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….

Video: Housing O-Rings

Today we’re talking about underwater photography housing O-Rings and seals: some general information and how to maintain and clean them.

Timeline:
0:08: Intro and my TG4/PT-056 dorkitude and related flooding episode
2:14: Cleaning and maintenance kit
5:12: Working on the TG4/PT-056 housing and general maintenance
16:55: TG5/Nauticam NA-TG5 housing
18:47: Lumix G9/Nauticam NA-G9 housing
24:40: Sea and Sea YS-D2 strobe

UNDERWATER MACRO HOWTO Presents
“Housing O-Rings”
Starring Michael Smith
With G9, TG5, TG4, YS-D2, and a cast of thousands
Music: “Layback” by Birocratic (http://birocratic.lnk.to/allYL)
Filmed with:
Logitech C922
Nauticam NA-G9
Nauticam NA-TG5
Olympus PT-056
Sea and Sea YS-D2
The Magical Nauticam O-Ring Tool
Various other pieces of hardware
No Nudies were harmed in the filming of this production….

Video: *Triggered*

Today we’re talking about putting handles and triggers on underwater photography housings. I do this because for compact camera housings with a shutter button on the top front, you sometimes lose focus and framing when you shoot.

 

UNDERWATER MACRO HOWTO Presents
“*Triggered*”
Starring Michael Smith
With G9 and a cast of thousands
Music: “Slipout” by Birocratic (http://birocratic.lnk.to/allYL)
Filmed with:
Logitech C922
Nauticam NA-G9
Nauticam NA-TG5
Olymput PT-056
Various other pieces of hardware
No Nudies 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.

Underwater Strobes

Let’s start with a simple fact: you can’t take photos without light. I know, this isn’t a huge surprise for most people. But this has a lot of implication for underwater macro photography. What light you have is usually weak and it’s a funny blue-green color. There are just a handful of ways to counter this: shallow dives with an adjusted white balance, a handheld dive torch, a camera-mounted wide-angle video light (or several), and strobes.

My Inventory

I own 3 different strobes.

Sea and Sea YS-01. This is a small strobe with not a lot of power. I own only one of these and have for quite awhile. It’s great for underwater macro with a compact like my trusty TG-5 and TG-4. Its size is good to add on to my camera setup without adding much weight or bulk, and as my blog readers will know, small components are the name of the game when I take the compact on a dive. However, the strength of these isn’t so good for wide-angle.

Sea and Sea DS-02. These are my usual strobes for diving with my Lumix G9. They have medium-strong power. I’ve had to replace a couple of them over time because of corrosion in the battery compartment. They work awesome for macro if I use a dome diffuser and put then right up along the sides of the lens. These work well for wide-angle if you use two of them and you’re 2 meters or so away from the subject.

Scubalamp P53 Pro. These are my new video lights with a strobe capability. I added these earlier this year. They’ve been a bit of a trial to use just as strobes, but they are great video lights. They are heavy and need some flotation in water which isn’t much of a problem with a wide-angle setup and a huge glass dome but they’re very negatively buoyant on a macro rig.

Diffusers

Diffusers are a mixed bag of results, so you need to give some thought on when to use them. They’re a piece of plastic that fits on the front of the strobe. The idea is that they bounce the light as it goes through them.

So instead of having all the light come from one direction, it’s like having a bunch of mini strobes in many directions. This reduces the dark shadows and bright highlights in a photo that’s not quite as dramatic. This also had a side-effect of reducing some of the backscatter in your photos.

Diffusers also increase the angle that is illuminated by the strobe. I think it’s easier to shoot with diffusers since you don’t have to be as precise with where you aim the strobe.

However, diffusers have one downside: they reduce the total amount of light reaching the subject. This is around 1-2 camera stops which is a small limitation in how you shoot.

Diffusers come in flat or round shapes. The round shapes bounce the light in even more directions.

I have a set of Carbon Arm round diffusers for my DS-02 and I use them for macro. I don’t user a diffuser with the YS-01 although I’ve tempted to buy a dome diffuser for it. The P53Pro comes with a flat disk diffuser that fits under the front ring and I use those.

Signaling Strobes

There are 2 ways to signal strobes to fire: fibre optics and electronic cables.

I haven’t used electronic cables because they require that you have a hole, called a bulkhead, in the housing to put the electrical connection.

All of my shooting is done with fibre optics. They’re just a long piece of fiberglass with a plastic coating and some standard plugs. When light shines on one end, it shines out the other end.

For cameras that have a built-in flash–TG4/5/6 and my older EM10MKII– housings have holes right in front of the camera flash to hold the fibre optics.

For cameras that don’t have a built-in flash, you use a miniature LED flash, called a flash trigger, that fits into the camera’s hot shoe.

The strobes themselves have a plug for the fibre optic and a sensor that can tell when light comes through the fibre optic.

Strobe Layout

Single Strobe

For macro, you can easily use one strobe. You can experiment with distance from the camera body and light angle. This is a pretty easy setup to shoot with.

For cameras with a port, place the strobe on a medium-length (10-20cm) arm in the center of the housing so that it reached out over the end of the lens port. Point the strobe down.

For compact cameras, you can mount the strobe directly on the housing or on a small (5-15cm) arm for a little bit more flexibility.

Twin Strobes

I put my strobes up against the port at 9-o-clock and 3-0-clock and facing inwards a bit, maybe 20°. The diffusers are about even with the end of the port. This is more about getting the arms to work than the strobe and I don’t put too much thought into it unless I have extreme amounts of backscatter or I’m doing some weird style of shooting.

If I need to fit into a smaller area, I’ll move them up to 10-o-clock and 2-o-clock like Mickey Mouse ears. That lets me slide the lens front into smaller areas sometimes.

If I’m shooting a long-distance macro shot like little fish (blennies being a huge favorite), I’ll move the strobes out away from the lens port maybe 15-20cm. That limits the backscatter.

Free-Range Strobes

I know several photographers that mount strobes on small weighted tripods so that they can place them anywhere they want. They either keep the strobe connected via fibre optic or they have a fibre optic cable that plugs into the strobe and has an exposed fiberglass end that will catch the light from their on-camera strobe.

Troubleshooting

I’ve had days where I was not happy with my strobes. There are many things that can go wrong, and when they do go wrong, you shoot black photos. I have a lot of these on my network storage drive. I’ve seen my wife lay her camera down on the sandy bottom and swim away from it and I’ve felt like that myself.

Is the Strobe Flashing?

Hold a hand in front of the strobe to reduce noise from other lights and take a test shot. You should see the strobe fire into your hand. This is part of my pre-dive camera setup routine. If the strobe doesn’t fire, then the rest of the troubleshooting tests apply.

If the strobe fires but your photos are still black, then it’s one of 5 things:

Camera is set to use TTL but strobe is not. Easy fix is to set the stove to TTL mode and see if that exposes the photo properly. Harder fix is to check the camera settings to turn off TTL. TG4/5/6 calls this “RC” (remote control). Lumix calls this “Flash Mode”. Also one warning here: I don’t know of any flash triggers for Micro Four Thirds that do optical TTL.

Camera is set to “second curtain”. This is where the flash fires at the end of the exposure. In some cases this will mean that the strobe fires too late. Try first curtain and see if that works.

Shutter speed is too fast to “flash sync”. Set shutter speed to something like 1/125. Most strobes can’t sync faster than 1/250.

Camera exposure is too dark. Bump up the ISO to 400, appetite to F8, and shutter speed to 1/125.

Lens cap is on. We’ve all done it before.

Is the Camera Flashing?

If the strobe doesn’t fire, the first thing to check is if the camera is making a flash. Most of the time you can do this by removing a fibre optic cable and watching the now-empty hole while you take a test shot.

If the camera won’t flash, then there are several reasons why.

Camera is set to “quiet mode”. This turns off the shutter noise and the flash. Great for wildlife photography, bad for underwater macro.

Flash trigger is not turned on, doesn’t have batteries, or isn’t seated properly in the hot shoe.

Flash is set to “automatic”. Setting it to “fill-in” forces the flash to fire regardless of how bright the photo exposure is.

Is the Fibre Optic Broken?

This is very common, they don’t like much abuse. Check the connectors for obvious damage. Pull the plug off of the stove, fire a test shot, and see if you get a flash coming it of the cable.

Always carry extra fibre optic cables. Swap them out and see if that fixes the problem.

New Batteries?

Strobes seem to get schizophrenic when their batteries are low. My DS-02 need the flash power turned down when the batteries are half used, otherwise they don’t fire at all. Changing batteries fixes this.

The Backup

I always have a focus light of some kind on my camera and I try to carry a cheap video dive torch when I dive. In instances where I am having troubles with my strobes and I can’t figure it out after a couple of minutes, I’ll switch to using torches and keep the dive going. Things like that are usually better to sort out on the surface. Best to keep calm and carry on with taking shots.

See you underwater!!!

–Mike