Some shoots are worse than others.
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.
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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.
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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!!