Photography Gear

  • 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.

  • Fantasea Line - a bit of diving history

    Howard Rosenstein was a Red Sea pioneer. He set up one of the first dive centres at Sharm el Sheikh and was responsible for promoting the Red Sea as a popular diving destination.  He even had a hand in the discovery of the wreck of the Dunraven at Beacon Rock. You can read that remarkable story in a chapter of Amazing Diving Stories.

    Next, he managed one of the first liveaboards in the area, Fantasea II. It was a top-end vessel aimed mainly at the rich American market so few British divers ever enjoyed her facilities but they often looked across the water enviously at her from the other somewhat primitive liveaboards that operated there back in the 'eighties. When Americans stopped going to that area thanks to political upheavals, he moved the vessel down to the Seychelles where he offered trips to the idyllic atoll of Aldabra. Just to give you an idea of the standard of quality of that vessel, the Duke of Westminster once chartered it as a private yacht for his family’s vacation. Eventually, Fantasea II got sold, renamed as Pelagian and continues to operate out of Wakatobi in Indonesia.

    Fantasea for Canon G7x mk2 Fantasea line for Canon G7x mk2

    But the Fantasea name lives on in a different venture started by Howard Rosenstein - Fantasea Line camera housings. Originally, Howard concentrated on supplying housings for compact Nikon cameras, cameras that did not prove so popular with divers in the UK. Now Fantasea Line produces a range of housings that suit the Sony RX range of cameras and some Canon compacts, and very good they are too. This includes an interesting option for the Canon G7X mk2.

    Fantasea for Sony RX100 mkIII and IV Fantasea line for Sony RX100 mkIII and IV

    They are robustly made and offer full access to all the controls of the cameras, plus they accept any accessory wet-lenses, both wide-angle and macro, with a 67mm mount. At a time when the falling pound is making some Far Eastern alternatives very expensive, the Fantasea Line housings make a welcome addition to the range of housings for compact cameras available at Ocean Leisure Cameras, and at the moment they cost less than £500.

    Naturally, they allow for full synchronisation with up to two strobes (flashguns) via fibre-optic cables.  One thing that becomes quickly obvious is Howard Rosenstein’s long history with the diving industry because, unlike some housings designed by people who are not actually divers themselves, all the features have been well thought-out from the point-of-view of using them underwater. Howard is a diver and it shows!

    Especially interesting is the Fantasea Line housing for the Canon G9X. This is because this camera still provides the one-touch white-balance feature that made Canon compact cameras so popular with underwater photographers in the past. Alas, Canon has chosen to omit the simplicity of this feature on later models (although white-balancing is still available but less intuitive than it was).

    Although the Canon G9X is not the most recent compact camera to join Canon’s product line-up, we believe it to be one of the most useful entry-level cameras available for aspiring underwater photographers. You can find all the information about the housing for it by clicking here.

    If you are intending to upgrade or replace an older compact camera housing that might have seen better days, it’s comforting to know that your accessories such as strobes, mounting arms and lenses have a high degree of certainty of interfacing easily with a new Fantasea Line housing

    Fantasea for Canon G9X Fantasea for Canon G9X
  • Photographing Sharks

    It’s easy to impress your non-diving friends and neighbours with the photographs you might take of sharks. Shark encounters come in a number of types: Chance encounters such as you might get ocean-roving oceanic white-tip sharks, encounters where currents attract requiem sharks that enjoy surfing on the flow, encounters with bottom feeding sharks such as nurse sharks and leopard sharks that like to lie up and rest during the day, and where sharks are feeding.

    The normal rules of underwater photography apply, in that it’s best to use a wide-angle lens and get as close as possible. Reduce the amount of water between your camera and the subject.

    Oceanic white tip shark Ocea-roving oceannic white tip shark

     

    Ocean roving sharks tend to be close to the surface so it’s quite possible to get reasonable pictures without an underwater strobe or flash but these are ambush predators so designed as to offer a low contrast image to intended prey. A correct flash exposure can give contrast and add drama.

    They tend to swim around 6m deep, constantly investigating anything that might be the source of a meal. That is why they approach divers, often only to turn away at the last moment when they consider us to be animals too big for them to take on. Sharks appear to judge size by height rather than length so if you want a shark to come close, present as small a frontal area as possible by being horizontal in the water. Go vertical and you will almost certainly scare off such a shark.

    Those sharks that lie about during the day such as nurse sharks can be approached with caution so as not to disturb them and you will have time to get more than one exposure adjusting the lighting and exposure to suit. The same can be said of white-tip reef sharks, although these are much more skittish. They lie about on the seabed during the day because they are able to force oxygenated water through their gills without forward motion like most other requiem sharks, but be aware that because they are grey and again designed for ambush, they need careful lighting just the same.

    Scalloped hammerheads at a cleaning station Scalloped hammerheads at a cleaning station

    Then there are the cleaning stations. Find out from the local dive guide which fish are the resident shark cleaners and find where they are aggregating. Then you just need to be patient, keeping as still as possible, waiting for the sharks to approach for a visit to the manicurist. It’s the only way to get pictures of scalloped hammerheads because they are so skittish. You need to sort out your overall exposure so that the background is reproduced an acceptable blue, adjusting the power of the flash (or strobe) to suit the foreground shark.

    When it comes to feeding sharks, things become a lot more frenetic. You need a fast shutter-speed but you will be limited to the fastest speed with which your camera will allow you to synchronise your flash.

    Sharks feed in two distinctly different ways. When chasing live prey they become very agitated and it’s best to keep clear at this time, even exiting the water. Sharks have more senses than we do but it’s a fact that they have a nictitating eyelid that covers their eyes to protect them at the moment of biting so that they virtually do the last part of an attack with their eyes closed. Mistakes can happen. Anyone who has attended a night dive at Manuelita Island near Cocos will attest to the fact, it can be chaotic, and that’s when it’s only little white tip reef sharks start hunting small fished by the light of the divers torches. Bigger sharks can explode with energy when they sense a live prey.

    White tip reef sharks competing for live prey at night. White tip reef sharks competing for live prey at night.

    On the other hand, when sharks sense there is a meal of carrion to be had, they are much more leisurely in their approach. There are no vibrations of injured or dying fish to excite them or ring their dinner bell, just the odour of an easy meal wafting on the ocean currents. So they tend to swim round in an orderly manner.

    Staged shark feeds such as they often do in the Bahamas and some parts of the Caribbean will give any diver witnessing the event that sharks, although impressive beasts, have a pecking order and act in an orderly manner so that they do not risk injuring each other. They still move quite quickly so you will still need to choose the fastest shutter-speed you can, in order to get sharp pictures. If you do not, the flash will record a sharp image but there will also be a less sharp ghost image due to the daylight exposure being too long.

    Using twin flashguns can also be counter-productive because those guys in the grey suits need a bit of contrast to light them up with plenty of shape and contour. It’s one occasion when the single flashgun reigns supreme.

    Caribbean reef shark at a staged shark feed. Caribbean reef shark at a staged shark feed.

    With plenty of sharks attending a staged feed, you won’t be able to judge where any are at a given moment. You’ll need to take a lot of pictures because inevitably one animal will obstruct your view of another, many times when you release your camera’s shutter. If you shoot RAW files, you’ll be able to adjust these after the event and not have to keep adjusting your flashgun’s output to account for sharks being at different distances from the camera.

     

     

     

  • Electronic Flash (Strobe) or Video Light?

    Photography techniques continually evolve. Back in the ‘sixties when I first started life as a photographer, lighting for photography was directly developed from lighting for movies. Huge spotlights of 2000 watts and more were called ‘brutes’ because they could really hurt you. Smaller ones were called ‘pups’. Little 500 watt spots were called ‘inky-dinkies’ because they produced so little light. Camera exposures were long, in the order of a second or more. Live subjects had to keep very still.

    Lighting men wore heavy gloves and needed to be very muscular. The lights themselves produced a huge amount of heat, which meant ramifications, especially with food photography because the subject would literally cook under the lights. Enterprising photographers got round this by substituting mashed potatoes for ice cream, painted ball bearings for peas, and so on. No wonder the contents of food packaging never looked like what was shown on the label!

    Flash was limited to expendable flashbulbs, some as big as household bulbs, which came at a cost. Then reliable electronic flash was invented and the likes of David Bailey and modern photographers of the ’sixties never looked back. Of course, it needed a lot of skill to use because you could not see what you were getting until the film was processed.

    This was paralleled in the underwater photography world. Pioneers used big flashbulbs because the batteries needed to fuel big constant light sources were impractical.

    Eventually, underwater electronic flashguns (sometimes called strobes) became reliable and small enough not to encumber a diver already with a big camera. Electronic flash became ‘de rigeur’ for underwater still photography. Shooting video was different. You needed a constant light output.

    Bulb and battery technology was such that as recently as 1992, I was taking a video rig into the water that weighed more than 100kg thanks to the huge ni-cad batteries for the lights. It often had to be derrick’d into the water. Even so, the lights were not bright enough to be effective over more than 75cm distant and totalled only 400 watts.

    bigblue_big_2Times change and technology develops. Today you can buy a 15,000 lumen LED light that weighs less than a kilo including its battery. At the same time, underwater electronic flash (strobe) has become quite tiny compared to its light output. Obviously, you need a constant light source for recording live-action, but which is better to use for still pictures?

    Well, we don’t have to wait for our film to be processed to see results thanks to digital technology. The results appear instantly on the LCD screen of the camera the moment an exposure is made. So what are the differences?

    Electronic flash, even in a small package, can deliver a very high output, more even than that 15000 lumen light, in a very fast burst, freezing the action. A set of four small batteries with last for hundreds of exposures.inon_s2000_1

    However, you need to have some idea of what you are doing. This comes with practice because you cannot see the effect before you press the camera’s button. You need to spend a little time familiarising yourself with the controls. You need to take at least one shot to be sure of what you are getting.

    Some electronic flashguns have aiming light built in. These are only good for telling you where they are pointed during a night dive. They cannot be a substitute for a dive light. sea_sea_ysd2_1To help a camera focus on macro subjects, often it’s a good idea to employ a separate aiming light mounted on top of the camera. These can have an auto-flash-off function so that there is no annoying spot of light added to your pictures. They can also have a red light mode so that marine life is not aware of your light at night and you can ambush it with the pulse of white light from your flash.bigblue_blackmolly2_1

    A video light is a constant light source and can double as a dive light although since the spread is so wide and even, it will not be very penetrative like a purpose-designed diving light.

    When lighting a subject for the camera you can see its effect before taking the picture but it will not give you such a small working exposure as a flash and less depth-of-field (focus). It can also be difficult to get close to marine life because the light might scare it, and you will need to get close for it to be effective. Of course, a constant light source (video light) can be used to live action as well as still pictures and its controls will be easy to understand.

    idas_venom38_1Don’t expect a video light to be less expensive than a flashgun (strobe) either. By the time you’ve mounted it on the camera, the cost will be around the same.

    So which is best for your needs? A flashgun or a video light? There is now one solution available that combines both. The iDivesite SS-1 Symbiosis and the doubly powerful SS-2 Symbiosis each combine a 2000 lumen video light with an electronic flashgun (strobe), powering both from the same rechargeable battery.i-divesite_symbiosis_ss2_b

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

  • Are Aliens Taking Over Our Oceans?

    OctopusNo, I’m not making a political claim on behalf of some far right political party! I'm talking about cephalopods. Octopus, squid and cuttlefish numbers are on the rise and gradually taking over the oceans. New research published in Cell Biology tells us that global warming, combined with over-fishing, may have caused a boom in cephalopod populations. Besides being an important source food for many animals, including marine mammals and seabirds, they are predators themselves. They are quick to adapt, are relatively short-lived yet very fast-growing and intelligent enough to exploit new opportunities.168-169-7

    Lead author of the scientific report, Dr. Zöe Doubleday, thinks that cephalopods are very responsive to temperature. Warmer seas might accelerate their life cycles, increasing the amount they reproduce. At the same time, over-fishing has reduced competitors and predators of cephalopods.

    Foodies and culinary experts may think they taste delicious, and supplies are plentiful  but remember: octopuses were probably the first intelligent beings on earth, evolving more than 400 million years ago and some 230 million years before mammals. They have three hearts and three-fifths of their neurons are in their arms, which they can regrow. They’re cannibalistic loners that have sex at a distance using a modified tentacle. Masters of camouflage, not only can they change color when mimicking objects and other animals, they may be able to see with their skin.

    114-115-extra5But are they actually aliens? A study published in Nature has pointed to a study that has led researchers to conclude that octopuses have alien DNA. Their genome shows a never-seen-before level of complexity, with no fewer than 33,000 protein-coding genes identified. That’s more than us!

    Dr. Clifton Ragsdale from the University of Chicago said, “The octopus appears to be utterly different from all other animals. The late British zoologist, Martin Wells, said the octopus was an alien. In this sense, then, our [research] paper describes the first sequenced genome from an alien.”_DSC5953

    This has been a ground-shaking claim for the scientific community, which caused an upheaval among marine biologists who seemed both shocked and intrigued.

    If you want to photograph octopuses, you'll need a good underwater flashgun or photographic strobe unit. This is because they are such masters of disguise they can blend quickly into their surroundings under natural light. By using a pulse of white light, the underwater photographer can ambush them photographically and reveal them in both their texture and colour, separated from the surface they are on and have cunningly replicated. They make good subjects for close-focus wide-angle set-ups as long as you are patient and allow the octopus to become confident that you are not going to harm it.

  • How to Photograph Turtles

    _DSC0466The turtle is an iconic reptile that has fortunately started to make a comeback after nearly being wiped out as a general species in the demand for turtle meat and tortoiseshell before the 1950s. Columbus named the islands we now call the Caymans as Las Tortugas because there were so many turtles. He thought that Cayman Brac and Little Cayman were in fact joined together because there were so many turtles punctuating the surface of the water between them.

    There are several different species including the giant leatherback but the turtles you are most likely to encounter whilst scuba diving are the loggerhead, the hawksbill turtle and the green turtle, so called because of the green tinge to the fat of its meat.

    If you chance upon a turtle whilst underwater, it will usually beat a hasty retreat. It’s no good swimming after it. A turtle can swim a lot faster than you can._DSC1180

    So what’s the secret of getting good photographs of turtles? You might unintentionally ambush a turtle that is swimming through open water and if you are calm and appear to offer no threat, you might be lucky enough that it comes close. Just let it come to you. If you have a fish-eye dome port on your camera that might even entice a hawksbill turtle to approach really closely. It might even give your dome port and exploratory bite, which is when you can get a good close-up. That’s because hawksbill turtles will feed on jellyfish and your dome port looks suspiciously like one. Alas, so do plastic bags and these can be a common reason for the demise of turtles.

    Hawksbill turtles also feed on sponges. A feeding turtle takes its food seriously and this is a good opportunity to approach slowly and carefully with your camera. Appear to offer no threat and the turtle will carry on feeding.

    It’s the same with green turtles but these feed on vegetation like seagrasses and algaes. If you come across a feeding green turtle and approach it cautiously it will ignore you and let you get off lots of shots of it.

    A roosting turtle will also let you get close-up photographs if you do not disturb it. Good places to find large numbers of roosting turtles are Sipadan Island off the coast of Malaysian Borneo and Apo Island in the Philippines. The bigger the turtle the less daunted it is by your approach. Turtles have regular favourite roosting sites so if you dive in the same place day after day, you can usually come back to the spot and find the turtle resting where you expect it to be. Never chase a turtle. You can increase its heart-rate by doing so and cause it to go to the surface for a refill of air before would otherwise need to.

    What sort of camera do you need? Turtles are great subjects for close-focus wide-angle shots. Get a wide-angle or fish-eye wet lens for your compact camera or iPhone in its waterproof case, or go into the water equipped with a wide-angle prime lens behind a dome port. Turtles are iconic creatures and everyone will enjoy looking at the pictures you achieve.Oman0039

  • It Used To Be Not If, But When!

    Anything taken underwater that has an air-space within it will have a tendency to leak. This sad fact of life used to be never more true than with cameras. There was even the once ironically named Society of Nikonos Flooders! So the philosophy of underwater photography combined with the realism of the likelihood of a flood coined the advice, “It’s not if, it’s when.”

    So why does something that is designed to keep the water out, let the water in? Well, it’s all down to the fact that you need to access a submarine housing from time to time, whether it is to renew a battery or replace a memory card. The seal at the point of entry is usually effected by an O-ring that sits it a groove and abuts another surface when the unit is closed up. If the point of contact between the O-ring and these surfaces is not scrupulously clean and smooth, free of any foreign bodies like hair or grit, the seal will be broken and water at the pressure of depth will hose through the so-caused gap.

    The O-ring must be lightly greased. This does not help it seal but simply allows the O-ring to flex and move as the two surfaces are offered up to each other. Too much grease can in itself cause a leak. You should just put on enough to make it glisten.

    Passing a clean O-ring between your lips can help you detect if it has any grit or hair clinging to it and you might do this before you re-grease it. O-rings are often supplied with camera housings as spares but the original will never wear out. You would need to damage it with a sharp object for it to need replacing.

    So keeping the opposing surfaces smooth and clean and placing a clean lubricated O-ring between them should maintain a perfect seal – but bad things can still happen. Using the wrong type of grease can cause a leak. If you use silicone grease on a silicone O-ring, it can cause it to swell or start to dissolve. Use the right grease - an environmental silicone - even on neoprene O-rings.

    Don’t leave your rig in a fresh water rinse tank. Other divers may not be so careful about your precious kit and a careless collision with another object being rinsed could cause some catches to come undone.olympus_tg4_package_1

    Isn’t there a better way? Well, yes there is. If you want a compact camera, what about the Olympus TG4 in an Olympus housing? You will need to maintain the main O-ring of the housing in much of the same way as you would any other make of housing but the TG4 has a second line of defence in the event of an ingress of water into it. The Olympus TG4 is itself an amphibious camera and can be used down to 15 metres deep just as it is. Put it inside it’s housing and, should the housing be found to leak, you will only need to ascend to 15 metres deep and later, open the housing and rinse it in some fresh water and dry it, before you are ready to reinstall it in its housing, first having discerned what caused the leak in the first place.

     

    nauticam_na_g7xIf you go for a compact in a more elaborate housing, buy a Nauticam and spend the additional £191 on a vacuum leak-test kit. These vacuum leak test are available on bigger more expensive Nauticam housings for bigger and more expensive cameras and nobody in their right mind would eschew the chance to never suffer another leak again.

    The vacuum leak test as an integral part of a housing was first introduced by Hugyfot. These housings are available only for more expensive cameras but when they were first introduced many years ago, several owners suffered flooded cameras. The problem was that these housings are securely sealed and locked using bolts. These bolts were sometimes not fastened tightly enough and when the clamshell housing was pushed together by the intense pressure found at depth, the bolts could work loose. When the diver ascended to a lesser pressure, the two halves of the clamshell housing could become loose and a flood was the result. The Hugyfot vacuum leak-test was the answer to this problem (now included as standard equipment on all Hugyfot housings) and Nauticam has more-or-less adopted a similar system.hugyfot_canonmk3_front

    This is how it works: The camera is sealed inside the housing with a lightly lubricated O-ring to seal out water, as usual. A pressure sensor within the housing confirms it is working and a (red) LED signals that the air inside the housing is at the same pressure as outside.

    The air is then vacuumed out of the housing via a special one-way valve using the pump provided. The pressure sensor inside detects that the air pressure is suitably reduced and a green LED shows. Green is good.

    The user then waits to see if the green light remains or whether a red light will show instead. It is recommended to wait around 20 minutes. If no air has leaked in, no water will leak in. Depressurizing the interior of the housing has a secondary benefit. Outside air pressure pushes the two parts of a clamshell housing together so firmly that you need not do up any bolts or close catches (should you forget) and you literally cannot prize the two parts apart without letting air back into the housing via the valve provided.

    nauticam_5dsrSo this cured at one stroke, the problem of Hugyfot users not fastening the housing bolts sufficiently, as well as ensuring there was going to be no leak. Hugyfot cured this design/user defect at one stroke.

    Underwater photographers find that winking green light to be very comforting on a dive and never open the valve to let air into the housing until they are out of the water and done using the housing. Now it’s not not-if-but-when, it’s green ensures your costly camera will survive!

     

     

     

  • Underwater Photography - A Masterclass

    There was a time when great underwater photographers, the likes of Chris Newbert, David Doubilet, Jeffrey Rotmann, Roger Steene and Norbert Wu, published coffee table tomes of their wonderful photographs, but nowadays, few people buy this type of book. When National Geographic sheds its full-time photographic staff, it indicates what dire straits the publishing business might be in.

    The digital revolution has changed underwater photography, and now everyone wants to take their own pictures and share them on-line. It has become remarkably easy. Ocean Leisure Cameras can supply the hardware for you to do this, from a housing to accommodate your iPhone, the remarkable yet tiny GoPro POV cameras, easy-to-use compacts like the Olympus TG4, the Olympus E PL7 or even a submarine housing for highly sophisticated DSLR.

    In the wake of this digital revolution, a plethora of underwater photography gurus has sprung up promising to reveal the differences between photographing through water rather than air, and the solutions to that, whether it be wide-angle or fish-eye lenses, light balancing filters or underwater lighting.

    Some of these gurus are self-styled and not necessarily very good, but marine biologist and underwater photographer Alex Mustard is the modern master of what he does, and willingly reveals to others, by way of escorted photo-safaris, how he does it. Instead of producing just a coffee table book of pictures, he is more didactic in his approach, disguising his superb photos in this book as demonstrations of how to do it, or rather as an inspiration to others to have a go themselves. It’s a master class and it’s stuffed with information.Underwater Masterclass cover

    The text is written in an informal and chatty style. Unlike many how-to-do-it books, it’s not full of pretentious twaddle and demonstration pictures covered in arrows. Nevertheless, he’s covered every aspect of the subject and filled its 190 well-designed pages with examples of exceptional underwater photography that any diver with a camera would wish to emulate. In fact, they could represent the modern day acme of any underwater photographer’s achievements.

    That said, it makes a good stand-alone read. For example, the chapter on Close-focus wide-angle starts, “A mantra for successful underwater photography is “Get close. Get CLOSER!” This is such essential advice that some photographers even have it written on the backs of their housings.”

    Underwater, wide-angle lenses are not used for getting more in. They are used for getting closer without cropping anything out.

    At the start of a chapter entitled ‘Big ideas for small subjects,’ he writes, “Some photographers look down their noses at macro photography, mistakenly believing it lacks the creative art of wide-angle.” Again, Ocean Leisure has a range of macro (close-up) and super-macro lenses.

    If you are already satisfied with the pictures you are producing underwater, buy this book and let your envy work wonders for you. If you have never taken a picture underwater, buy this book and get persuaded you can do it, too. In the age of digital photography, it’s easy. With the Underwater Photography Master Class, the secrets are out and you can buy a copy from Ocean Leisure Cameras!

  • How Do You Store Your Pictures?

    Photographed twenty years ago on Fujichrome film with a Nikonos V camera. Photographed twenty years ago on Fujichrome film with a Nikonos V  camera, digitally scanned and properly stored.

    We spend a fortune travelling across the world to distant diving destinations, recording marvellous images of the marine life we come across. Some of the pictures are irreplaceable.

    In the days of film, when pictures were stored as hard copy, it was easily understood that resulting colour transparencies needed to be stored in a cool dark place with low humidity so that they neither faded nor suffered the onslaught of damp conditions.

    Today, we take thousands more pictures than ever because there is no longer a cost consideration associated with the number of exposures made. Not only that, but the ease with which anyone can achieve satisfying results means that anyone can and will take pictures. Ordinary life has almost become one big photographic shoot-out!

    However, this might become the age of lost pictures. While Lartigue’s collection of photographs were later stumbled across in an attic, how many digital photographs will be conserved in the same way? Digital images are merely a collection of magnetic signals until they are realised on a computer.

    Firstly, you need to store your images in a safe way. Leaving them on the hard drive of your computer is asking for trouble. Computers don’t last forever. Install a new operating system and you risk losing data. You might opt for an off-board hard drive or ‘the cloud’. The cloud is simply someone else’s big computer elsewhere.

    Either way, that’s not enough. You need to back up on to a separate hard drive and if you want to be really safe, you should also back up on to a third hard drive at a different location. Then you must stay alert for new technology replacing what you’re using.

    When I first went over to digital photography, I was concerned to archive my pictures in a secure way. Younger techno-bores in those days told me to save them to CD or DVD. They told me they were guaranteed to last ten years. Ten years? That’s not archival permanence!

    IMG_0604

    If you want to preserve the memories of some of your diving exploits so that you can browse them and reminisce years later, I suggest you take your best shots from each dive trip and construct an analogue book using one of the proprietary programs and services available (iPhoto allows you to do this, for example). You can later take it down  from a book shelf at a moment’s notice.

    These books are beautifully printed and bound and can be organised on your computer in an evening.

    As for you videos, first you must edit them down to a digestible length, using only the best moments of the action you have recorded. If you are using a GoPro camera, there’s a free app (GoPro Studio) from GoPro.com that is easily downloaded and simple to use to do that.

    Then you will have the problem of storage. Luckily, hard drives with several terabytes of space (one terabyte is more than a thousand gigabytes) don’t cost that much nowadays although be aware that the connections to your current computer might change and someone might come up with better technology to replace it. It’s the price we pay for the rapid evolution of this technology.

  • 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.

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