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Scott's Underwater Photography Blog

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Full Article: Story Behind the Shot: Octopus Sunball

For me, diving and photography started roughly around the same time. After getting certified in California in early 2014, I was in such awe of the beauty underwater that I had to share it with my family. So, I purchased my first compact camera and began taking photos. I read every article I could get my hands on – especially those by the Underwater Photography Guide, and The Underwater Photographer, by Martin Edge, more times than I can count. After several years with my compact camera, I upgraded to a Nikon D7200 and dual Sea & Sea YS-D1 strobes, which is what I shoot now. 

Finding the Octopus

The octopus encounter which led to my winning shot in the SoCal Shootout 2018 was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before. I went out on Saturday with the Sundiver Express to the front side of Catalina. About 15-20 minutes into my first dive (at Little Gieger), I spotted him. At first, the octopus was very shy and tucked himself back into the rocks, so I ignored him and tried to shoot a nearby sea fan instead. But after about 3 shots, he started walking along the pinnacle.

At that point, he didn’t seem to care about me at all; he had food on his mind. For the next 30 minutes, I watched him hunt. Every couple of steps, he would dig his tentacles into the reef and inflate like a balloon – turning solid white as he searched for food.

Composing the Shot

To create an interesting background for the shot, I moved to the opposite side of the octopus and placed the sun at his back. Because he was moving around so much, I had to keep re-adjusting the settings for each shot to get the water color and sunburst I wanted. In general, I shot between f18-f22 and 1/200 to 1/320 on ISO 200. The strobes were at the 10-2 positions, 2-clicks below full power. To keep backscatter to a minimum, I angled the strobes straight down at the reef so that the front edge of the light would hit the octopus and not the water. The octopus’s hunt was an amazing sight to witness and I feel very grateful and blessed to have been there for it.

Check out all the winners of the SoCal Shootout 2018, hosted by Bluewater Photo

Full Article: 7 Tips for Great Sea Lion Photos

For many years I admired from afar the playful images of California sea lions coming out of the Sea of Cortez, Mexico. They were imprinted in my mind; I could only imagine the personal interaction with such playful and curious creatures, and the underwater experience that came with it. So when the opportunity came to make the Sea of Cortez my work space, I didn’t have to think twice.

Territorial bull male guarding the harem at La Reina, La Paz.
Canon 5DIII, Aquatica housing, Sigma 2.8 15mm fisheye lens. f/8, 1/250 sec, ISO 320.

 

California Sea Lions of the Sea of Cortez, Baja California Sur, Mexico

Upon my first arrival to the sea lion colony of Los Islotes, a grin from ear to ear spread across my face as our group was surrounded by the distinctive barks, growls, and grunts from the 500+ sea lions that inhabit this small volcanic rock island. Our grins quickly turned into hysterics as we watched them waddle, jump, and push each other off the rocks.


Juvenile sea lions practising territorial battles at Los Islotes, La Paz.
Canon 5DIII, Aquatica housing, Sigma 2.8 15mm fisheye lens. f/9, 1/250 sec, ISO320.

 

During my years as an underwater photographer, nothing has filled my heart more than my interactions with California sea lions, experiencing all of their playfulness and curiosity. These guys play, nibble, roll, chew on your camera, and push up against your face; before you know it, your dive time is up, and you just can’t wait to get back in the water with them.

Spending most of my days now in the water with California sea lions has taught me some key lessons and techniques. So here are my top 7 tips to help you capture some great underwater images of these playful puppies of the ocean.

A happy juvenile sea lion of Los Islotes, La Paz.
Canon 5DIII, Aquatica housing, Sigma 2.8 15mm fisheye lens, 2x YS-D1 strobes. f/9, 1/250 sec, ISO320.

 

1. If They Play with You, Play Back!

With a curious and playful nature, sea lions generally won’t leave you alone in the water and are always more than happy to be in front of the camera. That being said, juvenile sea lions are like big puppy dogs of the ocean, and will lose interest quickly if you don’t interact with them. So remember to take in the moment, interact with them, spin when they spin, let them play, and fire off some snaps within those moments - you can make a friend for the whole dive. 


Photographer capturing a sea lion laying in the canyon of La Reina, La Paz.
Canon 5DIII, Aquatica housing, Sigma 2.8 15mm fisheye lens. f/7.1, 1/250 sec, ISO 320.

 

2. Know What You Want to Shoot Before You Get in the Water

These guys move, and fast. This means that changing between camera settings when interacting with a sea lion is nearly impossible. I generally get into the water with an idea of the image I want to try and capture - whether it’s a portrait, a silhouette, them playing together, or them interacting with divers.


 
California sea lion coming in for a closer look at Los Islotes, La Paz.
Canon 5DIII, Aquatica housing, Sigma 2.8 15mm fisheye lens, 2x YS-D1 strobes. f/6.3, 1/250 sec, ISO 320.

 

3. Set a High Shutter Speed

Because of sea lion's fast and rapid movements underwater, a fast shutter speed is required. Shooting with the Canon 5d iii, my strobes sync at 1/250th of a second. But in ambient light shots, even higher shutter speeds can be required.

 

Juvenile sea lion at Los Islotes, La Paz, coming in for a chew on the camera.
Canon 5DIII, Aquatica housing, Sigma 2.8 15mm fisheye lens, 2x YS-D1 strobes. f/10, 1/250 sec, ISO 640.

 

4. Close Down on Aperture (Increase F-stop)

Closing down on your aperture with these quick moving subjects also helps keep them in your focus points. I usually start at f/9 and will close it down if required; this in turn means some sacrifice with having to shoot a higher ISO.

Juvenile sea lion inside the cave at Los Islotes, La Paz.
Canon 5DIII, Aquatica housing, Sigma 2.8 15mm fisheye lens, 2x YS-D1 strobes. f/11, 1/160 sec, ISO 320.

 

5. Use Strobes When Close

Sea lions play near the surface, and generally aren’t found much deeper than 7m. Most days are bright and sunny here in La Paz, which gives us plenty of ambient light to work with. And if the sea lions are closer than around 2 m, adding some low amounts of artificial light helps bring out the detail in their fur and more of their colour. It also helps freeze their motion for the image. While conditions are normally excellent during the summer months, there is always potential for backscatter, so keeping your strobes out helps minimise this.

Portrait of a juvenile sea lion at Los Islotes, La Paz.
Canon 5DIII, Aquatica housing, Sigma 2.8 15mm fisheye lens, 2x YS-D1 strobes. f/9, 1/250 sec, ISO 640.

 

6. Go for Portrait Shots!

Portrait shots are one of my favourite images to capture - those big bulging eyes, tiny streamlined ears, and of course, their super sensitive whiskers. As they move around so rapidly, when I try for portrait shots I generally shoot blind and move the camera around with them. This also keeps them interested, with having a big weird flashing thing waving about in front of them. Strobe power and positioning is crucial for portrait shots, so pulling your strobes in tighter and a little higher to the camera helps make sure the light completely spreads over their face and nose.

 


Juvenile sea lion taking a well deserved nap at Los Islotes, La Paz
Canon 5DIII, Aquatica housing, Sigma 2.8 15mm fisheye lens. f/10, 1/250 sec, ISO 640.

 

7. Look for Sea Lions Napping on the Surface

There is something so cute about a sea lion napping at the surface, and this makes for great over/under shots. Sleeping at the surface means they aren’t looking for interaction and we need to respect that. Approach them very slowly and cautiously, and make sure they are comfortable with you being there. During the shot above, I was heard breaking the surface of the water. He opened his eye, checked me over for a second, and then went straight back to drifting along.


My Equipment:

For Sea Lions I shoot with the Canon 5d III with a Sigma 15mm 2.8 fisheye lens, inside an Aquatica housing with an 8” Dome Port and two Sea & Sea YS-D1s. 


Where:

Among other locales, California Sea Lions inhabit the Sea of Cortez all year round, between Los Islotes, San Rafaelito and La Reina. The volcanic rock island of Los Islotes is a more known colony with over 500+ individuals. Being a prominent breeding ground with more active juveniles makes this site ideal for photography opportunities.


Raft of sea lions taking in some sun at San Rafaelito, La Paz.
Canon 5DIII, Aquatica housing, Sigma 2.8 15mm fisheye lens. f/9, 1/250 sec, ISO 320.

 

When:

California sea lions breed once a year, and during this time the male sea lions become more territorial. Although the occurrences of actual attacks on divers are next to none, to safeguard against this and to let them do their thing during breeding season, Los Islotes is closed to tourism during the months of June, July, and August.

Sea Lion heading back for the island of San Rafaelito.
Canon 5DIII, Aquatica housing, Sigma 2.8 15mm fisheye lens. f/11, 1/250 sec, ISO 320.

 

How:

My recommendation is to go with a well-established operator with experienced guides who understand and respect sea lion behaviour. You can join me at Pro Photo Baja (www.prophotobaja.com) with the Cortez Club, as we run daily specialised photography excursions to the sea lion colony of Los Islotes. 

 

Book your Sea of Cortez Trip!

Bluewater Travel can help you plan and book the perfect Sea of Cortez dive trip. Visit Bluewater's Sea of Cortez Scuba Diving page or email bookings@bluewaterdivetravel.com.

Bluewater is also offering the following Sea of Cortez group trips:

 
 Sea Lion racing against a Giant Pacific Manta Ray, La Reina, La Paz
Canon 5DIII, Aquatica housing, Sigma 2.8 15mm fisheye lens. f/9, 1/250 sec, ISO 320.

Additional Reading:

Full Article: Cave Photography in Mexico's Lesser-Known Cenotes

For me, photography is a way to show others what I’ve seen underwater; how beautiful underwater scenes are, as well as underwater creatures. After 12 years of shooting images underwater, I decided that cave photography was my next step to take. To become a cave diver, you must pass the certification course by mastering several skills - including perfect buoyancy, finding your way out of a cave in zero visibility, following a strict navigation code and being able to dive with 2, 3 or 4 tanks. So, it takes some time, a lot of effort, and many, many practice dives.

Cave Diving in Cenotes

Diving into full darkness is challenging, and it's necessary to have a good light and 2 or more backups; otherwise you will see nothing at all! As a cave diver, you get to see very amazing formations that very few people (even other divers) have the chance to see. However, carrying a 12kg (26.4 lb) camera/strobe setup and 1.7kg (3.75 lb) light is complicated when diving in cenotes. Going through restrictions, low visibility zones, and diving with 3 tanks with a large camera makes things more complicated than just cave diving. Also, not all cenotes have facilities to make things easy, such as stairs to get into the water, so taking care of your photo gear is a very serious task.

Cenotes have a long history back to the Mayans and before. For Mayans, cenotes were sacred places, representing a fresh water source, but also an entrance to the “underworld”. Some of them were used for sacrifices, as well as offerings to the Gods. It is important to always keep in mind that when diving in a cenote, you’re not only diving in a fresh water cave, but also in a very ancient cave system that millions of years ago was above water. Additionally, you’re entering into a Mayan sacred place where respect must be shown to the ancestors. And this respect must go beyond the Mayans, towards structures that were created millions of years ago and are very fragile and delicate.


In a cenote you must not touch, must not take away, and must not leave anything. Most importantly, a lot of respect must be shown to all the safety factors required for diving in an overhead environment where your level of training must not be exceeded; without the proper training and equipment, your own life may be at risk.

Getting in the Water

Some cenotes may not have nice facilities such as an access road, parking area, or tables or benches to assemble your gear. But when you go underwater, it worth it. Such is the case of D’Zonot Ila Cenote.

Here you need to use ropes and pulleys to take all your diving and photo gear down about 12m (40’) through a small opening to the water, and gear-up on the water. However, when you see what’s beneath the surface, it’s hard to believe.

Some other cenotes are even less inviting. They make you not want to go in the water at all, because all you can see from the surface is a small pond of murky water.

When entering the water, visibility is almost zero and you must rely on a line attached to a tree next to the pond. Even worse, you have to follow the line down for about 2 minutes before the visibility gets better. But once you do, the water clears up so much that you feel like you’re flying!

Some cenotes have a different type of entrance, basically a hole on the ground. They can go very deep, like El Zapote, which runs straight down as a cylinder until 90 feet of depth. At that point, you can see a very typical type of stalactite in the form of a bell, which is why this place is sometimes also called “Hell’s Bells.”

El Zapote cenote, also known as Hell’s Bells. Nikon D-810, Sea & Sea Housing, Nikon AF-S 16-35mm f/4G lens @ 16mm, 2x S&S YS-D1 strobes. 1/100 sec, f/11, ISO 100.

 

Life in Cenote Cave Zones

Underwater life in cenote cave zones can be quite different from areas where there’s light. In areas of light you can find small freshwater fish, but how about in the dark cave sections? Amazingly enough, even in the absolute darkness of a cave there’s life. It really makes you wonder how a fish or shrimp or other crustacean can live in such darkness.

In some cenotes there’s a fish that is both beautiful and ugly at the same time, called “the White Lady” (Typhliasina pearsei). These very shy fish live in the cave zones of many cenotes. Despite being blind, they are still shy of diving lights because the heat from the lights bothers them. They are not easy to photograph since bubble noise, water disturbance and lights all make them aware of the diver’s presence. Shooting this type of fish requires much patience, low air consumption, and of course a safety-conscious buddy to keep their eye on you and the line as it's easy to get caught up chasing the fish!


 White Lady (Typhliasina pearsei) – a blind cave fish. Nikon D-810, Sea & Sea Housing, AF-S VR Micro-Nikkor 105 f/2.8G, 2x S&S YS-D1 strobes, Sola Photo 800 focus light. 1/200 sec, f/25, ISO 160.

 

Macro photography in a cenote is more challenging than in the ocean. This is due to the complete darkness, and the fact that you must keep your main light covered in order not to disturb the sensitive creatures. I only use a small red focus light, but this makes it even more challenging just to find these elusive subjects.

What I Love About Cave Diving in Cenotes

Cave diving in cenotes provides a sensation of loneliness, tranquility, silence, and some doses of adrenaline. Additionally, it is the opportunity to observe how wonderful mother nature is, materialized in beautiful, ancient formations. Diving in a cenote will always give you something to remember.

Light reflections where stalactites enter the cenote’s water create magnificent images - at some points producing the illusion of floating or flying objects.
 

Light reflections of stalactites entering the water. Nikon D-810, Sea & Sea Housing, Nikon AF-S 16-35mm f/4G lens @16mm, 2x S&S YS-D1 strobes. 1/125 sec, f/7.1, ISO 125.


Another marvelous aspect of diving in cenotes is the haloclines. A halocline is the point of separation between salt water and fresh water. It creates the sensation of flying above the water line. Due to differences in density, light reflects differently in each type of water.

Diving above a halocline. Nikon D-810, Sea & Sea Housing, Nikon AF-S 16-35mm f/4G lens @17mm, 2x S&S YS-D1 strobes. 1/160 sec, f/7.1, ISO 100.


I enjoy every moment and every bit of scenery cenotes have to offer. The more complicated the access and entrance are, the more beautiful scenes you see. In Mexico we have the world’s largest underwater cave system, “Sac-Actun”, which gives me the opportunity to constantly explore this wonderful underwater world.

Impacts of Human Activity

Unfortunately, cenotes do not avoid the impacts of human activity, and water pollution has become an issue in some. The clarity of the water has disappeared near the cities, and garbage is sometimes present in the cavern areas. Large hotels and attraction parks have modified the original landscapes and hurt cenote health. Much of the original fauna has moved to safer and quieter areas. We must care for this fragile underwater system,  or many millions of years of geological formations and geological history will be gone for future generations!

Book your Cenotes Trip!

Bluewater Travel can help you plan and book the perfect cenotes dive trip, including excursions to Cozumel, Isla Mujeres and more. Visit Bluewater's Yucutan Scuba Diving page or email bookings@bluewaterdivetravel.com.

Photo Equipment Used

Additional Reading:·        

Full Article: Nikon Z Series Camera Pre-Review

Nikon just announced their first foray into the mirrorless market, with their new Z-series cameras. They are releasing two models, each with the same camera body size and full-frame sensor size, but with different sensor resolutions and other technical specs. The Z7, which Nikon calls "The Perfectionist" is a 45.7 MP beast with a full-frame sensor and "revolutionary autofocus". The Z6, which Nikon calls "The All-Arounder" is a 25.4 MP camera with its own impressive array of specs, and a significantly lower price tag. Both cameras will be available at the end of September.

With Canon nipping at Nikon's heels with its new mirrorless Canon EOS R, and the recent releases of the Sony A7R III and Nikon D850, underwater photographers will have many tough decisions to face in coming months. 

Jump to a Section

New Lens Mount System   |   Lens Options for Underwater Photography

Z6 and Z7 Key Specs  |   Z6 vs High-End Crop Sensor Mirrorless Cameras

Z7 vs Top Full-Frame DSLR/Mirrorless Options  |   Conclusion 

 Underwater Housing Options   |  Where and When Can I Get These?


New Lens Mount System

One of the big advantages being touted for this new system is Nikon's new "Z Mount", which has a 17% higher diameter than Nikon's classic full-frame F Mount (55mm vs 47 mm), as well as a shorter flange focal distance (16mm vs 17.5mm). These will allow for Z-series lenses to be wider, letting in more light and allowing a max aperture size of f/0.95. Other benefits include improved edge-to-edge image sharpness and virtually no distortion, even with the aperture wide open. Additionally, it will allow for the lenses to be smaller and more compact than their standard F Mount full-frame lenses.

Note also that Nikon is releasing an FTZ Adaptor which will allow F Mount lenses to be used on the Z6 and Z7 camera bodies, (though of course when using that you will miss out on the advantages of the Z mount). Nikon has announced that the FTZ Adaptor is fully compatible with 90 lenses, and 360 lenses in total can be used with it. (Full AF/AE supported when using FX or DX AF-S Type G/D/E, AF-P type G/E, AF-I type D and AF-S/AF-I Teleconverters). Of course, it remains to be seen how the FTZ adaptor will work with 3rd party F-mount lenses popular for underwater use (eg Sigma, Tokina).

Lens Options for Underwater Photography

As this is a new lens system, Nikon only has a few lenses available. However, they have mapped out their offerings for the next three years, which is quite informative.

As can be seen here, although there are a lot of exciting lenses for topside use, many are prime lenses in mid focal ranges so not well suited to underwater photography. And although there are some nice wide angle zooms(14-30mm f/4 and 14-24mm f/2.8), there is no fisheye lens and no macro lens planned for at least the next couple of years. Additionally, Nikon has not released their Z mount design to 3rd party lens manufacturers, and it may be some time until Z mount lenses are seen from popular underwater photography lens manufacturers like Tokina and Sigma. So that means that, for the time being, much of the underwater use of these Z series cameras may require use of the FTZ lens mount adaptor.

Z6 and Z7 Key Specs

Here's a quick breakdown of key specs for the Z6 and Z7. 

  

Nikon Z6 

Nikon Z7 

Price 

$1,999.95

$3,399.95

Sensor Size

35.9 mm  x 23.9 mm

35.9 mm  x 23.9 mm

Effective Pixels 

24.5 MP

45.7 MP

ISO 

100-51200 (Expands to 50)

64-25600

(Expands to 32)

Image Stabilization 

5 Axis image sensor shift, up to 5 stops

5 Axis image sensor shift, up to 5 stops

Autofocus 

Hybrid phase-detection/contrast AF with AF assist, 273 pts

Hybrid phase-detection/contrast AF with AF assist, 493 pts

Flash Sync Speed 

1/200

1/200

Burst Shooting 

12 fps

9 fps

Movie Modes 

4k @ 30/25/24 fps. 1080 @ 120/100/60/50/30/25/24 fps

4k @ 30/25/24 fps. 1080 @ 120/100/60/50/30/25/24 fps

LCD Screen 

3.2” tilting, 2.1 million dots, touch screen

3.2” tilting, 2.1 million dots, touch screen

Electronic Viewfinder (EVF)  

100% coverage, 0.80x magnification, 3.69 mln dots

100% coverage, 0.80x magnification, 3.69 mln dots

Environmentally Sealed 

Yes

Yes

Battery Life (CIPA) 

310

330

Weight (inc batt) 

675 g (1.49 lb / 23.9 oz)

675 g (1.49 lb / 23.9 oz)

Dimensions 

134 x 100.5 x 67.5 mm (5.3 x 4 x 2.7″)

134 x 100.5 x 67.5 mm (5.3 x 4 x 2.7″)

 

The most important distinctions between the two cameras are the sensor resolution and autofocus - both are markedly better on the Z7. Additionally, the Z7 has a native ISO of 64, expandable down to 32, which is better than the Z6's native ISO of 100 (expandable down to 50). Other than that, the cameras are almost the same, including the same physical dimensions and weights. 

Z6 vs High End Crop-Sensor Mirrorless Options

The Nikon Z6 has very similar specs to the top crop-sensor mirrorless options for underwater shooting, the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II and the Panasonic GH5. (Check out our detailed UWPG reviews of the Olympus E-M1 Mark II and Panasonic GH5 for more info). Perhaps the most important distinction is that the Z6 has a full-frame sensor, which makes its price point quite compelling.

  

Nikon Z6

Panasonic GH5 

Olympus E-M1 Mark II 

Price 

$1,999.95

$1,999

$1,699

Sensor Size 

35.9 mm  x 23.9 mm

17.3 mm x 13 mm

17.4 mm  x 13 mm

Effective Pixels 

24.5 MP

20 MP

20 MP

Max Resolution 

6048 x 4024

5184 x 3888

5184 x 3888

ISO 

Auto, 100-51200 (Expands to 50)

Auto, 200-25600 (Expands to 100)

Auto, 200-25600

(Expands to 64)

Image Stabilization 

5 Axis, up to 5 stops shake reduction

5 Axis, up to 5 stops with compatible lenses

5 Axis, up to 5.5 stops; 6.5 with compatible lenses

Autofocus 

Hybrid phase-detection/contrast AF with AF assist, 273 pts

Contrast Detection, 225 pts

Contrast & Phase Detection, 121 pts

Flash Sync Speed 

1/200

1/250

1/250

Burst Shooting 

12 fps

12 fps

60 fps electronic / 15 fps mechanical

Movie Modes 

4k @ 30 fps. 1080 @ 120 fps

Cinema 4K @ 24 fps, 4K @ 60 fps, 1080 @ 60 fps

Cinema 4K @ 24 fps, 4K @ 30 fps, 1080 @ 60 fps

LCD Screen Size 

3.2” tilting

3.2” fully articulated

3” fully articulated

Screen Dots 

2,100,000

1,620,000

1,037,000

Touch Screen 

Yes

Yes

Yes

Electronic Viewfinder (EVF) Coverage 

100% coverage, 0.80x magnification, 3.69 mln dots

100% coverage, 0.76x magnification, 3.68 mln dots

100% coverage, 0.74x magnification, 2.36 mln dots

Storage Types 

Single XQD

Dual SD/SDHC/SDXC

Dual SD/SDHC/SDXC

Environmentally Sealed 

Yes

Yes

Yes

Battery Life 

310

410

440

Weight 

675 g (1.49 lb / 23.9 oz)

725 g (1.60 lb / 25.57 oz)

574 g (1.27 lb / 20.25 oz)

Dimensions 

134 x 100.5 x 67.5 mm (5.3 x 4 x 2.7″)

139 x 98 x 87 mm (5.47 x 3.86 x 3.43″)

134 x 91 x 67 mm (5.28 x 3.58 x 2.64″)

Advantages

The main advantages of the Z6 are a much larger sensor size, higher resolution, and faster autofocus.

Although the resolution of the Z6 is somewhat better than that of the GH5 and E-M1 Mark II, the full-frame Z6 sensor is significantly larger. This means it has much larger pixels than either of these competitors, giving it significant advantages in dynamic range and low light performance. The larger sensor also means that for a given f-stop value, the depth of field on the Z6 will be shallower than the GH5 or E-M1 Mark II. This can make shooting macro, where a large depth of field is often desired, more difficult. In order to compensate, the Z6 will have to use a higher aperture to get the same depth of field, making lighting more challenging.

The autofocus will also make the Z6 significantly better at getting action shots and finding focus in low light conditions. The use of an XQD card, instead of an SD card, provides advantages in processing speed and storage size, though some may find it a disadvantage that they can't use their existing SD cards. 

The camera body is almost identical in weight and dimensions to that of the Olympus E-M1 Mark II, coming in a bit heavier and a bit thicker, but not by much. 

Limitations

The major downsides to the Nikon Z6 are the relatively poor battery life and the limited lens selection (unless using the FTZ converter). With 310 shots per charge, it has less than 75% of the battery life of the E-M1 Mark II, meaning lots of battery swaps between dives. Although the flash sync speed is slower, the lower minimum ISO makes up for this when wanting to stop down for bright sunball shots. Only having one card slot will be seen by some as a an additional disadvantage. 

Although the Z mount will allow Z series lenses to be smaller than equivalent DSLR lenses, the lenses still have to be made for a full-frame sensor. This means that they will, for the most part, be larger than their mirrorless micro-four-thirds equivalents. For example, the Nikkor Z 24-70mm f/4 is a bit larger and heavier than the Olympus Pro 12-40 (24-80mm full frame equivalent) f/2.8 lens, meaning the upcoming Nikkor Z 24-70 f/2.8 lens should be significantly bulkier than its Olympus "equivalent."

 

Z7 vs Top Full Frame Mirrorless/DSLR Options

The Z7 has similar specs to the Nikon D850 and Sony A7RIII, the leading full-frame options for underwater photography. (Check out the UWPG reviews for the Nikon D850 and Sony A7RIII, as well as a head-to-head comparison of the D850 vs the A7RIII). 

  

Nikon Z7

Sony A7RIII 

Nikon D850

Price

$3,399.95

$2,999

$3,299.95

Sensor Size

35.9 mm  x 23.9 mm

35.9 mm x 24 mm

35.9 mm x 23.9 mm

Effective Pixels

45.7 MP

42.4 MP

45.7 MP

Max Resolution

8256 x 5504

7952 x 5304

8256 x 5504

ISO

Auto, 64-25600 (Expands to 32-102400)

Auto, 100-32000 (Expands to 50-102400)

Auto, 64-25600 (Expands to 32-102400)

Image Stabilization

5 Axis, up to 5 stops shake reduction

5 Axis, up to 5.5 stops shake reduction

No in-body stabilization

Autofocus System

Hybrid phase-detection/contrast AF with AF assist, 493 pts

399 phase detection /425 contrast detection pts*

153 AF pts (99 of which are cross-type)

Autofocus Working Range

-4EV

-3EV

-4EV

Flash Sync Speed

1/200

1/250

1/250

Burst Shooting

9 fps

10 fps

7 fps (9 with battery grip and D5 battery)

Movie Modes

4k @ 30 fps, 1080 @ 120 fps

4k @ 30 fps, 1080 @ 120 fps

4k @ 30 fps, 1080 @ 120 fps

LCD Screen Size

3.2” tilting

2.95” tilting

3.2” tilting

Screen Dots

2,100,000

2,100,000

2,359,000

Touch Screen

Yes

Yes

Yes

Viewfinder

Electronic, 100% coverage, 0.80x mag, 3.69 mln dots

Electronic, 100% coverage, 0.78x mag, 3.69 mln dots

SLR, 100% coverage, 0.75x magnification

Storage Types

Single XQD

Dual SD/SDHC/SDXC (1x UHS-II/I and 1x UHS-I)

Dual (1x SD, 1x XQD) SD/SDHC/SDXC/XQD

Environmentally Sealed

Yes

Yes

Yes

Battery Life

330

530 (VF)/650 (LCD)

1840

Weight

675 g (1.49 lb / 23.9 oz)

657 g (1.45 lb / 23.2 oz)

1005 g (2.22 lb / 35.45 oz)

Dimensions

134 x 100.5 x 67.5 mm (5.3 x 4 x 2.7″)

126.9 x 95.6 x 73.7 mm (5 x 3.88 x 3”)

146 x 124 x 78.5 mm (5.8 x 4.9 x 3.1”)

 

*Although the specs for the A7RIII look strongest on paper, in testing we found the Nikon D850 autofocus out-performed it.

Advantages

The main advantage of the Nikon Z7 is getting D850 level performance, especially for autofocus, with the smaller size and weight of the A7RIII and smaller lenses than would be found on a DSLR. Additionally, the in-body 5-axis image stabilization will be very useful for shooting video, as compared to the D850's lack of in-body stabilization.

Using the FTZ adaptor gives the Z7 access to most of the great wide angle and macro lenses the D850 can use. Though also note that the A7RIII can use the metabones adaptor to get access to Canon lenses; this means the wide angle lens options should be roughly equivalent between the Z7 and the A7RIII, but the macro options may be better for the Z7.

The use of an XQD card instead of an SD card provides benefits in processing speed and storage size, though some may find it a disadvantage that they can't use their existing SD cards.

Having lenses with wider maximum aperture, that have improved edge-to-edge sharpness even when shooting wide open will be quite useful for underwater photographers shooting in low light conditions, using ambient light shots, or wanting really shallow depth of field. 

Limitations

The battery life of the Z7 is severely lacking when compared to the A7RIII, and especially the D850. It may mean changing the battery out after every dive, which is a pain. Additionally, it will need to be seen if the autofocus system can live up to the specs and outperform the phenomenal AF system of the D850. And the camera having only one card slot, even if it is XQD instead of SD, will be a concern for people who are used to using two cards.

 

Conclusion

The Z series cameras are an exciting development in the world of photography, both for mirrorless and DSLR shooters. Although they don't blow the competition away, they are clearly well placed to be very competitive in the high end crop-sensor mirrorless world and the full frame DSLR/mirrorless world. It will be interesting to see future developments in this space, as the Z mount promises to make better and better full frame image quality available in smaller and smaller mirrorless packages. 

Underwater Housing Options

Housings have not yet been announced, but it is expected that the major housing manufacturers are working on them. As the Z6 and Z7 are the same size, they will use the same housings. However, what remains to be seen is how lens ports will work with the new Z mount - will new ports or adapter rings have to be designed, or will existing DSLR ports work with these housings? And how about the FTZ adaptor; will there be port and adapter ring combinations that allow the key F-mount underwater lens options to be used with the Z6 and Z7?

As housings are developed and announced, they will be made available on the Bluewater Photo Store. 

Nauticam Z7 Underwater Housing

Ikelite Z7 Underwater Housing

Aquatica Z7 Underwater Housing

Sea & Sea Z7 Underwater Housing

 

When and Where Can I Get These?

Check out our sister company Bluewater Photo Store's announcement here. The cameras themselves will be available at the end of September, but stay tuned for what underwater products will be offered on Bluewater Photo. 

Full Article: 2018 Ocean Art Underwater Photo Competition Announced!

The Underwater Photography Guide is proud to announce that it is accepting entries for the 7th annual Ocean Art Underwater Photo Competition.

Ocean Art is one of the most prestigious underwater photo competitions in the world. A long list of prizes valued at over $75,000 also makes it one of the richest, attracting pro to amateur photographers across the globe. Sixteen categories ensure all photo disciplines and cameras compete fairly, while the 75+ winning images create a portfolio of the best underwater photos of the year.

Ocean Art prizes are provided by almost 30 scuba diving resorts, liveaboard dive yachts, and underwater photo gear manufacturers. Grand prizes include a choice of an Indonesia liveaboard itinerary on the S.M.Y. Ondina, an Indonesian liveaboard itinerary on the M.Y. Oceanic, a 7 night liveaboard trip to Palau on the Solitude One, a trip aboard the Pelagic Fleet, a 7 night liveaboard trip on the M.V. Bilikili in the Solomon Islands, 7 nights on the Solomon PNG Master, a 7-night package with Villa Markisa, a 9 night package with Experience Lembeh, and a variety of gift certificates from Bluewater Photo. Premium travel prizes are provided by Siladen Resort & Spa (Indonesia), Solitude Liveaboards & Resorts (Indonesia), Aiyanar Beach and Dive Resort (Philippines), Atlantis Dive Resort (Philippines), Volivoli Beach Resort (Fiji), Manta Ray Bay Resort (Micronesia), Crystal Blue Dive Resort (Philippines), Spirit of Freedom Liveaboard (Australia), El Galleon Dive Resort/Asia Divers (Philippines), Aquamarine Diving (Indonesia), Atmosphere Resorts (Philippines), Eco Dive Resort (Indonesia), Scuba Cozumel (Mexico), Blackbeard’s Cruises – Allstar Liveaboards (Bahamas), and scuba travel agency Bluewater Travel. Premium gear prizes are provided by Sea & Sea, Think Tank Photo, and Ikelite.

Ocean Art 2018 consists of 16 categories, including a Novice DSLR category, 3 compact camera categories and 3 mirrorless camera categories, giving underwater photographers of all levels a chance to win a great prize. Unique categories include Supermacro, Cold/Temperate Water, and Nudibranchs, while the more traditional categories include Wide-Angle, Macro, Marine Life Portraits and Marine Life Behavior. The Underwater Art category encourages creativity in post-processing. 

Winners from each category will be able to rank the prizes they would like to receive, making it more likely that each winner will receive a prize they desire.

Judges include world-renowned underwater photographers Tony Wu, Martin Edge, Marty Snyderman and Scott Gietler. Martin Edge is the author of The Underwater Photographer, a top-selling book on underwater photography. Marty Snyderman is an Emmy winner with work appearing in top publications like National Geographic. Tony Wu is a renowned underwater photographer and author of Silent Symphony. Scott Gietler is the owner of Bluewater Photo, Bluewater Travel and the Underwater Photography Guide.

Photos must be submitted before the deadline of 23:59PM PST on November 30, 2018.

We look forward to your participation. Information can be found on our Ocean Art Photo Competition page at http://www.uwphotographyguide.com/ocean-art.

For press inquiries, please contact:

Nirupam Nigam
Managing Editor, Underwater Photography Guide
Email: info@uwphotographyguide.com 

The Underwater Photography Guide is the #1 visited resource worldwide for underwater photographers and scuba divers to learn and improve their underwater photography. It publishes highly-regarded tutorials, technique tips, in-depth gear reviews, underwater photo news, and organizes educational photography workshops around the world. For more information, please visit http://www.uwphotographyguide.com or follow on Facebook (facebook.com/underwaterphotographyguide.com), Instagram (instagram.com/uwphotographyguide) and Twitter (twitter.com/uwphotography).

Full Article: Diving in Italy: Interview with Pietro Formis

Pietro Formis is an Italian underwater photographer with an amazing portfolio of images. We caught up with him to talk about diving in Italy and get some of the story behind some of his best shots. We really enjoy everything he shared and hope you do too! - UWPG Editors

 

UWPG: What inspired you to start diving and taking photos underwater?

Pietro: I started diving thanks to my father. He invited me to take an open water diving course with him, and from that day my life truly changed. I started taking pictures underwater almost immediately with a small compact camera, and then things came along naturally from there. 

 

UWPG: Are you a full-time professional photographer, hobbyist, or both?

Pietro: I’m a free-lance photographer. Last year I quit my old job and now I’m focusing mainly on photography, especially underwater photography, leading photographic trips and workshops in Italy, the Philippines, the Red Sea, and Indonesia. 

 

UWPG: Where is your favorite place to dive in the world?

Pietro: This is difficult to answer… probably the Italian village of Noli, in Liguria, in the Mediterranean Sea. It isn’t known as the best spot in the world, but it is where I took some of my best photos. I dive there anytime I can, almost weekly during the year.


UWPG: What about the diving in Italy makes it special?

Pietro: Italy is a very diverse country; we have thousands of kilometers of coasts, snowy mountains, wetlands, dry lands, forests, lowlands, rivers, caves, volcanoes, history, culture, modernity and tradition.  

Even under the surface of the sea we have this kind of variety: from North to South we can find murky waters suitable for "muck dives", as in the Adriatic Sea; crystal waters and spectacular caves in Sardinia; colored walls of gorgonians stretching from the Ligurian Sea to Sicily; and historical wrecks and submerged ruins such as the city of Baia, near Naples, just to name few. The marine ecosystems are influenced by the Mediterranean temperate climate, with a strong seasonality and variability from cold winters to hot summers.

 

UWPG: What is your favorite freshwater location in Italy to dive? What is there to see there? 

Pietro: Usually I dive in different fresh water spots to search for a specific subject, such as newts in small ponds,freshwater crab and snakes in rivers and streams, or some special and elusive species such as the Sea Lamprey. These picture are usually taken in a few inches of water.

 

 

Alternatively, a very special place to dive with scuba gear, for the evocative scenery, is the Orrido di S. Anna (Piedmont), a submerged canyon characterized by green waters and beautiful lighting. 


UWPG: What sets you apart from other underwater photographers?

Pietro: I cannot tell you exactly what distinguishes me. What I can tell you is that I always try to take images that make the observer dream and that stimulate his or her imagination, curiosity and knowledge about the subjects portrayed. 

 

UWPG: What is your favorite photographic style and/or technique?

Pietro: I love macro, wide angle, split shots, natural light… I love all photographic techniques but the one I enjoy most is definitely the close focus wide angle (CFWA).

 

UWPG: Do you have tips for taking close-focus-wide-angle underwater photos? 

Pietro: First of all: get close! (it seems obvious, but every inch makes the difference). 

Then, pay attention to lighting. Positioning strobes is the biggest challenge, as avoiding backscatter isn’t the only goal. 

Try to enhance the subject by emphasizing its characteristics, accentuating or softening the shadows, think in a three-dimensional way in order not to illuminate unwanted areas (for example in photographs on sandy bottoms) and change the position of the strobes accordingly.

 

UWPG: What is your favorite way to light macro photos?

Pietro: I usually use 2 strobes, but I like strong contrasts and I often set one of the two strobes to have much more power than the other.

For the same reason I like using a snoot, as it emphasizes the shadows and gives a sense of drama to the pictures. It is a must in situations with a white sandy bottom. I like to use it to isolate subjects from the background, but I love less the "white ring" effect which tends to produce very repetitive images.

 

UWPG: What is your favorite image and the story behind it?

Pietro: I think it is one of my latest pictures, “Mediterranean Monster,” showing a large monkfish (longer than a meter) with an open mouth, its sharp teeth in sight. It is an image of a marvelous creature, albeit monstrous; it is truly fascinating, an incredible predator, unfortunately seen more often at the fish market than in its natural habitat. 

These fish reach sexual maturity after several years and reach a considerable size (up to 2 meters), that is if they are not caught before! It is a fish that is usually found in the depths, but during spring (thanks to the colder water temperatures) it can also be found in shallow waters.

I love to photograph these types of subjects – fantastic creatures, monstrous yet fascinating, inspiring fear and, for once, appreciation for what they are: an evolutionary miracle and not just a fish recipe. 

 

UWPG: What has been your favorite underwater experience?

Pietro: I think photographing Humpback Whales in the waters of Reunion Island. It was amazing to see these gentle giants appearing from the deep. It is something I would definitely do again.


UWPG: What is your chosen underwater photography equipment?

Pietro: I use a Canon 5DMKIII in a Nauticam Housing. I use Nauticam housings because of their solidity. I often dive in difficult conditions: muddy waters and sand. I'm sure that in every scenario I can trust my housing. I also love the port locking system and housing locking system, as they are easy, fast and reliable. 

Of course I love the ergonomics as well: you have all the controls at your fingertips, and you can change settings while you're looking through the viewfinder. 

I use Inon and Sea & Sea strobes and a FIX Neo 2200 video light (for continuous lighting). 

*Editors note: While the Canon 5DKIII remains an excellent DSLR camera, be sure to check out our underwater review for the next in the lineup, the Canon 5D Mark IV

 

 

UWPG: Do you have any tips for our readers?

Pietro: Enjoy underwater photography, share experiences with other photographers, and participate in competitions…but give competitions their right value (it’s only a game). Don’t think too much, shoot as much as you can, and don’t look back, as the best shot will be the next one. 

Don’t change your gear too often - the best shots will come when you have a good feel for your camera, housing and strobes.

  

 

Gear Links:


Additional Reading

 

 

Full Article: DSLR and TG-5: A New Level of Underwater Photography

The first photographs were taken in the early 1800s and astounded the public. Soon thereafter, in 1856, a camera was lowered into the gloomy waters of the Bay of Dorsett and remotely activated. Underwater photography was born. The art and science of underwater photography quickly captured the hearts and minds of explorers. In 1899, the first portrait of a hard hat diver was taken and thereafter technology accelerated exponentially such that by 1950, Beauchat had successfully marketed a commercial housing for a commercial camera – the first on the market.

Not surprisingly, the legend himself – Jacques Cousteau – developed a self-contained underwater camera – the Calypso – in 1957. By 1963, the photographic giant Nikon had bought rights to the Calypso and marketed it as the Nikonos; the modern era of underwater photography had begun. The Nikonos line was rapidly improved until the Nikonos V appeared on the market. This is arguably still one of the best underwater cameras ever created. The age of digitalization and miniaturization quickly enveloped the underwater photography world until today, almost all underwater cameras are digital, from small point and shoots up to housed technological behemoths. It is from this background that modern underwater photography must be examined, not only from an artistic standpoint but also from a technical standpoint.


Nautilus belauensis – largest species of nautilus, trapped, photographed and released in Palau.
Nikonos V, Velvia 50, Close-up kit.


Hundreds of books and articles have been written about modern underwater photography. So…why another article? What more could possibly be said? My thoughts as well except there is a new perspective on macro photography brought to you by the recently introduced Olympus TG-5. At this point, a brief bit of personal background will help set the stage for my further opinions.


How I Got Started

I was certified to dive in the early 1980s and quickly ascended the ladder of certifications and specialties, as well as taking courses with underwater photographers such as Stan Watermann, Jim and Cathy Church, and Christopher Newbert. My father-in-law subsequently gifted me a Nikonos V with extension tubes, framers and a close-up kit. My love for extreme macro was born. For those who remember those Nikonos framers fondly, I clipped/removed one of the posts from the extension tube framers so that a strobe would not cast shadows upon small subjects and then perfected my stalking/buoyancy techniques so as to place the 1:1 framer around a skittish subject.  I am still impressed with the results of the Nikonos V and its framers. I always shot with Velvia 50 film and could eke out 38 frames – about 6 to 7 subjects -- per roll.

 

Cypraea onyx – multi-colored shell with its living animal; Lembeh strait, Sulawesi.
Nikonos V, Velvia 50, Extension Tube 1:1

 

The photographers of today simply cannot relate to stumbling upon that once in a lifetime subject/shot with maybe, maybe one frame left on the film roll. Fast forward to the digital age where I could house my Nikon D-80 and shoot literally hundreds if not thousands of shots and subjects – on a single dive! It truly felt like you were cheating after the Velvia film era; then Photoshop/Light Box appeared and underwater photography literally became – unreal.

From early on in my photo history my primary subject was living mollusks – many of which had never been photographed alive in situ before. I eschewed almost all post photographic editing (and still do) so as to provide the most realistic depiction of the scarce-to-rare living mollusks that I photograph. I published two books – Living Shells and Living Mollusks – using both film and my trusty housed D-80. Then, I hit a plateau both artistically and intellectually. I wanted to photograph something rare and artistic; those ultra-macro shots of living mollusks and the almost microscopic mollusks that live in soft corals and Gorgonians. The Universe heard me and rewarded me in a very snarky manner.

 

Harpa costata – first photograph of this rare harp alive in situ. Grand Bay, Mauritius.
Housed Nikon D-80 with dual strobes, 60mm macro lens. 1/60 sec, f/22, ISO 100. 


A Problem Presents Itself

I travelled to Ambon to dive specifically with Nus and Ali; and specifically to photograph the Psychedelic Frogfish and the Tiger Egg Cowrie (Cuspivolva tigris), one of my holy grails for over 20 years. Now, imagine this, Ali and I found not one but two Psychedelic Frogfish – we had them together in an amazingly cool composition. I had my trusty D-80 with my dual strobes – they were in focus - I held my breath (BTW, don’t ever do that) and released the shutter. I heard a click and the shutter stayed open! I tried everything but my D-80 was dead! I screamed, I cursed, I ranted, but no one can hear you underwater!

Turns out that the gear teeth on my D-80 had been ground to nothing over my years of use.  Fear not, said Nus and Ali! At that point, they handed me this ridiculously small, weird little camera with no strobes. They handed me the new Olympus TG-5 and my micro/macro living mollusk photography began; of course, the Universe was laughing in the background – let’s see how you do with a new, small camera and only your artistic ability! I just didn’t realize the impact that this weird little camera would have on my photography.

 

Voluta polypleura sunderlandi – first photograph of this rare volute alive in situ. Utila Cayes, Honduras.
Housed Nikon D-80 with dual strobes, 60mm macro lens. 1/125 sec, f/22, ISO 100.

 

My Nikon D-80 Rig

I loved my housed Nikon; my housed Nikon D-80 with my dual strobes. It was like my right arm – I never, ever dove without it. It did, however, have several drawbacks; specifically, the bulkiness of the rig and the two lenses that I typically used – the 60 mm macro and 105 mm macro – were limited with regard to extreme close-ups and distance from the subject. The TG-5 solved both of these problems. Don’t misunderstand my comments; my housed Nikon with either lens was superb. It was amazing when the subject was a typical living mollusk or cephalopod crawling along the coral reef or muck bottom. Also, I am particularly fond of a black background, and with this camera and strobes I could almost always achieve a black background, while avoiding any backscatter.

However, what had become more and more apparent to me was that my set-up had serious disadvantages when it came to ultra-macro shooting or small subjects in tight places. My portfolio lacked shots of the small mollusks such as ovulids, Simnias, and even certain small nudibranchs. Sure, I could photograph them and then crop them down, but such cropping degraded the sharpness of the images and the pixellation became prohibitive.

 

Entemnotrochus adansonianus – first photograph of this slitshell alive. Recovered from 400’ off Roatan.
Housed Nikon D-80 with dual strobes, 60mm macro lens. 1/60 sec, f/22, ISO 100.

 

Trying out the Compact TG-5

Thus, back to the Olympus. When my Nikon died in Ambon, I had a choice – learn a new method with new equipment or take no photographs. I looked at that weird, point and shoot, Olympus in my hand – no strobes and only a small video light – and cursed the Universe. Well, not really...it was a cool challenge. This small camera was an enigma to me; and its handling and use went against almost every technique I had learned. Where was my controlled lighting? My strobes? My f/22 for depth of field? Where was my giant camera rig that was handed to me ever so carefully after I entered the water? I felt like Will Smith in Men in Black being handed the small needle point gun – here is your weapon, use it wisely. I had my doubts. Nus and Ali only laughed and assured me that I could handle it.

 

Psychedelic Frogfish – pair of these not seen since 2006. Ambon, Indonesia.
Olympus TG-5, Sola 1200 Video Light. 1/20 sec, f/3.8, ISO 100.

 

I figured I would just go for broke since I was a macro photographer and set the camera controls for microscope. Supposedly the SOLA video light provided adequate lighting. Again, I had my doubts. To say that I was amazed following several test subjects was an understatement. I was blown away by the micro close-ups this camera produced. I was not only able to maneuver through dense soft coral bushes to photograph soft coral ovulids; I was also able to photograph their faces! These ovulids are basically the size of a pea and no one had ever seen their faces before. Some of the Simnias are the size of a grain of rice and again, sharp images of their faces are possible with this Olympus. Moreover, I could maneuver through, between and around the soft coral bushes and gorgonions upon which they live, without disturbing the polyps.


 

Serratovola dondani – face of this small ovulid in soft coral. The face is about 2 mm. Ambon, Indonesia.
Olympus TG-5, Sola 1200 Video Light. 1/400 sec, f/4.9, ISO 100.


The compactness of the camera and small light source could be maneuvered into position so my subject was surrounded by open, undisturbed polyps. The artistic possibilities did not escape me. This lack of stealth and compactness was a major drawback with my big housed set-up. I always touched the soft coral, with the polyps retracting immediately. The TG-5 solved that problem. I was also amazed at the lighting. I used the SOLA video light that was more than adequate for lighting. I would actually use it at only half to three quarters power and then turn it off to conserve battery. It also worked well at night although I typically kept it on its red light mode to decrease the gathering of the worms which muck up the background. So, compactness, microscopic photographs and excellent lighting, I was a convert; of course, there are a few drawbacks to the Olympus.


Drawbacks

First and foremost, on microscope mode, the settings are pre-selected by the camera. In other words, unlike my D-80, which I set on manual and select the f-stop and speed, the Olympus does not allow you to select either. In microscope mode, you have few options to select your own settings. As a result you rely on the camera for your depth of field (extremely shallow) and speed, which occasionally results in some blurring. In addition, using a video light such as the SOLA instead of strobes reduces your options as a photographer to manipulate your lighting. With my D-80 and strobes I can use dual strobes, one strobe, side lighting, back lighting, top lighting, etc. so as to vary the lighting; not to mention that I can consistently create a black background and increased depth of field using f/22. The Olympus with continuous video lighting limits those possibilities.

 

Prosimnia draconis – face of this small simnia on orange gorgonian. The face is 1-2 mm. Ambon, Indonesia. Olympus TG-5, Sola 1200 Video Light. 1/200 sec, f/4.9, ISO 100.

 

Of course, you can attach strobes but then you increase the size of the rig; and lighting your subject, which is a centimeter from the lens, is difficult. I typically position the light tucked alongside the camera about an inch from the subject. With the handle I can aim, compose and shoot with one hand and not disturb the creatures’ environment. I can’t do that with strobes or my D-80 rig. Finally, with the higher ISO and open aperture in microscope mode, the potential for a pixelated photo still exists. In other words, I have heard from other photographers that they were unable to enlarge their prints past about 8x10 due to the noise/graininess. I, personally, have never had that problem. Some of my photos have been enlarged to at least 16x20 and framed for display. I mention this only as a consideration.

 

Diminovula stigma – a 2 mm sized ovulid climbing on soft coral polyps. The foot is 3 mm. Ambon, Indonesia. Olympus TG-5, Sola 1200 Video Light. 1/200 sec, f/4.9, ISO 100.

 

Macro photography has indeed evolved from the Nikonos V with its extension tubes, close-up kit and Velvia 50 film. I must say, however, that as a macro photographer, being able to stealthily approach a subject, place a 1:1 extension tube around it, and obtain a good photo was highly rewarding. My housed D-80 with strobes, however, was incredible; it allowed me to take hundreds of photos with amazing resolution and lighting options. As mentioned, I had difficulty with small subjects in very tight or environmentally sensitive places. Then, voilà, the Olympus TG-5 appears and solves both those problems. In microscopic mode with a small SOLA video light, it does what my D-80 can’t – take microscopic photos of small subjects in close quarters. The accompanying photos speak for themselves.


Editor's note: As Charles lays out so nicely in this article, the TG-5 excels when it comes to getting in really close to very small subjects that could be hidden in corals or substrate, without disturbing subjects or coral. And it's amazing for taking close-up photos of said extremely small subjects, as can be seen in his photos. It is also an excellent beginner's all-around underwater camera. With that said, I also need to mention that a higher-end compact setup, like the RX100 V, has major advantages over the TG-5 in terms of sensor size, image quality, auto-focus and full manual control. When it comes to a mirrorless rig, the differences are even larger. So keep this in mind: the TG-5 is a great beginner's camera which punches above its weight on macro/super-macro, can get into tight spaces that no other rig can, and is a fantastic companion to a larger higher-end rig, but it will not provide the same performance or image quality as higher end compact cameras, mirrorless rigs, or DSLRs. Check out our TG-5 review for more info about this great camera!  – Bryan Chu, Associate Editor.

 

Gear Links

Additional Reading

Full Article: Tips for Lighting Quick Critters with a Snoot

As with any art form, trends come and go in underwater photography. But perhaps one trend that is here to stay is the use of snoots. Snoots are devices used to reduce the wide output of a strobe into a small ring of light - usually only a few inches in diameter. This smaller output enables a photographer to control the lighting of their image better, and introduce much more contrast and direction. Most often, snoots are the prized tool of macro photographers as they are the most foolproof way of achieving the coveted black background.

Snoots can be homemade contraptions that simply reduce the area of output by blocking parts of the strobe, or professional devices that use flexible fiber optic cables to achieve the same goals. But the one thing that unites every snoot photographer is frustration. Controlling such a small beam of light can be difficult at best. In rugged underwater environments it can seem downright impossible. Snoot photographers must deal with current, surge, moving subjects, slow shutters, and a large host of other obstacles. Trying to position a two-inch beam of light over a two inch moving fish and actually getting the photo is like trying to make a half-court shot at the last second of the game. Take a look at the SD card of a snoot photographer and all you might see is a bunch of black slides and perhaps one or two unidentifiable blurry spots. But the rare success makes all the sweat, pain, and tears well worth it.


 

The difficulty of taking snoot photos often limits the subjects available to a snoot photographer. Many only attempt snoot photos on still or very slow-moving subjects such as nudibranchs, corals, frogfish, and shrimp. Attempts at anything quicker only yield more frustration. However, with enough practice and the right technique, a snoot photographer can expand their selection of subjects to include even the quickest of critters. Here are our top tips for doing so:

 

1. Start with a Rock


 

I never begin a snoot dive without a few nice photos of rocks. When photographing quick subjects, planning is everything. It is essential to anticipate the size and shape of the subject you intend to shoot before finding it. After this determination, find stationary substrate with a similar shape and practice lighting it. Rocks are good subjects as they tend not to diffuse light, so you can see exactly what on the subject the snoot is illuminating. After getting a feel for the distance needed between the snoot and the subject as well as camera angle and output strength, I maintain my settings until I find the desired subject. Even if the subject is speeding by, usually the preset snoot will perform quite well when “calibrated” with a rock.

 

2. Use Your Finger to Evaluate Distance

Depth and distance can be difficult to judge when snooting moving schools of fish. Placing your finger at the desired distance can be a good way to help judge where to shoot.

 

One of the hardest things about snooting quick subjects is maintaining appropriate distance. If I’m busy swimming after the subject, the quickest way to determine how to position my camera and snoot is to place my finger where I want the subject to be and imagine the light from the snoot hitting it. Then, when approaching the subject, I try to position the subject to be where my finger was.  This can be a particularly useful technique for small reef fish.

 

3. Only Move the Snoot’s Position After You Illuminate the Subject

Very small subjects such as this mosshead warbonnet need large amounts of adjustment before getting the right lighting in the shot. However, if I made adjustments before I knew that I could illuminate the subject, I would not have “found” it with the snoot.

 

Unless the snoot is wildly misaligned, I find that moving the snoot after failing to light a subject is more detrimental than repositioning the whole rig. Often you get stuck moving the snoot all over the place without once getting light in the photo. It is better to first find the light in the frame, even if the photo does not have good composition. After that, the snoot can be moved incrementally along with the full rig in order to create better composition and lighting with micro adjustments.


4. Anticipate Where the Subject Lands in the Frame

I anticipated that this garibaldi would swim into the frame by watching its movements, and lit the small are with my snoot before it swam in.

 

This tip is especially useful for wide-angle snoot photography. Fish are often predictable in their movements. One of the best ways to capture a quick fish with proper lighting is to guess where in the frame the fish will end up, light that area, and finally wait for the fish to swim to that part of the frame. Sometimes this technique fails if you misinterpret the fish’s movements. But when it works, it works quite well.


5. Let the Critter Come to You

This juvenile emperor angelfish was swimming erratically from coral head to coral head. I realized the best way to photograph it was to sit still and wait until it swam by, yielding this photo.

 

It is nearly impossible to try to catch a fast-moving critter with a two-inch beam of light. Therefore, it is often better to station yourself along the path of the animal and wait for the animal to cross your path. This can be easier said than done.

Many fish also have the tendency to find protection when they see a diver. This can be used to your advantage. A fish that hides in a cave or overhang eventually feels the need to leave the protection. I find that the best moment to photograph small reef fish is when they emerge from protection.

 

Eeltail catfish often hide in fast moving schools under coral for protection. A snoot can weave around tough-to-reach spots in order to easily photograph fish that would normally be moving quickly.

 

6. Snoot at an Angle

Although I lit this juvenile garibaldi from above, I moved the snoot a little to the side to have a better chance of lighting this quick critter.

 

It is clearly a popular technique to shoot macro snoot photos with the snoot directly above the subject, forming a nice ring of light. Often this is not possible when photographing quick subjects. If you point the snoot at a bit of an angle when shooting from above, you are more likely to illuminate the subject as the beam will cover more area.

 

7. When in Doubt, Point the Snoot Forward

I lit this angelfish by pointing the snoot directly forward from the camera so I had a better chance of lighting it as it swam by.

 

Perhaps my favorite way to shoot a quick-moving snoot subject is by pointing the snoot directly forward from the camera. Pointing a snoot directly forward yields much more successful results lighting a subject than pointing a snoot from above. Often, the snoot will not need to be adjusted at all throughout the dive. The largest concern when lighting your subject this way is that the snoot may light some of the background as well. Though this can be a problem, quick subjects are often photographed slightly up in the water column. If there is negative space behind the subject when you are photographing it, the coveted black background should be within reach.

 

Conclusion:

This is by no means a comprehensive or complete guide to photographing moving subjects with a snoot. Snoot photography, more than any other kind of underwater photography, is often intertwined with equipment and diving style. As with diving style, what may work for one underwater photographer may not work for another. Snoot photography is very much an artform of circumstance. One can only be successful by making micro adjustments of their technique as circumstance requires.


 

 

Full Article: Sperm Whale Photography with Franco Banfi

A note from the Editor: I met Franco Banfi on an iceberg diving trip in East Greenland. It’s not often I get to sit down and talk with a professional underwater photographer, and it was a lot of fun. Franco was really open about sharing his experiences and amazing photos from freediving with sperm whales, so I pulled out my smartphone and recorded our kitchen table conversation. I really enjoyed everything he shared, especially about sperm whale behaviors, and I hope you do too! – Bryan Chu (Associate Editor)

Sperm whales, Dominica, Caribbean (taken with government permit).
Canon EOS-1D X Mark II, EF 8-15mm f/4L Fisheye lens @ 15mm. 1/320 sec, f/8.0, ISO 1250.

 

Bryan: How long have you been diving for?

Franco: A long time…thirty, maybe thirty five years.

Bryan: What got you into underwater photography?

Franco: The first place I went diving was the Maldives, and I started taking photos there with a Nikonos.

Bryan: How long have you been doing whale photography for?

Franco: Let’s say for the last 5-6 years (more intensely)

Bryan: Do you have a favourite whale to photograph?

Franco: I have photographed sperm whales, blue whales, killer whales, bryde whales, humpbacks. I don’t have a favorite. I like all whales!

Bryan: You have done a lot of sperm whale photography. What do you like about photographing them in particular?

Franco: I mostly like big animals. When I started doing underwater photography everything was good, but now I am more focused on big things, including whales. I like to photograph and see things that not everybody sees. It’s also interesting because with whales you’re not diving, but swimming or free-diving. So along with photography skills, you also need to have free-diving and swimming skills. It’s very nice…once you start doing it you can understand. If you swim close to an animal like this, you have a chance the look them in the eyes, to see this animal that looks at you. You start to appreciate and want to do more.

 

Sperm whale, Dominica, Caribbean (taken with government permit).
Canon EOS 5DSR, EF 15mm f/2.8 Fisheye lens. 1/640 sec, f/5.0, ISO 320.

 

Bryan: What are your favourite behaviours to observe with sperm whales?

Franco: Every time you have an encounter with sperm whales or other whales, if you observe carefully, then sometimes you’ll understand what the whale is doing. You can see that the whale is looking at you, and the whale’s behavior in some ways is according to what you are doing.

I can share an example. One time I jumped in the water and there were two whales together. When I jumped in the water the two separated. One went right, one went left. So I decided to follow the one on the left. As a photographer you always want to be in front of the whale, because if not you just photograph the tail. So I tried to go beside the whale and was able to get alongside. This doesn’t mean that I was a good swimmer – it means that the whale went slow enough to allow me to come up alongside of it. The whale was watching me. When she saw me, she started to swim a little bit faster. I sped up some more and got alongside the whale again. The whale watched me, and started to go faster again.

I think this whale was almost thinking that I was the other whale, that we were together and she was in some way waiting for me. It’s like she was saying “come on, go faster.” Because she was not escaping, but just staying a little bit ahead. This is something that you can experience when you watch and pay attention to what happens. Sperm whales are mammals with a brain…a really big brain. 

 

Free diver swimming with sperm whale, Dominica, Caribbean (taken with government permit).
Canon EOS-1D X Mark II, EF 8-15mm f/4L Fisheye lens @ 15mm. 1/400 sec, f/9.0, ISO 640.

 

Bryan: Where do you go for encountering sperm whales?

Franco: I go to the island of Dominica in the Caribbean, because there are some resident sperm whales there. So you have excellent possibilities to encounter them. Other locations you can see sperm whales include the Azores in the Atlantic, and in the North of Sri Lanka, as well as in other places. But the ones in Dominica are probably the best to approach because they stay in the area and they have seen divers. Of course to go in the water with the whales you need special permission. It’s not something that everyone can do as they don’t give permission to everybody. What I have heard is that they give 8 permits per year. These permits do not overlap, so if you have your permit you have your time, and the next group will go after. There are never several boats following one whale, like in other places.

Bryan: Have you ever felt nervous or had any close encounters?

Franco: With whales? No. I must tell you, my feeling, my idea is if I am afraid of something I don’t do it. If I want to do something, I don’t care, I do it. If not, I stay out of the water.

Bryan: How can I tell when I see a sperm whale in the distance?

Franco: For people that don’t know sperm whales, there’s only one blowhole on the left, and it goes at 45 degree.

Bryan: How big are these animals you are diving with?

Franco: The larger ones are an average of 10-12 meters long. Big males can be 18 m but I have never seen one that large. The ones I see mostly are around 10-12. The babies are maybe 4 m. For comparison, humpbacks are around 14-15 m long. 

 

Sperm whale, Dominica, Caribbean (taken with government permit).
Canon EOS 5DSR, EF 15mm f/2.8 Fisheye lens. 1/640 sec, f/7.1, ISO 640.

 

Bryan: Do you get to observe them using their sonar? Is it loud?

Franco: Yes. Sometimes they look at you and open their mouth; that’s because they are scanning you. They open their mouth because they use their jaw as an amplifier for sonar. Even if you don’t hear it, they are scanning you.

Their sonar goes out at 45 degrees from the top of their head. If they want to use sonar at the surface, it would just go up and out of the water. So, sometimes they will swim upside down at the surface, which lets them use their sonar there.

They can be very loud. There’s a buoy a few km from the island where they have a piece of net connected, for fishing. Sometimes we stop there to have a swim. One time I found a sperm whale there; we jumped in the water and could hear the sonar. It was funny because this guy was trying to find out what this was. You could see he was doing a lot of clicking and scanning. Probably he was wondering what this thing in the middle of the ocean was. He was a young guy.

 

Sperm whale opening mouth, Dominica, Caribbean (taken with government permit).
Canon EOS 5D Mark III, EF 14mm f/2.8L II USM lens. 1/640 sec, f/5.0, ISO 320.

 

Bryan: What kind of gear and settings do you use to photograph sperm whales? And how about lighting?

Franco: I use a Canon 5D Mark IV in an Isotta housing, with an 8-15mm fisheye lens. Normally I use Seacam strobes, but for sperm whales I use ambient light. (Editor’s note: check out our review of the Canon 5D Mark IV).

For settings I tend to use between 300 and 600 ISO, and around f/8 or f/11. I try to keep the shutter speed around 1/250 sec and focus on maintaining this rather than the f-stop. If I am shooting down then I sometimes need to go up to about ISO 1250.

I use autofocus, which picks up on the skin so I don’t tend to have focus issue. Shooting without a strobe you try to be in there with the sun at your back. Of course, sometimes you jump in the water and everything is perfect, but the sun is behind the whale. Well, you still have to shoot!

Bryan: How many people do you take on your tours? And do you use any specialized gear?

Franco: Small groups; 4-5, maximum of 6 people on the boat. We use long freediver fins. We also tried using a monofin, but it was no good with the whales. (Editor’s note: monofins are the most efficient freediving fin but greatly reduce your maneuverability when compared to dual fins).

 

Free diver swimming with sperm whale, Dominica, Caribbean (taken with government permit).
Canon EOS 5DSR, EF 15mm f/2.8 Fisheye lens. 1/200 sec, f/6.3, ISO 640.

 

Bryan: How do things work with getting in the water with the whales?

The boat captain tries to get you in the water in front, so they swim by and you are in the middle of them. Sometimes they stop and socialize. For us as photographers, this is the best! Here, when they socialize, you get many in the picture. They grab each other and play around.

Bryan: How long will they do that for?

Franco: It depends. They can do it for 10 seconds or a few minutes. It also depends what you do yourself. If you see something like this you try not to disturb it too much, because if you go in the middle then it will go away.

 

Pod of sperm whales, Dominica, Caribbean (taken with government permit).
Canon EOS-1D X Mark II, EF 8-15mm f/4L Fisheye lens @ 15mm. 1/125 sec, f/8.0, ISO 640.

 

Bryan: Do you ever see sperm whales in a vertical position?

Franco: Yes. They just found out not many years ago that sperm whales stop, go into vertical position and sleep for 10-15 minutes. They sleep for short stretches many times a day, but they are not sleeping for 2 hours at a time or anything like that.  

 

Pod of sleeping sperm whales, Dominica, Caribbean (taken with government permit).
Canon EOS 5DSR, EF 15mm f/2.8 Fisheye lens. 1/500 sec, f/5.0, ISO 320.

 

Franco: This is when they are sleeping. These are the adults, and these are the young. They keep the young in the middle for protection. This was last year and we saw it two times. But in the past 5 years we probably saw it another two times. It probably depends how much we press them. The more you leave them quiet, the more they probably go to sleep.

Bryan: How about when the calves are feeding? Are they stationary?

Franco: When the calf is eating, they don’t stop. When the calf wants to eat he goes across to his mother and tries to get some milk. But they don’t stop. Pods of sperm whales are made up mostly of females. Males don’t live with the group. They are adults after 10-12 years, at which point they leave the group and only come back when they want to mate.  

You see the mother has a bump on her underside. The calf puts his head by that bump when they’re swimming. Because doing this, it has less effort. This calf is maybe a few months old. So if it’s doing this, it can go faster. Now it’s not exactly in the right position


Sperm whale calf with mother, Dominica, Caribbean (taken with government permit).
Canon EOS 5DSR, EF 15mm f/2.8 Fisheye lens. 1/320 sec, f/6.3, ISO 640. 

 

Bryan: Cool, that’s a lot of neat information about sperm whales. Thank you so much for sharing your awesome photos and great stories! How can people find out more about sperm whale photography?

Franco: No problem. They can email me at tour@banfi.ch. I also have a webpage which will soon be ready: www.wildlifephototours.ch.

 

Join us for an Upcoming Whale-focused UWPG Photo Workshop

 

Additional Reading

Full Article: Dolphin Play in Bimini

Since I was a kid, the water and dolphins have been an important aspect of my life. I begged my parents to allow me to order the Jacques Cousteau book that would change my young life. Decades after befriending that book and watching every episode of The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau, I had photographed humpback whales underwater, manatees and beautiful reef scenes, but one of my favorite cetaceans had still eluded me.

One day my email inbox lit up with an opportunity to do a small group photography trip to Bimini with Bluewater Dive Travel, and spend time with spotted dolphins. I had heard about the pod of Stenella frontalis that lived in the beautiful waters near the small island, so it was with great excitement that I signed up for the trip.

 

 

First Encounter

Arranging travel to Bimini was more challenging than some trips, but it only made the adventure more fun. The payoff for a little extra effort was completely worth it once I was surrounded by five mother and calf pairs on our first day out!

Just like most wild animals, there is no guarantee of where the animals will appear or even if they will show up for a photo shoot. Our captain, Neal Watson, Jr,   knew the pod well and no more than 40 minutes after leaving the dock, our group was approaching it.

After I slid off the back deck of the boat with my camera kit I found myself away from other humans and almost instantly surrounded by mother and calf pairs. So fast was their approach that I hardly had time to check my exposure, make adjustments and point my housing in their direction. And then there was the moment of awe that the mothers trusted me with their babies, and a general feeling of my mind being blown. Somehow I managed to click off a few frames before they swam off. I spit out my snorkel and squealed with delight.

 

 

Another Encounter

On another in-water encounter I felt a nudge against my arm as I swam. I thought it was one of the other photographers in the group and was wondering why they were so close. As I turned my head to see who was there, the eyes of a mother dolphin smiled at me and urged me on. Another one came to my left side and I found myself swimming with two adult dolphins pressing against both of my sides. My arms were holding the housing in front and I had to guess at what I was capturing as I turned the housing to either side. They were giving me no space to turn around and pushed me forward with their group.

Somehow I managed to take photographs of the encounter and remember the feeling of their strong, sleek bodies against mine as we swam as one sea family.  The others moved faster than I could but the large female circled back for me and pushed against my body as if to say, swim faster sister….keep up!

 

 

Dolphin Group Dynamics

Group dynamics are an important consideration when interacting with social animals such as spotted dolphins. At one point three male bottlenose dolphins swam among the large spotted dolphin pod. The ‘boys’ were quite amorous and swam around trying to entice spotted females. I’m guessing my eyes were rather large as the persistent bottlenose ‘boys’ flirted. The females bit and slapped with their flukes but it seemed only to excite the males into greater pursuit, even visiting some of us human females with inquiring eyes and nudges. 

 

 

Staying Present while Photographing

The sheer joy of twirling and somersaulting with a pod of engaging dolphins has remained fresh in my mind and heart. There’s always the goal of wanting to capture great photographs, coupled with the intent to stay present, enjoy the experience, and actually learn from it. As both a writer and photographer the experience really cannot be segregated into two parts. It can be challenging to stay present with the experience while making sure my f-stop, shutter speed, and ISO are properly adjusted.

The photographer in me wants to ensure the shot is free of humans, fins, hands, and boats and that I’m not facing the sun. Shooting at or near the surface while snorkeling ensures better lighting and no need for strobes, but it also means direct sunlight can be a real shot-killer. 

As a rule I tend to get away from the group of humans as much as possible. Depending on the animals I’m working with this can be easy or, in the case of humpback whales, not so easy because the groups must be kept close together to ensure mother and calf are not disturbed by our presence. With the dolphins of Bimini, it was quite easy to swim away from other humans to be alone with dolphins. 

 

 

Quieting the Mind

Another valuable asset to have as a wildlife photographer is the ability to quiet the mind. Wildlife respond well to individuals who are still, quiet, respectful, and aware of their own personal space. When I’m photographing manatees, I float as still as a log meandering downriver and have had incredible face-to-face photographic encounters and calves that laid on my shoulder or chewed my hair. With dolphins there is active swimming involved so the log-trick didn’t work, but the ability to clear my mind and be completely present in a centered way definitely gave me closer access to their pod’s innermost experiences.

 

 

One day a headache was challenging me but I slid into the water with hope I could forget it for a while. Several dolphins swam past me and one large, heavily-spotted female stopped and approached me. She was within two feet and began to use her sonar. The clicks and buzzes were very loud and I could feel them inside my head. It felt as if they were bouncing around inside my cranium. 

She swam off, circled back and repeated the same process with her buzzes and clicks. Finally she moved away and glanced back as if to invite me to follow her. I answered her suggestion and found myself once again surrounded by the pod. Over thirty dolphins were swimming, darting, twirling around me. 

After a while the dolphins swam off and I returned to the boat. After handing my camera to the crew, I climbed the ladder and realized my headache was gone. I called that dolphin the matriarchal shaman of the pod.

 

 

Every wildlife encounter is life-changing but these found their way into a book of my stories and photographs, Cosmic Whales: Mystical Stories from the Sea (editor's note: you can find Simone's books here). The three days of encounters with Bimini’s friendly dolphins now weave their magic to those unable to visit them in person.

 

My Gear and Technique

I shoot with a Nikon D800 with a Sigma 15mm fisheye lens in an Aquatica housing. If I use strobes the Ikelite DS160 Sun Strobes are my choice. Settings for the dolphin encounters depended on sun, clouds….that would appear then disappear…and water clarity. In general, the range of settings was ISO 400 with 1/125 or 1/160 sec at f10 or f11 to 1/250 sec at f14. I like to play with f stop and shutter speed to create different effects and encourage photographers to play with their settings. 

I approach photography with a very intuitive creativity and rarely try to figure out the logistics of settings in the water. I allow my fingers to roll the adjustment knobs on my housing without filtering it through the left-brain. There are many photographers who adhere to a strict formula and approach from a very left-brained method. Each way is completely acceptable. My rule of thumb is to do whatever works for you.

 

My One Request for You

There is one request I make of all underwater photographers: Enter the water with utmost respect for the wildlife you might encounter and your fellow human adventurers. No shot is worth stressing wildlife…ever. Likewise, no encounter is worth pushing others out of the way to beat the crowd. With respect as our intention, only good things will result from our time in the underwater realm.

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