Because we’re in Raja Ampat this week…
See You Underwater!!!
I spent the time to build a quick demo and howto on the undocumented focus lock and manual focus of the TG4 and TG5. Once you know how to do this and practice it so you can do it on a dive, it makes a world of difference in your photos.
See You Underwater!!!
I built a video tutorial for doing low-key macro photography using the Olympus Tough TG4 or TG5. It’s suprisingly easy to do when you see somebody else do it.
One huge warning: dive torches usually heat up and can burn out the bulb when you use them outside of the water. They need to be in the water to cool them down.
Feel free to play with the angle of the torch and distance from the torch to the subject. In general, the closer you are to the subject, the brighter it will be and the darker the background will be. You’ll also have to deal with shadows and transparency when you do low-key because you’re lighting from one direction.
A huge thanks to Pikachu for sitting still during the modeling session.
See You Underwater
I think this is a huge problem for most photographers and they don’t even know it… Yes, I had the same problem until I learned to turn off the light and embrace the darkness.
See You Underwater
The Olympus Tough TG4 and TG5 are two camera models that you’ll see a lot of around the macro dive sites. They’re relatively cheap and have an awesome macro mode.
Like most compact cameras, the TGs have a single large focus point in the center of the frame. It makes focusing a bit of a challenge sometimes. Here are some techniques to help you out.
This is a typical way that people work around the fixed focus point with a compact camera. It works like this:
So for something like a nudibranch’s rhinophores (their “horns” or “eyes” or “sensor stalks” or whatever you what to call them), you will always have problems getting them in focus with a compact camera because the area between the rhinophores is empty space. So focus on one rhinophore, hold the focus, reframe to put both rhinophores in focus and the subject in the frame, and snap the shot.
One problem with this technique is that when you change the framing you might move the camera in or out a little bit which changes your focus. So right before after I reframe, I do one split-second check that my focus didn’t move.
Both models of TG camera have a highly undocumented focus lock feature. The way you set it:
Going back to our nudibranch example. Focus on the flat spot between their rhinophores, lock focus, then usually you back off a tiny bit to put the rhinophores into focus.
Most compact cameras do not have manual focus. But the TG4/5 supports it, although strangely. You lock the focus just like described before. Then you can use the up and down arrows on the keypad to move the focus point forward and back. A shrewd reader will discover that they can use focus lock and the down arrow to move the focus as close to the front of the lens as possible and this lets you to take shots where tiny subjects fill the frame. You’re welcome.
See you underwater!!
Low-key photography is a well-lighted subject with a black background. After I learned how to do low-key photography, I spent a couple of months taking low-key photos of everything: people, Christmas ornaments, small toys, pets and food….
If you look at macro photos that win contests, you’ll see a large amount of low-key photos that are winners. Why? Because it takes a high level of mastery of light to do and it makes a very dramatic feelings in people. In other words, you get points both for technical merit and for emotional impact. And that’s what good photographs do.
So, you might ask, how do you get low-key photos? For starters, you have to be able to take a black picture. This is different between fully manual shooting on a mirrorless or DSLR and shooting on a compact camera, mirrorless in shutter-aperture select, or DSLR in shutter-aperture select.
This nudie taken with TG4 and handheld torch….
Some awesome things can help you take better pictures and experiment with low-key photography….
You can use the same concepts to take low-key portraits of your friends and family. You use a flash or a very bright studio light to light up the subject. Try one light from the side for shadows on the face and a bit more “edgy” look, or use 2 light sources to even out the portrait. You can even do this outdoors if you have strong enough light.
You can use your phone camera to take low-key images. By either using an exposure compensation function or touching the screen in the dark parts of the image to change the exposure. You can even use the torch function on a second phone to act as the light source, although most of the time I use a bicycle light.
I have a ScubaLamp MS30V3 which is an 1200 lumens torch with a snoot attached to it. This focuses the beam into a 5-degree circle. There are a handful of manufacturers that make similar gear.
The benefit of using a snoot torch is that it makes a very fine dot of light. This reduces the amount of light that spills out of the subject and lights up the surrounding environment. That way, only the thing that you want to be lit is lit.
Snoots also help to reduce backscatter because they don’t put the light in front of the subject.
With normal strobes without a snoot, it’s hard to do a low-key photo. This is because in most shots your strobes also light up the background.
However, you can still do it if you pick the right subject and composition. Look for isolated subjects on “shrubberies” where you can get the camera underneath them and shoot looking out into open water.
If you’re shooting like this, you can slow down your shutter speed to 1/125 or 1/150 and some of the light will reflect back off the water. This makes a blue background.
I took this nudie using a strobe….
Combining the last 2 techniques, you can use a snoot on your strobe. They’re a tube that only allows a small focused beam of light out of the front of the strobe. The more advanced ones have laser pointers so that you can position the snoot.
I have some friends that use an ingenious method for a remote snoot. They mount a normal strobe with a snoot on a triopod–usually a GorillaPod–with tape and a half-kg weight for stability. They cut a fibre optic strobe cable down to strip the plastic sheath off and lay the exposed fibre onto the ground next to the subject. That way, it makes a remote trigger for the strobe.
All this comes with a warning: snoot strobes are hard to use. Get some practice time in before you try it underwater.
See You Underwater!!!
As I talked about in my Why You Should Take Macro Pictures Underwater blog post, having a camera rigged for macro is the best way to find a whale shark/manta/mola mola/tiger shark/sea turtle/etc. Why? Because they can tell when you can’t take a picture of them and they just show up. It’s very unsporting of them to do this.
If you have a compact camera, the solution is easy: just flip it to wide-angle mode and take pictures. It might take 15 seconds, but you can do this. This is one huge advantage for the TG4/TG5 or a handful of other compact cameras. They can do macro and wide-angle without having to change lenses.
But on a mirrorless or DSLR, there are different lenses for each style of photography, and that requires that you know what kind of shooting you’ll be doing prior to each dive. You have to commit to macro or wide-angle for each dive. You *could* use something like the Nauticam World Wide Lens to convert a M67 flat port to a dome, but you still need a semi-wide lens.
So I cheat. I like to carry a small action camera with me that is rigged for wide-angle shooting. Even better if it can do video shooting. I’ve used a Paralenz and a GoPro Hero for this. Either one works well. For the Paralenz, when I’m diving the tropics, I stuff it into the left-hand sleeve of my rashguard so I can just pull it out and film. For the GoPro, I use a small handle and stuff it into a pocket.
I’ve thought about mounting action cameras between float arms using a small arm and 3-way ball joint but haven’t done it yet. That way, I just have to tip the big camera down and shoot. When I try it, I’ll let you know.
See You Underwater!!
You first 30 macro subjects are rather intimidating.
Stop and take a couple of breaths. Relax. Think, then act.
Mark the subject so that you can find it again if you drift away a bit. I’ll stick my Lembeh stick into the sandy bottom in good visibility or drop a lit torch about half a meter (or less) away in bad visibility. That way if I look down at my camera to fix a problem or have a hand conversation with somebody, I can go back to where the subject is.
Is it shy? Some subjects like gobies retreat into their home (or just leave the area) when you approach. They’re afraid that you’re going to eat them. With these animals, you have to go slow and steady when you move around them.
Does it hate white light? Shrimp and crabs are notorious for not liking white light. It hurts their eyes. With these creatures, you have to either use a red focus light or no focus light. White lights are straight out. This also means that it’s hard to get photos of them without a strobe.
What are its key features? Every animal has a set of features that really define what they are.
Which direction is the animal facing and moving? Most of the best shots are from the front of the creature. This isn’t always the deal, but understanding where the “face” is can be a good start at how you approach the photo shoot.
Is there another subject nearby? Sometimes, this happens: there is a better subject nearby. Or sometimes your subject is in a bad location to shoot (usually facing down or in a crack that you can’t stick a lens and strobes in) but there is another one of the same close by that is in a location where you can shoot.
Where is the current coming from? Ideally, you want to take pictures while you’re facing into the current to minimize sand in the shot. Sand is backscatter and that’s bad, mkay? Sadly, though, most subjects when you find them will be facing into the current, and this complicates life. So you have to stop and think about where you and your camera can be located in order to minimize the dirt in your shot.
Is the bottom safe to you and itself? Will you break off coral if you take this shot? Will you be rolling around on fire coral? Is there a scorpionfish sitting in the marl that will stick you with venom? More about safety here.
Add or remove your diopter. Match your diopter to the size of the subject. I use a flip holder, so it’s relatively trivial to flip in and out on shots. The one downsize is that I then have to change exposure settings, especially aperture, because the depth of field and amount of visible light change. Some people screw their diopters in and out, and if you’re one of those people, be sure to mark your subject before you do.
Adjust your strobes. If there isn’t enough room for you strobes on the bottom, then you’ll have to move them to the top of the lens like Mickey Mouse ears. Or use a completely different style. If you keep your strobes off while you hunt, turn them on now.
Get a focus lock. Lock your focus on the sand or coral nearby. Or use the focus gear on your housing to move the focus to the desired length away from the lens front. This will help you find the subject better. I’ll also make a test shot to wake up my camera and strobes if they went into sleep mode.
Go slow. Fast means making dust in the water and scaring the subject. Try to contain your excitement.
See You Underwater!!
Location: Tulamben, Bali, Indonesia
Dive Site: Kwanji (awesome place to get grilled tuna or jack during surface interval)
Depth: 18 Meters
I was a student in a workshop run by Irwin Ang and it was a pretty rough day. Being at the end of the dive season in late December, the waves at Tulamben were fairly high and made shore entries hard. We aborted at a dive site the next day. The surge was killing my stability to take focused shots without motion blur. I was overweighted by 3kg just to keep from getting pushed around as much by the surge. That also made water entry even more worse with the big waves: it’s hard to keep your head above the surface when you’re packing 8kg of ballast and no exposure suit.
When the start of the dive is hard, it’s almost impossible to get into the right mindset to go hunting. Sometimes you can’t find anything because all the creatures are on strike or asleep. Or it could be that you forgot how to see and you need to just take pictures of anything so your eyes work again. So I started looking for abstracts to take pictures of.
If you’ve never been to Tulamben, it’s the land of black sand… all volcanic rock. After every dive, you dig it out of your dive clothes. It’s awesome for low-key (black background) images. And it’s easy to see white things on.
I found this tiny white tubeworm, a white thing on the black sand. It was at the most 3mm across. This takes a supermacro setup and even with the macro mode on the TG4 I barely had enough magnification to see the subject. So I zoomed in and used focus lock and manual focus to as close to the lens as I could get.
Lighting was hard–at anything below 12m or so there isn’t enough ambient light. I had been hand-holding a torch with my left hand alongside the camera. But the more you zoom (ie, the closer you get to supermacro), the more light you need. A single torch just wasn’t bright enough.
I almost always carry an extra torch in my right thigh pocket. So I pulled it out, turned it on, and set it on the ground about 1.5cm to the right of and slightly in front of the tubeworm. Then I put my other torch similarly on the left side. This made a “miniature portable underwater macro portrait lighting studio”. Just like your glamor shots only different. =)
I did bump the ground once and the tubeworm disappeared for a couple of minutes when it felt the vibration. Working close with tubeworms, you sometimes have to back off a bit, let it relax and come back out. They can feel vibration and they can feel moving water. The trick with a tubeworm on the bottom is to remember where they are because otherwise you’re back to searching on the sandy bottom.
Lighting. Carry extra. In the tropics, I usually wear neoprene tech diving shorts with thigh pockets and have one or two more torches clipped off in my right pocket. This allows me to mark good subjects for friends and add more light when I need it.
The ground can sometimes give you a third, fourth, and fifth hand. Feel free to set a torch down to provide side lighting or even backlighting. Add colored lights if you feel like it.
When you can’t find a normal subject like nudies or shrimp, look around at coral, tubeworms, etc. Find patterns and abstracts. Sometimes it’s that your brain isn’t in the right mood to look for tiny things and taking pictures gets it working right.
Take a minute to watch the subject and go slow when you set up for a shot. Some subjects don’t like shadows, the wake of a diver, white light, or vibrations. Almost always go slow and then 150% slower than that.