Rocky Mountain School of Photography » Jimmy White Wed, 29 Jul 2015 20:48:57 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Take a Journey to Another Photographic World – Underwater Photography Part II Fri, 24 Sep 2010 15:05:57 +0000 In Part I of this series we discussed some recommended prerequisites to underwater photography such as access to a body of water (preferably warm and clear), personal comfort in the water and certification training to fit the level of underwater activity in which you will be engaged.  This article addresses more specific factors related to underwater photography gear and two of the most common underwater photography techniques in use today as well as some peculiarities associated with both.

The most common underwater camera systems in use today are housed cameras (either point and shoot cameras or SLR cameras).  Both systems utilize a rigid outer housing made of acrylic or metal that protects the camera inside.  Both systems allow use of terrestrial cameras and offer access to most of the camera’s function buttons.  Higher priced housings generally are smaller, lighter and provide access to a wider range of camera functions.  Don’t forget your lighting gear either!  Although beautiful underwater photographs can be made with available light (see the work of Karen Glaser – it is more common to use underwater strobes to compensate for the diminished qualities of light in water (discussed in part I).  Similar to terrestrial photography, SLR systems have some significant advantages over point and shoot systems, including:  viewfinder aid with composition, generally higher quality images, faster auto-focusing, absence of shutter lag, and range of lenses to use.

Which system is best for you largely depends on the following factors:  (1) camera to be used (2) lenses to be used and (3) maximum depth at which you’ll be using it.  I strongly recommend you spend time to research all of the available housings for your camera before purchasing one so you can compare the cost and features of each system.  There are many online resources to aid your research.  The following are a few sites I used while conducting my research:;;; and

Underwater macro photography is a great place to start your underwater adventure.  Because of the extremely short focusing distance between the lens and subject, macro photography can be practiced in water that has marginal visibility compared to wide-angle photography, which requires much clearer conditions.  Often you will find yourself photographing subjects that do not move – which further increases your chances of success with underwater macro photography.  One still faces the normal challenges of terrestrial macro photography such as the extremely shallow depth of field as well as subject and camera movement.  However, buoyancy issues as well as the prevailing water conditions can further exacerbate camera movement in underwater macro photography.  It helps to practice this type of photography in areas of calmer water.  Use of a weight belt is one way of minimizing some movement caused by the body’s positive buoyancy.  Once you get yourself into the water with a macro system you will be amazed at the variety of microscopic life, patterns and textures that you will find.

Wide-angle photography is another popular type of underwater photography.  Similar to terrestrial photography it allows for capturing wider seascapes, fish schools and shipwrecks, but remains restricted by the peculiarities of light in water as well as water clarity.  One key to successful underwater photography regardless of the technique used is minimizing the amount of water between the subject and camera as much as possible.  Minimizing the amount of water helps to reduce water’s filtering effects as well as the presence of particulate backscatter in your photos.  Accordingly, subject to camera distances are generally less than 6 feet even in underwater wide-angle photography.

Proper matching of your housing and lens dome is crucial in wide-angle photography.  The lens dome is the curved outer element that allows the wide-angle lens to capture its increased angle of view without significant distortion.  An important part of gear research involves making sure that the lens dome is matched to fit your particular wide-angle lens.  Improper matching of dome and lens often results in softness in a photo’s corners as well as image distortion.  When you have a proper wide-angle setup in hand, it is possible to make some truly interesting images.

As with all photography, much of one’s individual progression will depend on practice.  Get out there and be willing to make mistakes and learn from them.  As on land, the benefits of digital capture allow us to significantly shorten the learning curve relative to the days of film.  Despite the additional complexities involved with taking your camera underwater, I hope this information might entice some of you to take the leap.

Slide Captions:

#1: Spotted Moray Eel portrait, Canouan, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, August 8, 2010.

#2: Spiny Head Blenny looks out from its home in a large brain coral, Canouan, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, August 8, 2010.

#3: Banded Coral Shrimp portrait, Canouan, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, August 8, 2010.

#4: Banded Jawfish portrait, St. Vincent Island, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, August 9, 2010.

#5: Assorted reef fish greet the photographer at Horseshoe Reef, Tobago Cays Marine Park, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, August 7, 2010.

#6: Assorted reef fish at Horseshoe Reef, Tobago Cays Marine Park, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, August 8, 2010.

#7:  Wide-angle photo of soft coral and ledge with exposures balanced for flash and ambient light, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, August 9, 2010.

#8:  Assorted reef fish swimming near a dramatic ledge, Soufriere, St. Lucia, August 10, 2010.

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Take a Journey to Another Photographic World – Underwater Photography Part I Tue, 07 Sep 2010 17:20:08 +0000

Life can be full of exciting journeys when we seek them out, or vice versa.  My latest journey began when I purchased an underwater housing and strobes for my digital SLR late last year.  After completing Summer Intensive and Advanced Intensive training at Rocky Mountain School of Photography during the fall of 2009, I returned home to Florida eager to bring my camera along on my underwater adventures.  Having seen some truly amazing sights since I first put on a mask and snorkel at the age of 5, I thought that the underwater world would provide a wealth of photographic opportunities provided I did my part.  Fortunately, this hunch has been more accurate than I could ever have imagined.

Since I began working with my camera underwater, I have had close encounters with some interesting creatures, both large and small.  I have also had opportunities to make images of underwater seascapes that continue to engage my senses. What excites me most about underwater photography is that it allows one to display images from a world that is unfamiliar to many people.  In this series of articles I will attempt to provide some basic tools, so you may begin your own underwater journey.

Comfort in the water and training for the conditions in which one intends to shoot are two prerequisite skills to possess before attempting any underwater photography. Comfort in the water can be an elusive skill.  However, scuba certification (or more advanced training like closed circuit re-breather technology) is now widely available, so it is relatively easy to obtain a training certification level to meet virtually any need.  Several of the most well-known certification organizations in the U.S. include the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (, National Association of Underwater Instructors ( and the International Association of Nitrox and Technical Divers ( However, don’t forget that snorkeling requires no certification and is a perfectly acceptable way to begin your underwater adventures.  I have had many successful underwater shoots while using only mask, snorkel and fins.  Provided you have a body of water nearby (Note:  swimming pools certainly qualify) sufficient comfort in the water and the appropriate training to suit your needs, there is little reason not to explore the world of underwater photography.

Before we cover more specifics about gear and techniques, I would like to address some concepts that are unique to underwater photography.  One striking difference from terrestrial photography is how sunlight is affected by water.  Water is almost 800 times denser than air.  Water density strongly affects the colors of light that are present at varying depths.  Warmer colors are quickly absorbed so that little or no red, orange or yellow hues are present at depths of greater than 30 feet.  The most prominent colors at depths of more than 30 feet are green and blue.  This color filtering can result in monochromatic photos that lack punch.  On the other hand, it can also be used creatively once understood.  Additionally, there may be low or no ambient light at relatively shallow depths depending on local water clarity.  As such, artificial light is regularly used in underwater photography to add color and to assist with exposure.  In addition to the color and level of ambient light, one must also consider the presence of particulate matter in the water.  Especially turbid or murky water often results in illuminated particles in photos also known as “backscatter.”  Therefore, it becomes very important to know under which conditions you should attempt any particular shot as well as proper strobe positioning to minimize backscatter.

Underwater photography also tends to involve more “moving parts” than other photographic disciplines.  Addressing the typical complexities of terrestrial photography remains crucial.  However, the additional gear required for the particular type of dive (snorkeling all the way to deep technical diving) can add a significant amount of variables to the photographic equation.  Also, the movement of both the subject and photographer in the water must also be considered.  All of the variables can quickly occupy your underwater time, thereby shortening the time available to react to each given scene.  As such, an ability to pre-visualize a photograph before entering the water can often save valuable underwater time.

Due to space constraints, I must now conclude this article.  The next article in the series will cover specific issues regarding underwater photography gear from the beginner to more advanced user.  It will also address the two most common types of underwater photography (close focus wide-angle and macro photography) as well as issues common to each.  I hope this article has sparked an interest to begin your own journey into underwater photography.  Until next time, take care.

There are many scuba certification programs available and exclusion from this list does not indicate a program is unreliable or disreputable.  The author strongly recommends you perform your own research before attending any scuba training courses.

Wreck of The Spiegel Grove, Key Largo, Florida The author's feet during his first underwater photo session West Indian Manatee Portrait, Crystal Springs, Florida Blenny portrait, Tampa Bay, Florida Schooling Bar Jacks in the Gulf of Mexico Wreck of The Duane, Key Largo, Florida

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