What Are All Those Ugly White Spots in My Picture?
Backscatter… the nemesis of every underwater photographer, is a potential problem even in clear water with high quality photo gear.
Backscatter is caused by the reflection of strobe light off particles (crud and sand) in the water back into the lens of the camera. These reflections cause bright highlights (white spots) to appear in your image. Depending on how close and large the particles are, how wide your lens is, and what angle and how close your strobe or strobes are to the camera, determines how many, how large, and where the white spots are on your pictures.
Now that you’ve taken up the idea of doing underwater photography, it’s time to think about buddy team dynamics for a minute. Up until now you and your buddy probably had similar interests, such as: “lets swim around the reef and see what’s there.” The nature of photography has a tendency to change the way you do the dive. Lots of folks swim around the reef in a semi-organize continuous sightseeing tour type of mode with their buddy. The photographer rarely is in continuous motion (unless it’s a drift dive with a fairly good current). The photographer stops to take pictures of critters, fish, sea fans, sponges, and parts of the wreck or even backs off far enough to take a picture of a big chunk of the wreck. If it’s an interesting subject, they may spend the entire dive glued to one spot! This stop and go nature of photography can make some dive buddies crazy. They frequently feel as if they are wasting “their” dive. In reality, some dive buddies stick with you and some don’t. Never mind the fact that you and your dive buddy should stay together for safety sake. That’s why they call it the “buddy system.” Lets look at a few buddies and why they might or might not get frustrated diving with a photographer.
If your buddy is a spearfisherman or lobster hunter, then the odds that you will be left alone to do your thing, while they do theirs, is pretty large. It’s not that they are evil people; it’s just that their goals don’t match your goals. Either they get short changed on their hunting or you get short changed on photo opportunities if you stay together. Something’s got to give. It would be nice if both of you agreed before the dive that you both would follow one goal or the other, but then one or the other feels sort of short changed at the end of the day. They didn’t get to do what they came out diving to enjoy. So, unless your taking pictures of spearfishing or lobstering, avoid these folks as dive buddies if you can.
If your buddy isn’t engaged in any particular activity, other than being your buddy, then they usually end up as the “bored safety diver.” Many wives/husbands of photographers fall into this category. These folks keep track of bottom time, air/gas consumption, and depth, while the photographer focuses on the photo shoot. The photographer obviously should keep track of these things for him/herself. But, keeping track of the “numbers” is about all this poor bored soul has to do, other than practice their Zen or buoyancy. The bored safety diver is related to the next buddy.
Some advanced photographers have a tendency to carry lots of photo gear underwater. Some pros carry half-a-dozen cameras with the help of paid assistants (if you’re getting paid, it’s not quite as boring). The relative of the bored safety diver is the “bored equipment carrier/sherpa. These people are slightly more engaged in the photo dive, but not much. Again, the wives or husbands of photographers frequently end up in this mode.
If your dive buddy is another photographer, you would expect bliss, but thus, is not always the case. If the photographers have similar lens and similar goals they can work well together in the give and take of alternating shots of the same or similar critters and alternating modeling for each other throughout the dive. A photographer and videographer frequently work well together because their goals frequently overlap to a great degree. An example of working together would be: You’re each swimming parallel on each side of some fish or animal without stressing it (don’t crowd it). She’s taking video of the subject and you, while you’re taking pictures of her taking video of you with the subject. You’re both shooting and modeling at the same time. It’s a beautiful thing when it comes together like that. The thing to watch out for with two photographers is a mismatch of gear or goals. He wants to shoot wide-angle out on the vertical wall, while she wants to shoot little-bitty critters on the sand flat; that’s a mismatch.
As you may have guessed by now, the secret to a happy photo dive for you AND your buddy is to have similar goals or to engage them in the photography and goals, as well as the dive and the dive plan, so they can enjoy the fun of the photo dive also. See if your buddy is interested in being your model for at least some of the shots. Talk through modeling hand signals that you want to use and the kinds of poses that you hope to utilize. Let them know about the kinds of photos you have in mind. As your photo assistant, have them do more than keep track of the bottom time or carry gear. Have them aim your slave strobe for you or hold a dive slate as a reflector to bounce light into the shadow side of your macro or close-up shot. Make them a part of the action. Have them be a part of the making of the photos, so it becomes “our” photo dive, not just yours. Your buddy can also be helpful as a critter finder. They can be that extra set of eyes looking for the little critter’s hiding spot. The more closely engaged the divers are in the activity of the dive, the more likely they are to stay together, and the more likely they are to both enjoy the dive.
Our Basic Shooting Techniques section helps to bring together facts from all the other sections to improve your underwater photo shooting knowledge. This section also touches on subjects that impact your ability to have an opportunity to shoot, as well as shooting technique itself.