Visualization to Realization

Mike Bartick
Improve your underwater photography through visualization and learning to be more proactive than reactive.

Visualization to Realization

Improve your underwater photography through visualization and learning to be more proactive than reactive

By Mike Bartick



When shooting critter photos underwater, nature presents itself in many wondrous ways that make for many incredible photo opportunities. As a photographer it’s my job to take the time to get the shot right. Developing an idea for a shot in my mind’s eye helps me create a photo long before the opportunity arises, which ensures that I'm ready when that unique critter jumps into my lens

In an interview Ansel Adams said, “you don’t take a photograph, you make it.” When I think about that statement I realize that that's what I've been doing for a long time. Ansel isn't saying that we should have all the elements planned and staged, he's talking about going in prepared. 
So, as underwater photographers what can we do to prepare ourselves?


The first and arguably most important step is visualization. Visualization techniques will help you get an idea of what the photo will ultimately look like, and from there you will be able to map out a way to get there. Picturing the shot in our mind's eye will help us remain focused and achieve the type of photos that we're after.
You can think of visualization techniques as our own built-in software for creativity. Just like photo software on the backside, using visualization will help shape our photos on the front end of the process. As we become better at using this technique we will learn to become more proactive rather than reactive to any given circumstance underwater.
Mushroom coral pipefish F16 at 1/125.
Case in point, I wanted a specific type of photo of a mushroom coral pipefish. I was searching around when I saw what looked like the perfect target, only something didn’t seem right. As I approached the mushroom coral I realized there was more than just one pipefish living there. This discovery changed everything, especially when I realized there were actually three pipefish. Wow! If you've ever tried to shoot a photo of one of these guys then you know how difficult it can be. It’s a never-ending chase to try and capture one sharp image of a single pipefish, let alone three. Granted, no matter how much I prepare or visualize, sometimes all bets are off, but by knowing the shots I want to achieve I can try to capture the photo the way I want it. 
I love contrast in photos, and using the f-stop and lighting to help create it is critical. In the shot above I wanted to see the detail of the white pipefish against the contrasting background of the green mushroom coral. Now if only they would just cooperate and hold still!

Getting a shot vs. getting the shot right

It's true that perfection is more of a journey then a destination, but it doesn’t hurt to aim for perfection. Getting a shot versus getting the shot right is the question. What is the photo you're trying to get and what are you trying to achieve? All of these things run through my head, forcing me to slow down and think effectively while still reacting fast enough to get the shot. 
Chasing subjects doesn’t work either, so by keeping my lens in one set position and allowing the critters to come to me I will increase my chances of getting it right. Finally the three pipefish came together and began moving in unison, allowing me just a few shots. My planned shot will have to wait for another day, but hey, three pipefish in one frame, I'll take it!
Cardinal fish aren’t an unusual sight, but the colors of these are striking. Thinking about making this type of photo in post-production and visualizing helped me to focus and create. 
Polarized school of cardinal fish F5.6 at 1/125.
This is an unusual shade of orange and green and I wanted to make the eyes of the cardinal fish seem like they're coming out of the orange mist and swimming past my lens. By selecting my point of focus (the eyes) I used a shallow f-stop to blur the details, creating the colorful mass while allowing the viewer sharp eye contact. I consider this shot a work in progress since I am still working on the end result. I know what I want it to look like but I have to wait for Mother Nature to do the rest and present me with a small school of cardinal fish.
Polarized catfish F14 at 1/125.
I loved the lines of these catfish and I wanted to pull them through the photo, but my main goal was to see how many eyes I could get in focus in one full frame. With a little more f-stop to gain a greater depth of field I remained in position and again let these pesky, venomous catfish come to me.

Practice hands-on techniques with common subjects

Sometimes the most common subjects can make great targets. Practicing some basic hands-on techniques to help build your skills is what it’s all about, you don't always have to wait for the most exotic creatures. 
Goby on a colorful detailed sponge F5.6 at 1/125.
Going to the extremes with the f-stops can prove to be as challenging as it is fun. I think this goby was intrigued by it's own reflection. It was the green and white mottled background that I wanted to catch, the unusual pattern and colors struck me as a really cool design, and the goby helped to break the pattern but allow for contrasting textures. When I set up to shoot, the resident gobies scattered except for this poor guy. He slowly crept forward and into the range of my lens, I hope I didn't scare him with my strobes!
Peacock flounder F5.6 at 1/125.
This colorful flounder kept one eye on me and the other on his escape route. The slow approach works well, and remaining calm allows your subject to regain confidence and sometimes make an approach.
The shallow depth of field helped me to create an illusion of the flounder’s colors melding with the sand. The sharp eye contact gives the flounder a bit of personality.

Incorporating models

Ornate ghost pipefish F14 at 1/125.
I often like to incorporate a model into my macro photography shots for several reasons: scale, personal contact, plus the added dimension can make the photos a bit more dynamic. My model used a handheld modeling light for constant off-camera lighting on the pipefish while I shot using only ambient light. I set up to watch a small group of ornate ghost pipefish work their way around a small patch of coral and between two mooring ropes. I signaled my model to approach slowly, which also helped to corral the pipefish toward my lens. Making the best out of a challenging set-up, dealing with limited access or hard angles is always a challenge, but by switching my strobes off she helped to backlight our subject and create something unique.

Mother Nature dishes out the rest

Ghost pipefish, cerratasoma nudibranch and imperial shrimp
Sometimes while lining up to shoot one photo another will often appear. This ghost pipefish wouldn’t leave me alone, swimming back and forth in front of my lens and begging for a free headshot. I really wanted to have them all lined up just right, but sometimes you have to be happy with what you can get. Being there to capture the photo using the visualization techniques we have discussed help to create the photos ahead of time, but as always, Mother Nature dishes out the rest.
Keeping my head in the game and frame
Self portrait, Tokina 10-17 F14 at 1/125.
Overall, using skills like visualization helps us slow down enough to think effectively and ultimately be more proactive than reactive. Self-critique using your standard editing software and re-composing in post-processing will also help to visualize new ideas. Shooting photos on the fly or capturing the photos in their organic and unaltered state can be as challenging with a compact camera as it is with an SLR. Conceptualize, visualize, and shoot for yourself, but remember that no matter how much we plan for a shot, nature will always be the wildcard, for better or worse.
Now get out there and have an adventure!


About the Author

Mike Bartick is an avid and experienced scuba diver, and Marine Wildlife Photographer. He has an insatiable love for nudibranchs, frogfish, and other underwater critters, and he is the official critter expert for Underwater Photography Guide. See more of Mike's underwater photos at, and at


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Underwater Pool Photography

Ron Watkins
Use pool photography to hone your underwater photography skills, experiment and be creative!

Underwater Pool Photography

Use pool photography to hone your underwater photography skills, experiment and be creative!

By Ron Watkins



How often do you get the opportunity to go diving and do underwater photography? If you're like me and live in a land-locked state or country, probably not as often as you'd like. When you've finally saved up enough vacation days and splurged for that long-awaited trip, you often spend the first part of it relearning your underwater photography equipment and skills. By the end of the trip you are finally getting some great shots and then it's time to pack up your bags and head back home. If that sounds like a familiar scenario, then underwater pool photography may be just what you need!


Underwater pool photography has many benefits: it's inexpensive, you can do it as often as you like, and it allows you to keep your skills fresh. Shooting in the pool is particularly helpful right before that big trip, allowing for less time fooling with your equipment and more time capturing amazing underwater images.

I got started in pool photography when a friend of mine wanted some underwater pictures of herself and her children for her modeling portfolio. It was a beautiful spring day and I ended up shooting for over two hours, despite the chilly water.  Even the family Labrador joined in the fun! It was a day of firsts for me. I had never photographed models (on land or in the water), young kids, or dogs. We did multiple wardrobe changes, used colorful backdrops and experimented with several props. After that shoot, I was hooked. That year alone I photographed over 100 models, children and pets!
Nikon D300, 12-24mm @F16, 1/125: outside ambient & single strobe
Nikon D300, 12-24mm @F16, 1/200: outside ambient & dual strobes
Nikon D300, 12-24mm @F8, 1/125: Indoor pool with dual strobes on housing and dual slave strobes above water
Nikon D300, 12-24mm @F8, 1/125: Indoor pool with dual strobes on housing

Getting Started

The good news is, all you need to get started with underwater pool photography is access to a pool, people or animals willing to get wet, and a wide-angle underwater photography camera set-up. Scuba gear is not required because all you need to do is hold your breath while underwater. A compact camera capable of wide-angle photography can be used; however, I use a dSLR with a non-fisheye lens such as the Nikon 12-24mm. A fisheye lens can be used too, but it may distort the subject. This could create a uniquely desirable effect, but often it is unflattering for the model.
One or two strobes attached to the camera should be used and one or more remote slave strobes may be used for special effects. These few items are really all you need. Later, I will discuss other optional equipment and props.

Creative Lighting

Lighting is the key to all types of photography, and the main benefit of pool photography is that you have ultimate control over it in your underwater studio. Lighting options will depend upon whether you are shooting outside in the daylight, in an indoor pool or at night. Just as in the ocean, ambient light photography in the pool can create dramatic images and looks most natural. You still want a little fill light from your strobe, but make best use of the ambient light and experiment with shooting at different times of the day and positions of the sun. This will definitely help improve your ambient light photography when you get back in the ocean.
When shooting in the pool at night, it is helpful to have remote slave strobes as an extra light source. These strobes can be mounted on a tripod in the pool or secured directly above the water by placing a weight on top of the strobe arm placed on the side of the pool. Experiment with strobes at different distances above the water and in the water placed behind the model for back lighting or off to the side for dramatic shadows. For indoor pools, I also use remote strobes to simulate sunlight because the fluorescent lighting in many buildings is inadequate and undesirable.

Photographing Children

A key factor of good images is having a subject that looks natural underwater. Trust me, nothing looks worse than a crying kid with their eyes squeezed shut, puffy cheeks and a runny nose. Luckily there are ways to work with children of all ages to yield better images. First, they must be comfortable in the water. Ideally, children will have taken swim classes or for little ones (as young as 6 months old) classes that practice submersion techniques to prevent drowning. Safety has to be the highest priority and you always need another person in the water with you who will be responsible for the child. Talk to the child before you go underwater to take pictures and instruct them to keep their eyes open, where to look, smile, don’t puff their cheeks out and demonstrate any simple poses you want them to do. Then with a little luck, you will get some good images. 
When you have a child that is comfortable underwater it is time to experiment with different backdrops, props and creative lighting. I like to use colorful shiny backdrops outside in the sunlight to create a magical look. The best props for kids are typically items they use in sports or hobbies, like skateboards, baseball bats, tennis rackets or a favorite toy. The more fun they are having in the water, the longer they will allow you to photograph them and more lively the images will be. Costumes are another way to be creative. I once did a shoot the day after Halloween and the children wore their costumes in the water, rendering some very unique images.
“I’m Batman.” Nikon D200, Tokina 10-17mm @F8, 1/125: outside ambient & dual strobes.
“Mermaid Reflection.” Nikon D300, 12-24mm @F10, 1/200: outside ambient & dual strobes.
“Hanging Ten.” Nikon D200, 12-24mm @F9, 1/100: at night with dual strobes on housing & dual slave strobes above the water.
“Shark Bite.” Nikon D300, 12-24mm @F8, 1/100: Indoor pool with dual strobes on housing and single slave strobes above water.

Getting Creative with Models

An underwater model can be anyone that wants to get in front of the camera in the pool. This may be a friend, a relative, an aspiring model or a seasoned professional. Once again, they have to be comfortable underwater. Unlike young children, older models are better at taking direction and you can work with them on poses. Experiment with poses close to the surface so that you can add the artistic element of reflections that make many pool images look so spectacular. Be creative with colorful, flowing outfits and eye-catching accessories. Female models also look more dramatic when they wear waterproof make-up. If you and the model are comfortable with nude photography, you will be able to create some beautiful and artistic imagery. Refer to Cal Mero’s article on Underwater Model Photography for more examples and tips. 
“The Look.” Nikon D300, 12-24mm @F9, 1/200: at night with dual strobes on housing.
“Crescendo.” Nikon D300, 12-24mm @F9, 1/160: at night with dual strobes on housing.
“Blue Angel.” Nikon D300, 12-24mm @F10, 1/250: at night with dual strobes on housing.
“Arrow.” Nikon D300, 12-24mm @F10, 1/160: at night with dual strobes on housing.


Don't Forget Fido

Underwater photography of dogs has recently hit the spotlight with high impact images like those of Seth Casteeland others showing up on the web and in magazines. Dogs are a lot of fun to photograph but can be a little unpredictable, and like sharks they may take a bite at your camera. Some of the best shots of dogs are when they are jumping in the water, sticking their head in the water after a toy, or split shots of them swimming. Like kids and models, you will need to find a dog that is comfortable going under water or at least swimming in the pool. I find that when shooting dogs, you will do more ‘shooting from the hip’ where you are not looking through the viewfinder, but rather following the dog with your camera extended out. Practicing this technique with dogs and even kids will definitely come in handy in the ocean when that turtle is quickly approaching and changes direction at the last minute.
“Where’s the Ball?” Nikon D300. 10.5mm @F18, 1/125: outside ambient & single strobe.
“Doggie Paddle.” Nikon D300 10.5mm @F18, 1/125: over/under outside ambient & dual strobes.




One of my most memorable pool photography experiences was an evening spent with professional underwater photographer James Wiseman, who was hosting a week long Bahamas shark and dolphin expedition. We spent the night before the trip in Boca Raton, Florida, photographing six different models at three different pool locations from 6PM until 2AM. The models included a young couple, two female college basketball players and two very talented go-go dancers. After that long night of underwater pool photography and the adrenalin rush that came with it, I was completely exhausted. It turned out to be time well spent, as I learned so much. On the first day of diving in the Bahamas, my camera skills were well tuned and I was able to apply some of the wide-angle techniques I had practiced in the pool. The time I spent holding my breath underwater with the models also increased my bottom time while free diving with the dolphins. Overall, my photography was more consistent and better than it had been on previous dive trips.
Hopefully this article has taken some of the mystery out of underwater pool photography and has inspired you to take to the pool for your next shoot! There is no limit to creativity in the pool, and it is no coincidence that more and more pool shots of models are winning the major underwater photo competitions. In fact, some contests now have categories dedicated to pool photography. So get in that pool, have some fun, be creative and see if you can create some truly breathtaking images of your own!

About the Author

Ron Watkins is an international award winning photographer and writer. He has been passionate about underwater photography since 1996 and his photography has appeared in magazines, websites, juried art displays, national aquariums, libraries and private collections. More of Ron’s photography may be viewed at and, which features his unique underwater portraits of children. 

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Wide-Angle Shots Underwater with Canon G12

Victor Tang
Part II in a series about the Canon G12 compact camera: How to get a perfect wide-angle shot

Taking Wide-Angle Shots Underwater with the Canon G12

Part II in a series: How to get a perfect wide-angle shot

by Victor Tang



Underwater photography can be generally classified under two categories: wide-angle and macro. The primary difference between the two is the field of view (FOV) of the image, namely the extent of the observable environment at a given moment. In macro photography the subject tends to be small, so a relatively small FOV is desirable to concentrate on your subject. However, if the photographer intends to shoot the reef scape or larger animals like a whale shark or a manta ray, a wider FOV is essential to frame the subject, entering into the realm of wide-angle photography.

Compact cameras like the Canon G12 have very big shoes to fill when taking photos underwater. Not only do they need to offer enough magnification and close focus distance to take good macro photos, they still have to provide a wide enough field of view at their widest setting for great wide-angle images. dSLRs have specialized lenses for this, but compacts have to do all this with just one fixed lens!
The Canon G12, as we've seen in my previous article, has proven to be a very competent compact camera for taking macro images, but what about wide-angle?

G12 for Wide-Angle Out of the Box

The G12 offers one of the widest views available to the photographer among compact cameras. To get the widest FOV on the G12 we have to set the lens to it's widest setting, which according to the manufacturer gives a focal length of 28mm “equivalent.” This means that the G12 at it's widest setting gives the same FOV as would a 28mm lens that was fitted to a 35mm film camera, or “full frame” sensor. Focal lengths 35mm and below are considered wide-angle, so that means the G12 is able to take wide-angle photos with no trouble.
However, here are a few things to consider:
  • Remember how your scuba instructor told you that everything looks 25% bigger underwater? That is due to the refractive index of water, which is a thicker medium than air. The same applies to the camera lens, so effectively the widest FOV for the G12 underwater decreases to a FOV of 35mm, which is right at the limit for wide-angle focal lengths. 

  • Having a more narrow FOV almost always requires the photographer to back away from the subject to frame it properly. This means there is more water between the camera and the subject. Water is a good absorber of light, which will likely result in a loss of color and detail in the image. 

Despite having these ‘handicaps,’ it is still possible to take great wide-angle shots with the G12. It is essential to have the correct camera settings for the various shooting scenarios that will be encountered.

Ambient Light Wide Angle

Entering the water with just the G12 and it's underwater housing, the best option is to take photos using the available light around. This is because the built-in flash unit on the G12 is too weak to adequately light up the subject in most cases, and using the built-in flash also greatly increases the possibility of backscatter showing on the image. This means we want to be able to capture as much ambient light as possible for the shot.
  • Set camera to normal mode.

  • To keep things simple set the G12 to Av mode with aperture set at f2.8. Let the camera do the thinking and focus on getting the subject in frame.

If you elect to set the camera settings manually:
  • Set aperture to f2.8. With wide-angle the depth of field, which is the distance between the nearest and farthest objects in an image that appear in focus, is much deeper than in macro mode. Thus we can leave the aperture at it's widest setting to capture as much light possible.

  • Set shutter to 1/60s. Keep in mind that we want to maximize light collection, so having a slow shutter speed helps immensely. According to the reciprocal rule, the slowest shutter speed that can be used while still achieving sharp images is 1/35s (not 1/28s!). Also remember that while diving it's hard to keep still, which adds to the camera shake, so a safe shutter speed would be 1/60s.

  • Set ISO to 80. Increasing the light sensitivity of the sensor would greatly assist in getting good exposure for the image. However, at this juncture let's leave the ISO dial alone.



Banded sea krait entering sardine school. Ambient light. Shot with manual mode at f3.2 and 1/320s. ISO at 400.


During the dive, start off by selecting a stationary subject like a sea fan. Snap a shot and see if the resulting image is too bright or too dark. If the exposure is not to your satisfaction here is what you can do:
  • If the image is too bright and almost everything in the image is more or less stationary, choose a smaller aperture setting to restrict the amount of light hitting the image sensor.

  • If there are moving objects like fish in the image, increasing shutter speed will be more suitable. A faster shutter speed decreases the amount of light received by the image sensor and helps to freeze motion so that moving objects can be captured in focus.

  • If the picture is still too dark, then its time to increase the ISO. A setting of up to ISO400 will produce acceptable images relatively free of noise in your image.



A giant manta ray about to commence its barrel roll. Ambient light and ISO 80. Shot with manual mode at f8 and 1/80s.
A major drawback of using ambient light for wide-angle photography is that it works best at shallow depths. At deeper depths there is less ambient light available and increasing the ISO past a certain setting will result in images that are too grainy. In this case we need to consider adding external flash units, or underwater strobes, to our setup.

Using Strobes for Wide-Angle Photography

Strobes help provide light where it is not available to get a perfect exposure underwater.  When shooting macro, the light is focused on the subject and due to the narrow FOV light is concentrated in a small space. In wide-angle photography the FOV is much wider, so the strobes need to light up as much space in front of the lens as possible. In this case employing more than one strobe in your underwater setup is desirable, but it still possible to get great shots with a single strobe.

Single Strobe Setup

  • Place the strobe as high as possible, directly above the camera housing but behind the lens, as seen here.

  • Set strobe power to full.

  • Set camera to Av mode with aperture set at f5.6. Now that you have a reliable light source, a smaller aperture can be used so more of the image can be in focus.

  • If in full manual mode, leave aperture at f5.6 and set shutter speed to 1/60s. 

  • Set ISO to 80.



School of anchovies. Taken with single Sea and Sea YS-110a at ISO 80. Shot with manual mode at f7.2 and 1/100s.

Double Strobe Setup

Having two strobes at your disposal affords you the most flexibility in terms of lighting. A double strobe setup allows the photographer to get a good exposure in all areas of the image. In contrast, a single strobe setup may see the image experiencing light falloff towards the edges of the image, especially if the subject is particularly large. 
  • Position the strobes as far out to both sides of the lens port of the camera housing, care being taken to position the strobes face behind the lens port. A safe method is to place both strobe faces flush with the shutter button on the camera housing.

  • Set strobe power to full.

  • Set aperture to f5.6. You can choose a smaller aperture like f8 to get better depth of field.

  • Shutter speed can be set at 1/125s.  

  • Set ISO to 80.



School of jacks. Taken with twin Sea and Sea ys-110a at ISO 200. Shot with manual mode at f5.6 and 1/400s.

During the Dive

  • Find a relatively flat spot on the reef and take a test shot with the camera lens parallel to the reef. Take the shot at a distance of approximately two to three meters from the reef.

  • Check the image on the LCD screen to see if parts of the shot are too dark or bright. If one side of the image is too bright, angle the strobe of the corresponding side slightly away from the reef. Conversely, angle the strobe slightly inwards if the area of the image is too dark.

  • Check for signs of backscatter on the test images. In wide-angle images they tend to be at the edges of the image. Pull the strobes slightly backwards towards you if backscatter is spotted. 

  • If blue-water diving where there are no surfaces for test images, adjust the strobes for backscatter first. Traces of backscatter can also be a good indicator of an area that is too bright and the strobes can be adjusted accordingly. 



Schools of pomfret, fusilier and anchovy. Taken with twin Sea and Sea ys-110a at ISO 200. Shot on manual mode at f8 and 1/320s.
Notice that the strobe settings are always fixed at full power. This is because water absorbs light very efficiently, and with wide-angle photography covering a much larger area than macro shooting its imperative that as much light as possible is provided for a good exposure. In this case it is easier to control exposure with camera settings than reaching out to adjust strobe power. Strobe power can be adjusted if camera controls cannot give you the exposure you desire.
The ISO settings can be a useful ally in getting good exposure, especially in shots that require a deep depth of field with subjects moving rapidly. For example, a camera setting of aperture f8 and shutter speed of 1/250 to shoot a fast moving school of fish might be too underexposed, even with the best efforts of the strobes. Dialing up the light sensitivity of the image sensor will help immensely to get a good exposure. Increasing ISO will increase noise, meaning the image quality will suffer as it becomes “grainy”. However, the G12 can produce acceptable images up to ISO 800, so the limit is set at ISO400. At ISO400 the noise level is so slight it is only apparent when the image is viewed at high magnifications.

Wide Angle Conversion Lenses

A focal length of 35mm is adequate for wide-angle photography in most situations. However, the name of the game when shooting wide-angle is to get as close to the subject as possible, so there is always a desire to go wider. There are several advantages to this:
  • A wider FOV means you can “get more in,” which expands your creative options when composing the image.
  • It allows the photographer to get closer to the subject and still be able to keep the subject in frame. 
  • Getting closer means there is less water between the lens and the subject. The lens will be able to capture more detail and colors will be more vivid.
“Traditional” compacts like the G12 have fixed lenses, so the only way we can achieve a wider FOV is by adding wide-angle conversion lenses in front of the lens. There are a plethora of wide-angle options for compact cameras for various housings at different price points. The main categories are introduced below:

“Wet” Wide-Angle Lenses

  • Wet lenses require a film of water between it and the camera lens to function properly. This means the lens can be mounted during the dive. 

  • A lens adaptor may be needed to mount the conversion lens onto your housing.

  • They offer great versatility as the photographer can switch between shooting wide angle and macro during a dive.

  • They are the most economical among wide-angle options.

  • Due to the design of the lens port of some G12 camera housings, adding on a wide angle conversion lens may result in the image being vignetted, which means black areas appearing in the resulting image. This is due to the lens port having to accommodate the full zoom of the lens and so when a wide-angle lens is mounted, part of the increase in “wideness” is obscured by the lens port.  There are solutions to this problem like being able to change to a shorter lens port. Such options, however, are available to high-end underwater housings like Recsea, where a customized port for the G12 housing to fit wide angle lenses without vignette is manufactured by Dyron.


“Dry” Wide Angle Lenses

  • They have to be mounted onto the camera housing before the dive and cannot be removed until after the dive. 

  • These lenses tend to be more expensive and are available mainly to more high-end third party camera housings. 

  • Most housing manufacturers have their own proprietary methods to mount dry lenses onto their housings so the choice of brand to house your camera becomes more important.

  • Dry lenses also tend to give better image quality, and will most likely give you less blurring at the edges of your image.


Whale shark. Taken with ambient light. Shot with manual mode at f3.5 and 1/160s.



Dome Ports

  • Dome ports can be mounted over the camera lens or over an already mounted  “dry” wide angle conversion lens to help retain their “wideness” underwater. 

  • Domes are made of acrylic or glass. Glass is more resistant to scratches but also more expensive.

  • Some dome ports allow you to achieve a circular image, which can be artistically pleasing if done right.



Fusiliers under a jetty. Taken with twin Sea and Sea ys-110a at ISO 200. Shot on manual mode at f7.1 and 1/160s. Dyron 8mm fisheye port.



Manta ray. Taken with Single Inon d2000 and Single Sea and Sea ys-17 at ISO 80. Shot with manual mode at f6.3 and 1/200s. Dyron 8mm fisheye port.

There are some points to note when using wide-angle conversion lenses:
  • Achieving a wider FOV means you will have to adjust your strobes to light up the wider area received by your image sensor. This is especially important for divers using wet lenses in their setup, as you may mount them during the dive. 

  • Using wide-angle lenses will “stretch” your depth of field, but this also expands the areas in your image that are out of focus, in other words blurred. This means that more of the area around the edges of the photo may be blurred. To avoid this it is necessary to set your aperture to a higher f-stop. Depending on what wide-angle lens is used on the G12, an aperture setting of f6.3 and above should be enough to counter this.


Common Wide-Angle Opportunities

The range of subjects that are suitable for wide-angle photography is very broad, ranging from beautiful reefs to schooling pelagic fish to enormous subjects like whales, and we have only touched on the living creatures! There are also interesting wrecks and other subjects like cave systems that are just waiting for a photographer to document them. All these different scenarios may require different settings and techniques but some themes are common throughout:
  • Only in a few cases does the photographer shoot images at a downward angle. One of the features of wide angle photography is the deep depth of field that can be achieved, which means the background chosen can enhance the aesthetics of image. Shooting towards the depths usually makes for a dull image, so photographers tend to angle the shot from at least an eye level and up towards the water surface. The image can then incorporate backgrounds lit up by the ambient light and make the photo more “3D.”
  • Composition of an image in wide-angle situations usually involves a prominent background. The subject is still the most important aspect of the image, but having a nice background like a nice sunburst or a wreck will make the resulting image more dramatic and pleasing to the eye. If a strong background is not available to the photographer the next best alternative is to use the water as the background and achieve a nice “blue.”
Let us now look at some wide angle scenarios and explore how to achieve that perfect shot!

Reef -Scape Shots

  • Take note of prominent features on the reef like large barrel sponges or huge sea fans, they can make great subjects to focus on.

  • Without going into specifics about composition, try to place your subject off center and slightly upwards to either side, if possible pointing the camera towards the surface of the water.

  • If there are reef fishes in sufficient quantities around, frame the subject and be patient until they start to make unique forms, like fmost of them swimming in one direction. This helps to make the image more interesting and dramatic.



Reef scape. Taken with Single Inon d2000 and Single Sea and Sea ys-17 at ISO 80. Shot with manual mode at f4 and 1/200s. Dyron 8mm fisheye port.



Reef scape with diver. Taken with Single Inon d2000 and Single Sea and Sea ys-17 at ISO 80. Shot with manual mode at f7.1 and 1/160s. Dyron 8mm fisheye port.


Shooting Schooling Fishes

  • Patience is the key in such situations. Refrain from rushing towards the subjects when you have spotted them. Hover around and observe their behavior while they get used to your presence and realize you are not a threat. If they move away and disappear into the blue do not go after them. There will be other opportunities.

  • Be on the look-out for photo opportunities. Schools of fish can form unique forms from any perspective at a moment’s notice. 

  • Predict as best you can their movements so you can position yourself in front of the school. Head-on shots definitely trump “tail” shots.

  • Be mindful of shutter lag. Unlike dSLRs, with compact cameras there is an appreciable delay from when the shutter button is depressed to when the picture is actually taken. This means we have to anticipate to some degree how the subject is going to behave. Learning to account for this will take some time, but it will help you get better shots. 



Fusiliers around a jetty pylon. Taken with twin Sea and Sea ys-110a at ISO 200. Shot on manual mode at f7.1 and 1/50s.



Reef Sharks

  • Upon encountering a reef shark, stop and hover for a few minutes. Chances are the shark will return to check you out.

  • Reef sharks may shelter in caves during the day and hunt at night, so local knowledge of where these caves are will help you ensure a shark shooting opportunity.

  • Sharks are inquisitive but tend not to get too close, so again patience and some luck is needed. Have your camera ready at all times and be mindful of shutter lag!



White-tip reef shark. Taken with twin Sea and Sea ys-110a at ISO 200. Shot on manual mode at f3.5 and 1/100s.



Turtles, Squids and Cuttlefish

  • When any of these subjects are spotted it is prudent to halt your advance and wait for awhile. They have already noted your presence and may just be a flutter kick away from taking flight.

  • Slowly creep up to them and control your breathing, all the while having your camera ready to shoot. The aim is to let the subject know that the photographer and more importantly the camera pointed at them is not hostile.

  • While using dome ports, turtles may mistake the reflection of themselves on the dome port as another turtle and “attack’ the dome. Stay calm and at the same time snap off as many shots possible. Some of the shots may be nice enough to count as a good close-focus wide-angle shot!



Hawksbill turtle. Taken with Single Inon d2000 and Single Sea and Sea ys-17 at ISO 80. Shot with manual mode at f8 and 1/250s. Dyron 8mm fisheye port.


Other Divers

Let's not forget our dive buddies! Scuba diving is definitely more enjoyable when other divers are around to share experiences. Photos of your dive buddies definitely form an integral part of your underwater memories. Diver portraits can be categorized into candid and posed shots:
  • Candid shots usually have the diver being the subject unknowingly during the course of his or her dive.

  • The best time to take candid shots is while the diver is observing the reef or during safety stops. That is usually when their movements are relatively slow and so easier to capture.

  • The biggest challenge is to shoot the image when the subject is in a beautiful form. Most divers are not models trained in posing for underwater photos, so this may get frustrating at times.



Diver getting ready to shoot. Taken with twin Sea and Sea ys-110a at ISO 80. Shot on manual mode at f8 and 1/160s. Dyron 8mm fisheye port.
  • For posed shots, sunbursts are a great background to frame divers in. Other suitable backgrounds include schooling fish and wrecks. 

  • If a good background is not available, I find it better to have a dark background to keep the diver in focus.

  • Good communication is needed between the subject and the photographer. Since this can be limited while underwater, most of the time it's up to the subject to decide how he or she wants to be taken.



Diver posing. Taken with twin Sea and Sea ys-110a at ISO 80. Shot on manual mode at f8 and 1/160s. Dyron 8mm fisheye port.

The Canon G12, like every compact on the market, has certain limitations when shooting wide-angle images. However, with the sharpest lens ever mounted on a compact, coupled with the right 3rd party wide-angle conversion lenses, it becomes a force to be reckoned with. In addition, the G12 has a dedicated dial for all three parameters of aperture, shutter speed and ISO, making adjustments a breeze compared to it's competitors. Along with superb image quality, the Canon G12 makes a compelling case as one of the most versatile underwater compacts around.


About the Author:

Victor Tang runs a small dive travel company, Wodepigu Water Pixel, that in addition to the usual places like Manado and Bali endeavours to bring divers to some of the more exotic and harder to reach dive locations in Southeast Asia.


Further Reading:


Support the Underwater Photography Guide

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


Taking Macro Shots Underwater with the Canon G12

Victor Tang
How to get a perfect macro shot using the Canon G12 compact camera

Taking Macro Shots Underwater with the Canon G12

Part I in a series about the Canon G12 compact camera: How to get a perfect macro shot

by Victor Tang



Since the introduction of the Canon Powershot G9 and it's associated underwater housing the WP-DC21, the G series of cameras have fast become the compact of choice for many scuba enthusiasts seeking their first foray into underwater photography. With it's affordability, excellent image quality and great ergonomics that allow an exceptional amount of manual control, many first time buyers find the G series a great learning platform before graduating to DSLRs. After shooting with the G11 and G12 for close to two years now, I have many tips and tricks that can help you capture hat perfect photo.

The latest variant of the G series, the G12, arguably encapsulates the yardstick against all the other premium compact cameras. While retaining all the desirable qualities of the G11, the G12 now has a dial at the front of the camera. This means that there is now a dedicated control surface for aperture, shutter speed, ISO and exposure, which allow true full manual controls that some DSLRs simply don't live up to. Additionally, the G12 features video recording in HD 720p resolution, so users can try their hand at underwater videography as well. Many underwater housing manufacturers have caught on to the camera’s popularity, so there are a whole plethora of housings, lenses and accessories to suit every budget, which will help the user get the best out of this awesome camera.
The G12 is an excellent choice for taking macro subjects underwater, because beneath the apparent specifications of the camera there are a few features worthy of mention:

The Lens

The G12 is equipped with one of the sharpest lenses ever put on a compact camera. The fact that this lens has been used on the G series since the G10 and still holding it's own against the competition is a testament to it's optical quality. 

Focusing Distance

The closest focusing distance on the G12 is 1cm. That means if you place the lens of your camera 1cm away from the subject, with the lens at it's WIDEST setting, it will still be able to autofocus on the subject and give a sharp image. This is a very handy feature to have in your arsenal, because although you hardly ever go so close to a subject in real world shooting, such a close focus distance means you can concentrate on getting the subject in the frame and getting a good composition at realistic distances (5cm or more) without worrying about your image not being in focus. Zooming all the way in on the subject actually gives a smaller focused image than if it was left at the widest setting, because the minimum focusing distance increases to 30cm.

Getting Ready to Shoot

Once you have your G12 and your housing, it’s time to go take some pictures! Let's start from the beginning and assume that all you have is a camera, underwater housing and a great desire to take some beautiful shots underwater. That leaves you with two choices: not using the built-in flash for ambient light photography, or using the camera flash to illuminate your subject. There are some focus settings that will apply to both ways of shooting which include:
  • AF Frame set to Flexizone
  • Digital Zoom set to OFF
  • AF-Point Zoom set to ON
  • Servo AF set to OFF
  • Continuous AF set to ON
  • AF-assist beam set to OFF
  • MF-Point Zoom set to OFF
  • Spot AE point set to AF POINT
With these settings you will be ready for almost any situation (or subject) that you may encounter.

Ambient Light Macro

  • Turn on macro mode! You would be surprised how often this seemingly-obvious step is overlooked.
  • Set the ISO to 400. Not utilizing a flash means we need to make use of the available light around us to illuminate the subject. Increasing the light sensitivity of your image sensor will greatly help your shot exposure. Turning up the ISO will induce more noise in your images but for the G12 at ISO400 the increase in noise is almost imperceptible.
  • Switch to Av Mode. This means you set the aperture manually and leave the other settings like the shutter speed up to the camera to decide the optimum exposure. This allows you to concentrate on framing the shot. 
  • Set your aperture to f5.6. Although f8 gives the sharpest image, I find that the camera will almost always choose a shutter speed slow enough to see the effects of camera shake. Camera shake is more pronounced during scuba diving because the diver is floating and moving all the time. I find that f5.6 offers the best compromise between image sharpness and preventing camera shake.
Red lizardfish. Ambient light. Av mode at f5.6 at ISO400. 1/125s.

Macro with Camera Flash

  • Set ISO to 80. Now that you have the help of flash to illuminate your subject you can dial down the sensitivity of the image sensor to reduce noise in your shot and get better image quality. 
  • Use the diffuser provided with the underwater housing. Due to the design of underwater housings for the G12 the flash from the camera will be blocked by the front port of the housing, which gives a pronounced light falloff from the middle of the image onwards. Using the diffuser would somewhat mitigate the problem but will not fully solve it.
  • Set your flash mode to ON.
  • Stick to Av Mode. However you can now set your aperture to f8. Another advantage of using Av mode is that when depressing the shutter fully to take a shot, the camera will set off a pre-flash to determine the best flash power for perfect exposure.
  • If you wish you can try setting the shutter speed manually. I would suggest an initial setting of 1/125, reducing the shutter speed if the exposure is too dark or vice versa.

Blue spotted stingray. Shot with camera flash on. Av mode at f5.6 at ISO400. 1/60s.



Now with Strobes

One possible drawback of using camera flash to illuminate the subject is that you are more likely to get backscatter in the images. This is attributed to the particles in front of and behind the subject, which may be lit up, resulting in reflections picked up by the image sensor. This causes the “snowfall” effect on the image, which is usually undesirable.  
Its not possible to change the direction of the flash built into your camera, and as far as I know there are no compacts currently in the market or in the pipeline that will come with a swivel built-in flash. So we will have to rely on external flash units known as underwater strobes. Strobes help us control the direction and intensity of the light falling on the subject. Not only can they help minimize backscatter and illuminate your subject adequately, they also allow you to control where the light is coming from, which allows the photographer to explore a myriad of creative opportunities to capture stunning images.
The issue of strobe positioning has been talked to death, and while some strobe positions have gained traction among the majority of photographers, there is almost always more than one option applicable to every photo opportunity. Instead of agonizing and arguing about what ultimate strobe position to adopt, the focus should instead be on making your camera as “macro-friendly” as possible before and during the dive.

Before the Dive


Setting your Operational Distance  

As mentioned earlier, the G12 can focus up to 1cm from the subject at it's widest setting, but the minimum focusing distance increases to 30cm all the way to 50cm when it is zoomed in. You can take effective camera shots 50cm away, but do remember that at longer focal lengths the risk of compromising the shot due to camera shake increases. With that in mind:
  • Find a nice flat surface in the shade, place your G12 rig on one end, and a small non-reflective object about 35cm away on the other.
  • Choose your preferred strobe position and adjust till the strobe lights directly face your object. If your strobe has a focus light, use it for greater accuracy.
  • Set ISO at 80, aperture to f8 and shutter speed to 1/250.
  • Set your strobe power to a quarter of it's power. Take test shots and adjust the strobe position accordingly until the object is well illuminated.
The reason why it is suggested to setup the camera to illuminate the subject at that distance is because in real world shooting, focusing distances on the G12 range from between 5-25cm. You go closer to the subject than ‘intended,' thus making more use of the edges of the flash emitted rather than getting the full-on blast from the strobe. Termed “edge lighting,” images illuminated this way tend to look more natural, and more importantly it reduces the chances of backscatter showing up on your shot. This is not an exact science, but I find it a good way to start off.

Golden mantis shrimp. Taken with single Inon D2000 at ISO80. Shot with manual mode at f8 and 1/250s.



During the Dive


Tweaking Strobe Power


Water is a great absorber of light, which is why at depths above 15 meters things tend to get dark pretty fast. Light emitted from the strobe also gets absorbed, which means strobe power settings that might be perfect for shooting at 15 meters may not work at 25 meters. Now that we have our strobe positions more or less set, let's worry more about getting the right amount of light on your subject.

Here’s what you can do:
  • When you have descended to about half of your planned maximum depth, pick one spot on the reef or wall, with the camera at full zoom and strobe(s) at half power, take a test shot. 
  • Adjust strobe power if necessary and repeat the process until you are happy with the exposure.
  • Take test shots again when you have reached your maximum depth and adjust strobe power until you get the right exposure.
As light conditions change, take test shots as you see fit. A little preparation goes a long way to help you save time on the technicalities.
Fire goby. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea YS-110a at ISO80. Shot with manual mode at f8 and 1/250s. 
You may have noticed that I am concentrating most of my efforts on controlling strobe power and not changing the aperture or shutter speed of the camera. In fact, I am mainly fiddling with my strobes underwater. Camera settings only matter if you can make out what the image is, so getting the lighting right is a top priority when doing underwater photography. Taking pictures underwater is essentially capturing images in a sub-optimal light environment, so we are compensating all the time. If the picture is too bright or too dark you will not be able to see that great sunburst captured with that high shutter speed or that shallow depth of field that only allows the fish’s eye to be in focus. Get the lighting right first so that you can fully showcase all your artistic and aesthetic talents.

White Balance

At this juncture it's time to introduce another powerful weapon in the G12’s arsenal: the shortcut button. This can be set to custom white balance. Different parts of the light spectrum gets absorbed as it goes through water, especially red light, which explains the blue-ish tinge we get on some underwater shots. The auto white balance on the G12 is adequate and light from the strobes can mitigate the problem to a certain extent, but knowing how to set your own white balance can save you a lot of time on post-processing. This could influence your decision to discard that great shot because the color might be “off.” 
Setting custom white balance is easy:
Go into the camera settings menu and set the shortcut button to custom white balance. 
With every 5-8 meters change in your depth, point your camera at a white surface like a slate and press the shortcut button. The camera will take a shot, analyze it and adjust the white balance in the camera. You could also use a white patch of sand on the reef or the palm of your hand to achieve this.
One drawback of using custom white balance is that you will need to be mindful of changes to your depth between shots, or you may get a red or green tinged image popping up on your screen.

Using Macro Lenses

As one progresses in macro photography, smaller and smaller subjects will begin to appear on your radar. You may want to focus on the blooming gills of a nudibranch, or wish you could fill more of the pygmy seahorse in the frame, sadly realizing that even after your best efforts the pygmy seahorse can’t get any bigger in your image. The lack of magnification for macro is one of the shortfalls of compact cameras, and although the G12 is as capable as they come for macro shooting in compacts, it does need some extra help when taking small subjects. That’s when external macro lenses come to the rescue!
Macro lenses are essentially magnifying glasses that you put in front of your lens to get better magnification. They help obtain greater magnification than your camera can do alone, and add more versatility to the type of shots you can achieve. However, there are some caveats to using macro lenses:
  • You will need a lens adapter. There are many adapters that suit different housings, so obtaining one should not be a problem.
  • Autofocus is disabled. The camera lens is meant to focus within certain parameters. Adding a macro lens will throw it off, so that means you will have to manually focus with your eyes, essentially moving the camera back and forth until a clear crisp picture appears on your LCD screen.
  • The working distance becomes shorter. Using macro lenses means you will have to move closer to the subject to achieve focus. This can be a challenge for subjects that are shy or skittish.
  • Depth of field decreases, meaning the distance between the nearest and farthest objects in a scene becomes narrower. In this situation you would need to be careful of the parts of the image that you would like to be in focus.



Pygmy seahorse. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea YS-110a at ISO80. Shot with manual mode at f8 and 1/250s. With Subsee +10 macro lens.
There are many upsides to using macro lenses:
  • The subject can be captured in more detail. For example, now the rhinophores (horns) of a nudibranch can be captured in greater detail, or the O-shaped mouth of pygmy seahorse.
  • Portrait shots of small subjects are possible. Few people have seen such creatures up close before, making your photos more dramatic.
  • There is less ambient light to wreck havoc on your image. Consequently there is less chance of backscatter.
  • Shallow depth of field, if used creatively, can be aesthetically pleasing. 



Hypselodoris zephyra. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea YS-110a at ISO80. Shot with manual mode at f8 and 1/250s. With Dyron +7 macro lens. Notice the more shallow depth of field.

Which Macro Lens to Use?

There are many macro lenses to choose from, the biggest differentiating factor being it's magnification power. This can range from +2, having a relatively small magnification, all the way to a +10, which can achieve magnifications that can make the subject look larger than its actually is. There are mathematical formulas for this that are meaningless underwater, so your judgment will have to come into play. What you’ll need to do is to take time to analyze the subject and it's size, decide how you want to take a picture of it, which determines how much magnification you need or if you need to add a macro lens at all.
After some trial and error I have come up with a personal rule of thumb when using the G12, by literally using my thumb:
  • If the subject is noticeably bigger than my thumb, I would try not to use any macro lenses and rely on the close focus distance of the G12. For portraits and specific parts of the subject I may choose magnification power up to +7.
  • If the subject is around the size of my thumb, I would add a +5 lens for profile shots and a minimum power of +7 for portraits.
  • If the subject is much smaller than my thumb, I most probably would go straight for a +7 lens at least and may even use a +10. Sometimes I even stack lenses on top of each other to do supermacro.
These guidelines are not scientific, but could be good for starters. It does help me streamline my decisions underwater for my thumb is always at hand for comparisons should I need them.
Eggs of the false clownfish. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea YS-110a at ISO80. Shot with manual mode at f8 and 1/250s. With Subsee +10 and Dyron +7 stacked together. The depth of field is so shallow that only a few eggs in the center are in focus.
The G12 can almost be considered a poor man’s dSLR, with it's relatively compact size, superb image quality and wealth of aftermarket accessories, making it a very compelling choice from beginners to serious hobbyists alike. It's not perfect, but when it comes to taking macro shots underwater the G12 is without a doubt the best in it's class. 


About the Author:

Victor Tang runs a small dive travel company, Wodepigu Water Pixel, that in addition to the usual places like Manado and Bali endeavours to bring divers to some of the more exotic and harder to reach dive locations in Southeast Asia.


Further Reading:


Support the Underwater Photography Guide

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


Diagonal Underwater Composition

Scott Gietler
This guide offers tips, tricks and instruction on how to take underwater photos with diagonal composition

Diagonal Underwater Composition

Part II in a series on composition: tips and tricks on how to take the perfect diagonal shot

by Scott Gietler



Shooting a photo diagonally allows it to be seen from an interesting, sometimes unexpected perspective, which can add a unique element to your shot. This second part in our series on underwater composition will provide tips and tricks on how to get the perfect diagonal shot!

The trick with this kind of composition is twisting your camera just right so that your subject extends from one corner to the other. It is best to choose subjects that are long and thin.


This photo is a good example of diagonal composition for a few reasons. First, it features a very nice subject in the foreground, a classic close focus wide angle shot. Second, the position of the kelp in the bottom left corner looks great. However, it would be better if the top of the kelp had reached more precisely into the upper right corner, surrounded by water.

NIkon D300, Tokina 10-17mm fisheye, F13, 1/320th, ISO 250


Here we have an excellent example. With this particular photo, it is better that the pier piling does not fully reach to the top left corner. The top is surrounded by water, making a great composition. The bottom part of the pier piling sits perfectly in the bottom left corner of the shot.   

NIkon D300, Tokina 10-17mm fisheye, F8, 1/250th, ISO 400


Here is an example that is almost right but not quite! It would be better if the camera was shifted so that the upper part of the wire coral sat more precisely in the corners. 

NIkon D300, Nikon 105mm VR lens, F20, 1/200th, ISO 320


This shot works because of the numerous leading lines (lines that lead to the subject). Here we are breaking the rule of having the subject reach exactly from corner to corner. The diagonal composition makes the photo much more interesting than if it had been shot horizontally.  

NIkon D300, Nikon 60mm lens, F13, 1/320th, ISO 250


This is a classic example of perfect diagonal composition! The subject is reaching from corner to corner and is surrounded by water. 

NIkon D300, Nikon 60mm lens, F14, 1/250th, ISO 200


Here is an example of a shot that many people would take horizontally or vertically. By placing the subjects' heads as close to the corner as possible, we are giving this photo a nice twist (literally!). 

NIkon D300, Nikon 60mm lens, F20, 1/320th, ISO 400


Further Reading


Support the Underwater Photography Guide

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


Utilizing Instant Recall Modes on your dSLR

Michael Zeigler
Awesome photographic opportunities sometimes present themselves unexpectedly. Best be prepared by using your Instant Recall Modes!

Take Advantage of Instant Recall Modes

Be prepared for that unexpected opportunity by programming your dSLR mode dial

By Michael Zeigler


Having recently acquired a Nikon D7000, I was eager to delve into the owner's manual to discover all things new.  I just can't seem to put down manuals for some reason, and prefer that type of reading to anything else.  Perhaps it's the scientist in me.  My wife, a high school English teacher, just thinks I'm crazy.  But I digress...


This interest in utilizing the user settings on my D7000 arose before a recent diving adventure to the oil rigs off the coast of Long Beach, CA.  I have dived the rigs several times before, and know that being in the middle of the ocean, just about anything could meander by.  A few months prior, our trip to the rigs was called off due to two things:

  1. Dense fog.
  2. Oil rig crew members spotted an 18' great white circling the rigs in search of a sea lion snack.

Ok, I could live with moving on to another dive site.  I did, however, I think to myself, "Wow, it would be incredible (and terrifying) to see a white shark while diving the rigs."  I needed to be prepared for this chance encounter with a turn of a knob on my Sea&Sea D7000 housing.


Mode dial on my Nikon D7000 showing the U1 and U2 settings.


Utilizing customized tools on your dSLR

One of the coolest features I've grown to love are, as Nikon calls them, User Settings (U1 & U2).  Canon also has them on some dSLR models like the 7D.  Canon refers to them as custom mode settings (C1, C2, C3). For the purposes of this article, I will refer to them as Instant Recall Modes (IRMs).

The awesome thing about these IRMs, is that it's almost like having two (or three) cameras in one, each one instantly presenting itself at the turn of a dial.  Sweet!  Once you've programmed a particular spot on the dial, all you have to do is turn it back at any time, even after you've turned off the camera, and you're ready to rock!

I have my U1 set to my default underwater wide-angle settings.  So, after spending some time topside photographing our newborn daughter in Aperture Priority mode, I just turn the dial to U1 and I'm ready to hop on a boat and shoot wide-angle.  No more remembering all the settings.  Awesomeness!


My U1 settings for underwater wide-angle

  • Manual Mode
  • 1/125
  • F8
  • ISO 100
  • Single spot focus (I prefer 11-points instead of all 39)
  • Center-weighted metering (6mm)
  • AF-S
  • Assign AE-L/AF-L button: AF-ON (I use this for all my underwater shooting)
  • Change main/sub: ON


Control panel view of my starting wide-angle settings described above.


Now, in the process of previsualizing a chance encounter with a white shark on my trip to the oil rigs, I decided on the bank of settings below.  Even though I didn't see one, I knew I was ready with the simple turn of a knob.


My U2 settings for wide-angle (for unexpected pelagic sightings)

  • Aperture Priority Mode
  • F8
  • Minimum shutter speed set to 1/125 (to capture the action)
    • this will only drop below 1/125 when the ISO needs to increase beyond 6400 or whatever you set for Max ISO
  • Auto-ISO (set up to 6400)
  • Auto-point focus
  • AF-C
  • Matrix metering
  • Assign AE-L/AF-L button: AF-ON
  • Change main/sub: OFF


Control panel view of my starting wide-angle settings for capturing an unexpected pelagic sighting as described above.


On a recent Underwater Photography Guide and Bluewater Photo workshop to the Sea of Cortez, many of our dives were spent snorkeling with whale sharks.  In order to capture these large pelagics in shallow, sunny waters, some of us set our cameras to the settings I've listed below.  Instead of having to remember these settings after spending time shooting macro or "regular" wide-angle, it would have been great to just turn the dial and be ready to go! (My Nikon D90 did not have IRMs).


Example settings for shooting whale sharks in La Paz

  • Aperture Priority Mode
  • F11
  • Autofocus Mode: AF-C
  • AF-Area Mode: Auto-area
  • AF Release mode: CL at 3fps
  • ISO: 640
  • EV: -1

Whale shark in La Paz.  The reflection of our boat can be seen in the upper left.  Nikon D90 and Tokina 10-17mm lens.  Aperture Priority mode, F11, 1/400, ISO 640.

How to set your Instant Recall Modes

Please refer to your camera's user  manual for more detailed information, as the following only pertains to the Nikon D7000.  The U1 and U2 modes are really easy to set via the camera's menu. For D7000 users, simply go to Menu - Setup - Save user settings - Select U1 or U2 - Save settings. The camera's settings are now burnt into that spot on the dial.

*Super Sweet* Nikon's U1 and U2 settings save whatever tweaks you make to them, even if you turn off the power. For example, if I'm shooting wide-angle and need to bump up my ISO for the day to ISO 400, that change will remain even after turning my camera off in-between dives. To return to my default settings, I simply move the mode dial to another setting, then back to U1.  Awe...wait for it...some!  Yes, I say 'awesome' a lot.


Some aspects that your dSLR will not remember are listed below.  I really don't think these are at the forefront of concern for many underwater photographers, but I wanted to mention them anyway.

Settings that your dSLR will NOT remember:

  • File naming
  • Storage folder
  • Managing Picture Control
  • Multiple exposure
  • Interval timer shooting
  • Auto ISO (Canon only)
  • 'Tweaks' made to your IRMs when you power off your camera (Canon only)


I include "Save user settings" under My Menu so that I can make permanent adjustments to U1 and U2 and save the new settings easily.  The menu settings above are my basic settings for shooting wide-angle underwater.


Just another tool for your underwater photography

"A photographer went to a socialite party in New York. As he entered the front door, the host said ‘I love your pictures – they’re wonderful; you must have a fantastic camera.’ He said nothing until dinner was finished, then: ‘That was a wonderful dinner; you must have a terrific stove.’"
                                                                                         – Sam Haskins

I think the quote above exemplifies utilizing these IRMs.  They are merely a tool which you, the artist, uses to create the image you have envisioned.  These custom settings are absolutely useless unless you make a conscious decision to add these to your toolbox. 

Previsualization has become a very important aspect to my approach to underwater photography.  It is the act of visualizing the subject, moment, and presentation (lighting, composition, background) you want to achieve on your next dive. Imagine your subject, think about its colors, textures, potential backgrounds, and behavior. Plan out the best way to accomplish your shot.

I will be using these IRMs in my previsualization process for future dive trips. They may or may not play a role in each adventure, but I will at least consider their use.  I encourage you to do the same.


About the author


Michael Zeigler is editor-at-large for 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

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


Further reading


Support the Underwater Photography Guide

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


Keeping Your Digital Images Safe

Todd Winner
Todd explains how to keep digital images and videos safe through backup hard drive storage.

Keeping Your Digital Images Safe

Learn how to protect your digital photographs by backing them up on an external hard drive

by Todd Winner



For the past fifteen or more years I have worked with literally hundreds of hard drives, both in my photography business and in my post-production business. One thing I can say with certainty is that all drives will eventually fail. One of the most dreaded phone calls is when a client has a hard drive failure and doesn't have a proper backup. The same is true with our digital images - I can't believe how many people keep their files on their computer and never backup to an external hard drive. Not only can your hard drive fail, but computers and hard drives can get stolen or damaged. Considering the expense that most of us spend on dive travel to take our photographs, backing up your images onto multiple drives is an inexpensive and valuable insurance.


So which backup system is best for you? 

In my opinion, everyone should have a minimum of one working drive and two backups for both long-term storage and travel. Why two backups? The only way your files are truly safe is to keep a backup in separate location, such as at your office. However, the problem with keeping a backup offsite is that it's hard to keep it updated. My solution is to rotate the backup drives every few weeks, or whenever you are adding a large amount of images to your library.  


Solutions for travel

Most of us travel with a laptop. If you have enough space on your laptop drive this can serve as your main drive. I also like to backup to two portable drives. Even though I can't usually keep one of the backups in another location, having my data on three drives is a small price to pay for the added security. Making backups can become time consuming with big files, so I often make the second backup at night. Lightroom allows me to copy to the main drive and a backup simultaneously on import, so I always have at least two copies before I reformat my camera's memory card. I have had excellent results with the Lacie Rugged Drives, as well as the G-Tech portable drives. If you don't shoot a ton of images, having multiple CF or SD cards is another viable solution, but solid state storage is much more expensive than hard drive storage.


Lacie Rugged and G-Tech portable drives.


G-Tech, Lacie and a Thermaltake BlacX drive dock.


Long-term storage

For long-term storage you can't go wrong with the JBOD (Just A Bunch of Drives) approach, or get a small desktop RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks). It all depends on how much data you need to maintain. If you are working with anything under two terabytes (TB), individual drives are a good solution. They are fairly inexpensive and can even be purchased without an enclosure and used in a drive dock. This is one of the most economical approaches for your backups. Above two TBs, you should consider investing in a RAID. RAIDs are made up of two or more drives and can have much larger storage capacity. Spreading the data across multiple drives typically gives you a faster read and write speed. This is not enormously important to still shooters but it is extremely important if you are working with large video files. RAIDs can also offer protection, which is one of the most compelling reasons to use them for long-term storage. Most RAID systems can be formatted to protect against one or more drive failures. RAIDs can be built with as few as two drives, but to see the real benefits of increased storage size and protection you should look for systems with four or more drive bays. I have had positive experiences with RAID systems from G-Tech, Caldigit and Drobo. One unique advantage of the Drobo system is that it is expandable, meaning that if you run out of room, simply pull out the smallest hard drive and replace it with a larger one and the system will rebuild itself with no loss of data and more storage space. The downside to this expandability is that they typically have a slower read and write speed than other RAID systems.



Drobo 4-bay, G-Raid and CalDigit VR desktop RAIDs.


As a photographer, I know that our photographs are some of our most valued possessions, and most of us would be devastated to lose all of those images. No matter what system you choose, the goal is to keep your files up-to-date and in multiple locations. Remember - having backup drives won't do you any good if you never back them up!


About the author

Todd Winner has traveled the world shooting underwater images. His work has be published in several magazines and web sites including, Sport Diver, Scuba Diving, Photographer, and Discovery. He has won numerous international awards for his underwater and travel photography. Be sure to join Todd on an upcoming Underwater Photography Guide workshop!  More of his underwater images can be seen at


Further reading


Support the Underwater Photography Guide

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


Face-on Composition

Scott Gietler
Another great approach to your underwater composition. This is the first part in a series on underwater composition.

Face-on Underwater Composition

Part I in a series on underwater photography composition

By Scott Gietler



Underwater macro photography is a wonderful hobby, and some photographers have turned an interest in photographing nudibranchs, crabs, shrimp or small fish into a lifetime pursuit.


Although settings and lighting can be fairly quickly mastered, composition is more of an art that takes practice and creative thinking. 

For some subjects, the composition possibilities are endless. In this series, I want to share a few of my favorite basic macro compositional themes, which will hopefully give you some ideas to help you create your own unique compositions underwater.


The Face-on composition

The key to the face-on composition is to get the subject directly facing you, with great eye contact. You should get on level or slightly lower than the subject, and the eyes or rhinophores should be in sharp focus. Fill most, but not all of the frame with the subject.

Use a shorter focal length like 40-60mm to get some of the background in the photo, and a longer focal length such as 100-105mm to isolate the subject more.

If your camera allows for moveable focus points, select single-point focus and move the focus point over the eyes / rhinophore of the subject. Use a small or large depth of field depending on the subject and background.

Your assignment - get in the water and try to get some excellent face-on compositions of your own! Later this month, we'll look at a second great theme for macro underwater photography.


Hopkin's Rose nudibranch.  60mm. F16, 1/100th, ISO 400. With nudibranchs, care must be taken not to over-expose the details in the rhinophores. Read about photographing nudibranchs.


Flamboyant cuttlefish. 60mm. F11, 1/200th, ISO 400


Pipefish. 60mm. F14, 1/320th, ISO 320. It may take several shots until you can see both eyes in the photo with a difficult subject like a pipefish.


Goby. 105mm. F22, 1/250th, ISO 500. This was taken with a +10 diopter. When shooting supermacro, even small apertures like F22 can blur the background.


Frogfish. 60mm. F14, 1/320th, ISO 320. Take the time to make sure photos like this are as symmetrical as possible.


Fringehead. 60mm. F20, 1/320th, ISO 100. 


Garibaldi. 60mm. F8, 1/320th, ISO 400


Kelp bass. Nikon 60mm + 1.4x teleconverter. F18, 1/250th, ISO 200


Goby. 105mm. F13, 1/125th, ISO 200


Gopher rockfish. G12 in an Ikelite underwater housing with an Inon UCL-165-M67 wet lens, single Ikelite DS-125 strobe.  F5.6, 1/250th, ISO 800.


Further reading



Support the Underwater Photography Guide

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



Guide to underwater video with the Canon 7D

Todd Winner
Guide to shooting underwater video with the Canon 7D or Canon T2i including settings, focusing and white balance

Guide to Shooting Underwater Video with Canon 7D

Exposure, settings, white balance and focusing tips

by Todd Winner



Canon's video has been embraced by cinematographers and filmmakers.  Never before have you been able to produce this type of quality with such a compact and affordable package.  At the heart of Canon's video is the much larger chip size of full frame on the 5D Mark II and the cropped sensor on the 7D.  These larger sensor's perform much better in low light than the smaller sensor's on most consumer and even professional camcorders.  Add to this the creative shallow depth of field possibilities and the huge range of quality glass you can put on these cameras, it is no wonder why these camera's have been so excepted by Hollywood. 

canon 7d underwater video settings

This would be a great scene to capture on video! Read on to find out how...


Not all video is created equal

Without getting to technical with this, it is important to know that not all video is the same.  There are the obvious frame size differences, the most common in HD being 720 and 1080, and different frame rates 23.98, 24, 25, 29.97, 50 and 60, etc.  But more importantly, is how your video is compressed.  All video camera's use compressed video except the most high end digital cinematography cameras.  The easiest way I think to explain this to a photographer is to think of a JPEG file.  You can have the same file size, but you can save it as a quality of 10 or 5.  The image would look very similar, but if you started heavy corrections on the smaller file it would fall apart much quicker.  The same is true with compressed video.  It is very important to expose it correctly so you don't have to do a lot of corrections in post.


Setting Exposure for video with the Canon 7D

If you set the 7D to anything other than manual it will function in full auto in the video mode.  It will choose the ISO, shutter speed and aperture for you.  I would suggest using manual.  First, start with your shutter speed.  You have a very limited range of shutter speeds in most cases.  If you want to create smooth motion it is best to start with a speed that doubles your frame rate.  This will give you smooth motion blur from frame to frame.  You can slow it down or speed it up by one stop but any faster and you risk getting a strobing effect.  This fast shutter speed effect is often used in war and action movies to freeze debris from mortar’s and explosions. 

Next, choose an aperture that will give you your desired depth of field.  With the extreme wide-angle lenses that many of us use underwater, these lenses produce a very large depth of field even at their widest aperture.  For more creative depth of field on land, the use of neutral density filters is often required. 

Third, there is your ISO.  This is going to be your main control for setting exposure in video mode.  Simply choose your shutter speed and aperture for your desired look and dial in your exposure using the ISO dial. 

Hybrid Mode:  If you want the convenience of auto exposure, but want the control of setting your own shutter speed and aperture, you can set your ISO to auto (aka Hybrid Mode).  Again this only works when you are manual mode otherwise all 3 controls will be chosen for you.  This setting actually works very well but your ISO will change if your scene changes from dark to bright.  These changes can be abrupt and not what you usually want in a continuous shot. 


White Balance for video

Getting your white balance correct when you shoot video is extremely important.  Unlike RAW files, the color information is burned into the video.  If you use auto white balance,  it will change depending on what is in the scene.  Although this may seem like a good thing, it makes it very difficult to cut together in post production.  The more common approach is to bring down a white balance card and set a custom white balance under the given lighting conditions.  I prefer to simply look at my LCD screen and dial in a color temperature that looks good to my eye using the Kelvin dial.



There is no auto focus in the video mode on a 7D so you must either manual focus or pre-focus before you start shooting.  For wide-angle, I usually pre-focus on my fin before shooting. 


Using the Canon T2i & T3i

The Canon T2i and T3i can also take great underwater video, and most of this article will apply to those cameras also.


Some final tips

I find it difficult to switch back and forth between shooting stills and video underwater.  I suggest dedicating a few dives just to video if you want to get the most out of your camera.  It is extremely versatile to have the option to shoot both with a single camera and has opened my eyes to new creative possibilities.  


Underwater Video of Sea Lions

Underwater video of a swimmer shot with the Canon 7D. Videos by Todd Winner


Where to Buy

The friendly team at Bluewater Photo & Video can assist you with Canon 7D settings, and help you choose the right housing, video & focus lights, macro lens, and more.


Further Reading

Ultimate guide to Canon 7D underwater settings

Underwater Video Tips

Amazing video footage from Howard Hall

Photographing Behavior Underwater

Scott Gietler
Learn some photo tips that can help you get some incredible underwater behavior photos on your next trip.

Photographing Behavior Underwater

Underwater photography tips for getting the best possible behavior shots on your next trip

Text and photos by Scott Gietler


One of my favorite underwater past times is trying to photograph marine life behavior. In this article I show some examples of my favorite behavior photos, and some tips that I've learned over the years in getting these kinds of shots. Everyone has their own methods, so I hope you share some of yours too!




underwater behavior photography

Very surprised cormorant, 80ft deep on an oil rig in Southern California. D300, Tokina 10-17mm. F8, 1/25th, ISO 250. Having my settings and focus ready for the unexpected helped with this shot. He was swimming down hunting for fish, when he was very surprised to notice me down there! That particular rig rarely had divers on it, I was on a trip to take some photographs for rockfish research and Milton Love's new book.


underwater behavior photography

Trumpetfish having a treat on a reef in Anilao, Philippines. D300, 60mm lens. Paying attention to the dive guide, and carefully framing the shot were important. I was shocked when the other members of my group took one quick shot of this behavior, and then swam away.


underwater behavior photography

Sweetlips getting cleaned by two wrasse at the same time on the Liberty Wreck in Bali. Nikon D300, Tokina 10-17mm lens. F7, 1/320th, ISO 320. Becoming familiar with the dive site, patience, staying low, moving slowly, and controlling my breath all helped with this shot.


underwater behavior photography

Cormorants chasing fish in La Paz, Baja. We often saw these cormorants hunting in groups, sometimes up to 5 birds. Chasing them around to get these shots was very tiring!


underwater behavior photography

Sandiver showing a mating display to 2 female members of his harem in the background. Taken in Amed, Bali. Nikon 105mm lens, F5.6, 1/160th, ISO 400. I was lucky I had my long lens on for this shot.


underwater behavior photography

Mating mandarin fish, taken in Anilao. Nikon 105mm VR lens, Sola 600 photo light in red mode. F13, 1/250th, ISO 250. We spent about 55 minutes at dusk with these fish, I only saw a pair rise up to mate once (it lasted about 1.5 seconds) and only got one shot, luckily my 105mm lens focused correctly with the red light from my Sola shining on the fish.


underwater behavior photography

Flamboyant cuttlefish attempting to feed, taken in Anilao. Nikon 60mm + 1.4x tele. F11, 1/200th, ISO 250. We spend almost an hour with the subject, to photograph rare moments like this.



underwater behavior photography

Angel shark in the midst of taking off, after being surprised. Catalina island, Southern California. F9, 1/160th, ISO 400. Angel sharks remain in stealth mode, and then take off very suddenly. After missing several shots like this, I started pre-visualizing this photo - so the next time I found an angel shark, I didn't miss the moment.


underwater behavior photography

Navanax striking a Hermissenda nudibranch. Half a second later, the nudibranch was gone. Taken at Catalina Island, Southern California. F10, 1/200th, ISO 160. Many shots have to be taken at just the precise moment, like this one, and the photos above and below.


underwater behavior photography

Bobbit worm eating a fish. One second later, the fish was completely pulled underground. Anilao, Philippines. Many thanks to our guide Peri for teaching us how to find & approach Bobbit worms.


tobies fighting

Tobies fighting for dominance. The tobies would be apart, but every minute would suddenly dart together for a second.


signal blenny

Signal blenny displaying his mating signal, by raising his dorsal fins. This behavior happened very quickly, and you had to be ready. Every 4-5 minutes he would jump out of his hole, flash his fins up for a second, and then go back in. After 20 minutes and a few failed attempts, I had a shot I was happy with. La Paz, Baja. Nikon 105mm VR lens. F11, 1/320th, ISO 200. Right before this trip, I was reviewing photo online from other photographers. Alex Mustard has just led a group there, and one of the group members Julian Cohen had a signal blenny shot. I emailed him to find out the dive site, and then spoke with our dive guides. Research can pay off!


sea lions biting

Sea lions biting my own fins, La Paz, Baja. Such playful guys! F7, 1/250th, ISO 320. The sea lions at Los Islotes in La Paz are very playful (especially the pups), and when I felt a tug, I turned around to see these guys on my fins.


whale shark feeding

Whale shark taking in air and water, La Paz, Baja. F5, 1/160th, ISO 400. This shark feeds by actively sucking in large amounts of water, filtering out small bits of food with its gill rakers. The water exits through the gills.


sea lion swarm

Sea lions chasing fish, dispersing the school around them, La Paz, Baja. F8, 1/200th, ISO 200. The fish normally school close together, and scenes like this only exist for a second. After seeing it happen once, we did several more dives at this site, just spending a lot of time hovering near the fish and sea lions waiting for something exciting to happen.


Defining Behavior - what is behavior?

Almost anything underwater can be classified as behavior. Even swimming, or sitting still, to some are examples of behavior.

Many old school photographers use the term "natural history" to refer to more passive behavior, such as laying eggs, brooding with eggs, guarding eggs, changing colors, symbiotic relationships, guarding a nest, throwing a lure, or sleeping.

Other types of behavior are often classified under the "action" category like fast moving sharks or fish hunting other fish.

What I consider a classic behavior shot are things like mating, fighting, cleaning, feeding, or showing emotion. Scenes that are a little unpredictable, a little hard to find or shoot. What do you consider a classic behavior photograph?


Tips for photographing behavior underwater

  • Be ready--Turn on your rig before you descend, pre-adjust strobe position and power for anticipated subject distance. Take lots of test shots before that great behavior shot appears in front of you
  • Always be pre-focused to an optimal distance away, in case something suddenly shows up in front of you. Constant and consistent pre-focusing is important.
  • Shoot in continuous focus mode, so the shutter can always be released. This is key - you may miss the shot if you camera has to focus when the shutter is pressed.
  • Do long dives with a dive guide in small groups. Always let the dive guide know you want to shoot behavior.
  • Research like crazy. Talk to guides and other divers about behavior they've seen.
  • Get low, move slowly, and control your breathing if you are on open circuit scuba. Don't blow bubbles too close to your subject.
  • Don't take your eye off the viewfinder or you will miss the shot.
  • Use a red light for stealth with animals such as Bobbit worms and mandarin fish. Use a Sola 600 red light if you think bright light will disturb the marine life.
  • If you witness good behavior that is repeated but hard to capture, repeat the dive several times if needed.
  • If there is action going on, make sure you are using a fast shutter speed if there is ambient light in the photo (e.g. - a wide-angle shot). Up your ISO if needed.
  • Use a long lens so you don't disturb behavior. For shy marine life, you'll need a long lens like a 100mm or 105mm lens. If using a compact camera, zoom all the way in. Find an area of high-contrast and prefocus the lens so it does not have to hunt far.
  • Composition-wise, fill the frame as much as possible, but don't amputate the subject.

I hope you enjoyed the article! - Scott Gietler, Publisher, Underwater Photography Guide



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