Underwater Photography 101: Focus! Focus! Focus! (Part 2)


Sometimes a photographer becomes bored or loses enthusiasm for common subjects.  But common subjects can be the catalyst for creativity. Some of the most interesting photographs are of common subjects that are depicted in an unusual way. Focus can be one of the tools a photographer uses to express a feeling or an idea, and artistic focus can add interest to a common subject.

One of the great tools a photographer has is the ability to change the depth of field.  You can determine how much of the image you want in focus by how open or closed your aperture is. An aperture of f/16 or f/22, for example will allow a much deeper depth of field (focus) than f/8.  The following two images are of Christmas Tree worms.  One is in sharp focus, and one is softly focused:

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Christmas Tree Worm. Nikon D7000, 105mm lens, f/29, 1/250th

Christmas Tree Worm, Nikon D7000, 105mm lens, f 5.6, 1/250th

Christmas Tree Worm, Nikon D7000, 105mm lens, f 5.6, 1/250th

Although both images are of a Christmas tree worm, the focus encourages a completely different emotion from the viewer. The sharp feathery radioles or hair like appendages in the top image imply excitement, whereas the soft fluffy radioles in the bottom image invite calm. It may be hard to believe, but the only camera setting that is different in both images is the depth of field or aperture of the camera. The aperture on the top image is set to f/29 which gives the image a lot of depth of field, allowing the entire worm to be in focus. The bottom image has an aperture of f/5.6 which opens the lens up quite a bit and gives a soft focus to the worm.

Take a look at the next two images. The depth of field on one is wide open, while the other is stopped down. How do the two images make you feel? Is one more artistic than the other?

Praying Mantis taken with Nikon D7000, 105mm lens, f/18, 1/100th.

Praying Mantis taken with Nikon D7000, 105mm lens, f/18, 1/100th, ISO 500.

Praying Mantis Portrait taken with D810, 105mm, f/8, 1/160th.

Praying Mantis Portrait taken with D810, 105mm, f/8, 1/160th, ISO 320.

You might notice that the image with the wide open aperture also has a higher shutter speed.  Since the open aperture let in more light, the shutter speed had to be higher to compensate.  This brings me to another focusing tool which is how you use light.  The image above is quite bright.  This image was taken with the camera lens facing the sun.  Notice how the light creates a hazy effect around the mantis’s body.  Let’s go back under water and see how this can affect an underwater image.

Amphipod taken with D7000, f/16, 1/100th, ISO 500

Amphipod taken with D7000, f/16, 1/100th, ISO 500

The image above appears to have a little motion blur and haze around the amphipod, which adds to the idea of the movement of water. But the halo effect in this image is created by shooting directly through the water toward the sun, with a higher ISO, so that the blue water shows through the translucent shell of the amphipod. Taking an image of a super-macro subject with a blue background is not very common. Most of these types of shots have a black background. But this brighter blue background allows the viewer a sense of the environment. It is also creative.

Sometimes motion is an important part of an image. The sea palm below was being whipped around in the surge along with this photographer. I wanted to show the movement of the sea palm so I used a technique referred to as a “spin shot.”

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In this case, I used a slow shutter speed (1/10th) to get the blur effect around the palm. In addition, I spun the camera around in a circle quickly as I took the shot. The strobes were used to freeze the part of the palm in the center of the image so that it isn’t blurred. The aperture was f/9 and the slow shutter speed created a blur around the palm which gives the feeling of the water movement. The same idea is used tracking a fast moving animal. If you have rear curtain sync on your camera, this will further aid in getting a motion blur effect while keeping the subject in focus. My friend, Michael Zeigler, has written a wonderful tutorial about this technique on the Samy’s Camera blog entitled “Dragging the Shutter Underwater.” Check it out for more great tips.

So the next time you feel you are in a slump, or just need some creative ideas, give these focusing techniques a try.  You may be pleased with your results!

To see part 1 of this tutorial, click “Underwater Photography 101:  Focus, Focus, Focus!  Part 1”

If you have questions, or suggestions for underwater photography tips, please feel free to leave comments below.

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 atwaterdogphotographyblog!
My photographs are taken with a Nikon D7000 in Sea and Sea Housing using two YS-D1 Strobes.
All images are 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
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All Things Bright and Beautiful


It is no secret that I enjoy photographing the little things.  This hydro-sapien loves being able to see and share, the almost microscopic world that exists under water, with land dwellers.  I have a deep appreciation for all creatures, and so, as I have been contemplating how to share some of the tiny critters I recently encountered, Cecil Frances Alexander’s words keep coming to mind.

All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful,
The Lord God made them all.–Cecil Frances Alexander

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“All things bright and beautiful, All creatures great and small” immediately brings to mind the fabulous nudibranchs that I search for on every dive.  Lately, in California, we have seen a scarcity of these critters.  In the past few weeks, however, I have seen lots of nudibranch eggs, and lots of tiny nudibranchs.  The image above is of a Hopkins Rose (Okenia rosacea, a nudibranch measuring about 1cm.  It is not the most common, but I definitely think it is one of the most beautiful.  Below is a Porter’s Chromodorid (Mexichromis porterae about 2cm long).

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Since there are many very small nudibranchs right now, I have mostly photographed critters less than 1cm. This tiny Three -lined Aeolid (Flabellina trilineata) was only 5 or 6 millimeters long.

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And its look-alike cousin, the Horned Aeolid (Hermissendra crassicornis,) was about the same size, although both species can get up to 36mm or larger.

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And on an even smaller scale, I have spent a good amount of time looking through the seaweed for isopods and larvae.  This tiny critter is just a few millimeters.

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Some of my favorites are the skeleton shrimp, isopods that aren’t really shrimp, but bear the nickname because of their hilarious antics and the way they move around. They look like animated skeletons.  This one is pregnant with eggs, and when they hatch, the babies will cling to her body until they are nearly half her size.

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You may have to look closely to see them in the image below;  Momma is covered with her offspring clinging to her antenea, back, jaw, and every other appendage.

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Another fun find for me this week was a family of decorator crabs.  They were very hard to photograph because of the movement of the water, and all the fish that were desperately trying to take a bite of them while I exposed them to the camera. They are covered in all kinds of growth such as sponges, anemones and hydroids.  You can see the one below if you look for it’s eye which is about a third of the way down and a third of the way over from the right.  It looks like it has a long nose made of a white flowering plant with a brown leaf.  This one was less than a square centimeter.

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With the exception of the skeleton shrimp with all her babies, all these images were taken in the last few weeks in California.  The ocean is coming alive again after several months of quiet time.  I am thrilled to see all the new life and awed by the creatures great and small living in the waters of the California coast.

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 atwaterdogphotographyblog!
My photographs are taken with a Nikon D7000 in Sea and Sea Housing using two YS-D1 Strobes.
All images are 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

Underwater Photography 101: Focus, Focus, Focus! (Part 1)


Focus is an important factor in any type of photography and simple minute changes to the focus can have an astounding effect on the viewer’s perspective.  Sometimes it is hard to decide whether to make the majority of the image sharp or soft.  Sometimes it is hard to decide just where the focus should be.  This tutorial is an exploration of creative ideas that can be implemented both above and below the water line.  It is in two parts.  The first part will deal with what is generally thought to be important to focus on:  i.e. eyes, ears, mouth, and nose. Remember that photography is subjective, so these are loose rules.  In “Underwater Photography 101: Focus, Focus, Focus! (Part 2)” you will learn how to use the camera’s aperture, light and motion to achieve more artistic focusing ideas.

One of the first things we have to determine is what should be in focus.  If you are photographing an animal that can look back at you, then it is essential that you have its eyes in focus, and very desirable that those eyes be looking at the camera.

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Sometimes the eyes are very obscure, so making sure they are in focus adds interest to the photograph.  Did you know that snails have “eyes?”

Simnia snail

Simnia snail

If the animal is a nudibranch, it may have “eye spots.” However, in this animal’s case, the rhinophores are the most important, and one, or preferably both, should be in focus.

Hypselodoris kangas

Hypselodoris kangas

Sometimes it is more interesting to be artistic than “correct.” But you should know the rules before you attempt to break them. For example, the following images are of the rhinophores and the “gills” on a nudibranch. Since butt shots are not in vogue, it is important to know which side of the animal you are photographing. You want your image to be deliberate, and not an accident.  Of the two images below, which one do you think is more interesting? More correct?  More artistic? (There’s no wrong answer)

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If the animal has an interesting feature, you may want to focus on that. This ribbon eel has a very interesting mouth and flaring nose, so focusing on those features makes an interesting image. Don’t forget teeth! Teeth can be the most dramatic part of an image.

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Please visit “Underwater Photography 101:  Focus, Focus, Focus! Part 2” for more tips on focus! It will provide tips on using aperture, movement and lighting to achieve artistic images.

If you have questions, or suggestions for underwater photography tips, please feel free to leave comments below.

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!
My photographs are taken with a Nikon D7000 in Sea and Sea Housing using two YS-D1 Strobes.
All images are 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

Underwater Photography 101: “Clean it Up!” (Dealing with Backscatter)


Most photographers don’t worry too much about dust particles floating in the air in front of their subjects, but in underwater photography, particles in the water is one of our main concerns.  It may be difficult for both beginning and advanced underwater photographers to get an image with a clean background. By “clean,”  I mean that the water around the subject is not full of little white specks. This is known as “backscatter.” Backscatter happens when particles in the water reflect the light from your strobes back towards your camera lens. If the water has a lot of particulate in it, you could get a lot of backscatter.  Here are a few tips to help eliminate backscatter.

#1:  Pull it back

Some images get a lot of backscatter because the strobes are too far forward and the beam of the strobe is directly lighting all the particles in front of your lens. It might appear as a flare on one or both sides of the image, or just look like a lot of white specks all over your image.

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In this selfie, the strobe on the right of the image was behind the dome port and turned out, but the one on the left of the image was a little forward of the dome port and turned toward the subject. The strobe on the left lit up all the particles in the water to the left of the subject. It is obvious that this could have been avoided if the left strobe had been pulled back further, as illustrated by the strobe on the right, which is not lighting any particles.

In the following image, look at where the strobe is placed in relation to the dome port. It is pulled back so that it’s light does not go through the dome. This image is meant to demonstrates how far back your strobes should be behind your dome port.

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#2:  Turn it out!

The next image is a diagram of the beam angle of the strobes. (You will need to check your own strobes to see what the beam angle is, but it is usually less than 100 degrees.) Imagine that the strobes are turned out slightly, so that the angle of your beam (shown in yellow) from each strobe meets in front of your dome port. If you position your strobes so that the beam meets where your subject is, the area that is not lit should not show any particles. Ideally, you want the light from your strobes to light only the subject, and not the water in front of the subject to reduce the chances of lighting up particulate in the water. You can adjust this angle by turning your strobes further out, or by moving them out away from your housing.

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Sometimes, you just get a bit of backscatter no matter what you try. Minor backscatter can be eliminated in post-processing. There are numerous ways to remove backscatter from otherwise great images. I will show you one method I use in Adobe Lightroom CC  when I have a background that is black, and a different method I use in Adobe Photoshop CC when I have blue water with backscatter in it.  Just click on the title or image below to watch a “How To” video.

How to remove backscatter from a black background using this great trick in Adobe Lightroom!

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How to remove backscatter from blue water using this great trick in Adobe Photoshop!

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If you have questions, or suggestions for underwater photography tips, please feel free to leave comments below.

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.
My photographs are taken with a Nikon D7000 in Sea and Sea Housing using two YS-D1 Strobes.
All images are 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

Underwater Photography 101: “White Balance”


This is a post-processing tip inspired by the many almost beautiful photographs I see in my underwater group news feeds.  So many of these photographs have great composition, interesting subjects, and good lighting, but lack the “umph” needed to be truly fantastic.  It’s an easy fix, too, and one that should be employed as a matter of routine in all post processing.  I’m talking about correcting white balance, of course, and using a few other basic tools.  Here we will cover how to make a photo go from this:

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to this:

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in just a few easy steps. I use Adobe Lightroom CC for the majority of my post-processing and I will use Lightroom in this tutorial.

Underwater photography has its own unique rules when it comes to post-processing.  If you shoot with a DSLR, you have likely been taught to shoot in RAW format, and to use the auto white balance in-camera.  This is because it is expected that you will finish processing the photos yourself, rather than letting the camera make decisions about the photograph for you, (as it will if you shoot in jpeg format.) Why shoot RAW files?  A RAW file retains ALL the information that the sensor of your camera records.  If you use jpeg, the camera picks what information is important, processes it, and throws the rest away. Under water images are affected by the water itself and have issues with lighting, contrast, and loss of color to name a few.  The camera is manufactured for images taken topside, so the camera is likely to throw away the wrong information.  That is why post-processing under water images is so important.

White balance can be set manually for every shot you take under water, but it is cumbersome and time consuming and can easily be taken care of in post processing.  Set your camera to “auto white balance” and use RAW files if possible.

After you have imported your images, you will see them in the “LIBRARY” module.  There are several modules in Lightroom along the top right of the screen.  After you choose the image you want to work on, you will click on the “DEVELOP” module.

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This will bring up a set of tools to the right that you will use to process your image. You can open the tools by clicking on the triangular arrow to the far right of each toolbox.  In the toolbox below, you can see that I have the Histogram and the Basic toolboxes open.

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I will use the Basic tool box to adjust the white balance of my image.  My photo has too much brown/gold in it, and the beautiful colors of the fish are muted.  *Unless you are very close to your subject, you are likely to have too much green, blue, or yellow in your image.  In the Basic tool box (above), you can see “WB:  As Shot” towards the top.  You can click on “As Shot” for a drop-down menu of different white balance effects.  Try them.  You may like “auto” the best.  If none of these correct the color issues, you can try adjusting the Temp and Tint sliders or use the eye-dropper tool to the left.  Just click on the eyedropper tool, move it over your image until the R.G.B. values in the drop down box are close to 50%, then “click.”  (You can also see what your image will look like before “clicking” as you move the eyedropper over it in the small box on the upper left.

WB eyedropper tool

Here is my image with only the white balance corrected:

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That took only one “click” and it is already much better.  I can fine tune it further if I want, by moving the Temp and Tint Sliders.

After I fix the white balance, I will use the sliders from Exposure down to Saturation to bring up the contrast, take down the highlights, etc.  The box below shows what settings I used for this image.

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This is my final result:

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It takes only a few minutes to adjust the white balance and a few other basics.  But what a difference it makes!

To watch a video of this tutorial, click HERE

*The reason you will have too much green, blue, or yellow in your image if you are more than a few inches away from your subject, is because of the distance the light has to travel through the water column from your camera to the subject and back again.  Water is denser than air, and has a “tint” to it.  This will show up in your images, thus the need to redefine what is “white.”

If you have questions, or suggestions for underwater photography tips, please feel free to leave comments below.

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.
My photographs are taken with a Nikon D7000 in Sea and Sea Housing using two YS-D1 Strobes.
All images are 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

Like a Ghost in the Water


Like a ghost in the water,

It undulates by

Reflecting the moon hanging low in the sky.

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Translucent, it hides

‘Though right in plain sight

It becomes luminescent with soft glowing light.

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Like an ocean flower

With pedals ablaze

It puts on a show to impress and amaze.

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The ocean is pulsing

With a diaphanous soul

Like a ghost in the water for whom the bells toll.

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As always, if you enjoy my images please “like” or “follow” me!  You can also visit my website, waterdogphotography.com, or give me a “like” on Facebook at Waterdog Photography Brook Peterson.
My photographs are taken with a Nikon D7000 in Sea and Sea Housing using two YS-D1 Strobes.
All images are 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