5 Tips for Underwater Photography at Night

Craig Dietrich
Maximize Photo Opportunities on your Next Night Dive

5 Tips for Underwater Photography at Night


Maximize Photo Opportunities on your Next Night Dive

By Craig Dietrich

 

shark

 

 
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The sun is low as the dive boat hums along toward our destination. The divers -- mostly grown men -- are like schoolgirls giddy with excitement as the opportunity in front of us doesn’t present itself as often as we would like. The Captain slows the boat and we know we have finally reached our dive site. Hearts beat faster and anticipation mounts as we finish suiting up and complete our gear checks. We try to be patient as the excitement builds and we hear those magic words “Dive, Dive, Dive!”. We move in orderly fashion to the platform, take that giant stride, hit the water, and....blackness.

 

Learning to Dive at Night

Before learning to dive all of those years ago, I was afraid of the water. Back then the prospect of jumping into blackness with only a flashlight was as foreign to me as being on the moon with a flashlight -- meaning neither of them would happen. Some dive buddy of mine wagered a non-diving related bet and if I lost I had to -- you guessed it -- do my first night dive. The diving Gods laughed as I lost. It was dusk dive, so when we started it was relatively light and once in the water I could still see the reef, the fish, and other divers. I was both excited and apprehensive because I knew at some point the reef, the fish, and the other divers would disappear as the ocean turned black in darkness. A funny thing happened as dusk made the transition to night and the daytime sea life turned in for the evening. I calmly clicked on my light, taking care not to point it toward my dive buddy’s eyes as he had repeatedly instructed, and watched the show begin. I wanted to scream “Hey, there’s a squid!” and “Hey, there’s a lobster RIGHT THERE!”.  I couldn’t scream, but in those moments, I was hooked.

 

I’ve come a long way since that first experience: I became an instructor, logged thousands of dives, and have been lucky enough to venture into the wonderful world of underwater photography. When discussing night diving, I always remind students that safety has to be the number one priority. Know your gear by heart, have functioning primary and backup lights, know how to communicate properly with your dive buddy via light and hand signals, and ensure you are a confident diver able to maintain good buoyancy and air control.  Underwater photography is a great way to capture your night dive memories forever, but there are a few differences from taking underwater photos during the day.

 

Here are five tips to make the most of your nighttime underwater photography experience:

 

1.  Plan your Lighting

Your camera's on-board flash generally isn’t strong enough to cut through black water and expose the vivid colors that live in the night sea, unless your macro subject is right in front of the lens. Because of this, an external strobe is essential. A focus light is also an important multifunctional tool: it gives the camera the necessary contrast to focus on the subject and also serves as the diver’s primary light. Personally, I used the Sola 1200, which is a good light for its size, power, and angle of coverage. 

Important note: Don’t be concerned about the focus light appearing in your image or affecting exposure. The focus light creates ambient light which is cancelled out by a fast shutter speed.  The strobes will create the lighting seen in the image.

 

anemone

The vivid colors on many anemones make excellent night photo subjects

 

fish

Colorful fish really "pop" against a black background. As with daytime fish shots, wait for the right composition, preferably with eye contact.

 

2.  Stay Alert for New Subjects & Different Behavior

As an underwater photographer, night diving is like the proverbial box of chocolates -- that’s right, you never know what you’re going to get. It never ceases to amaze me that I can dive a site during the day and be astonished by the marinelife, then visit the same site after sundown and be welcomed by completely different life working the night shift. Eels, octopus, and lobster are at home and seem less phased by divers. Fish are drawn to the primary/focus light and seem almost cooperative as I strive to get that perfect shot. Many marine creatures will even use your light to hunt, surprising their prey as soon as the beam exposes them.

 

octopus

An octopus patrols the nighttime reef.

 

lobster

Lobsters are often seen roaming the reef at night, especially during the mating season.

 

 

squid

Squid are noctural and attracted to light underwater. It pays be be ready for surprise visits, as these often present amazing photo opportunities.

 

3.  Get Close!

Whether shooting wide angle or macro, you’ll need to be up close and personal with any subject you want to capture, since strobe light will only reach a short distance (this is the same as in daytime). The difference is that photo backgrounds will always be black as long as there's open water behind your subject. We get close in order to fill the frame and to help eliminate backscatter. This can be a little daunting at times, especially if you are shooting something like sharks. If you keep your wits about you, the end product will be worth the apprehension.

 

shark

Sharks can be a bit intimidating, especially at night, but it pays to get close and take advantage of the dark water.

 

turtle

The patterns on this turtle create an interesting nighttime image when shot close to the subject.

 

parrotfish

Parrotfish are very colorful subjects at night, however make sure not to disturb them if sleeping (most often in their mucus cocoon).

 

Positioning strobes to create dark shaddows at night creates very edgy portraits.

 

 

4.  Expand Your Dive Plan

Whether the planned night dive is a wreck or a reef, I always create a dive plan with my dive buddy in advance before entering the water. We often try not to stick to the deck of a wreck or the top of the reef, but instead explore the areas nearby. Some of the most intriguing creatures are found in unexpected places, like the sand a few feet off a wreck and the lowest ledges or dark holes on the reef. Check out some nudibranchs many don't realize are right next to their favorite reefs. So maklook where nobody else is looking!

 

flatfish

Flatfish are often found in the sand next to reefs & wrecks.

 

brown shrimp

Many new faces pop out of the sand at night to greet divers exploring off the beaten path.

 

bat ray

This bat ray was camouflaged in the sand next to a popular night dive site.

 

 

5.  Don’t be Afraid!

To many divers, the idea of plunging into dark water isn’t very appealing. Throw in a bulky, expensive camera rig and it can even be intimidating. That said, ask any experienced diver about night diving and you'll find that many prefer it to daytime diving. If you were drawn to scuba diving for the sense of adventure, don’t let the things that go bump in the night keep you away from this wondrous experience. Know that as soon as you're comfortable diving at night you'll be bringing home unique photos.

 

porcupine pufferfish

As soon as you're comfortable diving at night you'll be bringing home unique images.

 

 

About the Author

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

 

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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Advanced Strobe Techniques - Backlighting

Ridlon Kiphart
Make your subjects POP using Backlighting

Advanced Strobe Techniques - Backlighting


Make Your Subjects POP Using Backlighting!

By Ridlon Kiphart

 

Intermediate Zebra Lionfish (Dendrochirus zebra)
 
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We all remember what we were taught in Underwater Photography 101 - if you use one strobe, put it off to the side at a 45 degree angle to the subject (to reduce particle reflection) and if using two strobes, place them off to the sides of the camera facing straight ahead or slightly toed out. The closer your subject is to the lens, the closer you need to bring your strobe(s). There are more iterations to this basic rule, but I’ve watched a LOT of people shoot underwater over the years and most underwater photographers use the same lighting configurations, and predictably, get the same results.

Ever since I took sketching, art and architecture classes in college, I have been fascinated by light. Why? Because form is only revealed through the presence of light. And how you use light to reveal form completely changes how that form is perceived. This holds as true in underwater photography as in drawing. So I am always testing interesting ways to use light to reveal form underwater and one of the things I do is put my strobes in different positions. Doing so creates an image with a different look, feel and texture. It tells a different story.

 

ornate ghost pipefish

A black female ornate ghost pipefish hides in a matching crinoid

 

Using Backlighting

Recently, I was on a 1 1/2 month assignment in Thailand and the Philippines which gave me a generous amount of time to play with my latest favorite technique - backlighting.

Backlighting isn’t a new idea. It is used extensively in movies and on-stage theatrical performances. It reveals the subject in a very different, often dramatic way and that is what I was looking for.

Specifically, I was interested in using it in two roles. The first was to separate a subject from its’ background and make it “pop.”  I was shooting a lot of Ornate Ghost Pipefishes (Solenostomus paradoxus) that were usually camouflaged in matching crinoids (as they are evolved to do) and the fish were getting lost in the cluttered background of the images. This gave me the idea to use backlighting. The second role was in seeing how it affected fish that were semi-transparent or translucent. The results were dramatic in both cases.

In the first role, I was able to get the Ornate Ghost Pipefishes to pop from their cluttered and camouflaged backgrounds.

 

ornate ghost pipefish

Ornate ghost pipefishes hide among the arms of a crinoid. Note there are four ghost pipefishes! 2 males and 2 females.

 

In the second role, I was able to produce some images where the fish seem electric. They look like they are plugged in to a neon sign and have a fantastic, luminescent quality to them.

 

lionfish

This juvenile lionfish was the size of a quarter. Note the grains of sand in the background. Species unknown.

 

The actual position of the strobes varies depending on the shot.  I used one strobe to illuminate the front of the subject and the rear strobe was usually to the back and off to the side. The strobe needed to be off to the side so it didn’t appear in the image and also to prevent the illumination of backscatter. In some of my first shots, I got a lot of backscatter until I moved it to the side a bit and angled it across the subject from behind. Some of the images were almost side lit, creating some dramatic shadows.

 

underwater camera

Backlighting Strobe Configuration - front view

 

underwater camera

Backlighting Strobe Configuration - rear view

 

frogfish

The hairy variant of Striated Frogfish (Antennarius striatus). The combination of backlighting and current gave a stationary subject a very dynamic feel.

 

ambon scorpionfish

A mated pair of Ambon Scropionfish (Pteroidichthys amboinensis) look like something out of Tron.

 

Next up? Using 3 and even 4 strobes. Our current underwater paradigm is 1 or 2 strobes because that is what everyone does and that is how most rigs come setup. But for different wide-angle situations, I can see where having more strobes would be very advantageous. Also, I am interested in backlighting from two different directions and seeing what results. I’ll let you know!

 

All Images: f16 1/125 ISO200 strobes STTL

Nikon D7000, Nauticam housing, dual Inon Z240 strobes, Nikkor 60mm f2.8G ED

 

About the Author

Sharkman (aka Ridlon Kiphart) is a Travel Editor for UWPG, founder of Global Diving Adventures and three time semi-finalist for the BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year. This fall, he will be leading a bucket list UWPG adventure to photograph and film the great white sharks of Guadalupe. Click for more details or to join him.

 

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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Ten Amazing Photos You Can Take With A Fisheye Lens

Scott Gietler
10 types of incredible photos you can take underwater with a fisheye lens - a must read

Ten Amazing Photos You Can Take With A Fisheye Lens

Inspirational images & techniques for underwater photography with a fisheye lens

By Scott Gietler

Underwater photos by Scott Gietler, Michael Zeigler and Todd Winner

 

 

 

 
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Wide-angle underwater photography can produce some absolutely stunning results, as is evidenced with the images below.  Perhaps foremost among the many advantages of going wide is the ability to get very close to the subject while also allowing a wide angle of view. By minimizing the amount of water between lens and subject, you can achieve excellent color and sharpness in a wide variety of shooting situations. The field of view is also much wider than our own vision, allowing you to include very large subjects and panoramic views of background scenery

Using a fisheye lens underwater doesn't produce as much obvious distortion as it does top-side, partially due to the lack of straight lines beneath the sea.   Take a look at the variety of shot you can produce with your fisheye below. Most of these photos were taken with a Tokina 10-17mm fisheye lens.

 

#1 – Close-Focus, Wide-Angle

 

A fisheye lens is great for shooting subjects close. Really close. A fisheye lens changes perspective, so that subjects closer to the lens appear larger than normal, and subjects further away appear smaller than normal. As you can see in the photos below, this creates a very interesting effect. Small dome ports are especially well suited for this technique, by allowing the photographer to get close to small subjects on the bottom for a close-focus wide angle shot. Read more about close-focus wide-angle underwater photography.

Close Focus, Wide Angle

 

 

#2 – Capturing Cool Photos of Huge Schools of Fish

 

Nothing can quite capture a large school of fish like a fisheye lens. You can get close to a large school, and still get a diver or another subject in the photo. Also, since a fisheye lens curves the outer portion of the photo, you end up with a great curved effect like you see in photo of the Barracuda. Read more about photographing schooling fish.

Huge Schools of fish

 

#3 – Capturing Snell's Window

 

Only a fisheye lens has a large enough angle of view to capture most of Snell’s window, an interesting effect where you can see the surface when looking straight up near the surface. Snell’s window makes a great background for many subjects, if you can get them close to the surface. Read more about Snell's Window.

 

Snell's Window

 

#4 – Getting the Sun in the Photo

 

The sun makes a great background subject, especially if you close down your aperture enough and raise your shutter speed so that the sun’s brightness does not blow out the photo. The ultra-wide angle of view of a fisheye lens makes it easy to orient the camera in portrait style (vertically), and then capture a foreground subject, and the sun higher up in the water column, by getting low and leaning the camera back. Read more about photographing sunbursts.

 

 

#5 – Create Circular Images (You’ll Need a Circular Fisheye Lens for This)

 

By owning a lens like the Canon 8-15mm that can produce a circular fisheye view, you can truly take unique photos that capture a foreground subject and a 180 degree view of the background in all directions. Read our Canon 8-15mm fisheye lens review.

 

#6 – Capture Stunning, Expansive Backgrounds

 

Kelp forests, oil rigs, jetties, wrecks, pier pilings, and shallow coral reefs can have expansive backgrounds that can really add an exciting element to a photo, when captured with the large angle of view that a fisheye lens can provide. Read more about kelp forests.

 

#7 – Get Great Colors by Getting Close

 

You lose red and other warm colors quickly when shooting through water. Even a subject 4ft away lit up with a strobe will have noticeably less vibrant reds and oranges than a subject 1 or 2ft away. A fisheye lens allows you to get very, very close to a large reef , sea fan, or grouping of soft coral, without losing detail or color. Read more about getting great colors.

 

#8 – Great Wreck Shots

 

Wrecks tend to be large – which means contrast and detail will be lost if you have to get too far away to photograph the entire wreck. A fisheye lens will allow you to get close enough to maintain that detail in the photo, while still showing the entire wreck and some of the background area. Read about wreck photography.

 

#9 – Whale Sharks and Mantas!

 

Whale sharks and Mantas can often get very, very big – and they can often get quite close to you. Without a fisheye lens, you’ll be cutting off half of the creature in your photo. Read about the best big animal encounters.

Whale Shark

manta ray taken with a fisheye lens

 

#10 – Capturing Great Split Shots

 

A fisheye lens is wide enough that it will minimize the size of the air/water boundary, and the size of any waves created by that boundary, important in getting a decent split shot. These superwide lenses also have excellent depth of field, which is necessary in order to maintain sharpness for both near and distant subjects. Read more about getting great over-under split shots.

Split

 

About the Author

Scott GietlerScott 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. He enjoys teaching underwater photography locally on a regular basis.

 

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 Composition: Fill the Frame

Scott Gietler
Part III in a great series of underwater composition tutorials

Composition: Fill the Frame


Part III in a series of underwater composition tutorials

By Scott Gietler

 

underwater composition tutorial for underwater photography

 

 
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No matter how long you have been doing underwater photography, composition is always something than can improved upon. In my previous two articles focusing on underwater composition, I featured the techniques of face-on composition, and diagonal composition. Today we look at a simple yet effective technique that I call "fill the frame".

In "fill the frame", we aim to get all or the majority of the subject within the frame of the photo. This can be very difficult for new photographers, as they generally do not get close enough to the subject, or leave distracting backgrounds in the corners. When trying this technique, carefully check the corners of your photo to make sure that you are filling the frame as much as humanly possible.

In the example photo above, the underwater photographer gets very close to a group of small soft corals to "fill the frame" with the subject, creating a beautifully artistic shot. Here are some more situations where "filling the frame" creates a dynamic composition and interesting image:

underwater photography composition fill the frame
Close up of a large anemone, taken from directly above, taken in Lembeh, Indonesia. When there is symmetry like this, take advantage of it by allowing the leading lines to lead to the center of the image.

 

underwater photography composition fill the frame

Close up of gorgonian polyps, taken at Catalina Island. I stopped down to F29 to get enough depth of field to get most of the polyps in focus.

 

underwater photography composition fill the frame
Moon snail closeup, taken in Southern California.

 

underwater photography composition fill the frame
Crocodile fish eyes, taken while diving Bali. The rule "get low, get close" works well here.

 

underwater photography composition fill the frame
Schooling juvenile catfish, taken with the Nikon 105mm VR lens, Anilao, Philippines. I took dozens of shots until I took one that had fish completely fill the frame. These fish will feed and swim slowly in a dependable direction.

 

"Fill the frame" - final thoughts

As you can see, "fill the frame" can work well with a diverse range of photography subjects. The key is not to have too much, if any, of the distracting background in the photo, which is always easier said than done. Once you find the right subject, incorporate other techniques like golden spiral, rule of thirds, "face-on", leading lines, and diagonal lines for a great composition!

 

About the Author

Scott GietlerScott 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. He enjoys teaching underwater photography locally on a regular basis.

 

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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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.

 

Additional Settings for the Olympus E-PL7

Be sure to read Bluewater Photo's Best Settings & Shooting Guide for the Olympus E-PL7.

 

 

 

Further Reading

 

 

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

 

 


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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!

 

 

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