ArcticaMT6

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I figured I would create a thread that could be used for questions, answers, tips, and sharing of underwater photos. Let me preface this by saying that I'm not a professional. I'm a hobbyist that started about 2 years ago underwater. I'm still learning and experimenting, and have a long way to go before I'll be happy. Olympus actually provides more support to the underwater community than other manufacturers, so I think it's worth a thread. I know there's a few of us on this site that regularly shoot underwater, such as @Underwater , @Hypilein , @StefanKruse , and a few others. I will update this thread with photos from my dives as I go. Links to vendors that specialize in underwater photo gear will be at the bottom.

Let me get this out of the way first: It's not cheap to take a camera underwater. The camera itself is usually one of the cheaper parts. If you are looking for something that you can use for snapshots of your diving or snorkeling, buy a TG-5. Already waterproof to 15m/50ft, and does a decent job at it. It is the go-to recommendation for just about everyone looking for a cheaper camera to take underwater. If you want to go deeper than 15m/50ft with it, you can get an Olympus PT-058 housing for $300 US. GoPros are not very good for photos. I would avoid them unless you already have one.

The Gear

Housing: Other than specific action cameras in shallow water, you are going to need a housing. This is what the camera sits in and keeps the water out. This is typically made out of either polycarbonate plastic or a machined block of aluminum. Cheaper housings are made out of the polycarbonate, and the more expensive ones tend to be anodized aluminum. More expensive housings are typically set up to make it easier to use while diving, have higher quality materials, stiffer springs, and can have leak detection systems installed.

Housings are camera model specific. If you change your camera, you need a new housing. Unfortunately manufacturers don't tend to make camera updates and keep the same dimensions and button layout. So you are stuck with the housing and camera until you can afford to replace both.

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Plastic housings: Your options here are typically between Meikon, Olympus, and Ikelite. Meikon is the cheapest, and Ikelite is the most expensive, with Olympus being in the middle. I really can't recommend the Meikon housings. They are typically not user friendly, can deform at depth, and I have seen many people reporting that the water pressure renders the buttons useless. Additionally, I know the older Meikon housings did not allow you to change out the port to use different lenses. Olympus has housings made for them by a company called AOI. These are the housings I would buy if you want to save money and can't get used. Unfortunately, they don't have any for Panasonic cameras. The ports can be changed, and there is a wide range of ports that can be used to use different lenses. Next is Ikelite who has an even greater range of ports, is laid out a bit better, make them for Panasonic cameras, and has the ability to install a leak detection and vacuum system. The drawback with plastic housings is that they tend to have a greater tendency to fog up underwater. Greater care has to be taken to prevent this.

Metal housings: Nauticam, Subal, and Aquatica all make aluminum housings for Olympus and Panasonic Cameras. Nauticam is by far the most popular of these housing manufacturers, and there tends to be greater add ons, accessories, support, and used equipment available for it. That's not to say that the others are bad, of course. Subal tends to make the highest quality housings, but the price reflects that. Metal housings act as a big heat sink underwater, and it's going to be extremely difficult to get them to fog.

Ports: These fill up that big hole in the front of the housing and make it waterproof. Other than Olympus and Meikon housings, most housings will not come with a port. The port is typically matched to a specific lens. Ports are also made for a specific housing manufacturer. You can't take a port that works on an Olympus housing and use it on a Nauticam housing, for instance. Multiple lenses can sometimes be used with the same port, with differing extension rings. One benefit on m4/3rds, is there is a single port that works with many lenses. That same port can be used for the 14-42mm, 60mm macro, 12-50mm, and the 9-18mm without any modifications or extensions. This port is what the Olympus housing comes with standard (other than the E-M1 housings, those don't come with a port).

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Ports can have a flat front or a dome front. Dome ports correct for the refraction that exists at the air-water boundary underwater. Essentially what this means is that light is bent differently at the boundary, effectively magnifying the image and stretching the corners. A dome port will reduce this magnification and sharpen the corners of the image. A flat port is cheaper and easier to produce. The larger the port, the heavier and more expensive it will be, however the better the image quality you will have.

Ports are like lenses in that you tend to keep them for as long as you stay on the same type of camera system. When you are deciding on a housing manufacturer, take this into account. You don't want to replace all your ports by changing systems or changing housing manufacturers.

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Zoom Gears: With the exception of the 12-50mm that can be zoomed electronically, you will need a way to zoom any lenses that are not primes. This is accomplished via a gear that slides over the lens and meshes with teeth located in the housing. The housing has a knob on the left side that will control the zooming in and out. These are typically made of plastic and the number of teeth and their pitch depends on your housing brand. Olympus gears tend to be fairly cheap, but Nauticams for instance can get quite expensive. Personally, I create my own zoom gears with a 3D printer. I will provide links to files that I've found and saved at the end of the post. This is a great place to save money if you have access to a printer or know someone that does.

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At this point, you could go underwater and start shooting in ambient light. However, there are still more things that will improve your photos and the user experience.

If you went with a TG-5 and want to move up, you can add the items below here to your camera to increase it's capabilities without having to buy another camera. Definitely add a tray and lights before you consider moving up.

Tray & Handles: Housings are bulky and cumbersome. Holding the bare housing tends to make for shakier handling. Similar to how a battery grip added to a camera makes shooting easier in many situations, the tray accomplishes the same thing. It's also going to be required if you want to add external lighting (next topic).

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The EM1 mk 1 & mkII housings by Nauticam have the tray and handles integrated into the housing. For all the others, you'll need to buy it separately. As you can see, it consists of a base that screws into the bottom of the housing, with 2 vertical grips. On the top of the grips are 1" balls with o-rings. These balls are used for attaching external lighting. For Nauticam housings, you can add a trigger mechanism to the tray which moves the shutter action from the housing, to the right grip. I have this on my housing, and it makes it quite a bit easier to use. Not a requirement by any means, but it does help. I have seen people make 3D printed triggers for Olympus housings, so it's certainly possible to add cheaply to other housings.

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External lighting: Water eats light. Shooting in ambient light below 5-10m is going to be a challenge. You will notice that the first color to be lost is the reds. Everything will be looking blue and green. It's possible to correct some in post processing, but it can only do so much. The deeper you go, the more monochrome and dull everything looks. How to fix this? External lighting. Video lights or strobes (underwater flashes). No matter what camera you are using, before you go and spend the money to upgrade your camera, buy lights for your existing camera. That will make the biggest difference to your shots.

Video lights vs Strobes. This is the debate that everyone has. Unless you are planning to only shoot video underwater, buy strobes. Remember how water eats light? A strobe is on the order of 10-20 times more powerful than even more expensive video lights. You could get away with cheaper video lights if you are only shooting macro critters close up, but even then a strobe will still be more beneficial. Even the most powerful strobes underwater are useless if you are taking a photo of something more than 5m/15ft away. Get close to what you are taking photos of. Now get closer. If you get video lights, get the most powerful light with the widest beam you can find. You need a lot of light. The more light, the better your colors will be, and the more creative options you have available to you.

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Underwater strobes are typically triggered by optical sensors via a fiber optic cable. The camera's flash that sits on top of the camera fires, the light passes through fiber optic cable, reaches the sensor port on the strobe, and then the strobe will fire. For brands, I would look into Inon, Sea & Sea (CAN NO LONGER RECOMMEND THIS BRAND. HAD LOTS OF ISSUES), Retra, and if you have an Ikelite housing, Ikelite makes strobes as well. A good basic strobe to start with is the Sea & Sea YS-01 or Inon D-2000. You can typically find them used for $250 US.


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(bare tray, grip, arm & clamps, strobe & fiber optic sync cable)

Strobes and video lights are connected to the 1" balls that are on top of the grips with arms and clamps. Clamps are loosened and then the strobe can be moved around for different positioning. The above photo is a very basic setup with a single arm and 2 clamps. Far more common, and more useful, is a double arm setup. Strobe positioning will be discussed in another post.

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Focus Light:
The last thing that completes a typical underwater photo rig is a focus light. This is a wide beam light that sits on top of the housing and provides enough light for the camera to focus (center of above photo). Typically they are never bright enough to interfere with the photos, so they get left on all the time. Low light focusing isn't one of m4/3rd's strong points. If you are only diving in warm bright tropical waters and never at night, you likely won't need one. Most of my dives are in cold, dark, murky water.

When you put it all together, you get a rig that looks something like this. Not all of this is necessary to take photos underwater, but this is a typical full setup. This is what I packed for my last trip.

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This was my E-PM1 setup which I started with if you remove the strobe and arms on the left side of the photo. These show up used for ~$400 with housing not too infrequently due to Olympus doing a closeout on the camera and housing bundle back in 2012/2013. Makes a good first camera if you can find one.
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Vendors: This is a niche market. You can buy some of these items from B&H, Adorama, Amazon, etc, but a vendor specializing in underwater photography is going to be a much better place to get your gear. They typically offer advise, training, package deals, and answer questions that other vendors wouldn't be able to. They typically also offer photo workshop trips where they will have someone there to walk you through everything in person, provide critiquing, and potentially will allow you to try out gear.

These are the vendors that I use:
Optical Ocean Sales, Seattles Underwater Camera and Photography Store
Bluewater Photo and Video | Underwater Cameras and more
Backscatter Underwater Photography & Video

The best way to save money on gear is to buy used. I've found that the best areas to look for used gear are on the forums at www.wetpixel.com and www.scubaboard.com. You can find deals occasionally on Ebay as well, but that doesn't tend to be as productive.

In the next couple posts I will cover the actual process of taking photos and differences compared to land photography.
 
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ArcticaMT6

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So now that we have covered gear, let's get into the details of taking photos underwater. This post will be based on ambient light photos.

Just as on land, light is king underwater. If you are shallow and in clear and calm water, it will be a nicely lit scene. Additionally, the water tends to diffuse the light more than in air, so you get less harsh shadows. The problem happens when you get away from that ideal environment. The more cloudy the water is, the worse the detail, color, and overall pop of photos. The deeper you go, the less light there is, starting in the red color category. Waves on the surface will reduce this as well as it introduces more bubbles and particulate in the water, further reducing conditions.

Generally speaking, you want to keep your aperture at f/8.0 or smaller (larger F-stop number). Larger aperture than that and you will get more smearing in the corners of your photos due to the refractory nature of light. I typically shoot at f/11 or higher. Additionally, because you are moving (very difficult to stay perfectly still underwater, especially at the surface with wind and waves), you will want at least 1/100s as a general guideline. In clear water, I will shoot ISO400 or ISO640. Murkier waters I will bump up to ISO800-1250.

This upper clear area is where you should be focusing if you are starting out and shooting without any additional strobes or lights. Once you add the reds and yellows back into the photos during post processing, you can get some nice results. Note the gradient between the foreground and the background in the photo below. This shows that even though the background is closer to the surface, the distance away from the camera reduces the detail, color, and contrast. Get close.

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The real magic happens when you are in the upper 10m/30ft of the water column, on a sunny day with not a lot of waves on the surface. Mornings and late afternoons can have some very pretty light rays coming down from the surface. Large F-stop and high shutter speeds will increase this effect.

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Even if conditions aren't ideal, you can still get some good shots. Clouds overhead will diffuse the light, turning the entire sky into a softbox. This reduces shadows and the overall contrast of the scene. Again, get close in order to maximize detail.

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Once you get further away from the surface, you begin to lose color and detail. Additionally, the overall light level drops. You have to increase your shutter speed, ISO, and aperture to compensate.

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One method to make up for this, is to shoot black and white. Focus on making sure you have a scene with a large dynamic range. A scene without much contrast doesn't make for a very good black and white conversion. Find recognizable shapes that call attention to the viewer and focus on them.

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ArcticaMT6

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Now lets move on to using external lights.

The use of external lights underwater is to bring that color and detail back that we lost when shooting ambient light in the previous post. You have two options when using strobes underwater. Shooting so that you only use the light from the strobes, and shooting a mixed scene that has the subject illuminated by the strobe, while still allowing enough light from the rest of the scene to be lit via ambient light.

When you are shooting smaller critters and macro, you can get close enough that the strobe can light up the entire scene. Just as when shooting on land, the exposure of the scene lit by the strobe is not dependent on the shutter speed. In the situation of not using ambient light at all, you can just set your shutter to your max sync speed and never touch it again as it is irrelevant to your overall exposure.

In these types of shooting situations, strobe placement and power variations are how you create the dynamic range in the scene. A light placed over top of the camera at 12 o'clock pointed straight forward is going to give you a nice even illumination of the scene.

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Nothing exciting with the lighting in those photos. Relatively flat image. Technically good as they are well illuminated, sharp, and the focus is on the eyes. However, you can create more dramatically lit photos by varying the position of the light.

Side lighting tends to bring out the details and texture.

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Back lighting tends to bring out a glow in translucent creatures.

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Once we move on to balanced photos, then things get a little different. In this situation, the shutter speed is what makes the difference. We set up the camera as if we are taking a shot that is solely flash based, and then increase the shutter speed until we get the level of background illumination that we want. The background exposure level is a personal preference. Some people like to shoot almost entirely ambient scenes, with just a touch of fill in flash, and others like to shoot almost completely flash based, with the background being 3 stops underexposed. The latter seems to be the more common fad from what I've seen. I personally like around -1.5EV or -2EV in my photos.

Somewhere around -0.5EV or -1EV
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And a more typical -2EV
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The same light placement techniques that I showed above apply to balanced photos as well. By moving the lights out to the side, and dropping the left strobe down a couple stops, I brought out some texture in this wolf eel.

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And a more evenly lit scene by using 2 lights directly overhead

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Single strobe overhead and slightly to right of the camera.

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Now for the bad. Backscatter. By using a strobe, you are lighting up everything that's in the strobes light output cone. This is not only what you are taking photos of, but all the particulate in the water as well. This shows up looking like snow in the photo.

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It's unsightly and can ruin a photo. So how do we get rid of it? Diving in clear, warm water is the best way to minimize it. Unfortunately for me, my local waters are anything but clear and warm. So now what do we do? We don't light it up. Strobes and video lights output their light in a cone that is anywhere from 90-120 deg. We use this to our advantage by only using the very edge of the cone to light up what we are taking photos of. Moving the strobes away from the camera more reduces how much water in front of the subject gets lit up. The general rule of thumb is to start by having your light the same distance away from the camera as the distance from the camera to what you are taking a photo of. Additionally, keep the strobe heads pointed forward and even with the handles on your tray. The further forward they are, the more backscatter.

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The longer your strobe arms, the further away you can be without backscatter. I use a 12" and 7" arm on each side, along with extra long clamps.

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So what happens if you are further away than your arms length? You can cheat a bit by angling your strobes away from the camera. Just remember that the further away you are, the less light is reaching your subject. 3m/10ft is about as far away as I try to be. If I can't get any closer than that, I typically won't bother taking the photo.
 
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Hypilein

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Wow. This is a very thorough write-up. Must have taken you quite some time. One little thing I might add about buying used on ebay. While good deals come up very rarely, they also tend to be the best ones. If you are on a very strict budget or have no sense of urgency what so ever you can get some ridiculous deals, because the market is so niche that most potential buyers won't even know before the item is gone again. Conversely selling UW photo gear on ebay seems like the worst idea imaginable. I got my full kit (without strobes) of Nauticam EM5 Housing, port gear and lens for the Oly 12-50mm and the Dome-Port for the 8-18mm/12-40mm for less than 700€.
 

ArcticaMT6

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Wow. This is a very thorough write-up. Must have taken you quite some time. One little thing I might add about buying used on ebay. While good deals come up very rarely, they also tend to be the best ones. If you are on a very strict budget or have no sense of urgency what so ever you can get some ridiculous deals, because the market is so niche that most potential buyers won't even know before the item is gone again. Conversely selling UW photo gear on ebay seems like the worst idea imaginable. I got my full kit (without strobes) of Nauticam EM5 Housing, port gear and lens for the Oly 12-50mm and the Dome-Port for the 8-18mm/12-40mm for less than 700€.

Already put up about ebay in the bottom of the first post. I got one of my strobes on Ebay brand new in the box for about $150 off. The vast majority of my gear has been bought used from either Scubaboard or Wetpixel.

Is your 12-50 port the one with the knob so you can select the macro function? Or is it just the standard port that works with the 60mm and 14-42mm?

Honestly, for someone starting out, the best deal seems to be to find a used E-PM1 and housing. Olympus did a fire sale of them back in 2012 for $500, and they are coming up from people upgrading. Older sensor, and not great for higher ISO stuff, but if you add strobes/lights, it'll be way better than the same amount on a newer camera/housing without lights.

I've got a few more posts that I'm going to put up after this with more information. Just getting started.
 

pake

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HOLY S***! Great write-up and great photos - especially the shark ones! Just WOW. :hail::hail::hail:
 

Hypilein

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Already put up about ebay in the bottom of the first post. I got one of my strobes on Ebay brand new in the box for about $150 off. The vast majority of my gear has been bought used from either Scubaboard or Wetpixel.

Is your 12-50 port the one with the knob so you can select the macro function? Or is it just the standard port that works with the 60mm and 14-42mm?

Honestly, for someone starting out, the best deal seems to be to find a used E-PM1 and housing. Olympus did a fire sale of them back in 2012 for $500, and they are coming up from people upgrading. Older sensor, and not great for higher ISO stuff, but if you add strobes/lights, it'll be way better than the same amount on a newer camera/housing without lights.

I've got a few more posts that I'm going to put up after this with more information. Just getting started.

It is the one with the zoom knob and the lens included the appropriate zoom gear. The seller was just too lazy to take the zoom gear of the lens (it's complicated) so he threw it into the deal for an additional 50€.

Strobes seem to be quite a bit more frequent on ebay, but also achieve more realistic market prices. Housings and ports can go for ridiculously low amounts of money.
 

StefanKruse

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Great work! Info and pictures all top nudge and very informative! (and thanks for the tag :) )

Underwater photography is what got me into photography and is my favorite kind of photography. M43 is brilliant for UW Photo because of the small size which is very helpfull in combination with a lot of good lenses for UW photo my 2 favorite UW lenses are 9-18mm Oly and the 60mm macro.As fun as it is shooting UW, it is also the most challenging form of photography in my opinion because as if Photography wasnt difficult enough already you the go add weightlessness and the element of water which just makes lighting even more difficult. On top of that you cant go back and redo and image if you messed up because the Mantas may have gone, you don have any dives left etc.

Theres not a lot I can add to your brilliant post but a few bits and pieces.

When deciding between a flat port and a dome or semidome you have to consider that the flatport makes things appear 25% closer due to refraction. This means you wideangle lens will be slightly less wide in a flatport, thuus if wideangle is your thing the you need to consider this (wideangle is the most difficult type of shooting UW, because of lighting and framing in my opinion). For macro shooting this may be less of an issue. Macro is a good way to start UW photography because subject, although hard to find, dont move and that allows you to be stabilized more easily. Fishportrits are alos a good place to start.

Backscatter is a pain in the ... and you have to consider what you are shooting for big stuff like sharks and rays you should only use ambient light as the distance between you and sharks will ensure that the only thing you strobe lights is all the particles in the water. Trust me I learned the hard way after having spent 40 minutes at a Manta cleaning station with 20 Mantas i learned when I imported my pictures that they were all covered with small red dots.

A piece of equipment not mentioned above is a camera strap that allow you to attach your camera to you BCD (the vest that ensures your buoyancy. This allow you to let go of your camera and use both hands for ascending, helping another diver in need and it also keeps you from losing your camera should you drop it. see below picture.

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With this strap you can click and unclick the camera cord to allow it to be long for when using the camera and to click it when you are not operating you camera. Really neat.
.
I can recommend the following place to purchase UW camera gear:

FOTOGRAFIT - Nordic Underwater Imaging & light

The owner is really helpful in giving advise and suggestions if you are not sure what to get for the type of diving that you do or if dont know how something works.
 

ArcticaMT6

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HOLY S***! Great write-up and great photos - especially the shark ones! Just WOW. :hail::hail::hail:

Thanks. There's still quite a lot to cover though. Was going to go over lenses, care of the equipment, and different types of typical photos in another post or two.

It is the one with the zoom knob and the lens included the appropriate zoom gear. The seller was just too lazy to take the zoom gear of the lens (it's complicated) so he threw it into the deal for an additional 50€.

Strobes seem to be quite a bit more frequent on ebay, but also achieve more realistic market prices. Housings and ports can go for ridiculously low amounts of money.

Considering that zoom gear alone is about $800USD, that's a fantastic deal.

Great resource, I wonder whether it will get lost being in an images to share area of the forum. Can we get this pinned somewhere like the Hardware forum? Part Two and Three are almost asking to be a Lighting Tutorial.

I wasn't quite sure where to put it. I figured it might get lost in the hardware section, accessories, and I didn't want to do separate posts in the lighting section. I don't mind it being moved somewhere more appropriate.
 
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This is fantastic. Great write up. I've been toying with the idea of shooting some landscapes half submerged (ie alpine lakes, etc) with a dive housing, but seem to still need some extra light for the underwater portion. Ive got a paperweight of a Nikon J1 with Nikon WP-N1 that I have no other use for, but haven't bothered selling (I got the whole kit for $100-150 to replace a dead WP point and shoot). What would you recommend as the cheapest useable strobe out there, considering that it will likely never go more than a couple of feet down? It will see some kiddo swimming pool use as well. It's also slated to go through a technical slot canyon with me next month, but the water will probably be too dirty for anything but waterfalls and treading water shots for when dropping my m4/3 kit would be disastrous.
 
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Second question. Do you have any experience or recommendation on m67 wet lenses? My housing is dedicated to the kit lens (27mm- 81mm equiv focal length), but has threads for accesory lenses, apparently. Sorry to ask some probably basic questions, but I was literally trying to get settings figured out on my set up when I saw your post, figured it was fate on the timing.
 

ArcticaMT6

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Bainbridge Island, WA
This is fantastic. Great write up. I've been toying with the idea of shooting some landscapes half submerged (ie alpine lakes, etc) with a dive housing, but seem to still need some extra light for the underwater portion. Ive got a paperweight of a Nikon J1 with Nikon WP-N1 that I have no other use for, but haven't bothered selling (I got the whole kit for $100-150 to replace a dead WP point and shoot). What would you recommend as the cheapest useable strobe out there, considering that it will likely never go more than a couple of feet down? It will see some kiddo swimming pool use as well. It's also slated to go through a technical slot canyon with me next month, but the water will probably be too dirty for anything but waterfalls and treading water shots for when dropping my m4/3 kit would be disastrous.

You can find older manual Sea & Sea strobes on ebay for $100 or so. There's a few YS-90's on there right now that would probably work well. I haven't used them personally, however.

To do split shots, you will need an ultrawide lens and the largest dome you can afford. I have a 6" dome for my 7-14mm, and it's on the smaller side. A 230mm dome is better. It's quite difficult to do, actually. I haven't gotten any shots that have come out decent yet. Basically, the larger the dome, the smaller the wave/ripple effects on it in the image. A small dome only takes a tiny ripple to completely submerge the image. Larger domes also will straighten out the air/water boundary more. Smaller domes usually result with the boundary being curved.

This is taken to the extreme here, but this is the idea.

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Second question. Do you have any experience or recommendation on m67 wet lenses? My housing is dedicated to the kit lens (27mm- 81mm equiv focal length), but has threads for accesory lenses, apparently. Sorry to ask some probably basic questions, but I was literally trying to get settings figured out on my set up when I saw your post, figured it was fate on the timing.

Wet lenses come in 2 flavors. Macro diopters and wide angle converters. Which were you looking for?
 
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You can find older manual Sea & Sea strobes on ebay for $100 or so. There's a few YS-90's on there right now that would probably work well. I haven't used them personally, however.

To do split shots, you will need an ultrawide lens and the largest dome you can afford. I have a 6" dome for my 7-14mm, and it's on the smaller side. A 230mm dome is better. It's quite difficult to do, actually. I haven't gotten any shots that have come out decent yet. Basically, the larger the dome, the smaller the wave/ripple effects on it in the image. A small dome only takes a tiny ripple to completely submerge the image. Larger domes also will straighten out the air/water boundary more. Smaller domes usually result with the boundary being curved.

This is taken to the extreme here, but this is the idea.

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Wet lenses come in 2 flavors. Macro diopters and wide angle converters. Which were you looking for?

Hmm. That does sound tricky. I was planning on using a tripod on the shallow lake/stream bed to position the waterline at the midline of the lens. I think that I could minimize the waves by trying it on a calm day, or shooting long exposures. The output of my housing is flat, no dome at all. I wonder if I could rig up a ND or ND Grad filter to also sit at the waterline and use my headlamp under the water to work the exposure. I'll think all these things out, and maybe post a new thread, so as not to take your fantastic diving photo thread too far off topic. Thanks for the initial input. I'll experiment with some puddles first to see if it's doable with my current kit. For the wet lenses, I was thinking wide angle. Both for this split shot experiment and maybe for the canyoneering, as 27mm is a little too long for that environment. I may be better off getting a thread on WA converter intended for air with a m67 thread adapter, for the canyoneering approach. Thanks again, I really enjoy your underwater photos that you share on the site, keep 'em coming!
 

ArcticaMT6

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Joined
Jul 11, 2016
Messages
289
Location
Bainbridge Island, WA
Types of shots:

Generally speaking, most shots underwater fall into a few distinct categories, with each having their own guidelines/rules to go by. Wide angle scenes, fish portraits, macro, close focus wide angle (CFWA), and split shots. Wide angle scenes are like the first photo I posted of the reef, most similar to landscapes above water. Typically done using either a fisheye lens or a wide angle rectilinear lens. Fish portraits are just like it sounds. Close ups of animals, typically taken with a normal focal length similar to the kit lens, 12-50mm, 12-40mm pro, etc. Macro shots are just like they are on land. Taken with a macro lens, normal lens with a macro diopter, or a macro lens with an additional macro diopter. Close Focus Wide Angle (CFWA) shots are photos that have a small but prominent subject that is very close to the camera, but the field of view is wide enough to get a large area of background in as well. These are mostly shot with a fisheye lens, although some of the wider zooms can do it reasonably well. Split shots are photos that are taken at the surface where you can see below the water and above the surface in the same photo. This is done with an ultrawide lens or a fisheye lens.

Wide Angle Scenes:
To me, these are more difficult to get a pleasing and eye catching scene than it originally appears. You need a strong subject that will capture the viewer's attention, but also need an interesting enough background that doesn't overwhelm the image. I'm still chasing these photos. You want to have a very small aperture (large f-stop) to capture as much of the photo in focus as possible. This will also help to clean up the corners of the image. In the photo below, if you look at the lower left and lower right corners of the image, you can see what I am talking about. This is at f/9.0. f/11 or f/14 would have cleaned that up a bit more, but it's something that you're always going to have to deal with on a rectilinear lens. Fisheye lenses don't have this problem nearly as much.

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By framing this image so that there's not many things in the corners, you can avoid the smearing a bit.
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Compared to a fisheye lens (reusing the same image as above as I have just gotten my fisheye lens. Only have 1 dive on it so far) which has much more detail in the corners. This is at F/8 and would be even better had I switched to f/11 or f/14. I only had one strobe that day so I was fighting available light enough as it was.

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Fish portraits:
They can be done with any lens, although it is most typically done with lenses in the "normal" focal range. 12mm-60mm seems to be the main range that works well on Micro 4/3rds, and luckily we have a plethora of lenses that fall between there. The most important thing to do when you have a fish portrait, is to make sure the eyes are in focus. Forget about worrying about anything else until you can make sure that you get the eye in focus. These can be tight shots that focus only on the face of the subject, or they can be full shots that show the whole animal. These shots are tough to pull off without making it look like just a standard documentation shot of the side and front of the animal.

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With these you need to be strategic in how you approach the animal. Most animals are skittish and want nothing to do with the large, flounding, loud human racing after them. If you are on SCUBA, hold your breath (fine so long as you don't change depth) and approach slowly. If they are swimming, swim along side them and very slowly close the gap. Sometimes the best solution is to hide and let them approach you. Ling Cod will let me practically poke them in the face with the camera before they do anything. The Hammerhead shark above required hiding behind some rocks and waiting until it was nearly above me to jump out and get a shot off. Larger animals like the Great Whites don't really care about you. They will swim by when they feel like it and there's nothing you can do about it. Learn about the animal you want to take a photo of, and plan accordingly.

Macro photos:
Macro photos are some of the easiest photos to take underwater. Most people starting out will move into macro photos first. Here, the creatures are small and generally don't move very quickly. The biggest issue with macro photos is going to be getting close enough to fill the frame, and lighting. You can either add a macro diopter (wet lens) to an existing lens threaded on the front of a flat port, or use a macro lens. In the case of super macro, you would add a macro diopter to a macro lens to get even closer. Some animals are the size of a grain of rice and require this level of magnification. This is a great way to practice your lighting, and learn what each adjustment and position does. Because you are very close to the subject, strobe power isn't as much of a concern. A single strobe can light up the whole scene, and you don't need to have the most powerful model available. Additionally, because you are close, you can use shorter arms for the strobe without ill effect. Finally, because there is less water between you and the subject, the amount of backscatter drops dramatically. Strobe positioning isn't as critical here to get backscatter free images.

The best thing you can do to take your macro photos (and all photos underwater in general), is to get low and shoot up. Shooting from top down can be boring. It doesn't really grab the viewer's attention. By shooting at eye level or below, you make the creatures seem larger than life. This can be difficult, and you can often find yourself laying on the sand trying to get lower (make 100% sure you are only laying on bare rock or sand, nothing living that you can damage). A black background can also help to make the image pop more. Because you are relying solely on strobe power alone, you can close up your aperture and shutter speed to make sure that you get absolutely 0 ambient light in your scene.

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CFWA:
Close focus wide angle shots are similar to macro shots in that you are typically shooting smaller items from very close, but it utilizes a wide field of view to include the background. Here, balancing ambient light is what really helps to set off the image. Like I said above, I prefer about -1.5 to -2EV for the background. You want an interesting subject combined with an interesting background. Water clarity is important, and it helps a lot to shoot towards the sun and towards the surface in order to get a pleasing gradient in the water. Shooting with the sun and down tends to have a solid water color that doesn't add anything to the image. I'm still relatively new to this, so I don't have many images.

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ArcticaMT6

Mu-43 Veteran
Joined
Jul 11, 2016
Messages
289
Location
Bainbridge Island, WA
Hmm. That does sound tricky. I was planning on using a tripod on the shallow lake/stream bed to position the waterline at the midline of the lens. I think that I could minimize the waves by trying it on a calm day, or shooting long exposures. The output of my housing is flat, no dome at all. I wonder if I could rig up a ND or ND Grad filter to also sit at the waterline and use my headlamp under the water to work the exposure. I'll think all these things out, and maybe post a new thread, so as not to take your fantastic diving photo thread too far off topic. Thanks for the initial input. I'll experiment with some puddles first to see if it's doable with my current kit. For the wet lenses, I was thinking wide angle. Both for this split shot experiment and maybe for the canyoneering, as 27mm is a little too long for that environment. I may be better off getting a thread on WA converter intended for air with a m67 thread adapter, for the canyoneering approach. Thanks again, I really enjoy your underwater photos that you share on the site, keep 'em coming!

A tripod would probably make life a lot easier. I think you could make it work. To help with the difference in exposure above and below water, shoot with the sun at your back. Also, you could take 2 exposures since you will be on a tripod. One for water, one for air. Combine in post.

For a wet lens, I would look into something like this.

Dyron 20mm Wide Angle Lens

Should thread right on and give you a wider field of view. I don't know of the quality of it as I've never used one, but other than going to a real wet wide angle lens that costs ~$1k, I think that's your best bet.

And please post in here. I created this thread so that people can post up questions, results, post answers, etc. We have one or two photo sharing threads, but nothing specific for questions/critiques. I'd like to see this take off. We don't have nearly enough people shooting underwater here, despite olympus making a great platform for it.
 

ArcticaMT6

Mu-43 Veteran
Joined
Jul 11, 2016
Messages
289
Location
Bainbridge Island, WA
Lenses:
Because you need to fit the lens to a specific port, not every lens will work well underwater. I'll go over a list of lenses that people should be focusing on when it comes to using them underwater.

Standard Lenses
Olympus 14-42mm II kit lens. This is the standard kit lens that comes with the camera. It's nothing special, but it's actually not bad underwater. The biggest complaints with it that I have are that it's not really wide enough at the wide end, and not really long enough at the long end. Good for general photos and fish portraits as mementos from a trip. Easy to grab since just about everyone has one of these. Need to add a wet lens to make wider or get closer for macro. Works in the standard port.

Olympus 12-50mm: A step up in image quality over the 14-42mm, although not as much as on land. Can be zoomed electronically using buttons on the housing, so no zoom gear required. The biggest advantage to using this underwater is that you have the "macro" function to play with. Keep in mind though, that in order to use the macro mode of the 12-50mm, it needs to be selected before the camera and lens go into the housing. The only way to access it underwater is if you use a Nauticam housing, have the special nauticam port for the 12-50mm, and have the complicated and extremely expensive zoom gear for the 12-50mm. To me, the money spent on those extras just to access the macro button underwater isn't worth it unless you get it really cheap. I have a 12-50mm that I use occasionally with a 3D printed gear. Fits in the standard port normally unless you want to access the macro button as stated above.

Olympus 12-40mm pro: Best image quality of the standard zooms. More expensive, however. Requires it's own port as it cannot use the standard port. More expensive. I don't believe it can be used in the Olympus housings other than the E-M1, E-M5, E-M1mkII. The other housings have too small of a opening diameter to fit a port around it. Confirm it will work before buying.

Wide Angle Lenses
9-18mm. This is the only wide angle lens that will fit into the standard port. It's also going to be the cheapest option for getting wider than the normal kit lenses. A good option for getting wider angle photos without spending a lot of money. Uses the same zoom gear as the 14-42mm II lens. Sharp enough in the center, but smears pretty badly in the corners. A +4 diopter on the lens before putting it in the housing seems to help with the corner issue, but you lose some field of view by doing this.

Panasonic 7-14mm. This is what I have. Much sharper than the 9-18mm, and quite a bit wider. 7mm is much more user friendly underwater than 9mm. Like all rectilinear lenses, can still smear in the corners, but not quite as bad as the 9-18mm. Downsides are that it costs more than the 9-18mm, and requires a different and larger dome port and zoom gear.

Olympus 7-14mm Pro. Better than the Panasonic 7-14mm, however it comes at a cost. It is more expensive and requires an even larger dome. Additionally, this lens is too large to fit in the olympus housings for anything other than the E-M5 (first version), and both versions of the E-M1. For Nauticam housings, you have to use an adapter and use a larger port meant for a DSLR in order to use this lens.

Panasonic 8-18mm. From what I gather, this is a very good lens for underwater. I don't know about any compatibility issues with the housings like the Olympus Pro lenses. I know @Underwater uses one of these lenses. Not quite as wide as the 7-14mm lenses, but the extra 4mm on the top end would greatly help when dealing with skittish critters like the Hammerhead above (taken on the 9-18mm at 18mm). It uses the same dome as the Olympus 12-40mm and the Panasonic 12-60mm.

Fisheye Lenses
Panasonic 8mm. This was the only option for a while. Relatively cheap for a fisheye lens, and can focus very close. Great for CFWA shots. This was the go-to fisheye lens for underwater shots for the longest time. Works best with a small dome.

Olympus 8mm Pro. I just picked one of these up. More expensive than the Panasonic, but sharper. Doesn't focus quite as close, but still gets close enough for CFWA. Can use the same dome as the Panasonic fisheye, but it will require an extension.

Macro Lenses
Olympus 60mm Macro. This is my favorite lens of them all. Crazy sharp, and gives you enough working distance that critters are less likely to run away before you can get a shot off. works in the standard port. The long focal length can be an issue, however. It's sometimes difficult to find what you are looking for in the viewfinder. It's best to restrict it in the focus distance before putting it in the housing in order to stop it from hunting focus back and forth.

Panasonic 45mm Macro. This was the macro lens to get before the Olympus 60mm came out. There's not a lot of people that use this lens underwater. Could be good if you don't like the long focal length of the 60mm.

Olympus 30mm Macro. Even shorter focal length. Good for fish portraits as well as macro. The short working distance can be an issue with scaring off critters.
 

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