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Underwater Photography Essentials: Part 2

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Tips, ideas and advice for budding underwater photographers

by Nick Robertson-Brown FRPS

Part 2: Getting to grips with your camera settings – Shutter Speed

Fig 01.7

On a digital SLR, the shutter is a mechanical device that blocks the light to the sensor of the camera, but can be opened to allow light onto the sensor when the release button is pressed. Whilst Micro 4/3 and compact cameras may not have a mechanical device for controlling the amount of light that hits the sensor, the action of the shutter is mimicked electronically. Whether it be mechanical or electronic, the speed of the shutter is the second item of the light triangle and the higher the shutter speed, the less time there is for light to get through to the sensor. As stated in part one, the aperture restricts the amount of light entering the camera too, but as discussed, the more light we allow through the aperture, then the smaller the depth of field will be. This leaves us with a trade-off in how we allow the light onto the sensor. If you are photographing moving objects, such as fish, the shutter speed becomes the dominant factor in deciding the level of light. If your shutter speed is not fast enough moving objects may look blurred and out of focus. This is called motion blur and you can use it to great effect if you get it right, as it will give the impression of speed and motion as it moves through the water.

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Working within a range of shutter speeds, with and without strobes, in order to freeze fast the moving action and make it pin sharp, use settings of 1/125 to 1/250 (or higher if your camera will synch with the strobes). But remember, as the shutter will not be open for long, not much light will make it onto the sensor. For slow moving subjects, or to achieve some motion blur, work with 1/40 to 1/125 and you will also get more light on your image.

For the cameras that do not have a mechanical shutter, the light is allowed through to the sensor all the time it is switched on. It is, however, only when the release button is pressed that the pixels in the sensor, which are already charged with light, start reading it and then pass the digital image through to the sensor. It is this moment that is recorded by the camera and the balance between the shutter speed and the f-stop will determine how your image looks.

smileblennyThe shutter speed is also important for defining the background colour of the water, particularly if you are using flash or strobe. In this instance, the flash will freeze the action close to the camera, but as light will only travel a few metres underwater, the light from the background will be presented at the sensor according to the aperture or the shutter speed. This will be covered in greater depth when we get to the part of this series on artificial light, but put simply, the aperture should be set to expose for the subject when the flash fires and the shutter speed can be adjusted, within a small range, so that the background will lighten as you increase the time the shutter is open. Conversely, as you close the shutter, the background colour will become darker. This interplay of aperture and shutter speed will give a light value that will vary in a similar way to how it does in air. It is when you introduce artificial light that the options become greater.

For a black background shot, start out with settings similar to f8 (or above), 1/200, ISO 100 and a low strobe power setting and then make changes in the shutter speed and watch the background colour change.

The shutter speed settings on the camera are not merely random numbers that the manufacturer has come up with. When changing the aperture, the f-stop scale is a mathematical constant. Each stop doubles or halves the amount of light getting through to the sensor. The shutter speed is also scaled in this way; each stop (or setting) will double or halve the amount of light getting through to the sensor. This means that if you wish to maintain the same exposure value on your image, if you open the aperture by one stop, you must double the speed of the shutter by one stop.

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Nick bookDo you want to learn more? You can pick up a copy of Nick’s book “Underwater Photography Art & Techniques” by clicking here.

Underwater Photography Courses

Contact Nick for information on the Frogfish Photography Complete Underwater Photography Award, designed for 1:1 and small group sessions to improve your underwater photography at your pace.underwater photography

                    www.frogfishphotography.com | frogfishphotos@gmail.com  | +44 (0)161 9177101

Nick and Caroline (Frogfish Photography) are a married couple of conservation driven underwater photo-journalists and authors. Both have honours degrees from Manchester University, in Environmental Biology and Biology respectively, with Nick being a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society, a former high school science teacher with a DipEd in Teaching Studies. Caroline has an MSc in Animal Behaviour specializing in Caribbean Ecology. They are multiple award-winning photographers and along with 4 published books, feature regularly in the diving, wildlife and international press They are the Underwater Photography and Deputy Editors at Scubaverse and Dive Travel Adventures. Winners of the Caribbean Tourism Organization Photo-journalist of the Year for a feature on Shark Diving in The Bahamas, and they have been placed in every year they have entered. Nick and Caroline regularly use their free time to visit schools, both in the UK and on their travels, to discuss the important issues of marine conservation, sharks and plastic pollution. They are ambassadors for Sharks4Kids and founders of SeaStraw. They are Dive Ambassadors for The Islands of The Bahamas and are supported by Mares, Paralenz, Nauticam and Olympus. To find out more visit www.frogfishphotography.com

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Scubaverse UWP Winners Gallery: Christian Horras

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Each month we give the winner of the Scubaverse Underwater Photography competition the opportunity to show off a little more of their work in a gallery. The March winner was Christian Horras and you can see their winning image at the top of this page.


What do you love about diving & underwater photography?

For me it is all about showing the beauty of our world underwater to people that don’t dive and thus can’t see it for themselves. I want to share my own passion for the amazing ecosystem that is so much older than everything we know living on land. As I am from Germany, there are only a few people in my surroundings that have ever seen a coral reef or a shark with their own eyes. It is a big privilege to be able to go diving all over the world and in return it should be our task to arise awareness of this fragile and endangered ecosystem.

What equipment do you use?

I use a Nikon D810 in a Isotta Housing and various lenses, depending on the subject: a Sigma 15mm F2.8 Fisheye, a Nikon 16-35 mm F4 and two Nikon Macro lenses (60mm and 105mm), as well as a WeeFine +13 Diopter. The Fisheye is my main lens, as it allows me to get really close and still cover a big field of view. For lighting I use two Retra Pro Strobes and a Retra Snoot.

Where can our readers see more of your work?

Website: www.christianhorras.com
Instagram: www.instagram.com/christian.horras/


To enter the latest Scubaverse Underwater Photography competition, with a chance to win some great prizes as well as have your own gallery published, head over to the competition page and upload up to 3 images.

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Emperor Divers reaches halfway in Covid Diver Heroes Initiative with fourth award

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Emperor Divers have reached the halfway point with their #coviddiverheroes initiative and are still receiving worthy nominations every day! Here, they recognise their 4th winner, another awesome hero from the diving community with an inspirational story of selflessness through the pandemic. Nominated by David White, Phuong Cao wins a free liveaboard trip in the Maldives when she can finally take some time off, and here is her story:

I, David White, would like to nominate Phuong Cao (36) for her tireless efforts fighting this pandemic. Not satisfied with being a frontline hospitalist in New York she took a second job on the COVID team in Guam to treat patients under even tougher conditions on her weeks off! She continues to commute 7750 miles each way and apply herself to both jobs for three months already and counting. Her energy level has no limits and she’s only happy when those in her care are on the mend. I think she definitely deserves a break! I guess the Maldives would be the best choice for her as I know she has dived with you in the Red Sea already.

Phuong Cao

We have been in touch with Phuong who had this to say: “Wow what a surprise! Thank you for the recognition. Holding my breath until I get back underwater!”

The halfway point is a good chance to remind people that the initiative is still running and the Emperor Divers team would love to hear about more heroes, as there are four more to award in the next 2 months!

Do you know a diver who has been heroic this past year? Emperor know that, worldwide, people have had to step up during this pandemic which has affected so many lives. They want to reward some real heroes with free liveaboard trips in the Red Sea or Maldives.

Luke Atkinson, Emperor’s Red Sea Manager, said: “This initiative is our way of saying ‘thank you’ to all those hundreds of people who have taken a selfless interest in looking after the vulnerable in their community. Examples could include healthworkers, carers or those who have come out of retirement to volunteer locally, but really we know there are many other ways people have been heroic.“

Emperor want to hear from people who know a heroic diver who would love to have a free liveaboard trip to look forward to in the future. People need to nominate a Covid Hero Diver and tell Emperor (in 100 – 200 words) why they deserve a free trip, and whether they would prefer the Red Sea or the Maldives. A multinational panel of Emperor’s most loyal and compassionate staff will judge the entries and pick a winner every 2 weeks for the next 2 months. There are two remaining Red Sea and two more Maldives liveaboards to be earned, so get nominating and give that hero a reward for their amazing work!

Winners will be announced by 14th (Maldives) and 28th (Red Sea) of each month. Final entries for Red Sea by 20th May ‘21 and Maldives 5th June ’21.

Entries, comments and questions should be sent to heroes@emperordivers.com.

Terms & Conditions apply: Please contact heroes@emperordivers.com for details.

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