Underwater Photography 101: Let There Be Light!


Most photographers know that light is crucial to good photography.  The way light is applied to a subject can drastically change the way we perceive it. When I first began taking pictures under water, I had a compact camera with an on board flash. But my images came out looking blue or green. There just wasn’t enough light. Then I purchased a small strobe and everything changed. The strobe had enough power to light my subject and some of the surrounding environment. As my skills improved, my lighting needs evolved and it wasn’t long before I was using two strobes.

I am always learning new lighting techniques. Some of my favorites include using a snoot, using fill light, and strobe placement. I think they all take a lot of practice to master, but the snoot seems to be many a photographer’s arch nemesis. Put simply, a snoot is tool that channels light from a wide beam down to a small area. It is used to light just the subject and not the surrounding environment. There are different types of snoots, too. Some, funnel light from the strobe into a beam that looks like a spotlight. Others use fiber optics that enable the photographer to articulate the light in any direction.

Many-Lobed Ceratosoma image created with a fiber optic snoot

Many-Lobed Ceratosoma image created with a fiber optic snoot

This nudibranch was photographed using a fiber optic snoot positioned directly above the subject. In the image following, the same nudibranch was photographed using one strobe on the right side.

Many-Lobed Ceratosoma lit with one strobe.

Many-Lobed Ceratosoma lit with one strobe.

Notice how much of the surrounding environment is lit when the strobe is used. It can be very creative and pleasing to light only your subject or even a portion of your subject.

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Snoots can also be used for wide angle photography. In this case, the snoot is used to reduce backscatter, or light just a foreground subject. The snoot used in the image below was nothing more than an old wetsuit sleeve that was cut off and placed over the end of the strobe so that the beam angle would be reduced to something like a spotlight. This enabled me to light up just the foreground subject without lighting any particles in the water.

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The “go-to” article on using snoots was published by Dive Photo Guide and Keri Wilk. For more in-depth information on snoots, check out the article HERE.

Fill light is another technique I have come to appreciate. It was only recently that I learned that I didn’t have to have both my strobes set to the same power when I was taking an image. When one strobe is set to a higher power and one to a lower power, you can have a subject that is strongly lit on one side, while filling in with a little bit of light on the other. This can create more dramatic texture and shadows in your image.

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In this image, the strobe on the left was set to half power, and the strobe on the right was set to 1/4 power. That allowed the texture in this nudibranch’s rhinophores and branchial plume to appear more defined.

Finally strobe placement is probably the most important and most used technique I have up my sleeve. I am continuously moving my strobes around. It is important to think about the direction the light is coming from in order to properly light your subject. Sometimes you want the light to come from directly above the subject. Such was the case with this jawfish that would not come out of its hole. In order to light it properly, I had to aim my strobes directly down on the fish.

Jawfish with eggs

Jawfish with eggs

Other times you may want to isolate the subject against a black background. In this case, the subject has nothing behind it but water, and the strobe light is coming from directly in front of the subject.

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You can also isolate the subject from a busy background by turning your strobes in towards your camera housing. This way, only the edge of the strobe’s light beam reaches your subject, and the background remains dark.

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All of these lighting techniques take practice and patience. Often, no matter how I aim my strobes, I just can’t get the subject lit to my satisfaction. But the point is, don’t be afraid to try all kinds of different lighting techniques. You may find you have a whole new stock pile of tools in your photographic toolbox if you do.

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 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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Hocus! Pocus! Using Magic Filters for Underwater Photography


David Copperfield said, “The real secret of magic lies in the performance.”  It seems like that would be a fitting slogan for Magic Filters; filters created with a specific color formula for underwater digital photography using available light and no strobes.  Having been introduced to the filters by their creators, I got to experience their very contagious enthusiasm for the magic the filters create. I have to say it was refreshing and exciting to add this technique to my tool bag and hope the following images will spark your interest too!

Sea Urchin Shells in the Kelp Forest

Sea Urchin Shells in the Kelp Forest

The first thing you will notice about these images is that the color and light are consistent throughout the image.  That is because there is no strobe lighting the foreground.  Instead, ambient light is used and the image is evenly lit by the sun.  This subject is approximately 35 feet under water, so without a strobe, and without a filter, the image would be very blue.  Magic Filters are formulated for blue water or green water and have a specific color formula that adds the appropriate shades of red back into the image.  The photographer must take a manual white balance and exposure reading on the subject before shooting, and the filter does the rest.

Garibaldi in the Kelp Forest Nikon D810, ISO 500, f/8, 1/50th

Garibaldi in the Kelp Forest Nikon D810, ISO 500, f/8, 1/50th

One of the things that I liked about using the filters is that they show the scene underwater the same way my eyes see it.  The Garibaldi in the image above is a brightly colored fish and when lit with strobes it sometimes glows so bright it becomes a distraction.  It is also very hard to light kelp with a strobe because it absorbs the light and often comes out looking very yellow or very green. This image shows the kelp’s true color.

Selfie taken with a Nikon D810 ISO 250, f/8, 1/50th

Selfie taken with a Nikon D810 ISO 250, f/8, 1/50th

The color of my skin in this image is corrected by the filter almost to perfection.  The light you see on my face is from the sun and I am in 30 feet of water.  Without the filter, this image would be almost completely blue.

I wouldn’t shoot every image with the Magic Filters, but it sure is a great tool to have in some situations and it gives a bit of diversity to an underwater portfolio.  For more information on the filters visit http://www.magic-filters.com and enjoy the magic!

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 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: “Face the Music!”


One of the challenging things as an underwater photographer is getting your subjects to face the camera. Marine critters are inexplicably camera shy!  Most likely, it is because of the bright focus light you are shining in their face, but it could also be that your dome port looks like a big eye and that can freak out any little beasty. Luckily for photographers, there are some tricks we can try, and common sense we can apply.

Trick #1:  Red Light!

Underwater camera gear manufacturers are aware of the lighting issues photographers face.  On one hand, we must have enough light that our camera can focus on the subject and the thing we want in focus the most is our subject’s eye.  On the other hand, shining a bright light in our subjects eyes causes it to turn away before we can get the shot.  The solution to this is a red focus light. Several lights on the market have a switch that will turn the light red, a color that is theoretically not seen by marine animals.  The following image is a good example of critters that don’t tolerate light well. The pygmy sea horse has no eyelids and cannot shut it’s eyes.  Because it is so small, it is a challenge to focus on, even with good light, and the moment you get it in focus, it turns away.

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However, with a red focus light, there is enough light for the camera to focus, but the animal is not as sensitive to it and it is more likely to face the lens, such as in the image below.  (Don’t worry about the red showing up in the image.  When your strobes fire, all the red will disappear.)

Pygmy Seahorse

Pygmy Seahorse

Trick #2:  Fake them out!

Another trick to help turn a camera shy critter toward the lens is to hand hold the focus light behind the animal, or have your dive buddy hold the light so that it faces the camera.  The animal will turn away from the light, toward the camera.  There will be enough light for the camera to focus, and walla!

Flamboyant Cuttlefish

Flamboyant Cuttlefish

Okay, on to using some common sense:

#3 Patience is a virtue

Sometimes you just have to wait for the critter to get used to you.  Most marine animals have little or no brains.  Instead, they have fight or flight instincts.  If you are not perceived as a threat, it only takes a few minutes for the critter to forget about you.  As far as it knows, you may have been a feature in it’s environment for months or years.  Give your subject time to forget about you, and eventually it may face the camera without being coaxed.  This goby and shrimp took only a few moments to forget I was there, and go about their business of shoveling sand out of their home.

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This leads me to a cardinal common sense rule,

#4:  Don’t be a Predator!

Nothing is more displeasing to an underwater photographer than getting pictures of fish butts.  Sometimes we become so excited to get a shot of that rare critter, just to prove we saw it, that we sacrifice good photography.  The following image is of a goby on eggs.  I really wanted this image, but unfortunately, in my excitement, I was not patient, I did not use red light, and I stalked this poor fish.  The result is a fish facing away from the camera, eye blurred, and generally just an uninteresting photograph.

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 Chasing the animals produces the same result.  This poor harlequin shrimp felt very vulnerable and could only flee from my big bubble blowing self.

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 So remember, try red light, move your focus light behind the subject, wait for your subject to forget about you, and don’t be a predator.  Using these tips will help you get good “face on” shots.

Jawfish with eggs

Jawfish with eggs

 If you have suggestions for underwater photography tips, or questions, 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.
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

Shine Little Glow-worm, Glimmer, Glimmer…


Glow little glow-worm, glow and glimmer
Swim through the sea of night, little swimmer
Thou aeronautical boll weevil
Illuminate yon woods primeval
See how the shadows deep and darken
You and your chick should get to sparkin’
I got a gal that I love so
Glow little glow-worm, glow

(Click Here to sing along with the The Mills Brothers)

For the past year, I’ve been toying around with a relatively new technique in photography called Flouro Photography.  It is based on the bioflourescence of organisms.  Now, many of us are familiar with bioluminescence, but not necessarily with bioflourescence.  So here is the difference:  A glow-worm produces and emits light.  So do several different types of fish, fireflies, bacteria, and well, lots of living organisms.   As interesting as that is, that is not what I’m about today.  Bioflourescence is when light is absorbed by an organism and re-emitted on a different wavelength than is visible to the human eye.  The way this has translated into recreational viewing is simple.  The viewer must shine an intense blue light on an organism, and as it is re-emitted as a different color, the viewer must look through a yellow tinted barrier in order to see it.  Here’s an example:

White Daisy with green center, re-emits purple and yellow.

White Daisy with green center, re-emits purple and yellow.

This daisy was photographed using a blue light, with a yellow filter over the camera so that the camera’s “eye” could see the color that is emitted back by this plant.

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Here is another example of a “glowing” flower.  In a weird fun-house sort of way, it is more beautiful than it looks in sunlight.

When bioflourescence is viewed at night and under water, the world comes alive with things that may not have even been visible in sunlight.  This tiny anemone looks like a small volcano erupting on a dark landscape.

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This Lizard Fish is interesting because it doesn’t always emit the same color.  This one emits a greenish hue, but I have seen others that bioflouresce red or orange.

Lizard Fish

Lizard Fish

This organism is intricate and beautiful and all its wonderful detail is emphasized when it is viewed under blue light with a yellow barrier filter.

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 If you are interested in seeing what bioflourescence looks like, you can redneck it pretty simply:  Put blue cellophane over a bright flashlight, and put yellow cellophane in front of your eyes, and go snipe hunting at night.  You might see something you’ve never seen before.  If you are interested in checking this technique out while diving, ask the local dive shop if they rent the equipment.  Many tropical dive resorts now have bioflourescent dives as an option.  I would highly recommend it!

For those who want a little more technical information:  Light and Motion makes a light called the NightSea that is a blue dive light with a filter that can be attached to make it a regular dive light.  They also make barrier filters that can go over your mask and your camera housing so you can see and take photographs.  The photographs above were taken with a wide open aperture about f/5.6, Shutter speed around 1/50th, with ISO set to around 600-1200.  Some experimenting is in order to get the right effect.

I have always thought I must be part mermaid but I have to hand it to Winston Churchill who said,  “We are all worms, but I do believe I am a Glow worm.”

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.