Underwater Pictures: Beneath The Floor


Seven-tenths of our planet is roofed by water. For a lot of nature photographers, it’s instinctive to need to discover what photographs lie beneath the water. That intrigue set me on a course to discover the world’s oceans. Right here’s what I’ve realized about underwater pictures alongside the best way.

Underwater photo of kelp and sea creatures

I approached this {photograph} as a standard panorama, so I knew I wanted a robust foreground factor (the anemones) and an setting to create context (the kelp forest). I made positive I had sufficient depth of discipline for the scene and a shutter pace quick sufficient to maintain the swaying kelp sharp earlier than dialing up my lights a bit so as to add some pop to the foreground and cut back the shadows.

The place Did My Colours Go?

If you take your digital camera underwater, the very first thing you’ll discover is how the colours change. The deeper you go, the weirder issues get as a result of water does an unbelievable job of absorbing mild. Reds begin to disappear round 20 toes deep. Yellows at 50 toes. After 100 toes, issues are just about monochromatic. This may clearly change the best way you concentrate on making images, however fortunately, you have got choices. I’ll cowl these intimately, however your selections are:

  • Staying shallow. The simplest choice is to remain in shallow water, the place you have got loads of mild and an abundance of coloration.
  • Choosing black & white. You possibly can go monochrome and utterly ignore the colours.
  • Utilizing lights. Synthetic illumination may help at better depths, however that is the place issues get sophisticated—and probably costly.
Photo of kelp and a few small fish

I used to be at a medium depth whereas making this picture however didn’t want any synthetic mild as the one colours I cared about have been the greens and blues. Setting my ISO to Auto allowed me to get a deep depth of discipline and a shutter pace quick sufficient to cease the movement of the fish within the picture.

Shutter Speeds For Underwater Pictures

Underwater, every part strikes—you, the fish and the water are all transferring. The perpetual motion provides as much as one necessity: the next shutter pace. Until I’m utilizing strobes, I by no means go under 1/500 of a second.

Annoyingly, your lens aperture is usually necessary as properly for depth of discipline, so my most popular strategy when utilizing pure mild is to change to Guide publicity mode, set my shutter pace and aperture, and let my ISO float by utilizing Auto ISO. If I want to vary my publicity, I exploit the publicity compensation dial to extend or cut back mild.

Focusing Underwater

If you start taking images underwater, you’ll discover that autofocus struggles. The deeper you go and the much less mild you have got, the more serious autofocus performs. Discover that Guide Focus swap in your digital camera or lens and embrace it.

Photo of a wolf eel

Get shut. This wolf eel’s den was in deep, chilly water in British Columbia. Given the depth, I knew I wanted my lights to seize the colour, so I obtained them prepared as I arrange my shot simply exterior the doorway to the den. Then I simply waited for this unusual creature to get curious and poke his head out.

To manually focus underwater, I depend on two methods:

  • Zone focus. Setting your focal distance and aperture to cowl a particular vary earlier than you get within the water is called zone focusing. This works properly since you normally use wide-angle lenses for underwater pictures, so you have got a large depth of discipline if you happen to cease down your aperture.
  • Focus peaking. By detecting the sides of highest distinction in a scene, focus peaking highlights these edges, permitting you to see what’s in focus within the zone you’ve arrange when composing your {photograph}.

Coloration Pure Mild Pictures

I like to recommend you begin by grabbing your digital camera or cellphone, placing it in a housing, and staying shallow, round 20-30 toes most. A lot of the great things to {photograph} is near the floor, and if you happen to’re scuba diving, the air in your tank will last more.

Photo of a Pacific sea nettle jellyfish

To {photograph} this Pacific sea nettle jellyfish, I used the accessible mild on the floor of the water to offer me not solely a full coloration spectrum but in addition to permit me to include the attractive underwater reflection on the water’s floor.

You even have a better vary of compositional choices once you’re in shallow water. You may get shut and shoot positive particulars or animal portraits, or you may get additional away and {photograph} grand landscapes. Taking pictures underwater offers you an incredible capacity to maneuver in three dimensions, and the artistic potentialities are seemingly limitless.

Black & White Pure Mild Pictures

The deeper you go, the less colours you have got. Why not get rid of coloration altogether and shoot in black and white? I discover one thing mysterious and compelling about black-and-white underwater pictures that permits the viewer to make use of extra of their creativeness.

In post-processing, attempt adjusting the conversion of every coloration vary independently. For instance, utilizing the blue luminance slider can mean you can make the ocean darkish and moody—or mild and ethereal. Your alternative.

Black and white photo of fish and a shark

Composition is simply as necessary underwater as it’s on land. The s-curve of fish main away from the shark tells a extra fascinating story than simply the fish or the shark alone. As a result of each the shark and the fish have been farther from my lens, I shot solely with accessible mild because the flash wouldn’t carry that far. No flash meant very restricted coloration within the {photograph}, so I opted for black and white, adjusting the blue channel in post-processing to brighten the scene and create a extra graphic picture.

Utilizing Synthetic Mild Underwater

As nice as pure mild pictures is, typically it simply doesn’t provide you with what you want, and you must take synthetic lights with you. That is the place issues get sophisticated.

Water is a dense medium that absorbs mild, requiring that you just get very near your topic—which is why most underwater photographers use close-focusing, wide-angle lenses. Getting shut additionally helps take care of this loopy factor referred to as “backscatter,” the place the factitious mild bounces again towards you off particles within the water, creating speckles all around the picture. I gained’t cowl backscatter intimately on this article, however if you happen to select to make use of synthetic mild, do a Google search to learn to keep away from it.

The normal strategy to underwater synthetic mild is to make use of strobes, identical to within the studio. Strobes can cease movement and make your topic pop—however they’re additionally extremely exhausting to make use of at first.

Photo of anemones

I handled this picture identical to a studio nonetheless life, utilizing the identical approach I’d use to {photograph} a flower on land. I started by selecting my composition and setting the bottom publicity, underexposing the background by two stops to retain only a little bit of context whereas ensuring the topic popped. I then fastidiously positioned my lights to light up solely the anemones earlier than urgent the shutter button.

Some producers have a through-the-lens (TTL) setting for underwater strobes that controls the facility of the flash based mostly on publicity settings decided by the digital camera, however I’ve by no means actually discovered it that efficient. In follow, TTL is overkill; for the flash to work, you have to be near your topic, and you may set the strobe energy manually based mostly on how far-off you count on your topic to be.

To shoot utilizing guide flash, hold your aperture and ISO mounted. This implies taking pictures in both Aperture Precedence or Guide mode. I are likely to shoot in Aperture Precedence to stability the pure mild simply. To get every part dialed in, the very first thing I do once I get within the water is to take {a photograph} of my fins to verify the flash energy is right. This lets me know {that a} topic roughly 4 toes away will probably be properly lit and in focus. Once I then go to make {a photograph}, I can dial my strobe energy up or down, relying on whether or not the topic is nearer or additional away than 4 toes.

Having stated all of this, I not often use strobes anymore. I now use video lights for stills. This makes every part a lot simpler, and it additionally works with smartphones. Combining steady video lights, a excessive ISO and mirrorless cameras has been a revolution in underwater pictures. There’s no extra guessing the place the sunshine will go or how far-off the topic is. What you see within the viewfinder is what you get. With video lights, I shoot identical to I do for ambient mild: guide focus, a hard and fast shutter pace and aperture, and Auto ISO.

Discovering Compositions

Photo of a California sea lion underwater

Compelling images are sometimes the results of persistence. When I discovered this lovely arch framing a kelp forest, I settled in and waited for an fascinating topic. Just a few divers got here and went, producing an array of completely mediocre frames. However then this California sea lion lastly appeared and did two fast flips earlier than disappearing into the forest, making the await this shot the very best half-hour I spent that day.

The primary rule in underwater pictures is to get shut after which get nearer. Fill your body with the topic and take your time discovering fascinating compositions. This final level is tremendous necessary. Since you have got restricted time underwater, it’s tempting to try to see every part and zoom from topic to topic, taking snapshots. As an alternative, go sluggish and discover. Take a photograph, take a look at it, verify the main focus and publicity, after which resolve what to do subsequent. Perhaps you bought the proper shot. Perhaps you see issues that could possibly be higher, so it’s value exploring the topic extra deeply. I discover {that a} single good picture is all the time extra precious to me than an entire card stuffed with snapshots.

Underwater Pictures Gear

As with each style of pictures, there are such a lot of issues you should buy, and it provides up shortly. My present underwater setup price about as a lot as a small automobile. And whilst you might finally find yourself with an enormous setup like mine, you shouldn’t begin on the market.

You doubtless have a superbly serviceable underwater digital camera with you proper now: your cellphone. Smartphones have come a good distance, and corporations like SeaLife and AxisGO make incredible underwater cellphone instances and housings. You possibly can both use your cellphone within the shallows (as much as 25 toes) or, if you wish to go deeper, buy a hard and fast video mild that attaches to your housing.

The subsequent step up in underwater gear is a compact digital camera just like the Sony RX100 and a housing. For round $2,000, this method can synchronize with strobes and has a big sufficient sensor to seize accessible mild at medium depths. Its shut focus permits you to shoot something from whales to tiny nudibranchs. It’s additionally a bodily compact system that’s straightforward to journey with.

The ultimate step is a full DSLR or mirrorless system with a housing and lighting system. I’ve settled on mirrorless as a result of the digital viewfinder permits me to visualise how the sunshine and shadows fall, particularly when utilizing video lights. There are nice housings and lighting choices for all of in the present day’s fashionable cameras, so it’s doubtless that you just’ll have the ability to discover a answer for the digital camera you have already got. The mixture of housings, domes, lens ports and lights might be sophisticated, so I like to recommend that you just work with a retailer that focuses on underwater pictures that can assist you construct your equipment.

Be A Good Underwater Citizen

Like all nature pictures, underwater pictures has a couple of dos and don’ts that can assist make the expertise higher for you, the folks you’re diving with and your wild topics. The underwater world is thrilling—there’s a lot to see, and it’s tempting to zip from place to position and snap away. Since you are all the time diving with different folks (by no means dive alone), zooming round can kick up sand and particles and wreck your companions’ pictures—but another excuse for the “go sluggish and be deliberate” strategy.

Bear in mind to maintain your fingers to your self. With only a contact, people might be deadly to the dwelling issues on reefs. And if you happen to’ve ever had sea urchin spines embedded in your pores and skin, you understand how painful that’s.

Photo of a giant manta

As photographers, we must always by no means lose sight of why we go into the extraordinary underwater world. This big manta zipped round and amongst us earlier than hovering above, dwarfing us because it displayed its huge grace and dimension and treating us to a momentary glimpse of the majesty that lives under the floor.

With out a acutely aware effort to concentrate on your environment, the digital camera can isolate you from every part happening round you. It’s straightforward to get so caught up in making {a photograph} that you just lose monitor of necessary issues like your depth, your remaining air provide or your dive buddy. At any time when I’m photographing, I be certain I pause each 30 seconds or so to make certain all my bases are coated.

Higher divers are typically higher photographers. As a result of we’re land animals, going beneath the water’s floor places us in an setting the place none of our pure abilities work. Organizations just like the Skilled Affiliation of Diving Instructors (PADI) present wonderful coaching for each scuba and free diving that can mean you can really feel way more comfy and in management. I additionally dive quite a bit with out my digital camera, so I can consider being a greater diver and get to know that underwater panorama extra deeply.

Getting Moist

So, you have got a digital camera and one thing to maintain it dry—now go and discover one thing to discover. A swimming pool is a superb place to follow. When you’re comfy there, put your self into one among this blue planet’s pure our bodies of water. I’ve dived in lakes, rivers and oceans. All are completely different, and all are lovely. Be secure. Have enjoyable. And embrace the phrases of Jacques Cousteau: “The easiest way to watch a fish is to turn into a fish.” 

See extra of Jon McCormack’s work at jonmccormack.com.



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