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Common problems in underwater photography and their solutions

The beach in Anilao Batangas resort is perfect for underwater photographer enthusiast because of several diving spots with rich coral reefs and marine life.

The beach in Anilao Batangas resort is perfect for underwater photographer enthusiast because of several diving spots with rich coral reefs and marine life. I will share this blog about the basic principle of underwater photography. 

1. Distracting backgroundsHighkey hermit crab

Scenario: We are now swimming close to the reef, looking for some cool macro stuff. Luckily we spot a nudibranch, crawling between some stones, following her plans and objectives. Great! This one for sure will not swim away, which makes UW macro photography very popular, giving us a luxurious amount of time for creating a pleasant composition and doing our shot.

Our photo then shows a beautiful nudibranch, surrounded by stones. Unfortunately, the stones dominate the image and the beauty of the nudibranch is not as featured as she deserves. Not only in the world of movies, music or theatre do the main actors become a little grumpy if they are not presented in the right light. The same counts for underwater photography, too.

Problem: The distracting background dominates the image in a way that the main actor gets degraded to a supporting act.Who is the superstar ?

Solution: To isolate the main subject in the image composition, a neutral background is often the best solution. Water works well as a neutral background, so it might be a good idea to change angle of shooting or wait until the nudibranch moves to a more photogenic position/location. Often they don't and even if they do: they do it very slowly.

A “plan B” here could be to adjust your lens aperture to something like f/8 to f/5.6. This would decrease the depth of field and blurs the background, so that the background appears as less distracting. Working with large apertures such as f/4 or even f/2.8 would come with a nice effect called Bokeh. Nowhere is it written that an interesting macro photo always needs to be done by using the maximum possible depth of field ;-)

Try to keep the basic guideline “always feature the main actor in a photo” in mind – it pays!

Important: Never touch an animal and place it elsewhere just to achieve a nice photo!

2. Not an ideal focus point

Scenario: With the recently mentioned tip in mind, we've spotted now another nudibranch. It's sitting on top of a small stone, looking around, waiting for someone or whatever nudibranchs have in mind. We can achieve a photo with blue water as a background- simply awesome. But at the same time our dive buddy fiddles at our pressure gauge, checking our air, and the dive guide is nearby too, watching us, as he/she wants to guide you to the safety stop area.

We do a few quick shots and then surrender to the “group pressure”, leaving the place, wishing the nudibranch a good day. The photos don’t “look bad”, but the focus point (sharp area in the image) is not where it should be.

Problem: Due to disturbance (complaining dive buddies, restless dive guides etc.), lack of concentration or difficulties with the photo equipment, not enough attention was spent to check for proper focus area.

Solution: Proper UW photography needs patience, concentration, calmness but also proper communication. Talk with your dive buddy and dive guide Bokeh Blennybefore the dive about the “objective of the dive”.

“Plan the dive and dive the plan” has much importance to UW photography as well. If you know that your dive is going to end soon, don't try to fill your camera's memory card frantically. This leads to no good. Do it slowly, easy and relaxed – quality, not quantity is the key here.

Do not leave the decision of the “correct focus point” to your camera. The area of sharpness is a very powerful tool of image composition, but this is unknown to a camera. What the camera believes a proper area to focus on is, is often not the one that creates a stunning image because the camera electronics measure only contrasts to achieve proper focus. They are just machines, they don't know better ;-) It’s a good idea to always double check whether the focus is set to the area where you want to have it.

For marine life forms with eyes, it always works well to have both or at least one eye in focus, meaning, shown sharp in the image. For nudibranches - as a rule of thumb - the rhinospheres should be in proper focus. These however are general guidelines, not rules. There are no “rules” existing for a creative photographer, but it is always good to know some basics.

Underwater photography is fun. Enjoy it as such!

Happy bubbles, happy shootings and always be safe :-)

Original content came from Sub2O

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