Macro Musings Part 3 : Getting Snooty

In part two of my musings I mentioned using a snoot to manipulate strobe lighting while taking underwater macro shots. In this blog I'm going to cover them in some detail.

What is a snoot?

A snoot is a device for restricting the spread of light from a strobe (underwater flash) or in some cases a constant light. They come in a range of designs, you can even build your own from something as simple as the spout from a plastic bottle and some silver foil.

 INON produce snoot sets for their range of strobes

INON produce snoot sets for their range of strobes

Why use a snoot?

A snoot allows you to light a small area rather than the whole of a shot. This is a big advantage when taking shots of marine animals where the appearance of the surrounding sea bed may detract from the picture. Muck diving in Indonesia is a classic example. The sand that makes up the sea floor in places like Bali or the Lembeh Straits is often an unsightly grey/black or brown. 

 

 This shot of a cuttlefish taken without using a snoot shows the dark sand bottom typical of many Indonesian dive sites.

This shot of a cuttlefish taken without using a snoot shows the dark sand bottom typical of many Indonesian dive sites.

The isolated patch of flash light produced by a snooted strobe allows the underwater photographer to reduce the amount of the subject's surroundings that are lit up. This helps to create images without cluttered backgrounds that would detract from the shot. 

 This image of cuttlefish taken by Anne shows how snooting can not only isolate the subject from its surroundings but also enhance the picture by specifically lighting the central element of the image, in this case the cuttlefish's eye.

This image of cuttlefish taken by Anne shows how snooting can not only isolate the subject from its surroundings but also enhance the picture by specifically lighting the central element of the image, in this case the cuttlefish's eye.

How to use a snoot?

 Much of it is a matter of trial and error, positioning the strobe where you think it will cast light on the subject. Then taking a shot and checking the result. Some snoots do come with LED aiming lights but these are quite expensive as snoots go. 

Using a snoot can be disheartening until you start getting good results. The best way to start is to choose subjects that aren't going to move away and take a lot of shots. Practicing on land is as well as underwater is a good idea.

I normally use a single strobe with a snoot on it with a ball and clamp arm system. Once I find a subject I'll loosen the clamps on my arms and use my left hand to position the strobe and my right to operate the camera. 

 Here the pool of light from the strobe was larger than the tiny goby I was taking pictures of. But the snoot kept the light confined to a quite small area which I think gave a better look to this shot than if the surroundings were fully lit.

Here the pool of light from the strobe was larger than the tiny goby I was taking pictures of. But the snoot kept the light confined to a quite small area which I think gave a better look to this shot than if the surroundings were fully lit.

As you get more practice you'll become more conscious of where to place the strobe to light things properly. Bear in mind that the further the tip of the snoot is from your subject the wider the spread of light will be and the less light will reach the subject. Many strobes have ways of changing the size of light beam they produce. The INON kit for example has a range of different fittings.

There's plenty of scope for playing around with strobes. Manufacturers have produced shaped fittings to produce pools of light in other shapes than circular. Twin snoots with two light outlets or two strobes both with snoots on can produce interesting shots such as lighting both eyes on a bigger creature such as a croccodile fish.

If you feel that your macro shooting is at a point where you want to try something new, then snooting definitely creates a new challenge and can give your shots a different look. Just be warned it can seriously test your patience.

If you want more specific advice or have a suggestion for a blog subject feel free to get in touch, details on how to do this are on our contact page. Do the same if you'd like a quote for equipment or to book on one of our courses or workshops (dates are on our Events page). Anyone with an interest in photography is welcome to join the Blue Duck Photography Q and A

Beaming Down from Up On High

Getting great sunbeams and rays in your underwater shots...

 

I really love that when you’re diving, and the sun is shining down, the wonderful optical effect of the rays hitting water and being diffracted and moved into pillars and curtains of light that dance around the scene in front of you.

For me it’s one of the most magical occurrences  of the whole underwater experience, and I love attempting to capture it as best I can in camera.

So as I’ve actively pursued this type of shot over many years of taking underwater pics, I’ve learnt a few things that have been helpful to me and so i’m going to share what I’ve learnt so far in this particular blog post.

 

I’m also going to (try) and keep it shorter on words and share more pictures with captions explaining what I’ve done and the thought process behind the end result.

First though I’m going to quickly share the simple methodology behind most shots that give good beamage, that’s a whole new word I’ve made up there, but I like it, and i’m writing the blog so thats that.

All these shots have been taken using wide angle lenses, and in my  last blog series I covered some of the methodology of shooting wide angle.

So please check out.

The Wider View

 

Wreck Shooting with your Wide Angle

 

Close Focus Wide Angle

 

 

Sun Block

 

The most important thing in getting good rays is to actually not shoot the sun at all.

If the sun is well into the frame then it’s quite rare to get great beams of light.

Far better to either hide it behind something or someone.
This will generally result in beams radiating outwards from the subject.

Or try and place the sun just out of the frame.

 

"I was lucky to have this Manta circling around so I had a few bites of the cherry to get a shot where I completely covered the sun to get the lovely beams of light radiating outwards. I also had the strobe fire, but to be honest I wish I'd given the flash a little more oomph and turned it up a touch. Excitement made me forget !"

 

 

 

Reduce Your Exposure to the Sun

 

Another vital component is to try and underexpose your background blue water as much as is feasible.

This will be dependant on if you’re shooting available light, in which case you’ll be able to shoot across your shutter speed range, upping the speed to give you a nice dark background blue.

 

If you’re shooting with fill in foreground strobe light with a DSLR or with most interchangeable lens mirrorless cameras then you’ll be limited by the synchronisation speed of the flash on your particular camera.


This can range from 1/320 sec down to as slow 1/160 second, and the slower speeds allow you less flexibility in balancing your exposure, particularly in very bright ambient light.

Another reason for shooting with a fast(ish) shutter speed, is that if there’s a lot of surface water movement then the beams will be dancing around quite quickly, so a faster speed ensures that they don’t blur as they move around.

If you’re shooting with a compact camera and using a strobe to light the foreground then you’re very lucky in that you’ll be able to synchronise the flash across most of your shutter speed range. Giving you the ultimate in flexibility.

 

" I first established the exposure and flash settings for the foreground subject, making sure my shutter speed was as fast as was possible on my camera. I then just shifted around until I was just blocking the sun out with the edge of the table coral. It's important to review often on screen to make sure you're completely blocking out the sun, or at least as much as you can"

 

 

Don’t Look Back Into the Sun

 

A much more practical limitation becomes very evident when you first try these shots and you’re shooting with a camera that has no optical viewfinder.


All compacts, and Mirrorless cameras rely on a digital display, even if they have an eyepiece viewfinder as well.
And unfortunately when you point these sunwards it’s actually very difficult to see where the sun is in relationship to everything else in the frame accurately.

It’s something you’ll need to practice, especially where the sun is actually somewhere in the frame, even if you are trying to hide it behind an object.
The LCD displays struggle when presented with such an extremely bright light source, so you will have to practice to get used to doing this.
Start with shots where the sun is out of the frame before venturing to get shots with the sun well into the frame, as the former is much easier to gauge accurately.

If you’re shooting with a DSLR though you have another potentially more problematic issue with only an optical view direct to our closest star.

It’s just not safe and good for your eyesight to look into the sun via any optical apparatus if it’s not being displayed second hand onto an LCD screen.

So whilst it’s easier to place the sun with an optical finder on a DSLR you risk damaging your eyesight if its done for any length of time repeatedly.
So please be careful.

Personally I shoot with a micro 4/3 mirrorless rig, and sometimes with a compact, and it’s very doable with a bit of practice, it’s just not easy to start with.

So let’s cut to the chase and look at some more pictures that demonstrate a variety of different sun beam techniques.

I’ll explain what I’ve done in the captions below them.

 

"This shot is using the beam of light streaming down from the jungle above, as the main subject in shot. With a diver in the beam illuminated inside the famous Pit cenote in the Yucatan in Mexico. Technically it's all about underexposure, no strobe is used only the available light, which there actually isn't a lot of. So whilst it's not hard to shoot the light itself, and you can't actually see the sun as it's above the jungle canopy, you are actually shooting at the limits of what the camera can record in the gloomy interior"

 

It's a beautiful day

Ok, the above shot is a bit of an outlier, and I plan on doing a whole other blog post examining more closely the techniques required to shoot inside caves and very dark interiors. However it is an example of photographing the light beams and them being the actual main subject rather than taking on a supporting role.

 

"This is one of those beautiful early morning scenes that are sometimes hard to translate into a successful shot. What I do is first get my background exposure correct, and the blue of the water looking as dark as I can make it, which usually means the fastest shutter speed that my strobe will allow, in my case a 1/320 sec.
I'm usually shooting a a middling aperture of around f8 or so, all I then have to do is turn the strobes up or down to provide the right amount of light on the foreground. Framing to get the beams is done by carefully tilting the camera down until the sun is only just out of the frame. It helps enormously to be close to the surface as well, for these shots"

 

 

Symmetry Above and Below

Next picture uses an almost identical technique but i'm a whole magnitude closer to the foreground, if you'd like to know more about Close Focus Wide Angle shooting my most recent blog covered this subject in greater detail. Check it out and click here.

 

"This appealed to me because the composition I had in mind was to mirror the foreground coral at the bottom of the frame with the beams coming down from above to create some symmetry , so it needed me to be really close to the subject. You've got to be careful as you can easily scratch your dome being this close, and you'll need to reposition your strobes and their output to illuminate the subject evenly"

 

Monochrome View

Next shot is much more subtle and the beams are there as just one of the elements in a picture with a variety of elements.

 

"my partner and buddy pictured in a dramatic black and white, as she returns to the boat after a late afternoon dive. This was all about  just using what nature provided, and I was conscious to try and position myself so that the sun was just out of sight behind our dive boat, knowing full well that this would result in beams. So then it was a matter of exposing just enough so that I got a balance between the much darker foreground and the lighter top half, trying not to lose too much of either. This type of picture becomes the finished article in the edit, as you have to balance a tricky exposure situation by careful control in your editing software"

 

 

If You Can't Make it Fake It!

 

Finally what do you do if you get the shot and angle that you'd like, but it was spontaneous and difficult to repeat, and instead of blocking the sun with the subject, you've ended up with an ugly sunball  spoiling your shot?


I personally don't like it when the sun ball is in the frame, because digital cameras suffer by being unable to register extremes of light, and so they show up as burnt out patches where there is no digital data to be recovered in your favourite editing software.

We can visit your dive club or dive shop and teach photo editing in a fun packed informative weekend check out the details here

Luckily you've got choices to salvage a shot where the sun is actually spoiling your composition.

 

"the shot on the left is the original, and I didn't like the ugly sunball.
So by using a bit of post processing trickery you can choose to hide it completely, seen in the middle shot, or you can even add some fake sunbeams to jazz it up a bit in the shot at the right.
Ok, it's not as good as getting it right in the original shot, but if you need the composition for an advert or webpage where the original sunball would be a distraction it certainly gives you options"

 

 

 

In Summary ( or should that be Summery?)

 

Sun beams can be very attractive aspects of your wide angle compositions, and even be the main feature in the shot. All you have to generally do is be mindful to try and either place the sun behind something, or just out of frame for the best results.
After that it's just a case of getting used to how your camera handles being pointed sunwards, and even more importantly that you don't take unnecessary risks by overdoing it and staring directly into it.

If you want more specific advice or have a suggestion for a blog subject feel free to get in touch, details on how to do this are on our contact page. Do the same if you'd like a quote for equipment or to book on one of our courses or workshops (dates are on our Events page). Anyone with an interest in photography is welcome to join the Blue Duck Photography Q and A

Macro Musings Part 2 : Against a Dark Background

In part one of my macro musings I talked about what macro is and a bit about macro lenses. Lets move on to a common question from would be underwater photographers.

How do you get a black background in your macro shots?

This is a really popular look to give your images in macro photography and it's not that hard to achieve if you are willing to move away from the more automated camera modes and give Manual a try.

Getting a dark background is all about fast shutter speed and using flash. 

Ideally you want a separate strobe to provide lighting, one is enough. But you may be surprised at what you can achieve with the built-in flash if your housing allows you to use it. Sometimes the lens port will just be too big for the built-in flash to be useful. But if you can use it then shooting with the camera vertical, portrait style, with the flash at the top will tend to give you more even light on the subject.

 This shot of dwarf lion fish was taken using a single strobe to give the light.

This shot of dwarf lion fish was taken using a single strobe to give the light.

Crank up that shutter speed

To make the background of your shots dark you need two things to happen.

Firstly, you want as little natural light to get to the camera sensor. A simple option is to shoot in the dead of night, but a lot of the best subjects may not be out at night. Instead reduce the amount of ambient light in the shot by using a fast shutter speed.

Increasing shutter speed when using flash is not a problem for compact camera users. You can literally take it to as fast as it will go which for some cameras can be over 1/2000 sec. This means if you set ISO to 100 or 200 you'll generally be able to work with even a big aperture (small f number) without letting ambient light into the background of your shot.

If you have a camera without a full manual mode such as an Olympus TG5 try using exposure compensation at its lowest setting (-2 or -3 depending on the camera) to reduce the amount of background light in shots. 

 The easy option! This shot was taken at night.

The easy option! This shot was taken at night.

That Syncing Feeling

For the folk who've splashed out and bought DSLR's or mirrorless cameras they are limited to the flash sync speed of their camera. This is the fastest shutter speed at which a shot can be taken without dark areas caused by the mechanical shutter curtains appearing in the image. Modern cameras don't allow you to exceed this shutter speed when using flash. This prevents you from accidentally exceeded the sync speed and ruining your shots.

These days most new mirrorless or DSLr's have sync speeds of 1/250 or even 1/320. These give you a good ability to cut out background light. But you may find that you have to use smaller apertures (large f numbers) to help things along when background light is bright. As in most cases you want ISO to be 100 or 200 many cameras will tell you a recommended setting, my Olympus EM10 MkII does.

 One of my faves. Positioning the strobe to just light the subject means only a tiny patch in front is lit, cutting out the rather dull sand around it.

One of my faves. Positioning the strobe to just light the subject means only a tiny patch in front is lit, cutting out the rather dull sand around it.

Getting Flash

Now to the trickier second bit. Those new to underwater photography often ask about what camera setting to use but in reality it's much more about the strobes. Not just the settings but the positioning. 

You want to position yourself so that ideally you have empty water behind the subject. This makes life a lot easier as the light from the strobe will only be on the subject with none of the background being lit by it.

But in many cases you will have something behind the subject. For example in the header picture for this blog, the squat lobster was in a small hole in a rock face. 

To light the subject but not the background you need to take time positioning your strobe, moving closer to or further away from your subject and adjusting the power (this is partly why we recommend strobes with manual controls). You want to paint your subject with enough light while not lighting what's behind it. Having an arm system that gives a good range of movement and lets you place the strobe easily to achieve the results you want is another important consideration. Many of the lower end arm systems don't give you the ability to put your strobe at all points around your camera. 

You can manipulate your strobe lighting further by using a snoot and we'll talk about that in another blog.

 This long-nosed hawkfish was in a black coral bush on a quite deep wreck. The lower light level helped with getting this shot using an Olympus EPL-3 with a sync speed of 1/160.

This long-nosed hawkfish was in a black coral bush on a quite deep wreck. The lower light level helped with getting this shot using an Olympus EPL-3 with a sync speed of 1/160.

 

A bit of editing doesn't hurt

If you do get that lovely shot of something but the background isn't as dark as you hoped or there is something white in one corner of you lovely black background, don't despair.

No one went to hell for using Lightroom or Photoshop to do a bit of finessing. 

Although if you are of a competitive bent make sure you check rules about editing before putting images in a contest. Some are stricter than others.

I'll be back with some more macro musings soon. If you want more specific advice or have a suggestion for a blog subject feel free to get in touch, details on how to do this are on our contact page. Do the same if you'd like a quote for equipment or to book on one of our photo courses or editing workshops (dates are on our Events page). Feel free to join the Blue Duck Photography Q and A  Facebook group as long as you behave yourself and stick to the rules. 

The Wider View Part 3: Close Focus Wide Angle

 

 

 

Ok in the final part of this mini series, on shooting with wide angle lenses, Im going to be getting in close, and highlighting subject matter that’s not normally associated with fisheye lenses, and thats a whole genre called Close Focus Wide Angle.

 

Please check out part one which covered general reef shooting here in Part 1, and for a look at wreck shooting here with Part 2

 

So let’s have a look at using your super wide lenses for getting in close.

So i’m going to pull out a few pictures where i’ve got much closer than usual with my fisheye lens for my interpretation of CFWA and share the techniques I’ve used to get them.

  This is what you’d call a classic CFWA shot, of a subject usually shot within the macro range.but instead of shot with a macro lens it was shot with my fisheye lens.

This is what you’d call a classic CFWA shot, of a subject usually shot within the macro range.but instead of shot with a macro lens it was shot with my fisheye lens.

Damsel in distress

 

 

I really had to work quite quickly here as like most fish from the Damsel family, whilst only about 2 inches long, was quite angry, and rightly so at my intrusion into it’s little patch of reef. 

Fiercely guarding it’s eggs which you can see as a diagonal silver patch at the bottom of the shot.

 

It’s all about getting your exposure, strobe positioning and output sorted in advance for pictures like this, so if I have a shot like this in mind, I will have a dress rehearsal getting these factors dialled in before I go for the shot proper.

 

How do I do this? Ok, if i’m shooting this close, I want to increase my chances of getting enough depth of field, as DoF decreases exponentially as you get closer.

So i’m shooting at as small an aperture as I can that will allow me to also set a shutter speed that’s not too slow to create a double image.

Although sometimes you can use this to your advantage for dramatic effect, but more of that later.

Anyway, once i’ve established a baseline exposure for the ambient conditions, so the background is neither too light or dark. I then need to work out the overall exposure and lighting.

 

 

 

Focus and Exposure Fine Tuning
 

Next I need to position my strobes, and adjust the output to light the feisty wee creature, and not wanting to cause it too much distress, and as I mentioned  I much prefer to get the exposure and focus correct before I even get into position for the shots themselves.


And I do this by using something of the same size, in this case my thumb, in the same position as I want the subject to be.
So I just hold my thumb in frame, with the strobes set roughly how I’ve guessed from past experience, I move them and adjust their output until my thumb is looking correctly exposed in the test picture.
To light something this close, and it was only a centimetre or so from the dome front, the strobes were positioned really close to either side of the dome. Generally this would be the case for this type of shot, and this was no different, the strobes were almost touching the dome either side of it, to ensure the light was going to sufficiently illuminate the shot.

Once i’d set up I moved in to shoot, and as I was very close to the bottom, and not wanting to stir up the sand and possibly disturb the many other creatures that call the Barge their home, I shot this sequence of pictures ‘from the hip’
This is a technique where you don’t actually look through the viewfinder or screen, and what I did was prefocus the lens based upon the Damsel being about a centimetre form the dome, worked out when I was working out my strobe positions, with my thumb as earlier.
I simply lock my focus, in my case once the camera has focused using AF, I switch it into manual focus mode, which means it wont hunt about and will be set to that position until I switch it back to auto.
I do this, as in situations like this there is no gtee that the camera will pick the correct point to focus with any great precision, as the fish will be darting about.

This meant that I could raise myself up but position the camera rig really close to the bottom without touching it.

And the Damsel did all the hard work, as it started to dart in and try to chase away it’s own reflection in the dome. With me clicking a shot off when I saw it really close in to the dome, all of which I could see from above.

It didn’t actually take that long to get this shot, once i’d established the settings, which takes far longer to explain than actually carry out.

Important though that when you think you’ve got a decent picture, that you review and check it on your cameras screen by zooming in to ensure that the eye is in focus.

 

 

 

 


Take Advantage of your Hard Won Settings

 

 

Very close to the Damsel and to the left was a small Moray being cleaned, so all I had to do was reframe and move my strobes to either side, as I was now framing vertically, I kept all the other settings the same, and just moved the camera rig in close to the eel.
 

  The Barge is jam packed with subjects to shoot, so I could keep the camera set up pretty much the same and just reframe to get this shot of a Moray cleaning station.

The Barge is jam packed with subjects to shoot, so I could keep the camera set up pretty much the same and just reframe to get this shot of a Moray cleaning station.

 

Starring Role

 

This shot of a fat starfish out in Indonesia, was shot using the exact same technique and broadly similar settings as to the two pictures above.
However I’ve used it to illustrate a potential side effect.

And this is that if you’re trying to get the background exposure sufficiently bright, at the apertures sufficiently small to keep a subject this close sharp, you may well find that the shutter speed forced upon you to keep the background exposure right, may well be quite slow.
In this case it was around a 1/30 second.

And if i’d kept really still, then the background wouldn’t have had that circular blurring you can see radiating around my main subject.

This was for deliberate effect, and I will do another blog at a later date about deliberate motion blur like this called a twirl.
It’s worth bearing in mind though as you may well find yourself shooting at slower shutter speeds, if you’re apertures are quite small.

  I’ve used a technique here to deliberately blur the background and give motion to an otherwise static shot. This is often a side effect of shooting at light sapping small apertures.

I’ve used a technique here to deliberately blur the background and give motion to an otherwise static shot. This is often a side effect of shooting at light sapping small apertures.

 

Spot the Jellyfish

 

This shot’s primary subject was the jellyfish closest to me and it was touching the dome port pretty much.

The big difference from the previous two pictures was that this wasn’t shot using any strobe light. and instead I got up early to shoot at dawn.
Hoping to light the translucent jellies with the early morning sun.

I’d seen these jellies gathering in a small bay on the dusk dive the night before, and planned with another diver keen to get up early, to get in and shoot them.

This was another shot where I ‘shot from the hip’ pointing the camera rig skywards straight at the surface.
 

  Worth getting up early if you see a potential shot in the making. It doesn’t always work out but when it does it’s worth it and your post dive breakfast seem all the more lovely.

Worth getting up early if you see a potential shot in the making. It doesn’t always work out but when it does it’s worth it and your post dive breakfast seem all the more lovely.

The main difficulty shooting straight up like this, is avoiding your bubbles in  the shot.

So timing is vital.

Another problem is the camera picking another jelly to focus upon, rendering the one you want annoyingly out of focus.

So prefocussing is again the answer here, and once set, just move your camera around, taking shots, and reviewing and checking focus on screen.

Whilst the previous shots, once setup didn’t take many to get the right one in the bag, this one took loads, as there was a load of jelly shaped variables all moving around the frame randomly, so it was a case of persevering until I got the framing and position of the lead jelly fish in the preferred spot in the frame.

 

 

The Lions Share

 

 

The final shot in this example of close focus wide angle shooting is taken at the opposite end of the normal dive day from the last.

I love a dusk dive and the graduation over time from light to dark, and this picture was taken when the sun had well set, and it was essentially well into night dive territory.

As i'm sure you may be aware Lionfish which are very plentiful in the Red Sea where this was shot, are not hard subjects to find.
And will be drawn towards your focus light or torch.

This one hung around me using the light from my torch to hunt.
Shooting it side on meant that as there was very little background light, the background went pitch black at regular camera settings, that suited the correct foreground exposure.

Similar to examples earlier, I’ve used a smaller aperture around f16 to give sufficient depth of field, and at night or dusk this resulted in a black background.
I wanted a bit of blue in the background, but the only way to do this was to use the same positioning as in the shot of the jellies, and point the camera straight up towards the surface with the Lionfish between.

This presented a focussing dilemma, as to keep a bit of blue in the background at the small apertures I was using meant that in the gloom my camera was indicating around a 2 second exposure, yes that’s right a whole 2 seconds !

 

So how is the subject not all blurry then? Well it’s pretty straightforward really when you get a grasp of what is happening when you’re shooting with a strobe and this shot is an extreme example of that in action.
 

  Understanding exposure, time of day, and  settings will come with practice especially if you try things in situations that you think may not be possible. What’s the worst that can happen?

Understanding exposure, time of day, and  settings will come with practice especially if you try things in situations that you think may not be possible. What’s the worst that can happen?

 

Your strobe or flash, is providing a very bright but more importantly brief burst of light.
This is what is freezing the subject against the dark blue, black background.
And as long as you keep relatively still across the duration of a shot like this with an indistinct background, then the subject will be frozen by the foreword burst of light, any motion blur completely lost to underexposure.

So there’s often a way round a difficult situation, and if you don’t try these things you won’t find out.

 

Summary

 

Shooting close focus wide angle with your fisheye lens is very rewarding when it all works out, and it is a very good exercise in getting to grips with things like the exposure triangle, and utilising the camera controls to your advantage rather than being at the mercy of them.

Effectively mixing strobe and available light to your taste.

You’ll really feel a sense of satisfaction when you get to grips with shooting situations that push you and your cameras boundaries, and will progress still higher up the learning curve.

If you want more specific advice or have a suggestion for a blog subject feel free to get in touch, details on how to do this are on our contact page. Do the same if you'd like a quote for equipment or to book on one of our courses or workshops (dates are on our Events page). Anyone with an interest in photography is welcome to join the Blue Duck Photography Q and A  Facebook group as long as you behave yourself and stick to the rules.

 

The Wider View Pt 2 : Wreck shooting with your wide angle

 

Ok, in Part 1 of this series, we looked at why we use wide angles in our underwater photography, and shared a few tips about shooting and composing with your reef shots but one of the most important areas we would use our wide angle lenses is for shooting that other mainstay of underwater photographers, and this is for shooting the wrecks we love so much.

Our Lust for Rust

There are many reasons to explain our love for wreck diving, in my case it’s evolving constantly. Initially I wasn’t the slightest bit interested in the actual wreck itself but was keen on the life it encouraged to live in and on it.

After a bit of time though I started to appreciate the historical context alongside the marine life aspect a bit more, and now i’d say my love for wrecks is a combination of things.


Over riding all of this though is that I love them as photographic subjects, and try and convey where and when I can both the marine life angle and also the atmospheric feelings an impressive wreck will bring out in me.

 

So the shot’s i’m sharing with this post will hopefully convey this.

And I’m going to start with a classic shot and angle of view of the Ghiannis D a famous wreck in the northern Red Sea at a wreck lovers playground called Abu Nuhas, where the Ghiannis D resides alongside 3(4) other wrecks within a stones throw of one another.

 

Technique wise this is a fairly simple picture, shot in available light from very shallow, around 5 to 10 metres depth, the real trick here is planning beforehand with your buddy, to hang back and wait for the rest of the group to depart so you can accentuate the sense of scale with a single diver looking small in the frame.
Simply not achievable without a fisheye or super wide lens, with the same sense of clarity.
As i’m actually a lot closer to this wreck and the diver than it appears, so i’m shooting through the minimal amount of water to frame like I am.

I’ve shot this scene with many different cameras across the years, but the one constant that I wouldn’t and couldn’t shoot this scene without is a very wide lens.

  Ghiannis D shot with a fisheye lens, using available light and in RAW, time of day is relevant with this wreck, as I find the sun is in a better position around lunchtime to early afternoon.

Ghiannis D shot with a fisheye lens, using available light and in RAW, time of day is relevant with this wreck, as I find the sun is in a better position around lunchtime to early afternoon.

 

Stern Looks

I love the rear end of the Ghiannis D but another lady with an impressive stern well deserving of a photograph is the Thistlegorm, a wreck steeped in historical context, and also teeming with marine life, so I find it’s generally a win win all round for most underwater photographers.


And for this next  example I’d like to share a shot of the stern of the Thistlegorm.


This is very time sensitive, I find it’s best to get up very early, after prepping your kit and discussing the plan with your buddy the night before, as you’ll want to get in as early as you can.


As it’s still quite dark you’ll have a couple of options, you’ll either have to juggle your exposures and increase your ISO to give you a fast enough shutter speed to record the wreck with the available light, or as i’ve done here mix some flash with the available light, a wee bit trickier to pull off, but being very close to her, the stern rail, and the fish, were well within my strobes range.

 

FYI i’m using a pair of Inon S2000’s, my strobe of choice, as they’re small, and pack enough of a punch to get the job done most of the time.

 

I’ve eschewed using a fast enough shutter speed than I would chance with a purely available light shot, and instead have opted to rely on the strobe to freeze the foreground, whilst holding as steady as I can to give me a reasonably bright background exposure.


If I’d opted for a higher ISO I could have had a faster shutter speed, but I would have sacrificed a little quality as the higher ISO increases the noise in the shot.

  Technically a bit of a headache to pull off successfully, and there’s always the random aspect of luck involved, my buddy acting as a model was just the icing on the cake. I love it when a plan comes together. This had a very slow shutter speed, around a 1/10  second

Technically a bit of a headache to pull off successfully, and there’s always the random aspect of luck involved, my buddy acting as a model was just the icing on the cake. I love it when a plan comes together. This had a very slow shutter speed, around a 1/10  second


I was also going for a deliberate motion blur of the school of Fusiliers, which are often seen at the stern like this in the time just before daybreak.

And as they are the only thing moving in the shot, they record as frozen with the flash but with a motion blur behind them, it’s important to use 2nd Curtain synchronisation for this, but await another blog, where I will cover this in greater detail.

And so it was worth getting up early to get a different shot of the Thistlegorm stern, as I’ve seen loads that all look the same.

It’s always going to be a bit of a balancing act though.

Insider Viewpoint

Both of the previous pictures were of course classic external compositions but we need to grasp the technical aspects of shooting inside the wrecks for those times when we choose to venture inside.


Sometimes out of necessity if the current outside is running.

And opting for the relative tranquility afforded by the shelter of the wreck is sometimes a great plan B.

 

So I’ve picked a pair of pictures one shot without strobe, and the other with.

They were coincidentally taken about five minutes apart, and within about a few metres of one another too.

They’re both shot inside the Ghiannis D the second in the engine room and the first using available light in the crew galley.


Time Critical

 

This angle looking up the wreck towards the bow, was taken just outside the door leading from the engine room area. Inside the crew galley.

  Get your background exposure sorted first and err on the side of underexposure for your strobes relying upon your more flexible RAW file to finish the picture in the edit.

Get your background exposure sorted first and err on the side of underexposure for your strobes relying upon your more flexible RAW file to finish the picture in the edit.

I have seen many versions of this shot, but the over riding thing about this is the time of day of the shot.

It doesn’t work if it’s the first dive of the day, and tends to work best when the sun is higher in the sky, to guarantee lovely pillars of light.

So 2nd and 3rd dive of the day is best, so ideal if you’re in charge of the itinerary, and can dictate when you dive these spots.

Another insider tip, is to do this shot after a group has passed through.
You’ll here some people complain about the visibility being destroyed by previous divers stirring up the silt, but I actually prefer it for shots like this, as a bit of sediment in the water guarantees better light pillars, and you’ll be able to take your time.

Again it’s a balancing act, I needed to shoot at a higher ISO, at 1600 ISO but still I ended up having to shoot at as slow as 1/20 second at the aperture I was using.
So bracing yourself, and ensuring your model/buddy stays very still is vital.
Modern cameras with image stabilisers really help in these situations.

Things are looking up

This last pic taken inside the Ghiannis D again, just a few metres from the position I was in for the last picture.

Here i’m in the engine room, looking straight up towards the hatch at the top, so the first thing is to make sure my exposure settings allow the blue water to not over expose, and to be burnt out.

So that was my primary concern, and once i’d established the baseline

background exposure, I now had to get the strobe output pegged.

I prefer with highly reflective subjects like these Cave Sweepers in the shot, to err on the side  of under exposure, as depending on their angle to you, they can act like little mirrors.
So i’d usually be quite cautious about blasting them with too much light, relying instead upon bringing up the shadow details in my editing program.

 Another tricky balancing act between shutter speed and ISO, and easier to get the beams when a group has just passed through, and better midday or later, you’ll need to wait for the diver to pass into one of the beams

Another tricky balancing act between shutter speed and ISO, and easier to get the beams when a group has just passed through, and better midday or later, you’ll need to wait for the diver to pass into one of the beams

One of the main reasons for shooting in RAW is to allow you this greater  room for fine tuning after the fact.

Once i’d got my settings sorted, I just had to wait for an aesthetic grouping of fish, and take the shot.

 

Practical things when shooting upwards like this is to time the shot to not include your exhaled bubbles which can spoil the composition.

Summing Up

Venturing inside a wreck is not without it’s hazards, so don’t get too caught up in the photography, look after your buddy, and be mindful of what you’re doing, safety first.

If you want more specific advice or have a suggestion for a blog subject feel free to get in touch, details on how to do this are on our contact page. Do the same if you'd like a quote for equipment or to book on one of our courses (dates are on our Events page). Anyone is welcome to join the Blue Duck Photography Q and A  Facebook group as long as you behave yourself and stick to the rules.

The Wider View

To complement my colleague Phil’s ongoing series of articles on macro shooting , I’ve decided to follow suit and show the other end of the scale that us underwater photographers indulge in with a short series of three posts looking at how we utilise our wide-angle lenses to illustrate our aquatic excursions, that really should be the name of a 70’s prog rock band!

 

So first i’m going to dive in, i’m on fire today LOL, and briefly talk about why we use wide angles and then start off the series with a look at classic wide angle reef shots.

With the second blog being about using wide angle lenses to shoot wrecks, and then finally the last third of this mini series looking at using your wide-angle lens to shoot closer up pictures.

 

 

 

Why wide?

 

Phil has done an excellent series of articles on our site about what to consider when selecting and buying a camera for underwater photography, where he goes into greater detail than I am here more specifically about wide angle lenses so you can access those articles here. 

We really love very wide angle lenses, because they allow us to get much closer to our subjects, so if that subject is big like a wreck or a reef, then the distance between us and the subject is hugely reduced, which means that the pictures are clearer and sharper as a result.


This is because even the clearest water is much denser and has much more particulate in it than the air.


So it makes sense to have as little water between us and the subject.

So lenses considered quite extreme for topside shooting, like fisheye and super wide lenses, become the norm in any underwater photographers arsenal of kit.

And the good news is that if you buy the right camera for your underwater jaunts you’ll be able to use a fisheye or super wide lens on it.
All you have to do is ask, we’re always here to dish out help and advice.

  A typical wide angle reef shot, i’ve used a fisheye lens here to capture these fan corals at Ras Nusrani in Sharm el Sheikh in the Egyptian Red Sea

A typical wide angle reef shot, i’ve used a fisheye lens here to capture these fan corals at Ras Nusrani in Sharm el Sheikh in the Egyptian Red Sea

Here’s a typical add on wide angle lens for a compact camera, with compact cameras they fit on the outside of the underwater housing.

With a Mirrorless or DSLR camera you put the lens on the camera, and you’ll need a dome port to attach to the housing.

  A Fantasea wide angle lens for attaching to your compact camera, it almost doubles the field of view.

A Fantasea wide angle lens for attaching to your compact camera, it almost doubles the field of view.

How?

 

I’m assuming you’re fully tooled up with a either a wide angle attached to your compact or other camera rig now.
So i’m going to address what to shoot, but more importantly how to shoot.
It’s pretty straightforward what you’d like to achieve in underwater photography a lot of the time, and that is pictures that really represent our experience when we’re underwater, hopefully doing justice to the amazing things we see when we submerge.

Beginners though can often get a bit bewildered and disheartened, especially if they’ve spent a lot of money on a wide angle lens because someone like me has suggested that was a great idea.
And then their pictures aren’t automatically great when aforementioned lens is used.

The trick generally is to find something in the foreground of the shot that leads the eye into the picture, especially if it’s an overall reef scene, so

  Here i’ve used a fire coral with an orange Anthias topping, in the foreground of the shot to lead the eye into the frame, shot using just the available light, and showing some divers exploring a reef.

Here i’ve used a fire coral with an orange Anthias topping, in the foreground of the shot to lead the eye into the frame, shot using just the available light, and showing some divers exploring a reef.

something like a brain or fan coral or anything striking in the front of the shot.

To start with it’s easier all round if you’re in the shallows and there’s good light to shoot using the available light, without any additional lighting.

And these type of shots are always a great way to show your non diving friends how lovely it is to do what we do.

  The sort of shot that is easy to achieve with even a very simple point and shoot or action camera equipped with a wide angle lens, and using a fully automatic mode

The sort of shot that is easy to achieve with even a very simple point and shoot or action camera equipped with a wide angle lens, and using a fully automatic mode

Also relatively easy from a technical point of view, and one of the few scenarios where shooting in an automatic mode can work quite well.

Even works well with some action cameras too, so those of you with GoPro’s are in with a decent chance of bagging some great pics.

 

 

Summary

 

It’s easy to make a big difference to the overall quality of your underwater  pictures with a wide angle lens and it’s why most people on the learning curve of underwater photography will eventually realise why they really need one.

 

However to get the best from one you’ll need to get closer, and they do encourage you to do that.

A wider lens a really simple way to raise the bar with your shots, and one of the reasons that they don’t come up so often on the second hand market, is that people hang on to them, and they can often be used on a new camera so their initial expense can be very easily justified.

 

So next time, I’m going to look at how you can use them to improve your wreck photography pictures.

If you want more specific advice or have a suggestion for a blog subject feel free to get in touch, details on how to do this are on our contact page. Do the same if you'd like a quote for equipment or to book on one of our courses (dates are on our Events page). Anyone is welcome to join the Blue Duck Photography Q and A  Facebook group as long as you behave yourself and stick to the rules.

Check back soon.

Duxy

 

Medcalf's Macro Musings: Part 1 Intro and Wet Lenses

Macro is a very popular aspect of underwater photography and early success at it can be very satisfying.

I'm a big fan of macro photography as some of you'll be well aware. For folk keen on marine life it concentrates your mind on what can be found on almost any dive. I never do a dive and come up saying I've not seen anything, there's always some tiny new critter to come across.

Once you get in the macro mindset it can quickly give you satisfying results, but you do need to have a grasp of some of the basics.

So let's get started. 

 This shot was taken with an Olympus EPL3 camera with a 45mm lens and a +10 wet lens

This shot was taken with an Olympus EPL3 camera with a 45mm lens and a +10 wet lens

What is Macro Photography

Macro photography can be considered the taking of images where the subject appears at life size or larger on the camera's sensor. You will hear the phrase 'super macro' and this really just refers to very magnified subjects.

Close-up photography is used sometimes to describe taking pictures where the subject is 1/10 size down to actual size on the sensor but is often used as a catch all included macro in with it as well.

Macro Mode

Many compact cameras have macro modes, what these do is allow the camera to focus closer than normal. This is an advantage when using the camera on it's own to take macro shots. But these modes tend to work best with the camera's lens zoomed to it's widest. 

 Available light picture taken with a Fuji F30 compact camera using Macro mode

Available light picture taken with a Fuji F30 compact camera using Macro mode

Macro Wet Lenses or Diopters

These are add on lenses that fit on your housing port and in simple terms increase the magnification of your camera's lens (it isn't quite that simple but for most purposes this will suffice). Diopter is just another photographer's term for this type of lens, originally coming from the measure of lens strength. This is the number that most manufacturers rate them by. A higher number means a more powerful lens. Common powers tend to be +6, +10 and +12 but there are lenses out there that equate to +15. It isn't clear cut to say how magnified your subject will be because this varies not only by what wet lens you add but also by the focal length of your camera's lens. 

 Fantasea +12 macro lens

Fantasea +12 macro lens

When using macro wet lenses you need to be aware that they reduce how far your camera will focus to and also the depth of field you have available. The more powerful the wet lens the closer you need to be to get the subject in focus and the less depth of field you have. So you have to get close to your subject and it will be harder to get the part of the shot you want in focus. You can balance some of the loss of depth of field by using a smaller aperture (higher f number), but remember this reduces the amount of light being allowed in to the sensor and at very high f numbers such as those available on DSLR's image quality can begin to suffer and images appear less crisp. As always camera settings are a juggling act and there is no perfect magical setting for every situation.

 If using a camera with a macro mode you should turn it off. When using a camera with a zoom lens you will usually get best results with the lens zoomed in. 

You can stack some wet macro lenses together to produce a more powerful effect but focusing will get closer and closer to the front lens until if you go too far with your stacking the camera will stop focusing beyond the front of the outer lens. 

scotsgoby.jpg

So how do I get good results using macro wet lenses?

Don't be too ambitious.

We suggest going with a lower power wet lens to start with. Maybe a +6 and then once you are getting satisfactory results move up to a +10 or +12 or stacking a couple of +6's. 

Master buoyancy control before you start.

For me macro is all about getting positioned to reach small creatures without disturbing them and once I've got in that position holding steady while I take the shots.

Don't just snap.

Take your time with your subject. This goes for all underwater photography. If you want your pictures to be good you need to commit a significant amount of time to each set of pictures. 

prawn.jpg

Then take multiple shots.

You'll seldom get your first shot right. With a small subject and a powerful macro lens giving you a shallow depth of field, you'll sometimes take a lot of pictures to get that one shot with the eyes in focus. And sometimes you won't get any right. Focus the camera on the point you want in focus but then take strings of shots holding the focus because slight movements of the camera and/or the subject will take place. I find Single Auto Focus works well for this, using a half press of the shutter button to set the focus. I then just make fractional movements of the camera to try to get the subject correctly focused.It's very much trial and error.

Choose your battles.

If you don't have a strobe you'll need bright conditions because by the nature of adding the macro lenses you are reducing light getting to the camera sensor. And when you have to get very close to what you are taking a picture of you'll find you tend to block the light with the camera and your body. This is why for divers keen on macro photography we tend to recommend a strobe set up as an early purchase. You may get some results using a built-in flash but often you'll find the macro lenses cast a shadow.

Learn to use manual settings.

As always you'll find you get better results once you take control of your camera and learn what changing aperture, shutter speed and ISO will do to your pictures. The camera rarely gets it right of its own accord when underwater. the more help you give it the better.

So that's the end of part one of my musings. If you want more specific advice or have a suggestion for a blog subject feel free to get in touch, details on how to do this are on our contact page. Do the same if you'd like a quote for equipment or to book on one of our courses (dates are on our Events page). Anyone is welcome to join the Blue Duck Photography Q and A  Facebook group as long as you behave yourself and stick to the rules.

Shortcut to Happiness

Useful Keyboard Shortcuts for Adobe Lightroom

We all like a quicker and easier way to do things, and to be absolutely honest it’s maybe a bit strong to suggest that this instructional video will transport you to a zen like nirvana, but it should make your photo editing life a little more streamlined and efficient.

I’ve put together my 10 most often used Adobe Lightroom shortcuts in a coffee break sized video, that hopefully you’ll find useful.

It’s by no means an exhaustive list of Lightroom shortcuts but hopefully it will get you in to the habit of using keyboard shortcuts to speed up your photo editing workflow.

Using keyboard shortcuts can be actually be slower to start with but like most things in life once you start using them you’ll get speed rewards that’ll encourage you to learn more rather than the more laborious method of dragging a mouse around your dropdown menus.

Here’s the video outlining them on our Blue Duck You Tube Channel.
And if you’ve found it useful please click the subscribe button as we’re going to be adding many more on a weekly basis.


It's also worth joining our Blue Photography Q&A Facebook group too. We set it up to answer any questions you may have about underwater photography, photo editing and equipment.

Below, I’ve included a larger list of shortcuts for you to refer back to at your leisure. But even this isn’t all of them, just the most useful ones.

General Lightroom Shortcuts

G  Library Grid view

E  Library Loupe view

N  Library Survey view

D  Develop Module

Tab hides and reveals left and right panels

Shift-Tab hides and reveals both the panels and filmstrip

Ctl/Cmd Z: Undo last step (hit multiple times to go back multiple steps) 

Z  Zooms in and out (Library and Develop) 

Ctl/Cmd +/- zooms in and out (Library and Develop) 

Space bar hand tool (Library and Develop) 

I display information about the image (hit once or twice to get different info) - Library and Develop. 

\  grid view: hides and reveals the Library filter bar at the top. 

P, X, U Flags: Pick, Reject, Unflag

0-5 assign 0 to 5 stars to your image. 

6-9 assign colors to your image. 

B  assigns the selected image to the Quick Collection/ Target Collection

T  hides/reveals toolbar

F  Cycle screen modes (Full screen) 

L  Lights Out (not Loupe view!) 

J  Cycle Grid View Style (Expanded and Collapsed Views) 

Shortcuts Specific to the Develop Module

R crop tool (not the Reject flag!) 

K adjustment brush

O toggle on/off the adjustment brush overlay (shows where you have painted) 

Q spot removal tool

\ toggle Before/After

Y View before and after side by side

X Rotate the crop frame

Page Down: when you are zoomed in, page down will step through your image, top to bottom, left to right

[  ] reduce, increase brush size (spot removal tool, red eye, and adjustment brush)

We run photo editing workshops in the UK run by ourselves in Manchester and also hosted by clubs and shops around the country. Check out our events page for upcoming dates or get in touch if you would like more information regarding anything via our contact page

The Truth About 'Waterproof' Cameras

With Panasonic launching a new entry into the waterproof/tough camera market, the FT7, now is probably a good time to took about the pros and cons of this type of camera.

But before we go any further let me make it clear, this blog is not intended to denigrate waterproof cameras or their users. Instead this is aimed at giving owners and prospective owners some insight into what makes a camera 'waterproof' and why despite what some people may tell you on social media they aren't indestructible. 

 The new waterproof camera from Panasonic. The FT7 or TS7 in the US.

The new waterproof camera from Panasonic. The FT7 or TS7 in the US.

The group of cameras I am referring to are those that the manufacturers state can be used underwater. So not just splash-proof or weatherproof but actually submersible without an underwater housing. Examples include the Olympus TG's, Nikon W300 and the SeaLife Micro 2.0.

The common misconception with these cameras is that they can't flood. A land camera in a housing relies on the o-rings of that housing to protect it from water. That in turn relies on you the owner to maintain the housing and ensure that the o-rings are clean and undamaged each time you go in the water. This can appear to be somewhat time consuming especially when you are only a diving holiday where you want to relax and maximise your leisure time.

So with that backdrop the idea of camera you can just take in the water with no maintenance and no worry sounds good. But it isn't that simple.

Cameras aren't made magically from solid blocks of metal or plastic. They have multiple parts that have to be put together and that means there are joints and seams in their construction. All of these have to have some form of seal, as do all exterior moving parts such as buttons and levers. Any of these can still fail in much the same way as those seals on a conventional housing from use, age or manufacturing defect. The only risk factor that has been removed is the need for the owner to take any care when using the camera.

But that last statement isn't entirely true. You do still need to take care. Most of these cameras have removable batteries and memory cards. This means they need a battery compartment that can be accessed by the user and this throws in all the risks that a normal camera in a housing has.

Paul Duxfield -1700992.jpg

You can make an error and not close it properly. Hair or other debris can get caught across the seal and cause a leak. Or the seal can suffer damage and not function properly. Unfortunately, unlike a camera in a housing where a small leak from a trapped hair will not necessarily result in harm to the camera, a small leak of sea water into a battery compartment will almost always result in severe damage to the camera.

Now some cameras have got around this by not having removable batteries and memory, instead having connectors sealed into the outside of the camera body with just a simple cover. These remove that weak spot but instead introduce other issues. Being able to change batteries is a real advantage on a trip with a lot of time in the water when you won't necessarily be able to recharge between dives. Also memory and batteries do fail which isn't a nice thing to deal with in the middle of a dream trip. Also you need to take care to rinse these connections thoroughly after being in sea water as they can corrode if neglected.

My advice to someone with one of these cameras is to treat the camera body in the same way one would treat a housing. Whenever the battery compartment is open, visually inspect it for debris before closing it up. Make sure the seal and the compartment edges are clean. Always check that the compartment is secure and take pains to protect the locking mechanism from being caught or damaged. Rinse the camera carefully and dry it by hand with lint free towel taking particular care of the lens which can be damaged by water being allowed to dry in the sun on it. Don't leave it languishing unattended in a rinse tank. THE RINSE TANK IS THE GRAVEYARD OF CAMERAS!

You should also make yourself aware of any maintenance schedule in the cameras manual. For example the Olympus TG5 should be returned every year to a dealer for its seals to be changed. If you don't do this and you have a leak after a year any warranty you have won't cover it.

Ideally if you have one of these cameras or plan on getting one and there is an additional underwater housing to go with it, get one. This will give you more reassurance than that of having either a normal camera in a housing or your waterproof camera on its own. 

PT-058_Front_TG-5_0.jpg

A waterproof camera won't necessarily survive a catastrophic housing failure at depth below it is rated to but even a large housing leak shouldn't kill it, if you've looked after it properly.

Bear in mind that the reason why not everyone uses these cameras for underwater photography is that they have their own limitations when it comes to taking pictures. Most have limited modes with few having a full manual mode and very few having sensors as large as the high end compact cameras available with housings. This stems in many cases from the fact that they aren't really aimed at serious photographers. Instead they were conceived as a way of keeping some of the point and shoot camera market from slipping into the hands of the mobile phone manufacturers. The camera makers quite rightly realised that when you run your life through your phone there are some situations where you don't want to use it to take pictures. Whether that be canoeing, sailing, climbing, skiing or snorkelling. 

As phone cameras keep improving, this will hopefully drive the tough camera makers towards the high end compact market. Every year we berate the guys on the Olympus stand at the Photography Show that they need to make the next TG with a bigger sensor and a full manual mode. Then it would probably be our go to camera for customers looking for a compact camera for underwater photography. Until then they are great cameras but just not the top dogs amongst underwater compacts like the 1 inch sensor boys.

If you would like advice on underwater photography, are interested in one of our events or would like to buy equipment get in touch via one of the methods on our contact page

We also have an advice and discussion group on Facebook, Blue Duck Photography Q and A.

"It's a great camera, but......"

 

These are words I find myself using a lot in conversation with potential customers, fellow photography geeks and on a variety of Facebook groups.

It’s all because the photographic industry often doesn’t really ‘get’ underwater photography.
That's not the fault of the industry at large, underwater shooters represent a narrow slice of the photo market, and economic forces whether we like it or not tend to shape the direction technology heads.

I came across this phenomenon many years ago working at a specialist underwater photographic retailer in central London.

Even in a large metropolis there was only sufficient footfall for two such establishments. So in our quieter moments, geeks that we were, we would be found poring over photographic websites, eagerly awaiting the next model of camera that manufacturers would announce.Apart from just general interest in digital photography, we were particularly concerned with the suitability of the latest offerings for use as underwater cameras.

At the time, (about ten years ago) there was a glut of new compact cameras that appeared on a six monthly cycle. Nowadays the cheaper digital compacts have largely been replaced by mobile phones. But for a variety of reasons that we aren’t going to explore now, mobiles haven’t really replaced those compacts as worthy choices for underwater photography, in the main.

Back then you had choice, and a lot more of it, too. So when people decided to dip their toes into the water and start picturing their underwater adventures, they could purchase a suitable camera and housing for as little as £400. Because of this smaller initial cost they often had budget left for  accessories like wide angle lenses and strobes.

 This shot was taken over 12 yrs ago on an early Canon digital compact. It was only possible to produce the clarity and colour contrast in this image with the use of an INON external wide angle lens attached to the housing.

This shot was taken over 12 yrs ago on an early Canon digital compact. It was only possible to produce the clarity and colour contrast in this image with the use of an INON external wide angle lens attached to the housing.


My colleague Phil has written a series of blogs that go into greater detail than I am now about what makes a good camera for use underwater. They are all on the blog page.

In short though the Latin phrase Caveat Emptor (Let the buyer beware) is worth bearing in mind before pressing the buy button in your browser.

What makes a great camera for underwater use isn’t always what the camera manufacturer's marketing campaign gurus would have us buy, and unless you’re a hard bitten cynical underwater photo geek like me, you wouldn’t necessarily see through their spin.

The main reason i’m writing this, is i’m expecting myself to utter the words from the title  often in the coming months, as a new camera has just been announced that will most definitely illicit this response.

The Sony RX100 mk VI

Is the camera that has just been released. 

It will, like its predecessors before it, garner plaudits and praise amongst the cognoscenti of the digital photography firmament.
It has already created a buzz, and the main reason I’m writing this is to urge caution amongst those thinking that it will perform just as capably underwater as it may do topside.

 This will undoubtedly be a technological marvel and much more sophisticated and capable than the camera I used for the  dolphin shot above. However physics is physics and the previous shot just wouldn’t have been possible with this camera.

This will undoubtedly be a technological marvel and much more sophisticated and capable than the camera I used for the  dolphin shot above. However physics is physics and the previous shot just wouldn’t have been possible with this camera.

No camera is created perfect, there are always inevitable flaws. Camera makers tread a fine line between producing something that will appeal to newbies and also those savvy in these things.
This is not a review, i’m basing everything i’m going to say next upon 15yrs of experience in the narrow world of underwater photography retail and what makes a good camera for our purposes All learnt actually shooting and using this equipment.

“It’s a great camera”

This camera is already getting sparkly reviews far and wide and don’t get me wrong it will surely be an awesome piece of kit. Sony have a fine track record of producing great cameras for above and below the waves.


Fabulous focusing speed and tracking, incredible frame rate, and impressive 4K video capabilities are all things I can hear fans and prospective customers telling me.

I would love this camera, and if I could afford one it would defo be on my short list as a do all, carry around camera capable of high quality results that I could slip into a pocket, for use on LAND.


There’s been a few niggles, like the inability to disable the pre-flash or the less than ideal custom white balance by comparison to their peers, but in the main the Sony RX100 range have been fine cameras for us underwater shooters.


This is not me bashing the brand or even the range at all. It’s simply to make people fully aware of all the implications with this latest offering if they want to use it for underwater photography even half way seriously. I'm anticipating the trouble from within our very  own world of underwater photography manufacturing that i’m trying to warn against.

 

“but”

With the MkVI, the lens is the main problem for us and for exactly the reason that the marketing people from Sony and the various review sites so far have applauded it. More precisely the physical length of it.

In Sony’s sister range of models, the Sony RX10 series, their main marketing push has been the combination of a large 1” sensor, the same one as in the physically much smaller RX100’s, and the huge zoom range they offered.

 The long telescoping zoom lens is the thing that causes the Sony RX100 mk VI problems for practical use inside an underwater housing

The long telescoping zoom lens is the thing that causes the Sony RX100 mk VI problems for practical use inside an underwater housing

Now Sony have managed to cram in a long range lens into a much smaller body size. In many eyes a winning combination.

The canny marketing people in cahoots with the designers know full well that Joe and Jane Public love a long range telephoto zoom lens, as it puts within reach apparently, the ability to shoot wildlife and sports with ease. The marketers will display amazing shots taken on these outfits to show that you or I can achieve these things if only we were to buy the latest camera with it's zoom lens.


And to be fair when used within their limitations these cameras are capable of great things.
Unfortunately this is exactly what makes them a poor fit for underwater photography.

Why?

To take a camera underwater you need to put it in a waterproof box, very simple.
And if it has a more modest zoom range that doesn’t protrude the lens too far from the front of the camera when in use, then this is relatively easy.

With cameras of a similar ilk to the Sony RX100 mk VI, and there are quite a lot from other manufacturers such as the Panasonic ZS200/TZ200, the lens protrudes quite far so any housing to keep it dry needs to accommodate this lens at it’s greatest physical length, which is usually at it’s longest reach.

 A schematic showing the lens extended. This means that any housing port designed for it will need to be at least deep enough to not obstruct the end of the lens, but also wide enough to not cause any vignetting when the camera is used at the more useful (to underwater photographers) wider end.

A schematic showing the lens extended. This means that any housing port designed for it will need to be at least deep enough to not obstruct the end of the lens, but also wide enough to not cause any vignetting when the camera is used at the more useful (to underwater photographers) wider end.

This means that any housing port designed for it will need to be at least deep enough to not obstruct the end of the lens, but also wide enough to not cause any vignetting when the camera is used at the more useful (to underwater photographers) wider end.This in turn makes it very difficult to attach external lenses that will work efficiently at the wide angle end.
You may not value or realise this right now if you are just starting out in underwater photography, but you will discover that using very wide angle lenses is a big deal, and the reason why

 It’s an absolute must to be able to guarantee the clarity by shooting through less water with a superwide lens and I couldn’t do the majority of my job without one

It’s an absolute must to be able to guarantee the clarity by shooting through less water with a superwide lens and I couldn’t do the majority of my job without one

most of us shooting underwater find a super wide or even fisheye lenses a must for most of our  needs when not doing macro photography.

I personally shoot most of my work for magazines, brochures and advertising with a fisheye lens, and for the rest (about 10%) I use a dedicated macro lens.

I’ve mentioned the particular issue which effects underwater practicality. 

 But another downside that the camera manufacturers, will never say is that to pack a long zoom lens into such a small space will result in the camera having a very modest maximum aperture (the bit that dictates how much light the camera can gather) , especially when zoomed in to the most powerful end.


This is quite a big deal for all shooters as ironically when you are zoomed in, say shooting wildlife or sports, the one thing you’ll most likely require is a fast shutter speed, to hold steady and to freeze any action.


And as the cameras poor relative aperture means it is letting in a lot less light than a less powerful zoom equipped model, then you’ll either have to be shooting in blazing sunlight in the tropics or, as in most cases raise the ISO (the sensitivity of the sensor)  to very high levels, giving you that necessary faster shutter speed, but increasing the noise and reducing the quality markedly, as a penalty.

So there really isn’t such a thing as a free lunch.

Over the last 15yrs I have had this discussion a lot, and the ideal scenario is that I can speak to a customer before they have made an expensive purchase. As specialists in this field we really don’t want you to make an expensive mistake, and in this case the Sony RX100 mk VI is currently being pitched at over a £1000 on it’s own.
For that price you could buy a much more capable underwater shooting tool including a housing!
Which would also have a 1” sensor, the really important bit of the whole equation, and the bottom line dictating the potential quality of its output.

 

Final Thoughts

Some may not like what I have just said particularly if they have just bought a camera we don’t recommend for underwater use, but I can only speak what I have learnt to be true over time and with a lot of experience.
Please let me re-iterate this doesn’t mean you have a bad camera, the review sites will reassure you of this, as will I.
However if you have bought a camera that we know wont be ideal for underwater photography by comparison to often cheaper less well specced offerings, then I have to tell you why. It’s also worth bearing in mind that a very small camera with a long zoom lens, offering so much can’t defy the laws of physics, and usually something else has to give.

 This shot wouldn’t be possible without a very wide-angle lens, and why we deem them to be so important in our world.

This shot wouldn’t be possible without a very wide-angle lens, and why we deem them to be so important in our world.

At Blue Duck we sell equipment based upon our mantra of 'Best Advice'.

Which means that we are duty bound to warn you of the pluses and minuses of any intended purchase.

We aren’t distributors or manufacturers, and we aren’t pile it high, website retailers.
We need to survive in this market place by having proper conversations with customers and really let people be fully aware of the implications of their intended purchases.

We have access to a range of high quality brands, but even within those we don’t recommend everything they sell.

Cherry picking kit we either use ourselves or know to work well and have future flexibility, is the main reason we set up business in the first place.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that just because there is an underwater housing available for your camera that ergo it must be fit for purpose. Well I guess it will keep the water out.

In my old job working for one of the biggest names in underwater photographic retail, I would despair on that some housing manufacturers would just churn out waterproof boxes for just about any camera. You cant blame them, they were being reactive to the market rather than pro-active I think.

It did make for some awkward conversations though, as I felt duty bound to explain to customers that it may be better for them to wait until they had acquired a more suitable camera, it would have been easier to just take their money, but my conscience wouldn’t let me.

Luckily in some cases a more suitable camera and housing could often be bought for the same price as the huge waterproof box they thought they needed in the first place, and we sold lot’s of kit like this and built strong long term relationships with our customers.

This is the philosophy that Blue Duck Photography Ltd works by. If you are interested in buying equipment or would like more information about our training events then get in touch. Details on our Contact Page 

If you would like advice or want to discuss underwater photography, you can also join our Facebook Group