In How To Take Stunning Underwater Photos
Using Inexpensive Point and Shoot Cameras
Part Two: Documenting with Underwater Photos
by Scott Fratcher
Waterproof cameras that once cost thousands of dollars have been replaced by small modern versions that look and feel just like any other pocket camera. For documenting fishing, skiing, snorkeling and diving, or even recording an underwater video, these inexpensive cameras are the perfect solution. In this article taken from “How to Take Stunning Underwater Photos Using Inexpensive Point and Shoot Cameras” (Kindle, Nook, Apple) I discuss how to take amazing underwater photos with inexpensive point and shoot waterproof cameras.
Documenting Boat Maintenance
Taking photos of underwater creatures can be a great hobby, but taking simple photos to document marine maintenance can help your memory and increase profits. Ever rent a bareboat? Take a photo of the bottom, rudder and keel before you accept the boat, and another upon return, thus demonstrating the boat was returned in good order. To keep a clear simple record of underwater maintenance on your own boat, take photos of the prop, zincs, etcetera, with a date stamp. Any notable change in zinc usage will be easy to see.
Recording Family Fun
A family vacation on the water can be made more fun by taking “on the water” photos for lasting memories. Strive for something unusual. Try a photo underwater looking up at the group, or catch the family in the middle of a cannonball water splash. Photos taken from water level have a special look that places the viewer in the action.
Taking Fishing Photos
Ever miss a great fishing photo because you did not want to get your camera soaked? A waterproof camera is the answer. Try for photos that show the fish from a new angle. An action photo of a jumping billfish can be stunning, but a well-focused photo down the jaws of a fish, showing the inside of the gills, can be a once-in-a-lifetime shot. Remember to set the camera to “sport” mode for short shutter speeds to freeze the motion.
Photographing an Octopus
The highly intelligent octopus is one of the best underwater photographic subjects. A single octopus can produce dozens of colors, while changing shapes in a moment. Octopuses feed in the afternoon, so anytime you’re out past noon keep an eye out. Swim slowly around the octopus and keep and watch for color changes. Bright colors, especially blue, are a sure sign he is getting agitated and will soon swim out of sight. If it is a dull color, like brown, or if the octopus is lazily swimming from rock to rock checking for food, the snorkeler can continue taking photos.
Coral is almost always better photographed up close with a fish or two peeking out. Notice the two photos. While both photos have colorful fish, the distance shot shows the areas of bleak, sandy areas in the background. The close up photo on the right is all bright coral and colorful fish, holding the viewer’s attention. Even seasoned divers may find something of interest.
Everyone loves to look into the eye of a killer, so position yourself in front of and below the shark, trying to catch the eye and mouth. Notice the two photos. On the left we see what should be an exiting photograph. Lots of action, ballyhoo fish in perfect focus and sharks hovering in the background, but we’re missing the shark’s eye and mouth. The photo on the right has much less action, but shows the shark’s uncompromising eyes. Which photo caught your attention?
Having Trouble Focusing?
Underwater cameras can have a difficult time with precise focus. The reflection of the water, floating bits and movement all hinder the camera. If your camera is not focusing perfectly try taking a photo across a flat area such as a coral wall. Somewhere along the surface of the wall the focus will be perfect. That is “depth of field”, or the section of the wall that is in focus. Once back at your computer, check the areas of the photo that have nearly perfect focus and crop them out for use.
Blurs on the Lens
Having trouble with those blurry spots on the photo? This notorious problem is often nothing more than a bubble that has formed on the camera lens. A quick shake will dislodge the bubble, but keep checking for new ones. Every splash, every trip to the surface, even swimming through a bubble trail can cause new bubbles to attach.
Free Software to Edit Underwater Photos
Everyone has his or her favorite editing program. Mine is Picasa by Google. It’s simple, fast and free. Start by making and saving a backup of your photo. Then in Picasa click the “Basic Fixes” tab and crop the photo. Next click the “I’m feeling lucky” button.
For more detailed editing try the “Tuning” tab, or the “Effects” tab. In the effects, you might have luck with “Sharpen” and “Warmify.” Keep an eye on the histogram window. When working with color balance, a flat histogram tends to mean a good color balance. Gaps in the graph indicate lost information that often shows up as a grainy photo.
Before doing any serious editing to a photo, check focus detail before investing time in color balance. Zoom way in on your subject. Can you see the wrinkles around a person’s eyes? The microscopic hairs? If so, the photo might become stunning with a bit of color balance.
My Favorite Point and Shoot Underwater Camera
After many tests and photo edits I have settled on the Olympus Stylus Tough series. These rugged little cameras come with a variety of features. For boat use, I choose the version with ten-metre diving depth and an SD card port for easy file transfer. I recommend the Olympus Stylus Tough 8010.
Scott Fratcher of Aphrodite 1 is a marine engineer (commercial with MCA CEC - Engineer OOW Unlimited/Y4) and RYA Yachtmaster (200-ton sail/power/ocean/commercial).
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