Top 10 Tips for Amazing Portraits

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

Top 10 Tips for Amazing Underwater Portraits

Use these useful tips for your next underwater adventure!

By Michael Zeigler



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


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


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


Top 10 Tips for Amazing Underwater Portraits

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Here's lookin' at you, kid!


About the author


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

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!


Get a Handle on your Housing

Michael Zeigler
UWPG editor Michael Zeigler shows you how he constructed his own rope lanyard for his underwater housing.

DIY Project: Underwater Housing Rope Handle

How to make a reliable rope handle for your underwater housing

By Michael Zeigler



Fun fact #324: This hobby is expensive. Protecting my invesment is of utmost importance to me, and at the same time I like to help the boat crews that I frequent make handling my rig as easy as possible. 

Handing a rig (large or small) to a crew member near the swim-step of a swaying vessel can, at times, be less than easy. After too many close calls of a dropped rig, or a rig grabbed by a sync cord (only takes once), I decided to look into getting a lanyard handle for my housing.


The finished product.


I know that Nauticam makes one, but a Google search for purchasing one basically came up empty. I have seen many DIY handles on various rigs that include a series of knots, but I wanted one that avoided knots, since these are weak points in the rope. 


The DIY Rope Handle Project

After some research, I determined that creating an eye-splice would be one of the strongest and "cleanest" ways of creating the loop for the handle. After searching the internet for an easy-to-follow tutorial for how to make an eye-splice without the use of tools, I finally found one here. Then I bought all of the materials below at my local hardware store (rope, shackles, and shrink tubing) for a whopping grand total of $11.50.


Materials needed

  • 3/8" nylon rope (see below for estimating length needed)

  • 2 stainless steel anchor shackles (3/16" size)
    • these have a working load limit of 530 lbs...each
  • Package of 3/4" Polyolefin Heat Shrink Tubing (2 in a pack)
    • these shrink down to 3/8" when heated with a hair dryer
    • this will typically be found in the electrical section of the store
  • Tape for the ends of the rope strands

  • Lighter to melt the ends of the nylon rope

  • Scissors for, well, you know


The only ingredient not shown here is a "can-do" attitude.


The steps

  • Determine the length of rope you'll need. In my case, I decided to attach the handle to the base of my ULCS arms. After setting them to their widest position, I took a measurement, taking into consideration the shackles. 

  • For the purposes of this project, and for the strength of the handle, I chose to back-splice 6" on each side. So, for my 16" handle (finished length), I purchased 36" of rope. Obviously I had a bit left over for wiggle room and unforseen errors, but at 27¢ per foot, why not?

  • Unravel ~6" of one end of your rope, then singe the ends with the lighter, and wrap with tape. The tape makes the splicing process a lot easier.

  • Follow the step-by-step eye-splice directions here. Helpful hint: on that tutorial, you can move your cursor over each numbered step manually, so you can move at your own pace.

  • Once you've finished creating your first loop, roll the splice between your two palms to help smooth out the splice. Nice work!

  • Measure and mark where you want the middle of your next loop, and splice the other end.

  • Once you're done with other end, take a step back and admire your work. Job well done.

  • Now comes the fun part. Slip one of the 3/4" Polyolefin Heat Shrink Tubing sleeves over one of your splices. These sleeves are ~6" long, so they'll cover the splice nicely. Grab the nearest hair dryer, set it to high heat, and watch the magic happen. Once sufficiently "shrunk," this acts to protect the splice.

  • Repeat previous step with the other shrink tubing sleeve on the other end.

  • Attach your new, awesome rope handle to your rig with the two anchor shackles. 

  • You're done!


Now handling my rig is easier than ever, especially for the crew, when I'm entering and exiting the water.


Although there are many versions of handles out there, this happens to be one of the strongest, most customizable, and cost efficient.  Enjoy, and have fun with it!


About the author


Michael Zeigler is a contributor, instructor, and trip leader for the Underwater Photography Guide and Bluewater Photo, as well as an AAUS Scientific Diver. Michael's underwater photography and blog 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!


Photographing A Perfect Sunburst

Todd Winner
Tips and techniques for how, when, and where to get the best possible sunburst shot underwater.

Photographing A Perfect Sunburst

Tips and techniques for how, when, and where to get the best possible sunburst shot underwater

By Todd Winner


Including elements of the sun can have a huge impact on your wide-angle images. If you thumb through your favorite dive magazines or table books I bet you'll find yourself drawn to these kinds of images. Even though digital cameras have greatly improved over the years, they still can create difficulties when it comes to reproducing very bright highlights. I would love to tell you to use a certain technique and that it will give you the perfect results each time, but I can't. One of the most important things I've learned over the years is sometimes you just need to be at the right place at the right time. That being said, there are a number of things you can do to greatly improve your chances of coming away with a “wow” sunburst image.



Canon 7D, EF 8-15mm @ 10mm, 1/320, f11, ISO 100


One of the most important things you can keep in mind is not to overexpose. If you include the actual sunburst in your image, it's almost impossible not to burn out some pixels. That is to say, the pixels have become pure white and there is no way to recover any detail information from them. You can usually get away with a small number of overexposed pixels, but go too far and there is no saving the image. An easy solution for this is to put something between the hottest part of the sun and your image. This can be achieved with a silhouette or with a subject that you plan to light with your strobes. 


Things You Need To Know


  • Use low ISO: Using low ISO settings, around 100, will help prevent overexposure from the sun. 
  • Use small f-stops: Because you are shooting into the sun, you are usually at very small apertures of f11, f16 and even f22, so getting close to your subject and having powerful strobes, like the Sea & Sea YS-D1 or Ikelite SD-160, can make the difference between a “wow” image and one for the trash bin.  


Canon 7D, EF 8-15mm @ 10mm, 1/250, f11, iso 100


  • Shoot at a fast shutter speed: This is going to be around 1/200 to 1/320 for most dSLR shooters, but the faster you can sync, the better chance you have of freezing the light rays from the sun.  
  • Get shallow: I've taken what I consider to be usable sunburst images at almost every depth, but my favorites tend to be those from shallow depths. Shooting shallow allows me to maintain the fast shutter speed, small aperture and low ISO.  
  • Shoot early or late in the day: One of my favorite times for light rays is the hour or so before sunset. You can get similar results directly after sunrise, but I personally don't like to get up that early. At these times of the day the sun is too low to include the actual sunburst itself, but what you get are some of the most dramatic and golden rays of light I have ever seen underwater. Many photographers refer to this as 'dappled light.'


Nikon D2X, Tokina 10-17mm @ 10mm, 1/160, f8, iso 100 Late in the day dappled light.


  • Use a current RAW converter: The simple act of upgrading from Lightroom 3 to Lightroom 4 improved my sunbursts immensely. The new Adobe converter does a much better job of handling highlights and it is also better at recovering lost detail.  


Canon 7D, EF 8-15mm @ 15mm, 1/125, f9, iso 100 Late in the day dapple light


If you try some of these techniques, I'm sure you will see vast improvements in your sunbursts. Like I said in the beginning, sometimes you just need to be in the right place at the right time, so don't beat yourself up if it's just not your day. Sometimes there are just enough particles in the water to reflect back beautiful beams and the next day it may be gone. If you can see it, you can shoot it, so don't let a great opportunity pass you by.


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!


What I Learned On The Anilao Photo Workshop

Nayan Savla
The little things I learned in Anilao that made a big difference in my underwater photography.

What I Learned On The Anilao Photo Workshop

The little things I learned in Anilao that made a big difference in my underwater photography

By Nayan Savla
I recently took a two week vacation to the Philippines for diving, the first half of which was a photography workshop organized by the Underwater Photography Guide.
It's been only about a year since I started shooting with a dSLR and I love my Canon T1i, even though it's ancient. I also use a Tokina 10-17mm fisheye for wide-angle and have a Tamron 60mm with 1.4x teleconverter for macro shoots.
Here are some things I learned during the photo workshop.

1) Using ISO to shoot at a higher f stops:

I usually never play around with my ISO, but I found that by increasing the ISO I could shoot at higher f stop and control the lighting in my photos much better.
I normally set my camera to 100 ISO and forget about it, but I took some pictures with ISO 200 and was happy with them at the higher f stop, so I've started to mess around with my ISO a bit more than usual.
This has especially helped me while taking sunball shots, and I'd have never thought to do this before the workshop.
F 11, ISO 200 10mm 1/200 tokina 10-17 fisheye.


2) Strobe positions:

Strobe positions are very important, especially while shooting wide-angle. There have been so many times that my shots would show backscatter around the edges, but I found that by just moving my strobes backwards I could easily eliminate it.
If I had known this during my North Carolina trip last year, I would have been a little less frustrated while taking my shots.
F 5.6, ISO 200 10mm 1/125 tokina 10-17 fisheye.
I wish I had a before and after comparison, but this shot was saved by moving my strobes back. There is still some backscatter on the right but, as I mention below, patience is something I'm working on.

3) Using servo focus mode:

I have always shot using the focus lock, where I press the shutter halfway and wait for the camera to focus and then take the picture, but with a 1.4x teleconverter on the camera it takes a lot more time to focus, and even though I can see that the subject is in focus it tries to focus again!
This got really frustrating, to the point where I would normally just give up on the shot. Then I found that with the continuous AF focus mode I didn't have to wait for the camera to lock focus and then take the shot. I can still press the shutter halfway so that the camera focuses, but if I press it completely it will take the photo regardless of whether the camera thinks it's in focus or not.
I wish i had known about this before the mandarin fish dive where I couldn’t get a picture of them mating because the camera wouldn't focus fast enough in the red light.

4) Composition:

Most of my compositions have been without any specific theme or method in mind, but it was good to learn the different ways to compose a picture and how to make it better for different subjects.
Of course it is very subjective, but it was good to know the “standard” ways to compose a shot.

5) Post processing (white balance):

When I use the red light on my SOLA the camera shoots a little warm, and because I never thought to touch the white balance in Lightroom the red was always still present in my photos.
It was helpful to finally figure out that by adjusting the white balance I could make my pictures appear the way I wanted them to be. 

6) Taking multiple shots:

I have seen people just shoot, shoot and shoot, but sometimes get lazy and usually just take a couple of pictures of the subject and move on. I have to force myself to spend more time with a particular subject and take more shots.
One of the reasons behind this is about being courteous to other photographers, but you can let them have their time with the subject and then return when no one is waiting, which is something I've started working on.
F 9.5, ISO 100 tamron 60mm+1.4x tele convertor 1/200.
I did take a few shots of this Christmas tree worm before getting this one, though i could have lingered longer and played with the settings more.

7) Patience:

This ties into the point above - I don't wait and hang around a particular subject long enough. I've learned that once you find something interesting, don't let it go so easily. You have to be mindful of other photographers, but keep following up on it if you can.
These are some of the things I learned in Anilao through the many workshops, slideshows and just talking with Mike Bartick and Scott Gietler. 
It was a really awesome experience and I would love to do it again. Life is always a learning experience, and I look forward to many more trips like these.

About The Author

You can read more about Nayan Savla and his adventures at See his entire gallery here!


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!


From Compact To dSLR: Preparing For The Switch

Eddy Wong
An underwater photographer describes his evolution from shooting with compact to dSLR, with valuable tips and information

From Compact To dSLR: Preparing For The Switch

An underwater photographer describes his evolution from shooting with compact to dSLR, with valuable tips and information

By Eddy Wong

This is the first article in a series of three chronicling the switch from diving with a compact camera to a dSLR. For me, this journey was several years in the making. In these articles I describe some of the dilemmas, tips, pitfalls and lessons learned from the transition, and hopefully provide some useful info for photographers in the same situation.



The Beginning

When I first got into underwater photography, I didn't know much about it. I just stopped at B&H in New York City and bought the first reasonable package that they recommended to me. That was a big mistake. Regular camera retailers know very little, if anything, about underwater photography. I started out with a Sony Cybershot DSC-P9 with a Sony Marine Housing. When I saw the results of my pictures, they came up with the familiar blueish/greenish color:
Grouper with no colors
"What's going on? This doesn't look like the pictures in NatGeo," I said to myself. So I set out to learn as much I could about underwater photography in order to improve my pictures. I went to conferences like Beneath the Sea (in NJ) and Boston Sea Rovers. I attended many underwater photo seminars by known underwater photographers like Cathy Church, Jack and Sue Drafahl, Larry and Denise Tackett, Marty Snyderman among others. The seminars only got me to a certain point, I needed a more experimental approach. At one of those seminars, I learned that Cathy Church ran a store and training facility in the Cayman Islands. It happened that one year I had the chance to go on a liveaboard around the Cayman Islands. So I took the opportunity to stay a bit longer at Grand Cayman and take a couple of lessons.
The lessons were well worth it. It is a shame that regularly you cannot "test drive" the underwater photo equipment you want to buy. By test driving, I really mean by diving with it. Here in the Caymans, I was able to rent equipment and dive with it. I learned about using manual mode and about a neat little camera: the Olympus SP-350 (today's equivalent of a Canon G12, more or less). This camera was an "advanced" point-and-shoot with manual mode and a hot shoe. The Olympus housing that goes with it had an electrical bulkhead, a rarity at that time. So you could have a setup very similar to an underwater dSLR with a fraction of the money. I liked the setup so much that I ended up buying it. Suddenly, I was the new owner of the Olympus SP-350 with a Heinrichs-Weikamp electrical bulkhead capable of doing TTL, just like a dSLR.

Should I've Gone Straight for a dSLR?

While at Cayman, I saw that they rented and sold dSLRs and dSLR housings. If you asked anybody in the underwater photo business, of course they would point you to getting a dSLR, especially if you had the money. At the time, I was not ready. I wasn't ready to go on to the expense and having to deal with the number of buttons, knobs, handles, port changes and parts. I didn't even have a dSLR for land shooting! I said to myself that one day I will go for a dSLR, but prepare for it over time and not get everything in one single swoop. My plan was to use the SP-350 as "training wheels" and have fun in the meantime.

Buying Equipment that is Transferable

I made a conscious decision to buy equipment that would be transferable to a dSLR set-up. My tendency was to buy a new piece of equipment every time I went on a scuba trip. Over time, I got a second strobe (Sea & Sea YS-110a), the corresponding "Y" cable for two strobes, Ultralight arms, and a Sola Photo 600 focus light. Eventually my set-up looked almost as big as a dSLR setup and very similar as well. In fact, some fellow divers didn't even notice that I was using a compact camera. This is what my setup looked like:
SP-350 Underwater Setup

Getting Comfortable with Manual Mode

I got very comfortable with shooting in manual mode underwater. I had custom settings programmed in my camera for wide-angle, macro and night shooting. I also understood the relationship of ISO/f-stop/shutter speed underwater and how the positioning of the camera and strobes around the subject improved the results on an image. I was becoming good enough with my camera to the point of reaching top places at photo contests, but I was running into a wall with my camera. In particular:
  • Shutter Lag - This is a drawback that most compact cameras have: when you press the shutter the camera does not respond immediately. It might take some time to autofocus. Fast moving subjects like sharks, rays or other fish can be difficult to shoot. The trick is to half-press the shutter for quicker response, but then you are locked to a particular focus distance.
  • Focal Length - The range of the apertures is comparatively small. You only get a range of f2.8 to f8 in the case of the SP-350. This limits your creativity range for depth of field in a macro scenario. In general, it was very difficult to get an image with shallow depth of field with my camera, almost everything on the image was in focus.
  • ISO Sensitivity - Any ISO setting higher than 100 resulted in noisy pictures. So for murky water situations or fast moving subjects (sharks) where you are using quite a bit of ambient light, I was limited. Resulting images tended to come out either too noisy or too dark.
  • Image Quality - The sensor inside a compact camera is rather small (compared to the one in a dSLR), so if your image has lots of contrasting details, that information has to be packed in a smaller area, causing some information to be lost. This is the case in sunburst images or manta rays with backlighting. This drawback combined with the ISO sensitivity made my camera very limited for big animal images in which ambient light is prevalent.

Taking the Plunge with a dSLR

I knew the limitations of my camera and knew that no matter how much I tweaked the settings, I was not going to get a better images, in particular, in some high contrast situations or big animal situations. It was time to move to the next level. In following my approach of "upgrading gradually" I decided to get a dSLR, but only for land use. I got a Nikon D300. I was already a Nikon shooter from the days of film (I had a Nikon FG SLR) and I was really impressed with the D300 sensor capabilities, in particular the quality of the color and low-light sensitivity. When the D300 came out, it was also a generational shift, in terms of its sensor.

At the time, I did get not an underwater housing for the D300, but kept shooting with it on land to become more familiar with it. These are some of the activities that helped me learn about my DSLR:
  • Participate in photography meetups ( - This was a way to meet other like-minded camera enthusiasts and also have peer feedback on your images. We would get together and go to different places to shoot skylines, night scenes, close-ups, sporting events, and fireworks. At these different occasions I became more aware of when to use (A)perture, (S)hutter and (M)anual modes, as well as auto-ISO.
  • Buy lenses that you might need underwater - I made a conscious decision to get dSLR lenses that are useful underwater. I first got the Nikon 105mm and used it on land for macro pictures of flowers, butterflies and food. For these kinds of shots, I also used the Nikon SB-800 flash off-camera with a hot shoe cable. Later on, I got the Tokina 10-17 (fisheye) and the Tokina 11-16 (rectilinear wide angle). I used them mostly for landscapes and architectonic pictures.
  • Play with rear curtain sync - At parties and family events, I played with rear curtain sync with an external flash on the camera. A rear curtain sync picture gives you a well-defined subject on the foreground (lit by the flash) with some trails that give you an impression of motion and a blurry background. I've seen pictures of sharks using this technique and I thought that shooting people dancing would be a good way to practice.
  • Take flash photography classes - One summer I signed up for a flash photography course at the New England School of Photography ( and guess what, the instructor taught us to use manual mode with a flash during day time, just like you do underwater. I also went to one-day workshops on portrait photography and table-top photography ( In both workshops, we dealt with multiple sources and kinds of light. The tips and knowledge from these classes translated to many situations underwater.


Going for the Housing

On a recent trip to Saba/St. Kitts, my venerable SP-350 got flooded. It was time to upgrade to a dSLR. I knew that I was eventually going to reach this point, but now I was ready for it. I could not squeeze better pictures from a camera like the SP-350 and I've been "training" myself with the D300 for several years now. My entire strobe and arm setup was transferable as well as my focus light. I was not going to be shocked by having to tweak 10 different things all at the same time. Some of these, like using manual mode and repositioning the camera and strobes, had already become muscle memory.

The Shopping Dilemma

It had been a couple of years since I bought my D300 and I was faced with the dilemma of buying a housing for this camera or getting a new camera altogether. These are some of the decisions that I had to make:
  • Consider mirrorless cameras - There was a new class of cameras coming on the market, the "mirrorless" or "micro four thirds." They were similar to dSLRs in terms of the interchangeable lenses and sensor size, but had the body of a compact, ie no moving mirror. Many underwater housing vendors had come out with housings for these cameras. The price point was attractive, usually between a high-end compact and low-end dSLR. The mirrorless camera also "fixed" or improved all the drawbacks that I had with compacts such as shutter lag, focal length, image quality and ISO sensitivity. For me, I had already gone the dSLR route to shoot on land, so the prospect of traveling with two sets of lenses, batteries and chargers was a non-starter. The "dream" situation would have been if camera manufacturers came up with a mirrorless body that is compatible with dSLR lenses! The options to consider for mirrorless cameras are Sony NEX, the Olympus Pen and the Nikon 1. If I had not started on the dSLR path, I would have considered a mirrorless camera very seriously.
  • Canon vs. Nikon - For me this was a moot decision, since I had already gone the Nikon route. However, considering the Canon EOS 7d would have been a wise choice if I wasn't already familiar with Nikon. If you do go for the dSLR underwater, you should restrict your choice to either Canon or Nikon. They are the two vendors that are well supported by underwater manufacturers.
  • New camera (D7000) vs. old camera (D300) - The D300 had a couple of drawbacks that I did not like for an underwater camera. It did not have video and the live mode was not very usable (autofocus was limited). A new Nikon camera had come out by then, the D7000. It had rave reviews and its electronics were a generation better than the D300. In addition, it had HD video and improved autofocus in live mode. The price was right as well, much lower than the D300.
  • Ergonomics - In deciding on a housing, I went for middle of the road and observed what other divers had been buying in recent years. I also observed what housings had poor designs as I witnessed many dSLR floods on my dive trips. I was really impressed with Nauticam. Even though they were a new company, they reacted very quickly to changes and with many innovations that made their housings easier to use.


And so ... I decided for the Nauticam housing for the Nikon D7000!
Here's what my new dSLR set-up looks like. I was able to "reuse" the Ultralight arms, strobes and Sola light:
Look out for my next article, in which I will talk about my experience taking my new camera for a spin!

About The Author

Eddy Wong is a contributor to the Underwater Photography Guide. He lives in Revere, MA and his interests are scuba, software, travel and photography. Eddy started his underwater photography from "the ground up" with an inexpensive point-and-shoot. Over the years he evolved into a more advanced photographer and received several awards for his underwater images. For more of his evolution as an underwater photographer, photography tips, reviews and dive travel stories, visit his blog.


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!


Learning Super Macro in Papua New Guinea

Ron Watkins
How I discovered a whole new side to underwater photography while shooting the tiny critters in the depths of Papua New Guinea.

Learning Super Macro Photography in the PNG

How I discovered a whole new side to underwater photography while shooting the tiny critters in the depths of Papua New Guinea

By Ron Watkins
I have always been fascinated by the super macro images that I have seen online, in magazines and in underwater photo competitions. As I prepared for my trip to Papua New Guinea (the “PNG” as many call it), I decided to take the plunge, invest in some new equipment and give super macro shooting a try.
I was unsure where to begin or exactly what equipment I would need, so I consulted several online resources, including Scott Geitler’s article on "Underwater Super Macro Photography." I use a Nikon D300 dSLR with a 105mm VR lens in a Sea & Sea housing, and was looking for an economical way to get started. After doing my research and talking with people at Bluewater Photo, I decided that the SubSee +5 Wet Diopter and adapter was my best option. I choose the +5 diopter instead of the +10 to start because of the larger depth of field (DOF), making it easier to focus. I wanted to increase my chances of success and minimize the frustration that I had heard comes with shooting super macro.
The S&S macro port requires a custom-made adapter from ReefNet that took about one week to be manufactured and delivered. Scott has written two very informative articles on this diopter set-up and adapter, so I won’t repeat the details of the equipment here. I read both “Super Macro with the New SubSee Wet Diopter” and “SubSee Adapter and Diopter Review” as a way to familiarize myself with the new equipment and learn about technique.
Above image: Backlit soft coral. ISO 140, F29, 1/250 sec, with +5 diopter.

Testing the Equipment

Before my trip, to become familiar with my new equipment I tried to duplicate above water the same results that I saw and read about online. This proved to be a great investment of time because it takes a lot of practice and patience to learn how to shoot super macro. I didn’t want to be fumbling around with my new equipment for the first time while underwater in PNG! I quickly realized that the narrow depth of field and difficulty getting your desired subject in focus is truly a challenge. I first took photos at 1:1 magnification without the diopter, at a distance of about 5 inches from my subject. I used autofocus to find the minimal focusing distance, but then switched to manual focus and flipped the diopter on. I was then able to get within about 3-4 inches of my subject for about a 50% magnification. 
Another tricky task is getting the strobes positioned closely for proper lighting. I heeded the advice to go small on the aperture and wasn’t afraid to try up to F45 with fairly good results. Here are test shots with the 105mm lens with and without the +5 diopter!
(Note: None of the super macro images in this article were cropped and are shown full frame as composed in the camera.)
1 ¾“ Turtle Pirate (no diopter): Nikon 105mm VR F36 at 1/250th and dual S&S YS250 strobes.
Turtle Pirate at minimum focal distance of about 5” (no diopter): Nikon 105mm VR, F45 at 1/250th and dual S&S YS250 strobes.
Turtle Pirate at minimum focal distance of about 3” (with +5 diopter): Nikon 105mm VR, F36 at 1/250th and dual S&S YS250 strobes. Notice that the left eye is just a little out of focus because it is not exactly inline with the focal plane.

The Journey Begins

After a long journey of over two days in the air and roaming through airports, I arrived at the docks of Walindi Resort on Kimbe Bay in New Britain, PNG, where the boutique liveaboard MV Febrina was waiting for me. My bags were loaded on the boat and before I had my shoes off, then we were untied and pulling away from the dock. After a quick briefing I dumped my clothes in my cabin and set my camera gear up. For this article, I have focused on super macro, but look for my trip report about the MV Febrina (coming soon!) with details of the boat, itinerary, diving conditions, photography tips and many more images.
On the MV Febrina with Nikon D300 housed in S&S MDX300 housing with 45 degree 1.2X magnification viewfinder, 105mm VR lens, SubSee +5 diopter on adapter, dual S&S YS250 strobes and Light and Motion Sola 800 focus light.
The third dive of the voyage was at South Emma, where I decided that it was time to get my diopter wet. I started off with some nice easy macro subjects of nudibranchs and coral, then my keen-eyed dive master Digger motioned that he had found something small for me. It was a tiny cowrie on a large red soft coral at about 80 feet deep on the side of the pinnacle. I flipped on the diopter, carefully positioned myself and looked through the viewfinder. All I could see was fuzzy red and orange anemone and no sign of the cowrie. I looked all over the place, peeked out over the camera for reference and then tried again to no avail. The narrow quarter-inch DOF makes it difficult to locate a subject. Digger, sensing my frustration, stuck his finger right next to the cowrie. I was able to find his finger, follow it down to the nail and there it was. I tightly pressed my mask against the viewfinder to see and focused in on the tip of his finger with autofocus. Then I switched to manual focus, slowly moved in and out about an inch and when the cowrie looked crisp, I gently pressed off a few shots.
Upon review in the LCD, the images were completely under-exposed because my strobes were not close enough, not turned up enough and I was shooting at F32. I repositioned the strobes in tight, changed the aperture to F22 and took about 30 seconds finding the little cowrie again and fired off some more shots with much better results. We ended up doing three dives at South Emma, and Digger found me all kinds of great super macro subjects like transparent shrimp, blennies, soft coral crabs and a crinoid shrimp.
Digger, pointing out tiny cowrie. ISO 200, F22, 1/250 sec, with +5 diopter.
Coral Polyps feeding. ISO 200, F32, 1/250 sec, with +5 diopter.
Soft coral crab. ISO 200, F32, 1/250 sec, with +5 diopter.

Diagonal composition of transparent shrimp in bubble coral. ISO 200, F36, 1/250 sec, with +5 diopter.
Face-on shot of a flatworm. ISO 200, F36, 1/250 sec, with +5 diopter.
Blenny peeking out of wormhole. ISO 200, F32, 1/250 sec, with +5 diopter.

Super Macro Tips & Tricks

  • Safety first! You will get absorbed in the task of taking super macro shots and be concentrating on your subject, but make sure to check your gage periodically and do not get distracted while trying to get the perfect shot. Your subject can stay down longer than you can, and it is your responsibility to monitor your remaining bottom time.

  • The custom fit adapter with the flip-out diopter is a great design. It allows for shooting both macro and super macro on the same dive. When folded back, it does not get in the way. I preferred to position it so that I could flip it back to the side in a slightly upward direction (refer to the camera set-up picture). It is also more compact than the other models I have seen.

  • A good focus light is a must! I upgraded my focus light for this trip to the Light and Motion Sola 800 and immediately appreciated the adjustable bright and even beam. It is easy to turn on/off with the magnetic switch and change between the three white and three red intensity settings. I observed that the red definitely helped on the night dives with skittish subjects.

  • A viewfinder with magnification is helpful and I don’t believe I would have been able to see focal points without it.

  • It is very difficult to focus while diving off of a wall in a current of any kind. No shot is worth damaging the reefs, so try to find a bare part of the reef and use a pointer to balance yourself to minimize your impact on the reef. Practice on a sand or rubble bottom where you can easily steady yourself and the camera.

  • I tried autofocus and it is difficult to lock in on the subject even with a good focus light. I preferred to lock down the focus at the minimal focal distance and use manual focus. I mostly just slowly rocked back and forth with my camera until the subject was in focus. When using autofocus with the Nikon 105mm VR lens, it spends a lot of time zooming in and out and will focus on anything floating in the water.

  • Try to find 2-3 points you want to focus on for your composition (fish eyes and mouth, rhinophores and mantle of a nudibranch or shrimp eyes and claws). Position yourself parallel to the focal plane and move back and forth until they are all in focus. I focus in on the two points that are easiest to see and fire away when they are in focus to maintain that plane to get the other points crisp. It is easier said than done with mild surge and a moving subject, so start by shooting stationary items. When you do finally nail a shot, it is very rewarding and the results will be quite dramatic with the right subject, camera settings and lighting.


Super Macro Opportunities in PNG

The Witu Islands and Father’s Reef North of New Britain, PNG, are world famous for healthy reefs full of corals, large schools of fish, sharks, and unlimited wide-angle opportunities. It seemed that I was always changing back and forth between the macro and wide-angle setup, but managed to do 1-2 macro dives per day. The MV Febrina’s Northern itinerary does not have a lot of muck diving, but Dickey’s Place is a great volcanic black sand muck dive featuring rare and unusual macro subjects. We found a tiny green oxynoe sea slug that contrasted well with the black sand. There must have been a recent hatching of baby squid because we found several swimming about and clinging to blades of grass. Digger even found one attached to the tail of a robust ghost pipefish that it probably had mistaken for a blade of grass. We also had fantastic macro dives later in our trip at Kirsty Jane’s Reef, Fu Man Chu, Elaine’s Reef and Norman’s Wall, finding unnamed soft coral crabs, flatworms, arrow crabs, saron shrimp, and boxer crabs. 
Green oxynoe sea slug. ISO 200, F36, 1/200 sec, with +5 diopter.
Tiny crab on a sea cucumber feasting on snails. ISO 200, F36, 1/200 sec, with +5 diopter.
Freshly hatched baby squid on a blade of grass. ISO 200, F32, 1/250 sec, with +5 diopter.
Unnamed soft coral shrimp. ISO 200, F36, 1/250 sec, with +5 diopter.
Cowrie on soft coral. ISO 140, F29, 1/250 sec, with +5 diopter.
After this trip, I am hooked on shooting super macro. Once I got over the initial frustration of focusing, it became addictive. I was excited every time an even smaller subject was found, and I enjoyed the challenge of trying to create new compositions with this very artistic form of photography. I heard the dive master on several occasions laughing at me trying to take super macro pictures while I was struggling with the current and my uncooperative subjects and having difficulty focusing. But after relaxing, finding a safe way to get close enough to the subject, and attempting to get the elusive ‘perfect shot,' I had a fantastic time. I can’t give enough credit to the crew of the MV Febrina and my incredible dive master, Digger, because if you can’t find the subjects you can’t shoot them. Hopefully this article has eliminated some of the mystery about shooting super macro and maybe even inspired you to get started! The next time you get wet, give super macro a try and discover the fun of learning underwater photography all over again.


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. 


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!


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


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!


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. 

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!


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:


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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:


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