How to photograph underwater
We asked our underwater photography expert to provide tips for snaphappy readers heading below sea level...
LOOK at Gallery: Life under the sea
before reading Mark's tips...
First of all, you need a very warm wetsuit – or even better, a drysuit – for diving off Tasmania. My experience down there has been with water temperature of about 16 degrees C in summer and 11 degrees C in winter. Unless we are comfortably attired underwater, it is difficult to take good photographs. On the plus side – Tasmania offers some of the most spectacular diving in Australia.
On the subject of what camera / lenses to use, I’ll list the likely marine subjects you might come across: 1. Tall "giant" kelp forests.
These are found around the Tasman Peninsula, although, sadly, in diminishing numbers. They grow some 21 metres in length from the sea floor to the surface and are the proverbial bean stalks of Jack and the Bean Stalk
legend. The kelp forests will suit all lenses, from macro (close-up) type lenses to extreme wide-angle (seascape) type lenses. If you have a compact digital camera enclosed in an underwater housing, then use this camera for macro detail as well as in its widest lens mode for a wider perspective. Think about placing a diver in the shot for size scale, and also think about shotting vertical format and up towards the sun, because these plants reach towards the life-giving sun. Keep a close eye on small critters like sea horses, crabs and shrimp that live on the fronds, and also watch out for the Australian endemic weedy seadragon on the sea kelp floor.2. Mid-water and near the surface.
Occasionally, cooler deep-water currents will bring in some bizarre gelatinous creatures like jellyfish, salp and tunicates into the coastal regions. They are fantastic photography subjects. Their size will suit most housed compact digital cameras in the close-up to mid wide-angle range. With housed cameras, think about using close-up lenses and also medium wide-angle lenses.3. Sea caves.
These are found off Eaglehawk Neck on the Tasman Peninsula and offer some amazing close-up potential of critters that live on the ledges of the walls inside the caves. Use your camera in close-up mode to capture the beautifully coloured jewel anemones that adorn the entrances to some of these caves. A wide-angle lens can be used to capture the entrance of the cave from inside.4. Larger creatures like seals and sea lions.
You may see these playful animals, and you’ll definitely need a wide-angle lens for this encounter. The widest lens setting of most good digital compact cameras should do the job.
Regarding camera equipment, if you use a compact digital camera in a housing, use the internal flash only when shooting inside say 40 cms of the subject. Any further away, you’ll likley get annoying flash-back of light from particles in the water (like car headlights in a fog).
If you can set up your camera with a flash-gun (strobe) set off your camera – and ideally about 30 cm or more away from the camera, this will enable much better strobe-lit photographs. If you only have access to flash built into your camera, turn it off for any photographs taken more than a half a metre back from the subject. I have found the scenery mode
setting on underwater
a good choice for underwater photos taken with a compact digital camera.
For those more serious-minded underwater photographers who use a housed SLR camera, take along at least a macro lens for close-up work and a wide-angle lens like Nikon’s 12-24mm or Sigma’s 10-20mm lens for wide-angle opportunities. A full-frame fisheye lens also provides dynamic photo possibilities underwater. Use at least one strobe and preferably two for even lighting, and make sure you use strobe-arms that separate your strobes from the camera by at least 40 cm.
Finally, digital capture has now enabled us to obtain good-detail images with minimal noise at sensitivities of even 400 ISO. Don’t be afraid to set your ISO (sensitivity) at 360 ISO or even up to 800 ISO. When doing close-up work with flash-illumination, then set your ISO to 100 or 200.Visit Mark Spencer's website.Gallery: Life under the sea
(including photography by Mark Spencer)How to take a photograph
with Chris Bray