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Monday, September 1, 2008

An Underwater Shooting Primer


With prices dropping and capabilities on the rise, underwater photography is within the grasp of just about anyone who has an interest in giving it a try

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While increased access to underwater photography makes it easy for almost anyone to compose images in water and underwater, capturing a quality image requires skills and techniques unique to the liquid environment. Light behavior in water, principles of buoyancy, white-balance issues, effects of water on camera equipment (trust me, you don’t want to experience this), equipment maintenance and water clarity are all issues new to photographers entering the water. I’ll cover some basic techniques and skills that, when applied, will give you the opportunity to capture amazing images from the 70% of our planet that’s water.

Snorkeling With Compact Cameras
Snorkeling is perhaps the most popular form of in-water photography today. Camera manufacturers like Canon, Nikon, and Olympus have developed housings for their most popular compact digital cameras. Olympus has even produced a line of compacts that are waterproof to 30 feet without a housing! The Stylus 1030 SW is Olympus’ most recent addition to the line with this capability. As a snorkeler, the tendency is to shoot down on the reef and the animals below. This results in images of hard-to-see animals blending in with the background.

There are three general rules of underwater photography:
1 Get close to your subject, which minimizes the effect of water filtration on your subject.
2 Fill the frame; you don’t want tiny specks of unidentifiable critters in your images.
3 Shoot at upward angles; this allows for separation of your subject from the often cluttered background.

Most compact cameras have custom white-balance and camera settings called Scene modes. Some manufacturers like Canon and Olympus have included a number of underwater Scene modes that allow you to capture color-balanced images for wide-angle and close-up situations. The on-camera flash for most compact digitals is only effective for a few short feet in water. Turn it off for anything other than close-ups and macros to prevent backscatter in your image caused by lighting out-of-focus particles in the water.

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