01 Wet Wide-Angle Lens

The Kraken KRL-01 is an ultrawide wet conversion lens that is screwed onto the front of housings with a 67 mm thread. It is perfect for compact and mirrorless videographers wishing to produce high-quality, detailed video of wide-angle and close-focus wide-angle scenes. The lens is made with high-quality optical glass and coated with multi-layer BBAR coating for anti-reflection and optical clarity. Combined with the Sony 28 mm lens, I was able to take excellent video with almost no minimum focusing distance and a 118.6 degree field of view. The field of view can increase even further if used with a recommended 24 mm lens. 

Full Article: Jason Ching: Remote Photography in Remote Alaska

A Note from the Editor

I had the pleasure of meeting Jason Ching (http://www.jasonsching.com/) in Aleknagik, Alaska, while participating in scientific research on salmon. Aleknagik is in Bristol Bay – the heart of wild Alaskan salmon. The summer we were there was a record run, with millions of fish passing by our eyes and lenses. Jason’s photography instantly struck me as being unique – he managed to take striking and professional photos while completely removed from the location of his subjects. Through motion-sensor camera traps and remote triggers, Jason has taken away the “scare factor” that human presence has on wildlife. We are left with spectacular and dreamlike images that are windows into the private life of wild Alaska. – Nirupam Nigam (Editor)

Wild Alaska

Alaska is well deserved in its reputation for being large, remote, and wild. Yet contrary to popular belief, Alaska is not always a theme park with large animals around every corner. Most of the time it is cold, wet, quiet, and expensive. This can introduce many challenges to the wildlife photographer. Animals can be far and few between – accessible only by air, boat, or other eccentric methods of transportation. Budgets can be wiped out in mere days of searching for the right shot. There are two things a photographer can do to remedy the situation – 1. Find the food. 2. Don’t search at all. Wait for the animals to come to you. 

Jason does both. Alaska’s annual salmon run attracts copious amounts of birds and mammals to feed in salmon flooded streams – plenty of photo opportunities. During these runs, Jason finds locations with predictable wildlife and sets ups motion-sensor camera traps to wait for the opportune moment.  

Camera Traps

A Brief History 

I would like to begin by recognizing Jonny Armstrong (jonnyarmstrong.com) as the master of camera trapping, and the person who really introduced me to it. Together we dialed things down, but he was the one who had the original idea and figured everything out.

I started camera trapping in 2012 with Jonny in Bristol Bay, Alaska while I was working as a research technician, and he was a graduate student in the Alaska Salmon Program. It took us another 2 years or so to really figure things out. Even now it seems that our methods can be plagued with issues. 

Go Wide or Go Home

I think what I like most about camera trapping is the ability to use a DSLR and wide angle lens. You get a perspective of wildlife that you just don’t see anywhere else. While the majority of wildlife photos are taken with long telephoto lenses from dozens of yards away, camera traps provide a wide angle, close-up perspective. This to me is more personal and awe-inspiring. Add a couple of external flashes at creative angles, and the shot really crosses into a different territory altogether. Strobes are helpful in balancing exposure throughout the day (and night). But rather than just placing a light behind the camera, I can really get creative and essentially build a glamour studio in the middle of the woods. 

Luck, Patience…

After setting things up, the rest is up to patience and luck. In order to get a semblance of a photo, the animal has to come into the frame and not be spooked away by the camera in a big box and two strobes. If by chance it is bold enough, I still can’t count on the animal composing itself in the right way. 

…..And Equipment 

Everything is dependent on whether or not your gear is actually working. It’s not uncommon for a motion sensor to misfire on leaves or branches blowing in the wind and fill up an entire memory card in a few hours. I’ve also had it go the other way when a pack of wolves came into my set (picked up on a trail camera pointed at my camera trap set), but the motion sensor never tripped my camera’s shutter. 

Size Matters

You also have to be mindful of what size of critter you’re trying to capture. You might set up for a big grizzly bear to come into a frame, only to have a much smaller red fox wander in and look tiny in the wide angle perspective. Alternatively, a moose might trot through and all you get are its ankles. 

Mishaps

Sometimes critters get a little too involved – I’ve now lost two DSLR rigs to brown bears trampling them into streams. I’ve also lost another rig to a flood. 

It’s a major investment to both create a setup and run the camera trap itself. Losing a camera or strobe can be heartbreaking and damaging to your bank account, but the rewards can be mind-blowing. 

The Thrill 

There is a special thrill in hiking out to a spot that has promising signs of wildlife and a good balance of foreground and background elements; envision what critters might come though; and bring what is in my head into the composition. Letting a camera trap soak in a spot for up to a month and returning is like I’m hiking to a treasure chest. Often times I get nothing from either hardware failure or a lack of wildlife. Sometimes I get a critter but maybe it didn’t do exactly what I wanted so I reposition and try again. Occasionally I get that amazing shot where everything just comes together. It’s addicting to get that perspective that really captures people’s attention. I love the reactions I get, especially from folks that think that I was there hand-holding a camera 3ft away from a grizzly bear. Sometimes people joke that I must carry around stuffed animals. That’s how I know it’s working.

Remote Underwater Photography

What to do if your fish has anxiety

Salmon swim upstream for one purpose only – to reproduce. At this particular life history stage, they have no extra desire for curiosity or even food. Moreover, assassinations are constantly attempted by their vast list of predators. These factors result in the some pretty anxious fish. Fish that want nothing to do with you. 

Photographing salmonids in streams can be much harder than taking photos of reef fish on scuba. It is more difficult to move, and there is a constant current. The water can often be too shallow or too deep. But most importantly, the fish will move to the opposite end of the stream if they see a mere body part. Sometimes the only remedy for this is to stick a camera in the water, and use a remote camera trigger to take the photo while you stand on the bank of the stream or float away from the fish.

A Brief History

I bought my first underwater setup in 2010 – a Canon SD960 point and shoot. Later in 2013 I moved to an underwater housing for my Canon 5D Mark II, and I stepped up to a Canon 5D Mark III in 2014. Now I shoot a Sony A7R II in an Ikelite housing. 

My snorkel buddy, Morgan Bond (www.morganhbond.com), and I both use remote triggers (made by Retra) in about 50% of the stream photography we do. Unsurprisingly we have found that fish seem less afraid of the housing by itself than if we were to hand-hold, allowing us to get close shots of our subjects. Remote triggers are also especially useful in certain locations where the stream depth might be too great to snorkel in while hand-holding a housing to the bottom. There might be no other option to us than to use a remote trigger. 

The Struggle

While there are clear advantages to using a remote they aren’t without their set of disadvantages. Obviously once I set up the camera, it is necessary to stick with the angle and position or risk chasing the fish away again to manage the housing.

Just a few weeks ago I was photographing spawning redband trout in the Klamath Basin, and a female seemed to stay just outside of the frame of my camera no matter how many times I adjusted the angle and position of my housing. When she did finally spawn I just barely missed having both the male and the female in the frame. It would have been great to be able to hand-hold. However, in this particular spot the water was about 5 ft deep and it would’ve been too difficult to both hold position in the stream and hold my camera deep enough to get any shot. Sometimes remote triggering might not be the most ideal solution but a necessary one, and sometimes it’s the best solution resulting in amazing keepers.

 

Full Article: Kraken Sports KRL-01 Wet Wide Angle Lens Review

Renowned for their expertise in underwater lighting, Kraken Sports has hit the ground running with a new wet lens – the KRL-01! This ultrawide wet lens is a portal to the wide angle dimension of mirrorless and compact underwater photography. The KRL-01 has proven to be a high quality, easy-to-use option for photographers who want to get more detailed, more colorful photos of big animals and reef/kelp scenes. 

KRL-01

Optical Performance

The KRL-01 is of the highest quality with 6 optic elements organized in 5 groups. With an acrylic dome, the lens is made of high-quality optical glass and coated with multi-layer BBAR coating for anti-reflection and optical clarity, the KRL-01 is ideal for shooting into the sun and over-under (half/half) split images. The field of view is a spectacular 145 degrees when used with a recommended 24mm lens! Combined with an almost zero minimum focusing distance, close-focus wide angle photos are within easy reach. 

Compatibility

With a 67mm thread, the KRL-01 easily fits on most ports and housings. Simply screw it in and you’re good to go. The lens was made for sensor sizes up to Micro 4/3rds. However, I have even been able to push its use up to the full-frame sensor on the mirrorless Sony A7R III. The lens is most ideal for Olympus and Panasonic mirrorless systems as well as high end compact cameras like the Sony RX100 series. 

 

Recommended Focal Lengths

The KRL-01 was made for use with a 24 mm lens. At his focal length, the KRL-01 creates an equivalent of 6.9mm or a whopping 145 degree field of view. Moreover, the lens has zoom through capability which means it can be used with 28mm (12.8 mm equivalent/118.6 degree field of view) and even 35mm (20mm equivalent/94.7 degree field of view) lenses.

 

Recommended Cameras

Sony RX100, II, III, IV & IV

Canon G7X & G7X Mark II

Panasonic LX10

Olympus TG-4 & TG-5

Olympus OM-D E-M5, E-M10, E-M1, E-M5 Mark II, E-M10 Mark II & E-M1 Mark II

Sony A7R, II & III

 

The Kraken KRL-01 is available now at Bluewater Photo!

Pros and Cons

Pros

As with anything else in photography there are pros and cons to using a wide angle wet lens. Perhaps the biggest benefit of the KRL-01 is the ability to instantly screw on a very high quality wide-angle lens to your camera at any point during the dive. The lens of the KRL-01 is made of high quality glass and the dome itself is acrylic so scratches can be buffed out if necessary.

Cons 

Wet lenses are usually known for being slightly lesser in quality than a dedicated wide angle lens. That being said, you’d be hard pressed to find too many differences between the KRL-01 and a dedicated wide angle lens. 

Tips and Tricks

Luckily for the user, the KRL-01 is fairly intuitive to use. There isn’t much you have to do past screwing it in. At wide apertures, photos can become a little soft around the edges. I recommend using f/8 or smaller for the most depth of field and sharpest results. Vignetting should not be a problem, though it could be on some compact systems. If it is, then zoom in until the vignetting goes away. As with all wide angle photography – make sure you shoot close to the subject and shoot up if possible!  

 

Comparison

With the KRL-01

Without the KRL-01

Sample Underwater Photos

 

The Kraken KRL-01 is available now at Bluewater Photo!

Full Article: Mermaids and Underwater Fashion Photography

At some point in our lives, we all wonder what is hidden beneath the ocean’s depths. This same curiosity for the sunken world has inspired the minds of many throughout history. Fantasy become myth, folklore, and timeless literature. Such is how the mythical figure of the mermaid came to life and never really stopped intriguing us. 

Turning Myth into Reality

Photography takes an ocean tale and pushes it a step forward, transforming it into a reality. At some point, as photography took its place among the arts, someone decided to experiment underwater, making a new medium available to our craft. 

Water is where fashion takes a new shape and gives us the chance to bring history’s wildest dreams to life. Not only have we reinvented the figure of the  mermaid, but we have given her a new meaning. An advocate for ocean conservation is born from this myth, inspiring change throughout the world.

 

From Fashion to Conservation

In an environment free from gravity’s rules, we can create concepts and share our vision with the world. With underwater photography we can make our own art – reaching the minds of those who don’t speak our language and inspiring compassion in those who won’t listen to simple words. Coral bleaching, pollution,  and captivity become important concepts made visual through photography.

Photoshoot after photoshoot, my transition from photography to conservation photography happened almost on its own. Shoots went from being just fashion related to carrying conservation concepts. It soon became my focus. Now I travel to make underwater and mermaid photoshoots available to everybody. This brings ocean awareness around the world. My traveling has also created the opportunity for me to go to schools and teach children about ocean conservation.

 

From the Studio to the Water

Techniques in underwater photography often go hand in hand with those you would use in the studio. The major difference is the addition of dedicated camera housings and waterproof strobes powerful enough to work through a dense medium like water. I find most housings are great for pool shoots, as long as they can be synced to a strobe and vacuum sealed. I prefer to work with underwater housings that allow you to work in deep water as well, like Nauticam, Aquatica and Easydive. Personally, the ocean is where I have the most fun during my photoshoots. All photographs in this article were shot with a Nikon D800, Nikkor 24mm f/1.4 lens, and Sea & Sea YS-250 PRO strobes.

Lighting and Technique

Lighting a subject is the biggest challenge in fashion shoots. Adapting powerful strobes from shooting underwater wildlife to portraits of people can be difficult - how well you light a scene can set you apart from other photographers. In the pool I often light my subjects with remote strobes using an optical slave flash trigger built into my Sea & Sea YS-250 strobes.

When using stationary lighting, a photographer will have to learn how to move in the water to capture the best light as the subject moves. In the pool it is best to work with your model at the shallow end without a scuba tank. Constantly reposition the model, keeping your lights on tripods. If you are using strobes with a slave function, make sure all the lights are in visual range of one another. They trigger via light waves so if they are obstructed, they won’t fire. In the ocean, the best results are achieved once the whole team is on scuba and the model is weighed down in one spot.

Pool vs the Ocean

In the pool, underwater photography comes together easier than in the ocean, where conditions are usually completely out of one’s control. The advantage of working in the pool is the ability to control almost everything (water temperature, visibility, etc.) under a small budget. In the ocean and even freshwater environments, backgrounds are more beautiful, and there is always the potential to be visited by curious wildlife. However, adding props becomes costlier, and building a set takes more time and effort in an environment that changes conditions extremely quickly. In the ocean, safety divers are often used to make sure your concept will be executed smoothly and safely.

Conclusion

Underwater photography has allowed me to follow my dreams of a life spent in the water, connecting me with incredible and caring people working in conservation around the world. As technology becomes more advanced, limits fade away, leaving us with the privilege to experiment and create our own path in the history of photography.

Full Article: Nauticam Sony A7R III Housing Mini Review

Nauticam is known for making consistently high quality and ergonomic housings. The Sony A7R III is making strides in full-frame mirrorless technology. Together this camera and housing is the ultimate power couple of mirrorless underwater technology. 

Sony A7R III

The Sony A7R III is the new forefront of full-frame mirrorless cameras. It boats a 42.4 megapixel sensor with an updated BIONZ X image processor. Combined, these features make for a versatile camera with excellent performance and great resolution. 

Camera Specifications

42.4 MP Back-Illuminated Full-Frame Exmor R CMOS Sensor

Updated BIONZ X Image Processor

UHD 4K30p Video with HLG, S-Log2 and S-Log3 Gammas

5-Axis SteadyShot INSIDE Sensor-Shift Stabilization

399 Phase-Detect Auto-focus Points

425 Contrast AF points (400 more contrast point than a7R II)

0.5" 3.69M-Dot Quad-VGA OLED Electronic View Finder (EVF)

3.0" 1.44M-Dot Touchscreen Tilting LCD Monitor

Shoot up to ISO 102,400

New Low Vibration Shutter Design

Anti-reflective Sensor Coating

Weather-sealed body to resist dust and moisture

Type C USB Port

Improved battery life

Recommended Lenses for the Sony A7RIII

Sony 16-35mm F4 for wide-angle, sharks, pelagics, video

Sony 28mm + fisheye conversion lens for ultra-wide angle

Sony 28-70mm for fish, marine life portraits, some macro

Sony 24-70mm for fish, marine life portraits, video

Sony 90mm macro lens for macro, supermacro, fish

Nauticam Sony A7R III (NA-A7RIII) Housing

Nauticam housings are made of aluminum and controls are always designed to be within a finger’s distance. This results in a sturdy but ergonomically sound design. As with other Nauticam DSLRs, this housing comes with a port locking lever for quick and easy lens changes. Two M16 and a single M14 bulkhead allow for the addition of accessories like a vacuum valve, electronic flash triggering bulkheads, or HDMI bulkheads. Of course, a Nauticam housing is never complete without its famous rubberized grips and this housing is no different! 

Housing Specifications

Depth rating: 100m

Weight: 2.43 kg

Dimensions: 348mm x 200mm x 118mm

Housing Accessories 

Beyond an ergonomic design, Nauticam goes out of its way to increase usability of their housings with countless accessories. Here are a few we recommend...

Nauticam Vacuum Check and Leak Detection System

Nauticam Extended Viewfinders for Mirrorless Cameras - Choose between the 180° Viewfinder of 45° viewfinder for a magnified view of the cameras electronic viewfinder, both options include dioptric adjustment so you can perfectly match the view to your eyesight.

Nauticam Lanyard with Snap Clips - perfect accessory to add to the housing so that it can be safely carried, or handed back on to the boat after your dive. Choose 23cm for the E-M1 Mark II Housing.

Sea & Sea YS-D2 J Strobes - perfect companions to the Sony A7R III for lighting your photographs

Light & Motion, Kraken, or Fix Neo - Focus and Video Lights - these small and full featured lights work great underwater as either focus lights when shooting macro, or for video lights to help bring back the rich colors of your underwater scene.

Stix Floats - if using Nauticam or ULCS arms with your strobes, these floats help counter the negative weight of the housing and create a neutral set up, much more comfortable underwater.

 

Full Article: New and Improved Kraken Sports Hydra Lights

Kraken Sports Hydra 5000+

Initial Thoughts

Kraken has announced the updated version to their popular 5000 lumen video light, the Kraken Hydra 5000+! The light is solid, extremely well built, and easy to use. It functions the same as the original in terms of buttons and modes. There are three different power settings on white light, three different settings on red light, an SOS mode, and UV mode. Although geared towards video shooter, photographers can reap rewards from it as well. As it is such a strong light, it can be used to back light wide angle scenes or add supplemental lighting. I have only used it on one dive but I was immediately impressed. I will likely take it on any future dives where I'm shooting things besides big animals in the blue.

The Original 5000 vs the New 5000+

The thing that sets the Kraken Hydra 5000+ apart from the original 5000 is the color rendering index (CRI). The new light has a CRI of about 90 whereas the original CRI was 82. This means the light cast is far more natural than the original model with better reproduction of reds and oranges. Perhaps the one minor downside of the 5000+ is the decrease in burn time at 100% flood from 65 minutes to 60 minutes. 

Specifications

Lumens: 5000 flood / 800 spot

CRI: 90

Beam Angle: 110 Degrees Underwater

Burn Time: 60 minutes @ 100% flood 

Beam Types: Flood, Spot, Red and UV

Switch: Dual push button on/off intensity adjustment with battery level indicator

Modes: Flood Light Power Level 100%/75%/50%/25%;  Spot Light Power Level 100%/50%/25%; Red Light Power Level 100%/50%/25%

Depth Rating: 330ft/100m 

 

The Kraken Hydra 5000+ is available now at Bluewater Photo!

Kraken Sports Hydra 1000+

Initial Thoughts

The Hydra 1000+ is an amazing value for such a high-quality focus light! It is powerful yet compact. I have been able to create nice, warm macro shots with just the light and no strobes. Using the light is intuitive to the point where you can almost throw out your manual. Of the three beam modes, the wide is my favorite. Although it is certainly more diffuse than the spot mode, it has a nice warm color that can be nice for additional lighting to your subjects or macro video. If you wish to only use the light as a focus light – the auto flash off feature is unique and very functional. I recommend this light for photographers who need a good focus light but also want to add a little more color in their photo or video.

The Original 1000 vs the New 1000+

The Kraken Hydra 1000+ is, quite literally, everything we loved about the (now discontinued) Kraken Hydra 1000 and more. They are the same light with one added difference – the auto flash off feature. With the Hydra 1000+ you have the option to set it so that the light will turn off automatically when your strobes fire so as not to get in your shot. This allows you to use the light solely for the purpose of focusing on your subject. If you prefer the light remain on, the feature is easily deactivated. The tripod screw mount and gopro mount has been removed from the package, but they still include a YS mount. 

Specifications

Auto Flash Off Feature

Lumens: 1000 Flood  / 800 Spot

Modes: Wide / Spot / Red / SOS

Wide Beam Angle: 100 Degrees Underwater

Burn Time: 85 minutes @ 100% flood 

Switch: Dual push button on/off intensity adjustment with battery level indicator

Modes: Flood 100%/75%/50%/25%; Spot 100%/50%/25%; Red 100%/50%/25% and SOS

Depth Rating: 330ft/100m 

 

The Kraken Hydra 1000+ is available now at Bluewater Photo!

 

Why Kraken?

Why choose Kraken Sports over competing brands? Excellent customer service, a cheaper price per lumen, sturdy and compact equipment, and natural light color and temperature. There is really no comparison. 

Full Article: Retra Flash Full Review

A few months ago I had the chance to take one of the first production pair Retra Flashes underwater for just four dives. I did a very brief initial review on it. I was immediately impressed and confident that my decision to preorder my own pair was the correct one but four dives in bad conditions were not enough to put together a thorough review.

Fast forward to now and I've managed to have them out on around 35 dives so below is a more thorough overview of the flashes, my thoughts, and some images I've made with them underwater.

Nemo Brand Anemonefish- Anilao, Philippines. Nikon D500, Nauticam Housing, Dual Retra Flashes w/Wide Angle Diffusers, Nikonos 13mm

SPECIFICATIONS:

  • 100W/s 
  • GN30 in comparison with two strobes - see comparison here 
  • GN18 (absolute measurement on land) 
  • Recycle time @100%: 2s (4x eneloop pro), 1s (8x eneloop pro) 
  • Number of flash @100%, 0.5Hz: 450x (4x eneloop pro), 900x (8x eneloop pro) 
  • 300 lumen pilot light 
  • Pilot light burn time @100%: 3h (4x eneloop pro), 6h (8x eneloop pro) 
  • 5400K color temperature (4500K with wide angle diffuser) 
  • 110º beam angle 
  • 9 manual exposure levels 
  • S-TTL with +/- 2 F-stop adjustment 
  • Slave mode with smart pre-flash cancellation 
  • 4 level battery indicator for eneloop batteries 
  • Electrical connector options: S&S 5 pin, S6, N5 and Ikelite 5 pin 
  • Inon and Sea&Sea dual compatible optical connector 
  • Length = 120mm 
  • Diameter = 102,5mm
  • There are nine power settings on the the back of the strobes, all easily chooseable with the large, smooth dial. The flashes take electronic or fiber optic sync cables (both Inon style mount and S&S style mount), and have corresponding settings based on which you are using. The dial that activates the strobe has several different notations. OFF, ON (the setting to use with electrical sync cables), STTL, SL (the setting to use with fiber optic cables), and SOS. An easily pushable pilot light is centered in the back of the strobe, with multiple power settings. The battery compartment (sealed off from the rest of the strobe) is a screw in/screw off, with perfectly decipherable instructions inside the battery compartment as to how to load the batteries

 

On the left we can see the front of the Retra Flash showing the flash tube and the battery indicator lights which can be immensely helpful. The lack of a battery indicator was a gripe I always had with previous strobes I have used. On the right the back of the strobe showing the open battery compartment, the power modes, the power settings, the fiber optic port (the strobe comes able to handle both S&S and Inon style mounts), the electronic sync port, and the pilot light. The back light above the pilot light push button changes color depending on which setting you have the strobe on. 

  • Off=No light
  • On=White
  • TTL=Blue
  • SL (Slave Mode)= Green
  • SOS=Flashing White

Golden Gorgonion on the pilings of the Eureka Oil Rig off Southern California. Nikon D850, Nauticam Housing, Dual Retra Flash w/Wide Angle Diffusers, Nikonos 13mm

 

 

The Retra Flash is available now at Bluewater Photo!

BUILD QUALITY:

At first glance it is apparent you are looking at a beautifully constructed tool. The sleek silver aluminum casing is not only nice to look at, but provides a tough exterior that should stand up to just about any wear and tear. The casing also prevents overheating that can sometimes plague the plastic bodied strobes. 

Two large, smooth dials control every function of the flash (aside from the pilot light push button) and are very easy to work, even while wearing the thickest coldwater gloves.

The back of the Retra Flash showing the battery compartment, the different power settings, the different modes, the pilot light, and the electronic sync port

Another image of the strobe back allowing us to see the large, very ergonomic controls of the Retra Flash that allow for easy adjustments while being nearly impossible to knock out of position.

Retra flash used to illuminate the octopus while the bottle is backlit with a torch. Coconut Octopus- Anilao, Philippines. Nikon D500, Nauticam Housing, 1x Retra Flash w/Retra LSD Snoot, Sola 800, Nikonos 13mm

UNDERWATER USE

Specs are nice but if the gear can't perform in the real world, what's the point? I have been very pleased with my pair of Retra Flashes. They allow for far greater creativity than I was able to show in this article, they are built extremely well, they look nice, and the light they produce is beautiful. A soft, even beam at a color temperature of 4500K and a spread of 130 degrees with the standard wide angle diffuser in place. The real test will be long term reliability over years and years. The strobes I upgraded from (Inon z240s) are workhorses that have provided countless underwater photographers with years of solid use. The Retras need to at least match that reliability. So far they have.

If you're like me (forgetful) and dont remember to check the battery indicator lights once in a while and notice your strobe will only work in SOS mode, that is not cause for concern for anything other than your memory! It just means the battery levels are low and the strobe is requesting fresh ones. 

The Retra Flashes produce beautiful soft light, especially with the standard Wide Angle Diffusers in place. Inward lighting meant just the softest edge of the beam illuminated the Fish Eating Anemone. Monterey Bay, CA. Panasonic GH5, Nauticam Housing, Dual Retra Flash w/Wide Angle Diffusers, Olympus 14-42, Kraken Sports KRL-01 Wet Lens

Soft, even illumination throughout the frame, even on the smallest of subjects. I generally leave my wide angle diffusers on even for macro shooting. Pygmy Seahorse-Anilao, Philippines. Nikon D500, Nauticam Housing, Dual Retra Flash w/Wide Angle Diffusers, Nikon 105mm VR, Nauticam SMC


OPTIONAL ACCESSORIES FOR UNMATCHED CREATIVITY

*All of the Retra accessories are easily attached and detached via the bayonet locking system on the strobe head. This means all tools are extremely secure on the front of the flash and you don't have to worry about knocking them off or losing them. Each accessory is marked with an open lock and closed lock symbol so you know exactly where to begin the bayonet attachment process.

-Wide Angle Diffuser- The diffuser recommended for most situations. Comes standard with each strobe so is not something that has to be purchased separately unless spares are wanted.

-White Diffuser- The white diffuser maintains the natural color temperature of the flash while spreading the light to 120 degrees. Can be good for greenwater diving so you aren't overwarming colors with the wide angle diffuser.

-Shark Diffuser- The shark diffuser is perfect for large animal photography to warm up the blue water (to 4400K) they're typicall found in. It maintains the 110 degree spread of the bare strobe head.

-Reduction Ring-The reduction ring does just what it sounds like. It reduces the light spread to prevent light spill and backscatter in macro or wide angle images. 

-External Battery Pack- The external battery life doubles the number of exposures you can make (up to around ~950) while also halving the normal recycle time at full power, from 2 seconds to 1 second. This means shooting at half power or lower, recycle time will be essentially instantaneous. The external pack threads into the back of the strobe and houses an additional 4 AA batteries for a total of 8.

-Retra LSD Optical Snoot- The Retra snoot has become the gold standard for snoots underwater. It is built in the same fashion as the strobe and uses optical glass elements to focus the beam instead of the fiber optic approach of most other snoots. It als has a number of inserts available for even more creative possibilities.

Hairy Frogfish-Anilao, Philippines. Nikon D500, Nauticam Housing, Nikon 105mm VR, 1x Retra Flash w/Retra LSD Snoot

The snoot isn't just for creating the spotlight effect. Here used to light just the face of the subject during a long exposure allowing the movement of the tentacles to show and the ambient light to illuminate the rest of the image. Flamboyant Cuttlefish- Anilao, Philippines. Nikon D500, Nauticam Housing, Nikon 105mm VR, 1x Retra Flash w/Retra LSD Snoot

 

The Retra Flash is available now at Bluewater Photo!

THE BOTTOM LINE:

The Retra flash is fantastic tool for underwater photography. It allows for a seemingly unmatched amount of creativity between all the different accessories and is up to the task no matter what situation it is put in. I plan on using these strobes for a long time to come (I will keep my inons as back ups) and I expect them to serve me well. I would not hesitate to recommend these strobes to anybody especially if they are looking for an affordable, do it all option. 

Join me in Lembeh or Guadalupe this year.

Full Article: Kraken Weefine Ring Light 3000 Review

What happens when a company takes a good product and adds new features and functionality? We get a better product that delivers new utility and creative potential.

The Kraken Weefine Ring Light 3000 is just such an example. Not long after the release of the original Ring Light 1000, comes a new model with a broad range of upgraded features and functions that is sure to appeal to many underwater photographers looking for ways to add a creative twist to their images. 

While the original RL1000 (reviewed here) provided us with plenty to be excited about, at the end of the day it really did one thing...provide 1000 lumens of clean and consistent light ideally suited for close focusing on macro subjects. Although it offered variable power settings, a rotating battery holder and battery level indicator, at the end of the day it was an “on or off” light. Regardless I did and still do love mine.

Everything we loved in the original and a whole lot more!

Fast forward to the RL3000 and the bar has been raised. Not only is there more power...which means more light supplied by a higher capacity battery, but additional new features such as a strobe mode as well as both red and blue light.

So what exactly is different in the new Ring Light 3000?

- An increase of standard continuous light output from 1000 to 1800 lumens at 100% power.

- Additional red and blue (UV) lighting options

- Additional “strobe” mode with a 3000 lumen output

- New 26650 lithium battery

- Increased depth rating to 100m (330 ft) vs the 60m (198 ft) for RL1000

Specifications

Continuous light mode (White/Red/Blue)

Strobe light mode (White/Red/Blue)

Continuous light Max: 1800 lumens

Strobe light Max: 3000 lumens

Depth Rating: 100m/330ft

Beam Angle: 100 degrees on land / 90 degrees underwater

Color Temp: 5000-5500K

Power Level: 100/75/50/25%

Button: two buttons complete with a battery level meter

Continuous light mode approx. 45 minutes at full power

Strobe light mode approx. 12 hours

1 x 26650 Lithium battery

Charge time: Approx. 4 hours from zero (5V/2A)

All of this comes in a slightly larger package than the original, but overall it is still a very compact system. Comparing the two:

RL1000 measures 117.2mm x 152.8mm x 36.4mm (with an M67 thread for mounting)

RL3000 measures 123.8mm x 159.6mm x 40.6mm (with an M67 thread for mounting)

 

Pick up your Kraken Weefine Ring Light 3000 at Bluewater Photo!

 

The package includes the light, the 26650 battery, the battery charger, and two spare o-rings. One notable difference is that the RL1000 came with a AAA battery holder while the RL3000 does not. As I mentioned in the original review, I advise against the use of disposable alkaline batteries simply for the sake of not creating more waste than needed.

Even though the new battery is of higher capacity, the burn time at 100% has dropped from 65 minutes for the RL1000 to just 45 minutes for the RL3000 due to the increase of power output to 1800 lumens. In my dives, I did not find this to be an issue as I would shut the light off when not actively working on a subject. Where I can see this being a challenge is on a boat doing multiple dives and not having access to a charger between dives. A spare battery is an easy remedy.

 

Clean and even lighting...in a flash

Perhaps the biggest change to the RL3000 is the addition of what is called “Strobe Light Mode”. Put simply, this new feature is the ability to boost the power from 1800 lumens up to the full 3000 lumens via a connected fiber optic cable (using a standard Sea & Sea type connector), acting like a strobe. While it does not flash at the same speed as a standard underwater strobe, it boosts its output momentarily. This functions in the same way as any standard underwater strobe.

Strobe Light Operation

Simply connect a single fiber optic cable to the strobe and when you pull the shutter release, your onboard camera flash or flash trigger will signal the RL3000 to fire. While I was initially skeptical about this feature, it worked reliably and worked well. I could get approximately one additional stop of light from the RL3000, which translates to either a faster shutter speed (to freeze the action), smaller aperture (for greater depth-of-field), or a lower ISO (for cleaner and less noisy images). 

Red Light, Blue Light, and Their Uses

The red light is useful for positioning yourself in front of your subject. When sneaking up on a fish or attempting to not attract thousands of nuisance “bugs” during a night dive, I switch the RL3000 into strobe mode with the red light on as my focus light. Now I have the benefit of a red focus light that switches to the full power white light in strobe mode during the exposure. This was very helpful for shooting at night in my tests.

The other key addition is the blue (UV) light. While I am generally not one to use UV lighting for photographs, I do like to have a look at the reef under UV light on a night dive. Specifically, I find the look of the RL3000 blue light to be more of a UV-ish blue, and perhaps not a true UV light. I think this feature will appeal to some users and not others, but I do like that it is included. 

Dual button controls

Another change that users will see on the new light is the control buttons, there are now two. In all honesty, I found the controls to be a bit confusing. However, I fully expect that after using the light for more than a few dives the controls will become familiar and easy to operate. Getting the light into its different modes required pushing one or both buttons, holding them for extended durations, etc. While this is not difficult, it does take some getting used to and a bit of memory. I also expect for cold water divers wearing thick gloves the controls could be a challenge to use. There is a fairly well written instruction manual that covers all the controls. 

Use with a Diopter

Using the new RL3000 with a macro diopter will work well assuming your diopter has a thread on the front element. One challenge I encountered using the RL3000 with a diopter was the very close working distance. In some cases, I found that at maximum magnification (or closest focusing distances) there was very little room between the front of the RL3000 and the subject. 

Conclusion

At the end of the day, both the original and the upgraded version are worth the costs and are a great addition to an underwater photographer’s toolbox. If you own the original is it worth the upgrade? That’s difficult to say, but there are clearly many reasons to consider it. The strobe feature is a great function and one I found the be very useful. I really think the red light is a great feature and when combined with the strobe mode it is quite useful. I would say that anyone looking for a ring light, the new 3000 is the one to look at. The added functions are well worth the cost.

Pick up your Kraken Weefine Ring Light 3000 at Bluewater Photo and join Erik in Lembeh, Dumaguete, or Anilao this year!