Backscatter Underwater Video & Photo

Video: Amazing Macro Critters

Backscatter pro client Dustin Adamson shares his macro footage as well tips and shooting techniques in the interview below.

Q: Backscatter is a fan of your macro videos! We love your technique of black backgrounds with amazing macro critters. How did you avoid lighting up distracting elements in the background?

I love black backgrounds with macro shots! So I make a concerted effort to get them. Distracting backgrounds are just that…distracting. If something in the frame doesn’t add to the overall image….then it hurts the image. I avoid this by lighting the subject in specific ways. Isolating the subject using light. However, you can’t get black backgrounds all the time. Ambient light needs to be low, early morning, late afternoon, deep water, and night dives are the best ways to achieve this. Another thing that comes into play is the position of the subject. You need some open water space behind the subject. The more the better. I look for this when I am looking for subjects. This is the luck of the draw. Many times I see a critter that isn’t positioned well that I just have to pass up. If there is something directly in back of it, you aren’t getting a black background. I try not to waste time on subjects where the shot isn’t there. Once you have the ambient light low, and a critter in a good spot, aiming of the lights is all you have left. I wish there was a silver bullet for a lighting position, but it really depends on the position of the subject, as well as background elements. The idea is to aim the light to just touch the subject. If the subject is in a bad position, I will sometimes use spot mode on my video lights to avoid lighting a distracting background. This can be tough to accomplish, especially with moving subjects. It takes practice and a lot of patience.

Q: Your subjects have great texture from the shadows created by expert lighting positions. What light position tips would you share with an inspiring underwater videographer?

There is not one light position that works for all shots. When I first started, that was what I was looking for, but it just doesn’t work that way. Practicing different lighting positions is what helped me. I’d recommend a new videographer to start out with a stable subject like a nudibranch, or Christmas tree worm and light each subject with at least three different angles. Reviewing these results will show how different positions and shadows look on your subjects. In general, start with your lights positioned about 6-12 inches higher than your camera lens and almost above your subject. Watch the edge of of your light and tilt your light heads until only your subject is illuminated. Watch the shadows change as you move your lights around. Also, certain subjects may require different lighting positions due to sensitivity. For example, a nudibranch for the most part can be lit in many different angles. However a Ghost Pipefish is traditionally shy and bothered by light and is best lit from above limiting the light to their eyes. Too much light especially with macro can be a problem. Make sure you don’t overexpose the subject, which can be easy to do with macro subjects.  

Q: Please let us know more about your gear. What makes up your primary camera system?

My current setup is as follows:
Camera – Canon 5d MarkII
Underwater Housing – Ikelite Housing for Canon 5DMarkII
Macro Lenses – Canon 100mm Macro 2.8L, Canon 16-35mm F4L
Wide Angle Lenses – Canon 15mm 2.8 fisheye, Canon 8-15mm F4 fisheye
Lighting – Light & Motion Sola 4000’s, Light & Motion Sola 2100

Q: Capturing images like yours require an enormous amount of patience and knowledge of the subjects. What are your tips on safely approaching animals and setting yourself up for the best shot angle?

First of all you have to find the subjects. And while I am getting better at this, I still rely heavily on local guides. They are amazing and rarely disappoint. Going with a dive operation that caters to photographers is also key. They know what photographers want and how they like to dive. They help find the shots you are looking for. They understand when you stay with a subject for the entire dive, while a regular dive operation you may feel pressured to keep up with a group. Once a subject is located, I stop and assess the situation. Often times my wife, Tyra, is photographing the subject, so I get to really think about how I am going to setup for the shot. At this point, I adjust my tripod legs and lights to the approximate position they need to be. This allows minimal adjustments to minimize the sounds and movements that might scare the subjects once I set the rig down. I also, sometimes shine the light on the subject before I put the tripod down just so the subject gets used to the light. Once down, always try to focus on the eyes. This is what the viewer looks at. And with a DSLR in particular, the shallow depth of field is extremely difficult. Out of focus eyes are a huge turn off for the viewer. One other thing of note. When shooting macro and using a tripod, it is good to go to places that the environment supports it. You don’t want to destroy coral by setting your tripod on it. Places like Lembeh, Anilao, Bali, Milne Bay PNG, are all places that have sand, rubble, muck type of environments which is perfect for macro shooting with a tripod.

Q: All of your images are rock solid. What tips do you have for selecting and using a tripod system?

A good tripod is certainly a must for good macro work. You want a tripod base that is wide. This will give you stability in high current. It is also nice out of the water as a nice base to stabilize your housing on a boat or camera table. I also use the tripod for wide angle for static shots as well as using the legs for a wide handle to help with stability while hand holding. I use the Xit404 Tripod Plate for Ikelite as well as the XIT404 Twist Clamp Leg. The twist clamp legs save so much time, and allow for quick and easy adjustments. While a tripod is important so are other factors that you might not think of. Once you have your camera in place, and have hit record, back your face away from the back of the housing. Your exhales can shake the housing, and have minor shaking in your footage. Also, I have found arms such as ULCS Ultralight arms to be better than Flexarm or Locline arms. don’t shake the housing as much as a locline style of arm in current.



Dustin Adamson

Dustin Adamson is a multi-international award winning underwater cinematographer. He was certified to scuba dive back in 1996. Based out of Salt Lake City, Utah, he is completely self taught, and has been filming since 2011. In 2002, he married his wife Tyra Adamson, an accomplished underwater photographer in her own right. They both own and operate His favorite underwater subjects to film are of the small variety. However, he still enjoys filming all underwater creatures. Having traveled all over the world, he is always searching for the perfect shot. In 2015, Dustin had the honor of being invited to be a member of the Ocean Artists Society.

To learn more about Dustin, please see and

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Scuba Diving Magazine’s 11th Annual Photo Contest Winners

It’s been 11 years, yet somehow we never tire of the photo contest here at Scuba Diving magazine. But every now and then, there comes a time for change. Ansel Adams once said, “There are no rules for good photographs, there are only good photographs.” In that spirit, we tweaked our submission categories to recognize photographers adept at conceptual and compact-camera photography. And although the structure might have changed, the heart of our contest has remained the same: viewing the underwater world “Through Your Lens.” We hope you enjoy the show.

To view all photo submissions, click right here.


Live-aboard trip to Pulau Weh, Indonesia, aboard the Thailand Aggressor and $1000 cash prize


1st Prize Macro: Live-aboard trip on the Turks & Caicos Aggressor
1st Prize Wide-Angle: Live-aboard trip on the Red Sea Aggressor
1st Prize Conceptual: Live-aboard trip on the Carib Dancer
1st Prize Compact Camera: SeaLife Micro HD+ Camera


2nd Prize Macro: Scubapro Chromis DC dive computer and Travel Bag
2nd Prize Wide-Angle: Scubapro MK 25 EVO / G260 and Synergy 2 mask
2nd Prize Conceptual: Mares Instinct 12S reg, X-Vu LiquidSkin mask and Ergo Dry snorkel
2nd Prize Compact Camera: SeaLife Sea Dragon 1200 Lumen Light


3rd Prize Macro: $250 Backscatter Certificate
3rd Prize Wide-Angle: $250 Backscatter Certificate
3rd Prize Conceptual: $250 Backscatter Certificate
3rd Prize Compact Camera: SeaLife Aquapod Mini and Sea Dragon Mini Lumen Light

Scuba Diving Magazine’s 11th Annual Photo Contest Winners Read More »

Video: Manta Flight

Berkley White, owner of Backscatter, shares his meditation on mantas and top shooting techniques.

Q: Where did you shoot your short film Manta Flight?

This sequence was shot in the Maldives a few years ago. I’ve been running small group expeditions to the Maldives over the last five years to photograph hundreds of mantas that gather in the atolls every fall. I made this edit to open the Monterey Underwater Film Festival. I wanted to get people into the zen of underwater so I focused on the slower paced and graceful maneuvers mantas perform around the shallow cleaning stations. Swimming along side these animals is a magical experience. It’s simply amazing how they can glide with such little effort.

Q: What are your secrets for shooting such steady video?

I almost always have lights mounted to my system. I don’t always turn them on, but I find the extra mass slows down camera movement and gives the camera a more solid feel. I helped design the XIT404 Tripod Plate and keep it mounted to the bottom of my housing. When shooting subjects like mantas, I only mount one tripod leg to the plate. I keep this leg extended on the left side of my housing and it allows me to maintain a wide grip with my hands. If your hands are wider than your shoulders you’ll naturally maintain more stable and fluid camera movements. I also use relatively short full foot fins and use a flutter style kick. Large freediving type fins require a long kick stroke and I find this can add a slight left to right tilt of the camera when swimming fast.

Q: What camera and lenses did you use?

This footage was shot on a Canon 1Dx with a Sigma 15mm fisheye lens in a Nauticam Housing. I’ve since upgraded to the Canon 1Dc camera as it offers 4K video recording. I’m a big fan of Canon DSLR cameras for video as they offer excellent white balance underwater. Both of these larger camera bodies allow you to store five different manual white balance settings and I find this invaluable when the action heats up. You can shoot excellent 1080p video with the Canon 5D mkIII, but it does not feature multiple white balance options.

Q: You mentioned lights. Did you use lights for this footage?

I had lights on camera when shooting this footage, but I only turned them on for the long intro sequence to light the glassy sweepers. The majority of the footage is shot with just a manual white balance. I didn’t color correct this sequence it’s just as it came out of the camera. My current wide angle lights are the Keldan Video 8M Lights. They feature a 9000 lumen output and a soft wide beam. 9000 lumens might sound ridiculously bright, but if you shoot much in shallow water you’ll find times when even 9000 lumens can’t out compete the sun. For macro I typically use Sola 2100 Spot / Flood Lights in spot mode. It’s a little tricky to aim a spot from behind the camera, but a spot light doesn’t light up a cluttered background and keeps focus on the subject.

Q: What underwater camera would you recommend to a new photographer on a budget?

You don’t have to spend $2K-$10K on a camera to get great footage and have fun in the process. Good technique is most of the battle. I recommend divers on a budget to read our Best Underwater Compact Cameras of 2015 Review. It helps break down the difference between GoPro cameras, compacts, and mirrorless options. I shoot both stills and video and prefer a camera that handles both modes well. GoPros are a good option for video on a budget, but are less functional when it comes to photos. Thus, I typically recommend people consider compact and mirrorless camera options for better performance and flexibility for both video and photo. Lower cost cameras have more limitations, but great shooting techniques will create amazing results with even the simplest of cameras.


Berkley White

Berkley White, owner of Backscatter, shares his meditation on mantas and top shooting techniques.

Berkley White is the founder of Backscatter Underwater Video & Photo which has grown to be the largest underwater photographic equipment supplier is the USA. Since 1994, Backscatter helped develop a community of local cold water divers and has now spent years supporting a thriving tribe of international artists, film makers, and first time shooters from it’s locations in Monterey, California and Derry, New Hampshire in the USA. For more about Backscatter or articles on equipment and technique, please see

Berkley’s images and technical articles are regularly published in international magazines and he regularly serves a photographic judge or technical editor on publications. He is also a major promoter for educational events designed for both industry and consumer users such as the Digital Shootout and the DEMA Imaging Center. To learn more about his intensive educational events, please see

Berkley runs a limited schedule of exotic photo safaris each year. From the warm diverse waters of Indonesia to the cold adventure of Alaska, Berkley’s shared adventures are always scheduled to be at the best time with the best local knowledge for image makers. For a complete schedule of events, please see his travel company at

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