Workflow Basics in Adobe Lightroom

Brent Durand
Optimizing Lightroom Workflow for Underwater Photographers

Workflow Basics in Adobe Lightroom


Optimizing Lightroom Workflow for Underwater Photographers

By Brent Durand

 

 

 
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Returning from a dive vacation is great – we’re relaxed and have taken the edge off the quest to dive every day.  But as underwater photographers, there’s always the daunting task of sorting and editing thousands of photos from the trip.  Different subjects, different dive locations, different cameras and a few topside photos.  It’s not a very exciting process but with a streamlined workflow and efficient organization we can fly though our edits and make images easy to find later on.

Adobe Lightroom is designed to help photographers stay organized, optimize workflow from import to publish/print, and make global edits on images.  It’s meant to be used before and after running detailed edits in Photoshop and many other software plug-ins.  If you’re unfamiliar with the program, check out Todd Winner’s article on Why You Should Use Lightroom.  This article will review my techniques to keep images organized and optimize workflow as an underwater photographer.

 

Lightroom makes it easy to find specific images within a photo library.  Flabellina Iodinea are a common photo subject.

 

IMPORTING PHOTOS

The first step in our workflow is importing images into our Lightroom catalog, assigning them to a specific storage folder.  I call the folders “storage folders” because Lightroom has a fantastic search feature that we’ll discuss later on.  Because we search for images in Lightroom itself, there’s no need to manually scroll through folders looking for an image, and no need to change image titles in the storage folders.

How do we know what folder to use?  I use a dating system to store my images, as it keeps them organized and avoids conflicts.  Let’s say you had folders for individual subjects and a photo of a black-eyed goby next to a lemon dorid.  Would that go in the nudi or the fish folder?  Instead, I have a topside and underwater folder, and within each I have folders for the year and then the month.  If I have a big trip I may put a folder with that location within the month folder.  Remember, we’ll discuss finding the images in a few paragraphs.

Multiple subjects in one image used to pose a problem for organization, however with Lightroom it's a non-issue.  Blackeye goby and Cadlina Luteomarginata.  Canon s90.

 

There are two important steps to take before actually importing photos.  First, we need to decide where to import the images - which folder we’ll store them in.  I normally import images directly from a card reader so that I’m importing into the Lightroom catalog and storing the actual image files in a folder at the same time (the catalog mirrors the storage folders but only records changes edits without affecting the original file).  Others may have already stored their images in a folder, so they only need to import the images into the Lightroom catalog and can skip this step.

Second, we can assign the first wave of keywords.  Keywords are used by the Lightroom search feature to find specific images, and once published online, by search engines or photo sharing sites to make your images more “findable.”  Because we’re assigning keywords to every image being imported at this stage, the keywords need to be very general (i.e. Anilao, Philippines, Underwater).  We’ll get more detailed later on.  Time to import!

Detailed keywording is essential for finding images within Lightroom and for making images "findable" online.

 

LIGHTROOM LIBRARY MODULE

You’ll notice that the Lightroom nav bar starts with Library and Develop and ends with Web.  This is to streamline your workflow from left to right.   I use the Library module for 3 main things: deleting non-keepers, assigning more detailed keywords and later on, rating images.

Deleting images is pretty straight forward – take out the trash.  You can always delete a photo later on, so if you’re not sure just come back to it later.  I’ll often edit a couple versions of a photo if I’m undecided on which composition feels right, then delete the non-keepers afterwards.

Now that we’re working with individual images we can add in detailed keywords, including specific subjects or other details that describe the photo.  If there are several photos requiring the exact same detailed keywords, you can select them and make sure “auto sync” is clicked in the bottom right of the right-hand editing modules.  This will apply all changes across all highlighted images, saving time.

The last feature to note in the library module is the rating system, incorporating colors, flags and stars.  I use the star system to rate images, with 5-stars for portfolio images.  Because I haven’t edited yet, I’ll come back to the library module and assign stars after editing all the images.

Assigning image ratings (stars) is a big help in finding your best images later on.

 

LIGHTROOM DEVELOP MODULE

The develop module is a powerful feature in Lightroom, and each new version enhances editing capabilities.  Read more about the Lightroom Adjustment Brush.  I like to think of Lightroom for global edits and then use Photoshop for detailed and regional edits like layers and dodging/burning (if needed).

The first thing to look at is Lens Corrections, which is found by scrolling down the right-hand editing modules.  Lightroom has built-in lens profiles that make adjustments to images depending on your camera & lens combo, accounting for barrel distortion and vignetting.  I make sure that lens profile corrections are always enabled EXCEPT when shooting with a fisheye lens.  Read more about Lens Corrections.

Lightroom lens profiles reduce barrel distortion but should not be used with fisheye lenses.

 

Next, we scroll back up to the Basic edit module to make global adjustments.  This is where we can adjust the color temp (white balance) if needed.  I’ll also adjust the presence at this point.  A quick bump in clarity, vibrance and saturation (if needed) will really make your images pop.  As with everything except diving… moderation is the key.  We can also make global tone adjustments to enhance the contrast and dynamic range of the image, however many photographers prefer to adjust these within the Tone Curve box.  This is because we can adjust specific regions (i.e. highlights) of the image instead of the entire image (as in the Basic box).  Most underwater images can use a slight bump in the darks to add a bit more contrast, but remember, moderation is key.

There are many more options here (cropping, clone/heal brush), but I’ll address those in a future article.  If you find yourself making the same edits to many images across several imports you’re able to create presents via the left-hand module “Presets.”  One simple click and all those sliders will be right where you want them.

 

EXPORTING IMAGES

Time to export and show off our photos!  Lightroom allows you to export at point in your workflow, so I’ll oftentimes export right after editing.  Just click File -> Export to open the export dialog box.  Adobe has designed the export box to flow from top to bottom, starting with Export Location.  I export my images to folders SEPARATE from where I store my RAW files.  This is to avoid any confusion with my image library.

Once a folder is assigned you can rename files and also adjust file settings.  I’ll generally export at 100% quality in AdobeRGB colorspace.  You can also limit the file size here.  Moving along, we can adjust image sizing and resolution.  If you’re exporting for web, then 72 pixels per inch is standard.  For printing or high-resolution, use 220 or 300 dpi.  I sharpen for screen or print depending on photo use, but note that you can also adjust sharpening during the editing process.  Read more about image sharpness. Lastly, if you have present watermarks, you can decide which to use now.

The Lightroom export dialog box has many options to control export location, file size, watermarks and more.

 

SEARCHING FOR A SPECIFIC PHOTO

Searching for images makes us appreciate all the time spent keywording.  Just click to the Library module and select Library -> Find.  From here you can filter via keywords and also by star ratings or other attributes like colors or flags.  Lightroom searches the folder you’re currently viewing, so if you’d like to search all images, navigate to your main photo gallery via the left-hand Folders box.  Sure beats scrolling through specific folders on your hard drive!

lightroom search function

The Lightroom search feature is a powerful tool for saving time and keeping photographers organized.

 

Lightroom is a powerful tool for underwater photographers and well worth the investment.  Once you get used to the workflow it will speed up your editing process, leaving you excited to dig into those images after your next trip.  Well, maybe not excited, but the reward is there when you can easily find your best images.  Let us know what you’d like to hear about next in Lightroom or Photoshop!

 

About the Author

Brent Durand is an avid California beach diver, underwater photographer and editor with the Underwater Photography Guide. You can follow UWPG on Facebook, and also read Brent's article on Top 10 tips for fun beach diving.

 

 

Further Reading

 


Where to Buy

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


 

 
 
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Olympus OM-D and PEN underwater settings

Kelli Dickinson
Best underwater settings for the Olympus OM-D and PEN mirrorless cameras for macro and wide-angle

Olympus PEN and OM-D underwater settings

A look at the best settings for macro and wide-angle underwater photography

**UPDATED FOR THE OM-D E-M1**

By Kelli Dickinson

 

 
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The Olympus PEN camera (E-PL5, E-PL3, E-PM1, E-PL2, E-PL1) and the Olympus OM-D (E-M5, E-M1) have become by far the most popular mirrorless cameras used in underwater photography. In this article we discuss our recommended settings for getting the most out of these excellent cameras.

The OM-D line has surpassed my expectations with upgrades from my old PEN E-PL1 camera. The image quality, small size, super fast focusing and ease of use had made it one of the most popular cameras for underwater shooting. The new PEN models, like the E-PL5, have also come along way with many improved features.

Below I've compiled several good starting camera settings for different shooting situations. Next is a list of the most important, or required, settings that are crucial to change in your PEN or OM-D system when shooting underwater. 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 PEN or OM-D cameras.

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

  • Manual mode, F22, 1/160th*, ISO 200;
    • for the OM-D E-M5 use 1/250th shutter speed
    • for the OM-D E-M1 you can use up to 1/320th shutter speed
  • Auto white balance, flash on fill in flash,  Strobe on TTL, or set it to manual power and adjust strobe power as needed
    • For manual power set the camera flash to manual (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 **

Shallow Focus achieved with an open F-stop - Octopus, OM-D E-M5 w/ 45mm, ISO 200, F2.8, 1/250

 

Settings for Macro using the kit lens (14-42mm / 12-50mm) with a wet diopter:

  • Manual mode, F22, 1/160th, ISO 200
    • For the E-M5 use 1/250th 
    • For the E-M1 use 1/320th
  • Auto White Balance, flash on fill in flash  Strobe on TTL, or set it to manual power; adjust strobe power as needed
    • For manual power set the camera flash to manual (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 F2.8, but will have a very small depth of field

Tritonia festiva on Red Gorgonian, OM-D E-M5, 14-42mm w/ Dyron +7, ISO 200, F22, 1/250

Christmas tree worm, photo by Jim Lyle. F14, 1/250th, ISO 200, 45mm macro lens

 

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

  • Manual mode, F8, 1/160th, ISO 200 
  • Auto White Balance, flash on fill in flash  Strobe on TTL, or set it to manual power; adjust strobe power as needed
    • for manual power set the camera flash to manual (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 (1/160th or1/250th on the OM-D), and you'll need to stop down your aperture to F16 or F22 to avoid blowing out the highlights
  • 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.

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.

Sheephead & Oil Rigs, Olympus OMD E-M5, 8mm Fisheye ISO 200, F5, 1/80

 

Olympus Camera Set up for Underwater Use

The OM-D and PEN cameras work well straight out of the box, however there are some important menu and setting changes that you will want to make sure to do for the best shooting experience.

Most Important Settings for Underwater Use:

1) Custom Menu Options - On the PEN cameras the Custom Menu is usually not turned "on" There are many important features (such as Live View Boost) that you can only access in the custom menus.

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 -> On

3) EVF Auto Switch -  **OM-D Only** The OM-D has an electronic viewfinder. In order to use the LCD screen underwater you need to turn off the Auto Switch.

Custom Menu -> J: Built-In EVF -> EVF Auto Switch -> OFF.

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" however, if you are planning to use the strobe in manual mode you can save battery life change 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

5) Rear Control Buttons - **OM-D Only** - the default setting on the OM-D rear buttons controls only the focus point. You can customize three 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; this does not affect RAW files

Accessible through the SCP / Quick Menu or Shooting Menu 1


OM-D, F16, 1/100th, ISO 200

 

OM-D E-M5 Button & Auto Focus Set Up:

The OM-D 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 options as outlined above, this section will help you streamline the camera for quick and accurate auto focus underwater.

AEL/AFL -  You can assign this 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 lock focus and with the camera re-focusing everytime you press the shutter half way it might move that focus just enough to mess up your image, 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.

Here is how I have my E-M5 buttons assigned, I find this the best set up for quick changes to focus mode, so that focus can be achieved quickly and accurately with any situation.

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

Fn1 - One Touch White Balance (not related to focus, but it is only available to this button and it is very useful feature when shooting ambient or video).

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.

Rec - AEL/AFL

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 pair focus to the AEL/AFL button this gives you 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 allows half shutter focus press when in S-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 Fn2 button to switch to Manual Mode and now the Rec button controls auto focus and the shutter release takes the picture.

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

OM-D E-M1 Button & Auto Focus Set Up:

The auto focus set up for the E-M1 is very similar to that of the E-M5, however you get a few more bells & whistles with the E-M1 allowing you to set things in just about any way you want. For setting up a good auto focus system how you assign things will vary depending on the housing you are using. Most people are using the Nauticam housing, but with the Recsea & Aquatica versions coming out that could change. 

Set Up for a Nauticam Housing:

Nauticam's housing is designed more like a dSLR which great lever controls for shutter release and AEL. Assigning focus to the AEL button (new to the E-M1) allows you to make use of the lever on the Nauticam housing which feels very natural for focusing. To set this up:

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

You no longer need assign specific functions to the Fn or Record buttons like you did with the E-M5 as the E-M1 has a dedicated AEL/AFL button. Take the time to look through the custom options available and assign the Fn functions that best work for you and the functions that you need. When I used the camera here is what I selected.

Fn1 - One Touch White Balance (this is useful for video and ambient light shooting and the Fn1 is well placed for easy access).

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.

Rec - Leave as record, there are so many other buttons to customize.

1/2 Lever Switch - (Custom Menu -> B: Lever Function) Turn this to Mode 1 (default it is off), this will allow you to quickly adjust White Balance Mode and ISO through the twin control dials

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 AELbutton 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 pair focus to the AEL/AFL button this gives you 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.

With just these few settings (in addition to the required ones above) you can quickly jump in the water and get some great shots with ease of use of the housing and functions. For more detail, see the menu options listed out below.

Set Up for an Olympus Housing:

The Olympus housing a great well designed 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. The biggest difference between the Olympus and Nauticam, is that they do not reposition the AEL/AFL button which means it is not as easy to reach, and therefore not a good option for splitting out focus lock.

To set up the EM-1 with the Olympus housing I recommend following the steps above but instead of using the AEL/AFL button for focus, use the Fn1 button. Here are the steps:

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

Fn1 - AEL/AFL - the Fn1 button is well placed by the thumb to use as a focus lock on the Olympus housing.

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.

Rec - Leave as record, there are so many other buttons to customize.

1/2 Lever Switch - (Custom Menu -> B: Lever Function) Turn this to Mode 1 (default it is off), this will allow you to quickly adjust White Balance Mode and ISO through the twin control dials

AEL/AFL - Since we used Fn1 for AEL/AFL, I would then assign the One Touch White Balance to the AEL/AFL button that way you still have easy access to customizing your white balance.

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 AELbutton 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. In addition this , so if you have a focus gear on the lens you can use both that focus and auto focus quickly and easily without changing any modes.

Set Up for an Aquatica or Recsea Housing:

These housings have not started shipping yet, but check back soon. Once we get them in our hands, we'll update this article with any differences for setting up a great focus system.


Queen Angelfish, OM-D, photo by Jim Lyle, F11, 1/250th, ISO 200

 

Important Olympus Housing Information:

Nauticam: The OM-D camera and Nauticam housing requires no changes, however the metal strap triangles can cause the camera to stick and not go in smoothly. Make sure these are out of the way of the housing when you slide the camera tray into place, or for best results just remove them.

Olympus: The OM-D camera and Olympus housing requires two modifications in order to work together. 

1) Remove the rubber grommet from around the Electronic Viewfinder.

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) Change the Flash Mode so that the flash will fire even when flipped down.

The PT-EP08 and PT-EP11 housing was designed to house the camera and flash with the flash flipped down in order to be slightly smaller in size. In order to use the flash you have to activate the "Underwater Mode" on the camera. This mode acts as an "Auto" mode designed for good settings underwater. It also allows the camera flash to fire when "closed"

Custom Menu -> B: Button/ Dial -> Button Function -> either Fn1 or Fn2 can be assigned this function. I recommend Fn2. -> Underwater Mode (fish icons).

Note: if you keep it in the UW Mode while shooting, you are limited in control of the camera. To exit out of the UW Mode simply hold down the Fn button for a couple seconds. As long as that mode is assigned to an Fn button the flash will fire when closed, so you can go back to Manual Mode and still get access to your flash in the housing.

The PEN cameras and Olympus housings are fully functional with no physical changes to the camera. Simply slide the camera into place with the flash attached and popped open and you are good to go.

 

OM-D & PEN 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. Please note not all options are available with difference cameras, I try to note this as much as possible.

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 the default, Natural, then fine tuning the image on the computer afterwards.  Some users prefer Vivid, especially if they are shooting jpeg, because it enhances reds & oranges.

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.  

Shooting Menu #2 

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

Image stabilizer - Leave at default  - this engages full stabilization in all directions (Default is IS1 on E-M5 and Auto on E-M1)

Exposure Compensation (E-M5 / PEN)  - Leave set at default of 0 

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. Note: continuous auto focus has been significantly updated on the E-M1, so it can be a more useful tool with that camera.

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. See the Focus Settings section above for full details. Here are the settings I would pick, however these are only effective if you have assigned AEL/AFL to one of the customizable buttons through the B Custom Menu.

S-AF - Mode 1 - this will basically keep the camera as standard, half shutter focuses, full shutter press 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. In addition this gives you an autofocus option while in manual focus mode, so if you have a focus gear on the lens you can use both that focus and auto focus quickly and easily without changing any modes.

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 focusing 

For E-M1 - there are two options, Magnify & Peaking. If you plan to use Manual Focus, turning both on will be extremely useful. The Peaking Option outlines the area of focus to better help you see the focus plane.

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 black 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, will not detect faces in masks so it is not needed.  

C-AF Lock - (E-M1 only) - OFF - unless you are using the C-AF, this won't be necessary. If you are using that Auto Focus mode, this feature adjusts how sensitive the target activity level of the AF sensor is during continuous AF. Set it to the level you desire if using C-AF.

Menu B: Button / Dial 

Button Function - PEN Cameras - Older versions may not have an Fn button, the EPL5 does and the button can be customized for quick access to a variety of features. I prefer setting it for "One touch WB". This takes the lengthy process from the "quick" menu down to a very quick and easy two step operation. 

Other settings in Button Function menu allow you to modify the action of the keys listed. Note: L-FN refers to the button available on some lenses.  

Button Function - OMD - There are 2 Fn buttons on the OMD and each has a variety of functions you can set. You can also customize the Rec button and 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

For customization of other buttons, check out the Important Settings and Focus Settings 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.

PEN cameras - this is the control wheel on the back of the camera (E-PL3 and E-PL5 only). For the PEN cameras, this function is moot because the Olympus housings do not have a wheel on the back.

OMD cameras -  this is the two control wheels on the top of the camera. For the OMD 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 (E-M1 Only) - MODE 1 - this gives quick access to ISO and White Balance which are two useful settings for underwater

Lever 2 +  - I left this off, as I did not need that additional level of customization, but feel free to explore, or customize for topside use.

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. (OMD Camera's only)

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.

Info Off - The camera automatically hides the basic info from the LCD/ Viewfinder after 10 seconds (half press of the shutter or any button bring it back). This can be changed to be left on all the time by selecting HOLD.

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

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.

**OM-D Cameras - leave ISO / ISO Step / ISO Auto-Set / ISO-Auto options at default

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

Anti-Shock - Default OFF - this creates a delay between when the shutter is pressed and actually released to aid in limiting camera vibrations. Not needed underwater.

F: Flash Custom

X-Sync - Default (1/320 for E-M1, 1/250 for E-M5 and EPL5, 1/160 for earlier PEN models) 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 and EPL5, 1/160 for earlier PEN's.

Flash Exposure + Exposure - Default (OFF)

G: Pixels / Color / WB

OM-D Cameras - Noise Reduction* - only applies to long exposures, leave a default, won't affect your UW photography

OM-D Cameras - Noise Filter* - Default - this affects the noise reduction when shooting high ISO

*located on "E" menu for E-M1 camera.

PEN Cameras - Pixel Set / Pixel Count / Shading Comp - leave at Default

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.

Movie Effect - Default - OFF - disables movie effects

Wind Noise Reduction - Default - OFF - reduces wind noise

Recording Volume - Default - Standard

J: Built in EVF (OM-D Cameras)

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.

J: Camera Utility (PEN Cameras)
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.

If you have any further questions on setting up your Olympus camera or any issues with camera functionality, please post a question in our forums.

About the Author

Kelli Dickinson is an avid diver, manager of Bluewater Photo Store and an industry expert on mirrorless cameras and housing options. She has over 100 dives with the Olympus OM-D and PEN cameras. You can reach her by email at kelli@bluewaterphotostore.com

 

Further Reading

 


Where to Buy

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


 

 
 
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Underwater Settings for the Sony RX 100

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

Underwater Settings for the Sony RX-100 

Best underwater settings for underwater photography

Text by Scott Gietler & Travis Ball

Example images by Carolyn Wang

 

 

Sony RX 100

 

 
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Suggested Settings depending on the situation

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

Sony RX 100 settings for Macro

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

Urchin - ISO 100, F11, 1/500

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

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

Sony RX100 Settings for Wide-Angle and Fish

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

If you don't have an external strobe / flash

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

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

RX 100 Battery Advice

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

 

Cabezon

ISO 100, F8, 1/160

Suggested RX100 Menu Settings in General

Quick Menu Info - what to change from defaults

 

Detailed Menu info

 

Camera Menu #1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not used underwater

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

Not used underwater

 

Camera Menu #2

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

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

Continuous might be useful for shooting fast moving subjects. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No need for this underwater

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

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

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

Leave this off as well.

 

Camera Menu #3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Camera Menu #4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ISO 100, F5.6, 1/500

Camera Menu #5

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

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

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

Selects whether to include a shooting date on the still image

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Video List #1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Gear Menu #1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Gear Menu #2

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

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

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

Sets whether or not to display the animation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Complicated face tracking function - just ignore this.

 

Wrench Menu #1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

 

Questions about the RX100? 

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

 

About the Authors

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

Further Reading

 


Where to Buy

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


 

 
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10 Tips for Fun Beach Diving

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

10 Tips for Fun Beach Diving


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

By Brent Durand

January 2013

 

Reef Scene in Malibu

Great beach dive conditions in Southern California.

 

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

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

Malibu Reef Scene

Another great California beach dive.

Check Ocean Conditions

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

Waves

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

Study the Swell

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

A Tip When Descending

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

Beach Diving Split Shot

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

Navigation Tricks

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

Don't Forget to Rinse!

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

Philidiana Hitoni

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

Camera Rinse Tank

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

Beach Entry with your Camera

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

Sea Lions Split Shot

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

How to Handle Your Rig

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

Camera Handles

 

Stay Fit

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

Start With a Warm Suit!

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

 

About the Author

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

 

 

Further Reading

 


Where to Buy

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


 

 
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Top 5 Settings To Improve Your Underwater Photos

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

Top 5 Settings That Will Improve Your Underwater Photography


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

Compiled by Travis Ball with input from Scott Gietler

 

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

 
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1) Shoot Manual

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

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

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

Manual Flash 1

Reef in Anilao

2) Manual Flash

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

Manual Flash 2

Barracuda on the Liberty wreck in Bali

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

Focus

Cormorant on the oil rigs

3) Focus Focus Focus

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

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

Angel shark at catalina island

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

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

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

4) Histogram

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

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

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

Focus point was placed on the rhinophores

5) Single Spot Focus

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

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

Bonus Setting – High ISO

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

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

 

About the Author

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

 

 

 

 

Further Reading

 


Where to Buy

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


 

 
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Top 5 Tips for New Underwater Photographers

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

Top 5 Tips for New Underwater Photographers

Learn from these mistakes to help improve your underwater photography

By Michael Zeigler

 

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

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

 

Top 5 Tips for New Underwater Photographers

 

#1: Get Close

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

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

 

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

 

#2: Have Patience

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

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

 

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

 

 

#3: Shoot Up

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

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

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

 

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

 

#4: Move Your Strobes

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

 

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

 

#5: Shoot Vertically

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

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

 

About the Author

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

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

 

 

Further Reading

 


 

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


 

Top 5 Underwater Cameras for Christmas 2012

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

Top 5 Underwater Cameras for Christmas 2012

By Travis Ball

 

Sony RX100

 

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

 

#1 – Sony RX-100

 

Sony Rx100 Front

RX100 Back

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

Highlights:

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

Example Images:

Shrimp

Banded Coral Shrimp by Kevin Stokell

Octopus

Octopus by Kevin Stokell

 

#2 - Olympus OM-D E-M5

Olympus OMD E-M5 Camera

Olympus OM-D EM5 Back

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

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

Example Images:

Short Nose Bat Fish

Short Nose Bat Fish by Mel Moncrieff

Diver in Florida Waters

Diver in Florida Waters by Mel Moncrieff

Blenny Reindeer?

Blenny Raindeer? by Mel Moncrieff

 

#3 - Olympus E-PL5

Olympus EP-L

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

Highlights:

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

Example Images:

Intersection

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

Mural

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

 

#4 - Nikon D800

Niken D800

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

Highlights:

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

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

Example Images:

Ronquil

Chestnut Cowry

Felimare Californienses

#5 - Canon 5D Mark III 

Canon 5D Mark III

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

Highlights:

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

Example Images:

Dolphin

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

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

Shark

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

 

Further Reading

 


Where to Buy

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


 

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

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

 

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

 

By Matthew Meier

Manta

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

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

Advantages of high-end full-frame dSLR

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

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

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

Full-frame lenses for underwater

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

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

Big, powerful strobes

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

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

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

 

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

Publisher's notes

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

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

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

 

About the Author

 

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

http://www.matthewmeierphoto.com

 

Further Reading

 


Where to Buy

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


 

 

Best Micro-four lenses for underwater photography

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

Best micro four-thirds lenses for Underwater Photography

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

By Scott Gietler

 

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

 

Wide-angle lenses

Panasonic 8mm fisheye lens - top choice

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

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

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

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

 

Panasonic 7-14mm lens

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

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

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

 

Olympus 9-18mm lens

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

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

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

 

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

 

Mid-range lenses

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

Olympus 14-42mm II kit lens

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

 

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

Olympus 12-50mm lens

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

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

Panasonic 14-42mm kit lens

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

Panasonic 14-42mm PZ lens

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

 

Micro four-thirds Macro lenses

Panasonic Leica 45mm macro - great choice

panasonic micro four thirds 45mm lens underwater photo

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

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

 

Olympus 60mm macro - top choice

olympus 60mm micro-four thirds macro lens underwater photo

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

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

 

 

Micro four thirds lens chart

 

 

Lens

Diagonal Angle of View

Max Repro Ratio1

Cropped sensor equiv

35mm equiv

USD Price2

Pany 8mm fisheye

180

1:5

11mm fisheye

16mm fisheye

$650

Pany 7-14mm

114 - 75

1:12

9-18mm

14-28mm

$999

Oly 9-18mm

100 - 61

1:10

12-24mm

18-36mm

$699

Oly 14-42mm

75 - 29

1:5

19-56mm

28-84mm

Kit lens

Oly 12-50mm

84 - 24

1:3

16-67mm

24-100mm

Kit lens, $200 more

Pany 14-42mm

75 -29

1:6

19-56mm

28-84mm

Kit lens

Pany 14-42mm PZ

75 -29

1:6

19-56mm

28-84mm

Kit lens, $200 more

Pany 45mm

27

1:1

60mm

90mm

$720

Oly 60mm

20

1:1

80mm

120mm

$499

 

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

2)      Approximate price in the USA in November 2012

 

About the Author

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

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

 

Further Reading

 


Where to Buy

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


 

 
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Top 10 Tips for Amazing Portraits

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

Top 10 Tips for Amazing Underwater Portraits

Use these useful tips for your next underwater adventure!

By Michael Zeigler

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Top 10 Tips for Amazing Underwater Portraits

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Here's lookin' at you, kid!

 

About the author

 

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

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

 

Further Reading

 


Support the Underwater Photography Guide

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


 

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