Underwater Photography

Underwater Photography

Instructor course handout

Hesham Aboul-Fetouh

There is so much beauty underwater to capture while freediving, to go through this journey of underwater photography, one should start to know about the camera he/she will be using and gain more knowledge about photography and how to bring it to the sea or ocean in an efficient and easy to understand way, in this handout we will go through together the key fundamentals for creating outstanding underwater content especially photos.

To start shooting underwater, you need a camera hence the first question what camera should I use? It depends on what you want to do underwater, do you want to take pictures or you want to film videos? If your answer is to take photos, you have come by the right document.

Second question I need to ask you before I tell which camera will suit your purpose is what is your budget? So if you are low on budget and still want to take underwater photos, I think you may consider a camera that you already have, your phone camera, where all what you need to buy is phone housing and take your phone to the sea and start taking photos, good thing that you can upload pictures instantly online over social network from you phone.

If you have a medium budget round 600$ you may consider buying Olympus Tough TG-5 or TG-6, impressive action camera that can shoot raw, compact in size and easy to use, shock resistant and waterproof till 15m underwater and if you want to bring it to deeper depths you need to buy housing for it and it can go to 50m underwater, also you may consider buying lens to it like the fisheye lens which makes the image more wide angle.

Some will say why not GoPro!!, GoPro is an amazing camera for filming but not as good as Olympus when taking photos.

If your budget is beyond 1000$, you may consider buying a DSLR camera like Nikon D850 and proper housing for the camera.

Once you get your camera, go through this section to understand more about some

photography concepts and pillars for creating good photos and good composition.

Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO is what defines the light exposure in your camera, let’s go through each pillar.

Aperture can be defined as the opening in a lens through which light passes to enter the camera. It is an easy concept to understand if you just think about how your eyes work. As you move between bright and dark environments, the iris in your eyes either expands or shrinks, controlling the size of your pupil.

In photography, the “pupil” of your lens is called aperture. You can shrink or enlarge the size of the aperture to allow more or less light to reach your camera sensor.

Shutter Speed is the exact amount of time or exposure time that your camera records an image.

It does this through the use of the camera shutter. The camera’s shutter is what allows the light to hit the film plane or digital sensor.

ISO measures the sensitivity of the image sensor. The same principles apply as in film photography – the lower the number the less sensitive your camera is to light and the finer the grain.

Higher numbers mean your sensor becomes more sensitive to light which allows you to use your camera in darker situations. The cost of doing so is more grain (although cameras are improving all the time and today many are able to use high ISO settings and still get very usable images).

Now after you configured the light pillars in your camera, focus on the main object you are shooting and take the below guidelines for creating good composition.

The basic principle behind the rule of thirds is to imagine breaking an image down into thirds (both horizontally and vertically) so that you have 9 parts.

As you’re taking an image you would have done this in your mind through your viewfinder or the LCD display that you use to frame your shot.

With this grid in mind the ‘rule of thirds’ now identifies four important parts of the image that you should consider placing points of interest in as you frame your image.

The theory is that if you place points of interest in the intersections or along the lines that your photo becomes more balanced and will enable a viewer of the image to interact with it more naturally.

Studies have shown that when viewing images that people’s eyes usually go to one of the intersection points most naturally rather than the center of the shot – using the rule of thirds works with this natural way of viewing an image rather than working against it.

Don’t cut off limbs of the main objects, Keep an eye on the edges of your frame to make sure the person/animal you’re photographing hasn’t had any of their body parts chopped off by it.

Cutting off your cat’s tail, your dog’s ears or even part of your model’s head, will not only spoil your shot, but the unintentional limb chopping can also pull attention away from what the viewer should really be looking at. Of course, there are times when this rule can be ignored but for the most part, pay attention to it.

Try creating borders and frames from objects around the main object, also consider the background behind and around the main object, also try to find some symmetry, patterns and create depth in your image.

I think now you are to take good photos with good compositions in general, but taking the experience underwater, you will need to understand some stuff about light and colors underwater.

So the major source of light while taking underwater photos is the Sun, so first ask yourself where is the sun? What time of the day are you doing the photoshoot? Is the visibility level underwater good and clear?

Also you need to know that water absorbs different wavelengths of light to different degrees. The longest wavelengths, with the lowest energy, are absorbed first. Red is the first to be absorbed, followed by orange & yellow. The colors disappear underwater in the same order as they appear in the color spectrum. Even water at 5ft depth will have a noticeable loss of red. For this reason, strobes are usually used to add color back to subjects.

So Red disappears at 15ft, orange disappears at 25ft, Yellow disappears at 35-45ft and Green disappears at 70-75ft.

Is the object you are shooting moving or still? Is it a coral reef or sea creature or human being? If it is coral reef then the challenge is less, but if it is a sea creature, you may consider more quietness and stillness in your motion and no bubbles as sea creatures are curious but they also can also run away very fast if they feet fear. For shooting a human being you need to communicate what you will be doing together and align positions, also you may consider doing the same shot in many dives until you have it captured properly.

Taking photos in the shallow water seems easy but require exhale dives or overweight setup, while shooting in the deep requires longer breath holds.

The angel you are taking the photo from creates different perspective for the image you are creating, you can be on the same level of the object or you can be right under or under the object with incline angel or you can be right above or above with incline angel of the object you are shooting.

Using micro-fins allows for fast and free maneuvers while photo shooting underwater, while long-fins allows you to take photos in deeper depths.

Finally once you finished the photoshoot session, you consider editing the raw photos, editing make a huge difference to the content, where you bring the missing information and colors back to your image. A beautiful photo can create huge impact.

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