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Old 17th February 2008
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Underwater photography

I was recently asked to give a write up on underwater photography in a separate thread http://e-group.uk.net/forum/showthread.php?t=884. So here is something I have put together to give an insight to this aspect of photography. There is so much more to it than what I have written, but this should give you some background. I hope you find this interesting.

Introduction
This article was written to give some insight into a more specialist aspect of photography than we normally come across; underwater photography. Although the basic principles of photography are the same as for land based photography the underwater world poses obvious and not so obvious extra problems. The properties of water require the underwater photographer to adopt different approaches to taking pictures. On land the visibility and horizon of a landscape scene may be kilometres or tens of kilometres away. Underwater, good visibility would be 20 or 30 metres and this would be the limit of our range. One vital skill is required to take successful UW photographs, and it has nothing to do with photography; good bouyancy control. A diver must be able to hover perfectly still in the water without finning or thrashing about. This only comes with lots of practice and getting your weighting just right. When properly weighted a diver can move up or down in the water by using his breath. Inhale to go up, exhale to go down, using the lungs for control. The rate at which he goes up or down is dictated by the amount of air inhaled or exhaled. It becomes easy and second nature with practise.

Problems underwater
The main problem with UW photography is the loss of light and colour with depth and distance. Once you descend more than a few metres underwater the colours noticeably start to change. First the warm reds and oranges start to disappear and then the yellows. Once you get to 15 - 20 metres down all that is left are the greens and blues and the deeper you go the colours fade to dark blues and eventually everything becomes completely black. This phenomenon with lack of colours not only occurs with depth but also with horizontal distance. If you look at many amateur underwater shots they often appear very green and washed out, with low overall contrast. Another problem is particles such as plankton in the water. This mainly affects the use of strobes (underwater flash) which cause reflection of the flash light (backscatter) and appear as bright dots all over the photograph. There are techniques to help overcome these problems.

Equipment
Film is rapidly giving way to digital these days and film cameras, although still widely available, are diminishing. The future is definitely now digital. There are dedicated waterproof cameras available from manufacturers such as Sealife: http://www.camerasunderwater.co.uk/d...s/sealife.html and the well known and respected Nikonos range (now discontinued) were based on an original design from Jacques-Yves Cousteau. However the vast majority of underwater photographers today use conventional digital compacts or DSLRs in waterproof housings. Olympus make a range of housings for their cameras, but better quality ones are available from third party manufacturers such as Ikelite: http://www.camerasunderwater.co.uk/d...pus/index.html

With the fall in prices of DSLRs these are becoming very popular with the more advanced and the professional markets. I personally don’t use an DSLR underwater, opting for the top end Olympus C-8080WZ (I have two, one as a backup in case of floods or failure whilst abroad). I know, this is an E system forum and the C-8080WZ is a compact - apologies. The reason I went for this model was that at the time DSLRs did not have Liveview (the E-330 followed just after I purchased my cameras) and the cost of the housing was less than half that of the E-330’s. Also, the C-8080WZ has 8 customisable menus which I can configure for different scenarios and then all I have to do is switch to a suitable setting underwater. However, the E-510 and the E-3 are, in my opinion, superb candidates for UW photography due to their Liveview (much easier than trying to use the viewfinder through a diving mask) and Image Stabilisation functions. Ikelite already have a housing for the E-510 and one for the E-3 will be available very soon. I am seriously considering getting an E-510 and Ikelite housing specifically for UW. I use a couple of dedicated underwater strobes which are attached to the camera housing by flexible arms and operate under either manual control or full TTL control from the camera. You can view my setup at: http://www.stevecain.co.uk/stills.htm

Taking photographs
Right, down to business. The above problems with loss of colour and light at depth mean that we need to find a way around them. Naturally, strobes are the first thing we think of and these are extensively used underwater, not only to provide illumination and fill-in flash but to restore the natural colours. However, we need to be very careful how we place the strobes to avoid backscatter. Built-in camera flashes are next to useless underwater as they emit light along the lenses axis. This means that any light reflected off particles in the water comes straight back into the lens. External strobes can be positioned to the left and right of the camera and so overcome much of the backscatter by firing the flash at an angle to the subject, the reflected light is bounced back away from the lenses axis.

Another way of overcoming the loss of warm colours is to use a coloured filter over the lens to cut down on the greens and blues and pass mainly reds and yellows. Red filters are used in tropical blue waters and Magenta filters in green temperate waters, see: http://www.camerasunderwater.co.uk/g...nses/uwcc.html The big problem with these filters is that they attenuate what little available light there is and this means using high exposure levels and increased ISO settings to compensate. Not the best way of doing things, but an option never-the-less.

However, we should start by looking at our technique and approach to photography using available light to its best advantage. The golden rule in UW photography is to reduce the water column between the camera lens and the subject by Getting as close to the subject as possible - naturally, we have to be very careful of not getting too close and disturbing the subject or damaging any corals. The next rule is to never shoot downwards. You should aim to get level with, or beneath your subject so that you are shooting upwards towards the surface and sunlight; the difference is quite stark. The best light is around noon, so this is the optimum time for UW photography. On land this is the opposite, with early mornings or evenings the best time. You need every bit of natural light you can get underwater. Another rule is, obviously, to stay shallow where all the best light is. The shallows also offer the best subjects as this is where most of the small fish live and the best corals are. Go deeper for large pelagic species like sharks, mantas etc. but you will need strobes or good midday sunlight.

There are two main types of UW photography, close up and macro photography (more correctly termed Photomacrography – bigger than 1:1) and wide angle. Beginners tend to start with close up work using longer lenses. However, the majority of UW photography is suited to wide angle. The reason for this is that a wide angle lens allows you to get much closer to your subject whilst not cropping it. This again reduces the amount of water between the lens and the subject which improves the contrast and colours whilst still getting all of your subject in the frame.

There are other creative ways of taking photographs underwater, Close Focus, Wide Angle (CFWA) being just one. Here you can use a mixture of natural light for exposing the background using aperture and shutter control whilst using TTL flash and ISO compensation to control the foreground exposure.

My photography trips
Most of my photographs were taken in the Egyptian and Sudanese Red Sea where conditions are superb and the subjects abundant. A big problem I find is that the pace can be quite hectic and with dive times of around 45 – 60 minutes there is little time to setup the camera, compose, get good quality shots and keep up with the group. Then, unless you take a laptop with you, you cannot check the quality of your shots until you get home; the cameras LCD screen can be a bit limited. A bit late then as you cannot go back to retake shots. So learning can be a bit of a drawn out affair, there’s always UK waters to practise in but the subjects and water quality can be sometimes be poor compared with abroad. Also, unless you live on the coast in the UK, the cost of travel, accommodation, food, diving etc. can approach that of a diving package abroad.

For a report of my trip to Sudan see: http://www.seahorsediveclub.co.uk/tr...eport_2007.pdf, photos at:http://www.stevecain.co.uk/. A very good book giving full information on all aspects of Underwater Photography can be found at:
Amazon Amazon


This is a very readable book and is highly recommended.

Anyone wanting further information on UW photography and diving then please send me a PM. If anyone in the Swindon and north Wiltshire area wants more info then they are welcome to come along to one of our club’s pool session in Wroughton for a chat. We hold 2 hour pool sessions every Wednesday evening for club members: http://www.seahorsediveclub.co.uk/

Steve
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Old 17th February 2008
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Re: Underwater photography

Steve

You are obviously well practised at this art and I agree with everything you've said.

Something to add is that for people like me who are inexperienced divers it's really good to get the advice and input of your divemaster or instructor. We were lucky enough to spend a couple of days on the Great Barrier Reef a couple of years ago and it was stupidly only on the last dive that I felt that I'd gained enough of a relationship with the divemaster to ask to hire a camera. His advice and input were invaluable and I wish I'd done more!

OK it was P&S Olympus in a housing, but by being careful and stating close to the reef ( without touching !!) I got some pictures that were excellent mementos if not publication quality.

So the only other thing I would add to Steve's excellent review is hire what you can get, be brave and give it a go !!

Regards
Andy
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Old 17th February 2008
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Wreckdiver Wreckdiver is offline
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Re: Underwater photography

Quote:
Originally Posted by shenstone View Post
Steve

You are obviously well practised at this art and I agree with everything you've said.

Something to add is that for people like me who are inexperienced divers it's really good to get the advice and input of your divemaster or instructor. We were lucky enough to spend a couple of days on the Great Barrier Reef a couple of years ago and it was stupidly only on the last dive that I felt that I'd gained enough of a relationship with the divemaster to ask to hire a camera. His advice and input were invaluable and I wish I'd done more!

OK it was P&S Olympus in a housing, but by being careful and stating close to the reef ( without touching !!) I got some pictures that were excellent mementos if not publication quality.

So the only other thing I would add to Steve's excellent review is hire what you can get, be brave and give it a go !!

Regards
Andy
Definitely a good move to borrow or hire a camera first to see how you get on. You don't want to be spending a lot of money on kit if you find that UW photography isn't for you.

One point for beginners to diving. Get comfortable in the water with your diving skills before you take a camera down. Once you can control your bouyancy well you can take on a camera, it will occupy most of your time underwater and your diving skills need to be well oiled.

Steve
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Old 18th February 2008
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Thumbs up Re: Underwater photography

Thank you Steve for that great introduction to underwater photography. It's a subject I knew very little about and it certainly is fascinating. Personally, I love the underwater wreck shots on your web site. One of my great passions is maritime history and I find these images exciting to look at. I suppose every wreck tells a story of tragedy in some way. One knows there must have been mayhem and panic before the ship went down, yet here they are, sitting on the bottom in absolute peace and tranquility. I think that juxtaposition of screaming tragedy and tranquility creates a tension in photographs of wrecks which excites and grips the viewer. It is a subject of high drama. Also, understanding the complexities involved, I can now appreciate how difficult these pitures were to take and what an excellent job you have made of them.

I also enjoyed all the marine life images on your web site too. Some of them are simply stunning. Anyone else reading this, do take the trouble to visit Steve's web site at http://www.stevecain.co.uk/ . You will find it a rewarding experience.

Thanks again Steve for a wonderful insight into a different world - brilliant!

Regards
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Old 18th February 2008
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Re: Underwater photography

Such an interesting thread I've sent the link to my son who also dives.

Thanks Steve.

Regards. Barr1e
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Old 18th February 2008
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Wreckdiver Wreckdiver is offline
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Re: Underwater photography

Glad you folks enjoyed my write up. It is a shame that so few photographers get to take these kind of pictures. Did you know that less than 0.5% of the world's population get to see what is beneath the waves?

Underwater photography can be challenging at times, especially when trying to battle with currents and trying to get into that awkward position to get a particular angle on a shot. Then at the other extreme photographing anemonefish in 3 metres of water is so easy. Just kneel on the sea bed, point the lens at the fish and wait. After 30 seconds or so they overcome their fear and start to become curious. Then the approach the camera and start "bumping" the dome port. If you take a look at my video page, the Dahab video shows this perfectly in the opening frames.

Underwater photography is extremely rewarding and very addictive. The feeling you get when descending and a wreck comes into view can be quite spooky. Once you get the diving bug you are hooked and it completely changes you life. I would encourage anyone to try it, even if it is just the once.

Thanks for all the encouraging comments

Steve.
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