Technique/Tutorial

Underwater photo tutorials, techniques and tips for all types of underwater photo and video, including macro, supermacro, wide-angle, composition and best camera gear.
Photo tips, best gear, camera settings and photo essay on capturing epic wave shots from the water
By Ben Thouard

The Essentials of Wave Photography

Ben Thouard
Photo tips, best gear, camera settings and photo essay on capturing epic wave shots from the water

Wave photography has become a huge passion for me. Waves are fascinating; they are all different and provide an endless subject to photograph. When shooting waves, my goal is to make people feel the energy that can be found in the ocean thru the different shapes of the waves.

There are some unique moments out in the ocean, especially when the best light comes and changes it all! The light plays with the surface of the water, while the wave dressing up creates some unique reflections, shadows and forms that only a photo can translate. It all happens in a split second - a very short moment when the water looses gravity and delivers its raw power.

It’s so amazing to swim out there searching for those moments that it has become a drug to me.

 

 

Equipment for Wave Photography

To start shooting waves you need to get a bit of specialized equipment. Of course a camera and a lens are first on the list. I would suggest a 50mm to start, as everybody is shooting waves with a fisheye, and in the end, all those photos look the same. You’ll certainly get more results with a fisheye, but only a few of the photos will really stand out from all the others. I think a 50mm allows you to capture more details, reflections and shapes of the wave.

Next you need a housing designed to shoot waves in the surf - not a dive housing. Surf housings are much lighter than dive housings and use a pistol grip that allows you to hold the housing with one hand and continue shooting the wave above your head while you begin diving under. Surf housings are also built to resist heavy impacts from the lip of the wave.

I've been using Aquatech housings for the last 8 years, and even though there are a few others on the market, they are definitely my favorite out there. They are light, functional, and very safe for your camera. You can order a front port for any lens you’d like to use in the water as well as a flash housing if you’d like to light up some photos. Note that they use speedlight flashes instead of the underwater strobes common for scuba diving.

Lastly, Aquatech housings are not only surf housings - they can also be used in many other situations from the surface to 33 feet deep. I've shot a ton of whales and other marine animals in Tahiti and the surf housing works perfectly.

 

Here is my set up for wave photography. I use 2 Aquatech housings and just a pair of fins.

A Delphin housing for the Canon EOS 1DX mII here with a 24mm.

A Elite housing for the Canon EOS 5DSR here with a 50mm.

I mostly shoot with fixed lenses as it forces you to think about the frame you want to get and the position to be in. That's my preference, but you can also use almost any zoom lens with a zoom gear.

 


Check out our favorite Aquatech housings and accessories.


 

 

Wave Photography Techniques

So let’s go back to shooting waves. You need to learn (if you don’t know already) how breaks a wave to be able to get into the right position to shoot it. It could be very dangerous if you are in the wrong place and get surprised by a wave.

It is best to shoot waves early morning or late afternoon as the light gets low. You’ll get many more reflections and details on the surface of the water. And if you manage to get the right angle, you’ll get some reflections of the sun on the wave, and that’s when it starts to be interesting.

After that it’s a question of timing, searching for great waves, waiting for the right conditions and countless hours swimming in the waves with your camera.

It's fascinating and always different!

 

 

 

 

 


 

About the Author

I’m Ben Thouard, a watersport photographer based in Tahiti for 8 years. I mostly shoot surfing, however I love spending time in the ocean shooting a bunch of different things. I now dedicate a lot of my time to shooting empty waves because I love it - it’s fascinating. All the waves are different and the light you can capture reflecting on the surface of the ocean is amazing. Check out more of my work here:

Website:  www.benthouard.com

Facebook page:  www.facebook.com/Ben.Thouard.Photography

Instagram:  www.instagram.com/benthouard

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Overview of the best video settings for using the Sony a7R II underwater
By Brent Durand

Sony a7R II Best Video Settings for Underwater

Brent Durand
Overview of the best video settings for using the Sony a7R II underwater

The Sony a7R II is widely acclaimed for shooting video in 4K resolution. This is the selling point for many underwater photo and video shooters who have been flocking to the camera, choosing it over older competitors like the Canon 5D Mark III and Panasonic GH4.

Like all cameras, the Sony a7 II series has certain settings that must be used to capture nice video, certain settings that are optional depending on experience level, and certain settings that will enhance camera performance in certain shooting situations.

I've had a chance to dig into the menu of Bluewater Photo's rental Sony a7R II and underwater housing in order to put this guide together. I have not had a chance to shoot much underwater video or conduct any head-to-head quality comparisons of certain recording features, but have strong recommendations based on other cameras, office tests and much online research. The settings guide specifically mentions the a7R II but applies to the a7 II and a7S II camera bodies. Here we go!

If you haven't yet, be sure to read our complete Sony a7R II Review for Underwater Photography.

Or, read our extremely detailed Sony a7R II Settings Guide (for still photos).

 

Settings Guide Sections

Key Features   |   Basic Settings   |   Video Focus Tips   |   Best Lenses   |   Important Menu Settings

 

Sony a7R II Key Video Features

Below are the key video features we will explore further in the menu settings section of this guide.

  • Video recording in 4K resolution

  • Multiple file formats: XAVC S 4K, XAVC S HD, AVCHD, MP4

  • Recording bitrates up to 100MBs

  • Increased dynamic range with S-Log2 gamma picture profile (*pros only)

  • 5-Axis image stabilization built-in

  • Zebra Pattern for precise exposure control

  • Focus peaking for manual focus

  • APS-C/Super 35mm record mode

  • 3 programmable custom buttons

 

Basic Camera Settings for Underwater Video

There are two approaches to shooting underwater video. The first is to shoot away on automatic (or "P for professional" mode) and share the raw video or clip right on social media. This is easily done with the Sony a7R II's built-in WiFi and Sony's downloadable apps. The second approach is to carefully consider each and every shot, often working to complete a pre-planned storyboard. This is when consistent settings become useful, as you will often be combining footage from topside cameras during post-processing.

We recommend shooting full manual in order to give you precise control of each shot.

 

Shutter Speed

The general rule for video shutter speed is to double the frame rate. If you are shooting 4K at 30fps, then set your shutter speed to 1/60.  If you are shooting 1080p at 60fps, then set your shutter speed to 1/125. Experienced shooters looking for a cinema look may opt to shoot 25fps and 1/50 (*NTSC - PAL is available).

Why? This ratio provides the right amount of motion blur for natural-looking playback. Using a faster shutter speed will make the footage look very choppy, while a slow shutter speed will not look sharp. 

 

Aperture

Aperture will control the depth of field of the shot, and to a lesser extent, the vibrance of the color brought out by video lights and overall exposure of the scene. Because of this, there is no right or wrong aperture. For wide-angle shooting we recommend an aperture of f/9 as a starting point. For macro with strong video lights, try stopping all the way down to f/25 or f/29 in order to have enough depth of field. A powerful video light will easily produce enough light for proper exposure.

 

ISO

ISO is often the variable for shooting underwater video, and the Sony a7R II stands up to the challenge. The exact ISO will depend on the water clarity and available light, plus the chosen aperture. For wide-angle underwater video, this could be anywhere from 200 to 3200 or even 6400. Note that the higher you push the ISO, the more noise grain you will see in the footage.

We recommend an ISO of 100 for macro video, since your video lights will be producing more than enough light.

 

 

Sony a7R II Video Focus Tips

There are several focus modes available on the Sony a7R II, and different schools of though on using them. It boils down to three main categories that you can choose between. I've labeled them so as to make the most sense.

1.  Manual Focus.  The benefit here is that you have full control and can add creative shots like focus pulls. The downside is that you need to carefully focus each shot after composing, which can be challenging during fast action, in heavy surge, etc.

2.   Semi-Manual Focus.  This is the most versatile and my preferred method of focus for underwater video. Set the Focus Mode to AF-C (continuous) and make sure the a7R II is in manual camera mode, not movie mode. The camera will autofocus whenever you half depress the shutter (or other assigned focus button). This allows you to either 1) focus and then take finger off so the camera stops focusing and you run no risk of AF hunting, or 2) keep the shutter half-depressed to continually focus from one object to another - say from a reef to a passing fish. This is very versatile, offering the benefits of manual focus, the ease of single autofocus, and the simplicity of continuous autofocus.

3.  Full Automatic Continuous Focus.  This method is for those who want less to do while filming. Simply shoot video in the camera's movie mode and the autofocus will continually focus on the most prominent subject as determined by the camera. One unfortunate side effect is AF hunting, when the camera goes in and out of focus while hunting for crisp focus. This will ruin a shot for serious videographers but might not even be noticed by beginners.

 

Best Lenses for Underwater Video

Sony makes a very nice range of lenses for their mirrorless camera line. In addition, Canon shooters can use their lenses via a Metabones adapter, often creating a cheaper transition for those heavily invested in Canon glass. We recommend the following lenses for shooting Sony a7R II underwater video.

Wide-Angle

  • Sony FE 16-35mm F4 ZA OSS Lens

    • This rectilinear wide-angle zoom lens is a staple for wide scenes like reefscapes and skittish subjects like sharks. it is designed for full frame sensors.

  • Sony 28mm F2 lens + Fisheye Converter

    • This fisheye setup provides a 180 degree angle of view, perfect for capturing very wide scenes and for close focus wide-angle shots.

  • Sony 10-18mm F4 OSS Alpha Lens

    • This rectilinear wide-angle zoom lens is designed for APS-C (crop) sensors. Why do I list it? Because many Sony a7R II shooters will use APS-C/Super 35 mode for shooting video. The 10-18mm will provide a much wider field of view when shooting in this mode. Note that it will be unusable in full frame mode due to severe vignetting.

Macro

  • Sony FE 90mm Macro G OSS Lens

    • This lens offers a nice focal lenth for shooting full frame. Adding a diopter like the SubSee +10 is ideal for shooting the smallest subjects.

  • Sony FE 50mm F2.8 Macro Lens
    • NEW  This lens will be excellent for macro video in Super 35 mode, but may be a little wide when shooting full frame (available September 30, 2016)

 

a7R II Important Menu Settings

The Sony a7R II settings discussed in this section help capture the shot with the image quality best suited for your level of underwater videography. We dive through the menu, skipping settings for photography and those that aren't concerns for video, highlighting just what you need to know for video. The settings we recommend are based on the casual videographer purchasing the Sony a7R II. Pros can and will often use different settings to achieve specific goals.

 

Camera Menu Tab

 

SCREEN 2

File Format and Record Setting

    Option 1:  XAVC S 4K - 30p 100M

  • This combination delivers the highest resolution at a very fast bitrate. One pro is that you can crop down during post to fill the frame more. One con is that you need a fast SCXC memory card (Class 10 with 64GB+ storage), plus a "fast" computer in order to edit the footage.

   Option 2:  XAVC S HD - 30p 50M

  • This combination will deliver full HD (1080p) video with excellent quality. One pro is that it's easier for most people to work with during post-processing, and is the resolution most commonly shared online. One con is that you could be recording at a higher resolution. BONUS:  Record at 60p in order to slow down footage for slow motion.

Dual Video REC:  This is useful if you want to record high quality video for post-processing, plus a quick MP4 for easy sharing online. Generally, leave this OFF.

SCREEN 3

  • Focus Mode:  Continuous AF (see Focus Tips section)

  • Focus Area:  Flexible Spot.  This allows you to select a precise area of focus.

SCREEN 4

  • AF drive speed:  Fast

  • AF Track Sens:  High

SCREEN 5

  • White Balance:  Auto.  This is best for general use, with and without video lights. That said, there are many situations where manual white balance is beneficial. One of the Custom buttons can be programmed for quickly setting manual WB.

  • Creative Style:  Standard

SCREEN 6

  • Picture Effect:  Off

  • Picture Profile:  Off

SCREEN 7

  • Center Lock-on AF:  Off

  • Smile/Face Detect:  Off

SCREEN 8

  • Movie:  Manual Exposure.  We highly recommend shooting in manual. That said, you could change this to Program Auto for auto video settings.

  • SteadyShot:  On. We recommend leaving this on, unless your shot calls for specific camera movements.

 

Settings Menu Tab

 

SCREEN 1

  • Zebra:  Off.  This feature is invaluable for advanced shooters who want to ensure no section of the image is blown out, but may prove distracting to new videographers.

  • MF Assist:  Off.  This feature is for manual focus only.

SCREEN 2

  • Peaking Level & Color:  Not relevant - these functions are for manual focus only.

SCREEN 6

  • APS-C/Super 35mm:  On or Off.  This setting is subject to much debate. Long story short, shooting in APS-C/Super 35 is said to produce a higher quality video with less compression (no pixel binning). Great, so why would you not use this?  Because your 16-35mm lens is now being shot with a 1.6 crop factor (instead of using the full full-frame sensor), reducing the field of view. Because of this, savvy video shootinger using Super 35 mode opt for the Sony 10-18mm, which is designed for the APS-C crop. But this lens is unusable outside of Super 35 mode because of vignetting. If field of view is not a primary concern, try shooting in Super 35 mode!

SCREEN 8

  • MOVIE Button:  Always.  You want to be able to record while in camera modes. See Video Focus Tips section.

 

Sample 4K Video - Sony a7R II

 

Best Housings for the Sony a7R II

Our detailed Sony a7R II camera review has a complete overview of underwater housings from Aquatica, Sea&Sea, Nauticam and Ikelite, but we've included quick links to Bluewater Photo below.

 

Purchase the Sony a7R II

Check out camera info, lenses, underwater housings, accessories, and buy the Sony a7R II camera on Bluewater Photo.

 

Conclusion for Underwater Video

The Sony a7R II, a7S II and a7 II are some of the best options on the market for shooting underwater video. I hope these settings get you on the way to shooting some incredible video. As always, you can contact the team at Bluewater Photo for full details on shooting Sony mirrorless cameras.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Brent Durand is a weekend wanderer, story teller and image-maker from California.
BrentDurand.com   |  Facebook  |  Instagram

Brent is managing editor of the Underwater Photography Guide and leads occasional trips for Bluewater Photo.  Email Brent at brent@uwphotographyguide.com or email Bluewater Travel about Brent's custom photo workshops.

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Wide angle underwater photography tips from professional photographer, Craig Dietrich.
By Craig Dietrich

9 Wide Angle Underwater Photography Tips

Craig Dietrich
Wide angle underwater photography tips from professional photographer, Craig Dietrich.

I've been fortunate enough to make a living pursuing my two passions:  underwater photography and scuba diving.  Living in South Florida, I have the opportunity for amazing diving in my own backyard, and have also been fortunate enough to travel to see amazing marine life in other parts of the world.  I'm in the water as often as possible, as I know first hand that missing a dive could mean missing that perfect shot.  I love to shoot wide angle, as I feel it gives the viewer the feeling of being in the Blue themselves, with big sweeping images and a simple reminder of how small we really are.  I also love the challenges that wide angle photography brings, there are a lot of moving parts to get a great shot--but when it all comes together, the payoff can be breathtaking.

Below are 9 techniques I use to capture creative underwater images:

 

1. Slow Down your Shutter Speed

Due to the fact this school was moving very slowly, a slower shutter speed helped pick up the ambient light as a result, lightened the blue water in the background.

Craig Dietrich - Bronze Ball

 

2. Take Chances!

I saw this whale breach and begged the Captain of the liveaboad to take me out to that area. Since he had never seen a mother let anyone get near when a calf was around, he told me I'd never get close enough to get any good shots, but I persisted and was the only one who grabbed a mask, snorkel and fins. Although it took some time for the mother humpback to be comfortable enough to get close to me, I eventually captured this image of she and her calf.

Craig Dietrich - Motherly Love

 

3. Get Close

Get as close as possible so the strobes can bring out the natural detail in the subject.

Craig Dietrich - Painted Turtle

 

4. Be Patient

Sometimes it's best to let the scene unfold to see what shot might present itself.  If I had not waited, I never would have seen this Mother pushing her calf to the surface to teach her to breach.

Craig Dietrich - Baby Steps

 

5. Be Ready!

When possible, assess the situation before you get in the water and be ready for anything (i.e: dolphins jumping INTO the water).

Craig Dietrich - Takin' A Dive


6. Expose for the Background

Sometimes the image warrants closing down and exposing for the background, allowing for this silhouette of the manta.

Craig Dietrich - Black Manta


8. Use the Sun to your Advantage

To add additional drama, use the sun to your advantage.  Get close to the subject, let the strobes fill in the shadows, and expose for the background.

Craig Dietrich - Sunball Manta

 

9. Shoot at an Upward Angle

Shooting upward can add additional drama to an already interesting image.

Craig Dietrich - Close-Up Shark

 

Want to learn more?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Craig Dietrich is a former Naval and family/children’s photographer.  An avid scuba diver, his two loves of diving and photography came together and now Craig is based out of Pompano Beach, Florida.  View more of Craig’s work at www.dietrichunderwater.com.

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Tutorial and experiences shooting over-under split shots in French Polynesia and Hawaii
By Renee Grinnell Capozzola

How to Capture Stunning Splits

Renee Grinnell Capozzola
Tutorial and experiences shooting over-under split shots in French Polynesia and Hawaii

Ever since picking up a camera and taking underwater photos, I have been mesmerized by over-under or split shots.  After all, people cannot naturally see both above and below the surface at the same time, so splits really catch your eye.  I quickly wondered how these striking and unique images were taken - and what I could do to get some myself! 

 

Equipment for Split-Shots

First off, splits are easiest with the right equipment.  You will need to obtain a wide-angle lens, either fisheye or rectilinear.  These types of lenses will yield a wider angle of view and pull more scenery into your frame, both above and below the water line.  The Tokina 10-17mm f/3.5-4.5 fisheye is a fantastic choice and works perfectly with both cropped sensor DSLRs and full frame sensors (from 15-17mm).  In addition to having a wide-angle lens, you also will greatly benefit from a super large dome port.  In fact, as the saying goes, “the bigger, the better!”  A 9-inch dome port or larger is ideal, but under the right conditions, splits can still work well with 7-8 inch ports and are even possible with smaller diameters.  Keep in mind that the smaller the port, the calmer the water will need to be in order to have a thinner meniscus (curve of water against the dome port) and the less surface area you will have available.  Furthermore, larger dome ports focus better since the virtual image is further away than with smaller domes.  With regard to glass versus acrylic dome ports, my preference is certainly glass.  From my personal experience, they really do shed water droplets so much better, but glass is more expensive.

 

Sony A6000, Sony 10-18mm, Nauticam 7” dome. f/16, 1/200, ISO 320

 

Composition and Shooting Technique

Next, you will have to think about composition.  Of course, splits are always possible on the fly, but pre-planning your shot can make all the difference as to whether you nail it or not.  Choose interesting subject matter not just underwater but above the water line as well, if possible.  For example, above the surface you could have a boat, an island or beach in the background, cool clouds in the sky, or the subject itself if it is breaking the surface.  Be sure to focus on the subject that is underwater. 

 

Canon 7D Mark II, Canon 18-22mm, Nauticam 8" dome. f/18, 1/160, ISO 320

 

Ideally, the water should be calm so that you capture all of your subject matter cleanly, since waves and water movement can cut off some of your image.  However, if you can get the timing right, it can be fun to incorporate some of the water movement into your image (see below).

 

Canon 7D Mark II, Tokina 10-17mm, Nauticam 8" dome. f/16, 1/100, ISO 400

 

In my opinion, splits are easiest to do when snorkeling since you don’t have to worry about running out of air and can stay in the water as long as you want, waiting for the right moment.  Of course, I have popped to the surface while scuba diving to follow a marine creature such as a sea turtle going up for air, but most of the time I don’t get what I want because there isn’t enough time to plan my shot.  If you can change your settings quickly, then you may be successful with these impromptu shots.

 

Canon 7D Mark II, Tokina 10-17mm, Nauticam 8" dome. f/18, 1/125, ISO 320

 

Best Settings for Split-Shots

Speaking of settings, knowing how to use your camera in manual mode is crucial.  First, you will want to use a small aperture in order to get everything in focus, including the background.  Generally speaking, an aperture of f14-f18 works well in most situations provided the sun is out.  If it isn’t very bright, you can widen the aperture but keep in mind that the wider the aperture, the less sharp your background will be.  Note that the underwater portion of your image will be underexposed as compared to the topside portion, but that’s easy to adjust in Adobe Lightroom with the graduated filter.

Next, you will need to bump up your ISO to compensate for the small aperture so your image isn’t too dark and enough light hits the sensor.  Provided the sun is out, I like to start with ISO 320 on mirrorless and cropped DSLRs. On full frame DSLRs I can increase the ISO much more without added noise, which allows me to use a smaller aperture.  As mentioned, it needs to be sunny to capture well exposed splits.  The sun shouldn’t be too low in the sky and ideally be behind you (or directly above you) to achieve the most color saturation and to minimize the exposure difference above and below the water line.

 

Canon 7D Mark II, Tokina 10-17mm, Nauticam 8" dome. f/16, 1/200, ISO 320

 

Lastly, you will have to set the shutter speed.  For slow moving subjects like turtles, I usually use 1/125, and for faster moving subjects like sharks, I use 1/200 or higher.  Strobes can help to lighten and freeze the underwater subject as well, but I generally prefer to not use strobes with splits if it is bright and sunny because they are cumbersome, often get in the way, and can make the lighting look somewhat artificial.  However, if lighting is not ideal or it is sunset, then strobes can be really helpful to brighten the underwater section of your image.

 

Sony A6000Sony 10-18mmNauticam 7” dome. f/16, 1/160, ISO 320, dual Sea&Sea YS-D1 strobes

 

If your camera can be set to back-button focus, you will certainly want to set your camera so that the shutter and focus are separate.  Normally, when you press the shutter halfway, the camera focuses, and then you press the shutter all the way to take the shot.  However, when trying to shoot a quickly moving subject, it is advantageous to activate the focus independent of the shutter button.  In other words, you want to manipulate your camera so that the shutter button doesn’t control the focus.  Most mirrorless and DSLRs have the ability to program a button on the back of your camera to perform this back-button focus.  On most of these cameras, it is the AF-ON button that needs to be programmed.  You can read UWPG’s complete back-button focus tutorial for more info.

 

Canon 5D Mark III, Tokina 10-17mm, Nauticam 9" dome. f/18, 1/200, ISO 320

 

One other thing to consider is getting a camera that has an optical viewfinder.  I learned the hard way that using the LCD under bright, sunny conditions made splits almost impossible.  With a viewfinder, you can see what you are looking at and will be able to compose a nice shot.  With splits, the LCD is basically useless when it is really bright outside.

 

Canon 5D Mark III, Tokina 10-17mm@15mm, Nauticam 9" dome, f16, 1/200, ISO 640

 

Lastly, people always want to know how to minimize water droplets on their dome port.  In my opinion, the most helpful thing you can do is use a glass dome port.  However, if that isn’t possible, then there are some other strategies to employ.  First off, when you raise your camera out of the water, it takes a few seconds for most of the water to drain off the port.  It’s been my experience that waiting a few more seconds for more of the water to drain off the port yields better results.  Also, if you swim around with the upper half of your dome port out of the water, most of the remaining water droplets will dry pretty quickly.  You can also try rubbing shampoo on the outside of your dome port and then let it dry before submersing it into the water.  If this strategy is effective, it will have to be repeated every so often.  Last but not least, you can always remove those pesky water droplets with Lightroom or Photoshop.

 

Canon 5D Mark III, Tokina 10-17mm, Nauticam 9" dome. f/18, 1/200, ISO 320

 

With a little practice and the proper equipment, anyone can be successful with taking striking split images.  It is a good idea to practice your splits in a pool or calm lagoon at first if possible.  Of course, ideal conditions including calm water, clear visibility, bright sun, and an interesting subject matter really help, but splits certainly give you the opportunity to use your imagination and creativity!  

 

Canon 7D Mark II, Tokina 10-17mm, Nauticam 8" dome. f/16, 1/200, ISO 320

I’d like to thank Scott Gietler for first introducing me to splits during an amazing Bluewater Photo group trip to French Polynesia in 2014, which I believe is one of the absolute best places to capture these types of images.  With Scott’s help and expertise on techniques and proper equipment, I was able to start shooting over-unders with good results.  I’d also like to thank Mark Strickland for introducing me to back button focus and Ron Watkins for his camera and Lightroom expertise.

 

About the Author

Renee Grinnell Capozzola is an avid underwater photographer from Southern California who is passionate about marine organisms and hopes her pictures, along with those from other underwater photographers, will help bring about positive change.   “I believe underwater photographers help employ constructive change for our deteriorating seas through the use of striking images.  With my pictures, I hope to increase the awareness of our fragile marine ecosystems and encourage others to help protect our oceans.”  More of her photography can be found on her website:  www.beneaththesurfaceimaging.com

SUPPORT THE UNDERWATER PHOTOGRAPHY GUIDE:

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Visit Bluewater Photo & Video for all your underwater photography and video gear. Click, or call the team at (310) 633-5052 for expert advice!

 


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Improve your GoPro underwater video with these easy tips to bring home excellent footage.
By Brent Durand

3 Tips for GoPro Underwater Video

Brent Durand
Improve your GoPro underwater video with these easy tips to bring home excellent footage.

The GoPro HERO4 is one of the most popular cameras for shooting underwater video. Compact size, incredible resolution, a variety of framerates, an LCD display, customizable Protune shooting mode, and an affordable price in relation to other video systems have all helped GoPro earn this position in the market. GoPro Hero cameras can shoot macro, wide-angle, and anything in between, and can be used in ambient light, with underwater filters, or with video lights. This versatility makes the GoPro a great option as a primary video tool or as an accessory to larger, more manual video systems.

In this tutorial we take a look at three tips for improving your underwater video in-camera, no matter which GoPro model you're shooting.

Be sure to check out our GoPro HERO5 Review.

 

1. Keep Steady

The concept seems simple, but it's very easy to forget that we're filming video during the most exciting moments underwater. Because the GoPro has such a wide field of view and automatic settings, divers often take for granted that we'll get the subject in the frame and lose focus on the fact that we are trying to record the best video clip possible. This is totally fine for casual videographers, but a serious video shooter will remain cognizant of the final product they want from their GoPro, remaining as steady as possible to produce a well-composed and shake-free video clip.

Yes, this concentration on keeping the camera steady takes away from the experience with the subject, but this is the tradeoff as a beginner. Experienced videographers will slowly learn to blend their experience with the animal and capturing exceptional video into one seemless process.

One trick to recording steady GoPro footage is to use a wide GoPro tray and handle setup. I have often dived with the rig below on my BCD to shoot video in between DSLR still photos.

 

This is my tray and handle setup, cobbled together from Ultralight Control Systems components. Having a wide rig keeps the camera much more stable in the water.

 



You can see a wide range of GoPro mounts on Bluewater Photo, including trays, handles and accessories.

Shop GoPro Mounts and Trays


 

 

2. Remember your Handles

Video handles are essential for all clips, and often necessary for editing GoPro underwater footage. What are they? Video handles are the extra footage before and after the section of the clip we want to show that we cut out of the final video. We don't clearly see these frames in the edited video, however they are seen by the editing software and are needed for transitions where the first clip and second clip are overlapping or being blended together. In other words, we will not use the handles for cut transitions where the clip abruptly switches to the next clip, but we will use them during fades, dissolves and other transitions that show more passage of time or indicate change of scene.

 

 

3. Shoot with the Sun Behind You

This is one of the secrets of underwater photography and videography. GoPro cameras perform their best in great light conditions, so it's important to be aware of the best conditions anytime we're shooting below the surface. When the sun is at your back you will see more light on objects in your field of view, creating a more pleasing image than shooting backlit silhouettes. Shooting with the sun at your back also reduces backscatter and haziness in the water. With more light, the GoPro will shoot at a lower ISO and filters will have the light they need to help create a more realistic white balance. If using the GoPro Hero's low light mode, shooting with the sun at your back will help keep the camera from dropping the recording framerate (which could present an issue during post-processing).  This sun rule applies for both shallow and deep water diving.

 

Here is a video of playful sea lions that demonstrates these 3 techniques.

 

Conclusion

In short, improving our GoPro video can be as simple as paying more attention to each shot we take. Once we find the subject, it's important to make sure to keep the camera steady, start and stop recording with enough room on either side of the action to create handles, and always make sure the sun is at our back so that the subject is well lit. Now let's see those underwater videos! Feel free share them on our Facebook page or tag the Underwater Photography Guide.

 

Be sure to read our GoPro HERO5 Review.

 

GoPro Tutorial Series and Reviews

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Brent Durand is a weekend wanderer, story teller and image-maker from California.
BrentDurand.com   |  Facebook  |  Instagram

Brent is managing editor of the Underwater Photography Guide and leads occasional trips for Bluewater Photo.  Email Brent at brent@uwphotographyguide.com or email Bluewater Travel about Brent's custom photo workshops.

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A look at the best settings for macro and wide-angle underwater photography with the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II
By Kelli Dickinson

Best Underwater Settings for Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II Camera

Kelli Dickinson
A look at the best settings for macro and wide-angle underwater photography with the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II

Navigation:

The Olympus OM-D line are by far the most popular mirrorless camera used in underwater photography. The newest version, the OM-D E-M5 offers nice improvements from the original E-M5, while continuing with the quality and excellence that one expects in an Olympus mirrorless camera.In this article we discuss our recommended settings for getting the most out of this excellent camera.

Below I've compiled several good starting camera settings for different shooting situations. Following that is a list of the most important, or required, settings that are crucial to change in your E-M5 Mark II system when shooting underwater, with specifics based on which housing you are using. In addition I take an in depth look at all the menus on the camera so you can fine tune your camera for the best underwater shooting experience.

Olympus PEN and OM-D Underwater Settings

Actual settings will vary based on your diving location and conditions. Take a look at the following suggestions below as a great starting point for shooting with your Olympus OM-D E-M5

Settings for Macro with the 45mm or 60mm Macro Lens:

  • Manual mode, F22, 1/250th, ISO 200
  • Auto white balance, camera flash on "fill in flash", Strobe on TTL
    • Or set the strobe to manual power and adjust power as needed
    • For manual power set the camera flash to manual  also to save battery life (see below for instructions)

TIP: Shoot at lower F stops like F5.6 or F2.8 to try to get some better bokeh and a blurred background

TIP: You'll need to open up your aperture to around F8 when shooting fish; at F22, your strobes won't "reach" very far and the photo will look black

** These settings are also useful with the 12-50mm lens in Macro Mode **

Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II w/ 60mm Macro
 
Settings for Macro using the kit lens (14-42mm / 12-50mm) with a wet diopter:

  • Manual mode, F22, 1/250th, ISO 200

  • Auto White Balance, camera flash on "fill in flash", Strobe on TTL

    • Or set the strobe to manual power and adjust power as needed

    • For manual power set the camera flash to manual  also to save battery life (see below for instructions)

  • Zoom all the way in

  • Shoot at lower F stops like F8-F11 to try to get some better bokeh and a blurred background, you can open up to F3.5, but will have a very small depth of field

  • Remember working distance is limited when using a wet diopter, move carefully to avoid spooking your subject and get close. 

Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II w/ 60mm Macro


Settings for Wide Angle with 8mm Fisheye or 9-18mm lens:

  • Manual mode, F8, 1/125th, ISO 200 

  • Auto White Balance, camera flash on "fill in flash", Strobe on TTL

    • Or set the strobe to manual power and adjust power as needed

    • For manual power set the camera flash to manual  also to save battery life (see below for instructions)

Important: use the shutter speed to control your ambient light (background exposure). A slower shutter speed (e.g. - 1/60th will let in light when shooting in darker waters, a faster shutter speed will allow less light in when shooting in bright conditions).

TIP - when the sun is in the photo, set the shutter as fast as possible (up to 1/250th), and you'll need to stop down your aperture to F16 or F22 to avoid blowing out the highlights, remember to turn up your strobe power.

TIP - for ambient light photography, you may need to open your aperture to F5.6 or F4 and increase the ISO to ISO 400, 800 or 1600 to let in more light, and shoot with the sun behind you.

Note: These settings also are great for starting points for shooting with the kit lens on, and for fish portraits with the 60mm macro lens.

Olympus E-M5 Mark II w/ Oly 8mm
Olympus Camera Set up for Underwater Use

The OM-D E-M5 Mark II camera works well straight out of the box, however there are some important menu and setting changes that you will want to make sure to set for the best underwater shooting experience.

Most Important Settings for Underwater Use:

1) Custom Menu Options - The Custom menu should be turned on by default on the E-M5, if not, follow these instructions to activate it.

Menu -> Set Up Menu (Wrench icon) -> Menu Display and click OK. The Custom Menu is the small cogs icon, hit the right button, and then the down button followed by ok to activate this menu.

2) Live View Boost - this is very important so that you can see your LCD underwater. This mode disables the live view of exposure settings, since underwater shooting with a strobe, usually results in dark settings in the camera. This function will brighten your LCD so it is always at a good viewing brightness. Note: the LCD does not accurately reflect the exposure settings for the camera.

Custom Menu -> D: Disp/PC -> Live View Boost -> Manual Shooting -> On1
(note On1 is the standard view, On2 offers a slow frame rate option that will improve total visibility when shooting in very dark conditions)


3) EVF Auto Switch -  The E-M5 has an electronic viewfinder. In order to use the LCD screen underwater you need to turn off the Auto Switch. This prevents it from automatically switching to the EVF when the sensor is blocked, since the back of the housing blocks that sensor.

Custom Menu -> J: Built-In EVF -> EVF Auto Switch -> OFF. (NOTE: You can also access this menu item by simply pressing the |O| (EVF) Button on the camera and holding for about 3 seconds)

Note: You lose the ability to display the Super Control Panel in the LCD when using the viewfinder when the "Auto Switch" is turned off. The default is Live Control, which is the same quick menu as previous PEN models. If you prefer the look of the Super Control Panel you can gain access to it by turning off the Live Control and turning on the SCP through the Custom Menu.

Custom Menu -> D: Disp/PC -> Control Settings -> P/A/S/M -> Live Control OFF -> Live SCP ON

                         

The Super Control Panel on the left, and the Live Control View on the right.

4) Flash modes - if you are using a strobe with TTL you will use the single lightning bolt "Fill in Flash" mode on the camera. However, if you are planning to use the strobe in manual mode you can save battery life by changing the flash mode to "Manual Value" through the quick menu. This is also beneficial because using the internal camera flash at a lower power means less recycle time and helps eliminate any delay on being able to take a picture.

OK -> scroll to flash icon -> scroll over to select "Manual Value Flash" -> Press INFO to change flash power -> scroll to 1/64th power -> OK to confirm

**Important Note: Remember that the new style of flash on the E-M5 Mark II requires it to be turned on before it will work. Make sure you switch it on and test that it is firing properly before closing your housing.**

5) Rear Control Buttons - the default setting on the EM-5 four arrow key rear buttons controls only the focus point, which basically means you are not taking advantage of 3 out of 4 buttons! You can customize 2 of the buttons instead to gain quick, one-touch access to important features.

Custom Menu -> B: Button/ Dial -> Button Function -> Key Function (option with the four arrow key icon) -> Direct Function -> OK

Now you have access to change the right and down arrow key controls on the back of the camera. (Up gives control of Aperture / Shutter Speed without the dials and Left gives control over the focus point, these are NOT customizable). You have the same options for both customizable buttons, I suggest reviewing each and picking the ones that best suit your needs. For example, I set my camera to have direct access to the flash mode via the right arrow key and direct access to the sequential shot/ timer mode for the down key. (The sequential shot is not something used much underwater but I find I use it alot topside, so it was important to have direct access for me.)

6) Rec View - this sets the length of time an image review is displayed after taking the picture. Default is 0.5 seconds. For underwater use, 2 seconds is usually recommended so you have a chance to quickly gauge that exposure and focus look good before taking another picture. If 2 seconds is too long, set it to what you desire, or simply press the shutter halfway down to cancel the review.

Set Up Menu -> Rec View

7) Picture Mode - the default is natural, but jpeg shooters may prefer Vivid

NOTE: this does not affect RAW files

Accessible through the SCP / Quick Menu or Shooting Menu 1


A Note About Handling the E-M5 Mark II

Never, never hold or carry your E-M5 Mark II camera by the flash. I have found that the connection with this new style flash is finicky, and it must be fully installed to send the correct signal to the camera and allow the flash to fire. There were several dives when I was testing this camera where the flash was greyed out because the camera could not send the signal to the flash. If you lift up, or pull out the camera by the flash you will weaken the connection point between the camera and flash and it may result in your flash not functioning. Always grasp the camera by the body only.
If you do install the flash on the camera, switch on and the flash icon on the screen is still greyed out, please simply press gently on the flash like you are trying to push it further into its slot. This worked for me to get the flash to activate when this would occur. Once in the camera and on, be careful not to jostle the camera / housing too much to prevent the flash from disengaging.

Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II with Oly 7-14mm
OM-D E-M5 Mark II Set Up For an Olympus Housing:

The Olympus housing is a great option if you are on a budget and don't want to spend the money on one of the more expensive aluminum housings. There are a few limitations, but for the most part set up is the same as other housings.
 

Important Olympus Housing Information:

Before taking your rig underwater these things MUST be completed to ensure proper functionality and minimize the risk of a housing flood.

1) Remove the rubber grommet from around the Electronic Viewfinder, also called the “Eyecup”.
To do this make sure the accessory flash is off the camera, and then simply slide the piece up and off the camera. Remember to replace the flash before putting the camera in the housing.

2) Remove any straps, filters or lens caps.

To insert the E-M5 Mark II into the Olympus housing you should follow these steps:

1) Turn camera OFF

2) Keep LCD closed (not pulled open on its hinge)

3) Check that the ON/OFF lever on the housing is raised up and in the OFF position, if not, gently push up on the lever.

4) Set the 1:2 Switch lever to 1 on the housing (make sure its also set to 1 on the camera)

5) Gently slide the camera into the housing

Once the camera is in place you can close the housing and the 1:2 Switch will connect correctly. Then press down on the ON/OFF switch so that it lines up correctly (you can do this before closing the housing to confirm correct placement).

Always test your housing underwater without the camera installed for the first dive. This will ensure there are no manufacturing defects.

Olympus Housing Menu & Button Configuration:

Like all cameras, the OM-D E-M5 Mark II focus set up comes default with auto focus occurring after a half press of the shutter button. This works fine in most situations, so if you are happy with the half press focus, then nothing needs to be changed.

With the PT-EP13 housing there is not an ideal button configuration to use the more advanced option of splitting out the focus. Typically you want a button that would be activated by your thumb, so if needed you can quickly focus (with thumb) then take the photo (with your pointer finger).

If you would like to have the ability to split out the focus, it can be done, just keep in mind that you will be focusing and taking the photo with your pointer finger, so it may be a little slower.

Please remember this set up is an advanced option and is not required to use the camera underwater. Please only change out your focus set up if you understand the steps. Otherwise leave at default, and use a half shutter press to focus with a full shutter press to capture the image.

Button Configuration for Split out Focus

Button Functions ( Custom Menu -> B: Button/Dial -> Button Function)

Fn1 - MF - this will allow you to switch between the Manual Focus and S-AF focus on the camera with one press.

Fn2 - AEL/AFL, this will become the button you press to focus the camera.

Rec - Leave as Record for Movies.

Set Up When Using AFL Focus with Fn1 & Fn2 Buttons:

AEL/AFL Settings (Custom Menu -> A: AF/MF -> AEL/AFL)

Use these settings if you've assigned MF to the Fn1 button.

S-AF - Mode 1 - this will basically keep the camera as default, where a half shutter press focuses, and a full shutter press takes the picture, which is how most folks shoot topside, for wide angle underwater where focusing is not a touchy as macro and for subjects underwater where you want to re-focus each shot.

C-AF - leave at Mode 1 - i try not to use C-AF on the E-M5 as it can be slow, and will refocus your image automatically. Often it focuses different then where you want.

MF - Mode 3 - this separates the shutter release from the auto focus, so you can lock focus and then take as many images as you like without affecting your focus. In addition to this, Manual Focus is active so if you have a focus gear on the lens you can use both MF and AF quickly and easily without changing any modes.
Shutter Release (Custom Menu -> C: Release -> Rls Priority S)

Rls Priority S - OFF - this prevents the camera from taking a photo unless it is in focus in S-AF mode. If you want to be able to take a photo even if the camera has not locked focus then turn this function ON. (Release Priority C is the same only for the C-AF Mode).

Now once you have set all of these, you can shoot a picture as standard (half shutter to focus) when in S-AF mode. Simply press the Fn1 button to switch to Manual Mode and now the Fn2 button controls auto focus and the shutter release only takes the picture. This makes it very easy to have both topside settings and underwater settings created without having to change things in the menus every time you use the camera, so you do not forget to reset anything for the next trip.

NOTE: I use all of these settings with the camera in Manual Mode, so I have full control over my exposure settings.

Olympus E-M5 Mark II with Oly 60mm 

OM-D E-M5 Mark II Set Up For a Nauticam Housing:

The E-M5 Mark II camera and Nauticam housing require no changes to the camera, you can leave the Eyecup in place and there is plenty of space for the little triangular strap attachment pieces. It is important to note that any camera strap, lens cap and lens filters need to be removed before you install the camera into the housing.

The OM-D E-M5 Mark II comes set up with defaults that work well on land, but might not give you the best possible results underwater. If you have set the primary settings as outlined in the beginning, this section will help you streamline the camera for quick and accurate auto focus underwater when using a Nauticam Housing.

The Nauticam Housing does not include any tray or handles, though it does come with the silver brackets that add support when using the Nauticam Flexitray system. I highly recommend this tray as it is very adjustable, allows the housing to stand flat on a table and is very secure. One downside is that if you do need to adjust something, there are at least four, sometimes more, screws that have to be loosened, then retightened so it can be a pain.

I prefer to move the tray (any tray) further to the right, to allow a space large enough for my hand to fit between the housing and the handle. This way I am gripping the housing directly. I find it positions my fingers much better for accessing all the controls and buttons.

Advanced Focus Set Up in the Nauticam Housing:

One of the biggest benefits to the Nauticam housing over the Olympus is that they set the rear of the housing up differently than the camera. The record button on the camera is actually a small lever on the housing, set right by your thumb. With the advance customization available on the E-M5 Mark II you can easily reassign the Record Button to be something different. I prefer to set it as the AEL/AFL setting.

AEL/AFL -  You can assign this option to one of the Fn buttons or even the record button. This can be helpful to separate the focus lock from the Shutter Release. Often underwater it is hard to focus exactly where you want with the camera re-focusing every time you press the shutter half way it down, especially when shooting macro. Separating these allows you to focus the camera, then take the picture and take multiple pictures without the camera refocusing. This is very helpful for lenses like the 60mm and 45mm Macro that tend to focus hunt often.

Please remember this set up is an advanced option and is not required to use the camera underwater. Please only change out your focus set up if you understand the steps. Otherwise leave at default, and use a half shutter press to focus with a full shutter press to capture the image.

Here is how I have my OM-D E-M5 Mark II buttons assigned when shooting in the Nauticam housing, I find this the best set up for quick changes to focus mode, so that focus can be achieved quickly, easily and accurately.

Button Functions ( Custom Menu -> B: Button/Dial -> Button Function)

Fn1 - One Touch White Balance

Alternately - if you want to be able to record video at the touch of a button (vs changing the actual mode) you can assign the video record to the Fn1 button.

Fn2 - MF - this allows you to switch quickly between MF and your default focus mode (S-AF is recommended). This is great for using the AEL/AFL feature. (Note: this comes into play with the AEL/AFL settings so you can switch quickly between two options). This button is a bit difficult to reach on the Nauticam housing, especially when using the Flexitray with brackets attached. However, switching the focus mode is something that is typically done before putting the camera into the housing, or very rarely during the dive, so its ok if its not quick and simple.

Rec - AEL/AFL

Configure the AEL/AFL Settings:


AEL/AFL Settings (Custom Menu -> A: AF/MF -> AEL/AFL)

S-AF - Mode 1 - this will basically keep the camera as standard, half shutter focuses, full shutter takes the picture

C-AF - Mode 3 - this will separate the shutter release from the auto focus, so you can re-focus the camera from the Rec button and not risk taking a picture

MF - Mode 3 - this separates the shutter release from the auto focus, so you can lock focus and then take as many images as you like without affecting your focus. When you assign AEL/AFL you get an autofocus option while in manual focus mode, so if you have a focus gear on the lens you can use both manual focus or auto focus quickly and easily without changing any modes.

Shutter Release (Custom Menu -> C: Release -> Rls Priority S)

Rls Priority S - OFF - this prevents the camera from taking a photo unless it is in focus in S-AF mode. If you want to be able to take a photo even if the camera has not locked focus then turn this function ON. (Release Priority C is the same only for the C-AF Mode). Note in MF mode the shutter will always release regardless of focus.

Now once you have set all of these, you can shoot a picture as standard (half shutter to focus) when in S-AF mode. Simply press the Fn2 button to switch to Manual Mode and now the Rec button controls auto focus and the shutter release takes the picture. This makes it very easy to have both topside settings and underwater settings created without having to change things in the menus every time you use the camera. This simplifies the process so you do not forget to reset anything for the next trip.

NOTE: I use all of these settings with the camera in Manual Mode, so I have full control over my exposure settings. You can also set the AFL/AEL to the Fn1 button, its not as nice as using the REC lever, but will allow you to keep REC as the Record function for one step movie recording if you prefer.

Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II with Oly 7-14mm

OM-D E-M5 Mark II Specific Menu Settings

This info is helpful for fine tuning your camera for the best underwater settings. If a menu item is not listed that is because it does either does not affect shooting pictures or does not affect a setting that would be used underwater.

Shooting Menus

These set your cameras defaults, general settings that it will revert to after shutoff.  

Shooting Menu #1

Picture Mode  - This menu sets the look of your pictures, it is completely a personal choice to change, I prefer Vivid, because it enhances reds & oranges. NOTE: this only affects photos shot as .JPG, RAW images will not be affected.

Picture Quality (pixel icon)  - Sets the default quality mode for the camera. Set this to RAW for still images, default for video is FullHD Fine, leave it there unless you know you want a lower quality.

*Note: if you do not have software on your computer that can read and edit RAW files then leave it set to .jpg (LF). I highly recommend shooting RAW for the most flexibility with in computer editing.

Image Aspect - Leave at the default standard image aspect ratio of 4:3 unless otherwise desired.

Digital Teleconverter - Leave at default of OFF. 

Burst/ Time Mode - Leave at default of Single Shot Mode, you can change this from the quick menu later for specific shooting instances.

Shooting Menu #2

Bracketing / HDR / Keystone Comp - Leave at default (OFF)

Anti-Shock / Silent - Leave at Default

High Res Shot - This allows you to change the post-shutter release delay before the image begins. Since this is not used much underwater, you can leave a default. If you use this mode, and have any wobble or are not on a steady tripod, selecting a delay time will help improve the overall image.

Flash RC Mode - Leave at default of OFF

** NOTE - If you are using the Olympus UFL-2 strobes, you can increase your shutter sync speed with the PEN and OMD cameras to 1/500 using the RC feature of the camera and strobes. Check out the strobe manual for this, but it can be very useful for getting great sunbursts in wide angle shots.
 
Custom Menu Options

The custom menu offers more detailed camera adjustments, however, these can get overwhelming. When in doubt leave it at the default, unless otherwise noted in the Important Settings section above.


Menu A: AF/MF

AF Mode - I recommend setting this to S-AF (single AF). This is default for still images but not for video. C-AF, continuous auto focus, I find is too slow to accurately catch moving subjects and often hunts more frequently in the low light underwater conditions. You can halfway press the shutter during video to refocus when needed.

Full-time AF - OFF

AEL/AFL -  This is a very handy feature, especially for underwater as it allows you to set focus lock separately from the shutter button, so that you can lock focus and then take several images without refocusing. The set up will vary depending on which housing you use, so please see the Housing Settings section above for specific details.

Reset Lens - OFF - leaving this ON resets the lens focus of the lens to infinity after the camera is powered off. For most shooting situations this is not a big deal, though when using specific lenses, like the 60mm macro, it can cause initial focus hunting in the beginning. Turning it off will save the last focus distance used in the camera.

MF Assist - ON - very useful with macro - magnifies center of image 10x to aid in manual focusing 

AF Set Home - SINGLE- this sets the "home" position for the AF target for each AF mode. It will return to the position selected after power down. Default is full matrix, change this to Single Auto Focus Point for more control.

AF Illuminator - OFF - this is the small red AF assist light on the camera. It won't shine through the housing so turn it off to save battery life. If you use the camera both topside and underwater and don't want to hassle with constantly changing it then leave it on, it will not affect picture taking.

Face Priority - OFF - this automatically focuses the camera when it detects a "face" however underwater it can mis-detect and cause issues, and the camera will not detect faces in masks so it is not needed.  

Menu B: Button / Dial

Button Function - There are 4 Fn buttons on the E-M5 and each has a variety of functions you can set. You can also customize the Rec button and the Preview button on the front of the camera to assign its own function. Other settings in the Button Function menu allow you to modify the action of that key listed. To gain customization of the up and down arrows you need to change the setting of the four arrows option just below them. I recommend:

Arrow Keys - Direct Function

Right Arrow - Flash Mode*

Down Arrow - ISO*

*Feel Free to choose whichever settings work best for you!

For customization of other buttons, check out the specific Housing Set Up informations sections above for more detailed information on why I've set these options and how to use them.

Dial Function - This menu allows you to set the functions of the control dials for the camera. Functions are set per shooting mode indivually.

This is the two control wheels on the top of the camera. For the E-M5 in manual mode you can select which button controls Aperature and which controls Shutter Speed, set to your preference for ease of use.

Dial Direction - can be set to change which way you turn the dial to increase shutter or F stop. Set to personal preference or leave at default  

Lever Function - This allows you to set the function of the 1:2 Lever.

Some folks may ignore this completely. Some may use it in Mode 1 (default) which changes the two top dials from Aperture / Shutter Speed (1) to ISO / White Balance (2). Since I don’t change my ISO too often, and I can access White Balance quickly through other buttons I chose to use Mode 6, which automatically changes your shooting mode. Position 1 = whatever mode the Mode Dial is set to … so Manual for taking photos. Position 2 = Movie Mode. I found this very useful to switch to the dedicated movie mode, where I could preset my desired settings. Once done shooting video, flip the lever back to 1 and you’re back in your photo shooting mode with all settings still the same.

Menu C: Release

Rls Priority S / C - this option allows you to set whether the shutter can be released even when the camera is not in focus. I recommend leaving it at the default of OFF for S-AF to help limit out of focus pictures. (can be set individually for S-AF and C-AF modes)

Burst FPS H / L - leave a default - this sets the frame rate for each burst mode option

Burst + IS Off - OFF - allows for image stabilization during sequential shooting when turned OFF 

Halfway Rls with IS - ON - this allows for Image Stabilization to begin when the shutter is pressed halfway.

Menu D: Disp / Beep / PC

This menu customizes display and sound options. Set these to your preference, they don't affect picture taking, except for a select few.

Camera Control Settings - this gives you options for the display of the quick menus. When the EVF Auto switch is turned off you can only access one of these. Default is the Live Control, Olympus' standard type menu. The other option is the Super Control Panel, the new style for the OM-D that mimics many dSLR cameras. To activate the SCP, turn off the LC and turn on the Live SCP for the mode you plan to shoot in.
Info Settings -  Under this menu is LV-Info. These options allow you to streamline your LCD view information. By turning each on or off you choose which viewing modes you would like to be able to see when you press the INFO button on the camera.

Live View Boost -  This must be turned on to aid in viewing the LCD underwater in dark shooting conditions.
I would also set the SLEEP mode and Auto Power Off modes as desired to save battery life.

Menu E: Exp / Metering / ISO

EV Step - leave at Default 1/3EV - this gives access to all "in between" stops, for more fine tuning your picture settings. It controls the size of the increments for shutter speed, aperture, etc.

NOISE / NOISE FILTER / ISO - leave at defaults

ISO / ISO Step / ISO Auto-Set / ISO-Auto - leave options at default.

Metering - Default (Digital ESP Metering) - this evaluates the entire image for the best overall exposure. For more specific metering you can choose center weighted or spot.

AEL Metering - Default (AUTO) - if you use the AEL function leave this at the default and it will automatically choose the same metering you are currently using.

Bulb / Time Timer, Live Bulb, Live Time - default (this won't be used underwater)

F: Flash Custom

X-Sync - Default (1/250 for E-M5) this sets the fastest default Shutter Speed at which the flash can fire.

Slow Limit - Default (1/60) - You can adjust this lower as desired.

NOTE: These flash settings do not matter for Manual Mode, the flash fires based on the shutter speed selected when in Manual Mode. However 1/250 is the highest option available for the OM-D E-M5 Mark II

G: Pixels / Color / WB

WB - Auto (default) - this sets the default WB mode, you can adjust for certain instances through the quick menu

All WB Evaluation - default - this changes the overall WB compensation for all modes except custom WB

WB-Auto Keep Warm Color - default - keeps colors warm for Auto WB mode.

Flash + WB - default (auto)

Color Space - default sRGB (unless you specifically know you want a different color space)

H: Record / Erase

Set these to your preference, they do not affect picture taking

I: Movie

Movie Mode - Default - P - this sets the default mode for movie capture (unless you are doing more video and want a specific mode, such as Manual, Aperture or Shutter to be the default)

Movie Mic - Default - ON - turns mic on or off. Turn off if you do not want to record any sound.

Recording Volume - Default - Standard

Mic Limiter - Default - ON - this automatically limits the input volume if the sound exceeds a certain level.

Wind Noise Reduction - Default - OFF - reduces wind noise

Movie Effect - OFF - this disables the camera adds any movie effects

Movie Shutter Button - This controls what the shutter button does while in the dedicated movie mode. I set it to Mode 2 which uses the Shutter Button to control the movie recording Start / Stop. Mode 1 allows the shutter button to take a photo during movie recording.

If you take a photo during movie recording it will stop the record, capture the photo, then resume recording automatically but you will end up with two separate video files. I find I often want to use the Shutter Button to control my video start / stop so this feature is great.

J: Built in EVF

These do not affect picture setting, adjust as you prefer. The only important setting in this menu is:

EVF Auto Switch - OFF - this disables the automatic switch between the LCD and EVF. This is important for underwater use because the housing will always block the sensor and it will be stuck on the EVF only.

K: Camera Utility (OM-D Cameras)

Set as desired, these do not affect picture settings
 
Setup Menu


Set Date / Time, LCD brightness, upgrade your firmware, etc. The most important item on this menu is:

Rec View - this sets the amount of time an image is displayed for review after taking it. Default is .5 seconds, which is very fast. 2 seconds is a good average to set this to so that you can check exposure and focus on the LCD before taking another picture. If you need to take the next shot quickly this review disappears with a 1/2 shutter press.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kelli Dickinson is an avid diver and underwater photographer who shoots primarily on mirrorless cameras. Familiar with a variety of cameras and housings she tries to shoot on as many different options as possible to improve her overall knowledge of underwater camera systems. In addition she is Manager of Bluewater Photo. In her spare time she can be found running, hiking or underwater. 

Connect with her on instagram @kelnkelp or at www.kelnkelp.com

She can be reached via email at kelli@bluewaterphotostore.com.

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Tips and tricks for improving your underwater macro photos
By Brook Peterson

Five DSLR Life-hacks for Great Macro Photography

Brook Peterson
Tips and tricks for improving your underwater macro photos

If you are new to underwater photography, chances are you are starting to discover the wonderful world of tiny critters that await their turn in front of your lens. Not knowing where to start, what lens to use, what camera settings work best, and many other uncertainties can prevent a budding photographer’s success. Fortunately, you can get great results no matter how advanced your photography skills are, by using the following five tactics.

 

The Right Macro Lens

If you are using either a full frame or a crop sensor DSLR camera, a 50mm or 60mm lens is a good choice for macro photography.  It enables you to shoot critters from the size of a basketball to the size of a golf ball.  You can add a diopter or tele-converter as your skills improve for shooting tinier subjects, and the lens allows you a minimum working distance of about 7-9 inches.  Another good choice for both crop sensor and full frame cameras is a 100mm or 105mm lens.  This lens is my personal favorite because of its versatility.  When paired with a diopter it is capable of shooting critters that are just millimeters big, but it works well as a portrait lens too. I have even used it for large subjects in a pinch.

 

Brook Peterson bat ray in sand

 

Brook Peterson Pygmy Seahorse Macro

 

Brook Peterson wonderpus octopus

 

Lighting Techniques

Artificial light is essential to good macro photography.  You can achieve great results with either one or two strobes.  TTL works well for macro subjects because the output of light coincides with your camera’s settings, giving the optimum amount of light for the conditions you are shooting.  My preferred method, however, is to set the strobe power manually.  If you choose manual settings, start with your strobes on half power, check the image in the LCD, and adjust them up or down according to what you see.  Keep in mind that if you have two strobes, they don’t have to be set at the same power.  You can get nice texture by setting one of your strobes on a lower output than the other.

 

 

ISO

ISO is one of the three settings every DSLR user must understand.  In simple terms, ISO is how sensitive your camera is to available light.  A low number such as ISO 100 is less sensitive and a high number such as 1600 is more sensitive.  For macro photography, you can get great results every time with an ISO of 100.

 

Shutter Speed

Like ISO, shutter speed has an effect on the amount of light that hits the sensor and is measured in fractions of a second.  For macro photography, the strobes are doing all the lighting work, so the goal of shutter speed is to block ambient light from hitting the sensor.  Fortunately, you can set your camera to the highest shutter speed your camera’s flash will sync with.  1/250th of a second is standard, but you can use 1/320th if your camera allows (or 1/200 for many Canon shooters).

Aperture

Aperture describes the size of the opening in the lens.  Called an f-stop, a high f-stop such as f/18 is a small opening, and a low f-stop such as f/5.6 is a large opening.  The opening in the lens also has an effect on light, but it has another function referred to as depth of field.  If you want to have a lot of depth of field to produce a tack sharp image you should use a high f-stop such as f/22 or higher.  If you want a shallow depth of field, use a low f/stop such as f/5.6 or lower.  Keep in mind that a higher f/stop will require more light from your strobes, and a lower f/stop will require less.

 

Brook Peterson macro

 

Photo left: This image was created using an open aperture of f/5.6 to blur everything except the animal's face. Nikon D810, ISO 100, 1/320th, f/5.6

Photo right: This animal had an interesting gill plume in the back that I didn't want to lose, so I used a greater depth of field to capture that detail. Nikon D810, 105mm lens, ISO 100, 1/250th, f/22

 

 

Mastering manual camera settings can be an overwhelming task, but one that is well worth the effort. I recommend starting with a 50mm or 60mm lens, one or two strobes on low power, an ISO of 100, Shutter Speed of 1/250s, and an aperture of your choosing.  With these five settings, you are sure to get great images every time. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Brook Peterson is an avid scuba diver and underwater photographer who enjoys capturing the beauty of the under water environment throughout the world. She is an original member of the SEA&SEA Alpha program. Her work has been featured in both print and online magazines.  She is the owner of Waterdog Photography and authors a blog on underwater photography and techniques.  More of her work can be found at:

www.waterdogphotography.com  |  Facebook  |  instagram@waterdogphotography_brook.

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Exploring the situations and techniques used for quick shots from the hip
By Mark Gray

Shooting from the Hip

Mark Gray
Exploring the situations and techniques used for quick shots from the hip

Shooting from the hip is a technique where one pulls the trigger without looking directly through the camera viewfinder.

So why should you shoot from the hip when you can use the traditional method of looking through a viewfinder?

Shooting from the hip, when the circumstance warrants it, gives the photographer the ability to follow a moving subject with the camera while keeping one eye on the subject and the other on the surroundings.  This technique also allows the photographer to anticipate the subject’s movements and give the photographer more shooting time. This is especially important when shooting more aggressive subjects because you need to know what the subject is doing and also spot any other hazards in the water (think open water shark diving).

 

Bull Shark in Beqa Lagoon

Shooting from the hip is highly recommend when shooting feeding Bull Sharks as they come at you in all directions.  Beqa Lagoon, Fiji.
Nikon D7000 (Aquatica Housing), Ikelite DS-161 Strobe x2, Nikon 10.5mm Fisheye.  f8, 1/160th, ISO160

 

When to Shoot from the Hip

There is a time and place when shooting from the hip can be very successful, and more often than not it is when the subject is close to you and comfortable with your presence. This includes interactions with sharks, rays, turtles, whales and other large animals. Shooting from the hip allows the photographer to move with the subject, providing the opportunity to shoot different angles that would not normally be possible. One-handed shots and positioning the lens for sunbursts on moving subjects are just a couple examples.  Shooting from the hip takes some practice to master and having the right underwater camera setup will increase your image success rate.

 

Grey Nurse Sharks of Fish Rock, South West Rocks, Australia.
Nikon D7000 (Aquatica Housing), Ikelite DS-161 Strobe x2, Nikon 10.5mm Fisheye.  f9, 1/250th ISO100

 

The Right Camera Gear and Settings

Fisheye Lens

My success in shooting from the hip has come from having a camera setup that is suited for the task at hand.  I like to use a fisheye lens because the 180-degree field of view allows the photographer to fill the frame with large subjects when they are close to the camera without cutting off parts of the animal, while also allowing a good spread of light from supporting strobe(s).  This wide field of view is also very forgiving in the sense that it allows the photographer more chance of capturing the subject in the frame when shooting from the hip. Another benefit of modern fisheye lenses is their ability to autofocus very close to the dome port, which is essential with subjects that come very close.  I prefer a larger dome port (8 inch or more) to balance my camera setup.

 

Shooting Continuous Frames

Choosing a camera body that can shoot continuously is important when shooting from the hip. Since the whole idea behind this technique is to spend more time with your subject, you will want the ability to hold the trigger down with one hand and rack up as many good shots as possible before either the camera’s buffer bogs down or your strobe recycle time doesn’t keep up with the frame rate.


15-shot sequence of a Loggerhead Turtle shot from the hip whilst swimming in front of it. Byron Bay, Australia.
Nikon D7000 (Aquatica housing), Ikelite DS-161 Strobes, Tokina 10-17mm.  f10, 1/320th, ISO100

 

Each camera and strobe combination has its ideal relationship between camera continuous frame rate, strobe power, strobe recycle time and camera buffer size.  Remember to use a fast memory card. I have found that reducing strobe power increases the recycle time when shooting on continuous. The right strobe power will depend on the light needed and how many frames per second your camera shoots plus the recycle time of your strobe – there is no universal setting.

 

Leopard Shark (AKA Zebra Shark) perfectly timed shot from many frames shot on continuous and from the hip.  Byron Bay, Australia.
Nikon D7000 (Aquatica housing), Ikelite DS-161 Strobes x2,  f10, 1/320th, ISO100

 

Focus

Another important aspect of shooting from the hip is choosing the right autofocus setting. I have found that AF-S with single spot has produced the most accurately focused images on my Nikon DSLR.  I have used the continuous focus setting (AF-C), which is suggested to be better suited for moving subjects, but have found that I was getting a lot more out-of-focus shots than with single focus.  I adjust the single spot to line up with the dominate feature of the subject; for example, if the shark is moving right to left I have the spot towards the left, as it will line up with the shark’s head, allowing precise focus on the mouth and eyes.

 

Camera Balance

Another factor to be aware of with setting up your underwater camera is its balance and weight in the water.  Having well balanced, almost neutral setup is a great help, especially when shooting with one hand and swimming along with your subject.

 

Strobe Positioning

Strobe position is another factor that must be considered if you are getting really close to subjects.  I find that having my strobes in close and behind the front of the dome and angled slightly away from the dome allows good coverage of light on the subject, even at very close distances. Using diffusers produces nice and even lighting. This strobe position covers most wide-angle shooting and makes your setup slightly more compact so that you don't have to worry about strobes getting bumped out of position.

 

Shooting Grey Nurse Shark one handed whilst swimming underneath. My face and mask seen in the bottom right hand corner.
Nikon D7000 (Aquatica housing), Ikelite DS-161 Strobes x2, Nikon 10.5mm Fisheye.  f9, 1/250th, ISO100

 

General Tips for Shooting from the Hip

Once you have picked the ideal settings for your underwater camera setup, it comes down to diving and the ability to find and shoot your subjects.  I think this is the most important part of the learning how to shoot from the hip as this is when you can try to create the image you’re after.

Streamlining your dive gear and correct weight is an important part of diving in general, but even more so when you are shooting from the hip.  You need the ability to focus on the subject and your photos without worrying about your buoyancy or having gear dragging on your surroundings.

Moving in a streamlined and efficient manner allows you to get close to subjects - especially those that are shy and timid.  A subject that doesn't feel threatened will stick around - often allowing you much more time to shoot.  Being selective and finding these subjects will lead to the best photo opportunities.

 

The Great White Shark requires caution especially when close to the cage. One hand on the cage door and another shooting from the hip. Neptune Islands, South Australia.
Nikon D7000 (Aquatica housing), Ikelite DS-161 Strobes x2.  f8, 1/160th, ISO100

 

In Conclusion

Shooting from the hip takes effort in getting your camera rig set up for the task at hand and takes time to master.  Through practice I have increased my success rate with more printable frames per dive that would not be possible while trying to look through the viewfinder. There is a time and place to shoot from the hip, so don't be afraid to apply some of these techniques on your next dive.

 

About the Author

Mark Gray works for Sundive Byron Bay at one of the top 10 dive sites in Australia. Over the past 12 years, Mark’s passion for photography has grown, especially involving the endangered Grey Nurse shark and its conservation efforts.  Mark has won several local awards and has recently been voted Photographer of the Year 2015 by Australian Marine Conservation Society.  Mark’s passion is mainly wide-angle photography, and living near one of the Australia’s best dive sites allows for a large range of subject to choose and learn from.


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Getting great underwater photos with your full-frame Nikon dSLR
By Scott Gietler

Nikon D800 & D810 underwater settings

Scott Gietler
Getting great underwater photos with your full-frame Nikon dSLR

The Nikon D800 and D810 have the capability to take amazing underwater photos, if the settings, composition, and lighting all come together. Oh - and you have to be using the right lens. And you thought underwater photography was easy? In this article, we try to help with one part of the equation - settings. For more info, I highly encourage you to read my full Nikon D810 review.

Lot of the advice in this article are my long-developed secrets, so please don't tell anyone about this article or share it with anyone - this is secret advice just for you and your immediate family. 

Disclaimer - these settings are only meant as starting points. Depending on the subject and conditions, you may have to vary these settings greatly. These settings assume you are using strobes.

Macro - nudibranchs

F16, 1/250th, ISO 100, strobes pointed inward to side-light the subject

Nikon D810 best underwater settings

Macro - small fish

F8, 1/125th, ISO 200, strobes pointed outward to reduce backscatter, spot focus

Nikon D800 best underwater settings

 

SuperMacro

F29, 1/250th, ISO 100, strobes pulled in close, spot focus

Christmas tree worm underwater

Wide angle - sharks

F10, 1/125th, ISO 200, strobes pointed out, don't breathe, hold your fire (thanks Kadu)

Close focus wide angle

F14, 1/250th, ISO 200, strobes carefully adjusted to light the subject evently (can be difficult)

Nikon D810 close focus wide angle

Large schools of fish

F11, 1/200th, ISO 200, strobes turned down and pointed out

Schooling fish

Sunballs

F22, 1/320th, ISO 100, get close to the subject, point strobes at subject. If you are deeper or the sun is partially blocked, open up aperture to F14 - F20.

nikon d800 settings for underwater photography

Split shots

F22, ISO 800, adjust shutter speed as needed for proper exposure - slightly under exposure the photo, focus on the underwater subject.

Focus settings

I don't like using AF-S mode because it sometimes prevents me from taking a shot. I use AF-C mode, focusing by using the shutter halfway (the default) for macro & fish. To switch between AF-S and AF-C mode, you hold down the front left button that is inside the AF/M switch, then rotate the rear command dial. Rotating the front command dial lets you switch between "S", "D 51" and "Auto". 

You can move the focus off the shutter to the back focus button (AF-ON button) when shooting pelagics to prevent your camera from hunting in the blue water. Change menu item A4 to "AF-ON Only". In addition - I highly recommend getting a viewfinder - they are expensive but help immensely.

This article is an excellent read in explaining focus modes - a must read.

 

Flash settings

IF you shoot with sync cords, a flash trigger, or an optical TTL converter - you will be very happy when shooting action shots that you can shoot quickly. If you are using the pop-up flash, and you are NOT using your strobe in TTL mode, set your flash setting to manual flash power, 1/80th power, for faster internal flash recycle time.

Misc settings

I like to shoot in JPEG + RAW, auto-white balance, metering on center-weighted. Make sure you turn the AF-assist light off (very important!)

Menu items to change:

A10: AF-ASSIST - OFF
E1: FLASH SYNC SPEED - 1/320th

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Scott Gietler is the owner of Bluewater Photo, Bluewater Travel, and the Underwater Photography Guide. Bluewater Photo, based in Santa Monica, CA is one of the world’s largest and most prestigious underwater camera stores, serving many thousands of customers each year, where nothing is more important than customer service. The Underwater Photography Guide is the world’s first website to feature free tutorials on underwater photography, and has become the most trafficked resource on underwater photography worldwide. Bluewater Travel is a full-service dive travel wholesaler sending groups and individuals on the world’s best dive vacations. 

Scott is also an avid diver, underwater photographer, and budding marine biologist, having created the online guide to the underwater flora and fauna of Southern California. He is the past vice-president of the Los Angeles Underwater Photographic Society, has volunteered extensively at the Santa Monica aquarium, and is the creator of the Ocean Art underwater photo competition, one of the largest underwater international photo competitions ever held in terms of value of prizes. He lives in California with his wife, newborn girl and scuba-diving, photo taking 4 year old son.

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Leave the marine life lenses at home – time to learn what’s needed for a pool photo session.
By Ken Kiefer

Inside Look: Gear for Shooting Models in Pools

Ken Kiefer
Leave the marine life lenses at home – time to learn what’s needed for a pool photo session.

Shooting models in a pool is quite a bit different than the underwater nature photography that most of the readers on Underwater Photography Guide are familiar with.   Most of us are trying to capture the wildlife in the oceans and lakes in its natural environment with natural movements.  Generally, you observe the animals and determine how best to capture the angle or activity that you are hoping for.

Although many of us wish it were so, water is not a natural environment for humans.   The unnatural aspect creates some difficulties compared to land, but does come with a huge plus – communication.  You can ask a shark or fish to please face a certain direction, or repeat a great move, but probably without much luck.  Models, on the other hand, are much more amenable to direction.  You don’t have to wish a face were a little more to the right, or hope for a repeated action; you can ask for it! 

Direction and feedback is a very important component of underwater model photography.  I’m very lucky in this aspect, because I’ve been able to use my wife as a model and for testing.  This makes her a wonderful asset during shoots, since she knows what my goals are, what works, what doesn’t work, how to overcome difficulties in the water and can help guide and coach the models through the process. 

The gear for shooting models in the pool can actually be the same gear that you use for other underwater photography, or can be modified depending on your goals.

 

For years, the only time I shot anything or anyone in a pool was to test new gear, or to practice techniques/lighting/settings/etc. before a dive trip.  Once I started shooting in a pool frequently, my knowledge and familiarity with all of my gear increased tremendously.  This is very helpful for all underwater photographers, not only for the expanded knowledge and better results; but the repetition helps you become more accustomed to the assembly and maintenance of your gear.

Gear choices can be very varied, just like all photography endeavors.  I don’t have enough varied experience with multiple housings/strobes/etc. to give valid reviews on the pros and cons of the choices out there; so, I’m just going to explain the reasons that I have settled on my own setup. 

 

Cameras for Pool Photography

Currently, I use either a Canon 5D Mark 3, or a 5Ds.  For me, they are pretty much interchangeable.  I generally don’t need the much larger file sizes of the 5Ds, and mostly use the 5D3.  What I do prefer, and the reason for these cameras in my setup is the fact that they are full frame cameras.  This is a personal choice based on the fact that I like to minimize the water between my model and myself and still fit as much as possible in the frame.  Being closer allows you to get better isolation between the subject and the background.  Plus, less water between the model and your lens will help you achieve more clarity.  

 

Lenses for Pool Photography

The lens that I use the most often lately is the Canon 16-35 f/4 IS.  I’ve used the 16-35 f/2.8, both the current and the older version.  I’ve used the 8-15 f/4 fisheye and the Canon 15 f/2.8 fisheye.  For models, I prefer the aspherical lenses to the fisheyes to avoid the fisheye distortion to the model, props and background.  The 16-35 f/4 IS has proven itself to me as having more punch and clarity with less corner blur than the other Canon 16-35 lenses.

 

Underwater Housing

To protect my camera and lens, I use an Ikelite housing with an 8” dome port.  I’ve used the smaller domes, but gain a small amount of corner sharpness with the 8”.

Ikelite housings are clear, which allows you to see whether an O-ring is installed correctly or has become twisted or possibly gathered hair or dirt.  Plus, it allows me to use every button/function that I have ever needed, both easily and consistently.  The customer service that I have experienced from Ikelite for over 10 years has always been top notch.  They stand behind their products!  

 

Strobes for Pool Photography

Lighting is a big variable with shooting models in the pool.  Depending on the look that you are working towards, lighting can range from ambient sunlight to a combination of multiple strobes with lighting outside the pool.  The setup that I use most of the time is a pair of Ikelite DS-161 strobes mounted to my housing with a pair of Ikelite DS-125 strobes placed off camera to be used as slaves.  I like having Ikelite’s rechargeable lithium-ion batteries for quick change and long battery life.  Plus, the strobes themselves have a nice warm color temp and wide beam angle both with and without the diffusers. 

 

Other Gear for the Pool

Some of the other ‘gear’ that I like to use includes backdrops/chairs/props/mirrors/tents, and, of course, my lovely assistant.  Having a model with a black background really makes them pop.  I’ve done this with and without the use of backdrops, and without is much easier.  If the pool you are using is big enough to allow you to use high aperture and have the strobe light only light your model, it saves the hassle of the backdrop and creates a much more complete black.  Using a backdrop is unwieldy in a pool and gets in the way fairly often, but in smaller pools it might be the only way to achieve your goals.  The black is not complete using this technique usually because the light is going to pick up the imperfect black of the backdrop.

Experimenting with chairs and props is a really fun way to be creative.  The irritation at multiple ‘fails’ is quickly overlooked when you find something really cool that does work out!  Sunglasses/wigs/umbrellas can all add to images in different ways.

Having an assistant is invaluable at times.   Having my wife around and in the water during a shoot is one of the most valuable things I can take to a shoot.  She can move fabric and hair in the direction that I want, retrieve gear, move lights, etc. much more easily than I can while holding my camera setup.

Underwater shooting is always pretty gear intensive, and everyone will develop their own preferences in every aspect.  Hopefully my experiences can help a few of you down the path to your own creativity.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ken Kiefer is an underwater photographer that specializes in big animals and fashion/fitness shoots.  He uses his images of sharks to educate children about the realities of sharks –vs- media portrayal.  

View more of Ken's work at: www.kenkiefer.com.

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