This is a series of small blogs about specific pictures I personally like and the technical background behind my taking them.
Underwater photography is the perfect marriage of technique alongside having an artistic vision.
The more techniques you acquire the more able you are to realise your artistic intent.
The good news is that it is relatively easy with a little bit of help and sharing of knowledge and experience.

Fast Fish

This shot of schooling fish below a pier in Indonesia, was taken during a 90min very shallow dive.
There was a lot going on and the hour and a half flew by, with me not even noticing the encroaching cold spreading through my body.
Yes, cold in the tropics. Even with a wetsuit on, after over an hour relatively slowly moving, its quite easy to get chilly, we weren’t on a route march.

Anyway back to the picture. The dive circumstances were medium visibility, not great but providing nice moody lighting conditions as the sun struggled to batter its way through the  murky(ish) water.
This extra turbidity gave the water a more greenish background than usual in clearer water.
And I was transfixed with the movement of this school of fish and wanted to convey the impression of speed and motion it gave me, so I brought into play a technique I used to use years ago shooting skateboarding and BMX.

 

 

Panasonic GX7 and 8mm Fisheye Lens. F16 at 1/25 of a second. ISO 200 and twin strobes. Shutter dragged with the motion of the fish. Technique is to follow them at the same speed as they are moving and hope for the best that the shutter speed you've chosen gives just the right amount of blur.
Panasonic GX7 and 8mm Fisheye Lens. F16 at 1/25 of a second. ISO 200 and twin strobes. Shutter dragged with the motion of the fish.
Technique is to follow them at the same speed as they are moving and hope for the best that the shutter speed you’ve chosen gives just the right amount of blur.

 

 

Mirrorless Marvel

I was using a fisheye lens, a Panasonic 8mm on my micro four thirds Mirrorless camera, a Panasonic GX7
I was using two strobes, on quite an ungainly looking and uneven set of strobe arms.
I had one side with an Inon s2000 and a Loc Line flexible arm system, and the other side had a Sea and Sea YSD1 and a more usual 1″ arm and clamp system, keeping it firmly in place.
This is relevant because the technique I used to get the picture actually involves quite a bit of movement from me. And using a more streamlined and smaller camera makes this technique slightly easier. However my choice of Loc Line arms, which I love by the way for most all of my UW photography, isn’t the best choice for this technique, because every quick movement I make, the little s2000 on the end of the segmented plastic arms of the Loc Line setup, tends to stay put and catches up later as you make quick movements from side to side.

 

 

Follow Focus

You see, you need to follow the school of fish, and figure out where its going to be, and as it gets closer to you, you need to take your shot, whilst following the fishes movement, and pressing the trigger at the same time.

I much prefer watching what is happening with my eyes well back from the camera, so if you have a camera with a live view screen it’s best employed for this technique.

 

Lower ambient light is your friend

Exposure wise, if attempting to get this type of picture, you are limited to a degree, by the amount of ambient light and also the power of your strobes.
I vary the shutter speeds chosen from around a 1/30 a second to as slow as half a second.
This means that in high ambient light you may well need an aperture of f16 or sometimes even smaller, to balance out the ambient light with the flash exposure.
This has a knock on effect, meaning that you need to crank up your strobes quite high, and if you have a less powerful strobe then you may well run out of “oomph” a technical term.
As the strobes power will only carry a short range at such a small aperture.

 

With this shot of my buddy, to liven it up a bit I've faked motion blur. As the ambient light was just too high for me to get an acceptable combination of shutter speed and aperture, alongside my small travel friendly strobes.
With this shot of my buddy, to liven it up a bit I’ve faked motion blur. As the ambient light was just too high for me to get an acceptable combination of shutter speed and aperture, alongside my small travel friendly strobes.

 

Fake it

Of course if it’s possible its best and more authentic to get the result you want in camera. However with my tiny travel friendly strobes ( Inon S2000’s )they didn’t have the necessary clout to get the shot above naturally. So i’ve faked it.
Unfortunately for financial or practical reasons it’s not always possible to use huge strobes, and to be honest for nearly 90% of my shooting I prefer to use a less unwieldy micro four thirds Mirrorless setup with small, light and neat strobes.
So here is an alternative method to gain almost the same end result.

If it doesn’t work out exactly how you want, and it may not, because frustratingly your perfect fish grouping may not result in the correct amount of blur, as they or you mayn’t be at the right speeds to induce the most aesthetic blurring. Then fake it.

It’s not that difficult with a modicum of Lightroom and Photoshop nous.
I did another blog post last year detailing exactly how to do this.
Theres a blog post here outlining the overall way to achieve a similar end result
and at the end of the post is a video showing how you can fake it in Lightroom and Photoshop Elements

 

Below is the before and after results, with the straight out of camera shot at the top, and the edited version below. I also split toned and converted to black and white the shot, because I felt like it at the time!

 

At the top is the straight out of camera picture, showing a reasonable fish grouping, but not enough blur, the shutter speed I was using was 1/40 second. The edited picture below was achieved using the technique I explained in the video at the end of the earlier blog post.
At the top is the straight out of camera picture, showing a reasonable fish grouping, but not enough blur, the shutter speed I was using was 1/40 second. The edited picture below was achieved using the technique I explained in the video at the end of the earlier blog post.

 

 

I have done a more general couple of blog posts earlier about flash exposure click here and here

 

If you’d like to join me on an exciting, and educational photo workshop trip, where alongside like minded others you can improve or learn from scratch underwater photography, and photo editing in some of the worlds most photogenic underwater photography locations, then check out my upcoming workshops to the Red Sea and beyond click here.

 

Hope you like this and more to come soon.

Duxy