Photography Gear

  • Close-Focus Wide-Angle

    A new buzz-word expression that has developed among underwater photographers is Close-focus Wide-angle or CFWA. What is it and how do you do it?

    Terrestrial photographers have been using wide-angle lenses for years and some caught on to the idea that by getting really close to your subject with a very wide-angle lens on your camera gave you  the steep perspective that added drama and put the viewer right in with the subject. Doyen of war photographers, Don McCullin was a great exponent of this technique. He used to say that you need to get close to the action, then closer still.

    Photographers often talk about the quality of the glass - their lenses. Underwater, the one aspect that tends to ruin the quality of our pictures is the poor quality of the water we are in. It's full of detritus and plankton. 30-metres of horizontal visibility is thought to be gin-clear whereas if that was all you had in air it would be considered a heavy mist at least. It's a great leveller and sometimes buying better quality cameras can be fraught with disappointment. We need better quality water first! So we use wide-angle lenses not often to get a wider shot but to allow us to get close to our subject without cropping out any part of it.

    Olympus TG4 with i-Das Fisheye lens Olympus TG4 housing with i-Das Fisheye lens attached.

    Whereas a fish-eye lens would be a strange choice for a terrestrial shot, underwater it can make complete sense, allowing you to get really close. The dome at the front makes a virtual image by the refraction of the light as it passes from water to the air inside the dome and it's this the camera focuses on. It used to be the province of only very expensive DSLR cameras in tailor-made housings but now you can get an i-Das fish-eye lens for many compact cameras and the route is open for CFWA pictures. Look at how the steep perspective of the close camera-to-subject position translates into much more interesting pictures! Here are some examples.

    Firstly I show you the final shot that was first published in many diving magazines throughout the world and later published in Shark Bytes after the background was simplified by computer retouching in Photoshop.



    A Great Hammerhead shark a few centimetres from the camera lens _FFF5723 _FFF5724 A Great hammerhead shark searching for prey (stingrays) hiding under the sand.

    With moving subjects, the trick is to hold your nerve and let the animal come to you. This Great hammerhead shark was searching for its natural prey, Southern stingrays, hiding under the sand in the Bahamas. The water was so shallow I was able to use natural light and shoot a series of pictures in quick succession.

    I didn't need to wait for any underwater flashgun to recycle and get ready for the next shot that can take one or two seconds, which is far too long a delay when recording fast moving subjects.

    The shark was maybe 6-metres-long from front to the tip of its tail and that length translates into an interesting perspective when the nearest part is only around 10-centimetres from the camera lens' dome.

    Naturally, you need to use a fast shutter-speed (I used 1/500 of a second) to freeze the movement, together with a small lens aperture, and I achieved this by increasing the ISO setting to get that. I simply adjusted the camera in advance to be sure the sand was correctly exposed, checking the result on the camera's LCD screen. I then shot a fast sequence of pictures as the animal passed.

    If you shoot in RAW mode, you can adjust the files at leisure later on a suitably equipped PC to get the exactly result you want.

    The i-Das fisheye lens will screw directly to the front of an Olympus  Tough TG4 camera's underwater housing or it will need an adapter ring to fit it to any housing that has a 67mm thread at the front of its port. It works best with the 28mm (equivalent) lens of the Sony RX100 Mk2 in its housing but you may need to zoom in to that equivalent setting with some later cameras such as the Sony RX100 Mk3 and Mk4. Come in to Ocean Leisure Cameras, the store within the store, and discuss your options with the experts. If you want to know more about the techniques of underwater photography, the Ocean Leisure book department has a wealth of resources and if you like the shark pictures you see here you can read about what it took to get such images, including plenty of pictures, in the new book Shark Bytes, also available from Ocean Leisure!


  • The Wonderful Islands of the Maldives

    As Autumn makes itself known to us with cooler air and wind and rain, memories of Summer vacations begin to fade and minds inevitably drift towards the possibilities of Winter sunshine. Among visitors to Ocean Leisure's store on London's Embankment near Charing Cross, the most popular destination must be the Indian Ocean island nation of the Maldives.

    Inter-island travel is by speedboat or seaplane. Inter-island travel is by speedboat or seaplane.

    Scattered across a swathe of tropical sea, the Maldives are a chain of around 1200 tiny palm-fringed islands that are mainly just north of the Equator, arranged around the rims of what are thought to be sunken prehistoric volcanoes, now ring-shaped reefs called 'atolls'.

    The islands are so small that any that have resorts based on them have only space for one. Some of these resorts represent the highest quality in tropical accommodation likely to be found anywhere in the world whereas others suit travellers on a budget. You choose.

    Private plunge pool of water-bungalow at the Constance Halaveli Resort Typical private plunge pool of a water-bungalow.

    Transport between the islands and the airport is either by speedboat or be seaplane depending on the distance involved. You may opt for a beach villa, a garden villa or a water-bungalow, but once you've grown accustomed to the abject luxury of it all, you'll be irrevocably drawn to the sea. Each island is built upon a reef so you won't have to go far to start swimming with the tropical fishes and while the majority will be content to snorkel off the beach, it's a perfect opportunity to learn to scuba dive because nearly every resort has a dive centre attached. Now although the Maldives has a reputation for high-voltage diving on the ocean side, within the atolls it can be very easy. Some resorts have even sunk old and unwanted vessels for the benefit of visiting divers and with time these have turned into vibrant coral reefs.

    A Maldivian wreck sunk for the benefit of divers burgeons with marine life. A Maldivian wreck sunk for the benefit of divers burgeons with marine life.

    You won't have to travel very far. The marine life comes close to the beach. If you prefer to simply snorkel the dive centre can rent you a mask, fins and snorkel but there's something nice about having your own. The wise traveller tries on a mask and fins before purchasing. That's because, although Ocean Leisure has a wide range of different masks available and they are all good, faces are infinitely variable and you'll want a mask that's comfortable and doesn't leak. Buying fins is like buying shoes. It doesn't matter how good they are if they're not comfortable so try before you buy. If you plan to scuba dive with your own equipment, don't forget to get your regulator serviced in good time before you go away.

    Maldivian dhoni/ A Maldivian dhoni will take you further from the resort.

    Snorkelling around the house reef can be a relaxing affair but you might find the urge to go further afield. The resort will have a fleet of dhonis (locally built boats) for this purpose.

    So what marine life are you likely to see? Well, hawkbill and green turtles are common in that part of the world. Be patient and you're bound to see one. The ubiquitous blue-lined snapper is the signature fish of the Maldives and these hover around in great yellow clouds as a defence strategy against predatory fish.

    You'll want to bring back more than just memories of what you see. A little amphibious camera such as the Canon D30 is watertight to 25-metres deep and will withstand the rigours of being taken to the beach every day.

    Green turtle on a Maldivian reef. Green turtle on a Maldivian reef.

    An Olympus TG4 is only good for 15-metres deep but it has a submarine housing available for it that will allow it to go much deeper. This will take ancillary wet lenses and an off-board flash, should you so wish. A different solution comes in the form of the Fujifilm XQ1

    Maldivian reef manta with attendant remoras fish. Maldivian reef manta with attendant remora fish.

    This represents a bargain in that it is bundled with a proper underwater housing, carrying case and memory card. If its live-action you want to record, the phenomenal GoPro range of action cameras, once fitted with a filter for underwater use and a neutrally buoyant grip to make handling easy, are almost unbeatable by price and performance. You'll be kicking yourself if you get to see a gracefully cavorting manta ray while you are in the Maldives and come back without a record of the experience.

    Whatever your plans, we at Ocean Leisure can ensure that you arrive in the Maldives with the best options for either snorkelling or scuba diving and bringing back a tangible record of the things you have seen.

    Blue-lined snapper huddle together in a big yellow cloud. Blue-lined snapper huddle together in a big yellow cloud.
  • A Review of 'Shark Bytes'

    A Personal View from a Veteran Shark Diver.

    Diving with sharks, which began in earnest after the Second World War with pioneers such as Cousteau and Hans Hass. It has evolved over the years. In the early days the trail-blazers really were being brave as there was no sensible information (as opposed to myth and sensationalism) to fall back on.

    Since then there have been two basic ‘advances’ in human/shark interactions underwater. Subsequent ‘shark divers’, motivated by an interest in the natural history of these majestic animals and a determination to take decent underwater photographs of these, to date, very poorly photographed subjects, slowly but surely increased the quality and variety of their shark portfolios. Twinned with this was the growing tendency of scuba operators (especially in the tropics) to offer shark feed dives for their clients. Through the '80s and '90s more and more divers got to see more and more sharks in ever more situations and, in the vast number of cases, safely. Gradually, and despite the damage done by Speilberg's film Jaws (1975), divers began to realise that it’s quite difficult to get bitten by a shark._SSC9934

    The third, and frankly often ugly stage of shark diving is upon us. The advances in underwater photographic equipment mean that getting fantastic photographs in reasonable conditions is almost guaranteed. While there are plenty of responsible dive operators offering superb shark dives to genuinely interested divers, a considerable number of attention-seeking types have emerged who, seeking to use sharks to make themselves famous, indulge in ever more vulgar and irresponsible stunts for the sake of the camera – stunts that soon appear all over the Internet, and beyond. The perpetrators inevitably claim that their antics are for the benefit of the animals. Sharks that were previously thought to be extremely dangerous (bull, tiger, great hammerhead) are now being fed, hand-fed, handled and posed with. (So too is the great white by those foolhardy enough to leave the safety of the cage.) Elbowing each other out of the way for the limited limelight, these divers must come up with ever more idiotic stunts; one ageing ex-model recently posed naked among circling sharks as her own contribution to shark conservation. Little wonder this genre has been labelled ‘shark porn’.

    John Bantin’s new book Shark Bytes spans the many years of his own shark diving with a very wide variety of sharks and is grounded in the common-sense approach of a serious veteran diver. Thankfully, indeed refreshingly in this age of narcissists and social media, there is none of that ghastly look-at-me-posing-with-sharks approach as he clearly enjoys the thrill of shark diving for its own sake. Nor does he shy away from an occasional, though thoroughly deserved dig at those whose claims could do with deflating (for example the multi-bitten, self-proclaimed shark behaviour expert)._SSC9921

    John Bantin used to write for the UK’s Diver Magazine and his easy-flowing and informative style is present in this text. There is no information overload, nor does he treat his reader as an ignoramus. Neither is he not too proud to include some of his own trials and tribulations when diving – things every diver knows about but would rather not mention.

    Scalloped hammerheads on a cleaning station at Malpelo (Columbia) Scalloped hammerheads on a cleaning station at Malpelo (Columbia)

    An accomplished underwater photographer, John Bantin’s text is adorned with lots of sumptuous underwater photographs of sharks. The Bimini great hammerhead photos are most impressive though my personal favourites would include the oceanic whitetip with the sun behind it on page 76 and the pair of scalloped hammerheads on page 148.

    An ocean whitetip shark in the Red Sea. An ocean whitetip shark in the Red Sea.

    These are the sort of haunting natural history photographs that bring back memories, for me, of diving with these magnificent animals: no humans getting in the way or cluttering up the background, no ghastly intrusion of scuba bubbles, just the animals at home in their own otherworldly world.

    Despite the title, Shark Bytes  (ISBN 978-1-909911-45-1) is not confined to sharks. There are encounters with dugongs, dolphins, manta rays and – perhaps most intriguing – truly gigantic groupers.

    The author constantly stresses how, when combining healthy respect and common sense, shark diving can be safe. Though never entirely safe. He mentions being picked up and carried away by tiger sharks – twice!

    Jeremy Stafford-Deitsch.

    J. Stafford-Deitsch was author of Shark - A Photographer's Story, a best-selling book published in 1987. (ISBN 0-742-7996-9)

  • Does Flash (or Strobe Lighting) Hurt the Animals?

    A recent blog of mine was about photographing seahorses and, despite the reference to the research work of Dr. David Harasti in that blog, I received a protest from one reader that a photographer's flash will stress and kill them. All wild animals are paranoid. They are continually stressed. You only have to watch a bird or a squirrel feeding in your garden to be aware of this. Constantly facing the possibility of attack by a predator, wild animals are always alert and ready for flight. Flight or fight – but fighting usually happens only between males of the same species competing for territory, or is the last desperate attempt of an animal, attacked by a predator, to save itself. Man has conditioned domesticated animals to some of the excesses of his activities, but they still have an underlying paranoia too. A horse might rear, a cat might scram, a pet parrot might fly up into the rafters. When I was an advertising photographer, I photographed animals, from dogs, cats and horses to chickens, chameleons, toucans and chimpanzees. All needed time to become accustomed to the new surroundings of the studio or special location in which they found themselves, but once this had been achieved, the huge output of light from the amount of flash commonly used in a studio in those days seemed to be ignored. Thanks to the technology available at the time, we needed to use around a thousand times more flash output than is produced by a typical underwater flashgun or strobe. I present a long-running poster campaign for Whiskas cat food as my first item of material evidence, and the relaxed cats portrayed as my first witnesses.

    Whiskas cats look relaxed despite a vast amount of flashlight used to photograph them. Whiskas cats look relaxed despite a vast amount of flashlight used to photograph them.

    Animals with quick responses see the flash as a slow pulse of light. Most animals have quicker responses than we do. For example, a saltwater crocodile has a reaction time 60 times quicker than ours. It may be disturbed by you, but it certainly isn’t startled!

    Saltwater crocodiles have fast reaction times. Saltwater crocodiles have fast reaction times.

    Approaching a wild animal under water, we are both intruder and possible predator. However, in the marine world we are so far removed from what animals are expecting that they usually tend to ignore us unless we get too close. We are simply big, dark shapes vibrating with noise as we breathe. My experiments with bubble-free closed-circuit equipment tell me that it is our noise and our movement of which animals are wary. We are not invisible, but keeping as still as a rock and making no sound will give you the best chance of a skittish scalloped hammerhead shark coming close. So what happens when we take photographs? First of all, to be closely approached by a huge dark shape will alarm any smaller creature.

    Batfish do not retreat despite repeated flashlight exposures. Batfish art Puerta Galera do not retreat despite repeated flashlight exposures.

    There seems to be a rule under water that size matters. Small animals are eaten by larger ones. It’s a war zone down there. Everything is eating everything else, or at least trying to. A big dark animal is a threat. A well-known marine wildlife photographer based in the USA is famous for his yellow wetsuits. They may look garish on the aft deck of the boat, but he believes that they are less disturbing for the animals he photographs. Each animal has a strategy for survival so your very presence will be alarming, and it will take time for an animal to forget about your sudden arrival. The seahorse will turn its back, and the turtle may swim off in a hurry. Luckily for us, most marine animals have a short attention span, so if you stay still long enough, they will eventually ignore you. Of course a large number of these dark shapes, all moving in different ways, will be exponentially more alarming. Large numbers of divers crowding round a single hairy frogfish must be very frightening for it. It frightens me! What happens when you approach closely with a camera? The big eye of the camera looks down at the creature. All animals are tuned to know when they are being looked at, which is why hunters wear masks. It is disturbing for them to be watched, but if they are not equipped for a high-speed escape, like, for example, a jack, they stay put and soon get used to the fact that they haven’t been eaten. The camera is fired and two things happen. It makes a noise, and there is a pulse of light from the flash.  (To put things in context, the pulse of light from a typical underwater flash is probably equal to one-thousandth the amount of light that I used to photograph those cats for Whiskas – 20 joules of light as opposed to 20,000j.) As my next witness, may I introduce the octopus. The octopus is an intelligent mollusc and it has a variety of strategies for use when threatened by a possible predator, including camouflage, diversion by way of an ink cloud, and finally flight, using the jet-propulsion of its siphon. The octopus also has a complex eye, which I suspect allows it to see well what happens when the camera is fired. I use a big camera, and at the moment the eye of the lens opens and shuts, there is a loud clatter as the mirror mechanism works, and the flash emits a pulse of light. Under these circumstances the octopus usually appears to flinch, clearly indicating that it is disturbed. But what is actually disturbing it? My experiments lead me to believe that the octopus reacts firstly to the close approach of a large dark object – my body – and secondly to the vibration of the camera mechanism operating.  However, after a few of these moments the animal either settles down and decides that there is no threat, or it will attempt to flee.

    These mating octopus were not disturbed by the camera's flash light. These mating octopus were not disturbed by the camera's flash light.

    I have spent more than 45 minutes with two octopuses that were courting, and my noisy camera, dark body and light-emitting flashgun had no obviously detrimental effect on the course of events. I was able to take hundreds of close-focus wide-angle pictures of the whole procedure, from beginning to end.

    A green turtle is undisturbed in its daytime roost although it sleeps with its eyes open. A green turtle is undisturbed in its daytime roost although it sleeps with its eyes open.

    Similarly I have spent long periods with turtles that have simply got used to my presence and allowed me to take multiple flash exposures from very close indeed. It may be different if you have a constant light source shining in their eyes, as when shooting video. If an animal decides it is not under threat of predation, it will simply tolerate you. Of course, an animal that is nocturnal will not enjoy being lit up by a bright light. Fitting a red filter over the aiming light of a flashgun when photographing animals at night appears to mitigate this problem. Some continuous light sources come with a red light function too. The pulse of light from a flash is either too slow to disturb those animals with very quick responses or, I suspect, with lower life-forms too quick to evoke any response at all. It’s annoying that when you line up a camera on a macro subject such as a pygmy seahorse, or any seahorse for that matter, it tends to turn away shyly. This is because predators detect the presence of prey often by the existence of its eye. Many coral-browsers have developed a defence strategy of displaying a false eye on a less vulnerable part of their body.  The eyes of the seahorse must be kept hidden when the animal feels threatened – but don’t think it only does this to photographers!

    The sea snake approaches the camera relentlessly despite having its photograph taken The sea snake approaches the camera relentlessly despite having its photograph taken.

    So do we stress the animals? The immediate answer is, yes. Just as the marauding jack stresses the anthias, fish stress the browsing octopus and the whitetip reef shark stresses the little fish hiding among the rocks at night, so all divers stress the animals by our sudden arrival. Slow movements and plenty of patience go a long way to getting good pictures. Fish are not frightened by big rocks, and I have noticed that a still group of divers huddled together in an area of sandy seabed, testing regulators for example, can actually attract some sedentary predators such as frogfish, which see the black shape as a useful dark place to hide. Does the camera’s flash disturb animals? I have serious doubts. As my last material evidence, I’d like to present my picture library, with hundreds of sequences of pictures of animals that did not take the option to retreat in a hurry.

    A collection of cats undisturbed by 20,000joules of flashlight. A collection of cats undisturbed by 20,000joules of flashlight.
  • 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!”      

  • Get Close, Then Closer Still!

    It’s not unknown for experienced and often professional photographers to come to Ocean Leisure Cameras, seeking out an underwater housing to enable them to take their camera underwater. We are always pleased to help._FFF6172 Nevertheless, often these people are acting under the misapprehension that in order to get good pictures whilst fully immersed in water they need to do little more to adjust the techniques with which they are familiar when working surrounded by air, than to keep their camera dry. This is not the case. Water is a very different medium to air. For one, it never has the clarity of air, neither does light pass through it without being absorbed. That doesn't mean it’s simply darker. Water absorbs light selectively. Light passing through couple of metres of water will have its spectrum distorted as the long wavelengths at the red end of the spectrum get filtered out. A few more metres and the green element is lost. Finally, only the short blue wavelengths of light penetrate very far. that is why the clearest seawater looks blue when viewed from the top. A colour-correcting filter, white-balancing in the camera or adjusting during post-production of a RAW file in the computer can help immensely when photographing in the relative shallows. The detritus in solution in the water also acts as a diffuser. Natural light underwater naturally always comes from above but often it is flat and uninteresting. Underwater, the photographer needs to add some artificial light not only to restore the natural colours but to add contrast to the photographs he takes. You might take an enormously powerful underwater flash or strobe with you but its range is still limited. Just like light from the sun, it will be filtered blue by the time it has passed little more than a couple of metres through the water t the subject and back again to the camera. So the cardinal rule of underwater photography is to get as little water between your camera and what you are photographing. Get close, then get closer still. In order to restore and image of the whole subject, it’s necessary to use a wide-angle lens - and one as wide as possible. These can be either ancillary wet lenses or prime lenses behind a dome port. Long focal-length lenses are simply of no use unless you are using a macro lens. Here’s an example of a photograph taken by natural light in the gin-clear waters off Cyprus. The Eastern Mediterranean has some of the lowest plankton levels of any seas in the world.

    Diving off Cyprus Diving off Cyprus photographed with natural light and white-balanced..
    _FFF1621 Even here in bright sunlight close to the surface skin tones are looking pallid and shadows filled in.
    Once you get a bit deeper, as in these pictures taken in Truk Lagoon in Micronesia, you’ll notice that the light from the off-board flash no longer reaches the diver and at a distance she is reduced to almost little more than a shape without detail, even though the picture was taken with the widest-angle lens available and she is little more than four metres distant.
    Diver on the wreck of an armed merchantman in Truk Lagoon. Diver on the wreck of an armed merchantman in Truk Lagoon.
    At a distance of only a few metres the diver is almost monochromatic. At a distance of only a few metres the diver is almost monochromatic.
    The nearest part of the coral encrusted deck gun is lit sharply in full colour but the mast behind is almost lost in the mist of particularly clear water. The close-up has been cropped to replicate the angle-of-view of a 60mm (standard) lens on a full-frame camera. Once you find yourself in water that’s not as clear as in the two previous examples, the difficulty in using anything with a focal length of a standard lens or longer becomes even more apparent. SafetyStop SafetyStopThis is because the water is not clear and affecting the contrast and sharpness of the image (as in the image above). The solution is to get closer, use a wide-angle lens and add contrast with an ancillary light or underwater strobe.

  • Diving in the Dark

    Goatfish in its night clothes. Goatfish in its night clothes.
    Lighting up the detail of the reef at night with an underwater light reveals everything in a full spectrum of vibrant colour that you would never see in daylight filtered blue as it passes through the water. At the same time, many creatures of the reef are nocturnal. They include predators such as white-tip reef sharks and moray eels that are active, hunting at night. Crinoids such as feather stars and basket stars creep from their daytime hiding places to feed on plankton.
    An Octopus hunting out on the sandy seabed at night. An Octopus hunting out on the sandy seabed at night.
    It's at this time that the coral polyps come to life, protruding out from their hard coral structure, waving their arms.
    A marble ray feeding in the sand at night in the Maldives A marble ray feeding in the sand at night in the Maldives and oblivious to the presence of divers.
    Strangely, many of the more timid animals seem less aware of the presence of divers at night and seem mesmerized by a diver’s light. Other creatures can take advantage of this to make their hunting easier. Some of the most commonly encountered animals include rays feeding and turtles browsing, goatfish probing for their supper in the sand and crabs and lobsters parading out in the open. It’s also at night that the fascinating octopus stalks its supper, a meal of shellfish. Some  animals are considered special quarries for divers. These include the flashlight fish of the Indo-Pacific region, the rosy-lipped batfish in the American Pacific, and Spanish dancers - huge nudibranchs that are usually coloured bright red or pink and carry shrimps on their backs. Mandarin fish too  are only seen in the dark when they break cover of the coral rubble for a moment to mate in open water.
    A Spanish dancer is a large nudibranch A Spanish dancer is a large nudibranch
    The problem with getting a glimpse of these last two night stars of the tropical marine environment is that any white light will scare them back into hiding. Nowadays, some dive lights and video lights come with alternative red beams that the fish don’t appear to see. A typical  example comes in the form of the i-Torch Pro6+ although there are many others to choose from.
    Mandarin fish photographed with the aid of a red aiming light. Mandarin fish photographed with the aid of a red aiming light.
    Of course, if you video any subject by the light of a red lamp it will record as red but if you are making still photographs you can line up a subject under a red aiming light and then capture their image with a pulse of white light from an underwater flashgun or strobe.
    Caribbean spiny lobster Caribbean spiny lobster
    What's the difference between an underwater video light and a diving light? The diving light will have a narrow beam which is not usually very even. It gives a hotspot of focused light and a peripheral beam that may be composed of concentric rings. It allows us to concentrate on one subject whilst being aware of what else might be going on around us. On the other hand a video light gives a wide and perfectly even beam in a colour-temperature range that is acceptable when viewing the footage later. If you used an ordinary diver’s light for video, the image would be unacceptably patchy. Equally, a video light does not punch its way far into the water and only a has a limited range. You'll see the weird and the wonderful at night. Animals such as this decorator crab, self covered with its adornment of sponges.
    Decorator crab Decorator crab disguised with a covering of sponges.
    Whether you want a light for diving or for underwater video-making, we hold a large selection at Ocean Leisure and Ocean Leisure Cameras. If it's a video light you need, you'll discover a choice from 1000 lumens output to a massive 6000 lumens. If you want a diving torch, we stock a wide selection of those too.

  • The Amazing Rhinopias

    _DSC8312 Rhinpoias Aphanes or Lacy Scorpionfish
    The Lacy Scorpion fish or Rhinopias Aphanes is found in the waters of Papua New Guinea and West Papua. Unlike a lot of colourful marine life, you don't need a macro set-up to get good pictures if you come across one because they can be up to 25cm in length. They are a benthic species in that they tend to rest on things rather than swim. However they often get about by hopping around on their pelvic and pectoral fins. Despite they fact that they appears to be very colourful in these photographs they are masters of disguise and although they often pose precociously atop sponges and coral heads, you can easily pass one by because under natural daylight they are quite hard to see. They were first brought to the attention of marine scientists by British/Australian diving pioneer Bob Halstead who after a career as a schoolmaster took to running scuba diving expeditions and later skippering his boat mv.Telita, taking divers on scuba diving charters around the waters of the Coral Sea, embarking his passengers at Port Moresby. Among other things, Bob Halstead has written several books on diving around PNG.
    Lacy Sorpionfish or Rhinopias Lacy Scorpionfish or Rhinopias Eschmeyeri
    After he started noticing these flamboyant fishes he sent some pictures that he'd taken to experts at the Natural History Museum in London who confirmed it was a previously undescribed species. In fact there are several sub-species. Bob is known for his insightful analysis of diving practises and also for his humour. One of his most well-remembered quotes is: "If you can't take a joke, don't take up underwater photography!" The first time I visited PNG I made it my business to photograph some examples of this keynote fish but after a lot of searching and no luck came back with an article for UK's Diver Magazine entitled 'The Rhinopias is Missing!' I kept my sense of humour. The next time I stayed at the Loloata, a resort on its own island in Bootless Bay run by Australian Dik Knight, the dive guides made it a matter of honour that they did not fail to find me an example to photograph. They took me to a reef called Dinah's Delight, named after Bob Halstead's first wife, also an accomplished scuba diver in her own right and it was if all the Rhinopias in various different sub-species had come out on parade. _DSC8421   To photograph these wonderful looking fish you need a a wide-angle lens so that you can get as close as possible and an underwater flashgun or strobe so that you can reveal them in their full spectrum of colour. The other things you will certainly ned is a pair of sharp eyes and a lot of patience whilst looking for them because in natural daylight they easily merge with their background.._DSC8406 One last point: Rhinopias are said to be the Holy Grail of marine aquarists who like nothing better than to keep one in an aquarium because these delicately coloured fishes are so pretty. Let's keep them in the ocean where they belong. (The pictures here were all taken with fish-eye lenses behind dome ports and with ancillary off-camera flashguns.)

  • GoPro - a Phenomenon!

    POV action cameras have taken over the world! Whatever you are doing, whether it be jumping off a high building wearing nothing but a string vest to break your fall, wing-suiting down canyons in the Alps, sky-diving, flying an aerobatic aeroplane, kayaking over waterfalls, mountain biking through breath-taking terrain, parkouring in the city, skate-boarding, motorcycling, merely taking your life in your hands by riding a bike among city traffic, or merely making an omelette, an action camera can be there to record it. Of all the action cameras available, the GoPro range has to be the most popular. In fact it's a phenomenon. This is not only because of the inherent reliability of the cameras (not so guaranteed with cheaper copy-cat products) but because of the immense range of accessories available. GoPro gives you the option to mount a camera almost anywhere! The range is extensive from the basic Hero, the Hero + with its built-in touch-screen LCD display, the Hero  4 Silver edition, the Hero 4 Black edition and the latest mini Session. gopro_herosessionOf all of these the Hero 4 Silver edition has proved most popular with scuba divers. This is because at standard HD 1080p settings it can record at up to 60 frames per second at 1080p and it includes a built-in LCD viewfinder so that the user can aim it precisely at the subject. All GoPro cameras except the Session come ready for use under water up to 40m deep but if that's not enough there's a 60m-deep rated housing and for technical divers Ocean Leisure can offer an aluminium housing rated to 150m deep. ipix_gopro_housing1-1 (This even comes with an ancillary battery pack to increase recording times.) Water  absorbs light selectively so that it appears to get more blue  as you head away from the surface. In the shallows, good colour images can be obtained with the right red filter but the user must make a judgement by viewing the LCD screen. You don't want you pictures to look red! You can buy a range of filters that will make the right adjustment from about 20-metres deep to close to the surface. backscatter_flipsetWe recommend the Backscatter Flip 3.1 Filter system because you can choose to take two filters permanently attached to the camera and flip the appropriate one in front of the camera lens as and when you need it. It also avoids putting unwanted filters in a BC pocket and thereby scratching or even losing them. If you are shooting in temperate water that might be green, you'll need a magenta filter and these are equally available.polarpro_standard_magenta If you want to shoot extreme close-ups of macro subjects, you can even opt to add a 10x macro lens instead of one filter. An less expensive alternative is to go for the Switchblade 2 that offers you a red filter or 10x close-up lens or both and these slide in and out in front of the lens as required.FlamCuttle5079 For really good macro results or for going deeper than 20-metres, we suggest taking some video lights. These start from around £150 each for 1000-lumen lights but they need to be mounted to the camera but well away from the lens axis so as not to light up detritus immediately in front of the lens. A good rig like the SRP tray will place your hands well behind the camera and allow you to mount lamps on top of the handles via additional 1" balls. srp_v_arm1Not only that but it gives you an easy grip that will allow you to hold the GoPro steady and as you'll probably appreciate, good video is usually where the subject moves and the camera does not. The one place you do not want to mount your GoPro whilst scuba diving is on your head, not unless you wish to record a lot of exhaled bubbles! The refraction of light passing through water and then into air tends to make things look closer that they really are. The ramification for the GoPro is that you lose a lot of the extreme wide-angle effect. You can restore this and obtain remarkably sharp pictures by using the Inon wide-angle lens. This must be used in conjunction with the Inon SD Mount Cage but because of the price few GoPro users have yet to adopt it. You could be at the forefront as an early adopter and everyone will marvel at the resolution of your results simply because the set-up has allowed you to move closer to your subject and excluded as much unwanted water from the optical path of your image as is possible. If you want better pictures, photograph through better quality water! inon_sd_mount_cage_for_gopro Whatever you use your GoPro for, Ocean Leisure Cameras have the right accessories, even if you want to simply mount a GoPro on your dog, we can help. (We're not joking about the dog!)

  • 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.

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