Wide-Angle

  • Photographing Sharks

    It’s easy to impress your non-diving friends and neighbours with the photographs you might take of sharks. Shark encounters come in a number of types: Chance encounters such as you might get ocean-roving oceanic white-tip sharks, encounters where currents attract requiem sharks that enjoy surfing on the flow, encounters with bottom feeding sharks such as nurse sharks and leopard sharks that like to lie up and rest during the day, and where sharks are feeding.

    The normal rules of underwater photography apply, in that it’s best to use a wide-angle lens and get as close as possible. Reduce the amount of water between your camera and the subject.

    Oceanic white tip shark Ocea-roving oceannic white tip shark

     

    Ocean roving sharks tend to be close to the surface so it’s quite possible to get reasonable pictures without an underwater strobe or flash but these are ambush predators so designed as to offer a low contrast image to intended prey. A correct flash exposure can give contrast and add drama.

    They tend to swim around 6m deep, constantly investigating anything that might be the source of a meal. That is why they approach divers, often only to turn away at the last moment when they consider us to be animals too big for them to take on. Sharks appear to judge size by height rather than length so if you want a shark to come close, present as small a frontal area as possible by being horizontal in the water. Go vertical and you will almost certainly scare off such a shark.

    Those sharks that lie about during the day such as nurse sharks can be approached with caution so as not to disturb them and you will have time to get more than one exposure adjusting the lighting and exposure to suit. The same can be said of white-tip reef sharks, although these are much more skittish. They lie about on the seabed during the day because they are able to force oxygenated water through their gills without forward motion like most other requiem sharks, but be aware that because they are grey and again designed for ambush, they need careful lighting just the same.

    Scalloped hammerheads at a cleaning station Scalloped hammerheads at a cleaning station

    Then there are the cleaning stations. Find out from the local dive guide which fish are the resident shark cleaners and find where they are aggregating. Then you just need to be patient, keeping as still as possible, waiting for the sharks to approach for a visit to the manicurist. It’s the only way to get pictures of scalloped hammerheads because they are so skittish. You need to sort out your overall exposure so that the background is reproduced an acceptable blue, adjusting the power of the flash (or strobe) to suit the foreground shark.

    When it comes to feeding sharks, things become a lot more frenetic. You need a fast shutter-speed but you will be limited to the fastest speed with which your camera will allow you to synchronise your flash.

    Sharks feed in two distinctly different ways. When chasing live prey they become very agitated and it’s best to keep clear at this time, even exiting the water. Sharks have more senses than we do but it’s a fact that they have a nictitating eyelid that covers their eyes to protect them at the moment of biting so that they virtually do the last part of an attack with their eyes closed. Mistakes can happen. Anyone who has attended a night dive at Manuelita Island near Cocos will attest to the fact, it can be chaotic, and that’s when it’s only little white tip reef sharks start hunting small fished by the light of the divers torches. Bigger sharks can explode with energy when they sense a live prey.

    White tip reef sharks competing for live prey at night. White tip reef sharks competing for live prey at night.

    On the other hand, when sharks sense there is a meal of carrion to be had, they are much more leisurely in their approach. There are no vibrations of injured or dying fish to excite them or ring their dinner bell, just the odour of an easy meal wafting on the ocean currents. So they tend to swim round in an orderly manner.

    Staged shark feeds such as they often do in the Bahamas and some parts of the Caribbean will give any diver witnessing the event that sharks, although impressive beasts, have a pecking order and act in an orderly manner so that they do not risk injuring each other. They still move quite quickly so you will still need to choose the fastest shutter-speed you can, in order to get sharp pictures. If you do not, the flash will record a sharp image but there will also be a less sharp ghost image due to the daylight exposure being too long.

    Using twin flashguns can also be counter-productive because those guys in the grey suits need a bit of contrast to light them up with plenty of shape and contour. It’s one occasion when the single flashgun reigns supreme.

    Caribbean reef shark at a staged shark feed. Caribbean reef shark at a staged shark feed.

    With plenty of sharks attending a staged feed, you won’t be able to judge where any are at a given moment. You’ll need to take a lot of pictures because inevitably one animal will obstruct your view of another, many times when you release your camera’s shutter. If you shoot RAW files, you’ll be able to adjust these after the event and not have to keep adjusting your flashgun’s output to account for sharks being at different distances from the camera.

     

     

     

  • Dome Ports for Underwater Cameras

    Serious underwater photographers shoot their wide-angle pictures from behind dome ports. What’s that all about?nauticam4.33domeport

    A dome port has no effect when viewing through it with the same medium (air) on both sides but once you put the outer surface in contact with water the refraction between that and the air in front of the camera lens comes into play. What happens is that a virtual image is formed ahead of the dome port and the camera lens is allowed to focus on that instead of the real subject some distance ahead. The effect is to produce an image that is more saturated in colour. The problem comes when you realise that this virtual image is curved and the distance in front of the lens is quite close.

    Some photographers get disappointed when they find that their expensive wide-angle lenses are no longer giving images that are sharp from side to side and resort to fitting them with high-strength dioptre close-up lenses in order to get them to focus close enough to get this virtual image sharp.

    That’s because most expensive wide-angle lenses are rectilinear designs that have a very flat field-of-view, something that is admirable when using them solely in the medium of air. At the same time, few focus close enough.

    That’s why you’ll see top underwater photographers using full-frame fish-eye lenses behind dome ports. Often these give very disappointing results in air but in conjunction with a dome port their aberrations actually become an advantage. A curved field-of-focus is a positive bonus where trying to make a sharp record of a curved virtual image.

    Dome ports come in different diameters with a different radius to their curve. The bigger the dome port the further in front of it the virtual image is formed and the easier it is to get the camera lens positioned at the right point behind it. That said, big dome ports can be unwieldy to use, hence the popularity of mini-domes. The smaller domes produce their virtual image much closer to the front of the port and it’s really important that the front node of the lens is positioned in the correct place relative to it.

    The front node is not something you can see. It’s an optical term. Camera housing manufacturers have done empirical tests with most popular lenses to confirm what spacer ring might be needed to allow the dome to be positioned in the right place relative to the camera. They provide lens/port charts for this purpose and your underwater photography equipment dealer will have that information if you cannot find it on-line.9inchzendome

    Dome ports can be made of acrylic material, polycarbonate or glass. Glass is the most expensive and the most hard wearing but if you are unlucky enough to scratch or chip it, there is nothing you can do apart from clone out the unwanted mark in your pictures, later with software on your computer.

    Polycarbonate is inexpensive and lightweight but the same applies as glass should you damage it. Acrylic ports have an advantage in that the material has the same refractive index as water so minor scratches become invisible in your shots underwater unless you happen to take a picture into the sun. Acrylic is very easily scratched but in the same way it is very easily polished.

    Simply take a piece of fine grade abrasive as used in finishing the paintwork of cars and gently cut back the scratch until they are has become an evenly matte surface. Then polish it back to clear acrylic using some proprietary silver polish wadding. It takes some elbow grease but you will be rewarded with a dome port that is immaculately clear of marks.

    Some say that glass ports are optically superior to acrylic ports. I have owned and used both including an optically coated glass port that I imported specially from Japan and can tell you that the pictures taken with both this and a top quality acrylic dome are indistinguishable.

    A manufacturer like AOI makes a range of glass and acrylic dome ports for Olympus system compact camera housings so the choice is yours.

    You may find that a large glass port is easier to use for those over-and-under shots taken at the surface because droplets of water are less likely to cling to the glass. A large dome port certainly helps get those type of pictures because, remember, the lens has to focus on a nearby virtual image for the under part and the over part is in air, probably at infinity. You need to use very small lens apertures to get the huge depth-of-field needed or a split close-up lens that affects only the bottom part of the lens. These rarely fit on fish-eye lenses.

    Some underwater photographers report good results using smaller domes for these over-and-under pictures but invariably they are in bright sunshine that allows them to use the smallest lens aperture with perfectly calm water, but they normally need to make an exposure adjustment in digital post-processing to get both halves of the picture in balance.

    The important thing to remember is that when buying a port, you will need the right extension ring to position it correctly relative to the lens. Alas, it’s not something you can confirm by taking a picture when in the equipment sales room and not underwater.977685_632320780114194_1262934048_o

  • The Philippines

    Did you know that the Philippines have more miles of coastline than almost any other nation? That's because they are a multitude of islands and the diving is diverse as the people that live on these islands. The Philippines have only recently become popular with divers. We don’t know why, but often when customers at Ocean Leisure are buying lots of stuff for a trip, we ask them where they are off to and more often than not they are set for a trip to the Philippines.

    A typical bangka boat. The design draws little water so the vessel can be driven right up onto the white sand beaches. A typical bangka boat. The design draws little water so the vessel can be driven right up onto the white sand beaches.

    Whether you are planning to cruise around the Camotes Sea in a bangka boat (visiting Malapascua in the north or the jetties of South Leyte or Bohol in the south), diving the World War II wrecks of Coron Bay, enjoying the varied diving out of Puerta Galera with nearby Verde Island, visiting the green turtles at Apo Island and marvelling at the the macro life, muck diving at Dumaguete, or setting off from Puerto Princessa aboard a liveaboard dive boat to visit the remote reefs of Tubbataha, the diving will never cease to amaze you and make you wonder why you left it so long.

    Typical Jeepnee with plenty of chrome. A Jeepney with plenty of chrome apparent.

    You can get to Manila via HongKong or Singapore, for example and whether you make landfall in the city of Cebu or the capital Manila, more often than not you will need to connect via a local airline to get to where you intend going. The Filipino people are extremely welcoming and well travelled. The greatest export from the country is its people and everyone you meet is either back from Europe or North America, is about to head off there, or at least knows some members of their family who are doing so.

    Filipino people offer an extremely warm welcome. The Filipino people offer an extremely warm welcome.

    Nearly everyone speaks good English so nothing is difficult for the Brit abroad in the Philippines. A popular vehicle is the Jeepny, originally developed by converting WW2 Willys Jeeps but now manufactured locally in the same style but enlarged.

    During my career, I regularly travelled via Manila to other destinations in the middle of the Pacific but it was only towards the end of my career that I decided to stop off and dive in that country.

    I was knocked out by the quality and the variety of the diving. If you are an underwater photographer  you'll need to take both macro and wide-angle set-ups. One dive you'll be photographing pigmy seahorses or elusive mandarin fish and the next it will be whalesharks in front of your camera!

    Tiny mandarin fish only conduct their courtship rituals in open water during the first moments of nightfall. Tiny mandarin fish only conduct their courtship rituals in open water during the first moments of nightfall.

    One moment you're looking at a seahorse and the next it's a whaleshark! The author at work. One moment you're looking at a macro subject and the next it's a whaleshark!

    Whether you shoot with a sophisticated DSLR, a micro four-thirds camera or a compact, we can supply you with any accessory lens set-ups that you might need to make the most of your trip. All we ask is that you don't leave until the last minute and call into the Ocean Leisure store on you way to the airport! (you'd be amazed at how many people do that!)

    Some of the places you might stay in the Philippines will be decidedly 'developing country' style while others will compete with the most sophisticated resorts in the world. It's all about budget and you can get by in the Philippines on a very small one. What about the weather? Well, nearly every autumn the Philippines get into the news when the islands are inevitably hit be a typhoon. However, they are quick to rebuild and by the time you go in the Spring, everything will be back to normal.

    Instead of passing through Manila or Cebu on your way to some Pacific destination, why not stop off and savour what the locale has to offer? The Philippine offer some of the best tropical diving in the world. We know it well. Next time you pass by the Ocean Leisure store, stop by for a chat and we'll try to advise you of the differences between the different locations  within this tropical archipelago. Enjoy!

    Turtles and jacks. It's busy underwater at Tubbataha! Turtles and jacks. It's busy underwater at Tubbataha!
  • 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.

  • Satisfied Customers Give Us Satisfaction Too!

    We received an email from Jakarta. It was from a family that had called in to Ocean Leisure Cameras while on their way to take their daughter to boarding school in Shrewsbury. It seems they don't have departments in Indonesian stores like Ocean Leisure Cameras so they wanted to get equipped with an underwater photography outfit to take home with them.

    Their message to us on returning home was that the results from the photography set-up we had suggested and supplied them with had exceeded their expectations in every way.  They were very happy indeed. In fact happy enough to write to us to tell us.

    So what did we sell them? The lady of the family wanted a camera that she could use in a fully automatic mode and was not going to be an imposition to carry on a dive with her. It appeared that cost was no object provided the camera and accessories would do what she wanted without her needing to develop much in the way of photography skills.

    The Canon G7X is a compact camera that employs a sensor that is among the biggest available in its class. This means it produces high quality files even when light levels are low and it can be set up for one button white-balance operation. An alternative might have been the Sony RX100.

    We combined this with a high quality Nauticam housing. nauticam_na_g7xThe lady and gentleman in question liked the idea of fitting a vacuum leak-test systemnauticam_vacuum_seal_check_system because it takes away the stress of wondering if the housing has been closed up properly and won't leak. The green light indicating this is very comforting.

    The lady expressed an interest in photographing whale sharks and we explained that the less water she had between the camera and her subject, the clearer her pictures would be. We supplied an i-Das UWL fish-eye lens that can be fitted directly to the front of the Nauticam housing via a 67mm adapter. This lens will allow her to get as close as possible and still include all of a whale shark in the picture. However we pointed out how the G7X needs to be used in conjunction with a short port and the zoom locked off by means of the lock on the Nauticam's zoom lever to stop it accidentally being zoomed forward. nauticam_n50_shortport2idas_uwl04

    At the same time, since they lived in Indonesia and were conveniently sited to visit its well-known macro dive sites where all manner of strange critters live, we suggested an AOI +12 dioptre macro lens. This too screws directly to the front of the housing.

    aoi_plus12_macrolens-1As for lighting, our suggestion that a Sea & Sea YS-D1 would be a good idea was met with the request to buy two since the gentleman of the family thought they would eventually progress to a double flash set up and getting an matching flashgun later in Jakarta might be virtually impossible. We were happy to oblige and provided a tray and arms with one-inch-ball mounting system.sea_sea_ysd1_a

    Of course this Indonesian family had an extensive budget but don't be put off by the cost. You could get equally satisfying results based on the economic Fuji XQ1 package fuji_XQ1_AOI_lensthat pairs the camera with a proprietary plastic housing, despite it being at an entry-level price. Be adding a lens mount base, this camera can be paired with the exact same auxiliary lenses and you don't need to have the top-of-the-range flashgun.

    If you want something in a price range between the two, what about the Olympus TG4? Its housing can too be combined with the lenses we mention (using a step-down adapter ring for the i-Das UWL fish-eye lens) and it confers the added advantage that the camera alone is water-tight to 15-metres deep so that takes a lot of pressure off the worry that you might not have closed up the housing correctly.olympus_TG4__fisheyelens

    However much or little your budget may be, we want you to go away with the equipment most suitable for your needs and that fits your budget. Come in to the store and discuss it with our knowledgable people. We take pleasure in making you pleased!

     

  • Close-Focus Wide-Angle

    A new buzz-word expression that has developed among underwater photographers is Close-focus Wide-angle or CFWA. What is it and how do you do it?

    Terrestrial photographers have been using wide-angle lenses for years and some caught on to the idea that by getting really close to your subject with a very wide-angle lens on your camera gave you  the steep perspective that added drama and put the viewer right in with the subject. Doyen of war photographers, Don McCullin was a great exponent of this technique. He used to say that you need to get close to the action, then closer still.

    Photographers often talk about the quality of the glass - their lenses. Underwater, the one aspect that tends to ruin the quality of our pictures is the poor quality of the water we are in. It's full of detritus and plankton. 30-metres of horizontal visibility is thought to be gin-clear whereas if that was all you had in air it would be considered a heavy mist at least. It's a great leveller and sometimes buying better quality cameras can be fraught with disappointment. We need better quality water first! So we use wide-angle lenses not often to get a wider shot but to allow us to get close to our subject without cropping out any part of it.

    Olympus TG4 with i-Das Fisheye lens Olympus TG4 housing with i-Das Fisheye lens attached.

    Whereas a fish-eye lens would be a strange choice for a terrestrial shot, underwater it can make complete sense, allowing you to get really close. The dome at the front makes a virtual image by the refraction of the light as it passes from water to the air inside the dome and it's this the camera focuses on. It used to be the province of only very expensive DSLR cameras in tailor-made housings but now you can get an i-Das fish-eye lens for many compact cameras and the route is open for CFWA pictures. Look at how the steep perspective of the close camera-to-subject position translates into much more interesting pictures! Here are some examples.

    Firstly I show you the final shot that was first published in many diving magazines throughout the world and later published in Shark Bytes after the background was simplified by computer retouching in Photoshop.

     

     

    A Great Hammerhead shark a few centimetres from the camera lens _FFF5723 _FFF5724 A Great hammerhead shark searching for prey (stingrays) hiding under the sand.

    With moving subjects, the trick is to hold your nerve and let the animal come to you. This Great hammerhead shark was searching for its natural prey, Southern stingrays, hiding under the sand in the Bahamas. The water was so shallow I was able to use natural light and shoot a series of pictures in quick succession.

    I didn't need to wait for any underwater flashgun to recycle and get ready for the next shot that can take one or two seconds, which is far too long a delay when recording fast moving subjects.

    The shark was maybe 6-metres-long from front to the tip of its tail and that length translates into an interesting perspective when the nearest part is only around 10-centimetres from the camera lens' dome.

    Naturally, you need to use a fast shutter-speed (I used 1/500 of a second) to freeze the movement, together with a small lens aperture, and I achieved this by increasing the ISO setting to get that. I simply adjusted the camera in advance to be sure the sand was correctly exposed, checking the result on the camera's LCD screen. I then shot a fast sequence of pictures as the animal passed.

    If you shoot in RAW mode, you can adjust the files at leisure later on a suitably equipped PC to get the exactly result you want.

    The i-Das fisheye lens will screw directly to the front of an Olympus  Tough TG4 camera's underwater housing or it will need an adapter ring to fit it to any housing that has a 67mm thread at the front of its port. It works best with the 28mm (equivalent) lens of the Sony RX100 Mk2 in its housing but you may need to zoom in to that equivalent setting with some later cameras such as the Sony RX100 Mk3 and Mk4. Come in to Ocean Leisure Cameras, the store within the store, and discuss your options with the experts. If you want to know more about the techniques of underwater photography, the Ocean Leisure book department has a wealth of resources and if you like the shark pictures you see here you can read about what it took to get such images, including plenty of pictures, in the new book Shark Bytes, also available from Ocean Leisure!

     

  • 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.

  • The Amazing Rhinopias

    _DSC8312 Rhinpoias Aphanes or Lacy Scorpionfish
    The Lacy Scorpion fish or Rhinopias Aphanes is found in the waters of Papua New Guinea and West Papua. Unlike a lot of colourful marine life, you don't need a macro set-up to get good pictures if you come across one because they can be up to 25cm in length. They are a benthic species in that they tend to rest on things rather than swim. However they often get about by hopping around on their pelvic and pectoral fins. Despite they fact that they appears to be very colourful in these photographs they are masters of disguise and although they often pose precociously atop sponges and coral heads, you can easily pass one by because under natural daylight they are quite hard to see. They were first brought to the attention of marine scientists by British/Australian diving pioneer Bob Halstead who after a career as a schoolmaster took to running scuba diving expeditions and later skippering his boat mv.Telita, taking divers on scuba diving charters around the waters of the Coral Sea, embarking his passengers at Port Moresby. Among other things, Bob Halstead has written several books on diving around PNG.
    Lacy Sorpionfish or Rhinopias Lacy Scorpionfish or Rhinopias Eschmeyeri
    After he started noticing these flamboyant fishes he sent some pictures that he'd taken to experts at the Natural History Museum in London who confirmed it was a previously undescribed species. In fact there are several sub-species. Bob is known for his insightful analysis of diving practises and also for his humour. One of his most well-remembered quotes is: "If you can't take a joke, don't take up underwater photography!" The first time I visited PNG I made it my business to photograph some examples of this keynote fish but after a lot of searching and no luck came back with an article for UK's Diver Magazine entitled 'The Rhinopias is Missing!' I kept my sense of humour. The next time I stayed at the Loloata, a resort on its own island in Bootless Bay run by Australian Dik Knight, the dive guides made it a matter of honour that they did not fail to find me an example to photograph. They took me to a reef called Dinah's Delight, named after Bob Halstead's first wife, also an accomplished scuba diver in her own right and it was if all the Rhinopias in various different sub-species had come out on parade. _DSC8421   To photograph these wonderful looking fish you need a a wide-angle lens so that you can get as close as possible and an underwater flashgun or strobe so that you can reveal them in their full spectrum of colour. The other things you will certainly ned is a pair of sharp eyes and a lot of patience whilst looking for them because in natural daylight they easily merge with their background.._DSC8406 One last point: Rhinopias are said to be the Holy Grail of marine aquarists who like nothing better than to keep one in an aquarium because these delicately coloured fishes are so pretty. Let's keep them in the ocean where they belong. (The pictures here were all taken with fish-eye lenses behind dome ports and with ancillary off-camera flashguns.)

  • 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!

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