Tips & Tutorials

Beyond “Point and Shoot” underwater photography

Shooting underwater is one of the most difficult areas to master in photography. From the physics of refraction, which affects the field of view of any camera lens, to the light spectrum absorption by the density of seawater, which affects how colours come out.

Underwater shot of diver using the PowerShot G1X Mark II with the WP-DC53 housing

Diver using the PowerShot G1 X Mark II with the WP-DC53 housing

 

The PowerShot G1 X Mark II, PowerShot G7 X Mark II, and PowerShot G7 X have the capability to take fully automatic pictures with “Underwater settings”, such as underwater shooting mode which sets a white balance suitable for underwater, and underwater macro focus range, which assists with taking close-ups of sea life. In combination with the WP series housings, the cameras do a good job for holiday snaps.
Underwater sea turtle image

Sea turtle shot with PowerShot G7 X Mark II/ Focal Length 8.8/ Shutter Priority (f8.0 1/80)/ WB: Manual


However, as you advance in your underwater photography, there are new things to consider. From equipment to new techniques and modes to use the camera, the list is quite long. In association with Canon, UW360 would like to present some tips to help you in improving your underwater photography.

  1. External strobes and expansion accessories

WP-DC55 housing for PowerShot G7X Mark II

The Canon WP-DC55 (Housing for PowerShot G7X Mark II) with the SEA-GADGETS Lightweight Primary Arm Mounting system with Fibre-Optic cable set connected to a single INON Z240 Type 4 Strobe.

One of the first accessories to consider for the more advanced photographer is external strobes. The WP housings have flash diffusers, but are still limited to one position, which sometimes also create problems like backscatter in more turbid water. Due to the compact size, it is also limited in power and ways to light a subject. Fortunately the WP range housings with its respective PowerShot cameras allow for such expansion in equipment. External strobes have more power and can even work with the eTTL modes via fibre optic cables.

The Sea-Gadgets Lightweight primary arm mounting system attaches to the WP housing at the bottom and removes the need to the extra weights to keep the housing less buoyant. These sort of systems allow the attachment of accessories like strobes and lights.  External strobes greatly expand the photographer’s ability to light subjects and play with shadows. In that image, by putting the strobe to the right, the ledge shadow isolates the fish, while still giving an idea of its natural hiding area.

A strobe usually also has a light, which can act as a focus light to aid the Auto Focusing on the camera in dark spaces.

Longspine Squirrel FishAn external strobe would allow a photographer to play with shadows to highlight the subject, like this Longspine Squirrel Fish (Shot with Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark II/ Focal Length 36.8mm/ Manual (f/6.3, 1/125)/ISO 125/WB: Manual)

As a start, using the Canon camera’s own eTTL, with the strobe TTL enabled will be easiest. However, as you get more comfortable, just like advancing from automated modes to using fully manual (M) modes, you can use the strobe’s own power settings to light the scene and set the camera’s flash output to MINIMUM, as to conserve battery so you can enjoy multiple dives.

The arms allow the strobe to be placed away from the WP housing, preventing any accidental illumination of particles in front of the lens. As your skills grow, you can add two strobes to shoot wider angle subjects or to isolate your subject by using high speed settings (eg. High shutter speed and small aperture with base ISO settings).

 

2. Understanding Animal Behaviour

Animal behaviour is a great subject for photographers. A reef is filled with all sorts of behaviours that make for great subjects.

Mating Damselfish

Mating Damselfish (Shot with PowerShot G7 X Mark II/Focal Length 36.8mm/ Shutter Priority (f/6.3 1/125)/ ISO 125/ WB: Manual)

The image above shows two Damselfish mating. These fish dart in and out quickly and erratically, so it’s better to focus on where they are laying eggs and wait for the right opportunity to shoot rather than chase them around.

Batfish being cleaned by cleaner wrasse

Batfish being cleaned by cleaner wrasse. (Shot with PowerShot G7 X Mark II/ Focal Length 36.8mm/ Manual (f6.3 1/125)/ ISO 125/ WB: Manual)

 

The batfish getting cleaned by cleaner wrasse is another interesting subject as the batfish will change colours to indicate to the wrasse it wants to be cleaned. This batfish was under a ledge, so it was relatively easy to isolate the subject in frame. However, being under a ledge means often there are suspended particles so the strobe was pointed to the side of the batfish to illuminate the fish, avoiding backscatter. 

Sometimes the natural skittishness of the animal life can present opportunities for shots.  For example, the Coral Trout likes to hide in the Staghorn coral and peer out at possible hunters. This presents a natural window frame look, especially with those wonderfully deep black eyes staring right into the camera lens.

Coral Trout

Coral Trout (Shot with PowerShot G1 X Mark II/ Focal 36.8mm/ Shutter Priority (f5.6 1/100) ISO 100/ WB: Manual)

The important thing is to pay attention, understand and study animal behaviour for some really interesting shots.

 

3. Find new ways to shoot the same things

One of the most common shots are of fish portraits where the entire fish or subject is shown. While proper lighting can bring out the brilliant colours, it does have that sense of “been there, seen that.” Looking for ways to shoot the same old subjects can breathe in a new breadth to your photography underwater.

Blue Ringed AngelfishFish portrait of a Blue Ringed Angelfish (Shot with PowerShot G1 X Mark II/ Focal Length 36.8mm/ Shutter Priority (f5.6 1/125)/ ISO 100/ WB: Manual)

 

Instead of capturing this wonderfully coloured Blue Ringed Angelfish entirely, think of how the light plays on the subject to accentuate those brilliant blues.

Blue Ring Angelfish

Blue Ring Angelfish (Shot with PowerShot G1 X Mark II/ Focal Length 36.8mm/ Shutter Priority (f5.6 1/160)/ ISO 100/ WB: Manual)

 

By zooming in to get a face shot profile, we see the face is bluer and the blue strips jump out more. Using a higher shutter speed in Manual (M) mode, also isolates the background even more. A different look of the same subject.

The same with this Staghorn coral shot. By using the same terrestrial photography principles, think of using shallow depth of field and zoom to give the coral a different look. This shot also used a nifty built-in feature on the PowerShot G7X Mark II and PowerShot G1X Mark II, the ND filter, to maintain shallow depth of field and low ISO settings on the camera.

Staghorn coral

Staghorn coral (Shot with PowerShot G1 X Mark II/ Focal Length 36.8mm/ Shutter Priority (f1.8 1/125)/ ISO 100/ WB: Manual) ND Filter On

 

4. Shapes and textures

The underwater world may seem very monochromatic and alien to us “land dwellers”, but it has some amazing things to see. From wonderfully coloured and patterned creatures to incredibly complex shapes of micro-organisms, it is full of life as we don’t usually see in our own world.
Processed Spiraling Montipora coral

The incredible spiraling Montipora coral (Shot with PowerShot G7 X Mark II/ Focal Length 8.8mm/ Shutter Priority (f6.3 1/125)/ ISO 125/ WB: Manual)

Sometimes it’s good to think two dimensional instead of three. Coral shapes come in all sorts and in 3D it can be difficult to capture their complexity.  The above image was taken from the top as a 2D image, just to appreciate the intricate spirals with the white rims of the Montipora coral. The fish in the top does spoil it somewhat but one hardly notices it with the spiral patterns so prominently featured and the drab colours make it duotone, further foregrounding the pattern.

So next time you are on a dive, look out for interesting shapes and patterns and try to find ways to photograph them!

 

5. Digital processing

If you want to get the best quality images, it is essential to shoot in RAW mode. RAW files are straight off the sensor and offer the best quality image from the camera. For instance, the PowerShot G7X Mark II and PowerShot G1X Mark II have 14bit RAW capture, which means a bit more color latitude and resolution than 12bit images.

RAW files also allow the user to set the white balance in post. JPEGs are 8bit and normally limited in how much latitude there is in an image in terms of shadows and highlights. RAW images allow the user to “salvage” an image that is slightly incorrectly exposed than using JPEG images, which usually have a “baked in” look.

RAW images aren’t popular and that is because they need to be processed by software, such as the Canon Digital Photo Professional, which allows the user to do many things to improve the image, like applying curves and even bring back some colour in monochromatic shots. In advanced digital photography, not only are camera skills essential, but post processing is also vital in creating great imagery.

Unprocessed Spiraling Montipora coral

The unprocessed image of the spiraling Montipora coral

Comparing this image with the processed version, the processed version has more detail and color to suit the picture’s idea.

Unprocessed Coral head

Unprocessed coral head picture using (Shot with PowerShot G7 X Mark II/ Focal Length 8.8mm/ Shutter Speed (f/8.0 1/50)/ ISO 125/ WB: Manual) Underwater mode but in RAW.

Processed coral head

Processed coral head

Looking at both images, you can see how much difference a little processing makes. It’s not too difficult to learn the software, but there is a learning process. With a little effort, your photographs will look even better.

So there it is, UW360’s five tips on how to advance your underwater photography with the Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark II and PowerShot G1 X Mark II. Both cameras are easy to use and have the ability to grow with the shooter’s abilities to expand to new accessories like external strobes, etc. The good thing is when you are ready to even grow further, the Canon DSLR range of cameras, with fisheye, macro and other specialty lenses will be ready for you. That will be a whole new level of enjoyment! Happy shooting!

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