Strobe Positioning for Wide Angle Underwater Photography

Strobe Positioning for Wide Angle Underwater Photography

Mastering the light in an image is perhaps one of the most challenging skills we learn as photographers.  Underwater, that skill must be developed even more because of the limitations we face with available light, and technology. The strobes on your rig are versatile tools that can help make beautiful images when used correctly.  There are several positioning and lighting techniques that can help you become a proficient and talented underwater photographer.

Backscatter.  Everyone worries about backscatter. But truly, there is one rule that you can use to avoid most backscatter issues and that is to be sure your strobes are back behind your dome port. The rule of thumb for me is that the heads of my strobes are no further forward than the handles on my housing.

 

There are many ideas out there on how to further avoid backscatter.  Since backscatter is caused by particles in the water reflecting the light from your strobes back into your lens, many people will turn their strobes slightly out or in, so that the angle of reflection bounces away from your camera lens.  You can try this too as it may be a solution for you, especially if you dive in lower visibility conditions.  However, I have had the exact same results with my strobes facing straight forward, so I prefer not to worry so much about the direction the light is going to bounce.  Instead, I will put more effort into how high the power is on my strobes.  Often, just turning the power down a bit on one or both strobes will reduce backscatter.

Strobe position is another hot topic and there are a lot of ideas out there.  How close should the strobes be to your housing?  How high or how low? What if you want to make a vertical image? What about close focus wide angle?  What about big animals?  Each circumstance merits consideration as the position of your strobes may require a change for each one.  The basic position that I use for a good majority of my work is to have the strobes about 8-12 inches away from the housing, facing straight forward, with the strobes at nine and three o’clock.

Variations of this are fine, but generally speaking this is the position I will use when I am just swimming around looking for my next subject.  Then, if something like a sea lion approaches suddenly, I am ready to shoot.

Tip:  A good rule of thumb for how close the strobes should be to your housing is to place them about as far apart as you are from your subject.  In other words, the strobes in the picture above are about 18-24 inches apart.  Using this rule, I should be about 18-24 inches from my subject to get proper lighting.

The height of the strobes depends on how large a subject you want to light.  If you are trying to light an entire reef, you might consider putting your strobes up above your housing so that the light can be cast evenly over a large area.  You can adjust the distance that the strobes are from each other according to how wide an area you want to light.  Keep in mind, however, that the light comes out from the strobes in a cone shape, and you want that cone of light to cross in the middle so that there is not a dark area in the middle of your image.

Vertical images can be a challenge and there are a couple of different ways you can light them up.  When you turn your housing so that it is vertical, you will have one strobe on the top at twelve o’clock, and one on the bottom at six o’clock.  This is just fine if you are shooting a large scene, or you are a few feet from your subject.  It becomes a problem when you are close to your subject, or you want to shoot something where one of the strobes (usually the one on the bottom) is too close to the subject.  This may result in part of the image being blown out.

Tip:  The solution to this is to turn the bottom strobe down (quite a bit) until the light on the top matches the light on the bottom.

Improperly lit with too much light from the strobe on the bottom
Properly lit image with bottom strobe power set to 1/4 power and top strobe set to 3/4 power.

Another strobe position for vertical images is to move the strobes so that they are positioned at nine and three o’clock when the housing is turned into a vertical position.  This takes a bit of effort, but the reward is a properly lit image without having to adjust the power of your strobes as much.

Close focus wide angle photography is when you have a relatively small subject in the foreground along with something in the background such as a diver or the sun.  In these images it is important to light them so that the subject, surrounding area and the background light blend together.  You want the viewer to see the image as one beautiful picture, instead of noticing that you have used artificial light on part of it.

For example, the gorgonian fan in the image above was only a few inches from my dome port. It and the reef around it looks like there is no artificial light and the ambient light in the surrounding kelp forest blends with the light from my strobe.  It appears that the light comes from above all from the same light source.  That should be your goal in any close focus wide angle image. I achieved this by putting my strobes a little above my housing which was in vertical position, at about ten and two o’clock.  The strobe on the right is set at a slightly higher power than the one on the left because the reef was a bit further away on that side.

Lastly, big animals can be a challenge to light properly for several reasons.  In most cases, I expect to be from two to three feet away from a large subject such as a shark.  In this case, I will pull my strobes apart to about two feet and turn the power up to one stop under full power.  I will also meter for the ambient light at the depth I am shooting at.  A good guess for settings in clear blue water is f/8 and 1/125th with ISO at around 400.  This can vary greatly, but it is a good place to start.

This turtle was very close to my strobes and is entirely lit by them, while camera settings are adjusted for the bright sunlight at f/16, 1/320th and ISO 200.

This shark is also entirely lit by my strobes and I am about two or three feet away from it in this image.  The strobes are two feet apart, facing straight forward and set on the highest power.  My camera settings are exposed for the ambient light at f/9, 1/200s, and ISO 320.  Had there been no strobe light on the shark, it would appear as dim and dark as the reef in the left corner.

Photographers spend their entire careers mastering light in their images.  Utilizing a few tips such as these can help you on your way to conquering light in a way that will make your images stand out from the crowd.  Don’t be afraid to experiment, and change up the rules.  Sometimes we get hung up on how to accomplish a task, rather than experimenting with our equipment. The main goal is to make your images look like they are naturally and evenly lit.  Remember this and you cannot fail.

For tips on using light creatively for macro photography, please visit my tutorial “Let There Be Light!”

For more lighting tips on getting better images in low visibility and avoiding backscatter, visit “Five Life Hacks for Better Wide Angle Photography”

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As always, if you enjoy my images please visit my website, waterdogphotography.com, or give me a like on Facebook at Waterdog Photography Brook Peterson.  Don’t forget to follow me here at waterdogphotographyblog and please feel free to share on Facebook or other social media.
My photographs are taken with a Nikon  D810 in Sea and Sea Housing using two YS-D1 or YS-D2 Strobes.
All images and content is copyright protected by Brook Peterson and may only be used with written permission.  Please do not copy or print them.  To discuss terms for using these images, please contact Brook Peterson.
© 2017 Brook Peterson
How to Remove Splotches Using Lightroom CC Local Adjustments

How to Remove Splotches Using Lightroom CC Local Adjustments

Sometimes our underwater photos are plagued with backscatter, but sometimes you have a great image–if only there wasn’t that ugly splotch of backscatter right over the top of your subject.  This tutorial shows how to reduce or remove that large splotch, without ruining your image.

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As always, if you enjoy my images please visit my website, waterdogphotography.com, or give me a like on Facebook at Waterdog Photography Brook Peterson.  Don’t forget to follow me here at waterdogphotographyblog and please feel free to share on Facebook or other social media.
My photographs are taken with a Nikon  D810 in Sea and Sea Housing using two YS-D1 or YS-D2 Strobes.
All images and content are copyright protected by Brook Peterson and may only be used with written permission.  Please do not copy or print them.  To discuss terms for using these images, please contact Brook Peterson.
© 2017 Brook Peterson
Models and Modeling Underwater

Models and Modeling Underwater

When I first started photographing the world underwater, I hoped to capture my dive buddy interacting with the environment.  But every time I pointed the camera in his direction, he would wave, give me a “thumbs up,” or take out his regulator and smile.  I soon realized that he had no idea what I wanted from him and I began to communicate to him, before we entered the water,  how I wanted him to behave for the camera.  It didn’t happen overnight, but with some practice, my better half became a fabulous dive model.

Accomplished underwater photographers have a diverse portfolio, often including images that depict a diver either as the main subject or secondary subject.  Getting a good shot with a dive model doesn’t have to be expensive or complicated.  It can be accomplished with a good dive buddy just by communicating your intentions ahead of time.  After a dive trip I gently told my dive buddy that I loved taking pictures with him in the picture, and I wanted to start using him in some of my more “serious” shots.  This would prove to be an exercise in patience as both of us had to discover what worked and what didn’t.  The following guidelines are some of the “rules” we use for divers as a secondary subject.

Look at the Subject

In order for your audience to be engaged with the subject in your images, your model needs to be engaged.  It is important for the model to look at the subject.  If the model’s face is very close to the subject, then have him focus a bit past the animal so that his eyes do not appear crossed.

Keep your Feet/Fins Together

Not every picture has to have the fins together, but a diver strikes a much better pose when the legs are in line with each other.  I often ask my buddy to place one foot on top of the other so that only one fin appears.

Face The Camera

There is a certain pose that I prefer where the model is facing the camera at an angle of about 45 degrees, so that it looks like he is swimming into the picture.  I especially like this pose for close focus wide angle shots, and for shots where the diver is entering a small space such as this cave.

Tuck your Elbows In

It is distracting when the diver in your image appears to have problems with trim and/or buoyancy, so I always make sure that the elbows are tucked in tight against the body, and that nothing is hanging down such as an SPG.  If she is carrying a camera, I either have her put it down, or make sure it is as compact as possible, unless it is part of the image.  i.e: a diver taking a picture.

Point the Dive Light

If your dive model has a light you can have him point it at the main subject, or point the light directly into your camera lens.  He should hold the light so that it is centered on his body about midway up the torso.  If the light is attached to a camera housing, hold the camera close to the body.

Breathe Normally

One of the problems with using a dive model is that you have to breathe at the same time so that your exhale and the model’s exhale don’t appear in the image.  I always ask my model to breathe normally and I will coordinate my breath with theirs.  It is easier than trying to anticipate how long they will hold their breath for a shot.

Just a few other tips to keep in mind are to make sure your strobes are lighting the model’s face as well as the subject.  The model is secondary, but her face is just as important to light as the subject.  Attractive models are good for close up work, but most people look good under water when they are dressed in neoprene, so don’t worry too much about attractiveness.  If it is a problem for you, shoot in silhouette.

Silhouettes

When using a model as a silhouette in the background, keep in mind the distance the model is from the camera, and the pose you want.  Although I prefer the horizontal pose most of the time, there are times when a vertical pose works better.  When the diver is in the distance for example, their silhouette may look better in a vertical position.  The image below had a cathedral type arch and the image looked better with the diver in vertical pose.

In this image, the diver was carrying a large camera rig.  He turned it upside down so that the strobe arms were hidden in his silhouette and the light sitting on top of the housing was now in the middle of his body.  It was an effective trick to make him appear to be holding only a torch.

It is important to create hand signals before you get in the water so that your buddy understands how you want him to pose.  I have also found it useful to use the dome port as a mirror.  When I am posing for someone, I can usually see my reflection in their dome port along with the subject and I am able to position myself so that they can get the best shot.

These tips and tricks are suggestions that I have found helpful over the years.  My dive buddy has become an excellent model, and as a result my shots have improved dramatically. Remember to be kind to your buddy when suggesting ways for him or her to improve and be flexible when underwater as communication is limited.

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As always, if you enjoy my images please visit my website, waterdogphotography.com, or give me a like on Facebook at Waterdog Photography Brook Peterson.  Don’t forget to follow me here at waterdogphotographyblog and please feel free to share on Facebook or other social media.
My photographs are taken with a Nikon  D810 in Sea and Sea Housing using two YS-D1 or YS-D2 Strobes.
All images and content is copyright protected by Brook Peterson and may only be used with written permission.  Please do not copy or print them.  To discuss terms for using these images, please contact Brook Peterson.
© 2017 Brook Peterson
Gizmos and Gadgets for Creative Underwater Photography

Gizmos and Gadgets for Creative Underwater Photography

Our watery world holds the heart of many a scuba diver whether it be the thrill of breathing under water, the excitement of encountering a wild animal, or the fascination of seeing strange and unusual critters.  For me, the ocean had me at my first nudibranch on my first dive.  What the heck was that weird, colorful wormy thing?  Since then, I have devoted hundreds of dives to searching out and photographing the tiny critters in the world’s oceans.  This has produced thousands of photographs and led me to start exploring more creative ways to showcase these animals in their natural habitat.

One of the first techniques I explored was getting a reflection of an animal against trapped air which creates a mirror like surface.

This turtle is gazing at his own reflection in air that was trapped under a part of the Kittiwake wreck in Grand Cayman.  Of course, you could just use the surface of the water for a reflection shot, but I was more interested in how I could create this effect in deep water.  On another dive, I found a half a clam shell which I used as a tool to hold air from my exhale.  This gave me a portable mirror that I could hold over any small animal to capture its reflection.

Using tools on the fly, such as a clam shell, is great for spontaneous photography, but sometimes we must plan ahead and bring tools with us.  One of the most well-known tools for macro photography is the snoot.  Snoots are devices that attach to the end of your strobe that shape the light by reducing the beam angle of your strobe.  This has the effect of putting a spotlight on your subject without lighting up the surrounding area.  It is an especially effective tool for isolating your subject.  Snoots vary in design and can be purchased or homemade.

At one time, I had a very creative guide who carried lots of different tools with him to help photographers get creative shots.  One of these tools was a matte black plastic slate.  The slate was dual purpose.  He used it to place behind a subject that had a very busy background so that the subject popped out.  On another occasion, he trapped tiny bubbles from his regulator on the slate to give a more interesting background. To add one more dimension to this tool, I could have focused my lens on the bubbles and perhaps caught the reflection of the fish in each tiny bubble.

This same guide carried some other colored slates with him in case his clients wanted to try a creative colored background.  Although I thought this made the image look a little too contrived, it is worth mentioning here.  Perhaps under the right circumstances, this would create a pleasing image.

Another fun tool in my guide’s bag of tricks was a mirror.  Placed behind a subject it can also create an interesting effect.

One last tool is a homemade one that a friend of mine dubbed “ringflection.”  This effect is created by attaching a piece of pipe to the front of the camera’s port so that the lens is looking down the barrel of the pipe.  The subject will be reflected inside the pipe, giving a swirly frame around it.

This particular tool has a lot of room for creativity as the shape of the swirl can change with the angle of the pipe, or the length of the lens, or the length of the pipe.

These are just a few ideas for creating eye-popping images that don’t look like everyone else’s.  Try a few of them and see how you like the results.  I would be interested in feedback, so if you would like to comment, please do so by clicking on “comment” at the top of this post.

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As always, if you enjoy my images please visit my website, waterdogphotography.com, or give me a like on Facebook at Waterdog Photography Brook Peterson.  Don’t forget to follow me here at waterdogphotographyblog and please feel free to share on Facebook or other social media.
My photographs are taken with a Nikon  D810 in Sea and Sea Housing using two YS-D1 or YS-D2 Strobes.
All images and content is copyrighted by Brook Peterson and may only be used with written permission.  Please do not copy or print them.  To discuss terms for using these images, please contact me.
© 2017 Brook Peterson

 

How to mask and make local adjustments using the Brush Tool in Lightroom

How to mask and make local adjustments using the Brush Tool in Lightroom

Have you ever wished you could make precise adjustments to your images in Lightroom?  This tutorial will show you how to make adjustments to a portion of your image using the adjustment brush and the auto-mask feature in Adobe Lightroom.

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As always, if you enjoy my images please visit my website, waterdogphotography.com, or give me a like on Facebook at Waterdog Photography Brook Peterson.  Don’t forget to follow me here at waterdogphotographyblog and please feel free to share on Facebook or other social media.
My photographs are taken with a Nikon  D810 in Sea and Sea Housing using two YS-D1 or YS-D2 Strobes.
All images and content is copyrighted by Brook Peterson and may only be used with written permission.  Please do not copy or print them.  To discuss terms for using these images, please contact me.
copyright Brook Peterson 2017
And the Winner Is…Tips for Choosing Award Winning Images

And the Winner Is…Tips for Choosing Award Winning Images

Competitions are a great way to find out how you measure up to all the great photography out there.  Competitions are also a good way to get you some recognition for your work by getting your name out there among other members of the underwater photography community. Having a good understanding of what makes a good image is critical to being a top notch photographer, but it is also important to remember that some aspects of the judging process are subjective.  The following guidelines will help you pick your best images for any competition.

Stand Out

First impressions are important, especially when hundreds or thousands of images have been submitted to the judges.  There is always a preliminary elimination where the competitions judges will go through the images and select those they think are worthy of a second look.  If your image stands out, and catches a judges eye, it is more likely to make it to the next round. When I prepare to choose my images, I put them all in the grid view of the Library module in Lightroom.  Any software that allows you to see several images at once will work.  Then I let my eyes wander around the images and I pay attention to which ones I look at several times. Of those I will pick five or six, and then use other techniques to eliminate from there.

Eliminate

Now let’s say I chose these seven images, because they caught my eye the most:

Detach Yourself

Now it is time to eliminate further. Sometimes this part of the process is difficult because you have emotional attachments to some of the images even though they might not be winning material. For example, the hunting eel image was very exciting to me because I captured the thrill of the hunt.  However, the image has several issues.  It is too dark, part of the eel’s body is cut off, and it isn’t tack sharp.  So I will eliminate that one.  The same is true of the amphipod inside a tunicate.  This was a difficult shot and although that carries some weight, a judge might eliminate the image because part of the tunicate is cut off, or that little piece of algae in the top right is distracting. You see, you want to choose images that are as technically perfect as possible so that a judge has no reason to eliminate it.  I would also eliminate the wire coral shrimp because the wire coral does not go perfectly from corner to corner.  That leaves us with these four images:

Fine Tune

Each of these images is composed well, lit well, the focus is tack sharp, they are eye catching and they tell a story or give a sense of character.  The images are colorful and interesting.  Certainly the level of difficulty in making the image is a factor. At this point, any one of them could be a winning image.  The rules of many competitions might be specific to how much you can crop an image, or how much editing you can do.  I would have to eliminate the goby on the whip coral if global changes are all that is allowed, because I had to remove a distracting bit of coral from the image with the healing brush tool in Photoshop. (A local tool).  Now I will compare my image with its RAW counterpart and determine how much editing I have done.  The less editing the better.  If your image makes it to the semi-finals of a competition, the judges will often ask to see the RAW file for that very reason.  You will want to submit images that have the least amount of editing and are sound in every other way to give yourself the best chance for a winner.  Remember to be honest with yourself and try not to let your emotions override your judgement.  Most of all, remember that when the judges have a large number of images that are perfect in every way, the final call will be subjective, so if you feel you should have won with your image, try entering it again in a different competition.  Maybe some other judge will choose it over the others.

Please see my tutorial “Picture Perfect” to learn about the elements that make up a great image, and visit the “Resources” page for links to Underwater Photography Competitions.

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As always, if you enjoy my images please visit my website, waterdogphotography.com, or give me a like on Facebook at Waterdog Photography Brook Peterson.  Don’t forget to follow me here at waterdogphotographyblog and please feel free to share on Facebook or other social media.
My photographs are taken with a Nikon  D810 in Sea and Sea Housing using two YS-D1 or YS-D2 Strobes.
All images and content is copyrighted by Brook Peterson and may only be used with written permission.  Please do not copy or print them.  To discuss terms for using these images, please contact me.
copyright Brook Peterson 2017

 

 

 

 

 

Picture Perfect: What Makes a Good Image Great

Picture Perfect: What Makes a Good Image Great

When I was a new underwater photographer, I entered a contest online that had the theme, “Schooling Fish.”  I had a few images of schools of fish, so I entered two that I thought were pretty good, and since the contest limit was three images, I threw in the only other image I had of schooling fish, which I didn’t think was very good.  As it turns out, I won first place with that image.  Since it was an online contest, it was open to comments from the public, and someone wrote underneath the image, “No offense to the photographer, but I don’t see what’s so great about this image.” Frankly, that person voiced my feelings exactly.  Luckily for me, another person posted a comment that explained exactly why the image was so great.  He said, “This image leads your eye from left to right and swirls around the school ending up where you started only to compel you to look again.”

 

Leading the Viewer and Good Composition

I learned a valuable lesson from this experience, and that was that I needed to learn what the elements of a good image are so that I could use them to my advantage in the future.  All too often I didn’t understand why some images were better than others, and I thought that every photo I saw, that had something in it I had never seen before, was “great!”  So my first lesson in learning to make a good image was to look for elements that would lead the eye through the image.  Since western civilization reads from left to right, a good image will reflect that familiar direction.  We interpret this as “good composition.”

There are a few composition guidelines that can help you achieve this.  The most familiar of these might be the “rule of thirds.”  This is when you divide your image into thirds both horizontally and vertically and the important elements of the image, such as the eye of a fish, are placed on the intersecting lines (about a third up or down, and about a third from the left or right of the image.) The “S” curve is another device (anything that leads the eye in the shape of an “S”), The Fibonacci sequence has a fascinating array of spirals, patterns, and the “golden mean” which are shapes occurring in nature that “feel” good when our eyes see them.  For some people, the ability to discern these shapes is quite natural and we consider those people “gifted” or “talented” when they apply those abilities in art.  Post processing software such as Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop has these patterns associated with the crop tool so you can see what they look like.

Lighting

Good lighting is crucial to good image making.  There are lots of mistakes in underwater lighting that have become so common on social forums that our eyes are becoming accustomed to them. A common mistake is lighting the outsides of a subject, with a shadow in the middle.  This occurs when the strobes are turned too far out, or are blocked by the camera’s housing and cast a shadow through the middle of the image, like this:

There are a lot of other lighting problems with this image too.  The strobe on the left is turned up too high, causing the light to be harsh.  The water is dark and ugly, and could have been corrected with a higher ISO or larger aperture.  The lighting in the image below is much better.

An image that is properly lit will have even lighting throughout the subject, without any highlights that appear white, and without any fall off of light through the middle. The viewer’s eye should not be able to immediately tell whether a strobe was used, or whether the image is naturally lit.  When we are under water, everything we see has a blue cast, so we have to use strobes to bring the color back.  Our challenge as underwater photographers is to make images that don’t have a blue cast, but that also don’t have an obvious use of strobe.  The image below shows a large sponge that is properly lit from top to bottom, with a beautiful blue background.  The viewer must look closely to see that the ground around the sponge has a blue cast.

Thought Provoking

One last thought on making good images great.  The image below would have been a good photo of the USS Kittiwake without the diver, but it becomes a much better image with the diver standing next to the wreck.  This causes the viewer to react to the size of the ship relative to the man, and provokes a sense of awe and maybe even gives a sense of the mysterious.  Perhaps it causes the viewer to imagine the ship is haunted by the ghost of the man standing next to it.  In any case, that tiny added element provokes thought, and that makes the image GREAT.

With thousands of images flooding our social feeds, these few techniques are often overlooked when producing artistic and meaningful images.  If you can remember that you want to create an image that causes the viewer to pause and allow his eyes to wander about the image, you have created a GREAT image.  If you create an underwater image that lets the viewer forget that you had to use an artificial light source, then you have created a GREAT image.

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As always, if you enjoy my images please visit my website, waterdogphotography.com, or give me a like on Facebook at Waterdog Photography Brook Peterson.  Don’t forget to follow me here at waterdogphotographyblog and please feel free to share on Facebook or other social media.
My photographs are taken with a Nikon  D810 in Sea and Sea Housing using two YS-D1 or YS-D2 Strobes.
All images and content is copyrighted by Brook Peterson and may only be used with written permission.  Please do not copy or print them.  To discuss terms for using these images, please contact me.
copyright Brook Peterson 2017
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