How To?? – Shoot Underwater With Filters

Filter PhotographyShoot Underwater with a Filter

Filter photography has really come into it’s own with the advent of digital photography and the ability to white balance underwater. Although it has been used for a long time with digital video underwater, red filters and white balancing did not really become popular with still photographers until the early to mid 2000s. The use of a filter underwater allows the photographer to filter out some of the nasty blues and greens that dominate the colour spectrum deeper than 10 feet and bring back a warm colour balance along with a lot of contrast and typically a beautiful blue. Shooting with a Filter of any sort is actually quite easy, here are a few tips to get you started:

 

  1. Don’t Use Strobes – to get the most from a filter it’s best to use with natural light only
  2. Stay Shallow – as the shot will be illuminated with natural light, the best results are typically from 15 m (50ft) or shallower
  3. Keep the Sun Behind You – the key to illuminating the subject properly and getting the best colour is to have the sun helping
  4. Shoot Slightly Down- although this sounds like the opposite of what is drilled into new photographers (Shoot UP!) in natural light or filter photography shooting on a slightly downward angle helps
  5. Use manual white balance and re set it prior to shooting each new subject
  6. Concentrate on using a wide angle lens, this will provide the best potential for filters. Macro is best shot with strobes

That’s it! Now it’s just a case of getting your hands on some filters and a nice shallow dive site. Our friends over at Magic Filters provide the best and largest range of filters for underwater photographers so head on over to their website to have a look at their products.

Tangkoko National Park

Tarsier at Tangkoko

We took the opportunity while we are in North Sulawesi for two days of photography at the Tangkoko National Park before our Underwater Tribe Photo Fun Week begins.  Tangkoko is home to the world’s smallest primate, the tarsier, as well as endemic black macaque monkeys.  There are several homestays in the area for folks who are interested in spending a few days there or else it can be done as a day trip from Lembeh (a one hour drive from Bitung).  The photo opportunities with the black macaques are great, they are readily approachable and very patient with people.  However, a zoom lens is recommended as the monkeys do need their space.  Tarsiers are an incredibly cute little primate with giant bug eyes and large ears reminiscent of Gizmo the Gremlin.  A day in the park is a great day out when in North Sulawesi, simply ask the management at NAD Lembeh to organize the trip for you.

Black Macaque Tangkoko

Luca Tangkoko

Constant Light or Strobe?

A frogfish with constant light source

It’s always fun to experiment with different techniques underwater.  As I am in Lembeh with the Underwater Tribe and no particular deadline or assignment in mind I have been using the time to try out a few different cameras and shooting styles.  One of the styles I have been playing around with is the use of “constant light” from a powerful underwater light, my Fisheye FIX 7000 in this case.  The results have been fairly encouraging, even though I have only tried it a few times with no real scientific basis behind it. The photo above is from the Panasonic GH-4 in a Nauticam housing with 12-50 lens with the settings of 320 ISO, f8, and 1/100 and the Fisheye FIX set to 50% power.  I am sure that if I spent a bit more time on lighting I could have achieved better colour but it was a quick and easy snapshot in shallow water (about 5 metres) just to see what I would get.

On the other hand, here is the same frogfish shot with a single Sea and Sea YS 110 alpha strobe with the same camera set to: ISO 320, f22, 1/200.  The colour saturation is obviously better on this shot and if would certainly work better as a print or published photo, however, there is nothing wrong with the constant light image and it looks fine on social media and the web.  For folks not interested in the finer points of having to deal with fstops and strobes then this is a nice combination that gets good results.

These shots are straight from the camera, I am sure with a little TLC in Photoshop or similar then the constant light photo could pop the colours as well.

A frogfish lit with strobe

Camera Reviews

Emperor Shrimp on Cucumber

One of the things I always enjoy about coming to NAD Lembeh Resort is the chance to play with the latest camera gadgets that Simon always seems to have in stock.  Last year, I was able to spend a few days shooting the Sony A7s in a Nauticam Housing as well as the Olympus EM-1 in a Nauticam housing; to see the reviews of these two setups please click here (Sony) and here (Olympus).  This year I am trying out a couple more setups:  the Panasonic GH-4 and the Olympus TG-4, both of which are combined with Nauticam housings.  First up, here are a few thoughts on the TG-4.

A cowrie shell

I have seen a lot of posts recently on social media singing the praises of the Olympus TG-4 compact camera.  Being ever the cynic, I was not a firm believer in the claims that the photos were “uncropped” and “straight from the camera” on the photos being posted around the net from this setup.  I have shot with dozens of compact cameras throughout the years and one thing that they all had in common was that they could not take a decent macro photo without some sort of external diopter. Although many boast a “macro” mode which allowed for focusing mere centimetres away, as soon as any sort of zoom was applied the camera could no longer focus.  Therefore, the only subjects these cameras could shoot on “macro” without a diopter were of subjects that didn’t move: nudibranchs or frogfish and the like.  Therefore, I was certainly skeptical of any photos that showed high magnification, high quality macro photos taken with a compact camera without any additional diopters.  However, after trying the camera on a dive today, I am now highly convinced!  What a camera!

Pikachu nudibranch

The Olympus TG-4 is a tiny little shockproof, water resistant compact offering from Olympus that is rather unassuming and not really what a photographer would think of when deciding on a camera for underwater.  It doesn’t even offer manual settings which are pretty important when shooting underwater.  When paired with the Nauticam housing, it is a very small and easy to carry underwater system with nice big push buttons and a large viewing screen.  When I used it today I brought along one of my Fisheye FIX 7000 lights to illuminate the subjects but a smaller light such as a FIX 2500 would work just as well.  A wide light is recommended as many dive torches are just too narrow to illuminate a photo in a pleasant way.  The key to using the TG-4 was setting it to the “Microscope” mode, which offers a “super macro” experience with a compact camera unlike any other I have used.  Although turning it to “microscope” meant that the on board flash no longer worked, I was able to get around this with a good video light.  It does have an LED light onboard that might be able to trigger a fibre optic flash but I didn’t bring one with me to test that but I am told that it can be done and the Nauticam housing does have a fibre optic port for a strobe attachment.  What the camera can do on “microscope” mode though is Zoom, and not just zoom a tiny bit, but rather zoom a whole lot while still retaining focus even from a few centimetres away!  This is an exciting finding and means this camera is a serious player for beginning underwater photographers who want a quality, inexpensive and easy to use “point and shoot” option underwater.  As a nice bonus, the camera itself is water proof to 15 metres and if the housing suffers from a flood it should survive without any problems.

Snake eel
That’s enough talk from me, what truly matters are the photos.  These are all straight from the camera jpg only resized with logo added, no processing or cropping.  I used the camera on automatic with a constant light from a Fisheye FIX light. I can certainly see myself buying one of these systems for our business in Bali very, very soon!

A pair of yellow gobies

Mike Veitch, Underwater Tribe

Blue Ribbon Eel

Blue Ribbon eel

Sometimes the best subjects in Lembeh are ones that we often just swim right on past.  When people come to Lembeh they are usually in search of some of the more hard to find critters on the reef: exotic species such as hairy frogfish, flambouyant cuttlefish, and blue ring octopus are typically the critters that everyone wants to find.  More common subjects such as lionfish and the blue ribbon eel, are often “poo-pooed” by those in the know and many photographers will often swim past them.  However, it’s sometimes these subjects can make photographers work a little harder and experiment more than usual in order to take a photo that is slightly different from the norm.  In this photo, I have shot the blue ribbon eel with a wide open f-stop in order to give it a limited depth of field and therefore stand out from the blurred out background as opposed to shooting it with the black background that is so popular with macro photos.  Next time you are out on a dive, don’t just swim past the subjects you see all the time, stop and open yourself up to some new ideas and try something different, you may just be glad you did!

Story Behind the Shot – Conger and Sponge

Conger Eel

One of the cool things about spending a lot of time photographing in a place like Lembeh Strait is the fact you can bump into just about anything at any time. One of the stranger creatures I ran into happened to be when I was actually shooting wide angle and it was the perfect lens for the situation. When I first looked at the animal I thought it was a snake eel (it actually could be!) but after much looking around in fish books I actually think it’s a bigeye conger eel (Ariosoma anagoides) However, it’s not the eel itself that is of interest in this photo but rather the environment that the eel has chosen to live in. As is obvious, the eel is surrounded by dozens of tubular sponges in an otherwise rather barren stretch of sand and it blends in almost perfectly! I was very happy at this point in time to have brought my wide angle lens as only a wide angle photography could truly show the environment that the eel was living in. Now the question that immediately came to my mind when I saw the situation was: “Did the eel know that the sponges were similar in shape to it? Or was it just a fluke of positioning?” And that is the question that I ask the readers of this blog, what do you think? Was it a case of perfect planning by a cunning and intelligent animal or purely coincidence?  Let us know in the comments

Aquatica D90, Sea and Sea Strobes, 10.5mm lens with 2xTC, f13, 1/13