Archive for the ‘Photo Gear & Techniques’ Category

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. fionaayerst.com; africa-media.org

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Five Top Tips to Help You Create Brilliant Macro Photography

Thursday, October 29th, 2015

By Fiona Ayerst

Guest blogger and professional underwater photographer Fiona Ayerst explains five easy ways to get the most out of your macro shots, for both compact camera users and DSLR users.

look for the incredible textures underwater and shoot them from a different perspective

Look for the incredible textures underwater and shoot them from a different perspective

Compact Cameras

  1. Most compact cameras have a macro mode, designated by the flower symbol, which reconfigures the zoom mechanism in the camera to allow closer focus. No additional items are needed to shoot macro with these cameras. In fact, these cameras are wonderful for macro work because you can squeeze them (carefully, of course) into small spaces that massive DSLRs cannot venture.
  2. If your housing allows, it is a good idea to investigate and buy clip-on lenses or extension tubes to enable you to either get closer to your subject, or to get a larger reproduction of the critter you’re shooting.
  3. If you can’t afford strobes, use custom white-balancing to add some color back into your photos, and try to shoot in clean and shallow locations. A red filter can really help if you are deeper than 26 feet (8 m) but shallower than 66 feet (20 m).
  4. If you can afford strobes, make sure you invest in good oscillating arms to give you full control over the light’s direction.
  5. Use manual settings on your camera. For a worst-case scenario (if you can’t access manual settings) use aperture or shutter priority. Program and Auto modes do not work underwater.
have you ever looked in deep through the spines of an urchin

Have you ever looked in deep through the spines of an urchin?

DSLR Cameras

  1. With a DSLR, I recommend you start with a 60mm macro lens and a suitable port. The short focal length of this lens will afford you great depth of field. The 100 or 105mm is a great lens but harder to use due to its narrower angle, so switch to that when you are more advanced.
  1. If you have a crop-sensor camera and the old style FX 60mm lens then you get a crop factor and your focal length is around 85mm, which is perfect for even very tiny subjects.
  1. Invest in a good focus light that is not part of your strobes. I like to have one mounted to the hot-shoe on the top of my housing.
  1. Unless you are trying to achieve shallow depth of field, work at f-stops around 18 to 22. Remember that most strobes synch only up to 1/250th of a second.
  1. Try to learn the behavior of your subject and then depict this in your composition. For example, the long-nose hawkfish is a hungry, dart-like critter so portrait aspect shots using strong diagonal lines and opposing colors work well to describe its character.
Always look for animals living on others. Can you see the shrimp tickling this eel's mouth?

Always look for animals living on others. Can you see the shrimp tickling this eel’s mouth?

Fiona Ayerst lives in Mossel Bay, South Africa and teaches underwater photography all over South Africa, Zanzibar and the Red Sea. She runs an annual underwater photography internship program in Mozambique from July to October. See fionaayerst.com for more information on her courses.

A clownfish dances on its host anemone

A clownfish dances on its host anemone

The post Five Top Tips to Help You Create Brilliant Macro Photography appeared first on Scuba Diver Life.

Great Stills and Video with SeaLife’s Sea Dragon

Friday, September 11th, 2015

 

Sea Dragon 2500 w/ GoPro-The Sea Dragon 2500 is the perfect light for SeaLife cameras, GoPro® and almost every other brand of underwater cameras.

Sea Dragon 2500 w/ GoPro-The Sea Dragon 2500 is the perfect light for SeaLife cameras, GoPro® and almost every other brand of underwater cameras.

We all know that having the right lighting is essential to bringing out the best colors in underwater photography and videos. SeaLife’s recent addition to its Sea Dragon line includes the impressive Sea Dragon 2500 photo, video and dive light. What makes the Sea Dragon 2500 stand out in a sea of LED lights is its true 2500 lumen brightness and amazing color rendering index of 90 – the combination of the brightness and CRI produce very colorful underwater video and vibrant still image results. Due to the Sea Dragon’s cutting edge COB LED and beam angles of 120 degrees, the light shines consistently over the entire beam spread making the light bright and even for good stills. The Sea Dragon also features consistent power regulation – so you get no flicker or lighting inconsistencies in your videos as well as three power levels including flash and SOS signals.

Sea Dragon 2500 w/ Micro HD+- -Sea Dragon lights connect with a simple “click” and can be easily transformed using Flex-Connect accessories.

Sea Dragon 2500 w/ Micro HD+– -Sea Dragon lights connect with a simple “click” and can be easily transformed using Flex-Connect accessories.

Sea Dragon lights are tested to a depth of 200 feet/60 meters.

Meanwhile, the Sea Dragon 2100 Dual Beam might just be the whole package divers are looking for. This light offers 2100 lumens spread over a 100-degree flood beam and can instantly transform to a concentrated 800 lumen 15-degree spot beam.

Sea Dragon 2100 Dual Beam w/ Micro HD+- The versatile Sea Dragon 2100 Dual Beam switches from flood to spot beam instantly. A very versatile underwater light.

Sea Dragon 2100 Dual Beam w/ Micro HD+- The versatile Sea Dragon 2100 Dual Beam switches from flood to spot beam instantly. A very versatile underwater light.


Item  SL671​     Sea Dragon 2500 (with grip/tray)​​​                                 US $499.95
Item  SL6712   ​Sea Dragon 2500 (light head only)​​​                               US $429.95
Item  SL989     ​Sea Dragon Duo 5000 Set (incl. 2x 2500 lights)​​     US $899.95
Item SL670​      Sea Dragon 2100 Dual Beam (with grip/tray)​​          US $499.95
Item  SL6702​   Sea Dragon 2100 Dual Beam (light head only)​​        US $429.95


 


Goliath Grouper discovered on Wreck Dive with the Sea Dragon 2500 Photo/Video/Dive Light shot by Sean Gillespie | SeaLife

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SeaLife Advances Its Simple And Easy-To-Use Universal Flex-Connect System

Wednesday, August 19th, 2015

SeaLife continues to advance its universally appealing Flex-Connect line by introducing its latest Flex-Connect Ball Joint Adapter in early August. The new SL999 Ball Joint Adapter expands the possibilities of underwater imaging with other manufacturers’ lights using the 1”/25mm ball-mounting system.

New SL999 Ball joint adapter is perfect for the Light & Motion’s SOLA light.

New SL999 Ball joint adapter is perfect for the Light & Motion’s SOLA light.

The Flex-Connect Ball Joint Adapter is a versatile mount designed for easy assembly that will instantly connect the light or flash to Flex-Connect accessories with just a “click.” Although simple in structure, its heavy-duty aluminum construction allows for maximum durability and stability suitable for any underwater environment.

Flex-Connect set ups are easy and offer a lot of versatility.

Flex-Connect set ups are easy and offer a lot of versatility.

Users can now attach their choice of lights to Flex-Connect flex arms, grips and trays with the new ball-joint adapter, making the SeaLife and Flex-Connect system even more universal.

Flex-Connect is engineered by SeaLife and works with all camera brands and almost all light brands.  The idea is comfort, ease of assembly and enjoyment underwater.

Flex-Connect is engineered by SeaLife and works with all camera brands and almost all light brands. The idea is comfort, ease of assembly and enjoyment underwater.

The idea behind Flex-Connect is universal fit, ergonomic design with comfortable handling, fast set up, and the ability to change the camera or lighting configuration quickly, even under water. In 2014, SeaLife introduced another ball mount (Item SL995), allowing their popular Sea Dragon lights to be mounted to any camera or other brands’ grip and tray system. The latest SL999 ball mount allows almost all underwater lights to be adapted to the innovative Flex-Connect system.

The Flex-Connect SL995 Ball joint mount lets you mount the popular Sea Dragon lights to almost any camera or tray system.

The Flex-Connect SL995 Ball joint mount lets you mount the popular Sea Dragon lights to almost any camera or tray system.

 

Other available Flex- Connect Components:


Flex-Connect Ball Joint Adapter for Light  –  Item SL999 –  US $39.95
Flex-Connect Flex Arm – Item SL9901 – US $49.00
Flex-Connect Micro Tray – Item SL9902 – US $39.95
Flex-Connect Single Tray – Item SL9903P – US $39.95
Flex-Connect Dual Tray – Item SL9904 – US $49.00
Flex-Connect Grip – Item SL9905P – US $39.95
Flex-Connect Cold Shoe Mount – Item SL991 – US $49.00
Flex-Connect Y-S Adapter – Item SL994 – US $29.95
Flex-Connect Ball Joint Adapter – Item SL995 – US $49.00
Flex-Connect GoPro® Camera Adapter – Item SL996 – US $29.95
Flex-Connect Tray Adapter for Ikelite Housings – Item SL 997 – US $39.95
Flex-Connect Handle – Item SL998 – US $29.95

For more info go to:  http://www.sealife-cameras.com/accessories/flex-connect

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Review: Backscatter Flip 3.1, Part II

Sunday, August 2nd, 2015

 

I had the opportunity to take the Backscatter Flip 3.1 for a spin on my GoPro 3+ Black, which I use with the wrist mount and dive housing. Here are my firsthand impressions of the system.

What’s in the box

The Backscatter Flip 3.1 comes in a surprisingly small box. Inside, you’ll find the mount itself, which is a square plastic unit with a number of Allen wrench screws and attachment points, the deep, shallow, and dive filters (more on these later), the top filter attachment, and the adapter for securing the filter mount to newer, slimmer GoPro housing lenses.

As I dive in northern waters, I also grabbed a green-water filter, which is a magenta filter designed for use in fresh water or in temperate oceans.

The filters

The Shallow filter works best at depths between five and 20 feet — anything above five feet the filters should be removed altogether — and is suited for snorkeling and shallow dives. The Dive filter is the general-purpose filter, which works best at depths of 20 to 50 feet. The Deep filter is intended for dives beyond 50 feet, but do note that general lighting conditions do start to limit image and video quality and color, filter or no filter.

The Green-Water filter is generally intended for shallow dives in water that has more of a green rather than blue tinge, which is often the case with freshwater and temperate oceans. The Nightsea filter is a special-purpose filter for capturing underwater animals that produce their own fluorescent light. Backscatter points out that this filter is not intended for night diving.

The Shallow, Dive, and Deep filters come as part of the Backscatter Flip 3.1 Combo package, and the remaining filters can be bought separately.

Mounting the filters

Getting the filters attached to the GoPro is quite easy. Simply slide the mount onto the GoPro lens and tighten the bolt to secure it. The attachment seems more secure than many filters I’ve tried, which can have a tendency to pop off when you least expect it. The individual filters are then screwed onto the side or top flip-hinge using an Allen wrench. My two main concerns as I attached rig to my GoPro was that the filter you’re not using extends from the housing quite a bit, and may be at risk of getting entangled in kelp, fishing line, or similar, and that an unused filter might “flip” in to the frame and ruin a shot — but that was what I intended to test. The top filter did protrude from the camera quite a bit when in the “away” position, but if you dive without that, and only use one filter, the profile is very tight indeed, and the risk of entanglement is minimal compared to the GoPro without a filter.

Diving with the Flip 3.1

I went to a local dive site, armed with the Dive and Green-Water filter. Given the conditions, I knew that the Dive filter wouldn’t do much good, so it was only mounted to test my hypothesis that an unused filter might get in the way, and to test the flipping mechanism. As this was a cold-water dive, and I was wearing my dry gloves, I was curious to see how easy the unit was to operate with the flipping mechanisms.

Ultimately, my hypothesis was proven wrong. Even though I did a considerable portion of the dive with both filters flipped to the “away” position, neither of them came into view of the lens, even when I was drifting down current for a while. And flipping between filters was a breeze in spite of my dry gloves and double inner gloves.

As for image quality, my test wasn’t completely fair, as the conditions didn’t really lend themselves well to filming. In spite of this, the material I got was surprisingly good, and in better conditions, the filters can really make a difference in what you end up with.

To see the difference between the Green-Water filter off and on, I shot a short video of my dive buddy just before we ventured out on our dive. Again, the conditions were sub-par, but you get the idea.

For examples shot under better conditions, this video from the Backscatter web site gives a good indication of the sort of difference you can expect.

Of course, getting the exact feel for when to switch from one filter to the next (or no filter at all) takes a bit of practice and trial-and-error, but that is true for almost anything to do with diving and underwater videography and photography.

Conclusion

The Backscatter Flip 3.1 can have a huge impact on the quality and professionalism of most divers’ underwater photos and videos, and while the system isn’t cheap ($130-plus for the combo), it’s still a relatively low price for a system of this complexity. I appreciate how secure the system feels when attached, and it seems unlikely to accidentally come off. I’ve spent a number of dives using other filters, worrying that the filter might fall off at some point. The drawback is that the Flip 3.1 requires tools to secure and remove from your camera; it’s not a snap-on-snap-off kind of system.

All in all, this is one of better filter systems out there for GoPros. The filters and the mount system in itself are strong players, but the added option of easily switching between filters makes this a hard setup to beat.

I would probably hesitate to bring the Flip 3.1 with me on any kind dive in an overhead environment, or other types of diving where there was a big risk of entanglement, at least not with the top flip mount attached. But for any other kind of diving, I see this becoming my go-to filter.

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