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Still Photography

Underwater Camera Lights/Strobes

Our Underwater Camera Lights section teaches you the basics of underwater strobes, aiming your lights, balancing your strobe light with the natural light that’s available, and much more. This section also talks about avoiding the dreaded photo ruining “backscatter” problem.


What was that piece that just fell off the strobe?


A diffuser is an accessory piece of equipment for the strobe. It is a piece of plastic that usually snaps on or locks into place over the strobe face. See figures 1 and 2. It is designed to widen the coverage of the light as it comes from the strobe. A diffuser causes the light coming from the strobe to bounce around, be deflected, and spread out from its original path. It’s not unusual for many strobes not to be able to fully cover the field of view of a wide-angle or ultra-wide lens. Without the diffuser in place, you get a spot light effect. See figure 3 (15 mm lens/no diffuser). If that is what you want to create, that’s fine. But, if you want full coverage of the picture area, you’ll need a diffuser or a strobe that has a wider coverage area (more expensive and usually larger size strobe).

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Photo Composition: Rule of Thirds

Arranging Before You Shoot and Editing After You Shoot

Figure 1
Figure 1

Composition or composing the picture before you shoot could be considered a form of editing. This article applies to both shooting technique underwater and things to look for while editing after the shooting is done. Lots of people can tell a well composed picture from a poorly composed picture. They just say “This one “looks” better!” even if they can’t say why. It’s part of the way humans view the world. Part of it is in our training while growing up, (there are cultural differences) and part of it, is the way our brain and eyes work together to reproduce the images from the world around us. Some arrangements of the elements in a photo or scene just look more pleasing or natural than others.

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Getting Your Photo Files Organized

Hard drives, CDs, DVDs, and slide sheets can all be used to organize and preserve your photos

Everyone, at some point, has to think about getting his or her photo files organized. Some just procrastinate and some just feel overwhelmed by the thought of organizing lots of images and don’t know where to start.

For the folks still using film negatives/slides it may be a question of space as well as organization. For my slide files, I use hanging slide sheets (see photo) placed in a stackable file cabinet unit for hanging files from your friendly local office store. The archival slide sheets and the file hanger are separate items, made by companies like Vue-All, Print File, and Clear File. They are available from photo supply outlets locally or online from B&H Photo in New York and others

To use this filing system, it needs to be kept in the air-conditioned part of your home. No storage in the garage or storage unit, please. Film, slides, prints, and digital storage devices react poorly to heat, humidity, mold, freezing, oils, ozone, UV, ants, mice, roaches…well, you get the idea. Keep your photo files protected in the A/C. Some photographers go to even more extensive measures to protect the longevity of their photos, using separate climate controlled storage away from their business or home.

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Thinking about the Background

Frequently the difference between a great photo and a so-so photo is the background.

A great background can really make the photo stand out. The subject and background should work together with the other elements in the photo to really grab your attention or draw you into the work.

A lot of professional photographers spend as much time looking for a great background as they do looking for a great subject. It’s just that important in the photo. Figure 1 has a nice subject (Rock Beauty), but the background is poor. The background of this photo doesn’t help at all, in fact, it detracts from the photo.

Figure 1: Rocky Beauty
Figure 1: Rocky Beauty

A neutral or plain background can help draw attention to the subject even if the viewer doesn’t even realize that there is a background in the photo. Like figure 2, a Gray Reef Shark out in the Blue.

Figure 2: Gray Reef Shark

Patterns, such as the patterns in coral, sea fans, sponges, or schools of fish can create interesting backgrounds. Patterns can even be the whole photo. See figure 3 Juvenile Damselfish on Brain Coral.

Figure 3: Juvenile Damselfish or Brain Coral

Colorful backgrounds or subjects can help draw the viewer’s attention to the image. In figure 4 (Flamingo Tongue Snails on Sea Fan), the color of the Purple Sea Fan helps make the snails stand out.

Figure 4: Flamingo Tongue Snails on Sea Fan

So, the next time you get in the water with your camera, take a look at the backgrounds. See if that fish that you’d like to take a picture of, swims over or in front of a nice background. Does that Damselfish hang out over the coral or just hang out in the rubble? Look for backgrounds, patterns and color. You’ll be surprised at the difference it will make in the pictures you bring home.