Video: TG-6 Dry Land Focus Drills

In this video, we’re looking at focus drills that you can do on land with your camera in order to improve your skills so that you can have a better experience with your camera underwater. Today we’re using the Olympus Tough TG-6 compact camera.

The description of the drills is here: https://underwatermacro.blog/2020/04/11/dry-land-training-focus-skills/

UNDERWATER MACRO HOWTO Presents
“TG-6 Dry Land Focus Drills”
Starring Fred the Frogfish and Michael Smith
With TG-6 and a cast of thousands
Music: “osaka” by Birocratic (http://birocratic.lnk.to/allYL)
Filmed with:
Logitech C922
Olympus Tough TG-6
Various other pieces of hardware
No Frogfish were harmed in the filming of this production….

Dry Land Training: Focus Skills

Here at Underwater Macro Blog, we believe in practicing and drilling on the surface, surrounded by air.  It’s how you master your camera and setup without the added stress of having to breathe underwater, hunting for subjects, and eventually running out of gas.  If you can’t shoot macro on the surface, you definitely can’t shoot it on a dive.  Hence, I offer up drills to improve your focus.  I do these for any new camera and for any significant change in gear.

What You’ll Need.

For all of these drills, you will need a macro-capable camera and lens (or no lens if you’re using a compact camera) and a subject.  The subject doesn’t have to be anything fancy: little toys work fine.  Sometimes I use my tripod screw as a subject but I’ve also used replica nudies and even a toy Pikachu that I got out of a capsule station in Akihabara.  Designate a tiny piece of the subject that you want to be its “eyes”.  In underwater macro, this could be shrimp eyes or nudibranch rhinophores.  But for our drills, it’s just an arbitrary part of the subject that has to be in focus.

Setups: We’ll use 2 camera setups for this.  Normal shutter focus and back-button focus.

  • Shutter Focus: This is the usual behavior that you would expect from camera: you half-press the shutter button and the camera gets a focus lock until you either shoot the shot or release the shutter button.
  • Back-Button Focus or Focus Lock: For a TG4/5/6, when you want to focus, you half-press and hold the shutter button to get a focus then hit the “OK” button.  For something like my Lumix G9, you turn off “Shutter AF” and then set a button like the F1 button to be AF/AE lock button.  If you don’t know how to do this for your camera, hit up Google for: <camera name> (“back-button focus”|”focus lock”).

I also have a lot of information on back-button focus.

The Sticky Shutter

Purpose: For doing a focus-reframe with half-shutter focus.  This is necessary because on compact cameras you have a single focus point in the center of the picture that almost always is not how you want to compose the shot.

Set up: Shutter focus.

Process:

  1. Focus on a part of the subject by half-press on the shutter button.  Push the shutter halfway and get a good focus.
  2. Move the camera left and right to get the framing that you want.
  3. Move the camera slightly in and out to make sure that the focus is on the “eyes” of your subject
  4. finish the shutter press and take the shot.
  5. Repeat for at least 10 times or until you can regularly do it within 1 second.

Back-Button Sniping

Purpose: For learning how to get a quick focus lock and shoot.  This is important because as you move to back-button focus, you take a longer time to focus.  So we practice so that you can gain and lock focus faster and get that glorious shot.

Setup: Back-button focus

Process:

  1. Focus on an arbitrary distance subject or at least try to focus.  This is so that you start from scratch with any pre-set focus.
  2. Point your camera at the subject and find your subject in the viewfinder.
  3. Get a focus anywhere on the subject and lock your focus.
  4. Frame your shot.
  5. Move the camera in and out until the “eyes” are in focus.
  6. Snap the photo with the focus you picked.
  7. Without moving the focus, wait for 2 seconds (simulating strobe recycle time) and take a second shot.
  8. Repeat for at least 10 times or until you can regularly do the entire process within 3 seconds.

Why You Wanna Give Me The Runaround

Purpose: For repositioning your camera and lens from a different angle and readjusting your focus by moving the camera instead of getting a new focus.

Setup: Back-button focus.

Process: 

  1. Point your camera at the subject and find your subject in the viewfinder.
  2. Get a focus anywhere on the subject and lock your focus.
  3. Frame your shot.
  4. Move the camera in and out until the “eyes” are in focus.
  5. Snap the photo with the focus you picked.
  6. Without moving the focus, lift the camera and point it somewhere else.
  7. Wait 2 seconds, then move the camera to point it at the subject and find the subject in the viewfinder
  8. Repeat steps 3 to 9 for at least 10 times or until you can regularly do the entire process within 3 seconds.

Split Focus

Purpose: For learning how to get 2 points in focus by adjusting the pane of focus in a circle around the subject.

Setup: Back-button focus.

Process:

  1. Pick 2 locations on the camera to be a pair of “eyes”.
  2. Point your camera at the subject and find your subject in the viewfinder.
  3. Get a focus anywhere on the subject and lock your focus.
  4. Move the camera in and out until both of the “eyes” are in focus.
  5. Reframe your shot.
  6. Check that both “eyes” are in focus.  If not, repeat steps 4-6 until your photo is both framed and you have the correct focus.
  7. Snap the photo.
  8. Repeat steps 1 through 8 with different parts for “eyes” for at least 20 times.  This is a hard drill to get good at.

Not The Droids You’re Focusing On

Purpose:  For camera-shy subjects, moving subjects, or small subjects that you can’t just point the camera and and get a focus lock, you have to focus on a different object nearby (I usually use a rock) then point the camera at your subject and shoot.

Setup: Back-button focus.

Process:

  1. Focus on an arbitrary distance subject or at least try to focus.  This is so that you start from scratch with any pre-set focus.
  2. Focus on a second arbitrary subject the same distance away as your subject.
  3. Get a focus anywhere on the arbitrary subject and lock your focus.
  4. Point your camera at your real subject and find your subject in the viewfinder.
  5. Frame your shot.
  6. Move the camera in and out until the “eyes” are in focus.
  7. Snap the photo.
  8. Repeat steps 1 through 7 at least 10 times or until you can regularly do the entire process within 2 seconds.

The Answer Is Blowing In The Wind

Purpose:  For focusing on moving subjects like skeleton shrimp on a hydroid or nudies swaying in the current.  If you’re using shutter focus, by the time you shoot the camera the subject is already out of the frame.  So what you do is lock the focus and “ambush” the subject when they come back inside the frame.

Setup: Back-button focus.

Process:

  1. You’ll need a buddy to move an object for you.  Have them slowly move your subject to the left and out of frame, into the frame, and to the right and out of frame.  They just swing the subject in and out of the frame for as long as you practice.
  2. Focus on an arbitrary subject the same distance away as your subject.
  3. Get a focus anywhere on the arbitrary subject and lock your focus.
  4. Point your camera at the middle of the track that the subject is on.
  5. Try to determine if the subject is in focus in your shot.  If not, move the camera slightly forward and back until they are.  This might take some time.
  6. When the subject gets to the middle of the shot, quick-snap the shutter.
  7. Repeat steps 5 and 6 about 50 times then review your photos to see if any are in focus.  Don’t worry too much about focus, you’ll shoot a lot of bad shots but some of them will turn out.  But for some subjects, this is what you have to do to get a shot.

 

Take Your Game Up 50 Levels

Once you’ve mastered these drills, then you’re a competent land macro shooter with transferable skills for underwater macro.  There are a couple of steps that you can take to simulate the underwater environment.

  • Put your camera in its housing and repeat all the drills.  That way you can remember what the housing buttons do.
  • Perform the drills wearing diving gloves.  Some drills are harder when you lose manual dexterity.  My favorite is the half-press and focus lock on the TG4/5/6, it’s hard to do with gloves.
  • Add a supermacro converter to your dive housing and go through all the drills.  Supermacro converters magnify the subject and are way awesome but they also magnify your movements reduce your depth of focus.  This makes it harder overall to focus.

Gear Optimization

Always keep working on your gear and optimize it to take better pictures.

How to Optimize

After every dive, I ask myself a couple of questions:

  • What pieces of my gear did I have problems with?
    • Takes 2 hands to operate?
    • Have to adjust several times to get positioned?
    • Fell apart while I was swimming?
    • Was so annoying that I wasn’t shooting relaxed?
    • Increased my breathing (SAC) rate?
  • Is there anything that I didn’t use that I can safely get rid of?
  • What non-shooting tasks did I spend the most time on, and can I find a way to reduce this time?

There are 3 key things that I am always trying to optimize: Getting setup for my first shot of a subject, getting that first shot right, and getting faster repeat shots.

Time to First Shot

What I’m looking at here is the time that it takes to go from swimming and hunting to set up for a shot. And then the opposite: to go from shooting to hunting for more subjects.

My Techniques.

Learn to hunt. Hunting is the biggest non-shooting time that I have during a dive. Anything I can do to locate subjects more quickly vastly improves my shooting time.

Control your clips. Clipping and unclipping your camera takes time. Experiment with holding it by hand on a longer lanyard. Experiment with different positions of carrying. Experiment with different clip-on points (I use the right shoulder d-ring).

Torch. You’re usually hunting for subjects with a torch. When you find a subject, you have to transition to holding a camera. I normally use a simple torch with a bolt snap (dog clip) tied on the end of it. I do one of three things to switch to a camera: clip the torch to the camera on the lanyard, clip the torch to my right shoulder d-ring, or set the torch on the ground to mark the subject so that I can find it again.

Take a quick peek. Have a good look at the subject before you place your camera. This can tell you what the best shooting angle is. Positioning and repositioning yourself takes a lot of time, so try to get it right the first time.

Camera placement. I find that when I shoot supermacro I spend a lot of time trying to get the lens in the right place for the subject. Then adding a 45° viewfinder makes this even more difficult until you get used to it. There are several tricks to this. If you use manual focus or back button focus, set up the camera at the same focus distance. If you’re using autofocus, get the camera in position but further back, use autofocus to get an initial fix, find the subject, move into the subject, and refocus. You can also set focus lock and move the focus in closer if you want to. Memorize the area around the subject to use as landmarks so that if you see the landmark you know which way to move the lens.

First Shot Accuracy

By this, I mean that when you take the first shot it is exposed properly and in focus.

My Techniques

Remember your settings. When you set up your camera before a dive, use the same settings for exposure: aperture, shutter speed, ISO, strobe positioning, and strobe strength. If you’re using manual focus, get your first focus fix on a test object that is approximately the same distance away from the lens as your “typical” macro subject.

Take a test shot. As soon as you descend, take a test shot of a rock or something else to verify your exposure settings.

Use a viewfinder. For some housings, 45° viewfinders are worth their weight in gold. They allow you to see exactly where your focus is by angling the image upwards so that you can get closer to see your picture.

Turn on focus peaking. This setting gives you a zebra stripe in the viewfinder for areas of the picture that are in focus. This drastically increases your accuracy in placing the focus.

Stabilize your camera. By anchoring your hands and elbows, you can keep the camera from shaking.

Breath control. When you breathe out fully, there is a natural pause before you start to breathe in. Also there is a smaller pause at the top when you fully breathe in. These pauses are good for shooting photos and for shooting firearms. A more advanced version makes mini-pauses in the middle of the breath. Don’t hold your breath for longer than 5 seconds because it makes you shake.

Handle with trigger. A shutter trigger reduces the amount of camera shake and “wrist twist”when you take a photo. Both of these mess up your framing and your focus point.

Time to Repeat Shot

The last optimization is to reduce the amount of time between shots on the same subject.

My Techniques

Focus lock and manual adjustment. If you’re skilled at this, you can fire multiple shots very quickly when you’re on a subject. You can practice this on land before you get in the water.

Faster strobes or no strobes. Strobes use capacitors to hold electricity and discharge it quickly to make a flash. Filling up those capacitors takes time. Better strobes have a shorter recharge time. Better yet, try shooting without strobes and use a video light, handheld torch, light ring or natural light: they are faster techniques.

Handle with trigger. Triggers are fast when you want to repeat a shot.

See you underwater!!!

–Mike

Dry Land Training: Focus Distance

Finding your minimum and maximum focus distance is a critical skill in underwater macro.  This is because if you can’t focus, you can’t take pictures that you’ll like.  In supermacro, most of the the time you can’t even see your subject because the depth of focus is so thin.

I test for maximum and minimum focus distance every time I have a new camera, lens, or wet diopter.  I’ll even test combinations of these 3 to see what I like.

Given:

  • A well-lit room
  • One camera with lens
  • One housing with appropriate port
  • Series of wet diopters
  • A subject (can be a nudie replica or something as mundane as the screw on a tripod head)

Process:

  1. Mount camera and lens in housing with port.
  2. Find minimum focus distance first.
  3. Put the glass of the port up against the subject.
  4. Try to gain focus with the auto-focus–back-button or half-press on the shutter.
  5. When you have the closest focus point, measure the distance from the end of the port to the subject.
  6. Check for farthest focus point.
  7. Move the camera back from the subject while you are trying to gain focus.
  8. When you can’t focus anymore, go forward just a bit and get a focus.
  9. When you know the furthest focus point, measure the distance from the end of the port to the subject.

Tricks:

  • Put the camera in constant focus mode:
    • Panasonic: AFC
    • Canon: AI Servo
    • Nikon: AF-C (Continuous-servo AF)
  • Us manual focus to set the minimum and maximum focus distance.
  • Put the subject on a ruler so that you can easily measure the distances.
  • Try stacking wet diopters.  I sometimes use a Nauticam SMC-1 with a Saga +5.  Different diopter combinations have different focus ranges.
  • Once you have a focus lock, move the camera in and out to see how deep the focus is.  Try it with maximum and minimum aperture.

 

See you all underwater!!!

–Mike