I took this photo on a dive in Cozumel Island, Mexico. The Caribbean Spiny Lobster is found all over the place, typically hiding under a rock as this one was.
This image was taken at the start of a night dive while there was still some ambient light. Typically, a night dive will normally be planned to commence just before sunset.
Lighting in underwater photography is very different compared to on land. Strobes are used for two reasons;
- To add colour back into an image, even if there is sufficient ambient light. The deeper you go, the more colours you lose. This is why you seen some photos taken underwater that are very blue.
- To add light to a subject where there is not enough and the image would be under exposed.
This image was taken with the aid of the video strobe (you can see the blue shadows in the sand).
When I'm diving, I have my main camera for still photos and a GoPro Hero4 Black mounted on top of the main camera housing. I also have a small video light to use when the red filter isn't appropriate as well as an Inon strobe for still photography for the main camera.
The GoPro by default gives this wide-angle view of a subject which allows you to get closer to larger subjects and keep more of it in frame. For this image, I shot a few seconds of video at 4K (60 frames / second) and was able to select the best still image from the clip.
When diving, you never really know what you are going to find and where there is a current like you often find in Cozumel, you have to take the shot as you pass by the subject. It isn't always possible to reposition yourself.
For underwater photos, I just try to follow a couple of guidelines and see how the images turn out:
- Always get the eyes in focus
- Avoid taking photos from above the subject (this rarely works)
- Always get as close to the subject as possible
I usually end of taking loads of photos of different things I see on a dive and delete a significant number of them. Generally, the inspiration is based on what I see and if I can get in a good position to take the shot. Consideration has to be given to the subject as many marine animals will swim off if you go anywhere near them. Fortunately, the Caribbean Spiny Lobster isn't one of them so you can get quite close.
I rarely, if ever take still images with a GoPro. Instead, I will shot a few seconds of video at the highest resolution the camera can offer, in this case 4K. Running at 60 frames per second allows me to pick the best possible capture and export it as a still image. The only draw back to this process is I don't have a RAW image, only a JPG which does limit what I can achieve in post processing to a degree.
In my camera bag
My underwater camera gives me a great deal of flexibility without being too heavy to carry around. The main parts are attached to the main camera housing so the only additional things I carry and may use are a "selfie stick" for my GoPro although I don't use this if there is a current. The other accessory is a piece of white plastic about A5 size. I use this to calibrate the main camera white balance when taking pictures at shallow dive sites (down to around 15m / 45ft). This is an alternative to using a flash.
For underwater photography, it is important your diving skills are as good as your photography skills. You should always be conscious of the immediate surrounds and not have to rely on standing on coral or grabbing hold to of the reef to steady yourself. There are plenty of small creatures you may not even see so don't potentially destroy things for a photo. Sometimes, you just have to accept you can't get the shot you want and move on.