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Capturing Both the Underwater and Terrestrial Worlds in a Single Shot

Over-under shots are intriguing because you can see what lies under the water and above it at the same time. Here’s how this particular seaside shot was captured. (Reported by: Minefuyu Yamashita, Digital Camera Magazine)

Over-under shot with fish and coral

EF8-15mm f/4L Fisheye USM/ FL: 11mm (18mm equivalent)/ Manual exposure (f/6.3, 1/1,600 sec)/ ISO 400/ WB: Daylight
Extra equipment: Underwater camera housing

Two different worlds unfold with the water surface as the boundary line. I tried to capture this intriguing scene in a single landscape shot with the camera half submerged in the waters of Miyakojima, an Okinawan island known for its coral reefs and beaches. The fish swimming in front of the camera are Whitetail dascyllus.


How I achieved the shot

Behind-the-scenes illustration of shooting situation

(To see more details on each step, click on the links or simply scroll down)

Step 1: Look for a subject in a bright sandy area in shallow water
Step 2: Frame the shot for the best effect
Step 3: Use the manual exposure mode

Must-have equipment: Underwater camera housing
Over-under shots require half the camera to be submerged in water and the other half above water. A good, reliable camera housing is a must-have. (Find out about how to maintain it in: 3 Important Points to Care For Your Underwater Photography Equipment)


Step 1: Look for a subject in a bright sandy area in shallow water

Find a bright sandy area in the shallow water, and look for your subject there. This is to reduce the contrast in brightness between the sky and the water in the upper half and the lower half of the composition respectively. 

Next, submerge about half the lens in water, look through the viewfinder, and adjust the final composition while paying attention to the background.


Step 2: Frame the shot for the best effect

Here is what I did for this image: 

 - Move sufficiently close to the corals to emphasise the perspective between them and the background. Tip: To do so, you must make sure that the corals are close to the sea surface. Check the tides and choose a time when the water level is moderately low.

- Frame the shot so that the clouds takeup a large part of the composition. This not only emphasises the height of the sky, but also forms an interesting contrast with the corals. 

Wait for fish to approach the water surface line. The boundary line of the water surface located almost at the centre of the image helps to establish a relationship between the two worlds in the upper half and the lower half of the composition. If you want to draw attention to any subjects, put them near this line. 


Step 3: Use the manual exposure mode to prevent any unintended changes in the exposure by the camera

Manual exposure mode: 
In an automatic or semi-automatic mode, momentary movements on the water surface can cause the camera-determined exposure settings to fluctuate. To ensure that the exposure stayed the same, I used M mode.

Aperture: f/6.3
To draw more attention to the subjects in the foreground, I selected f/6.3 to blur the background slightly.

Focus and shutter release
Next, I set the focus on the corals right in front of me, and monitored the movement of the fish for a suitable timing to release the shutter.

No flash
Here, I did not use a flash as I wanted to take advantage of the slightly sharp shadows to enhance the colour tones of the coral, which would add a unique touch.


Know this: An external flash will help you to capture vivid colours when shooting deeper under the sea

Check out this article for some tips on how to do so. You can even fire your flash while using a slow shutter speed to photograph swimming fish with motion blur.


New to underwater photography? Here are some articles to help you prepare:
10 Tips to Get You Started in Underwater Photography
5 Crucial Camera Settings to Ensure Sharp Underwater Photos

When photographing underwater animals, it is important to respect your subject and its surroundings. Find out how to do so in:
4 Important Things to Remember When Photographing Underwater

Tempted to go out to shoot? Here are the Top 5 Places in Asia to Shoot UnderwaterRemember to share your best shots with us on My Canon Story!


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Digital Camera Magazine

Digital Camera Magazine

A monthly magazine that believes that enjoyment of photography will increase the more one learns about camera functions. It delivers news on the latest cameras and features and regularly introduces various photography techniques.
Published by Impress Corporation

Minefuyu Yamashita

Minefuyu Yamashita

Born in 1979 in Aichi. After gaining experience in jobs such as interior and graphic designing, Yamashita became an independent photographer in 2011. His works have been used in many calendars.