One of the basic rules of underwater photography is “get close, then get closer.” This is because the more water between you and the subject, the more red light is absorbed and more suspended particles get in the way. There are really only two lens types that allow such close work. These are the macro and wide-‐angle lenses that have become staples to underwater photographers.
Close Focus Wide Angle
The close focus wide angle shot requires thinking about your image in three parts: the subject, the mid and the background. The difference in lighting will make the subject stand out in the final image. Your subject will be lit by the strobes, but everything else in the shot will be lit using only the naturally available light. Before you go about looking for a subject, prepare by setting your exposure for the ambient conditions. I like to run the ambient a 1/2 stop to a full stop under exposed, but experiment and find what you like.
Take control away from the camera by learning to shoot with manual exposure settings. Remember the exposure triangle? The exposure triangle is a common way of associating the three variables that determine the exposure of a photograph: aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. Remember there are no light meters underwater aside from the one built into the camera. So I start with my settings around ISO 400, F8 and 1/125th, then take a shot to see where I am. If I want the background a little darker I adjust the shutter speed or ISO if I have to. Then adjust your strobes and your off.
Speaking of strobes, they should be an equal distance from the dome port as the dome port is from the subject. But the truth is, fish move and you often have to act fast. Unless I have lots of time to fiddle, set your strobes as far out to the sides as they will go and set slightly toward the back of the housing. Aim the strobes straight ahead or even at a slightly outward angle, it’s all about feathering the light to help reduce backscatter. There is nothing more disappointing than a shot that has been ruined because half or all of the image is filled with beautifully lit particulates.
Put it All Together
– ISO 400
– Foreground or subject
– Middle ground or structure
– Background, which is usually water
Pro-Tip: To include a nice sunburst, wave or ripples point the camera at the surface. Find the angle of your subject that will put these elements together and go for it.
Take lots of pictures and experiment with different angles, subject placements and strobe positions. Most all be safe and have fun.
As always remember; take nothing but pictures and leave nothing but bubbles.