Lights

  • Electronic Flash (Strobe) or Video Light?

    Photography techniques continually evolve. Back in the ‘sixties when I first started life as a photographer, lighting for photography was directly developed from lighting for movies. Huge spotlights of 2000 watts and more were called ‘brutes’ because they could really hurt you. Smaller ones were called ‘pups’. Little 500 watt spots were called ‘inky-dinkies’ because they produced so little light. Camera exposures were long, in the order of a second or more. Live subjects had to keep very still.

    Lighting men wore heavy gloves and needed to be very muscular. The lights themselves produced a huge amount of heat, which meant ramifications, especially with food photography because the subject would literally cook under the lights. Enterprising photographers got round this by substituting mashed potatoes for ice cream, painted ball bearings for peas, and so on. No wonder the contents of food packaging never looked like what was shown on the label!

    Flash was limited to expendable flashbulbs, some as big as household bulbs, which came at a cost. Then reliable electronic flash was invented and the likes of David Bailey and modern photographers of the ’sixties never looked back. Of course, it needed a lot of skill to use because you could not see what you were getting until the film was processed.

    This was paralleled in the underwater photography world. Pioneers used big flashbulbs because the batteries needed to fuel big constant light sources were impractical.

    Eventually, underwater electronic flashguns (sometimes called strobes) became reliable and small enough not to encumber a diver already with a big camera. Electronic flash became ‘de rigeur’ for underwater still photography. Shooting video was different. You needed a constant light output.

    Bulb and battery technology was such that as recently as 1992, I was taking a video rig into the water that weighed more than 100kg thanks to the huge ni-cad batteries for the lights. It often had to be derrick’d into the water. Even so, the lights were not bright enough to be effective over more than 75cm distant and totalled only 400 watts.

    bigblue_big_2Times change and technology develops. Today you can buy a 15,000 lumen LED light that weighs less than a kilo including its battery. At the same time, underwater electronic flash (strobe) has become quite tiny compared to its light output. Obviously, you need a constant light source for recording live-action, but which is better to use for still pictures?

    Well, we don’t have to wait for our film to be processed to see results thanks to digital technology. The results appear instantly on the LCD screen of the camera the moment an exposure is made. So what are the differences?

    Electronic flash, even in a small package, can deliver a very high output, more even than that 15000 lumen light, in a very fast burst, freezing the action. A set of four small batteries with last for hundreds of exposures.inon_s2000_1

    However, you need to have some idea of what you are doing. This comes with practice because you cannot see the effect before you press the camera’s button. You need to spend a little time familiarising yourself with the controls. You need to take at least one shot to be sure of what you are getting.

    Some electronic flashguns have aiming light built in. These are only good for telling you where they are pointed during a night dive. They cannot be a substitute for a dive light. sea_sea_ysd2_1To help a camera focus on macro subjects, often it’s a good idea to employ a separate aiming light mounted on top of the camera. These can have an auto-flash-off function so that there is no annoying spot of light added to your pictures. They can also have a red light mode so that marine life is not aware of your light at night and you can ambush it with the pulse of white light from your flash.bigblue_blackmolly2_1

    A video light is a constant light source and can double as a dive light although since the spread is so wide and even, it will not be very penetrative like a purpose-designed diving light.

    When lighting a subject for the camera you can see its effect before taking the picture but it will not give you such a small working exposure as a flash and less depth-of-field (focus). It can also be difficult to get close to marine life because the light might scare it, and you will need to get close for it to be effective. Of course, a constant light source (video light) can be used to live action as well as still pictures and its controls will be easy to understand.

    idas_venom38_1Don’t expect a video light to be less expensive than a flashgun (strobe) either. By the time you’ve mounted it on the camera, the cost will be around the same.

    So which is best for your needs? A flashgun or a video light? There is now one solution available that combines both. The iDivesite SS-1 Symbiosis and the doubly powerful SS-2 Symbiosis each combine a 2000 lumen video light with an electronic flashgun (strobe), powering both from the same rechargeable battery.i-divesite_symbiosis_ss2_b

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

  • Technological Advances in Underwater Lighting

    If you are diving inside an unlit wreck or at night, it’s pretty obvious you’re going to need some form of light and there’s a plethora to choose from. What may not be so obvious is that if you are diving in water under bright tropical sunshine, everything will look monochromatic thanks to the fact that water selectively filters the light so that more than a few metres away from the surface, everything looks blue. Not only that, but try looking under ledges for any animal that might be lurking there (and that’s where a lot of animals lurk during the brightest part of the day) and everything gets lost in deep shadow.

    A light will illuminate the corals in their true vibrant colours A light will illuminate the corals in their true vibrant colours

    So in actual fact a powerful diver’s light is just as useful during daylight hours as it is when there is no natural light by which to see your way. The difference between having a weak light and no light at all is clearly obvious too at night, but during the day you’ll need a light that can compete with the daylight, filtered as it is by the water. That’s why you’ll see successful underwater photographers using powerful underwater strobes to light up their subjects and videographers often using powerful video lights.

    Years ago, underwater lighting was limited by the size of the battery that could fire up a conventional halogen lamp. Powerful lights tended to be both huge and heavy. More recently, lithium-ion battery technology combined with modern LED bulbs can give us a powerfully bright light with a useful burn-time combined in a compact package.

    A lamp will light the way wherever there's no natural light. A lamp will light the way wherever there's no natural light.

    A good example of that is the Nanight Sport dive torch. This Swedish torch uses a cluster of three Cree XM-L2 U2 LEDs in a single module to push out up to a massive 3000 lumens fired up by its lithium-ion battery pack and the beam so produced can either be a narrow 12° suitable for those diving in low visibility conditions and who want a tight penetrative beam, a 35° beam that is generally very useful, or a wider 55° beam for those diving at night who may be a little nervous about what might be close by but not immediately lit up. It’s important to choose the appropriate one for your needs.

    Kansho4619 Inside the engine room of a wreck.

    For example, I took a torch limited to a narrow beam on a trip to dive the wrecks of Truk Lagoon. It was a mistake. Swimming about inside the engine rooms and holds of these 1944 relics from the Pacific War, I missed a lot of details because the beam was too selective. The next time I went I made sure to use a torch with a wide beam and missed nothing.

    The burn-time at a full 3000 lumens is a little under one-and-a-half hours, which is more than enough for any daylight dive when you might need the maximum intensity, but you can progressively dim it in four stages and the burn-time increases pro rata. This is effected by a magnetic switch that functions sequentially and a micro processor controls the light intensity. If you are worried that the light might overheat, the LEDS are temperature monitored.

    You might find that 750 lumens is quite enough once your eyes have adjusted to the darkness and should you be doing a series of leisure dives on wrecks, there will be more than enough power in the battery for a full day’s diving, with some to spare. You’ll only need to recharge the torch once each day.There is a battery charging indicator that turns from red to green as it is charged. Recharging from flat takes a few hours and before the light extinguishes due to low battery power it continues with progressively lower light output. That equates to something of a get-you-home mode.

    Nanight Sport Nanight Sport

    All this technology is contained within a tube that is around 15cm long and 5cm in diameter. It weighs a mere 500g and is depth-rated to 100m, which is enough for most people! When you first switch it on, it flashes up to four times to indicate the state of battery charge.

    If you want an even longer burn-time, the Nanight Tech dive torch uses a similar head that is powered via an umbilical by a larger 20cm long battery pack and weighs around a kilogram. It will run for two-and-a-half hours at full output with an extra hour with gradually reducing light output. The battery canister attaches to your tank, backplate or other convenient place and the head, only 8cm long, is supplied with a Goodman handle that allows hands-free use. It comes with the two reflectors for the narrower beams.

    Nanight Tech Light Nanight Tech Light

    One last point: When using extremely bright lights like these, avoid shining them towards the eyes of other divers. If you wish to signal, point the light at your signalling hand.

  • How to Get Clear Sharp Pictures Underwater

    VerdeIsland5191There are some basic rules to getting clear sharp pictures, whether it be video or stills, while under water because it is the water that ruins so many good photographic opportunities. Firstly, the clearest water is not clear. Well, it's not as clear as clear air might be. If you could eliminate the water, think how much clearer your pictures would be!

    How do we do that? Simply by getting as close to your subject as possible and thereby eliminating as much water as you can between your camera's lens and your subject. That's why inexperienced underwater photographers have most success initially photographing macro subjects. Because they are small, it's easy to get the camera up close and personal to them. You only need to enable the camera to focus on them. Those with top-of-the-range DSLR cameras can equip themselves with a macro lens specifically designed to focus very closely. The lens merely needs to be installed behind a flat lens port or 'macro' port. Those with cameras that have a fixed lens (such as most compact cameras) will need to fit and auxiliary macro lens to the outside of their housing. The same can be said for GoPro POV cameras._DSC5564

    But what about bigger subjects? That's where a wide-angle lens comes into play. Again, a DSLR user will need to fit such a lens and mount it on the camera behind a suitable dome port. Dome ports produce a virtual image just ahead of the camera so you must be sure your choice of lens will focus close enough on that. The advantage is that a dome port keeps the angle-of-view the same for the lens as it would be if used in air. Wide-angle lenses are not used to 'get more in' but to allow the photographer to move closer without 'cutting more out'.

    Again, compact camera users will need to fit an auxiliary wide-angle lens to the outside of their housing. There is a variety of choices but you should be advised by an expert as to which will suit the fixed lens of your camera if it is not to vignette the photographs. The advantage of fitting lenses to the outside of the housing is that these wet lenses, whether macro or wide-angle, can be interchanged at will, whilst submerged.

    Water has another property that makes the life of an underwater photographer a little complex. It absorbs light so that as you go deeper it gets darker, but it also absorbs light selectively. The longer wavelengths of light (red and green) get soaked up first so that very soon, at a depth of no more than a few metres, everything will look blue in your pictures. What can you do about that?_DSC8326

    One way to look at it is to see it as a surplus of blue light and if you can reduce the amount of blue light you will allow the camera to make the most of the red and green light that still penetrates the water to the depth you are at. Some cameras allow you to "White balance" and provided the software designer has provided enough range to account for the excess of blue light, this can be very effective. It's best to point your camera at something neutrally grey to do this. A piece of white Perspex is ideal but failing that, the palm of your hand underwater can usually be good enough. Canon compacts are especially good at white-balancing against an excess of blue. Sadly for underwater photographers most software designers are thinking in terms of white-balancing against incandescent light, which tends to have an excess of red and green but those who work for Canon seem to have it nailed.

    Of course, some cameras do not have the facility to white balance, so what then? A red filter will make the most of what red light is present but of course you will need different degrees of red according to the depth you are at. You can fit alternate filters to a GoPro camera or you can fit a Backscatter Flip Filter 3.1 system. This gives you the option to flip the appropriately coloured filter in front of the lens and make a judgement by looking at the image on the LCD screen. If you have a Hero 4 Black or an earlier GoPro 3 you can fit an LCD back available as an accessory.

    A better way to get good colour in your pictures is to take some white light with you. In the case of video a constant light source is necessary and can vary in price from a basic Big Blue rig to something more ambitious. You cannot have too much light but it needs to be of the right colour and exceedingly even in its spread, or your video camera will try to look into the shadows and the lit areas will burn out. You will need a lot of light to get good still photographs even for macro subjects when the light source is very close indeed. Even a high-output Keldan light has a limited range. For good still pictures there is no substitute for an underwater strobe or even a pair of them. They emit a quick burst of light but it is many times brighter for that short duration than any constant light source. These can vary in price from the Sea & Sea YS-03 and Inon S2000 to the bigger hitters like the Sea & Sea YS-D2._FFF7119

    Professional underwater photographers shoot RAW files and there is a very good reason why they do this. RAW files allow you to do a lot of adjustments to your pictures after you have been under water when there might have been time constraints. Many compact cameras can shoot RAW files but because these files can be very large it can mean a significant delay of a few seconds between taking pictures. DSLR cameras have buffers of varying size that allow users to shoot a lot of RAW files without this annoyance. Depending on what you are photographing, the delay between shots might be worthwhile. Next week we'll show you the advantages of adjusting files from a RAW original long after the event.

  • Get Close, Then Closer Still!

    It’s not unknown for experienced and often professional photographers to come to Ocean Leisure Cameras, seeking out an underwater housing to enable them to take their camera underwater. We are always pleased to help._FFF6172 Nevertheless, often these people are acting under the misapprehension that in order to get good pictures whilst fully immersed in water they need to do little more to adjust the techniques with which they are familiar when working surrounded by air, than to keep their camera dry. This is not the case. Water is a very different medium to air. For one, it never has the clarity of air, neither does light pass through it without being absorbed. That doesn't mean it’s simply darker. Water absorbs light selectively. Light passing through couple of metres of water will have its spectrum distorted as the long wavelengths at the red end of the spectrum get filtered out. A few more metres and the green element is lost. Finally, only the short blue wavelengths of light penetrate very far. that is why the clearest seawater looks blue when viewed from the top. A colour-correcting filter, white-balancing in the camera or adjusting during post-production of a RAW file in the computer can help immensely when photographing in the relative shallows. The detritus in solution in the water also acts as a diffuser. Natural light underwater naturally always comes from above but often it is flat and uninteresting. Underwater, the photographer needs to add some artificial light not only to restore the natural colours but to add contrast to the photographs he takes. You might take an enormously powerful underwater flash or strobe with you but its range is still limited. Just like light from the sun, it will be filtered blue by the time it has passed little more than a couple of metres through the water t the subject and back again to the camera. So the cardinal rule of underwater photography is to get as little water between your camera and what you are photographing. Get close, then get closer still. In order to restore and image of the whole subject, it’s necessary to use a wide-angle lens - and one as wide as possible. These can be either ancillary wet lenses or prime lenses behind a dome port. Long focal-length lenses are simply of no use unless you are using a macro lens. Here’s an example of a photograph taken by natural light in the gin-clear waters off Cyprus. The Eastern Mediterranean has some of the lowest plankton levels of any seas in the world.

    Diving off Cyprus Diving off Cyprus photographed with natural light and white-balanced..
    _FFF1621 Even here in bright sunlight close to the surface skin tones are looking pallid and shadows filled in.
    Once you get a bit deeper, as in these pictures taken in Truk Lagoon in Micronesia, you’ll notice that the light from the off-board flash no longer reaches the diver and at a distance she is reduced to almost little more than a shape without detail, even though the picture was taken with the widest-angle lens available and she is little more than four metres distant.
    Diver on the wreck of an armed merchantman in Truk Lagoon. Diver on the wreck of an armed merchantman in Truk Lagoon.
    At a distance of only a few metres the diver is almost monochromatic. At a distance of only a few metres the diver is almost monochromatic.
    The nearest part of the coral encrusted deck gun is lit sharply in full colour but the mast behind is almost lost in the mist of particularly clear water. The close-up has been cropped to replicate the angle-of-view of a 60mm (standard) lens on a full-frame camera. Once you find yourself in water that’s not as clear as in the two previous examples, the difficulty in using anything with a focal length of a standard lens or longer becomes even more apparent. SafetyStop SafetyStopThis is because the water is not clear and affecting the contrast and sharpness of the image (as in the image above). The solution is to get closer, use a wide-angle lens and add contrast with an ancillary light or underwater strobe.

  • Diving in the Dark

    Goatfish in its night clothes. Goatfish in its night clothes.
    Lighting up the detail of the reef at night with an underwater light reveals everything in a full spectrum of vibrant colour that you would never see in daylight filtered blue as it passes through the water. At the same time, many creatures of the reef are nocturnal. They include predators such as white-tip reef sharks and moray eels that are active, hunting at night. Crinoids such as feather stars and basket stars creep from their daytime hiding places to feed on plankton.
    An Octopus hunting out on the sandy seabed at night. An Octopus hunting out on the sandy seabed at night.
    It's at this time that the coral polyps come to life, protruding out from their hard coral structure, waving their arms.
    A marble ray feeding in the sand at night in the Maldives A marble ray feeding in the sand at night in the Maldives and oblivious to the presence of divers.
    Strangely, many of the more timid animals seem less aware of the presence of divers at night and seem mesmerized by a diver’s light. Other creatures can take advantage of this to make their hunting easier. Some of the most commonly encountered animals include rays feeding and turtles browsing, goatfish probing for their supper in the sand and crabs and lobsters parading out in the open. It’s also at night that the fascinating octopus stalks its supper, a meal of shellfish. Some  animals are considered special quarries for divers. These include the flashlight fish of the Indo-Pacific region, the rosy-lipped batfish in the American Pacific, and Spanish dancers - huge nudibranchs that are usually coloured bright red or pink and carry shrimps on their backs. Mandarin fish too  are only seen in the dark when they break cover of the coral rubble for a moment to mate in open water.
    A Spanish dancer is a large nudibranch A Spanish dancer is a large nudibranch
    The problem with getting a glimpse of these last two night stars of the tropical marine environment is that any white light will scare them back into hiding. Nowadays, some dive lights and video lights come with alternative red beams that the fish don’t appear to see. A typical  example comes in the form of the i-Torch Pro6+ although there are many others to choose from.
    Mandarin fish photographed with the aid of a red aiming light. Mandarin fish photographed with the aid of a red aiming light.
    Of course, if you video any subject by the light of a red lamp it will record as red but if you are making still photographs you can line up a subject under a red aiming light and then capture their image with a pulse of white light from an underwater flashgun or strobe.
    Caribbean spiny lobster Caribbean spiny lobster
    What's the difference between an underwater video light and a diving light? The diving light will have a narrow beam which is not usually very even. It gives a hotspot of focused light and a peripheral beam that may be composed of concentric rings. It allows us to concentrate on one subject whilst being aware of what else might be going on around us. On the other hand a video light gives a wide and perfectly even beam in a colour-temperature range that is acceptable when viewing the footage later. If you used an ordinary diver’s light for video, the image would be unacceptably patchy. Equally, a video light does not punch its way far into the water and only a has a limited range. You'll see the weird and the wonderful at night. Animals such as this decorator crab, self covered with its adornment of sponges.
    Decorator crab Decorator crab disguised with a covering of sponges.
    Whether you want a light for diving or for underwater video-making, we hold a large selection at Ocean Leisure and Ocean Leisure Cameras. If it's a video light you need, you'll discover a choice from 1000 lumens output to a massive 6000 lumens. If you want a diving torch, we stock a wide selection of those too.

  • GoPro - a Phenomenon!

    POV action cameras have taken over the world! Whatever you are doing, whether it be jumping off a high building wearing nothing but a string vest to break your fall, wing-suiting down canyons in the Alps, sky-diving, flying an aerobatic aeroplane, kayaking over waterfalls, mountain biking through breath-taking terrain, parkouring in the city, skate-boarding, motorcycling, merely taking your life in your hands by riding a bike among city traffic, or merely making an omelette, an action camera can be there to record it. Of all the action cameras available, the GoPro range has to be the most popular. In fact it's a phenomenon. This is not only because of the inherent reliability of the cameras (not so guaranteed with cheaper copy-cat products) but because of the immense range of accessories available. GoPro gives you the option to mount a camera almost anywhere! The range is extensive from the basic Hero, the Hero + with its built-in touch-screen LCD display, the Hero  4 Silver edition, the Hero 4 Black edition and the latest mini Session. gopro_herosessionOf all of these the Hero 4 Silver edition has proved most popular with scuba divers. This is because at standard HD 1080p settings it can record at up to 60 frames per second at 1080p and it includes a built-in LCD viewfinder so that the user can aim it precisely at the subject. All GoPro cameras except the Session come ready for use under water up to 40m deep but if that's not enough there's a 60m-deep rated housing and for technical divers Ocean Leisure can offer an aluminium housing rated to 150m deep. ipix_gopro_housing1-1 (This even comes with an ancillary battery pack to increase recording times.) Water  absorbs light selectively so that it appears to get more blue  as you head away from the surface. In the shallows, good colour images can be obtained with the right red filter but the user must make a judgement by viewing the LCD screen. You don't want you pictures to look red! You can buy a range of filters that will make the right adjustment from about 20-metres deep to close to the surface. backscatter_flipsetWe recommend the Backscatter Flip 3.1 Filter system because you can choose to take two filters permanently attached to the camera and flip the appropriate one in front of the camera lens as and when you need it. It also avoids putting unwanted filters in a BC pocket and thereby scratching or even losing them. If you are shooting in temperate water that might be green, you'll need a magenta filter and these are equally available.polarpro_standard_magenta If you want to shoot extreme close-ups of macro subjects, you can even opt to add a 10x macro lens instead of one filter. An less expensive alternative is to go for the Switchblade 2 that offers you a red filter or 10x close-up lens or both and these slide in and out in front of the lens as required.FlamCuttle5079 For really good macro results or for going deeper than 20-metres, we suggest taking some video lights. These start from around £150 each for 1000-lumen lights but they need to be mounted to the camera but well away from the lens axis so as not to light up detritus immediately in front of the lens. A good rig like the SRP tray will place your hands well behind the camera and allow you to mount lamps on top of the handles via additional 1" balls. srp_v_arm1Not only that but it gives you an easy grip that will allow you to hold the GoPro steady and as you'll probably appreciate, good video is usually where the subject moves and the camera does not. The one place you do not want to mount your GoPro whilst scuba diving is on your head, not unless you wish to record a lot of exhaled bubbles! The refraction of light passing through water and then into air tends to make things look closer that they really are. The ramification for the GoPro is that you lose a lot of the extreme wide-angle effect. You can restore this and obtain remarkably sharp pictures by using the Inon wide-angle lens. This must be used in conjunction with the Inon SD Mount Cage but because of the price few GoPro users have yet to adopt it. You could be at the forefront as an early adopter and everyone will marvel at the resolution of your results simply because the set-up has allowed you to move closer to your subject and excluded as much unwanted water from the optical path of your image as is possible. If you want better pictures, photograph through better quality water! inon_sd_mount_cage_for_gopro Whatever you use your GoPro for, Ocean Leisure Cameras have the right accessories, even if you want to simply mount a GoPro on your dog, we can help. (We're not joking about the dog!)

  • Photographing Around Wrecks

    The oceans are full of the wreckage of vessels that have either come to grief through wars, storms or simply bad navigation and more and more unwanted vessels long past their sell-by-date are being scuttled to provide artificial reefs that form habitats for young fish thereby helping the world’s fishing industry or simply to protect an otherwise unprotected coastline from storm surge.

    Diving the Carnatic in the Red Sea Diving the ss.Carnatic in the Red Sea
    In all parts of the world where we go diving you will find examples of such wrecks and although you may not be fascinated simply by rusty metal, the marine life can itself be interesting enough. On the other hand, underwater photographers find the structures useful in getting interesting compositions because they usually offer vertical shapes, features that can otherwise be few and far between in the natural undersea landscape.
    Empty beer bottles stacked up inside the hull of the Rio de Janiero Maru in Truk Lagoon. Empty beer bottles stacked up inside the hull of the Rio de Janiero Maru in Truk Lagoon.
    You don’t need to go all the way to Truk Lagoon in far off Micronesia although it is famous among wreck divers because a Japanese merchant fleet was sunk there by the American USAAF in 1944. Nor do you need to travel all the way to Bikini Atol where a fleet of war-surpus vessels was sunk by an atomic bomb in 1946. You don’t need to include a view of the whole of the wrecked vessel in your picture although this makes for a great image if the visibility is good enough. Photographing such a large vessel means that the sort of lighting equipment the leisure diver has available will be inadequate so this means you'll need to use colour-correcting filters or shoot in RAW mode and correct for good colour later.
    Part of the Quarter Wreck in Grenada. Part of the Quarter Wreck in Grenada.
    Instead concentrate on smaller features and if your diving buddy is prepared to hang around to model for you, so much the better. A diver in the picture lends scale and if they are equipped with a lamp that they can point in the general direction of your lens, that will offer a point of interest that otherwise might be missing. Once the rusty metal is lit up by your underwater flashgun or strobe-light or even your video light, you'll be amazed at the colours of the sponges and hydroids that now cling to it and if you look closely you'll see all manner of minutia of marine life.
    p068Umbriacars Three Italian Fiats from 1940 still sat where they sank within the hull of the ss.Umbria in Port Sudan.
    Don't forget that it is often the cargo of a wreck that can be the key point of such a wreck dive. The wreck of the Italian liner the ss.Umbria has three Italian cars that were destined for Abyssinia before the vessels was apprehended by the Royal Navy at the beginning of World War II and the crew scuttled her on a reef in Port Sudan harbour. They have become among the most photographs artifacts on any wreck save for the war materiel (correct spelling!) that was carried on the ss.Thistlegorm sunk in Sha-ab Ali in the Egyptian part of the Red Sea. You'll need a good diver's light with a broad beam if you want to see everything. However, if you go off looking for the remains of these cars within the depths of the hull of the ship that now lies in a disorienting way on its side, be sure to take with you a winder reel and lay a line so that you can find your way out again. Divers have got lost inside this wreck and although nobody has lost their lives (yet) it can be a very unpleasant experience.
    Batfish schooling on a wreck at Puerto Galera in the Philippines. Batfish schooling on a wreck at Puerto Galera in the Philippines.
    Remember, you don't need to venture inside wrecks to get good pictures. If the wreck is in the open ocean rather than within a harbour or sunk in a lagoon, there will be plenty of marine life that has made it its home. All you need is good lighting in the form of strobes or a video light plus a little patience to get good pictures. Wrecks represent more than simply rusting metal.

  • It’s Not Rocket Science!

    Learning to drive a car takes time but it mainly revolves around controlling the machinery. That’s because we all grew up with traffic systems and although we may intentionally or unintentionally break the rules of the road at times, they come as no surprise to us. If we came from a planet from another Universe, things may be different. It might need explaining why having a head-on collision with an oncoming truck whilst attempting to turn across it path is a bad thing. It might come as a surprise that road users and pedestrians on Earth usually have segregated paths.

    Learning to scuba dive Learning to scuba dive
    Learning to scuba dive is a little like entering an alien world where some of the important rules that keep you alive may come as a bit of a surprise to you. That’s why it is essential to be properly trained. However, like driving a car, scuba diving becomes as much second nature once you have had enough practice. Diving, you can then enjoy a weightless world just like an astronaut – but it’s not rocket science. You will probably encounter alien life forms – but it’s not rocket science. Elderly? Even if you are old enough to have witnessed man’ first landing on the moon live on television, you can still learn to scuba dive. You don’t need to be supremely fit – and it’s not rocket science. Young? You may be young enough to anticipate working in a space station but if you are sensible and older than ten you can still learn to dive. It’s not rocket science. Scuba instructors get paid very little. They often do it for love of the sport. It can also keep an ego inflated so beware of those that dress up what they teach to appear more complicated than it really is. Although it is wise to do a proper core course with an internationally recognized agency, you can pay for a structured course on most sub-branches of scuba diving technique too but often a little kindly advice or some minimal supervision is all that is needed provided you put in the practice.
    Manta Ray in the Philippines Manta Ray in the Philippines
    It’s the same with underwater photography. There are aspects that might not have occurred to you. Taking pictures through water is very different to taking pictures in air because the light acts differently. Firstly, the light is selectively filtered. The deeper you go the fewer rays of red or green light penetrate from the surface. The effect is to make everything look bluer. You will need to learn how to white balance your pictures either when you shoot them or afterwards. In some cases filters that reduce the amount of blue light reaching the camera’s sensor can be the answer. This daylight is naturally always from the top and often lacks contrast. A solution to getting a more interesting lighting is to combine your pictures with light from a flashgun or powerful video light. A little practise with flash and camera settings will allow you to learn how to balance this foreground flash lighting with natural blue lighting behind. You’ll soon work out a combination of settings, which allow you to follow a successful personal formula.
    Great Hammerhead shark Great Hammerhead shark
      The second obstacle to good pictures underwater comes from the fact that natural water is full of tiny life forms. It’s a planktonic soup of tiny animals. That’s why we are often heard climbing out after diving, extolling the virtues of the visibility that might be at 30m horizontally. We call it “Gin clear”. If we had the same degree of visibility whilst driving, we’d call that a fog! The secret to sharp clear pictures is to get close to your subject and then get closer still. This means we are either reduced to taking extreme close-ups of the minutia of life found in the oceans or we need to use extra wide-angle lenses to get all of a larger subject included in the camera’s vision when we are close. It’s not rocket science.
    Porcelain crab in an anemone. Porcelain crab in an anemone.
    Experienced terrestrial photographers who take up diving often wish to apply the photography techniques they are familiar with. They are not used to crowding their subjects and often want to use longer focal-length lenses. However, standing off and zooming in merely magnifies the loss of contrast and sharpness effected by the plankton and detritus dissolved in the water. You would end up seeing through too much water with the consequent loss of quality. Other misconceptions often vocalized by would-be underwater photographers when they first investigate underwater photography is that they will be able to use slow shutter speeds because everything moves very slowly under water. This is far from the truth and thanks to swells and currents the photographer is often moving quickly too. You need to be able to handle you camera smoothly and use a fast shutter-speed for most subjects.
    Tiny shrimp on Coral frond Tiny shrimp on Coral frond
    The rules are the same whether you are recording live action with a GoPro or taking still photographs with an incredibly expensive top-of-the range DSLR. We are here at Ocean Leisure Cameras to ensure you go away with the kit most suitable for your needs. It’s not rocket science!

  • Lighting Underwater Pictures

     

    Flashguns mounted on long mounting arms. Underwater photography requires special considerations and it's best to read a book on the subject before you jump in!
    How often do we hear divers, ecstatic after coming back from a dive and describing the visibility as being ‘gin-clear’? The horizontal visibility might have been exceptional and offered clear vision for thirty-metres. Great! How often do we hear of fog warnings on major roads with visibility reduced to thirty-metres? That sums up the difference between being in air and being under water. Water is full of detritus, tiny planktonic life-forms, and other contents for the ‘soup’ in which we normally dive. Not only that but natural daylight from above tends to be flat and dull. Yet when you look at pictures in diving magazines that are crisp and there is usually no hint of this poorer visibility. The photographs look sharp and clear. Why is that?
    The author's lighting rig. (Picture by Ivan Petrov) The author's lighting rig. (Picture by Ivan Petrov)
    Well, your pictures can be equally crisp once you have an understanding of the limitations imposed by making them water. The same rules apply whether you are using flash to shoot still photographs or a continuous light source to shoot moving images. The first rule is to get as close to your subject as possible, eliminating as much of that water as you can. This is where a wide-angle lens, a fish-eye lens or a macro lens can help. The second rule is to light your subject with a full spectrum of colour and that normally needs to be supplied by a light or strobe (electronic flash) that you take with you. You will need to be sure that the light coverage of that light source is adequate for the lens you are using. Plastic diffusers fitted over the front of the light ensures an even wide-angle of light output. Although many underwater photographers opt for two flashguns to give them even lighting, a thoughtfully positioned single flashgun with such a diffuser will usually give just as pleasing results. Some subjects such as sharks actually benefit from the added contrast of a solitary light source.
    A hawksbill turtle feeding on soft coral and photographed by a solitary flash. A hawksbill turtle feeding on soft coral and photographed by a solitary flash.
    How you position this ancillary light is crucial and at Ocean Leisure we can supply you with all manner of problem-solving devices in order to mount your lighting to your camera rig. The major difficulty that people encounter is inadvertently lighting up this detritus in the water. We call it ‘back-scatter’. There are two basic philosophies to how you might position your lights. I subscribe to a solution that positions my light or light as far away from the lens axis of the camera as possible. Imagine if you will, your light or lights illuminating a cone of detritus directly in front of them for a distance of, say, thirty centimetres. You need to be sure that these cones of back-scatter do not intrude into your picture area. This means that with a wide-angle or fish-eye lens you need to get them as far from the lens as possible. I use long flash-mounting arms, angled in such a way that the light sources are not ahead of the lens. They are angled slightly backwards but I can point the flash heads back directly at the subject and get the full effect of the light emitted. An alternative philosophy is to angle your flash heads in such a way that the cone of back-scatter is angled out of the picture. Lighting cameramen in the movie industry call this ‘edge-lighting.’ You use the edge of the light and that reflected off the back-scatter in the ‘cone of light’ adds to the amount of light arriving at the subject. This allows you to use shorter flash-mounting arms with the added convenience that brings with it, but reduces the amount of light illuminating your subject. The standard one-inch ball and clamp systems effect many different solutions.
    My flashguns are mounted on the long arms that ensure they are far from the lens axis of the camera. My flashguns are mounted on the long arms that ensure they are far from the lens axis of the camera. (picture by Saeed Rashid)
    Be coincidence, Saeed Rashid and I both photographed a turtle at the same time and each shot reveals the two alternative ways to light a subject. His flashguns are angled outwards for ‘edge lighting’ whilst mine are angled for a direct effect. The choice is yours but Ocean Leisure has a large stock of mounting arms and trays by a range of different manufacturers.
    Saeed Rashid angles his lights outwards a little in a semblance of 'edge lighting'. Saeed Rashid angles his lights outwards in a semblance of 'edge lighting'. (picture by John Bantin)
  • Our Colourful World Underwater

    If you read the last blog about the physics of underwater photography you will understand why everything can look monochromatic underwater, once you have moved away from the surface. This can be misleading and often the new diver’s first introduction to the colour of our underwater world is during his or her first night dive.

    Soft corals in the Maldives (Vilamendhoo).
    Without the blue of the daylight swamping the true colours of the reef, the diver’s underwater light illuminates everything in its true colours – and what a colourful world it is! It’s for this reason that experienced divers are often seen going into the water with powerful lights or torches even on the most brightly lit days. By taking a bright white light close to a subject, it’s revealed in its true kaleidoscope of tints. However, at night you’ll see the fishes in their night-clothes (so to speak) because often the colours they exhibit in daylight are different to those in the dark.
    Coral trout on a sponge encrusted wreck.
    It’s amazing how much marine animal life is actually bright red when you consider that red looks black to most marine life. Nobody can really explain the reasoning but it’s true. Often, fishes that may appear a dirty green colour by natural light are revealed to be bright scarlet in the beam of a lamp. Underwater photographers can take advantage of this phenomenon by lighting up their subjects with an underwater flashgun or strobe light while those shooting live action can employ powerful video lights to the same effect.
    Anemone fish in a purple anemone.
    Even the smallest subjects can be revealed in a startling vividness once they are subjected to a full spectrum of light. Sharks may be the guys in the grey suits, along with many other predatory pelagic species, but once you look closely at any territorial animal with the aid of your diver’s torch, you can appreciate the full range of hues that they wear.
    A wreckfish in the wreck of the Chikusen, BVI.
    Big grouper suddenly appear to be much prettier than their otherwise brutish look might signify.
    Green turtle feeding on seagrass (Egyptian Red Sea)
    Even green turtles can be revealed as more colourful than you would expect. You would not contemplate entering a dark wreck without a lamp to guide your way (and possibly a second one stowed about your person as a back-up should the battery in your primary lamp inexplicably fail). That may seem obvious but even rusty shipwrecks and their cargoes can be quite colourful beyond the range of the oxidising metal because they get encrusted with tiny sponges and hydroids that give them colour. It's a colourful world.
    Inside the Rio de Janeiro Maru, Truk Lagoon.
    As for soft corals, these colonies of animals blossom in a strong current and display themselves in a wide range of reds, oranges, yellows, purples and blues. Going diving on a tropical coral reef without the aid of a lamp is rather like turning down the colour on your television set and watching everything in black-and-white.
    The wreck of the Bianca C in Grenada.
    Get yourself a good diving lamp and a back-up if you are diving at night or in wrecks and if you are shooting pictures, the people in Ocean Leisure Cameras, the store within the store, can fix you up with the appropriate lighting array. Come in and discuss it with them. The store is open seven days each week. Take a suitable light with you when scuba diving  and reveal the colourful underwater world. If you've enjoyed reading these blogs, you will enjoy reading Amazing Diving Stories by the same author.

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