Photography News | Issue 31 | absolutephoto.com
Above Just as above water, simple camera techniques can change the look of an image, tuning it to your intentions and making the best of the subject. Alex’s book is brimming with great examples of this, such as the fast-swimming spotted dolphins (above left), which required a fast shutter speed of 1/640sec, and the motion-blurred panning shot of a reef shark (top centre), that used a slower speed around 1/4sec combined with flash. Varying the shutter speed also helps work with a flash set-up to create a black backdrop for a more graphical look (above centre) at 1/320sec, or mix the ambient light and add depth (above right) at 1/40sec.
deep end of a swimming pool. Most scuba dives go rather deeper than this, which iswhy flash is so necessary in shooting.” The flash brings natural colour back, but just as on any subject, it’s not a simple case of firing the light and expecting good results. Just because you’re underwater, you can’t forget about the quality of the light as well as the quantity. For success in deep water shots, says Alex, being an expert at flash photography is vital: “Understanding how to balance exposures with ambient light and how to position flashes to create the lighting you want is really the biggest challenge – but it also offers
the greatest rewards.” On the upside, if you’re already used to working with flash, you’ll find it fairly easy to adapt, he says. Again, however, there are exceptions for those wanting to make a splash with pics in the shallows. If you don’t go too deep, colour correction can be achieved with a simple tweak of white balance in camera, or by controlling the Temp slider in your Raw conversions. “In shallow to medium depths we can also use coloured filters, combined with the camera’s white balance to restore the correct colours to a scene without the need for flash.” That route, says Alex, is particularly useful when shooting very large underwater subjects or aquatic landscapes: “some subjects are too big to illuminatewith flash, sowe shoot themusing just ambient light – caverns, wrecks, whales andmore tend to be photographed this way.” Fogging up for air There are some interesting parallels with winter shootingwhen it comes toprepping gear for the depths – the problems of condensation appearing when moving quickly from cool to warm environments. “This isn’t an issue on the outside of the housing,” says Alex, “but troublesome inside.” For instance, he explains, on tropical dive trips, “if a camera is prepared in an air-conditioned space, condensation will form when you go outside. But that’s not a problemas long as you don’t open the housing.” If you need to open the housing, you need to return to the same environment, or wait for 15–20minutes for the temperatures to equalise. There can also be problems when taking a warm camera into cold water; “kit is usually prepared somewhere warm before cold water dives so if you go straight into cold water, this will cause condensation inside the housing.” To fix this the camera should be left in the cold air, oracoldrinsetank,toacclimatise.Condensation also happens inside housings as the camera gets hot. “This is particularly problematic with compact cameras, which have small, plastic housings and powerful (hot) internal flashes.
Running the flash on low power and adding a silica gel sachet can help.” Attention to detail is vital; “simple problems like a lens cap being left on inside a housing can scupper a whole session, so test everything twice, while you are still high and dry. Everything is much harder underwater, so set modest targets, rather than going underwater with a massive shot list. A couple of great images are worth hundreds of average ones.” Making the difference Good lighting and exposure are the basis of successful underwater shooting, but what comesnext – the truekey tooutstandingpics– is tobuilduponthem;picturesmustbecompelling in their own right. After, all photography is about the images, not the science. How does Alex achieve that? “Good shooting technique is particularly important underwater because it’s an environment that punishes poor skills severely. But once you’ve mastered the basics, the focus moves to producing powerful images; exploiting lighting, camera settings, viewpoint, perspective and composition, to show the subject in the way you choose. We’re not free to do everything, because some pictures will never work underwater, such as shooting through too much water, but there is plenty of scope for creative endeavours.” A good example of that is working with shutter speed to achieve different looks, which is just as achievable underwater as it is on dry land; in Alex’s book there are some great examples of motion-blurred fish, as well as slow-sync flash shots where slower speeds are used to blend the ambient blues of the ocean with the artificial light. On the flip side, some shots require much faster speeds to freeze the animal’s motion. Essentially it means that if you already know how to do this stuff, you can apply it underwater straight away, and if not, they’re skills you can learn abovewater anduse below to make your shots stand out.
Take the plunge!
If you’ve enjoyed this and want to know more about the world of underwater photography the next step is to get your hands on Alex’s book, Underwater Photography Masterclass . Published by Ammonite Press and priced at £19.99, the book spans 192 pages of superb imagery and insightful explanation. Best of all, it’s delivered in a clear, easy-to-understand style, making it perfect for beginners or those who want to push on in this exacting field. The book begins with instruction on diving equipment and camera types, broadens into understanding and controlling light underwater, then shows how to tailor it for different subjects; large wildlife, macro specimens, sunken landscapes and wrecks. Alex explains all through the lens of an experienced diver, showing how preparation, safety and maintenance are vital for success. The book takes in a wealth of watery locations all around the globe and there are some amazing species to see, too, from shoals of fish in the Egyptian sea to gangs of spider-crabs in the UK. Seek out a copy today!
Above Here, the high sun is composed so that it’s hidden by the seal, lowering the contrast and adding some wonderful sunrays.
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