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Duxy’s Underwater Photography Blog: Available Light, Part 3



Well we are now hopefully aware that to take good available light shots, we need to get close to our subjects, and if they are larger than a typical fish ID pic then we probably need to think about using a wider than normal lens, as explained in the first part of our series here.

And then we need to address the issue of getting blue pictures when what we would like is bright colourful pictures showing the whole range of the spectrum, and this we looked at in part two.

What happens when things don’t work out?

And more importantly, how do we learn to figure what makes a good situation for using available light, or when we still want to shoot with available light but our colours aren’t as good as we would like, despite our best efforts at white balancing?

In an ideal world, all of our available light shots would be taken around half ten in the morning, with the sun behind us, camera pointing very slightly downwards, in about 8 metres of water.

This is an unrealistic expectation though. And of course we can’t possibly guarantee this. It’s helpful to know that Custom White Balance doesn’t always produce the goods.

Folk often get flushed with the success of their early attempts at Custom White Balance, but after the honeymoon period has worn off, they can often become jaded with their results as time passes.

This is for a number of reasons I have found.

First and foremost they have unrealistic expectations of what custom white balance is capable of doing. And this coincides with them becoming more critical underwater photographers as they gain more experience.

To solve the first problem they need to draw on their new found skills and adapt how they shoot available light.

A very common problem is shooting towards the light rather than away from it, and this tends to cause over exposure with an automatic camera, as it tries to expose for the subject occupying the majority of the frame. This then results in the background – either the sand or the surface – taking on a horrible magenta or pink hue.

This is because the colour correction that the custom white balance is introducing is only accurate for the correctly exposed foreground. The background goes like this, as both a combination of overexposure, and also that the surface is shallower requiring less aggressive colour correction. There’s nothing wrong with your camera; it’s just physics working against you.

When it all goes horribly wrong!

If you overly rely on Custom White Balance to sort out your colour problems, you will inevitably end up with shots like this one above. Poor exposure balance and the overexposed background with the sun shining towards you will be marred with a horrible colour cast. This is not a fault of your camera. The camera is only trying to do what you are asking, but it’s the circumstances that are less than ideal.

So, how do you manage this? Well first try where possible to compose and shoot with the sun behind you. And try and shoot slightly downwards using this technique too.

There’s nothing wrong with shooting into the sun – in fact it’s great for silhouettes and dramatic sunbeam pictures that are strobe lit, just not for available light. You just have to teach yourself when it is and isn’t going to work.


If you are shooting into the sun, then silhouettes are a good example where you have to be very careful when custom white balancing. This shot of a lionfish was taken on a point and shoot Canon camera nearly 8 years ago. I locked my exposure using a half press of the shutter release, whilst pointing at the brightest area, and based my white balance reading not on my hand or the subject, but on the surface water itself. Helping prevent those awful white balance issues shown above.

Another problem with Custom White Balance is that we forget to change it when we change depth, and this becomes more apparent in the shallows, nearer the surface; and our shot is spoiled by the amount of correction applied say at 10m being much too much when we ascend to 5m. So you must remember to get familiar with the procedure and take new readings as you change depth.

Depth Perception

Depth Perception is a common fault when using Custom White Balance, as is forgetting to regularly change your White Balance settings as you change depth. If I didn’t have to already tell you, the shot on the top (above) is the result of taking a picture without white balancing after shooting previously at a greater depth. The shot at the bottom is the same view, but correctly white balanced.

To solve the second most common issue with available light shooting, we also need to draw on our prior experiences.

As we become more capable photographers, starting to get lovely colourful pictures in bright conditions, we need to understand that the camera will lull us into a false sense of security, and the success we see at the shallower depths, i.e. from the surface to around 12m, isn’t as well replicated as we get deeper.

This is because although custom white balance, at least with some camera brands (particularly the Canons) seems to do a remarkable job at ridding us of the blues, it really can’t work magic; and as we get deeper, the colour and amount of light diminishes.

So along with the colours not being as great, what can happen when we go deeper, especially if we are using a fully automatic camera, is that we start to see blur – and camera shake appears.

Who turned out the lights?

Why? Well our eyes and brains are very good at adapting to the steadily diminishing light, and even though it may only look a little darker to us when we go from 10 to 20m, the camera is starting to struggle as the light is much less than we are experiencing.

The trick is to keep an eye on what the camera is telling you; even the most automatic cameras will show you what shutter speed that they are picking, and more importantly, if you are straying into the danger zone, i.e. the shutter speed is too slow to easily hand hold the camera, or that there may be a risk of camera shake or subject movement.
Usually this is a red warning light or a symbol of a shaky hand, or the data or the shutter speed will be highlighted in a warning red colour.

Check in close detail

When we look at the small image on the back of our camera’s screen, at first glance (top pic) everything may seem OK at this small size. However it’s worth zooming into your shot to see if it’s spoilt by camera shake as it clearly is above (bottom pic).  Sometimes things may seem bright to us, but they really aren’t as you can see if you zoom into the same shot and see the telltale blurring of camera shake. So don’t assume everything is fine until you look closer.

This can be helped by increasing the ISO settings on our cameras which will force the camera to pick faster shutter speeds and also help reduce the blur in our subjects.

There is a side effect to increasing the ISO though and that’s more grainy or noisy pictures, which looks like this:

Shooting in lower light

Same scene as before, but this time to rid myself of the camera shake I’ve chosen a very high ISO to force the camera into picking a faster shutter speed, thus eliminating the camera shake. Unfortunately though we’ve introduced another problem. And that’s digital noise, which is exacerbated by high ISO’s and low light, and renders the picture virtually unusable as you can see from the enlarged section in the bottom half above.

OK, to be fair I’ve used extremes at either end of the range here to highlight the issues, but once you learn exactly how much, and no more, to raise the ISO’s to give you workable shutter speeds in lots of different scenarios, you are halfway to being able to really get to grips and control your camera in a wide variety of circumstances when available light is your choice (or sometimes only option).

To summarise, try and take your available light Custom white Balanced shots in good light and preferably with the sun behind you. And also be aware that although the camera will let you shoot at lower light levels, the results when you get them back on your computer may be spoilt by camera shake and subject movement, so increase the ISO or take your shot shallower if possible.

So in part 4, I will be looking at other ways to colour correct your pictures, and options you may have but not realise, along with examples of what to do when you can’t colour correct things properly.

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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)



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!

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An update from Bunaken Oasis Dive Resort…



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?


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.

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 or contact

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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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

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