Packing Tips for Underwater Photo Gear

Traveling with underwater photo gear can be difficult, especially with today’s increasingly strict baggage limits!  The days of using big Pelican style (hard) cases for large camera rigs are pretty much gone unless you intend to check your system and possibly pay for excess weight.  I prefer to carry my camera system with me when I travel.  That way I know its safe and I don’t have worry about my luggage getting lost in transit. Here’s my packing technique.  Hopefully you will find it helpful!


When packing my DSLR system,  I like to assemble it first and then put everything else on the table that I will want for my trip, such as extra ports, lenses, gears, etc.  After I know everything I need is in front of me, I then pack each item as I disassemble the system.

Camera gear packing tips

Camera system – Assemble your system and lay everything else needed out ready to be packed. Don’t forget your O-rings!!

There are a number of ideal bags on the market made by various manufactures.  One of my favorite pieces that works well is the Departure Carry-On by Aqualung ($199).   It’s very light (7.2lbs) and fits DSLR housings very well (up to three)!  You will need to have  foam inserts, bubble wrap, or an insert from a camera bag that can be placed inside this bag to help protect your gear.   Another bag is the Armor Camera Bag. This insert is light weight, fairly rigid, versatile, and extremely affordable (only $59)!  It can be used on its own or placed in most backpacks or roller bags for more protection.

Armour camera bag

Armor Camera Bag insert and Carry-on Roller

Between these two bags, I can fit my entire system.  If weight becomes a problem (some airlines now weigh carry-ons), I check my large dome port, arms, and extension rings.  Here is a list of items I pack in the two bags above:

Departure Bag

  • Nauticam NA-70D housing
  • 60mm macro port
  • 100mm macro port
  • Mini dome
  • 20mm extension ring
  • 30mm extension ring
  • 50mm extension ring
  • INON Z-240 strobes (x2)
  • Fiber optic cables (x2)
  • 45 degree viewfinder
  • Dome diffusers (x2)

Armor Camera Bag (inserted inside Akona Travel Bag)

  • Canon 70D camera body (x2)
  • Tokina 10-17mm lens
  • Canon 60mm lens
  • Canon 100mm lens
  • Sigma 17-70mm lens
  • Kenko 1.4x teleceonverter
  • All gears stay on lenses
  • Keldan video light
  • Battery chargers (camera, AA, and video light)
  • Laptop & charger

I place my large dome port and strobe arms in padded regulator bags and then pack in my checked luggage – further padded by my clothes.

regulator bag

Put your large dome port in a regulator bag for more protection

packed camera gear

My entire system packed and ready to go! Bags used – Armor Camera Bag inserted in Akona’s Traveler Bag and Aqualung’s Departure Carry-on

Don’t let the weight and bag restrictions stress you out!  With the right carry-ons and a little creativity, packing even the largest DSLR systems is definitely manageable.  You’ve got this!


Shooting Sunballs

sunball image with diverShooting sunballs underwater is a great way to add depth to your compositions. They can be stunning if shot correctly but can also be tricky! Here are some tips on how to get great sunball shots.

Lens Selection

The most dramatic sunball shots are generally taken using a wide angle or fisheye lens. Get as close as you can to your subject. This allows your strobe to light the subject efficiently while retaining good scene composition.

Camera Settings

When shooting Sunballs, there are some go to settings for at least a starting point.

Manual Modereef scene with sunball

For sunballs, Manual mode is the best. It allow you to take full control of your camera which is needed for sunballs.

Shutter Speed

Set your shutter speed to the fastest speed available that your camera can synch with your strobe. This is usually between 1/180 and 1/320 of a second, which will vary by camera model. This will keep the water as deep blue as possible and help keep the sunball itself in a nice, tight circle. It will also freeze light rays if visible.

ISO 100

Use ISO 100 (or the lowest available ISO). Your lowest ISO setting will give you the most optimum dynamic range within your camera (minimize banding around the sunball).


Aperture is the parameter you will use to control the foreground exposure of your image. For sunballs shots, the aperture is usually set between F/16 – F/22.


Set your top strobe to full power / manual. DO NOT use TTL. The sun will shut your strobe down prior to proper exposure in TTL mode. Your bottom or second strobe (depending on if your shot is portrait or landscape) can be set to TTL or ½ power.  This will help keep from overexposing the bottom of your image.

sunball with diverComposition Tip

Sunballs are easier to control in the morning or late afternoon when the sun is not at it’s highest point. It’s also easier to find beams of light during these early and later times.

When shooting sunballs in mid-afternoon, Try hiding part of the sunball behind coral, a diver, boat, or larger animal to help avoid blowing out the sun.  You can also cut part of the sunball off the top of your image in the composition.  It also helps shooting the image vertically.  This allows the composition to take advantage of the blue water gradient from the top to bottom within the image.

For silhouette shots turn off your strobe(s).eagle ray with sunball

Shooting Macro

ghost pipefishMacro photography has been the most popular style of photography for quite some time! It’s fairly easy to get great results compared to shooting wide angle for a number of reasons.  The subjects are endless and they are easier to light and compose.  Water conditions are not a main factor in the success of your images either.  Here are some tips to get the best results out of your macro images.

Lens Selection

When selecting a macro lens, it’s pretty straight forward.  A 60mm macro lens is a popular choice for APS-C crop sensor cameras. They allow for extremely close focusing and are a pretty fast f/2.8 lens.  The Canon 100mm and the Nikon 105mm are popular as well due to their longer focal length which allows for a greater working distance between you and your subject. These longer lenses are really beneficial for shooting exceptionally small critters. Wet mount accessory lenses or diopters (INON UCL-165M67, Nauticam SMC) can also be attached to the outside of most macro ports (via thread) and allow you to get even closer to your subject.


Camera Settingsclown frogfish

Since you are not shooting an entire scene, set your camera for center-weighted metering and center point (spot) focus.  This will allow you the freedom to move the focus point around to a precise spot.

Manual Mode

For macro, Manual mode is the best. It allows you to take full control of your camera.


Since you will be shooting a macro subject, you will be very close to your subject.  Your “depth of field” (DOF) will be quite small compared to wide angle. Therefore you will need to use small apertures to get a decent DOF in your images.

Macro photography on a 50mm – 60mm lens typically calls for an aperture of f/16 or smaller to maintain good DOF.  When shooting a 100mm lens or longer, you will likely target an f/22 or smaller aperture setting.  With that said, sometimes a small DOF is desired, if so, a wider aperture should be used.

mandarin fishShutter Speed

Set your shutter speed to the fastest shutter/flash sync.   Settings between 1/180 – 1/320 are generally the fastest shutter sync speeds on DSLR’s.  This will stop motion of a moving subject and camera shake.  A faster shutter speed will also darken the background helping separate your subject from the background.

ISO 100

I generally start at ISO 100. Depending on my exposure (histogram), this may be increased up to ISO 320.


Set your strobes to TTL!  Strobes with a TTL option work great for macro photography. Shooting in TTL helps eliminate blown out highlights within the image.

For more creative lighting options, experiment with your strobe(s) at different power settings in Manual mode. INON Z-240’s and Sea & Sea YS-D1, and YS-D2 strobes are great for both TTL and Manual settings while shooting macro!


Tightly framed subjects generally make for best macro compositions. Subjects that fill the frame help eliminate distracting elements that can take away from an image. Focus on the eyes! No tail shots!

Shooting Wide Angle

Fiji reef scene

Tokina 10-17mm lens @ 10mm, aperture f/8, shutter speed 1/160, ISO 100

Wide angle photography has yielded some of the most dramatic images we see in underwater photography! It is also the most difficult to shoot due to the many elements that make up a wide angle image.  Here are some of the basics to help you when shooting underwater wide angle images.

Lens Selection

There are a number of good lenses available for underwater wide angle photography. The lens should have a 100 degree angle of coverage (or more) with a minimum focus of 11” or less.  Lenses that have a minimum focus of 12″ or greater will require a diopter to be able to focus sharply behind a dome port underwater. Fisheye lenses are a popular choice too.  The Tokina 10-17mm fisheye lens has been the most popular choice since its inception and has a underwater angle of coverage of 100 degrees to 180 degrees (APS-C) and focuses down to 5.5″.

Dome Port Selection

Use a large 6”-10” dome:

  • With rectilinear lenses (Sigma 10-20mm, Sigma 8-16mm, Tokina 11-16mm, Canon 10-22mm, Nikon 12-24mm, etc.) or with fisheye lenses (Tokina 10-17, Sigma 15mm, Nikon 10.5mm, Canon 8-15mm)
  • For over/under shots (8″-10″ domes preferred)

Use a mini dome:

  • With fisheye lenses only
  • For close-focus wide angle shots
  • For travel (if minimizing your weight and system size are necessary)

Camera Settings

I often get asked what my camera settings are for my images.  Although I have consistent “pre-dive” settings, my settings vary from shot to shot throughout the dive depending on ambient light conditions.  When shooting wide angle images, I set my ISO to the days lighting conditions, generally keep my aperture constant, adjust my shutter speed for my blue water color, and adjust my strobes manually to light the foreground.


Sigma 10-20mm lens @ 10mm, aperture f/8, shutter speed 1/160, ISO 100

Shoot In RAW!!!

RAW files have 4000 color tones available to them.   JPEG images have only 350.

Metering Mode

When shooting wide angle, set your camera’s metering mode for Evaluative Matrix. This will allow your camera to meter the entire scene, not just the center of the frame.

Shoot anywhere from -1/3 to – 1 on your exposure meter. Underexposing your images will help make the colors pop and avoid overexposing highlights.

Manual Mode

If using strobes, shoot in Manual mode.  It allows you to take full control of your camera and eliminates the camera’s “auto” feature from being fooled.  Balancing your artificial (strobe) light with the ambient light (background) is crucial.

Shutter Priority

If shooting fast action and/or ambient light (no strobes), Shutter Priority (Tv) can be used. Set Exposure Compensation (+/- button) to -1/3.

Shutter Speed

This is what I use to control the blue water color. In other words, the shutter speed controls your background exposure. 1/125 is a great starting point and is also my “pre-dive” setting. The faster the shutter speed the deeper the blue water (or background) color.

ISO Setting

Use ISO 100-200 on bright days. On cloudy days, ISO 320-400 works well.  Your lowest ISO setting will give you the most optimum dynamic range within your camera.


When using a large dome port (8” or more), f/8 is a good go to setting!  It allows great depth of field and sharp corners within the image.  When using a 6” dome set the aperture to f/9 –f/10 for sharp corners.  When using mini 4” domes, set the aperture for f/11 or smaller to yield sharp corners.  The center of your image, no matter what size dome you use, will be sharp.

White Balance

Shoot in auto white balance when using strobes!  For the majority of the time, Auto WB is accurate when using artificial light.

When shooting ambient light, you can custom white balance to the depth you’re at or WB can be adjusted in post.


Although TTL can get good results, it is generally not the best mode when shooting wide angle images. There’s usually too much going on within the image that can pre-maturely shut the strobe(s) down before accurate lighting can be achieved.  Adjusting your strobe(s) output manually will yield better color saturatation.

Try to light with the angle of the sun.  The wider the lens – the closer the strobe should be to the lens/port and angled out, not in (especially for close-focus wide angle images).

diver in Fiji

Tokina 10-17mm lens @ 10mm, aperture f/8, shutter speed 1/250, ISO 200

Composition Tip

Try to manufacture / compose your wide angle images to have a 3D quality to them

  • Subject, coral, then sunball, boat or fish.
  • Keep main subject out of the middle of the frame.
  • Point the camera at a slight upward angle to take advantage of the ambient light for the background. This will add much better contrast than shooting down.
  • Try portrait shots.

Underwater Camera Settings

Underwater Camera settings

So you just purchased a new camera system.  Are you overwhelmed on what to do with all those buttons when you get underwater?  Here are a few camera setting tips to get you going.

Even though not all cameras have all the modes listed below, yours should have at least a couple two choose from.

Set your camera to shoot in RAW if available!

If you’re not using a strobe and are shooting Jpeg files,  be sure to “Custom White Balance” your camera every 15′ – 20′ of depth.  Read this article on Custom White Balance & Underwater Photography

What do these controls do?

  • Shutter Speed – Controls image blur.  1/125 is fast enough to stop most motion (camera shake and fish tails)
  • Exposure Compensation – Controls background exposure
  • Aperture – Controls depth of field and foreground exposure
  • ISO – Controls your camera’s sensitivity to light
  • White Balance – Calibrates your camera to the proper color spectrum while shooting ambient light images underwater

Here are some setting tips to get you started

  • (P) Program Mode
    • Set EV (Exposure Compensation) to –1/3 or – 2/3 on sunny days (Use to adjust background exposure)
    • Set ISO to 100 (Sunny day) 200 – 400 (Cloudy day)
    • Set Strobe on TTL or desired power
    • Set white balance to AUTO (if using a strobe)
  • (AV) Aperture Priority Mode
    • Set EV (Exposure Compensation) to –1/3 or – 2/3 on sunny days (Use to adjust background exposure)
    • Set F/8 aperture (F5.6 is fine for digicams)
    • Set ISO to 100 (Sunny day) 200 – 400 (Cloudy day)
    • Set Strobe on TTL or desired power
    • Set white balance to AUTO (if using a strobe)
  • (TV) Shutter Priority Mode
    • Set EV (Exposure Compensation) to –1/3 or – 2/3 on sunny days (Use to adjust background exposure)
    • Set Shutter Speed to 1/125
    • Set ISO to 100 (Sunny day) 200 – 400 (Cloudy day)
    • Set Strobe on TTL or desired power
    • Set white balance to AUTO (if using a strobe)
  • (M) Manual Mode
    • Set F/8 aperture (F5.6 is fine for digicams)
    • Set Shutter Speed to 1/125
    • Set ISO to 100 (Sunny day) 200 – 400 (Cloudy day)
    • Set Strobe on TTL or desired power
    • Set white balance to AUTO (if using a strobe)

Aquaventure Dive & Photo Center 10024 County Rd 81 Maple Grove, MN 55369 (763)424-8717

How to: Blue water backgrounds in your photos

image-4-taken-in-manual-modeA photographer, who has been shooting for a while, recently asked, “How do you get those deep blue backgrounds in your images?” What a great question! There is so much that goes into capturing an image that the background is often the last thing on a photographers mind until they get to post editing and realize their background is not what they had envisioned! If chasing the perfect blue background has left you frustrated with washed out images and odd greens and blues, this article should help combat your struggles.

Getting a nice blue water background is fairly easy; however, it does require some thought. While composing your image, you should consider it in two parts: the background and the subject. Each requires their own light source in order to achieve the proper exposure. Ambient light or sunlight will light the water column giving the water that deep blue background. Your artificial light, or strobe(s), will light your subject.

Once you have established the background and the subject, you’ll need to take your camera out of AUTO mode. AUTO mode DOES NOT work well when trying to achieve brilliant blues underwater! AUTO mode will attempt to properly expose the entire image by only accounting for one light source and often gets confused in the evaluation process. I highly recommend shooting in manual mode for this reason. Manual mode unlocks the full potential of your camera system and will put complete creative control back in your hands. If you’re shooting a point-n-shoot digicam that doesn’t allow manual mode, choose either Shutter Priority or Program mode as opposed to AUTO. These modes will allow you to use Exposure Compensation and adjust the exposure as outlined below.

Second, you’ll need to be able to understand your camera’s light meter: how it works and what it is telling you. If you are not familiar with this, please see your camera’s manual. Once you have this general knowledge, you can begin effectively using the light meter. We will use the light meter (otherwise known as the EV meter) to take an exposure reading off the blue water (background) within the image. Whenever I want to make an adjustment to my blue water background, it is achieved by adjusting the shutter speed. In fact, I like to call the shutter speed dial the “blue water dial”. When the sun is straight above me or to my back, I generally set the exposure so the meter reads -1/3 to -1/2 stop underexposed using the shutter speed dial when shooting in manual mode. If shooting in Shutter Priority, set the shutter speed to 1/125 or 1/160 with the exposure compensation (+/- button) at -1/3 to -1/2 stop underexposed. In Program mode, you will only be able to set the exposure compensation. No matter the mode, aim past your subject into the blue water and adjust your settings as stated above. By doing this, you will have set your camera to let the ambient light underexpose the blue water background slightly. This slight underexposure will deepen the blue water without making it too dark, which in turn eliminates the washed out look that AUTO mode tends to render. Now if you aim at your subject and take a test picture, your background should have a nice deep blue color but your foreground will be dull and underexposed.

Your next step is to properly light the forefront of your image. This is where your strobe(s) come into play. The reason we need the strobe is to separate the foreground from the background in the image. To do this, you will need a good quality high-powered strobe. There are a number of popular choices on the market that will work well. Any of the INON strobes, especially the Z-240, the Ikelite DS-161, and the Sea & Sea YS-D1 work exceptionally well.

As you compose your image and adjust your strobe’s output for the desired subject exposure, you should have the result you’re looking for: a well balanced image. Your strobe will properly illuminate the subject and the ambient light will give you that blue background you so desire.

As you dive deeper into perfecting your photos, it is important to learn your camera and strobe setup. Once you know your tools, breaking an image down into two parts will ensure your exposure is correct throughout. Yes, it takes time and patience to become familiar with your shutter speed and strobe output results, but trust me, it is worth it! Before long those elusive deep blue backgrounds will be beckoning all those topside admirers! Keep shooting! There’s more to this art than a simple click-and-go. With practice and perseverance, you may even amaze yourself with what you can do!

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!

Fiji 2014 Trip Roundup

Pool at Wananavu Beach Resort

Pool at Wananavu Beach Resort

Fiji has been called the “soft coral capitol of the world” and after our group of 15 divers spent two weeks there, we can all see why! Our adventure began on the northern tip of Viti Levu island in the area known as Wananavu. Home to the famous “Bligh Waters”, Wananavu is one of Fiji’s best and well-known dive destinations. After an 11 hour flight from Los Angeles and a comfortable 2.5 hour bus transfer, we arrived at Wananavu Beach Resort.

Our experience at Wananavu Beach Resort was amazing! Like most Fijian resorts, we had bure-style rooms (pronounced booh-ray) which were nestled in a lush hillside overlooking the turquoise blue Bligh Waters. The bures are cabin-like, clean, and inviting. Each had a good sized bathroom, a sitting area with a small table, AC, mini bar, optional Wi-Fi, and a private deck offering a lovely view of the ocean and the manicured gardens.

Our all-inclusive package at the resort included three meals a day. The food was amazing! The restaurant offered plenty of options with a breakfast buffet, two course lunches, and three course dinners with a bit of an Indian flare. The menu included outstanding fish, seafood, lamb, beef, and chicken choices as well as vegetarian entrees while delivering huge portions that we were rarely able to finish! And desserts, let’s just say YUM!

Anenomee fish on top of pinnacle

Anenomee fish on top of pinnacle

Although the resort caters to divers and non-divers alike, we could tell from the moment we ventured down to the dive shop that the dive operation was well run. With an impressive compressor building offering Nitrox and a protected harbor with docks for easy boat access, this place was setup for easy and organized diving. Our dive guides, the “Wananavu Dive Boys”, were outstanding! They had detailed knowledge about the dive sites and were very professional and personable. But what impressed us the most about these fellas (and one lady guide) was their genuine love for diving! Despite the length of time they have been diving those waters, they still have a passion for the sea and creatures in it! Their constant smiles and camaraderie were refreshing and encouraged a relaxing, safe, and enjoyable time on the dive boats.

How was the diving? It was everything we hoped it would be! Wananavu serviced three reef system. The close reefs (sheltered and close to the resort), the Midreefs (about a 30 min boat ride), and the Bligh Waters (up to an hour trip each way). Weather cooperated and we did all of our boat diving at the Midreefs and Bligh Waters. Both offered sites that were breathtaking and great for wide angle, portrait, and macro photography! Most of the diving off Wananavu is pinnacle diving. Water temp was 82 degrees but can vary depending on the time of year you visit. There is also unlimited shore diving available. Nitrox is available either by the tank or unlimited weekly. The house reef has a wall that drops to 40′ and is best done on the incoming tide for better visibility. The vis on the shore dives is neither great nor is the ‘reef’, but it is a good place to hunt for small critters and work on your macro shots. Here are some of the “must see” dive sites.

Wananavu “Must Do” Dive Sites

Jolene in cathedral at E6

Jolene in cathedral at E6

E6 – E6 is located in the Bligh Waters and was given the name for all the slide film photographers that would shoot here.  Several swim-thru’s allow the sun’s rays  to shimmer down through openings at the top of the pinnacle.  There are a number of mountainous sea fans throughout the site and stunning color pops out everywhere!  With occasional sharks cruising by and plenty of reef fish, it was one of our groups favorite sites of the week.

Mount Mutiny – Impressive pinnacle with tons of soft coral.  A number of sharks were seen at this dive site.  Grey reef sharks, white tip reef sharks, as well as hammerheads.  Oceanic whitetip sharks can be seen here as well.  Located in the Bligh Waters. Currents can be strong.

Soft coral at Mellow Yellow

Soft coral at Mellow Yellow

Mellow Yellow – Another Bligh Waters pinnacle site.  The name says it all!  Adorned with glowing yellow and orange soft corals, abundant fish life, and some strong currents.

The Wheat Fields – A midreef site and we enjoyed it most as a dusk/night dive!  This is a great site to see gobs of fish. As the sun goes down, the reef transforms and the fish go wild!  We were surrounded by schooling fish flashing through the waters for the entire dive.  The top of the pinnacles resemble a wheat field with soft wheat-color corals swaying in the water.  Mantas can be seen here as well.

Pernilla’s Rock – A midreef site with great underwater topography! It’s huge sea fans and picturesque swim-thrus make it an ideal spot for wide angle photography. The top of the pinnacles are laden with schools of fish!

Beqa Lagoon

Beach at Beqa Lagoon Resort

Beach at Beqa Lagoon Resort

Our exit from Wananavu was sweet.  The Wananavu Dive crew serenaded us with the Fijian farewell song as we boarded our bus for a 4.5 hour bus transfer to Pacific Harbor at the south end of the island.  There we caught a 45 minute boat transfer to the island of Beqa!

Beqa Lagoon Resort is an amazing and remote get-away with a more exotic feeling compared to Wananavu.  There are no roads or vehicles on the island and its beautiful beaches and landscape beckon relaxation and serenity!  We were greeted by the entire staff standing on the shore singing a Fijian welcome song, flower leis, and plenty of happy Fijians!

Our oceanfront bures were large, very private, and beautiful!  Each bure has a private yard, a personal dipping pool on a large deck, hammock, lounge chairs, and a fantastic view of the beach and lagoon.  The bures are spacious with an oversized sitting area including couches, coffee table, and mini bar.   Optional WiFi is available throughout the resort.  One of the best ‘topside’ extras is their onsite spa!  The ladies give the best massages!  Exploring Beqa is also a must – there is a village and a school tour that both offer an opportunity to meet the locals and learn more about the beautiful Fijian people and their culture.

Our all inclusive package included breakfast choices, a two course lunch, and three course dinner.  The fare is of Fijian influence and each day you have a good choice of options to choose from.  The kitchen also accommodates special requests and we all were well fed again!!  The daily happy hour specials, kava rituals, and nightly local entertainment were a perfect way to end our days!

Blue Ribbon Eel

Blue Ribbon Eel

On to the diving…Beqa is similar to Wananavu in some ways with many pinnacles to explore.  However, there were more shallow bommies offering a wider variety of reef topography.  Once again, the soft corals were absolutely stunning!  The shore diving offers a house reef with the best visibility on the incoming tide.  If you hit the shore dive at the right time, you can expect up to 20 foot vis.  The reef is loaded with anemone fish and nudibranchs.  You can also see cuddlefish, juvenile white tip reef sharks, turtles, and more. We were pleased to find out Nitrox is now available in Beqa and can be purchased by tank or unlimited for the week.

Our dive guides were local and very accommodating!  As in Wananavu, they had full knowledge of the dive sites and where the critters can be found.   They were personable and loved to answer our questions about Fijian culture and traditions.  Some of our favorite memories were hearing the dive team singing Fijian songs from the front deck of the boat on our way back to the resort after a full day of diving.  The dive operation is in the process of some changes to make the diving even easier for photographers.  Although we have no complaints at all and we had the time of our lives, the new photo center and other plans the management has in store will be exciting to see develop in the coming months.

Beqa “Must Do” Dive Sites

Dive guide at Fantasy

Dive guide at Fantasy

Fantasy – This was one of the prettiest dive sites we’ve encountered!  Massive sea fans litter this site virtually everywhere.  Enormous fans randomly grow out of the sea floor.  There are swim-thoughs draped with sea fans and soft corals.  Large schools of fish pass over and around the pinnacle.  On top of the pinnacle we encountered large red anemones that housed hoards of anemone fish.  Leaf scorpionfish can be seen here as well.

Carpet Cove – This site is appropriately named for its carpet-sized anemones.  The top of the bommies are loaded with them and it is a site you will not forget!  Photographers can shoot wide, portrait, or macro.  The darting fish life and variety of species is incredible.

Bistro – Aptly touted as one of the world’s best shark dives, Bistro delivers!  This dive not only has up to seven species of sharks but the fish life here is nothing short of mesmerizing!  At times it’s impossible to see the feed through the fish frenzy.  The sharks however, are the main attraction with the chance of seeing huge bulls, whitetip reefs, grey reefs, nurse, silvertips, lemons, and even a tiger shark – if your lucky!  After the feed is complete, divers get a chance to hang out, explore the area, and watch the sharks circle around.

Farewell Fiji!

Bull shark at Bistro

Bull shark at Bistro

Once again, we departed the resort surrounded by the staff singing the Fijian farewell song to us as we took our boat transfer back to Pacific Harbor for a 2.5 hour bus transfer to Nadi.  We opted for a day room at International Hotel close to the airport.  This was a great way to spend our 5 hour wait lounging by their pool and showering before heading to the airport to catch our flight home.  The flight was an easy 10 hours to LAX giving us plenty of time to dream of the day we can return to these destinations.

Fiji is the real deal.  We will be back!   These are some of the healthiest reefs we have seen in the world.  If you are a photographer, you can shoot ALL types of photography on almost every dive.  Macro, portrait, or wide – each site has an overwhelming amount and variety of coral and fish life to capture.  Fiji’s topside beauty, tours, and comforts draw out the calm and quiet in each of us.  The Fijian people are full of joy and rich in traditions.  Each resort was welcoming and far exceeded our expectations.  We couldn’t have asked for a more perfect holiday!  Vinaka vaka levu, Fiji!  Until next time…


Custom White Balance & Underwater Photography

Custom white balance can be intimidating or confusing to an underwater photographer, but it is an essential element for capturing great ambient-light images and videos (shooting ambient-light refers to using the available sunlight with no strobes or video lights). Many point-n-shoot and all current DSLR cameras have the ability to set a custom or manual white balance. It is a fairly simple process and should become “second nature” for underwater photographers. What is white balance?  Why should I use it?  How do I set it?  When do I need it?  This article simplifies it all and breaks it down for you!

What is white balance?

White balance is a concept of color temperature. Color temperature is a way of measuring the ratio of blue light and red light within an image. A light with higher color temperature (more blue) will have a higher Kelvin value, while light with a lower color temperature (more red) will have a lower Kelvin value . A color temperature of 5500 – 6500 K is average daylight.  White balance is a camera setting that adjusts for the current lighting conditions in order to make white objects appear white in photos & videos.

Why should I custom white balance?

Custom white balance is used to achieve the most accurate coloring in an image as possible. To the human eye, a white object looks white regardless of the type of lighting.  However, digital cameras can get confused with white resulting in unnatural looking colors (especially underwater). When we set a custom white balance, we are essentially telling the camera what “white” is. By doing this, the camera re-calibrates the spectrum of colors based on the white we imported.  This renders the proper colors as we expect to see them.

Digital cameras offer a menu of different white balance options. Some of these options include: auto, tungsten, daylight, cloudy, flash, fluorescent, shade, underwater, or custom. Avoid using the ‘auto’ white balance setting (for ambient light images & videos). Auto does a decent job when shooting with strobes or video lights but it has a hard time accurately evaluating the color white in ambient light underwater. Therefore, your best choice is to use the ‘custom’ white balance setting and import the data manually. If custom white balance is not available on your camera, then choose either the underwater (if available) or cloudy settings.

How do I custom white balance?

White balance can be set a couple different ways.  If shooting still RAW files (recommended if available), a custom white balance can be done in post editing (Photoshop, Lightroom, your camera’s software, etc.).  However, if you’re shooting JPEG or HD video, these highly compressed file types should be shot as accurately as possible.  Some color adjustments can be made during post editing, but adjusting white balance in post is not as accurate as adjusting the white balance “on the fly” (while shooting).

Setting the white balance “on the fly” is easy to do.  Many point-n-shoot and mirrorless cameras have “one touch” white balance. Basically, set your camera to the custom WB icon, point the camera at something white (slate, sand, white fins, your hand, etc.) then press either “function”, “menu”, “shutter”, or whichever button your camera requires.  Each camera has its own way of setting a custom white balance so refer to your manual for the proper procedure.

For DSLR cameras the process may involve a few steps for setting a custom white balance. Generally, you have to take an image of something white, import that image as the custom white balance data then select the custom WB icon. Again, refer to your camera’s manual for the exact procedure.

When do I custom white balance?

It is important to white balance under the lighting condition you are shooting in!  Therefore, since light conditions can change every 10′-15′, so should your white balance settings.  A new custom white balance should be imported every 10’-15’ because different colors are absorbed at different depths (remember your Open Water class?).  This means accurate white color will change as your depth changes and its up to you to let your camera know what white is!

Here are some basic steps to set a custom white balance:

  1. Turn off all strobes & lights (remember:  custom white balance is used when shooting in ambient light conditions)
  2. Put your camera in any auto mode (this will ensure proper exposure and an accurate white balance) or properly set exposure using your EV meter, if in manual mode.
  3. Take an image of something white using a slate, fins, sand, etc.
  4. Import that image as your white balance data (refer to your camera’s manual for precise steps)
  5. Re-white balance every 10’-15’ of depth change

Tips and reminders when shooting ambient light images:

  1. Have something to white balance off of (slate, fins, etc)
  2. Re-white balance every 10′-15′
  3. Keep the sun to your back
  4. Point your camera at a slightly downward angle (this takes full advantage of the available sunlight)
  5. Remember to switch back to AUTO white balance when using strobes or video lights (if you don’t you’ll get a lovely and unnatural red image)

Get the most out of your photography by knowing how and when to set a custom white balance for any lighting scenario.  Your ambient light images and videos will and dazzle your family and friends! Guaranteed.