Within this gallery you will find a compilation of entrees offering great underwater photographic advice.
Scroll down to see the variety of topics covered such as:
•Shooting Macro •Black & Whites •Ambient Light •Composition
Photo Tip of the Week
April 28, 2015
Shooting Super Macro
Recently, I visited Dumaguete, Philippines with the Hampton Dive Center as their photo pro for a week in February. (Read more about it at my Dive Blog Report, Dumaguete Muck: "A Small But Savage World".) I wasn't a serious super macro photographer before this trip but I am now. I had a great time shooting many small and unusual critters in the muck. Here are a few tips for nailing great super macro shots:
1- Due to the increased magnification of a super macro lens, such as the Nikkor 105mm, holding the camera steady is never more important than now. The smallest move or shake of the camera will cause your subject to jump and bob around the viewfinder considerably more than shooting wide. Practice, practice, practice is my only advice for learning to hold the camera steady.
A flamboyant cuttlefish fills the frame of my 105mm lens.
2 - Buoyancy control is important for underwater photography and even more so with muck diving. They don't call it muck because the bottom is made of course white sand. Usually you will find very fine dark or even black silt. The slightest fin kick or contact in general will silt out your shooting area. Keep your knees, fins and hands off the bottom. Learn to be an expert at hovering and you will keep the muck out of your macro shots.
3 - Finding good subjects to shoot is half the battle so follow the dive guides. Most of the guides at the resorts in Dumaguete are eagle eyes when it comes to spotting the small stuff. Too often they would call me over and point to a critter with there long pointers. After getting close, I still could see what it was they were trying to show me until I got really up-close. There would be a frog fish, for example, smaller than my pinky nail laying in the silt. I could only shake my head and ask myself, "how did they see that?".
This clown frog fish was nearly impossible to see hiding beneath this small christmas tree worm.
4 - Composition is critical for taking a compelling super macro image. Rather than concentrating on the critter by itself, try to find subjects that are situated with interesting backgrounds otherwise known as negative space. The entire scene should be appealing and not just the fish or creature. Many times I will turn my back on an interesting critter because the scene as a whole just does not work. Also, please do not become one of those photographers who manipulates and harasses marine life to get "the shot".
The sponge in the background was no mistake in the composing of this shot. The continuous pattern helps highlight the features on this ornate ghost pipefish.
5 - Shooting animal behavior is usually more fascinating than shots without it. If you can nail critters actually doing something such as feeding, hunting, tending to eggs or dens then you have a superior shot and great conversation piece to boot. Doing this is easier said than done and requires research and patience in understanding and finding behaviors but the rewards are worth the extra work.
6 - Lighting is everything with photography. In the case of macro photography, you will primarily be utilizing strobes as your primary light source. Ambient light is not usually used for super macro very often. Experiment with strobe strength and quantity. Most often you will discover a particular subject will look better with the use of a single strobe rather than two. A single strobe will cast shadows and create a more two-dimensional image.
Note the shadows cast across the body of this Harlequin Shrimp due to the use of a single strobe.
If you are interested in learning more about macro photography, contact [email protected] and ask about the photo courses available.
April 15, 2014
Composition is a topic I could write about for hours but, I do not have the space here in to do so. Here is a quick tip to hold you over for taking better photos.
Rather than chase a subject around with your camera hoping to get a shot of it, such as a sand tiger shark on a wreck in North Carolina or an anemone fish in its host, why not set up a shot with an interesting background and wait for your subject to swim in to your shot. I understand that this is easier said than done in some circumstances. Sometimes subjects just don't do what you want them to do. Here are a few steps to take to improve your odds:
1 - Do your homework and learn about fish or animal behavior before you jump in to the water.
2 - Have a plan in your head as to the shot(s) you would like to get.
3 - Upon arriving at your dive site underwater, pause for a moment to study the fish/animal behavior. Determine if it is doing what you want it to. If yes, move on to the next step.
4 - Set up your shot based on the witnessed behavior, compose with interesting background or negative space and fire off test shots to check your exposure.
5 - Wait for your subject to swim in to your scene or near the scene and begin to fire away.
6 - Take as many shots as the subject will allow.
7 - Do not harass your subject(s). It is likely they will swim away and ruin a chance for you or anyone else getting the photo.
8 - If the subject matter is not there or not doing what you hoped, abandon your plan and move to plan B. Then plan C etc.
Here are a few examples of where this technique proved successful for me:
This sand tiger shark on the wreck of the USCGC Spar swam right in to my frame with the bulk of the super structure in the background. I noticed the sharks swimming round and round on the foredeck and knew it was a matter of time before one would swim in to my shot.
Watching this pair of pink anemone fish swim round this magnificent sea anemone, I noticed there was a pattern to their swimming. I waited for the surge to pull back the mantle of the anemone and the fish to appear beneath it as I had witnessed before firing off this shot. Luck may have been a factor as well.
Shooting Video w/DSLR
Being that I shoot both video and still images underwater, I was excited years ago at the development of DSLR cameras that could do both. Unfortunately, the video aspect for these early dual SLRs was not very proficient and lagged in quality and functionality. I decided to wait until technology had produced a better SLR for shooting HD video. That day finally came for me when I purchased the Nikon D800 DSLR. Although there is still much room for improvement, this camera, like other cameras in it's league performs very well.
First off the advantages of shooting both video and stills with the same camera are many. The cost savings alone in having to purchase a single camera and single housing are obvious and need not much elaboration here. No longer do you need to purchase, maintain and travel with a whole other system.
In addition, being able to utilize your arsenal of DSLR lenses to shoot video is also a huge savings. For example, a super wide angle dome port for a designated video housing can run between $3-$6000+. A wide angle lens for a Nikon SLR like the 16-35mm 2.8 will cost a mere $1200-$1400 and can be used for both video and stills. The quality of this piece of glass is stunning. Not happy with the 16-35mm. No problem. Pop a 16mm fisheye ($900) on and away you go.
Another big advantage is the capability to shoot both video and stills at the flick of a switch on the camera without having to return to the boat to get your other system. This can be a disadvantage if you are not mentally focused on a single task, but otherwise, if you descend and discover conditions are not conducive for the task you had planned, then you can merely switch and make a new plan on the fly. It is even possible to mount both underwater strobes and underwater video lights on the same set of arms. This can be a little cumbersome, but the first time I tried this I had great results as you can see by the video below.
This video and the still image at the top of this web page were shot during the same dive the first time I ever attempted to shoot both photo and video. Needless to say, I was very satisfied with the results and continue to equip my housing to shoot video and photo on most dives. There are occasions where I will shoot only one or the other and cross over takes only a matter of minutes topside.
The disadvantages of using a DSLR such as the D800 to shoot video is setting the exposure. There is a bit more to it than say a consumer or pro-sumer camcorder. Shooting on auto exposure is a bit tricky, if not impossible and produce quality shots. I found it is best to shoot on aperture priority where the camera will determine your shutter speed (which should be between 1/30 and 1/60 of a second) while the aperture is adjusted by the photographer. This is of course not as simple as a point and shoot, but the results will be more desirable. Shooting on manual mode is also a very desirable method to shoot where you can be certain to get the best exposure for each shot. This requires a bit more training and I will save these tips for another blog report.
The auto focus on the D800 shooting video is about useless. One must always shoot manual focus and take care when doing so. I have had several great shots ruined because I did not focus the camera properly before recording.
The last disadvantage to shooting video with the D800 is the image quality itself. The cameras processor compresses the video files to a format that is not recognized by certain editing softwares such as Final Cut Pro. A conversion of the file is necessary, but the image loss cannot be recovered. If you were to play the compressed video from a D800 and compare to an uncompressed file you might have a hard time noticing the difference.
So unless you plan on shooting broadcast/theatre quality footage, I would not worry about this compression. Besides, there is a solution to this problem anyway. One can purchase an external video recorder that doubles as a video monitor, such as the Atomos Ninja 2 thus bypassing the SLR compression algorithm. This is exactly what I have done. Stay tuned for a full review of this monitor/recorder system.
So if your wondering if it is time to move in to the world of photography and video with the same camera, I can say that I am very content with these new age cameras and look forward to the exciting future developments to come. With a few basic tips and techniques you can be off to shooting high quality HD video with a DSLR.
Photo Tip of the Week
Although strobe lighting is critical for achieving well exposed images underwater, there are circumstances where you should shut them off and experiment with just the ambient light available. When should you shut your strobes? Here are a few tips:
1 - Most strobes are only effective with lighting up the foreground of your image within several feet to maybe 12 feet away depending on the strength of your strobe units. If your subject happens to be out of range of the strength of your strobe, then it is pointless to keep them on. Shut them off and try shooting ambient. All the strobe will do is illuminate suspended particles in the water and create complications. It is important to understand just how powerful your strobes are by spending time out testing them on a subject at different strengths and distances with varying exposure settings.
|The Fumitzuki destroyer from Truk Lagoon, was too
far away for strobes to be effective.
2 - Sometimes there is nothing in the foreground of your image that requires the use of artificial light. The subject may be drab, lacking color and generally not an important element to the overall shot.
|A foreground lacking subject matter and color required I
shut the strobes off. Fujikawa Maru 2006©
3 - Maybe your camera set up doesn't even have strobes on it. Understand the limitations of your gear and seek subject matter where ambient light exposures would work well. ie, colorful reef systems may not work well, but wide angle shipwreck shots would.
|No strobes required here. Plenty of
ambient light and little foreground to
light up. Fujikawa Maru 2006©.
Experiment and try different situations and over time you will begin to see what works and what doesn't.
Photo Tip of the Week
1) When you want to achieve an alternate mood in your photo such as one of boldness, antiquity, or mystery to name a few.
|Which one do you prefer?
The engine room of the Fujikawa Maru, Truk Lagoon©
|Rather than try to save the green cast image with low visibility I converted to B & W.
Sand tiger shark of North Carolina©.
3) When your image is monotone or when color is not a factor in the photo.
|Monotone images are prime candidates for B &W conversion. Color is not a dominate factor in this image.
Sand tiger sharks on the USCGC Spar, NC©.
|Getting low and shooting the bright white belly of sharks is a good way
to add contrast to your subject not too mention include his 'pearly whites' in the shot.
|This ornate patterned anemone was what caught my eye.
The Clark's anemone fish were an added bonus.
|High contrast accentuates the plate and the silty negative space
adds to the 'where' and the 'what' of the image.
4- Too much Negative Space is a bad thing. Scale your subject to proper size and practice the rule of thirds.
|Wrecks make for ideal background or negative space when shooting
marine life such as sand tiger sharks.
So the next time you look in to a view finder be sure to take a gander over the shoulder of whatever or whoever you are shooting and fill that negative space with some positive looking stuff. Your photos will love you for it.
|The cover of Sport Diver Magazine.
Aug 2010 Edition.
I received a Facebook message recently from a dive enthusiast asking me what to do with his camera when descending and ascending from a dive with current. I wanted to respond with a short answer by telling him to simply use a lanyard, but then it occurred to me that using lanyards for your photo/video gear is a little more involved than a sentence answer.
A simple home made piece of gear.
I witness time and time again divers on my boat, the Midnight Express struggle with lanyards as I have just described. If you happen to be one of them please don't be offended, but heed my advice. Often a diver will climb on to the ladder on a choppy day with camera attached to them by a long stretchy lanyard. 9 times out of 10 that darn thing gets hung up on the rungs while they are trying to navigate the ladder safely back to the deck of the boat. I hold my breath nervously when I see someone with one hand try to unhook themselves and with the other hand hold on to the ladder while being thrown around like a mechanical bull. If you have to use a lanyard, unclip the gear from your body first, stow the lanyard away properly and then head for the ladder. This technique may save your equipment from damage not to mention your physical well being.
The lanyard I use while diving is an all in one tool that does not get hung up and is very useful for the crew to haul a camera out of the water from the swim deck. I'd seen these used for the first time while working on the liveaoards in Truk Lagoon. This system will work on any type of boat and I guarantee the crew will like it. The best part about it is it costs a few dollars in hardware from the dive shop and hardware store. I have a short length of braided nylon line threaded through a 1/4" rubber hose. On each end there is a brass thumb snap. Each clip attaches to the eye's on the handles of my camera housing. When I jump in the crew will lower the camera to me using this handle to lower it. It keeps the camera and strobes level, making it easy for them to handle the rig and reduces the possibility of your camera getting damaged. Once in the water, I detach the handle and clip it off behind me out of the way on a D ring. Now it doubles as a lanyard if I need it. Since the handle is short and semi rigid, it never gets tangled in anything and I don't even know it's there. If I need it in an emergency, I reach around and recover it easily enough. Otherwise, I do not use it again until I'm ready to pass the camera up to the crew after the dive is over. The crew can recover the camera with the use of one hand and not two. It is safe, cheap and very effective.
Photo Tip of the Week
Bracketing is a technique used to achieve a wider range of photo results by making several exposures of the same subject. This way the odds are more in your favor of yielding a desirable shot that does not contain over or under exposed shadows or highlights. Changing your exposure can be done by stepping up or down your shutter speeds and/or your F-stop. For those of you unsure of what shutter speeds and f-stops are, I can explain them quickly now. The shutter speed is the length of time the cameras shutter is left open allowing light to enter in to the camera and on to the sensor or CCD. Long shutter speeds will yield brighter images, while short ones will yield darker images. F-stops are the size of the aperture or hole leading into the cameras sensor. The higher the number of f-stop the smaller the aperture is letting the least light in. The lower the number f-stop the larger the aperture is etc. By changing your f-stop and/or shutter speed, while shooting the same subject, you will have a wider gamut of exposures to choose from in post-processing. Trying to ascertain what the perfect exposure is underwater may be difficult due to the lighting at the time of day and how it effects your LCD. (Of course learning to read histograms would prevent this problem but that is for another blog).
|Under exposed at
|Just right at F18, 1/250sec.|
By bracketing the shots of this sea fan, from F14 to F18, I succeeded in finding the optimal exposure. F14 was over exposed with highlights 'burned'. F22 was under exposed with the loss of details in the shadows. F18 yielded a better dynamic range from highlights to shadows.