Ancilary Lenses

  • Disappointments of an Underwater Camera Salesman

    Ocean Leisure Cameras specializes in underwater photography equipment. We try to match products to each customer’s needs.

    Recently, a young lady came in to buy an underwater camera. She professed to be a professional writer intending to supply articles to diving magazines. She wanted a camera that was very straightforward to use.

    olympus_epl7_packageA friend had previously lent her an Olympus EPL7 camera in a housing so she naturally asked for that. It’s a system compact with interchangeable lenses that can be matched to suitable lens ports. The salesman (an award-winning underwater photographer himself) would have been happy to take her money but once he got into explaining to her the intricacies of using it, it became clear that she just wanted to get into the water, press a button and get usable pictures. She also blanched at the price, even though the EPL7 in an Olympus proprietary housing represented remarkably good value.

    So the sales assistant then suggested she might be happier with a more basic compact camera instead. She was with him for about five hours, during which time he told her virtually everything he knew about successful underwater photography.fantaseag9x_camera_package_1

    She ended up purchasing a Canon G9X in a Fantasea FG9X housing that gave access to all the camera functions and with the possibility to add additional wet lenses later, when she felt she could afford them. It was a good choice. He also sold her an underwater strobe (a Sea & Sea YS03) with which he explained how she could get perfectly exposed TTL strobe-lit pictures. It appeared to be the perfect solution and within her limited budget although she was advised to buy a wide-angle or fisheye wet lens if she could have afforded it. She couldn’t. Both the EPL7 and G9X outfits are becoming difficult to obtain since they are coming to the end of their production runs. We hope that something else as good value comes on to the market.

    ys03_package_idas_1The company was surprised only a few days later to get an email from the customer, by now in the Caribbean, accusing it of selling her equipment that was totally unsuitable for underwater photography. She stated that she was not sold the camera she asked for (the Olympus EPL7) and that it was not possible to adjust the white-balance with the Canon she had.

    The G9X can be set up to provide a one-button manual white-balance setting – something she had been demonstrated during the hours of consultation in the shop. It can also be used to shoot RAW files, which is the professional way of shooting since many settings such as white-balance, contrast (and even exposure to a degree) can be decided on long after getting out of the water. Not only that, but the feature, properly used, should take care of a lot of the contrast and colour decisions.

    Sadly, this is a case of someone neither managing their expectations nor bothering to read the manual!idas_uwl04_1

    Famous underwater photographers like David Doubilet must despair when they hear stories like this. The years that he has devoted to learning his craft are dismissed by a new generation who think they can simply buy an item of equipment and immediately become endowed with talent such as his.

    I got my first job with a diving magazine (the very same one she intended to provide material for) because I could reliably take pictures that were correctly exposed, in-focus and nicely lit – a skill that was quite rare in the days of wet-processed film. Today, digital photography with its instant feedback from the camera’s LCD display means that it is possible to learn (by your mistakes) incredibly quickly, but learn you must. I worked as an underwater photographer for more than two decades and although I never considered I was a master of the art, I got results that were frequently published. Even so, I used a camera outfit that cost ten times as much as the budget this young lady decided she had.

    I contacted the editor of the diving magazine that this particular young lady said to which she was intending to contribute her work. He told me she was a good writer but that he’d told her she needed to be able to support her writing with good photography. He told her to buy a camera.

    It was disappointing that the editor of a magazine could think that merely buying a camera makes someone into an underwater photographer! Have the standards of magazine publishing dropped so low?

    Magazines pay extremely poorly nowadays. Not many make a living supplying original material anymore. Most take pictures for their own pleasure and are knocked out if they see their work in print. If they can get a few hundred pounds in contributor’s payment as well, that’s a bonus. For this young woman to make any return on her investment in the most basic underwater photography kit will take a great many pages published.

    Most Ocean Leisure Cameras’ customers take pictures underwater purely for their own pleasure. Digital photography has made getting good results easier than it ever has been. However, it does demand a degree of dedication in that one should be totally familiar with your camera’s functions and operation long before entering the water. Don’t buy underwater photography kit on your way to the airport and expect to come back with masterpieces in light and shade. As is so often said, “RTFM!”

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    If you're really set on wanting to be a competent underwater photographer and don’t have the time or inclination to take up an apprenticeship with a master, give us a call and we’ll try and put you in touch with someone who runs underwater photography courses.

  • Ethics in Super-Macro Photography

    The on-line-by-subscription newsletter Undercurrent.org recently reported a conflict between winners of the super-macro photography category of the World ShootOut. One contestant alleged that the winner had cheated by herding two commensal shrimp into position on the back of a nudibranch. As a senior journalist on the newsletter, I was tasked with finding a qualified expert to give an opinion on the winning picture but could find none who would be prepared to be drawn on the matter. The judges of the World ShootOut insisted that it was impossible to tell by looking at a single photograph one way or another, yet suspicions remained. However this subject has spawned a bigger issue that may have become important with the massive growth in the popularity of macro photography underwater. There was a time when an underwater photographer may have been an unusual character on a dive boat. In the days of film, it was a difficult and often frustrating activity but nowadays, thanks to digital technology, anyone can go into the water equipped with a camera fitted with a high-powered macro lens and powerful light and record stunning images of the minutia of animal life we have only recently been made aware of.

    A typical high powered macro lens (AOI) that is proving very popular. A typical high powered supplementary macro wet lens (AOI) that is proving very popular.

    This in turn has led to a growth within the diving industry of resorts that specialise in muck-diving. Large numbers of local people who, in the past might have made a living fishing, now work as dive guides and invertebrate-spotters. Every guest diver seems to be armed with a camera of some sort. The problem arises when in their enthusiasm to secure great images, people interfere with nature, moving animals from where they would naturally hide and exposing them to their lenses. Not only that, but they then tend to stay with those subjects for long periods in an attempt to catch the best moment, subjecting these animals to loss of cover in bright light and even damaged habitat.

     

    Halemeda ghost pipefish photographed away from its disguising halemeda algae. Halimeda ghost pipefish photographed away from its disguising halimeda algae.

    Dr. Alex Tattersall, a leading exponent of super-macro photography, is campaigning for better ethics in underwater photography and asking divers to sign a petition, which, I assume, will be presented to those operating muck-diving resorts, magazine publishers and underwater photography competition organisers in the hope of changing behaviour among those using super-macro equipment. His petition (illustrated with one of his own pictures)  reads: “We are seeing more and more manipulation of wildlife to attain award winning images in competitions. Such images are winning competitions and becoming role model for future UW photographers. The UW photography community needs to act responsibly and promote conservation effort. A cultural shift is necessary at all levels and those with influence such as competition organisers and dive magazines should promote more responsible UW photo behaviour.” (If you wish to sign this petition, go to www.change.org and search for “More Ethics in UW photography.”) Some people on social media have even responded to this by suggesting that these animals should be given the choice as to whether they are photographed or not. I suggest that were they capable of making such a choice, they would prefer to remain undisturbed and well-camouflaged where they live, going about their business un-noticed. Seeing a hairy frogfish surrounded by half-a-dozen photographers crowding it and firing their strobes (flashguns) repeatedly can give cause for concern but it is now a daily occurrence where these animals are to be found.

     

    _DSC5057 A dive guide rummages in a gorgonia fan, searching for pygmy seahorses.

    Pygmy seahorses, dug out by willing dive guides with pointer sticks from where they have been hiding unobserved for centuries within the fronds of a gorgonian fan, would probably prefer to maintain their anonymity and certainly prefer not to turn to face a perceived predator such as a big camera lens staring at them. The list goes on. Maybe there should be a rule that no photographer makes more than a few exposures of one subject in order to record its image. Maybe there should be a rule that no underwater photographer stays with one subject for more than a couple of minutes. Some dive centres once tried to ban the use of bright lights by underwater photographers but their loss of business to rival operations soon put an end to that. You may think that concern for the well-being of animals as small as hair lice (animals you would be happy to kill if you found them on the heads of your children) may be trivial in a world where so many bad things are happening. Divers are also concerned about the finning of thousands of sharks, the intentional destruction of reefs in the South China Sea for political reasons, the mass harvesting of sea cucumbers, the unintentional yet effective nevertheless destruction of coral reefs both directly by industry and indirectly by global warming, for example. However, sixty years ago it was thought OK for divers to ride turtles and manta rays and people even thought it was OK to slaughter sharks -  as featured in films by Jacques Cousteau. The maestro of diving even said himself, “Sometimes, for reasons of conservation, it is necessary to use dynamite” which he frequently did. Attitudes change. The mass popularity of extreme macro equipment with today’s underwater photographers may give cause for concern. This is not so much about preserving the life of shrimps but the morality of mankind. I’d like to think that underwater photographers go into the water to record things as they are rather than as they would like them to be. The mass destruction of larger pelagic species by industrialised fishing has left the oceans palpably bereft of fish and those of us who have been divers over a period of thirty years or more can testify to that. Soon there may only be the tiny animals left for us to enjoy. Let’s not spoil it by over-zealous behaviour with our cameras.

     

    Tiger shark lured to the camera with a box of bait. Tiger shark lured to the camera with a box of suitable bait.

    I normally illustrate these blogs with examples of my own photographs but my long career as an underwater photo-journalist has left me with few examples of my own manipulation of small subjects, since I was always briefed to report of what actually happened rather than construct pictures to win competitions, although one could say that seducing a large shark to come close to one’s camera by offering a tidbit to eat is simply manipulation on a larger scale, but sharks can fight back! You may have a view on that.

  • 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!

     

  • Jussi Goes To Lembeh

    lembeh5 lembeh6 lembeh3Among the people at Ocean Leisure cameras, Jussi Hokkanen is particularly keen on macro life. For example, our Finnish member of staff is crazy about nudibranchs, those colourful little seaslugs that wear their feathery gills on their backs. A keen underwater photographer, when he recently visited Manado in North Suluwesi to go diving, it would have been remiss of him not to make a pilgrimage from there south to Lembeh Strait, the critter capital of the world.

    Lembeh Strait, the stretch of water between Pulau Lembeh and the busy port of Bitung, has had the dubious benefit of three thousand years of busy boat traffic with all the rubbish and detritus that only that could have brought with it. The seabed is a grey lava sand littered with rubbish but Nature being adaptive as it is has overcome all that human beings have thrown at it and creatures underwater have evolved in various ways. It may not sound very attractive but as the dive guides like to brief, “If you see a bit of rubbish, it’s probably an animal that looks like a bit of rubbish, but if it really is a bit of rubbish it will have an unusual animal living inside it!”

    Jussi's camera set-up for Lembeh Strait. Jussi's camera set-up for Lembeh Strait.

    Of course, all these critters are in the main very small so Jussi took with him a suitable underwater camera rig that would allow him to record images of theses tiny animals that were usually bigger than life-size. He successfully photographed mandarin fish, a neon clam and a hairy frogfish among numerous other subjects.

    For this he chose to use Olympus E-PL7 camera with the Olympus PT-EP12 Housing.

    Olympus EPL7 Package Olympus EPL7 Package

    With the often bought 14-42mm zoom lens it represents remarkably good value at close to one-thousand pounds. However, for the macro life found at Lembeh Jussi preferred to use the Olympus 60mm macro lens, which he mounted behind an AOI Macro port. AOI supplies a range of different ports, both in acrylic and glass, that can be used in conjunction with the Olympus PEN housings.  He then added an Inon UCL-165 wet lens

    Inon UCL165 close-up lens Inon UCL165 close-up lens

    to the front. This combination gave him the close-up six-dioptre magnification he required.  If he had needed even more magnification, he could have swapped to a twelve-dioptre AOI macro lens. To get his images recorded in a full spectrum of vibrant  colour, Jussi needed to take some white light under water with him.

    Inon S2000 Inon S2000 flashgun

    For this he chose to use two Inon S-2000 strobe lights (flashguns) triggered by twin fibre-optic cables from the flash attached to the camera. These are neat and compact and have heads small enough not to give light with too little contrast when positioned so close to the small subjects. These were mounted to the camera housing via a Nauticam Easy Tray with optional additional handle and short i-Das arms with standard one-inch mounting balls and clamps. To make it easier to see to focus on such tiny subjects Jussi added a Fisheye FIX Neo 1000 WR spotting light.

    Fisheye Fix Mini1000 Fisheye Fix Mini1000

    This little wizard of a lamp can be switched to a red mode so that the light it gives out does not disturb the animals. (Most marine life does not see red light.) Once Jussi had lined up his camera, the light pulsed from the strobe units gave him a full colour rendition. Not only that, but the focussing lamp automatically senses the flash firing and switches off momentarily so that there is no annoying spot remaining where the focussing light was pointed._DSC5312

  • Photographing Seahorses and Pygmy Seahorses

     

    DSCF0562 Full-size seahorse photographed in Manado, North Suluwesi, Indonesia.
      Everybody loves a seahorse. Maybe it's because of their equine faces. They can be found in both temperate and tropical waters. Studland Bay, off the coast of Dorset, is known to have a population clinging to its weedy seabed. They are jealously protected from intrusion by underwater photographers but a voluntary body calling itself the Seahorse Trust. Elsewhere, I've photographed seahorses as far apart as St.Vincent in the Caribbean and South Leyte in the Philippines.
    Caribbean seahorse. Caribbean seahorse. (St.Vincent)
    Although sedentary by nature and seeming only to use prevailing currents to drift from location to location, they are quite difficult to photograph because they tend to shy away from cameras. It's as if, childlike, they think that if they cannot see a perceived threat it won't be able to see them. At around 10cm tall, you can get good pictures of them with your compact camera set in macro mode, but you need to be patient. Sometimes it means concentrating on your subject for many minutes, constantly allowing the camera to refocus, until the charming little animal has forgotten that you are there and turns back to face you. Then you grab the moment! Even when diving at night and discovering a seahorse clinging to some coral or maybe a sponge, it can be just as challenging because your light will disturb it. A good trick is to use a red filter over your focussing light or one that has a red light mode and they surprise the animal with the sudden pulse of white light from your flash, capturing its image while it is unaware. Most marine animals cannot see red light so that they are undisturbed in this way.
    Seahorse photographed under a pier or jetty in South Leyte  at night. Seahorse photographed under a pier or jetty in South Leyte, Philippines, at night.
    The Latin name for seahorse is Hippocampus which means ’Horse Caterpillar’. They without doubt a type of fish, they breathe through gills and control their buoyancy by means of a swim bladder like other typical fish. There are many sub-species but they all tend to live their lives in the same way, clinging to fixed points near the seabed with their long prehensile snake-like tails. They hunt for food by sight and their long thin snouts allow them to poke into nooks and crannies, sucking up tiny crustacea. Seahorse have excellent eyesight and can work their eyes independently so that they can look forwards and backwards at the same time, but they are poor swimmers, relying on their dorsal fins to propel them forwards while their pectoral fins, positioned either side of their head, are use for stability. They move into deep water to avoid rough seas. There are up to forty different species. Sea horses have exo-skeletons and are unusual in that it is the male of the species that carries and broods the eggs. The female passes the eggs to the male and he fertilises them within his pouch so its a sort of reverse pregnancy
    Searching for pigmy seahorses on a seafan. Searching for pygmy seahorses on a seafan.
    If you visit and dive in Eastern Indonesia, the Philippines and area to the East, you will notice dive guides searching among the gorgonia or seafans. They are looking for pygmy seahorses. This species has been discovered only in recent times but has proved to be a popular subject with underwater photographers. However, you need sharp eyes to see them. They are often only a few millimetres tall but look like perfectly formed animals - only in miniature! You need a powerful macro lens and good contrast lighting to record good images of these charming little beasts. Usually you will need to add a macro wet lens to any camera other than an expensive DSLR that might be equipped with suitably close focussing prime macro lens.
    Pigmy seahorse photographed in Lembeh Strait in North Suluwesi, Indonesia. Pygmy seahorse on a red gorgonia. (photographed in Lembeh Strait in North Suluwesi, Indonesia)
    Even then you might think of adding a suitable wet dioptre lens too, but you don’t need a top-of-the-range camera to get good seahorse pictures, even it they are so tiny. You can fit a powerful plus-10 dioptre macro wet lens to almost any camera housing that has a 67mm thread to its front port. Even if you have a proprietary plexiglass underwater housing with a rectangular front port you can usually obtain an adapter that will allow you to fit bayonet-type wet lenses. You can even stack these macro lenses to enable you to photograph the smallest subjects. You can even get something similar for your GoPro. Not only can you fit a wet lens but, because the camera is so close to the subject when you take a picture, it’s one time that the in-built camera flash might give you a satisfactory result. This will rely on fitting the light diffuser that originally came with the housing. However an off-board ancillary flashgun or strobe will be more controllable. You could use a video light but remember that although it will be close enough to your subject to give a good exposure, it might also fry it! It will certainly disturb it. Come in to Ocean Leisure and discuss what you might need to photograph seahorses.
    Pigmy Seahorse photographed in the Philippines. A tiny pygmy seahorse photographed in the Philippines. It is clinging to the gorgonia (sea fan) and has adopted the same colour as a method of disguise. (Photographed in the Philippines)
      THE EFFECT ON SEAHORSES In 2009, marine scientist Dave Harasti completed a study in Australia that looked at the direct impact of flash photography on seahorses. “One of the reasons why I did the study was that I was tired of hearing or reading that flashes kill seahorses, when there was no scientific proof,” says Dave, who is using the study as part of a PhD thesis on seahorse conservation. Dave has been studying threatened marine species for the past 10 years. A keen underwater photographer, he has also won several major competitions in Australia. “Part of my research is the use of photo IDs,” he explains. “I photograph a seahorse, look for any distinctive marks and use them for future individual identification. I have taken a lot of photographs of individuals and, given that they are still currently alive and in the same spot where I first found them, I consider it very unlikely that flash photography is having an impact on them. “A good example is my ‘Grandpa’ seahorse, which I have been photographing for three and half years. He’s still alive, currently mating with a real hot (in seahorse eyes) gold female, and is still found in the same spot. This says to me that flash photography does not cause seahorses to die or migrate from their location. “The work I have been doing is on the White’s seahorse (Hippocampus whitei) and to a lesser extent the pot-belly seahorse (Hippocampus abdominalis), so I can’t say that flash photography doesn’t impact on all seahorse species. However, some work we did in PNG involved photo ID of the pygmy seahorse (Hippocampus bargibanti), and there was no impact on this species either. “I found that flash photography had no significant impact on seahorses’ behaviour, movements and longevity. In my humble opinion, photography poses no harm to seahorses. However, photographers touching and moving seahorses and their habitats is a completely different story!”      

  • 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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