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Duxy’s Underwater Photography Blog: Available Light, Part 2

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Why so blue?

In part one of our series on Available Light, I looked at why wide angle lenses are such a deal breaker when trying to get great available light in underwater pictures.

Wide angle lenses are only part of the solution though, and a two pronged assault on the flat, blue problem pictures is what is needed.

We’ve established how you need to get much closer to your subject hence the wide angle lens, but we also need to address the lack of colour that will blight a lot of underwater shots.

We see a multicoloured vibrant reef, resplendent with hard and soft corals, populated by a variety of fish in a myriad of hues. Yet why do our pictures end up as just fifty shades of blue?

Our perception of what we are seeing is one of the main issues in available light underwater photography. So using Custom White Balance allows us to take back control of the situation.

What’s going on?

It helps if we understand a little of what is happening. As we descend the colours are filtered out progressively more as we leave the surface, with the reds and oranges disappearing first followed by the yellows then greens as we approach the relatively modest depths of 15 to 20 metres.

In our minds eyes though, especially nearer to the surface, we “experience” these colours because our brains are tricking us a little. Our cameras though see things as they really are, which is why folk are often disappointed with their first foray into underwater photography.

Pre-digital cameras, we had little alternative than to use strobes or flashguns to replace the colours in our shots.

With the advent of digital though came a new option to control the colour temperature in our pictures, and for each and every shot if we wished.

This opened the door to a whole load of exciting new possibilities for us underwater photographers, and this was called Custom or Manual White Balance.

Setting the right balance

Most digital cameras these days have an option to control the colours of their end results. This is accessed using the menu controls, and is normally a bunch of symbols under the heading of white balance. It’s very difficult to be specific here, as each brand, and even individual models of camera, are often different in this respect. If you’re not sure with your camera, or are thinking of buying a suitable camera once again, get in touch at duxy@scubatravel.com and I will advise you on the current choices.

With beginners this is the single most popular thing I start folk off with on our photo workshops.

When you find the White Balance menu on your particular camera you need to find the symbol in the middle. After accessing it your camera will tell you what to do onscreen. I can’t be more specific because it differs widely from camera to camera.

It’s usually the turning point when they realise that they are able to get great colourful underwater pictures. Here’s a selection of white balanced photos and videos that I shot with compact cameras from across the years:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_V9UUQTSDpk

OK, hopefully that’s shown you that this is a valid technique for putting some colours back in your pictures.

How to do this is the big question though.

As I mentioned, most cameras are very specific with their means to correctly White Balance, but generally speaking the procedure requires you to show the camera a reference “white”. This can actually be a neutral mid grey tone too – a slate is one solution.

Or I tend to just use my hand (see below). You don’t need to fill the whole frame with your hand; better still to hold it at around the distance your foreground interest will be.

This is the usual distance and size in the frame of my hand when taking a white balance reading. I try and replicate the angle and depth at which I am shooting as accurately as possible too.

Follow and read your instruction book

And then you nearly always follow some onscreen instructions to take the reading.

What is clever here is that the camera will try and bring back the neutral mid grey or white back to what it should be, and hopefully then any colour cast, i.e. the blue of the water, will stop affecting the colours in your shots.

As you go deeper you need to take further readings, as the depth that you are at effects the white balance quite markedly.

Distance from subject is also an issue, so it helps to factor in this when you take the reading.

OK – if you follow this procedure in an ideal world and with the conditions in your favour, you’ll get great colourful pictures. Unfortunately we don’t live in a perfect world, and Custom White Balance doesn’t always provide such a simple solution.
So in the next instalment of this four part series we’ll look at some of the pitfalls to Custom White Balance, and in what circumstances it works best, and more importantly what circumstances it doesn’t work too well with.

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Scuba Travel new logoDuxy is the in house photo-pro for UK-based dive tour operator Scuba Travel. To find out about availability on Scuba Travel’s underwater photography workshops hosted by Duxy click here.

Duxy has worked for nearly 20yrs in the dive industry, starting at the pointy end of dive tourism in Sharm as a guide and videographer, transitioning into a fixture back home in the U.K. helping and advising on all things underwater photographic, and as a popular speaker at shows and dive clubs delivering talks. He now works as the in house photo-pro for ScubaTravel and has conducted nearly 40 overseas workshops for them, helping all flavours of underwater photographer with everything from GoPro's to DSLR's to improve their shots. He speaks fluent Geek but his motto is that what really counts at the end of the day is 'pictures not pixels'.

Marine Life & Conservation

The IMPERFECT Conservationist, Episode #3: Your Car But Less Impact – In 10 Seconds! (*and you DON’T have to ride your bike everywhere!) (Watch Video)

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In this video you will learn how to have less impact with your car with this 10 second swap. If buying a new electric car or riding your bike everywhere isn’t a sustainable option for you – do this easy – money saving – and impactful swap instead! This is “The IMPERFECT Conservationist”, Episode #3!

In each video you will get your dose of “Conservation Empowerment” with a bite-sized way you can easily infuse conservation into YOUR busy day-to-day life. We can’t do it all, or do it perfectly but when it comes to being part of the solution, we can always do something! You’ve totally got this ; ) Be inspired, inspire others, do something good. Don’t forget to hit that subscribe button, and the bell so you know when my new videos post! More on my website and social channels too.

Subscribe HERE for weekly episodes of The Imperfect Conservationist!


Find out more at www.mehganheaneygrier.com

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News

An update from Bunaken Oasis Dive Resort…

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The team from ‘Indonesia’s Leading Dive Resort’ let us know what they’ve been doing during lockdown:

On Friday March 20th 2020, we waved goodbye to the last guests to leave us before Covid-related travel restrictions were introduced the following day. We suspected that global tourism would be effectively shut down for the rest of that year, but here we are over twelve months later, with no certainty as to when we can welcome our first international clients back to Bunaken.

We have not, however, been idle.

Our primary concern was for our staff. Having over 80 staff on contract, together with no revenue, gave us a dilemma. We immediately told all our employees that no one would be losing their job. To achieve this, we put everyone except senior managers on 50% salary in return for their working 50% of their contracted days. But with no guests and 40 employees present at any one time, how would they fill their days?

Easily.

Having been voted ‘Indonesia’s Leading Dive Resort’ by the World Travel Awards for the last three years, we knew we couldn’t simply close our doors and wait for the world to return to normal. We’re a jungle-based, coastal resort, and what we know for sure is that sea air and jungle encroachment (however good it smells and pretty it looks!) are no friends of ours. For the last year there’s been constant activity: painting, deep-cleaning, polishing, trimming, pruning, overhauling, servicing – so that when we’re ready to open, every aspect of the resort is in first-class condition

In addition to maintenance and refurbishment work, and with our new General Managers Ed Regeer and Shu Ming Chueng leading the way, we embarked on a comprehensive schedule of projects to improve and upgrade the infrastructure of the resort: re-roofing cottages, rebuilding walkways and bridges, reinforcing the jetty, refurbishing our dive boats, enlarging our organic garden, and rebuilding perimeter fencing.

Ed & Shu

As well as improving the resort and keeping our staff employed, this has also provided benefits to the local economy; we regularly employ additional craftsmen on a week-by-week basis, and nearly all raw materials are bought in Bunaken or nearby Manado.

But there are other ways that the resort has continued to support the island and the local community: because we make our own fresh water (the only fresh water on Bunaken), we supply it to the local villagers, and we also provide electricity and fresh water to the nearby Balai ranger station. We have devoted labour and materials to assist the repair and ongoing maintenance of the main arterial road (albeit it’s a motorcycle path, as there aren’t any cars on Bunaken!) that links the three major villages on the island, and we have expanded our mangrove planting programme.

We also continue to provide emergency medical evacuation to the mainland for anyone who needs it, and our Emergency First Responders are occasionally called upon to administer first aid to islanders who have been involved in motorcycle accidents in the vicinity of the resort.

Finally, and like any other diving resort anywhere in the world, we are fighting a continuous battle against the garbage which so thoughtlessly ends up in the ocean, and which then sometimes washes up on our doorstep. As well as cleaning up our own beach and mangroves, we assist other resorts in cleaning up theirs, and we contribute regularly to the brilliant efforts of Trash Heroes Bunaken.

Trash Heroes Bunaken

While we may not have had any guests for the last year, we’ve certainly been extremely busy, and this means that Bunaken Oasis Dive Resort will be in fantastic shape to welcome new and returning guests as soon as restrictions are lifted, and international travel begins to return to something like normal.

We’re operating an extremely flexible reservations scheme, with currently only 10%deposit. For more information, please visit www.bunakenoasis.com or contact info@bunakenoasis.com.

On behalf of the owners and managers of Bunaken Oasis, we’d like to say a huge thank you to those guests who had booked with us but have had to rearrange their holiday plans because of the pandemic. Given the ongoing uncertainty, we’re happy to reschedule your dates as needed, and we look forward to offering you the warmest Bunaken welcome just as soon as we’re able to!

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Competitions

Explore the amazing triangle of Red Sea Reefs - The Brothers, Daedalus and Elphinstone on board the brand new liveaboard Big Blue.  With an option to add on a week at Roots Red Sea before or after. 

Strong currents and deep blue water are the catalysts that bring the pelagic species flocking to these reefs. The reefs themselves provide exquisite homes for a multitude of marine life.  The wafting soft corals are adorned with thousands of colourful fish. The gorgonian fans and hard corals provide magnificent back drops, all being patrolled by the reef’s predatory species.

£1475 per person based on double occupancy.  Soft all inclusive board basis, buffet meals with snacks, tea and coffee always available.  Add a week on at Roots Red Sea Resort before or after the liveaboard for just £725pp.  Flights and transfers are included.  See our brochure linked above for the full itinerary.

This trip will be hosted by The Scuba Place.  Come Dive with Us!

Call 020 3515 9955 or email john@thescubaplace.co.uk

www.thescubaplace.co.uk

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