Once again it’s a great honour for me to have one of my photos published as front cover in ReFoto Magazine one of the biggest photography magazines in the region. The cover photo is followed by an article of underwater photography which you can read here.
Most reasonable people would make it insane to completely correct camera immerse in water. I examined my own mind doing just that on several occasions! One of the main reasons to do so was the recording of fascinating sights below sea level. Often it is much more than just a photographic challenge.
Modern underwater photography began in 1957 when the first waterproof camera formats from 35 mm was designed. Jacques Yves Cousteau, although not a true inventor, presented the idea to a Belgian, Jean De Vutersu, who designed the camera. In the early sixties, “Canon” has started producing amphibian camera, which they called the Nikonos. A series of mild greased rubber rings enabled the camera to be waterproof. A couple of years ago, “Nikon” ended production of these cameras, and the last model was a Nikonos 5, which has been produced for over fifteen years. There are several other manufacturers that sell underwater cameras, but nowadays everything is based on underwater housings in which you want to put your camera model.
The main theme of this genre of photography is to bring the underwater life onto the surface. Many people are interested in what lives and what happens below the sea surface. Therefore, an underwater photographer has a task to record this hidden world in photos and share them with other people. This requires particular skills and techniques that are different from traditional photographic craft. When you shoot the underwater world you have to take a close look, which is not the case with taking photographs of wild animals on land. Since the water refracts light, and deforms shapes, the closer you are to the object you shoot, the less distorted is the photo. You also need a lot of patience. You will find yourself in a situation of trying to capture a fish, but suddenly it swims away, prior to any recording. Similarly, the water contains many particles like planktons, which cause loss of contrast or sharpness.
SEVERAL CONDITIONS FOR A SUCCESSFUL UNDERWATER PHOTO-HUNTING
To be a good underwater photographer, one must, above all, be a good scuba diver. Imagine trying to take pictures in weightless condition. Your subject in one moment can swim above you, and in the next it’s below. The photographer can also be on the move if he is carried by an underwater current. If you want to improve your skills in underwater photography, you first have to refine them on the mainland. When you reach the level at which you can take great photos on land, it is the right moment to dive in and consider taking an underwater photography course where you will master the techniques.
EQUIPMENT FOR UNDERWATER PHOTOGRAPHY
In the underwater world, the evolution of digital photography led to an evolution. We are no longer limited to 36 shots in a film and there are many opportunities for technological improvement. Just the fact that you weren’t able to change the film under the water simply forces you to realize how difficult it was to shoot under those circumstances. I always used cameras in underwater housings, brand Sea & Sea, the Japanese company that makes specialized models of case depending on the type of the camera. These are professional housings, certified for up to 60 meters depth, which allows you to have the complete control of the camera underwater. They were made from aluminum and their pressure resistance was precisely tested. One of the biggest problems with cheaper plastic housings and is that once you dive deep, all the buttons on the camera are printed in due to pressure causing your loss of control. “Sea & Sea“, “Subal“, “Aquatica“, and many other professional underwater housing manufacturers use special springs which regulate the problem of pressure, so by choosing them you can stop worrying about the mentioned problem.
I currently use an underwater camera, Nikon D3. My favorite lens was always a fish eye, about 16 mm f/2.8 or its equivalent. Frequently there are other wide-angle lenses: 17-35 mm f/2.8, 14-24 mm f/2.8. It should be borne in mind that the water makes objects look bigger than they really are up to 25 percent. In other words, everything appears closer than it really is, so you will need the widest lens you can find. Also, the lens must capture the sharpest picture through the port (transparent plastic part of the body) attached to the housing. Some lenses work great, as fisheye and 17-35 mm, while 14-24 mm, for some reasons, can’t catch sharp angles under the water in the housing I use. You must match the characteristics of the lens with an air space between the lenses and port of the housing, as well as the shape of the port. It is necessary, therefore, to do a few experiments to find the lenses to suit your needs, housing and the goals you want to achieve underwater. “Nikon” 105 mm f/2,8 can be the best choice for macro photography underwater if you want to see really small details. Underwater, I only use a body and the card sized 32 GB (often I have one of these in both slots but I never used the whole card). It gives me a really large number of RAW + JPG photographs (the format I always use), which is more than enough for one dive, because air in the bottle isn’t always enough, so that my time underwater can never coincide with these capacity cards.
For me and most professional photographers flash and ambient light are among the most important aspects of underwater photography. The light is the most important thing underwater! Even if you have a great camera, if you do not have flash, you can forget about high-quality photos. The water absorbs colors like red, orange and yellow. This is why photographs are bluish if you do not use flash or strobe. The deeper you are, the more it absorbs colors. It also reduces the contrast, color and sharpness, and therefore the photos should be taken from a distance of one meter or closer. You must be very close to your chosen subject. I think there are currently several manufacturers, including “Sea & Sea”, who are the leaders in producing high-quality flash for underwater photography. I own three of 250W/si flashes, two flashes of 150W / s, which I use intensively, (recently I have been working with two flashes on the camera and two external photo sensors which I have personally produced with Alex Mustard’s idea, help and advice. Also for this unique product big thanks to Peter Ladell). Some will ask: “Is the light so necessary? My answer is: “Not only that you need a lot of light when you’re at greater depths but you also need it in shallowness.”
Flash lights and hand-balanced to daylight. After you use your own senses and experience to set the exposure, you use the camera displays’ options for finest settings. Most models have four or more options that can be changed by turning the wheel on the device. I use the automatic and manual white balance with a flash, and it only depends on the current conditions. At a depth of 4 to 4.6 m the primary colors are lost. Even if you work in the Caribbean, where ambient light is great, you’ll still have better color saturation by using the flash to recharge the light. Using flash gives you the additional control over the ambient light exposure with speed you have chosen. Generally I do not use under 1/30 seconds for it and in that way I certainly get sharp images. What a camera sees underwater is not an image. They are designed to work in a non liquid environment and are set to expose 18% of gray, so when you immerse them in water and take photos with automatic settings, you do not get the usual result. Therefore, I set everything manually, except for auto focus which works great underwater, with an additional light available in almost all underwater flash devices.
Main limitation for underwater photography is visibility. Every day is different; the light is different at different depths, and when you are in different locations, the light in water refracts differently. Of course, your camera settings will be different depending on all these factors! Top photo is all about light. In underwater photography, if I had to choose, visibility is often more important than light, because you can almost always create artificial lighting. There is a visibility that you can control and the one that you cannot. If you get into muddy areas, you just have to accept it and deal with it. In the clear areas you should also be careful, because you can easily stir up the mud and make poor visibility with moving your fins. When that happens, you have to wait for the mud to settle, and you have a time limit because of the air in the bottle. Excellent navigation, moving under the water and taking the right positions before something spoils the visibility at the bottom are sometimes crucial. Although I have photographed some locations several times and I know them well, when I dive into the water I realize that things are completely different, if it has been raining or the underwater currents have changed. It is important to have a plan, but you also must be able to adapt to emerging situations.
MAGIC AND RED FILTERS
Magic filters are specially made for underwater filming. They filter out blue and green light, which allow sensor camera to catch more of the red color. You lose about 1 to 1 ½ feet light using these filters. They are good for recording wrecks, reefs and large schools of fish that are hard to lighten with strobes. The results in bright, shallow and clear water can be great, and there is no background noise. Sun should be behind you, so that the object is illuminated from the front side. Set the ISO to have an adequate response aperture.
Use the filters when it’s sunny and in the clear, calm waters. Use the aperture priority mode when the objects are still, and shutter priority for objects in motion. Remember to use the ambient light, not a strobe or a flash. Turn off the flash on the camera. Shooting wide angles best exploits magic filters. At depths exceeding 10 meters red color is lost and no filter is non-refundable. When I first tried the “Magic Filters” in Cayman Islands, thanks to my great friend and the inventor of this type of filters, Alex Mustard, I realized many important aspects of underwater photography and now I never go on a diving expedition without them.
TEN TIPS FOR UNDERWATER PHOTOGRAPHERS
– Get to know your equipment and devote some time for practicing with it. With the increase in the number of activities under the water, you are limited to the equipment you can use.
– You do not have to buy the most expensive equipment on the market, but there are always things that can take you to the next level.
– To reproduce the red record shoot from a small distance, up to half a meter. Remember, the light has to travel to the camera and back, at the distance of 1 meter a lot of red color is lost.
– Think about the background and the whole composition.
– Do not approach the objects from above, but get down to their level, watch them for a while and slowly approach even more.
– Think of the perfect combination of colors with good contrast.
– It is very important to correctly insert the camera into the case and check for correct seals to avoid wetting. It sounds so obvious, but when you’re in a rush and when you are preparing to dive, you often miss small details.
– Although I go diving very often, I would really like to have more time for exercising in a pool or some clear water, to play with new settings and light scenarios, in order to master the techniques of shooting before I go into the sea or ocean.
– Find inspiration in others, but be different.
– Being an experienced diver is a remarkable advantage. Since the underwater cameras are largely available today and many people quickly get certified for scuba diving, they begin practicing underwater photography, without getting necessary previous experience. It can be very dangerous!