Archive for the ‘Photo Gear & Techniques’ Category

Underwater Photography: How to Shoot Anemonefish

Wednesday, April 6th, 2016

A good solid shot of a clownfish is always a winner and the 60mm lens works well to get it.

The distinctive clownfish, or more generally, anemonefish, is not only beautiful and bright but also unique — it’s the only fish that’s adapted evolutionarily to live among, and protected by, the stinging arms of anemones. These beautiful plants can move about the reef but usually attach themselves to a piece of rock or the coral substrate. When other fish swim close enough, the anemone will shoot out a long, poisonous thread full of toxins and stinging cells to stun and paralyze the fish, which it then draws into its body and eats. Anemonefish survive the deadly sting by gently touching every part of their body to the host’s tentacles until the poison no longer affects them. A layer of mucus then forms on the anemonefish’s body to prevent it from getting stung in the future.

The relationship between the anemone and its resident anemonefish is mutualistic, in that each partner benefits in a unique way. The stinging tentacles protect the fish from predators, and it also eats the leftovers from its anemone’s meals. The anemone, in turn, benefits because the anemonefish helps the anemone catch its prey by luring in other fish. The anemonefish also eats any dead tentacles, keeping the anemone in tip-top shape.


Clownfish can be aggressive and protective over their egg and host anemone.

It can be difficult to capture anemonefish in a photo as they tend to get excited when you approach, darting all over the place and even coming out of the anemone to defend it from your advance. They can become pretty aggressive, especially when they have eggs, which they lay in clumps under the skirt of the anemone to protect them from predators. Keep an eye out for these tiny, golden beads when you’re shooting, and watch to see if you can capture a clownfish “aerating” their eggs by blowing on them. The eggs make great photos if you have a lens with a good focal length, and especially if you work with diopters for close focus. The eggs hatch within seven to 10 days, so if you can visit the same dive site over a week, you can watch the baby fish develop in their egg cases.

How to Shoot Anemonefish

To begin, I think it’s easiest to use the 60mm macro lens on a cropped frame DSLR. If you have a compact camera, then you can achieve the same aspect with the native lens, but you may have issues with shutter lag, as these little guys move fast. If you use a full-frame DSLR camera, then the 100 or 105mm lens will give the best results.

I have tried to shoot anemonefish in ambient light, but generally they move too fast and it’s best to freeze them with strobe light. I recommend two strobes pulled in close to your port but facing slightly outwards so that the sweet spot of the light beams hits the anemone in just the right place.


Anemone skirts have incredible vibrancy.

First, stop down (increase the f-stop number) as much as you dare. I generally teach my students to start at about f/22 if they are using a DSLR. If you have a compact camera then you may only manage to get to f/8, but that’s fine too. A closed aperture will give you the best depth of field, and that way you get the most area possible in focus. This is especially important if you’re using the longer focal length of the 100mm lens. The 60mm is a little more forgiving, so start off with that lens if you have one.

To get a nice, rich color, try to keep your ISO as low as it can go — do not leave it on auto. You should be able to do this easily if you’re using two strobes. I recommend that you keep your shutter speed at around 1/60s but you will have to review your photos to ensure you are getting good light. If you have to change anything to get more light, then try your shutter speed a bit slower at 1/125s or even 1/80s.

I also suggest that you use a histogram to review the light on your photos, as it’s often hard to review an underwater photo correctly since you’re shooting through so many layers of glass or perspex.

Bright colors, textures and movement make these shots visually appealing.
Look out for the amazing array of colors.
Textures and colors are key to shooting these clever little fish.

Watch the Subject

The anemonefish will move in and out of focus depending on how far it is away from the lens, but your key focus point should be the eye. Putting the single focus on “spot” and keeping that spot on the fish’s eye is the best advice for capturing that critical focus point. In the beginning, it’s easiest to watch how and where the fish swims as they tend to use patterns. Once you know, you can line up your lens and wait for the fish to swim into the sweet spot you have lined up. Once you’ve taken a few photos, zoom in on your shots to ensure that they’re sharp, especially around the anemonefish’s eye. You can’t tell if your shots are sharp if you just look at them on the screen in the zoomed-out picture the camera gives you as a review default.

Always try to keep the eyes of the fish sharp.
Clownfish tend to their eggs, aerating them to help them grow and prevent diseases.
If you look closely you can see the tiny fish developing in the eggs.
Look out for the cute juveniles.

As you’re watching your anemone, be aware of the surrounding environment as well to ensure that you don’t lean against or squash anything. You must achieve perfect neutral buoyancy before attempt an anemone shot, as there is usually too much other marine life living nearby that you could damage. Even those with perfect buoyancy should always keep an eye on how close they are to the anemone so as to avoid bumping into it and damaging it, as it is soft and easily hurt. Sometimes it’s difficult to tell, when you’re staring into a viewfinder, just how close to an object your port is, especially when using a macro port.


Once you can shoot one clownfish successfully, you can pit your skills against two.

Getting Creative

Once you’ve taken some solid, in-focus macro shots of an anemonefish, you can try something more creative like moving your strobes sideways and facing inward to light up both sides of the anemone. Positioning your lights on the sides can cause translucent animals to glow from the light passing through them.

Once you have the macro shots in the bag you can move on to more advanced techniques such as close up wide angle shots.

Once you have the macro shots in the bag you can move on to more advanced techniques such as close up wide angle shots.

And once you’ve mastered the macro shots, you can also have a lot of fun trying the “close-up/wide-angle” technique, where you get in close to the fish, but also have some reef and a diver in the background. These shots take a bit more planning, though, so that’s information for another article.


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Create More Professional Underwater Images

Thursday, March 24th, 2016

People often laugh when I tell them that water is the biggest challenge they face when shooting underwater. I know it sounds crazy, but let’s take a look at what that means. Water absorbs, refracts and diffuses light, causing loss of contrast and color. Photographs take on a washed-out blue/green hue unless you take steps to correct this. Correction can be done in pre- or post-processing but it’s a lot less time consuming if you apply your mind to the photo before you take it and try to take the absolute best photo you can right from the outset.

First, let’s look at what you can do as you shoot to create more professional underwater images.

  1. Shoot in RAW so that you can adjust your white balance in post-processing. If your camera doesn’t support RAW then learn how to shoot with a custom white balance, or set a manual WB of around 4500K
  2. Use strobes: If you can afford strobes, then add light back to the photo and your color will return. Even one strobe is better than none. Light from a torch or flashlight is not recommended unless you are shooting for a particular feel and effect.
  3. Try to use a heavy, stable housing. If you have a small housing, consider adding handles and weights to stabilize it. Water does not make it easier to avoid camera shake issues like some think.

Here are some post-production tips to help your images pop out without spending too much time on each one. If any are chosen by a magazine or stock library, or if you want to post any on the internet, then you can always do more work on those special pictures.

1.Using no flash and no custom settings will result in bluegreen, flat photos
2. Without flash you can still produce pleasing images, especially if shooting in shallow water
3. Backscatter and flash flare are problems if you don't position your strobes carefully
4. Flash can work if positioned carefully, but backscatter is very hard to remove in post processing

Correct for color

Water absorbs different wavelengths of light, so even if you’re quite shallow you will lose red. Orange and yellow go next, and without these colors your photos will look dull. If you didn’t have an external light source, then you can use software to help bring back lost color. If you shot in RAW, then correct the white balance using the temperature slider in Adobe Lightroom. After that you can use the HSL/Color/B&W panel under the development module to focus in on key colors and adjust them. If you use Adobe Photoshop CS, then use the selective color tool, which is a little more specific and thus a little more powerful. If you can’t shoot in RAW and if you used custom white balance, you will already have made a difference.

Correct for contrast

Contrast is the difference between light and dark tones. Water lightens the dark tones so that the contrast in the photo decreases and the image will look “flat.” Learn how to work with histograms and you will see that the light and dark tones should be increased. Adjusting levels in Photoshop offers a superbly powerful tool. Even the auto setting will make your photos look much better, especially if you were shooting shallow and in ambient light. You can also use the contrast slider (or work with your shadows and highlights) in Lightroom. Increased contrast will make your photo look more dynamic, but be careful not to over adjust and make your photo look fake.

Note: You can also use Photoshop Elements for all the adjustments I have mentioned here.



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Sealife Micro 2.0 Showcase

Sunday, March 6th, 2016

Sealife has done it again, with their Micro 2.0 camera. We wanted to show you the latest photos that we have been able to capture on our dives this year. All the photos below were taken with a Micro 2.0. If you are wondering what camera to get to capture your dives, we would definitely recommend this awesome camera. Not only is it great with photos, it takes amazing video as well! Take a look at the video below to see our last dive adventures in the Socorro Islands, Mexico filmed on the Micro 2.0!


The SeaLife Micro 2.0Capture all your amazing adventures — topside and underwater — with the ultra-compact and travel-friendly SeaLife Underwater Cameras Micro 2.0 camera.

Posted by Scuba Diver Life on Sunday, February 28, 2016

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SeaLife® Introduces Sea Dragon® 1500F Photo/Video Light

Friday, February 12th, 2016

The light features a COB LED array, which produces a Color Rendering Index (CRI) of 80 with a color temperature of 5700K. This mimicks natural daylight (the sun’s rays on a normal day are a CRI of 100), which makes the light ideal for underwater still and video imaging. The one-button control for easy operation makes using the light easy, from powering on/off to selecting the three brightness levels. The Sea Dragon 1500F includes a rechargeable and replaceable 7.4V, 3400mAh lithium-ion battery, offering a burn time of 70 minutes at 100 percent power and constant brightness, two hours at 50 percent power, and four hours at 25 percent power. The light has a tested and verified lumen output, which illuminates the generous beam angle of 120° (90° underwater). The Sea Dragon 1500F includes two signal modes; a one-second interval strobe and SOS, both at peak power level.

While the light is waterproof tested down to a depth of 200 feet/60 meters, the dual O-ring battery compartment is also completely sealed and independent from the Sea Dragon’s electronics. Even if there is water intrusion, the battery and light will not be compromised.

Like all Sea Dragon dive/photo/video lights, the 1500F light can be easily mounted to one or more extendable flex arms, grips and trays. Sea Dragon lights are universal and can be easily mounted to any camera or arm system using an optional Flex-Connect ball mount adapter (SL995). SeaLife also offers a cold-shoe mount for the Sea Dragon (SL991). The durable Flex-Connect flex arms, trays, and grips simply click together and can also be quickly and easily taken apart with the push of a button. SeaLife even offers a handle for hand-held use (SL998).


SeaLife offers the Sea Dragon 1500F in two variations; as a complete set containing grip, ¼-20 mount tray and GoPro adapter, or in a head-only version. Both configurations include battery, spare O-rings and lubricant, battery charger and international plug adapters.

The Sea Dragon 1500F is available at retailers for the following prices: SL672 Sea Dragon 1500F Underwater Photo/Video Light Kit for $299.95, and the SL6722 Sea Dragon 1500F Light Head for $249.95.

About SeaLife: SeaLife Underwater Cameras are made by Pioneer Research in Moorestown, NJ and were first introduced in 1993. In 2000, SeaLife developed the world’s first digital underwater camera. In 2007, SeaLife developed the first non-housed digital underwater camera, and in 2013 SeaLife introduced the powerful Sea Dragon Lighting system and its innovative FlexConnect tray, grip, arm and accessory system. By 2014, SeaLife introduced the Micro HD, the world’s first permanently sealed underwater camera. SeaLife cameras, lightings and accessories are sold and serviced in 64 countries around the world. For more information, visit

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Underwater Photography: Shooting Big Animals

Thursday, January 14th, 2016

By guest blogger Fiona Ayerst

When it comes to underwater photography, shooting big animals can be one of the most challenging skills to master, but perhaps not for the reasons you may imagine. I’ve spent many hours sneaking up on sharks, and here I’ll share my top tips on how to get those “killer” shots.

Click to view slideshow.

Get comfortable underwater

It’s impossible to get a perfect shot unless you are totally comfortable in the water. In some instances, you must be in good physical health to keep up with your subject. One of the advantages of shooting while scuba diving rather than snorkeling is that you can spend long periods in deeper water, closer to marine life, or even in 20 feet during a shark encounter. To successfully shoot on scuba, you must master your buoyancy and maintain control of your position in the water column at all times.

Learn to free dive

Alternately, if you’re shooting near the surface, you should learn to free dive. One of the advantages of shooting this way is that your bubbles and the noise your regulator makes as you exhale don’t scare off the animals. Here, where the light is abundant and where most of the big guys, such as whales and sharks, can be found, you don’t really need scuba gear if you can free dive.

Stay calm, be patient, and get as close as is safe and reasonable

Get close — and then get closer — if it’s safe both for you and the animal. Stay calm and, above all, be patient. Learn how animals behave and start to read their movements. Learn what they will most likely do next. Don’t allow the animal to bump into you, as you may harm it and your shot will most likely be out of focus.

Choose the right time of day

It’s best to shoot between noon and about 2 p.m., but you can stretch this out from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. This is because you need the sun’s rays overhead for bright, clear shots with lots of detail. Late afternoon shots also often provide great light effects, such as striated sunrays. Be aware that many shark species hunt in the early morning and late afternoon.

Use your buddy

A good and experienced diver can really help you with “herding,” by which I do not mean your buddy should ever chase an animal, but if you position him or her (your buddy) correctly, it can definitely turn the animal back toward you. Furthermore, it creates a great sense of forced perspective to have a person in the background, and makes your chosen subject seem even larger.

Blue-water backgrounds

Expose for the blue water for a pleasing photo and use fill-in flash if you can. Check your images regularly by using a histogram, as it’s often too light near the surface to see the images properly. If they are overexposed then compensate or check your strobe exposure table for the appropriate f-stop, according to how close you are getting to the animal. Whenever possible, however, I recommend that you apply tip No. 7 below.

Shoot using ambient light

One of the advantages of shooting near the surface, where the light is abundant, is that there is usually enough color left for your shots without using strobes. This is advantageous since heavy strobes can limit your ability to move fast and maneuver. Furthermore, many strobes have limited sync speeds. I like to shoot using shutter priority, and, if I’m shooting fast-moving animals like dolphins, for example, I get some stock stuff on very high shutter speeds without strobes. Once I have those in the bag, I like to try some arty moves, like panning with slower shutter speeds. Remember to check your photos occasionally to ensure that your aperture isn’t too wide open, which can lead to soft images. This works really well with a fish-eye lens, and that leads me to tip No. 8.

Shoot super-wide

Shoot larger animals with a fish-eye lens if you can get close enough. This lens is very forgiving and also takes amazing photographs in the ocean, as no natural straight lines exist here.

Shoot off the reef

Look after the substrate and care for the reef. In any event, things look better when you shoot up, not down.

Keep yourself and your subjects safe

Shoot larger animals safely and maintain a respectful distance. If you are taking part in baited dives, ensure that you’re working with an operator who is doing everything within their power to safeguard and conserve the animals. Your safety and the longevity of the animals are paramount considerations. Never, ever touch or harass animals for a shot.

Fiona Ayerst has been a professional underwater photographer for seven years and is one of South Africa’s best-known underwater specialists in natural history. She teaches underwater photography classes in Durban, SA and Mozambique annually between May and October, as well as hosting underwater photography internships.;

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