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Digital sunbursts - the saga continues


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#1 Alex_Mustard

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Posted 16 March 2005 - 07:28 AM

Most DSLR shooters are now happy that their cameras can match or comfortably out resolve slide film (once it is scanned).

The one area that film still holds sway is when shooting sunbursts. Although digital can do a much better job at capturing sunbursts than many people think (as has been shown here by the likes of Rand McMeins, Herb Ko and several others).

I see there being two problems with digital. The first is that film does seem to handle the overexposure caused by a sunburst with more subtlety than digital. And I feel that this is partly to do with its increased dynamic range and partly because it is more forgiving of overexposure.

The second problem (which is because of the first reason) is that digital requires a slightly different technique for sunbursts than film. And when ex-film photographers first shoot sunbursts on digital they tend to use their film technique and not get pleasing results.

Here is an example. Taken on one of my early dives on digital. I just did what I used to do on film with my D100 and yuk:

Posted Image

Alex

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#2 Alex_Mustard

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Posted 16 March 2005 - 07:33 AM

The problem with this image is that the sun has created a large sunball, surrounded by a lurid cyan halo before, finally, fading into a more pleasing blue.

And I don't believe I am alone in being skilled enough to create such an image. Here is a quote from an post on Wetpixel today:

Hi Alex

I am struggling with sunburst shots in particular. My sunburst shots taken with a D70 do not come out well at all, and yours taken with the D2X are mind-blowing.

I have read through a couple of the old posts on the topic but am new enough at Digital SLRs not to have anything approaching a complete understanding.

My question is, will my sunburst pics get materially better with practice and experience or does the D70 simply not have the tonal range to effectively handle these shots?

Attached is a pic taken in Cape Town at a depth of 40m with visibility of +/- 10m and really bad surface conditions (3m swells). How do I get the sunburst to look more like yours....???!!!


<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Attached Images

  • JHT__2_.jpg

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#3 Alex_Mustard

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Posted 16 March 2005 - 07:44 AM

So how to solve this. Now I don't profess to being the most qualified to answer this question here on wetpixel, and I hope that others will join this discussion too (you know you want to, Rand).

The most important difference with film is that a good digital sunburst requires more underexposure. If you matrix meter a typical reef shot on film, with blue water and a sunbursts, generally you will want to underexpose what the meter is telling you by 1 stop. On digital this will be closer to 2-3 stops.

The easiest way to do this is to increase your shutter speed. Which will underexpose the background, but will not effect your foreground flash exposure.

Here is an example, shot with a D70. Strobes stayed the same (DS-125s on 1/2 power). Aperture kept the same f11. Just shutter speed increased.

Posted Image

This underexposure helps bring the sunball under control.

I could have further reduced the size of the sunball by making my aperture even smaller (which would have meant increasing my flash power).

Finally, although I haven't done it here - you can help the image in post processing. First by adjusting the hue of the cyan to blue. Much nicer. And by giving lightening and saturating the now too dark blue water. Or by converting the image twice from RAW (these shots were JPGS) once exposing for the reef and once for the sunburst and blending them together in photoshop.

Alex

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#4 Alex_Mustard

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Posted 16 March 2005 - 07:56 AM

The other important factor to consider is equipment. First not all cameras handle highlights as well as others.

Also if you want to use the underexposure technique it is important that your camera can achieve flash synchronisation at fast shutter speeds. Mechanical shutters (which are found in most DSLRs) have upper synch speeds in the range 1/125th - 1/500th. Obviously the higher the better - as it gives you more flexibility. However most compact cameras control the length of their exposure on the sensor itself - an electronic shutter. This means that they can synchronise at any shutter speed. Making them great for the underexposure technique. The D70 also does this.

However there is a problem with using faster and faster shutter speeds. Once you are above 1/500th of a second there is no longer enough time for big, powerful UW strobes to dump all their light. And at faster shutter speeds this starts to limit how much strobe light you can get onto the foreground.

In this example shot on a D70 at 1/1000th of a second I have increased my strobe from 1/4 to 1/2 to full power, without any increase in brightness of the foreground - because there wasn't time during the exposure to get any more light out of my strobe.
Posted Image

Alex

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#5 Alex_Mustard

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Posted 16 March 2005 - 08:02 AM

I hope that others will add some examples of good digital sunbursts. I have seen a good number on wetpixel over the years.

My final point in this rant is that we often forget that film was not always perfect either. And environmental conditions are also very important in getting good sunbursts. And on film, using the correct settings was also important.

Alex

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#6 james

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Posted 16 March 2005 - 08:30 AM

Alex,

Excellent explanation and examples! You should copy this thread to the "best of wetpixel" forum and a note on the homepage wouldn't hurt either. Good stuff.

Cheers
James
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#7 randapex

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Posted 16 March 2005 - 09:02 AM

Thank you Alex, for that nice introduction.. :D

Although I've taken a bazillion sun shots, it seems the more I do it, the more I realize how hard it is to get a nice one. There are so many factors at work, sea conditions, cloud cover, depth, sun angle. Each shot has its' own unique issues of exposure. Tilt the camera 10 degrees, and it all changes.

What was at first an attempt to shoot a shark with a sun ball in the corner of the frame, might, by good fortune, evolve quickly into a silhouette of the shark right in the sun and requires a different exposure. So you better have your thumb on that shutter dial ready to jump.

Basically, I see four types of shots that maybe we can call:

(All shots with the 10.5 FE except the 5050 shot which was with the Inon Dome)

Sun ball out of the frame: perhaps the easiest to expose (D70 f10 @ 1/400):

Posted Image

Sunball obscured: a nifty trick to get rid of the ugly white ball in the center (D70 f7.1 @ 1/320):

Posted Image

Sunball obscured with rays: same as above but due to conditions (mainly shallow), a more appealing shot in my view (Oly 5050 f 6.3 @ 1/1000):

Posted Image

And finally, an un-obscured sun ball: the first one is at 100' (30m) D70 f7.1 @ 1/320
The second is fairly shallow and reflects the need for a fast shutter to control the sun ball but at the same time causes what I consider an unattractive darkness around the edges. (D70 f8 @ 1/2500)

Posted Image

Posted Image

I'd like to say: "In conclusion" but I've really nothing to conclude at this point. Other than to say, I believe the digital format treats the sun a bit differently than film (DUh!) but in the end, may be capable of a more dramatic effect. So help me prove that!

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#8 Rocha

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Posted 16 March 2005 - 09:19 AM

Here is a film sunburst (scanned Provia 100F), just for comparison.

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#9 james

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Posted 16 March 2005 - 09:33 AM

Hi Guys,

Rand said:

What was at first an attempt to shoot a shark with a sun ball in the corner of the frame, might, by good fortune, evolve quickly into a silhouette of the shark right in the sun and requires a different exposure. So you better have your thumb on that shutter dial ready to jump.


Boy is that the truth. Last weekend, I found that I'm just not fast enough. I was trying to get the sun behind this manta ray, and I had my exposure set for mid-blue water to get shots like these:

Posted Image

Then the manta turned and I was able to get the sun behind him, but not able to change my exposure in time to get a good shot:

Posted Image

Even with -2 stops of highlight adjustment in ACR, I still wasn't able to get a good sunball. I had the same trouble w/ the sealions.

I think from now on, when I get in a situation like this with fast action, I might try shooting in Aperture Priority with a stop or two of negative compensation thrown in. I bet I'll get more keepers.

Cheers
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#10 segal3

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Posted 16 March 2005 - 09:55 AM

I think the most important part of shooting a sunburst (sunball with sunrays), is recognizing the conditions that it will happen. The rays themselves are not at all the brightest portion of the shot, by orders of magnitude - as a result, as one goes deeper, the chances of capturing the sunrays diminish. Additionally, the rays are often created by a mere turbulance on top of the water, a simple swell action. It is important to keep an eye on the surface on occassion - when the rays appear, you will know.

Posted Image
1/400, f/18, 18-55mm @ 21mm

This jellyfish was shot extremely shallow, perhaps at 10-15ft depth. Notice that the image exhibits the hint of possible rays, but degrades into a sunball both because it was allowed to bloom a little more than normal, as well as the surface conditions.

Posted Image
1/320, f22, 18-55mm @ 33mm

I'm not sure what category this falls into. The sunrays are not at all like they usually are - one individual described the wisps and tendrils of light as "god's fire." At the time (while shooting kelp), I noticed a change in the light coming down, and looking up, saw dancing rays on the surface. I feel this is the best time to shoot for a sunburst. It does help if there is some manner of particulate matter in the water for the light to reflect off of...in the clearest blue tropical waters, you may never record sunrays, or only very rarely.

Posted Image
1/250, f/18, 18-55mm @ 18mm

Silhouettes, or partial silhouettes, are perhaps the easiest to do against the sun. Notice however that it is not always necessary to use the subject to block the sun. In some cases, this may be impossible - in an extremely bright day, the subject can be lost inside the glare and washout caused by shooting straight at the sun, even underwater.

Make sure to remember that you may be limited in your exposure choice if you want to add strobe -lit foregrounds. The previous photos were all ambient light.

Digital sensors have reached a point where they too can capture the finer details of a transistion from the deepest blue of the ocean to the white overexposure of a sunburst. It's up to you to experiment...
Matt Segal - carbonos scuba

#11 BradDB

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Posted 16 March 2005 - 02:09 PM

Some of the better sunburst shots I have seen recently have been in Berkley White's gallery. The gallery indicates that these were taken with a D100, 16 mm, Titan housing using a split neutral density filter:

My favorite:
http://www.backscatt...plate.php?ID=39

others:
http://www.backscatt...plate.php?ID=60
http://www.backscatt...plate.php?ID=59

Looks like I may have to purchase a split ND filter before my next trip.

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#12 CeeDave

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Posted 16 March 2005 - 02:23 PM

I wonder how he's handling split ND filters on the 16mm fisheye? And in two different orientations...

Added as an edit...
If no-one here offers an answer in a few days, I'll try a "comment" on his web page. If someone else knows him, it'd be great if you'd contact him instead of this stranger, me.

It's hard to mount filters in front of the bulging glass of the 16mm ... SOP is to use the rear turret...

And a nonsplit, nongrad ND is only going to help a little bit ... perhaps giving you a lower, syncable shutter speed or a diffraction-free f-stop, but not doing anything for the >5 fstops of range that's at the heart of the matter.

...and he labels the shots (underneath) as using split ND's
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#13 anthp

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Posted 16 March 2005 - 02:38 PM

Excellent thread and I reckon a prime candidate for "Best Of"

Now all we need is a comment from Herb....
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#14 kdietz

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Posted 16 March 2005 - 02:51 PM

Doesn't have to be a split ND does it?....Just a screw on ND filter?.....wonder what power to use?


Edit: I contacted Berkley about the split ND filter he used on these shots...they are working on a custom split ND filter for the 16mm that can use the zoom gear for changing from vertical to horizontal....it's a work in progress, but stay tuned

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#15 herbko

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Posted 16 March 2005 - 11:16 PM

Excellent thread and I reckon a prime candidate for "Best Of"

Now all we need is a comment from Herb....

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>


That's putting me on the spot. :D I really don't have that much to add. I find that metering to estimate the exposure doesn't work well for sunball shots. I usually start with the max shutter speed (1/320 for the Rebel) and a small aperture around F/11 and work from there.

I've also been using Craig Jone's green and magenta filtering scheme and I think it helps. I played around with the histogram of selected areas around the sunball. The sharp turquoise ring in the photo Alex labelled "yuk" at the begining of the thread is cause by having both green and blue channels clipped while the red is still ramping up. Comparing it to my turtle shot below taken with a green filter over the lens, while I think this one is also a little over exposed, the green channel is still varing close to the white area and the transition from blue to turquoise to white is not as sharp. I had the same problem James did. I couldn't change the settings fast enough when the turtle moved into position by the sun ball.

BTW. I don't think aperture prority is the answer for my setup. The camera doesn't know the strobe is there and may choose a fast shutter like 1/500 which would cut the strobe exposure from about 1/2 the photo.

Posted Image

Here're a few more from last year:

Posted Image

Posted Image

Posted Image
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#16 Alex_Mustard

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Posted 17 March 2005 - 01:06 AM

There are some very good examples here. Wow! Great work guys. I guess that this discussion might also be helped by some some examples of failed sunbursts - and reasons for failure. Plus any shots that have worked and don't follow the guidelines I wrote at the top.

----------

Also to further the discussion I have selected a few of my old sunbursts taken on film - that show some of the problems of digital sunbursts. Just to make the point that film was not always perfect. There are, of course, many great sunbursts captured on film - I'm just making the point that film can show some of the same problems as digital.

This image was taken in 1994 on a Nikonos V. The sunball is too large (from over exposure) and also has a horrible cyan ring. This could be an advert for the failings of digital - but actually it is film. I would also say that at the time I saw nothing wrong with the sun in this image - it only looks bad to me in these hyper-critical digital days.
Posted Image

Here is another example. Taken in 2001 with F100 and 16mm. Again I used to really like this shot. But the sun is again way overexposed. Producing a large amorphous sunball, without rays. The foreground lighting ain't too hot either! Where film does better than digital here is that on (Nikon) digital the light area around the sun would be colour shifted to cyan - rather than the light blue here - which is less offensive to the eye.
Posted Image

And finally, this image, taken in the summer of 2002 again with the fisheye (and about a month before I got my D100) shows a typical wide angle shot. Nothing too bad here. Yet despite apparently good conditions I still have a cyan halo round the sunburst and few rays. The difference with digital is that film allowed me to control the size of the sunball without having to underexpose as much - thus giviing a much more pleasing blue water colour than the dark blues we get on digital sunbursts.
Posted Image

Alex

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#17 james

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Posted 17 March 2005 - 06:35 AM

Good pt Herb:

BTW. I don't think aperture prority is the answer for my setup. The camera doesn't know the strobe is there and may choose a fast shutter like 1/500 which would cut the strobe exposure from about 1/2 the photo.


One nice feature about the 1D series bodies is that you can lock the max or min shutterspeed in Av (Aperture Priority) mode. So in theory, I can do some tests and then lock it at 1/500th or below or whatever my camera is capable of using my UW strobes...

I wish the 20D had a feature like this.

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#18 Alex_Mustard

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Posted 21 April 2005 - 04:55 AM

I think that the best way to level the playing field between slide and digital sunbursts is in printing. Afterall this is the bit where the quality counts - because this is when you get paid.

Here is a scan of my pictures from my D2X review from Scuba Diving Australiasia. Which, incidently, I have just realised are most likely the first magazine printed UW D2X pictures.

I haven't seen the magazine for myself, but this is a scan that Karl Dietz emailed me (thanks Karl). And I think that the sunburst has printed well. Sunbursts generally look far worse in print than on screen or projection - and I have been advised more than once not to submit sunburst slides because they never print well.

All things considered I don't believe a film sunburst taken in the same conditions would look any better on the final printed magazine page. Do others agree?

Posted Image

Alex

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#19 yahsemtough

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Posted 21 April 2005 - 05:42 AM

I think I have to agree with you. I like how it shows.
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#20 randapex

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Posted 21 April 2005 - 01:36 PM

Of courese you've just posted a digital image of a page but, if I can rely on the example being close, I'd say it's one of the best sunbursts I've seen. Film or digital. Never had the opportunity to shoot film U/W. But, with all the talk of digital vs film when it comes to resolving the sun, I'd say that wins over most film shots I've seen.

Rand
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