5 Reasons to go Mirrorless

Matt Krumins
Is a Mirrorless Camera Right for You?


5 Reasons to go Mirrorless

Is a Mirrorless Camera Right for You?

Text and Photos By Matt Krumins




As an underwater mirrorless shooter and u/w photography instructor I am frequently quizzed about why I shoot micro-four-thirds and not dSLR. Compact camera shooters often ask for advice on whether they should take the next step into the interchangeable lens systems.

The truth is that in my experience (from point-and-shoot to full frame dSLRs) the current generation mirrorless systems has struck the perfect balance between high-end image quality and physical practicality. Even in my commercial photography, our business is transitioning from our full frame kit to the more affordable and far more flexible Olympus OMD EM-1 mirrorless camera. Time and time again I have left gear at home because it was too cumbersome to lug around. They say, “the best camera is the one you always take with you”, but what if it could actually deliver top image quality as well? Cue the mirrorless cameras, where convenience meets quality.




1. Bigger Doesnt Always Mean Better

Saving your back and your excess luggage bill

With divers carrying around tens of kilos/pounds of dive equipment, the weight and size benefits of mirrorless camera systems has already swayed many photographic pros and enthusiasts.

Think back to the first television in your household. Do you ever yearn for ‘the good old days’ of the tube TV? Or, like me, do you kick back in front of your flat screen and admire how amazing the HD picture quality is and how convenient it is that this technology can sit so elegantly, mounted flush against your wall? This is exactly how I see the digital camera space. While no one is questioning the capability of dSLRs, they are still modeled around a bulky mechanical mirror system that was patented in 1861 (slightly older than the modern typewriter, patented in 1867). But like the flat screen TV, the mirrorless systems have replaced archaic components with miniaturized digital technology to achieve a smaller yet equally capable camera.

My entire Olympus OMD EM-5 rig, including camera, lenses (for both underwater and land), strobes, housing, glass dome port, tray & arms, all fits in my hand luggage when traveling…. just.




2. Bang For Your Buck

A bigger oven does not a good chef make

I recently read a story where somebody was hosting dinner and was complimenting an attending photographer on his images by saying something along the lines of, “I love your photographs; you must have a big professional camera,” to which he responded, “why thank you. And this is an amazing dinner; you must have an amazingly large oven.” When all is said and done, your photographs are the product of your hard work and your gear is simply a set of tools to help you best achieve it. Your images should be what make you a good photographer, not your ability to remortgage your house to afford a camera rig.

With imaging technology advancing so quickly, we are seeing that the gap between image quality on even the top dSLR and mirrorless systems reduced to the perception of ‘pixel-peepers’ and lab tests. The reality is that in your everyday shooting, pixel by pixel examination is irrelevant. A jaw-dropping photograph is art not science.

To that end, lets debunk the most common misconceptions about mirrorless image quality. This is based on my firsthand experience:


Rumor:  The noise levels on mirrorless cameras can’t stand up to high-end dSLRs.

Fact:  This is the most common criticism when comparing systems, but the reality is that the noise differences are only obvious in very extreme circumstances at rarely used high ISO ranges.


Rumor:  The high-end mirrorless cameras are only 16MP.

Fact:  While true, this is actually more than enough pixels for even large prints (look at the $6500 flagship 16MP Nikon D4S).


Rumor:  Lens sharpness on mirrorless systems can’t compete and the lenses aren't fast enough for the low depth of field I need.

Fact:  This comment predates the latest generation of fast primes and super-pro constant aperture lenses available. We’ve included some images in the article as rock-solid evidence.


Finally, it is important to note that these general comparisons are against the high end dSLRs on the market. The latest high-end mirrorless systems are capable of blitzing the low-mid end dSLR models.

To put this into context as divers, it is important to understand that while we shoot in extreme conditions physically, we generally bring light with us (strobes or otherwise), meaning that the high ISO advantage of top-end dSLRs is actually irrelevant to most of our shooting (90% of my own work is shot below ISO400). Over the past two years, my Olympus mirrorless prints have never been questioned when it comes to image quality, even when printed in large formats.




3. Keeping it Simple

Built-in tools to get results

When I go diving I am in my own tranquil bubble of heaven; my cares and concerns in the terrestrial world melt away and for that hour of scuba-silence my life feels complete. I am completely enthralled in viewing the underwater world with an artistic eye and capturing the things that I see as simply and as creatively as possible. This is where mirrorless cameras really shine.

Having an electronic viewfinder (EVF) and Live View LCD screen means mirrorless shooters can take advantage of a lag-free ‘live view’ experience traditionally found on point-and-shoot cameras. I change a setting and my live preview is immediately updated. This takes some of the guesswork out of your shooting and eliminates much of the trial and error associated with light metering with an optical viewfinder. This leaves you free to focus handy focusing tools like focus peaking and spot magnification, giving underwater shooters precise focus control in macro situations. It is also worth noting that being a completely digital experience, you are also able to switch these features on and off if you prefer the more traditional approaches.

When you look at a stunning image, do you scrutinize over how the photographer calculated the camera settings or simply admire the creative result? Personally, if I can capture an image with half the effort I am one happy person.




4. Everybodys Doing It

A fully supported camera system

Unfortunately for those seeking fame as a mirrorless pioneer, you are too late. These days almost every manufacturer is producing underwater housings, ports and accessories for the mirrorless systems and there is overwhelming evidence that these systems are not only here to stay, but the future. Any accessory you can get for your dSLR, you can almost certainly get for your mirrorless at a fraction of the cost.

In addition to underwater accessories, it is also worth noting that many mirrorless systems have access to a full range of lenses suited to underwater shooting. The micro-four-thirds system, used by Olympus and Panasonic, has over 45 lenses currently available as well as an extensive range of lens adaptors for ‘Franken-camera’ enthusiasts.




5. Upgrading Without Fear

Making the move from Compact to Mirrorless

The mirrorless systems are welcome news for compact shooters who traditionally would have been looking at dSLRs when upgrading. Being able to retain many of the same compact-camera image control characteristics (such as live view mentioned above) means that rather than re-learning how to shoot using an optical viewfinder, you are able to apply your current knowledge and style to your new mirrorless while taking advantage of the dSLR functionality.

In the past, there have been many reasons not to upgrade from a compact camera, but in 2014 the mirrorless system breaks down many of these barriers, offering low cost, feature-rich alternatives that are less intimidating and easier to learn.

A larger sensor, fit for dedicated lenses (rather than the wet-lens adaptors of compact cameras), as well as professional-grade accessories are just a few of the key advantages you can expect to enjoy when upgrading. But perhaps most attractive to compact shooters will be the lack of shutter-lag and lightning quick focusing speeds. In fact, the Olympus OMD EM-1 mirrorless camera has an incredibly fast autofocus that rivals high-end dSLR cameras. This bump in speed can be the difference between capturing your subject and missing it by the blink of an eye.





Mirrorless cameras are a relatively new player in the history-rich photographic game and are a format that should be recognized and applauded for breaking tradition. The top mirrorless brands have ensured a fully supported system that offers a progression of models catering to everyone from amateurs to pro shooters. In the underwater environment, mirrorless systems allow newer users to devote more attention to achieving creative results and allow pros to travel with a larger arsenal of lenses, ports and accessories without breaking the scales at airline check-in. These systems are also breaking down the cost barrier for talented compact shooters wanting to upgrade to a more capable system, and can be seen as a catalyst for enthusiasts and pros to jump ship form their traditional cameras and embrace the future of imaging. 


Mirrorless camera guide


You can find out some of the best mirrorless options for underwater photography by visiting the Bluewater Photo guide to the best mirrorless cameras, published by our sister site which is also run by Scott Gietler.


About the Author

Matt Krumins is the owner and operator of Deeper Than Diving UW Photography and ambassador to the Olympus underwater housing range. His experience in UW photography is concentrated around the Asia Pacific region and it has led him to launch his own unique, fun and contemporary brand of UW photography courses based in Australia. To follow his photography and course information jump onto www.facebook.com/deeperthandiving and be sure to check out www.deeperthandiving.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!



Tips for Artistic Macro Shooting

Rico Besserdich
Thinking Outside the Box to Capture Stunning Macro Detail


Tips for Artistic Macro Shooting

Thinking Outside the Box to Capture Stunning Macro Detail

Text and Photos By Rico Besserdich




Macro is arguably the most popular underwater photography category, attracting divers in all corners of the globe.

Classic underwater macro photography has its own styles, techniques and objectives. We have all seen the great images produced with these techniques, but sometimes the images start to look very similar to each other, especially after the 100th pygmy seahorse or frogfish photo. This is when the desire to shoot different macro images begins to grow in u/w shooters’ hearts.

Abstract macro images keep things fresh for me, and in this article I introduce a few tips for artistic macro shooting. These aren’t meant to replace the classic macro techniques, but simply to serve as a little inspiration :-)



I use a CANON 7D in an Easydive LEO II Pro housing, 2 Sea&Sea YS110alpha strobes. My lens of choice for macro is the CANON EF-S 60mm Macro. On rare occasions I use a SubSea +10 wet diopter attached to my housing's macro port, but in most cases I am more than happy with just the 60mm lens. All my camera and strobe settings are manual.

Any underwater camera system capable of shooting macro can be used for artistic macro shooting. The photographer’s creativity is always more important than the specific gear.


Canon 7D, 60mm macro lens. 2 x Sea&Sea YS-110alpha strobes. F/8, 1/125s, ISO 200.


Tip 1:  Abstract

"Like abstract art, abstract photography concentrates on shape, form, color, pattern and texture. The viewer is often unable to see the whole object. The focus is often only a small part of it. Viewers of an abstract shot may only know the essence of the abstraction or understand it by what is implied. Normally the object or image will not be a literal view of the subject. The subject tends to come second to seeing…" - Damon Guy


Shooting abstract compositions can be a very powerful tool for underwater macro shooting. The idea is to capture specific details on a subject to create an open-ended "message" that can be interpreted by the imagination of the beholder, instead of fish IDs or bland shots of marine life documentary value.

Look for patterns, textures and color variations, as well as curves, shapes and geometry. Almost every common macro subject has abstract potential and we just need to recognize it and then capture that idea with the camera.

Shooting Tip:  Any aperture/shutter combination works here as long as it provides a properly exposed photo. Proper macro / super macro strobe positioning is crucial since we are shooting very small detail.


Canon 40D, 60mm macro lens, Ikelite DS125 strobe. F/11, 1/80, ISO 200.


Canon 7D, 60mm macro lens. Easydive "revolution" video light. F/2.8, 1/250s, ISO 250.


Tip 2:  Bokeh

Using bokeh (shallow depth of field) plays a very important role in artistic macro shooting. A common practice in macro photography is to strive for maximum depth of field by using very small apertures, but for artistic shots we often do the exact opposite, using the blurriness as a creative tool. This technique can be used to keep the main subject well isolated from the background, which this comes in handy when the background is distracting (rocks, coral or other disturbing structures right behind the subject). It’s important to have a calm hand, since achieving sharp focus on an exact point of the subject can be difficult.

Shooting Tip:  When working on Bokeh shots I often set my camera to f/2.8 or f/3.5 – basically a wide-open aperture. The shutter speed is then set to 1/250s (max. strobe synchronization speed of my camera) and my strobes are usually set to minimum power output.


Canon 7D, 60mm macro lens. 2 Sea&Sea YS110alpha strobes. F/3.5, 1/160s, ISO 200.


Canon 40D, 60mm macro lens. 1 Ikelite DS125 strobe. F/2.8, 1/250s, ISO 200.


Tip 3:  High-Key

In simple terms, the high-key lightning technique intentionally overexposes key elements of the composition, most often the image's background. We see this technique used frequently with models in a studio, but not often in underwater macro photography. Ideally, the overexposed background will be a clean white color.

The easiest way to shoot high-key is to find a subject that already has a bright background, such as sand or bright-colored rocks. For me, sand always works best. An important step if shooting strobes on TTL (or still images with a video light) is to set the light measurement of the camera to spot metering, which measures the exposure of the main subject in the dead center of the frame and not the sand around it. This way the camera will expose for the darker subject, leaving the light background overexposed. Voila...a white background!

For high-key shots, my strobe is generally mounted on 40cm strobe-arms on top of the housing, pointing straight down towards the subject. The idea behind is to have the sandy ground reflect the strobe light. Sometimes I use a second strobe that comes from the left and works as a fill light (very useful when it comes to dark nudis).


Canon 7D, 60mm macro lens, 2x Sea&Sea YS110alpha strobe. F/3.5, 1/250, ISO 100.


Canon 40D, 60mm macro lens with +10 diopter. 1 Sea&Sea YS110alpha strobe. F/4, 1/250, ISO 100.



Do you always shoot macro with maximum depth of field? If so, try the opposite! Black backgrounds? Try the opposite! Documentation / Fish ID style photos? Try the opposite!

Artistic and abstract u/w photography is a fun way to add variety to your portfolio and can be used with very common subjects to help make your images stand out from the masses. Experimentation and creativity are key, so give it a try on your next dive!


Canon 40D, 60mm macro lens with +10 diopter. 2 x Sea&Sea YS110alpha strobe. F/4, 1/180, ISO 100.


About the Author

Rico Besserdich is a professional underwater photographer, artist & journalist based in Izmir/Turkey. He has been involved in photography since 1978 and became specialized in underwater photography in 2001.

He has written more than 100 photography-related articles that are published in various magazines all around the world, translated into 9 different languages. Beside his activities as photography contest judge, writer, photographer and lecturer, he is the photography editor of the Australian magazine "72&rising" and the "artistic underwater photography" workshop leader at the Saar Academy of Fine Arts (HBK Saar), Germany. View Rico's website at www.maviphoto.com or follow him at Facebook.com/RicoBesserdichPhotography.


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!



Top 5 Shooting Tips for Underwater Snoots

Matt Krumins
Creating Artistic Photos with Narrow Beams of Light


Top 5 Shooting Tips for Underwater Snoots

Creating Artistic Photos with Narrow Beams of Light

Text and Photos By Matt Krumins




Unlike some of my warm water counterparts, my diving patch is located in Victoria, Australia. It rarely cracks 20 degrees Celsius, 20m visibility is astonishing and the vast majority of our ocean floor is a messy and complicated mix of weeds, sponges, broken shell and sand. Luckily, this visually puzzling bottom composition camouflages a treasure trove of macro life that surrounds our piers, and it can all be found in just a few meters of water.

The challenge faced by underwater photographers is this: how do you photograph such a small critter amongst its camouflaged home without all of your images becoming bland scientific identification shots? How do you take a photograph with an artistic spin that is more suited to an art gallery than a textbook?

When you consider that photography is simply the art of creatively capturing light, it makes sense that as an underwater photographer you should have the ability to actually control your light beyond the standard intensity dial. With the exception of some strobes such as the ‘zoomable’ Olympus UFL-2, you are usually limited to a 100-degree light output flooding your entire scene; weeds, critter and all.



The Snoot in Underwater Photography

For those who don’t know, a snoot is a device that affixes to the end of your strobe and narrows the 100-degree beam down to a fine point or ‘spotlight’. Some strobes do this via a series of plastic tubes representing a kind of funnel, but quite new to the market is the RetraUWT LSD (Light Shaping Device). This device allows different aperture discs to be used, projecting a variety of light patterns in a number of shapes. The beauty of this is that you have more control than ever, it’s quick to change apertures, it’s custom built for your strobe’s model and (importantly) it’s neutrally buoyant.



The concept of the snoot is easy enough to understand, so straight out of the box I had some high expectations on what I was going to achieve on my first dive; but as per usual with new toys, there was a whole new learning curve. So after a number of practice dives and snoot-shooting dives, I want to share with you my top 5 tips to help you skip the hardships and get straight to the results.


1. The Right Snoot with the Right Strobe

This tip is short and sweet. When you are trying to aim your snoot at your subject, the only thing that can accurately show you where it is pointing is the strobe’s focus/modeling light (which is also being focused down through the snoot). I have seen people try to line it up visually without a focus light guiding them, and I have seen every one of them leave the water cursing their gear. Keep in mind that focus lights can become extremely dull due to light loss within the snoot itself if the light and snoot aperture do not line up. Strobes with a focus light in the center work best, however there are snoots designed for off-center lights as well. It is always best to check compatibility with your supplier.



2. The Right Conditions

As you’re aware, dive conditions like visibility don’t generally affect macro photography. The same goes for macro snoot photography, however there are some condition considerations when taking the snoot down. First, you need to accept that with snoot photography you are generally photographing very small critters with a very small beam of light, which means that you are going to want to choose dive conditions with very little surge, helping you to stay steady without destroying a dive site.

The other less obvious consideration is to choose days where the lighting conditions are a little darker; overcast days, early morning, late afternoon or (ideally) taking your snoot out on night dives. The reason for this is that your camera settings are likely limited to a max shutter speed of 1/250th, which in bright sunlight means you will need to stop your aperture down to extreme levels in order to darken out your surroundings (f/16-22). This can cause a loss of sharpness and also limits your ability to maintain shallow depth of field. Having naturally dark or dim conditions makes it easy to achieve black backgrounds as well as helping to see the focus light beam when aiming your snoot (believe me, there is nothing more frustrating than trying to see your focus light with a snoot when the sun is beaming above you).



3. Snoot Placement

When you see most snoot shots, they are taken with the snoot placed directly above the critter. This is usually done with a series of arms, clamps and a few minutes of set-up to align the snoot’s ‘spotlight’ to the center of your frame. My issue with this is that for every different subject you want to photograph, you will find yourself loosening clamps, moving your snoot, and realigning the ‘spotlight’ only to realized that your critter has moved along to a more interesting and daring photographer. Experience has taught me that it is actually much simpler to live on the edge and hand-hold the snoot in your left hand, freeing up your right hand to operate the shutter release. After all, your arm is far quicker and more flexible than a ball and clamp system.

The other advantage of hand-holding your snoot is that you are not limited in your lighting creativity. Spot lighting subjects is one creative approach, but how about playing with selective lighting with different snoot angles? You will be surprised at how many photographic opportunities this will open up if it is quick and easy to reposition your light. Take my nudibranch rhinophore shot (below) as an example! The only thing you need to ensure is that you are using the optimal working distance for the snoot. This is the distance from your snoot to the point of the subject where the beam of light is in focus. If it is too close or far away it becomes a soft beam with little definition. You can find the working distance for your snoot by looking at the snooted light beam from your focus light and moving the strobe in and out from your subject.



4. Controlling Strobe Power

Once you have maxed our your shutter speed and stopped your aperture down to create black backgrounds, you will find that most prosumer strobes will need to be cranked to high power to illuminate your subject. However if your strobe is too bright when being focused down to a precise dot of light, you tend to get light spill onto the surrounding areas, leaving you with beautifully spot-lit subjects but no defined spotlight. Finding the balance between the power required to light your subject subtly and not blowing out the exposure can be a bit tricky, but practice makes perfect. The important thing to remember is that from an eco-diving point of view, you are best starting dimmer and working your way up to the perfect balance. Your strobes are very powerful and many critters are very sensitive to light; fried fish are not my cup-of-tea. Once you have your level set you will only make minor adjustments throughout the dive.



5. Processing the Blacks

All RAW files require some form of post production, especially snoot images. Light spill from strobes, slightly off-center subjects and imperfectly shaped ‘spotlights’ are just a few of the common problems faced when snoot-shooting. Using tools in Adobe Lightroom such as the crop tool and the Radial Filter allow you to clean up any of these slight imperfections and really make your subjects ‘pop’. The other particularly helpful tool is your ‘Blacks Slider,’ which allows you to crush the blacks in your image. When editing, be sure to monitor your histogram and sample your subject surroundings to make sure that the blacks are in fact pure black.

Ultimately, practice makes perfect when using a snoot and like everything in life, some things will work for some and not for others. To me, the most important thing is to never limit your creativity and always dare to try something different.




About the Author

Matt Krumins is the owner and operator of Deeper Than Diving UW Photography and ambassador to the Olympus underwater housing range. His experience in UW photography is concentrated around the Asia Pacific region and it has led him to launch his own unique, fun and contemporary brand of UW photography courses based in Australia. To follow his photography and course information jump onto www.facebook.com/mattkrumins and be sure to check out www.deeperthandiving.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!



Shooting Fast Action Underwater

Todd Winner
Tips for Capturing the Moment of Peak Action

Shooting Fast Action Underwater

Tips for Capturing the Moment of Peak Action

Text and Photos By Todd Winner




There's nothing quite like capturing the moment of peak action when shooting a fast subject. Whether it's a sea lion or billfish swimming by at breakneck speed or a small jawfish poking its head out of the hole, timing is everything.

This is one of those areas where a camera/lens with fast autofocusing will excel. High-end DSLRs will perform the best, although compact and mirrorless cameras should not be overlooked, especially in situations with lots of light. Regardless of camera, every underwater photographer will find a benefit in using the tips below to come away with the perfect shot.


Lower Strobe Power

Most strobes take at least two seconds to recycle after a full dump, so by setting your strobes to a lower power setting you will be able to shoot a lot faster. If you're not getting enough strobe light with the lower settings, go ahead and increase your ISO.

If you're shooting TTL with an internal pop-up flash you will have to wait for the internal strobe to recycle. This will take longer if the camera is telling the flash to fire close to full power. If this is the case and you find that you're spending too much time waiting for the internal flash to recycle, you can shoot your strobes on manual power and set your internal flash to the lowest power setting (reducing recycle time). Other alternatives are to switch to electronic sync cords or a fiber-optic trigger, depending on your camera, housing and strobes.


Mantis Shrimp cleaning out its burrow. Catalina Island, California.
Canon EOS 5D Mark lll, 100mm, 1/160, f/8.0, iso 100, 2 Ikelite DS160


Use Continuous Shutter Mode

Setting your camera to take multiple images as you hold the shutter release down can give you a slight advantage when shooting fast action. As long as your strobes are set to a lower power they should be able to keep up with a few shots before needing to fully recycle. Many cameras have both a high and low setting for continuous shutter. I find the low setting to be fast enough for most underwater shooting scenarios.

Another advantage is that most strobes tend to still fire after the first couple shots, but at a lower output. This results in some bracketed strobe exposures, which might save an image that might have been blown out by your default power setting (i.e. if a subject passes by closer than expected).


Shark Handler putting a blue shark into tonic immobility. California
Canon EOS 5D Mark lll, 16-35 @16mm, 1/250, f/10, iso 640, 2 Ikelite DS160



Fast Memory Cards with Large Capacity

If you have any worry about filling up your memory card then you definitely need one with a larger capacity. The exact size will ultimately depend on your camera and shooting style. I typically use 32G cards with my Canon 5D Mark III. When you first take an image the file is stored in the camera’s buffer, and by using memory cards with a fast read and write speed the camera can clear the buffer faster so that you can continue to shoot. If you use a card with a slower read speed, then the camera’s buffer may fill while writing the data to the memory card. Fast write speeds will also make downloading images onto your computer much faster. Learn more about choosing a memory card for underwater photography.


Market Squid mating. Redondo Beach, California.
Canon EOS 5D Mark lll, 8-15 @16mm, 1/100, f/13, iso 320, 2 Ikelite DS160



Multiple Autofocus Points

When you're shooting larger subjects like sea lions or dolphins in clear water, try using multiple autofocus points. It's not as precise as using a small focus point but it can be much faster for the camera to lock focus, especially as subjects move around and enter/leave the frame. I recommend using the largest autofocus selection that will get the job done.

For macro, I prefer to use a single focus point most of the time since depth of field is oftentimes more critical than for wide-angle.


Blue Spot Jawfish feeding. Sea of Cortez, Mexico.
Canon EOS 5D Mark lll, 100mm, 1/200, f/11, iso 160, 2 Ikelite DS160


Focus and Recompose

When you are using a single or small cluster of autofocus points, the quickest way to capture a shot is to focus on the point you’d like and then recompose before pushing the shutter. This can be done with the help of either focus lock or back button focus. You could use the half-press focus method, but you will need to refocus between every shot, which is not ideal for capturing fast action and behavior. Regardless, both of these techniques will enable you to capture more “keepers” than trying to manually move the focus point in the viewfinder.


Pikeblenny fight. Sea of Cortez, Mexico.
Canon EOS 5D Mark lll, 100mm, 1/200, f/11, iso 100, 2 Ikelite DS160


Octopus fight. Redondo Beach, California.
Canon EOS 5D Mark lll, 16-35 @35mm, 1/50, f/13, iso 320, 2 Ikelite DS160



About the Author

Todd Winner is a professional underwater photographer and cinematographer, PADI scuba instructor and owner of Winner Productions, a boutique post production facility catering to Hollywood's most elite cinematographers. Since taking up underwater photography in 1990, Todd Winner has won over 60 international underwater photo competitions. His images have been published in numerous magazines and online publications. His work has been featured in commercial advertising, museums and private galleries.  To see more of Todd's work or join him on an underwater workshop, please visit www.toddwinner.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!



Shallow Depth of Field Underwater

Victor Tang
Settings, Shooting Tips, Composition, Focusing & More


Shallow Depth of Field Underwater

Settings, Shooting Tips, Compositions, Focusing & More

Text and Photos By Victor Tang




Most new underwater photographers learn quickly that capturing sharp images of subjects is essential. When I first started shooting, internet research led me to realize that one of the best ways to ensure sharp photos is to have as much depth of field (the extent of the photo that is in focus) as possible, which led me to use an aperture of F8 on my Canon G12 almost all the time when shooting macro. F8, along with a fast shutter speed of 1/250s, became my default setting as I happily shot away with my Canon G12. That magic setting was bumped up to F22 after upgrading to a DSLR with larger image sensor.

It was not long before I started to be transfixed by photos where only select areas of the macro subject was in sharp focus, drawing the viewer to appreciate that part of the marine creature and presenting it in a new light. I had already been experimenting with these focal points and soon realized that the technique I was applying was a shallow depth of field (DOF). I now use the technique frequently to add some fresh dimension to my dive trip portfolios.


Peacock Mantis Shrimp. Nikon 105VR, Kenko 1.4x Teleconverter, 2 Sea & Sea YS-D1s. ISO100, F8, 1/250s. 



Preparing To Shoot Shallow DOF

Taking photos with a shallow DOF is essentially normal macro photography but with a few changes. Below are some tips to help make the learning curve less challenging:


  • POWER DOWN YOUR STROBES!!! This point can not be emphasized enough. Creating a shallow DOF requires aperture settings that are much wider than standard macro photography, and that means more light will reach the image sensor. Using the strobe power settings from an F22 shot will guarantee a grossly overexposed image when shooting at much shallower depths of field (a result of the wider aperture). Start off with the strobe power settings between the minimum and one to two steps stronger until you can anticipate the power needed.
  • It is very hard to get a black background. Shooting at wide apertures means that more ambient light will be present in the shot, especially in DSLR systems where there is a limit to the shutter speed when using flash (remember, shutter speed controls ambient light). More often than not, the area behind the subject will be visible.
  • Try to compose the image with as much depth as possible. In other words, “Fish ID” side profile compositions may not work because the bulk of the subject will likely be in the same plane of focus, resulting in minimal depth. Head-on facial portraits work the best since most of the subject's body will be behind the thin plane of focus, ensuring that it creates depth and forms a blurred background (bokeh).
  • Move the camera’s focus points around the frame. Shooting with shallow depths of field allows very little leeway in placement of the focal point in order to have the correct area in focus, whereas deeper DOFs allow much more leeway in placing the focal point before the critical area becomes noticeably out of focus.

Keep these things in mind when working with shallow depth of field on your next macro dive!


Squat Shrimp. Nikon 105VR, Kenko 1.4x teleconverter, 2 Sea & Sea YS-D1s. ISO100, F6.3, 1/250s. 


Ribbon Eel. Nikon 105VR, 2 Sea & Sea YS-D1s. ISO100, F5.6, 1/250s. 


Lovely Headshield Slug. Nikon 105VR, 2 Sea & Sea YS-D1s. ISO200, F6.3, 1/320s. 



5 Common Subjects for Shallow DOF

Capturing interesting photos of subjects with a shallow DOF get easier with practice. Here are some subjects that can easily be found on many reefs, allowing underwater photographers to track their progress and improvement:


1)  Corals and Sedentary Worms

The single greatest advantage of shooting these stalwarts of the reef with a shallow DOF is that they tend to stick around for the whole dive (and then some). This allows the photographer to get a feel of how different aperture settings will affect the results of the shot without fear of the worms or corals scooting away like marine creatures tend to do.

A good learning exercise is to start off with the widest aperture and progressively take shots with smaller and smaller apertures to better appreciate how different settings will affect the image. This is also a good opportunity to play around with strobe settings to get a feel of how much flash power is needed to attain optimum exposure at each setting. One might think this a waste of a dive, but this understanding of aperture can go a long way to reducing the time needed to get that perfect shot with more skittish subjects.


Mushroom Leather Coral. Nikon 105VR, 2 Sea & Sea YS-D1s. ISO100, F4.2, 1/250s. 


Feather Duster Worm. Nikon 105VR, 2 Sea & Sea YS-D1s. ISO200, F6.3, 1/320s. 



2)  Lizardfish

As ambush predators, they rely on the art of inactivity to feed themselves and are some of the best candidates for shooting shallow DOF. The lizardfish’s flat and sharply tapered anatomy has eyes perched at the top of the body, and more often than not there is nothing directly behind the eyes, making it easier to create depth.

Lizardfishes, however, are slightly more skittish than other ambush predators. As a result, they have to be approached slowly and with care. They tend to be pretty sizable, so it's easy to use a longer focal length lens like a 105mm to fill the frame and still be far enough away not to scare them off.


Lizardfish. Nikon 105VR, 2 Sea & Sea YS-D1s. ISO200, F8, 1/320s. 



3)  Yellow Tail Blenny

This particular species, commonly found in little nooks and crannies in the reef, is by far the least camera shy of the Blennies. It may scurry back down its little refuge if approached too aggressively, but more often than not they come back out to stare right at the lens port as if hypnotized by their own reflection. I have seen lens ports come very close to the Yellow Tail Blenny without them flinching, so shorter focal length lenses like a 60mm can be deployed quite easily.

One potential downside is that the holes they reside in tend to be “flat” in nature, which may lead to a distracting background. This is where the Blenny’s friendliness can come in handy. If you find the Yellow Tail Blenny to close to the entrance of its hole, retreat a little, stay still and soon it may extend itself out of the hole and towards you! One can then move slowly closer to frame the Blenny and blur the background more. The transparent rims of its eyes form an integral part of the image, thus for best results try to focus on the rims and not the round black pupil.


Yellow-tail Blenny. Nikon 105VR, 2 Sea & Sea YS-D1s. ISO200, F9 and 1/320s. 



4)  Hermit Crabs

Hermit Crabs lend themselves very nicely to shallow DOF photography because of the uniqueness of their eyes. They stick out far from the body, helping the photographer immensely to find the distance to blur the background. There is just one pretty dampening downside: the eyes of the hermit crab are tiny and they move around a lot!

An effective method for shooting shallow DOF with a hermit crab is to first watch the crab and compose your background. Think of where the eyes should be in the image and slowly observe the crab's eye movements to determine where they usually stop. Next, place the focus point at that spot, making adjustments to framing as necessary. Then it’s just a matter of patience and seizing the chance to take the shot when everything is lined up. This may take some time to achieve and a bit of luck is needed, but well worth the effort. Hermit crabs' mainly sedentary nature means a 60mm lens may suffice, although a longer focal length could be just the thing to accord them enough personal space to really come out of their shells.


Dark Knee Hermit Crab. Tamron 60mm, 2 Sea & Sea YS-D1s. ISO200, F5.6, 1/320s. 



5)  Banded Coral Shrimp

These essential cleaner shrimps, mainly found in crevices on the reef or beneath human rubbish like tires, serve up something interesting and versatile for shallow DOF photography. Banded Coral Shrimp eyes are situated more or less in the center of the creature lengthwise. This means that we can create depth, not just in the background with the shrimp’s body, but also have a strong foreground with its claws out in front.  

Banded Coral Shrimps do pose some challenges for underwater macro photography. They tend to prefer the comforts of their crevices when not out cleaning, and when they do come onto the reef they tend to move all over the place, forcing the photographer to react quickly. Trying to get their tiny eyes in focus was just not hard enough! This is definitely a job for a 100mm macro lens, as the shrimps’ long antennae can sense you at a distance and send them into flight mode.


Banded Coral Shrimp. Nikon 105VR, 2 Sea & Sea YS-D1s. ISO100, F5, 1/250s. 



An Essential Skill In The Toolbox

The underwater world is full of the weird and wonderful, with marine life displaying an array of abilities and adaptations that simply boggle the mind. Using a shallow depth of field to isolate and feature these facets of the deep is undoubtedly one of the most effective methods an underwater photographer can use to showcase their beauty to the masses. There are other options in macro photography, but mastery of this technique will open up new perspectives and opportunities, and it has always been but a command dial away.



About the Author

Victor Tang is the founder of Wodepigu Water Pixel, an adventure dive company and photography consultancy with a nose for off the beaten track dive destinations.  When not stranded on shore with other pursuits as a musician and TV producer, Victor is on the prowl around Southeast Asia searching for new pristine waters to explore. His sister will always tease him for taking an oath never to take a camera underwater again after his first try in Malapascua, but lately he carries a camera anywhere he goes.


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!



Stunning Super Macro with Diopters

Victor Tang
Stacking Diopters: A Guide for Compact and DSLR Cameras

Stunning Super Macro with Diopters

Stacking Diopters: A Guide for Compact and DSLR Cameras

Text and Photos By Victor Tang



Most of us have been intrigued at some point by things we cannot see with the naked eye. Scientists are continuously making new discoveries in the oceans, and underwater photographers are keeping pace by documenting the large and very small elements that make up our oceans. In my view, there are two developments in the last 15 years that have helped spur the growth in underwater super macro photography to the level we see today:

  1. The availability of digital cameras. Being freed from the limits of film and having the luxury to instantly review images, photographers now have the latitude to attempt shots at higher magnifications.
  1. The continual discovery of really tiny marine species. Although the Bargibanti Pygmy Seahorse was first discovered in 1969, six more species have been discovered since 2000 and have become the darling of underwater photographers since.

The almost insatiable thirst for greater detail while shooting underwater has spurred the development of waterproof macro lenses, or wet diopters, with ever increasing magnification capabilities. There are now many brands of wet diopters with varying magnifying strengths on the market. Inon was one of the pioneers and now others like ReefNet Subsee, Dyron, F.I.T. and Nauticam have become popular choices. They range in strengths from +5 to +16 when used on land, but their true magnifications are often greatly reduced when deployed underwater.

Filling the frame with a pygmy seahorse, which on average is about 2cm long, can now be achieved with a wet diopter. The challenge now is to obtain higher magnifications to capture even more detail (for example, a facial portrait of a pygmy seahorse). So what is the easiest way to increase magnification? Stack diopters on top of one another!


Hippocampus Bargibanti. Taken with Canon G12 and 2 Sea & Sea YS110As at ISO100. Manual Mode at F8 and 1/250s. Subsee +10 and Dyron +7 Diopters.


Stacking Macro Lenses on Compact Cameras

Many compact cameras are designed and marketed with macro photography in mind,  providing focusing capability as close as one centimeter from the subject.

In photography, a lens is considered to have macro capabilities if it can shoot a subject at a minimum reproduction ratio of 1:1, which means the true size of the subject is reflected on the photograph. In other words, if the subject you are capturing is 20mm long and the image sensor in your camera is also 20mm in length, then the subject taken should totally fill the length of the resulting photograph.

This is not possible in compact cameras. For instance, my G12 has a maximum reproduction ratio of 1:4, which infers that I can only capture subjects at a quarter of its actual size on my photos. With my G12 totally zoomed in to its longest focal length I only get a reproduction ratio of 1:11, not to mention a minimum focus distance of 30cm! Because of this, compact cameras will benefit greatly from stacking diopters.


Bubble Coral Shrimp. Taken with Canon G12 and 2 Sea & Sea YS110As at ISO100. Manual Mode at F8 and 1/250s. Subsee +10 and Dyron +7 Diopters.


Sea Pen Crab. Taken with Canon G12 and 2 Sea & Sea YS110As at ISO100. Manual Mode at F8 and 1/250s. Subsee +10 and Dyron +7 Diopters.



  • Compact camera users can capture macro shots with a macro diopter, and super macro shots by adding a second diopter. The first diopter added should take a compact camera very close to the magical 1:1 reproduction ratio. The next one will bring you to more than 1:1 for super macro shots. For example, using Reefnet's Magnification Calculator, when a +10 diopter is added to a G12 at its longest focal length the reproduction ratio improves to 1.1:1, which is right in the macro range. Adding another +7 diopter improves it to 1.9:1, within super macro territory.
  • To achieve the greatest magnification the compact camera has to be fully zoomed in while the diopters are attached. Attaching diopters while at the widest setting will cause substantial vignetting.
  • Closer working distances with diopters also means there is less water between the lens and the subject, reducing the risk of getting backscatter in your photos.
  • The LCD screens on compact cameras tend to show a deeper Depth of Field (DOF) than the viewfinders of DSLR cameras, making focusing much less of a challenge comparatively. Some camera models even come with a focus assist function, where the area over the focus point is enlarged even further on screen, allowing for better fine-tuning.
  • The smaller sensors used on compact cameras create greater DOF compared to DSLRs, so more of the image will be in focus, even with diopters.


Clownfish Eggs. Taken with Canon G12 and 2 Sea & Sea YS110As at ISO100. Manual Mode at F8 and 1/250s. Subsee +10 and Dyron +7 Diopters.


Juveniles Sea Cucumber Crab and Emperor Shrimp. Taken with Canon G12 and 2 Sea & Sea YS110As at ISO100. Manual Mode at F8 and 1/250s. Subsee +10 and Dyron +7 Diopters.



  • If you thought focusing with one diopter lens was challenging, adding another further compounds the difficulty. It takes more time and patience to achieve sharp focus with stacked diopters than before. Practicing good buoyancy and learning to stay still while capturing the shot are separate challenges in themselves.
  • Stacking diopters greatly decreases the depth of field of the image. Compact cameras usually have their smallest apertures between f8 – f11, which after stacking diopters means the DOF of the photo could be much shallower than you'd expect. So order to have a usable photograph, care must taken to choose the area of the subject to focus on. This can be used to your advantage, however, by achieving focus on parts of the subject to which you want to draw attention (like the eyes).
  • The much closer focus distance means that if you are using strobes, you may need to position your strobes further forward and closer to the camera. A good starting position is with your strobes close to the front edge of the outmost stacked diopter, angling the strobe face away from the subject.


Skeleton Shrimp. Taken with Canon G12 and 2 Sea & Sea YS110As at ISO100. Manual Mode at F8 and 1/250s. Subsee +10 and Dyron +7 Diopters.



Stacking Macro Lenses on DSLR Cameras

Capturing tiny subjects with DSLRs proves relatively simple with dedicated macro lenses that attain a 1:1 reproduction ratio. A diopter isn’t needed to achieve this ratio, and when used, immediately take subjects into the super macro realm.


Brain Coral. Taken with Nikon D300 and 2 Sea & Sea YS-D1 at ISO100. Manual Mode at F22 and 1/320s. Nikon 105VR with Subsee +10 and Dyron +7 Diopters.


Damselfish Eggs. Taken with Nikon D600 and 2 Sea & Sea YS-D1 at ISO100. Manual Mode at F32 and 1/250s. Nikon 105VR with Subsee +10 and Dyron +7 Diopters.



  • You can achieve truly large magnifications. If I stack both my Subsee +10 and Dyron +7 diopters with a 105mm macro lens, the combination yields a reproduction ratio of 3.2:1, meaning I can take subjects as small as 8mm and fill the frame.
  • The focus distance will be very close, so backscatter will be less of an issue. In fact, at such huge magnifications the little particles that cause backscatter might actually show up clearly and in focus as part of the photo!



  • Stacking diopters works best for macro lenses with longer focal lengths (100mm and above), as they have minimum focus distances that are further away from the subject, providing more space for stacking diopters. Lenses with shorter focal lengths (like 60mm) have very close working distances, leaving little space to add any diopters. If you have been using 60mm lenses exclusively, you may have to think of investing in a new macro lens and the corresponding ports.
  • A close focusing distance can be a double-edged sword. Stacking diopters on a DSLR means focusing distances so close that it may be hard to illuminate your subjects with your strobes. Using the combination mentioned above I found myself focusing at around one centimeter, and I had to be very careful and creative in placing my strobes to light up the scene.
  • Depth of Field will be very shallow, so very small apertures (as high as f/32) may be needed to create the DOF needed to have all of your subject in focus. Using such small apertures also means sharpness will be compromised due to diffraction.
  • Modern DSLRs leave the aperture blades wide open before taking a photo to keep the viewfinder bright, stopping down to the required aperture only when capturing the image. The resulting picture on the viewfinder will look like you are capturing the image at the widest aperture of the macro lens, usually f2.8. This, combined with the razor thin focal plane of stacked diopters, makes achieving sharp focus challenging.
  • Such shallow DOFs make autofocus perform very slowly. It may be more effective to use manual focus instead, rocking the camera (ever so slighty) back and forth and pressing the shutter when the photographer can tell that the subject is in focus. This can take many attempts and some time.


Shooting Tips with Stacked Diopters

Here are some suggestions to improve your chances of success when shooting with multiple diopters:

  • Look for subjects that tend not to move. The less they move the easier it is for you to focus. Corals are the perfect starting point.
  • Make sure to find a relatively stable and relaxed position that does not damage to your surroundings when attempting the shot. It tends to take a substantial amount of time to achieve the shot desired, so you better get comfortable.
  • Use a focus light whenever possible to help achieve focus. It is hard enough to focus with such thin DOFs. A focus light will greatly help your autofocus system.
  • The subjects chosen when stacking diopters tend to be very small and thus fragile. Always ensure the well-being of the subject during the photo taking process, as it can be easy to touch them with the front of the diopter.


Commensal Shrimp. Taken with Nikon D600 and 2 Sea & Sea YS-D1 at ISO100. Manual Mode at F32 and 1/250s. Nikon 105VR with Subsee +10 and Dyron +7 Diopters.


Galaxea Coral. Taken with Nikon D300 and 2 Sea & Sea YS-D1 at ISO100. Manual Mode at F22 and 1/320s. Nikon 105VR with Subsee +10 and Dyron +7 Diopters.


Is It Worth The Hassle?

It might seem that stacking diopters is more trouble than it is worth. The difficulty lies in achieving sharp focus regardless of camera style, and this takes up precious bottom time. It does make one wonder if it is worthwhile to invest time and effort to get that one shot of a subject so small and seemingly insignificant, especially when other dive buddies are snapping away happily at many other wonderful creatures at more 'manageable' sizes?

The happy truth is that, if one can get comfortable with super macro photography, it actually opens up a plethora of opportunities to take wonderful photos. Whales, sharks and other pelagic fish may continue to steal the limelight, but at the other end of the scale there are unique textures and details that are no less fascinating. With a little creative composition, subjects that seem run-of-the-mill can be transformed into amazing images with that special WOW factor. Gone are the days when you “see nothing” on a dive, because with a keen eye one may spot a small scene worth stacking the glass to shoot. A boring dive? Never again.


About the Author

Victor Tang is the founder of Wodepigu Water Pixel, an adventure dive company and photography consultancy with a nose for off the beaten track dive destinations.  When not stranded on shore with other pursuits as a musician and TV producer, Victor is on the prowl around Southeast Asia searching for new pristine waters to explore. His sister will always tease him for taking an oath never to take a camera underwater again after his first try in Malapascua, but lately he carries a camera anywhere he goes.


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!



Essential Drift Diving Photo Tips

Brent Durand
Maximize Photo Opportunities and Capture Great Shots on your Next Dive

Essential Drift Diving Photo Tips

Maximize Photo Opportunities and Capture Great Shots on your Next Dive

Text and Photos By Brent Durand




Planned drift dives are a sublime experience as one floats weightless through a colorful reef amongst the fish. That is, unless you’re a photographer. Drift diving requires close contact with a constantly moving group, meaning that photographers have very limited time to spend with subjects and compose photos. There are a number of additional challenges, including swimming against the current, losing sight of the group and stabilizing for a shot without touching the reef (with body or fin wash). The good news is that there are a few techniques to keep in mind that will make capturing great images much easier.


Anticipate Photo Opportunities

This is the best way to capture photos on any dive, and it is particularly important while drift diving. If you’re not thinking ahead to the next shot, chances are you’ll already be drifting by a beautiful composition or interesting critter by the time you notice the photo potential. At that point it’s often too late to try and swim up current.

As soon as a potential photo opportunity comes into sight it’s wise to start preparing to duck out of the current. As soon as you can, take note of the surrounding area so that you can position yourself properly to duck quickly out of the current without disturbing reef or sand. This idea also applies when searching cracks and ledges for nurse sharks, fish and smaller critters.


I drifted into position for a shot after noticing this diver examining the back of a coral head. The magnifying glass was a pleasant surprise.


One must constantly scan for reefscape composition elements while drift diving.


Focus on One Composition Style

The less there is to change between shots the more quickly you can frame and capture an image. If you set your strobe position for vertical compositions, leave that position for a while and scan the reef for elements that will create a good photo. With a basic position set, all that is required are minor adjustments of strobe position and power.

Camera settings like ISO, aperture and shutter speed are critical for properly exposing ambient light in the water (wide-angle backgrounds). Once you’ve properly exposed for the water in a direction relative to the sun, try to shoot in that direction for a while before changing the camera settings again.


Grunts and many other fish like to hide away from the current - great subjects for those searching nooks and crannies for photo opportunities.


In Cozumel, divers will often find green moray eels and nurse sharks under ledges - sometimes in the same spot!


Dive at the Front of the Group

Diving at the front means that you’ll have more time to shoot before the group has drifted to the edge of sight, whether you’re diving with 3 or with 20. This is helpful to gain extra shooting time and can allow you to compose images with silhouettes of the approaching divers. If you’re not looking for other divers in the frame, shoot off to the side, away from the drift path of the other divers.

Additionally, stopping for a photo while at the front of the group allows the guide to know that you’ve intentionally stopped. They’ll prefer this much more than trying to locate your bubbles up current if you disappear off the back of a group.


Photographers who anticipate divers moving into the frame can create great diver-in-scene images by waiting patiently for the right pose before pushing the shutter.


Incorporating boatmates into a photo is always fun.


Be Ready to Enter the Water

Drift diving requires entering the water and descending quickly in order to keep groups together and dial-in buoyancy before coming into contact with the reef. Once the boat driver has triangulated the position it’s always GO time. As a photographer, being one of the first in the water gives you a chance to start prepping your camera (wave bubbles off the port, extend strobe arms, etc) before the descent. This is important because you never know when you will drop in on that rare, skittish subject!


Being prepared with the right camera settings helps capture fleeting moments at the start of a drift dive.


Keeping all my gear together at a seat with easy camera storage helps to enter the water as soon as the OK is given.



Drift diving is a lot of fun and presents some very unique photo opportunities. Many fish and marine life will let a calm, drifting diver approach much closer than someone kicking and breathing hard, and with preparation and smart camera skills it’s possible to capture some amazing images. It’s just up to you to make it happen!

These photos are from a recent trip to Cozumel, Mexico. Special thanks to Scuba Club Cozumel, Scuba Du, Aqua Safari and Living Underwater. Email brent@bluewaterdivetravel.com for questions on Cozumel diving and help booking your next trip.


About the Author

Brent Durand is an avid California beach diver, photographer and writer dedicated to capturing unique underwater, ocean lifestyle and adventure images. Brent is editor-in-chief of the Underwater Photography Guide. Make sure to follow UWPG on Facebook for updates on everything underwater-photography.



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!



Fascinating Fluoro Photography

Mike Bartick
Amazing Photos & the Essentials for Great Fluoro Diving

Fascinating Fluoro Photography

Amazing Photos & the Essentials for Great Fluoro Diving

Text and Photos By Mike Bartick


A common subject shot with traditional white light (left) and blue light (right).


Underwater Fluoro photography has been slow to gain in popularity since its early beginnings. Logistically, this technique has been out of reach for many non-professionals for several reasons (mainly the cost of lights), but recently a few companies have emerged with new products and have re-introduced Fluoro diving and photography to the industry.



What is Required?

To get started shooting Fluoro photos underwater, a basic 3-part kit is needed.

  • 1 (blue) light
    • Nightsea Sola or similar product. The light can be hand held or attached to your housing via strobe arms, which I prefer.
  • 2 barrier filters
    • One filter is put over your mask and the other over your housing’s flat port. The mask filter allows the user to see what is fluorescing; the filter over your camera port allows you to photograph the fluorescence.


Fluorescence Defined

In a nutshell, fluorescence is the name for the absorption of light at one wavelength or color, and its re-emission of light at another wavelength. As explained to me by Charlie Mazel, a pioneer in underwater fluorescence technology: “What that really means for you as a photographer is that you will need to explore the divesite and shine the bright blue light on the reef. The greens, yellows and reds will glow back at you and the hardest part will be deciding what to photograph first.”


Polyps of a Fungia mushroom coral - ISO 3200 - F11 @ 1/80

The green color cast and glow is the first and most pronounced color that you will see. Scattered on the sandy and now invisible bottom the hard mushroom coral’s all seemed to glow. When I found my starting point I turned out my regular dive torch, working by moonlight I slipped the barrier filter over my mask then turned the blue light on and instantly was surrounded by a new divesite.


ISO 3200 - F10 @ 1/80

I later experimented by adding a second Sola with the red light turned on and set to a low level. I positioned the light very high from the subject which helped to create a little contrast, but isn’t 100% on-point.


Blue vs. Ultraviolet Light

While most people think of ultraviolet light when they think of fluorescence, it turns out that blue is much more effective at making underwater organisms glow than UV. There are more subjects that glow more brightly. The light is best delivered by the new generation of high intensity LEDs. To get the best out of the viewing experience you must wear a yellow filter visor over your mask. The yellow is designed to remove the reflected blue light and transmit only the fluorescence from the underwater life. For more info on blue vs. UV light click here.


Beyond the Green Color Cast

There are other very subtle colors that can be seen and photographed. At first you will begin to see the variance of colors while post processing and discover that there really is more to it than what meets the naked eye. Asserting control over your camera and having a strong working knowledge of your system helps, but it isn’t vital and almost anyone can capture great images no matter what system they are using.


2 Fungias hard coral plates - ISO 3200 - F11 @ 1/50

The same type of organisms often had a different colorcast. I stacked these two mushroom corals to show the differences.


My Gear

  • Nikon D300s
  • 60mm macro lens 
  • Basic 3-part kit as described above.
  • 1 Sola Nightsea light. The light has 2 modes, spot and flood and 3 power intensity options: low med and high. Like using a strobe, the angle and power make a world of difference, so be sure not to get too close to the subject since you can still overexpose the highlights.


General Settings to Get Started

  • ISO-1600-3200: (note: watch for digital noise in the images)
  • Aperture: f5.6-f10
  • Shutter: 1/80
  • Due to low light from using just a single Sola Nightsea light (instead of 2), it was necessary to shoot at a higher ISO, slower shutter speed and a larger aperture. This can be problematic when shooting hand held so try to brace your camera with a second hand under the lens port for stability. I don’t recommend a tri-pod as it takes too much time to set up the shots.


Moray Eel (Muraenidae) - ISO 1600 - F7.1 @ 1/60     

The bright glow of this Morey could be seen from a good distance away. Sometimes I would see several Moreys at a time but they seemed a bit sensitive to the intensity of the blue light and would disappear into their holes, being ready before you move in to shoot the photo is helpful.


Best Dive Sites for Fluoro Photography

  • Fringing hard coral reefs, walls and sandy muck sites all seem to be good for fluoro photography.
  • Open sandy areas tend to be a bit slower than the reefs and yield occasional anemones, crabs etc.
  • Hard corals like Cycloseris, Ctenactis, Acropora, Cyphastrae, Fungia, Favites and others all glow with amazing intensity while the soft corals are less reflective.


ISO 3200 - F11 @ 1/50

Using just the blue light will allow you to see the intricate folds and shadows of the corals. The green spot in the background is the beginnings of a new baby coral formation. The Blue light is used in labs to find such new growths for studies and many other applications.


Glowing Abalone - ISO 2500 - F6.3 @ 1/80

I would have never noticed this gem without the Nightsea light. Not having the advantage of being able to stop down, I was sure to focus in on the key elements of this photo, the eyes.


ISO 2000 - F11 @ 1/80

Moving away from the reef I discovered that some of the fish seemed to really glow, while others did not. The ones I thought would glow, like frogfish remained colorless, this Raggy Scorpionfish glowed with a sullen red and the coral below it offered nice contrast. Notice the highlights under on coral blowing out. Be careful if your handholding the light source, close doesn’t always mean better.


ISO 2000 - F11 @ 1/80


Nembrotha kubaryana - ISO 2500 - F6.3 @ 1/100

The common becomes uncommon with the Blue Light. I was simply amazed when I spotted this common Nembrotha, talk about stunning. Knowing your subjects like this one helps to capture strong images by bringing out the details. Again with the lack of a flash and the slow shutter speeds, sharpness can be easily affected.



In Conclusion

My first few Fluoro dives seemed a bit uneventful and almost overwhelming. It took me a few nights to really begin to catch on and to begin applying the techniques to create better images. I recently learned that there are additional products on the market, such as strobe filters that will assist in creating better images.

Im always looking forward to a new challenge and Fluoro Photography now seems like its here to stay.

Special Thanks to Charles Mazel, “a true pioneer in underwater fluorescence technology.“



About the Author

Mike BartikMike Bartick is a Marine Wildlife Photographer based in South East Asia. He has an insatiable love for Nudibranchs, Frogfish and other underwater critters, and is the official critter expert for the Underwater Photography Guide. Mike is also one of the UWPG trip leaders and Photo Pro at Crystal Blue Resort. See more of his work at www.saltwaterphoto.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!



The Secrets of Shooting Amazing Patterns

Christian Skauge
Tips for Capturing Mesmerizing Underwater Graphics

The Secrets of Shooting Amazing Patterns

Few things are more intriguing than some of the out-of-this-world patterns one encounters under the water. Here are some tips to capture mesmerizing underwater graphics.

Text and Photos By Christian Skauge




Patterns can be found almost anywhere under water - in hard or soft coral, fish, mussels and other invertebrate animals. If you look closely, you’ll find some kind of pattern in more things than you’d think. Still, it takes a little more than “point and shoot” before you’re able to translate what you see into a great image.

As with any kind of underwater images, first you need to find what you want to photograph. I often find beautiful patterns in fish, especially around the eyes or in the scales themselves. Parrotfish is a dead giveaway when talking about fish patterns, but many other species are worth a closer look too.


Fill the Frame

To really capture the pattern and let it speak for itself, you need to capture just the pattern and nothing else. Filling the frame is the mantra here: Half a fish doesn’t really cut it, no matter how intricate and beautiful its pattern is – it’s still just half a fish.

There is one very simple way to achieve this: Get closer. It’s only when the pattern completely fills the frame that you really see it for what it is – a thing of beauty in itself.

Fish provide an endless source of beautiful patterns, but most of them are notoriously difficult to approach and photograph. It’s hard to get as close as you need to be able to frame just a part of the fish.

There are two solutions to his – focal length and night dives: Most fish sleep during the night, and by careful maneuvering you should be able to get what you want. Enough focal length (more about this later) means you don’t have to be almost touching the fish when taking your shot. Learn more about filling the frame.


Many fish have beautiful and colorful patterns around the eyes, presumably to make it harder for predators to see which way is forward. Get close enough and you’ll get some very interesting images.


When there’s enough of something and you let it fill the frame, even leather coral polyps form a beautiful pattern.

Baby Garibaldi eye, photo by UWPG / Bluewater photo owner Scott Gietler. D7100, 105mm VR lens


Be Gentle

Remember that fish are very sensitive to changes in water pressure. Their fine-tuned lateral line allows them to sense almost anything sneaking up on them, even if they can’t see it. That means you have to be very careful and not push too much water ahead of you in a sudden burst – that will most likely spook any fish, sleeping or not.

Another thing to consider about sleeping fish is that disturbing them leaves them vulnerable to attack and injury. This is especially important when it comes to parrotfish: When they go to sleep they produce a “sleeping bag” made of mucus, designed to protect them from predators. When spooked, they leave it behind and have to do it all over again.


Parrotfish provide an endless source of colorful patterns, provided you can get close enough.


Coral fans give you the opportunity to capture sort of a pattern against a black background.


The back of the pectoral fins are stunningly beautiful on many scorpionfish, but it might be very hard to capture it “on film”. This lionfish was sleeping, which made it a whole lot easier.



Echinoderms are another rich source of patterns. To me, sea urchins are more interesting dead than alive, because the spines get in the way of their intricate shells. Looking closely at starfish and sea cucumbers is usually much more rewarding: Some species have their entire bodies decorated by beautiful patterns. All you have to do is to find a suitable crop, as these animals will let you shoot on forever without running away.

If you’re lucky (meaning look closely) you often find minute crabs and shrimp living on these animals too – and this may add a little something extra to your image besides the pattern. If you’re able to combine two things, your image will benefit greatly.

When you carefully flip a starfish on its back, you often get a pleasant surprise: Some of them have the most incredible patterns underneath, especially around the mouth. It’s a bit controversial to touch your subjects, but if you’re careful no harm will come to the animal.

Observe the starfish before you do anything to make sure it’s not feeding – if it moves it should be okay. After getting your shot make sure you turn the co-operative fellow back on its right side in the exact spot you found it before you leave.


Some starfish make your jaw drop when you turn them gently over. This species, found in Lembeh Strait, has patterns all over.


Sea cucumbers are always interesting, and show off many different types of patterns and even textures. Close up this one looks almost like elephant skin, apart from the yellow spikes.


Even ascidians (sea squirts) can display beautiful patterns. The closer you look, there more you’ll find!


Endless Patterns in Coral

Coral provide plenty of opportunities in terms of patterns. By design many of them are just a bunch of repeating structures! By carefully searching and selecting your frame or crop, it’s pretty easy to produce some eye-catching images. Brain and star coral are obvious choices, but many other species have cool patterns too.

Even soft coral can sometimes have breathtaking patterns, especially on their stems. They are also a good place to find little fish and crustaceans, so checking them carefully may pay off in more ways than one.

Coral fans are also a good place to look. They can be almost lace-like in their structure, and have the added benefit of letting you shoot them with a black background. This can provide an interesting change for images which are all filled with color and pattern.

A nice, uniform coral pattern becomes even more interesting when there’s a little fish sitting on it.


Play with depth of field to create interesting effects.



When capturing patterns I often find it best to shoot at a 90 degree angle. Most of the time I choose “flat” light – in effect the same strobe output on both sides. This hides most of the surface texture, letting the colors and patterns stand out in their own right.

If you use different strobe power on one side, you will instead make the texture stand out more. This can also produce some very nice images, and I really encourage you to try shooting with different techniques – but for patterns, flat light does the trick best in my book.

Playing with depth of field can also produce some nice effects, but here too you will quickly find yourself drifting away from shooting actual patterns into something else. I often shoot with as high an F-stop as I can to iron out any out-of-focus areas in the image, which to me often ruins the pattern. A fast shutter is, as always, a good idea.


Pattern or texture? Subtle changes in strobe output can make it go either way.



In most cases, shooting patterns is macro job. Which lens you choose depends on the size of your subject, but most of the time we’re talking small stuff here so a 100/105 mm will be a good choice – maybe even with a teleconverter on top.

In theory, a 60 mm lens will produce the same image as the 100/105 mm (they’re both 1:1), but you will have to get a lot closer than you need to with a longer lens. I often find that when I get too close I run into trouble with the light: It comes too much from the sides, producing more of a texture than a pattern.

This is why I love the 105 mm for my pattern jobs. When trying to capture fish details you’ll definitely appreciate the working distance offered by a 100/105 mm lens – unless we’re talking about the lovely pattern found on the back of a whale shark.

In the end it’s not extremely difficult to shoot patterns. You don’t need to be a star photographer to get some good results – being good at spotting subjects is at least as important as mastering the subtleties of your camera. Happy shooting!


About the Author

Christian Skauge is a former Nordic Champion of underwater photography and has won several international photo contests. He writes articles about diving and underwater photography and is published regularly in magazines around the world. He also runs underwater photo and marine biology workshops. Check out his website for more info: www.scubapixel.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!



The Ultimate Guide to Shooting Wrecks

Todd Winner
Tips and Tricks to Bring your Wreck Photos to the Next Level

The Ultimate Guide to Shooting Wrecks

Tips and Tricks to Bring your Wreck Photos to the Next Level

Text and Photos By Todd Winner




Shipwrecks have always been fascinating to me. Almost every wreck has some amazing history, an interesting story or some unsolved mystery attached to it. Wrecks make great artificial reefs (whether sunk intentionally or not) and marine life is often abundant around them. As photographers, there are some wrecks where we can portray both tragic loss of life and beauty in the same image.

Diving and photographing shipwrecks presents many challenges. Oftentimes their size and depth makes it impossible to see the whole site on a single dive. Even when we have the opportunity to do multiple dives on the same site we are still limited to (non-deco) bottom time and air.

Part of successful wreck photography is limiting your attention to the most important shots. This often involves shooting extremely large objects, sometimes way too big to light with strobes. To get the most out of shooting wrecks, you will need to use ambient light, strobe light and sometimes a combination of both to achieve your shots. Many photographers will even use filters and slave strobes for shooting wide wreck scenes. It's up to you to recognize when to use the variety of lighting techniques available.

Certain wrecks require extra care when diving since cables, nets and other items may present an entanglement hazard for divers. Like any diving activity, stay within your comfort and training level.

The following are my five top tips to get the ultimate wreck shots:


Shoot an Establishing Shot

This is most likely going to be an ambient light or ambient with filter shot, as most wrecks are too big to light with strobes. If the visibility is good enough this is often the first shot I go for. If possible, descend to the site before the other divers to have a chance in order to capture a diver-free image.  Having a diver in the shot can add scale but too many divers will often ruin the shot. If divers are penetrating the wreck you can have bubbles escaping the wreck for hours after the last person has exited. This can make for an interesting image in itself, but if you are after a bubble-free shot you will need to get there first.


Establishing image of a Japanese float plane. Palau


Get the Signature Shot

Many wrecks are just too big to do on a single dive, so get the signature shot before moving on to other things. And unless you are the first person to ever dive the site, there is probably already an established and well-known signature shot. This image is an important part of the ship or an artifact inside the wreck. It can be the bow gun, prop, ship’s bell or anything that is easy to recognize on the wreck.


Signature shot of R2D2, an old compressor inside the Fujikawa Maru. Truk Lagoon


Look for Silhouettes

Most wrecks are loaded with great silhouettes, whether you use them in the background with a strobe-lit foreground or on their own. The king posts, masts and ship guns are all good places to look for silhouette potential.


Silhouette of diver and bow of ship. Solomon Islands


Shoot Some Color

The steel hulls on many wrecks attract sponges, soft corals and other colorful marine animals. Take some shots that show how the wreck has transformed. The key is to include something in the shot that still makes it recognizable as a wreck; otherwise it will just look like a colorful reef.


Colorful soft coral on a life boat davit. Fujikawa Maru, Truk Lagoon


Interior and Skylight

This is my favorite type of wreck shot and it is not always possible on every wreck. It is essentially some item or artifact lit by my strobes inside the wreck along with light from a skylight, porthole or other opening in the hull that lets in some ambient light. I think these types of shots really give the viewer an idea of what it is like to be inside the wreck. Note that your exhaust bubbles from open circuit will dislodge particles from the ceiling when working inside a wreck, and that it doesn’t take long before you are shooting in what looks like a snow globe. It's also important to work fast and maintain good buoyancy to avoid disturbing even more sediment.


Diesel engine and skylight. Kensho Maru, Truk Lagoon


Many of the wrecks we dive have gone down with the loss of human lives. Some still contain bones to this day. I feel it's important to treat such wrecks with the same respect you would show at any other gravesite and I hope you will do the same.


Eerie reminder that not everyone made it out alive. Yamagiri Maru, Truk Lagoon


If you would like to join me in shooting shipwrecks, please check out UWPG's Truk Lagoon Trip in February of 2015.



About the Author

Todd Winner is a professional underwater photographer and cinematographer, PADI scuba instructor and owner of Winner Productions, a boutique post production facility catering to Hollywood's most elite cinematographers. Since taking up underwater photography in 1990, Todd Winner has won over 60 international underwater photo competitions. His images have been published in numerous magazines and online publications. His work has been featured in commercial advertising, museums and private galleries.  To see more of Todd's work or join him on an underwater workshop, please visit www.toddwinner.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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