Getting Started in Underwater Photography – Part 2

Change Your Perspective – Choosing the Correct Lens

Congratulations for jumping into the amazing world of underwater photography! Starting out in this hobby can be exhilarating as you click away and log your memories of each dive. However, if you are like most new photographers, it is likely you have noticed that some photos look as you remember while other images lack the fascination and awe you experienced in the moment you captured the picture. This is due to perspective. Your camera’s built-in lens is adequate for certain subjects but not for everything. This article will help you understand how to select the proper lens for the type of subjects you wish to photograph so you can capture those breath-taking moments! It’s time to get the most out of your camera!

Puffer shot with the master lens

The Master Lens
The master lens is the standard internal lens that comes with your digicam. This is an acceptable lens choice for shooting portraits of smaller fish size, head and shoulder shots of a diver, and some macro critters (when the camera is set to macro mode). When using this lens, the photographer should be within 2-3 feet of the subject being photographed. Staying close to your subject will help retain clarity, contrast, and color saturation in your image by keeping the water column to a minimum between your lens and the subject. The less water between you and your subject also keeps backscatter to a minimum. And as we all know, the less backscatter the better!


Reef scene taken with fisheye lens

Wide Angle
Seascapes and larger animals are often the most breathtaking subjects we can see in the underwater world. These subjects can also be the most difficult to capture.  A common mistake new photographers make is attempting to capture these wide angle images by using the digicam’s master lens.  Several things fall apart when doing this.  It all comes down to perspective.  The human eyes see the world with 180 degrees angle of view.  However, due to refraction, our digicam’s master lens only sees at about 60 degrees angle of view when underwater  (84 degrees on land).  To compensate for the difference in our angle of view, we back up from the subject in order to fit it all within the frame.  By increasing the amount of water between the subject and the lens, the image loses contrast, color, and detail. When we lose these, we lose the dramatic perspective that we first envisioned. The beauty of the point-n-shoot system is that we can correct this lost perspective by adding a wide angle lens to our camera housing.

Shark taken with standard wide angle lens

Shark taken with standard wide angle lens

Thanks to companies like INON, Fisheye, Ikelite, and Sea & Sea, there are many quality wet mount wide angle lens available today. There are two main types to choose from: Standard wide angle lenses (approximately 100 degree underwater angle of view) and fisheye or semi-fisheye lenses (around 150-170 degree underwater angle of view). Both style lenses have their advantages.  Standard wide angle lenses are great for large fish photography, diver scene images, etc.  Fisheye lenses are a better choice for shipwrecks, large pelagic fish, and seascape reef scenes.  Once a wide angle lens is mounted on a digicam, both types of wide angle lenses allow focus from just a few inches away from your subject and can remain in focus to infinity.  This allows the photographer to shoot dramatic close-focus wide angle images that retains the detail and beauty you long to capture.

Macro images are some of the most fun to shoot. There are endless amounts of crazy little critters on the reef and macro subjects scattered all over the sandy bottom. With a macro lens, you will never run out of subjects to photograph.  As mentioned earlier, most master lenses can shoot macro critters in macro mode but greater detail, sharpness, magnification, and perspective can be achieved by adding a macro lens to your camera.  Some of these lenses can also be stacked (adding two or more lenses on top of each other) to increase magnification which allows you to photograph the tiniest of animals – i.e. Pygmy Seahorses, minute crabs, various shrimp and more – these subjects can be as small as a piece of rice.  Fun stuff!


Shrimp taken with an external macro lens

The beauty of these point-n-shoot systems is that all of these lenses can be removed and interchanged underwater on a single dive!  This gives you incredible subject flexibility on every dive by allowing you to have the right lens regardless of your subject.

So if you have experienced photographer’s frustration when using your master lens for every picture, there is no reason to give up now.   The possibilities are endless when you add a lens or two to your camera system!  If you have any questions on which lens options are available for your camera setup or if you have general underwater photography questions, feel free to call us Aquaventure Dive & Photo Center (763) 424-8717.  We are happy to help!

Getting Started in Underwater Photography – Part 1

Written by Steve & Jolene Philbrook

Jace-with-manateeWe have all experienced breath-taking moments while snorkeling or scuba diving. Whether you are drifting along a beautiful reef, snorkeling next to a whale shark, or just watching the sun dance on a sandy ocean floor – in those moments, we inevitably think, “My (insert – friend, coworkers, spouse, kids, etc.) have GOT to see this!” Unfortunately, we can’t always convince them to join us as we explore the beauty that lies beneath, but we can bring those incredible moments to them with pictures and videos!

You may have considered diving with a camera before, but where do you begin? What questions should you ask when researching the right camera for you? There is so much information out there and so many different cameras! What’s important? Yes, investing in the proper camera and housing can seem like a daunting task. This article will help you focus on key elements as your begin the process of getting started in underwater photography.

Canon Point & Shoot Digicam

Canon Point & Shoot Digicam

The Camera

Your first focus is choosing a digital camera. Weeding through the many manufacturers and models can be overwhelming so let’s break this down. Since you are just getting started, you’ll probably want to focus on the point-n-shoot cameras (a.k.a. digicams). Digicams have many advantages. They are inexpensive, small in size, and have the potential for producing professional quality pictures. You can easily narrow down your choices by focusing on a few recommended camera features when choosing a digicam.


Nauticam aluminum digicam housing

There is one feature that your camera truly needs for underwater photography. The camera you choose should have a “Custom” or “Manual” white balance setting option. This is especially important if you are going to shoot HD video. Most digicams now come with HD Video and when you use the Custom White Balance feature, you add color to your images & video without a strobe or any video light attached. This little feature pays big dividends! When used properly, white balance gives you colorful and detailed images and video while keeping your first camera system low in cost and more compact. (For more on custom white balance, see last month’s article titled “Custom White Balance and Underwater Photography”.)

Another recommended feature to consider is a camera’s RAW image capability. Most digicams only allow pictures to be taken as compressed jpeg files. RAW files are uncompressed files that capture greater detail than jpeg files and allow more post processing power without degrading your photo. This is not a required feature but highly recommended. Shooting raw images will allow you to achieve the best quality image possible. This is important as you become more experienced with the art of photography and inevitably begin delving into post editing your images. Choosing a camera with the raw file feature will greatly narrow down your camera choices but will also increase your price tag a bit. If cost is a big factor, don’t worry! RAW file capability will probably not be important to you at first. There is a plethora of less expensive digicams from Canon, Nikon, Olympus, and Panasonic that only shoot jpegs and will work just fine as you get started on your photography hobby! But if you decide to invest in a system that comes with RAW image capabilities, your focus will be directed towards a few select camera models: Canon’s “S” and “G” series, Sony’s RX100 series, and Panasonic’s Lumix LX series.



Ikelite acrylic digicam housing

As you choose your camera, keep in mind your need for an underwater housing! Many a folk buy a camera they intend to shoot underwater only to discover later that no one makes an underwater housing for it! There are several manufacturers who build underwater housings but not for all of their camera models. Consider a third party manufacturer, such as Ikelite, when choosing your housing. Ikelite specializes in quality acrylic underwater housings and offers a huge selection of digicam housings. Based out of Indiana, Ikelite’s housings are relatively inexpensive, adaptable to many wet mount conversion lenses, and the company provides great customer service to their authorized dealers. Another housing vendor to consider is Nauticam. Nauticam housings are geared more towards advanced (prosumer) digicams or those photographers desiring precision machined-aluminum housings.



Housing with strobe and external macro lens

When choosing a camera and housing, consider the long haul. Like all new photographers, you will soon find that your digicam alone will not be suitable for shooting every photo you want to capture. For example, no camera without accessories is capable of photographing all images from the size of shipwrecks to small macro critters. In order to have this type of shooting flexibility, you will eventually want to be able to add the proper accessories to your camera system. Therefore, when you make your initial investment, choose a camera that can grow with you and your skills. Start with just the camera and housing and as you master the potential of your setup, you can eventually add a wide angle, fisheye, or macro lens to help capture a certain dramatic look or feel you desire. Or you may decide to add a strobe for achieving that spectacular color pop you see in the pros pictures or to add a creative lighting element to your photos. So make sure to check with your housing’s manufacturer to ensure they support the accessories necessary to expand your system – primarily lens and strobe capability.

It has never been so easy to capture professional looking images that will blow away your friends and family. Even as a beginner, with the right tools and know-how, you can take those breath-taking moments and transfer them into pictures and videos that will leave the viewers in awe! There is no need to be overwhelmed in the process of choosing a camera system. Focusing on the most important camera features, housing components, and accessory capabilities will send you well on your way to getting started in underwater photography. So what are you waiting for? Get started today!

If you would like help choosing your first camera system (or any system), the staff at Aquaventure would be happy to guide you through the process and get you started on your photography journey!