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SharkDiver2020

Beginner Setup Question

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After 2 photo workshop trips to Galapagos and Soccoro with my Canon 5D Mark IV (Paired with an Aquatica Housing), which I've always used with great success on land, I've grown frustrated.  Rather than enhancing my dives, it's frustrating me.  What's a more easy to use UW system? I want something that is not cumbersome, easy to fly with around the world, and is more idiot proof rather than requiring a high degree of skill.  I've thought of using a GoPro with cinema lights.

Look forward to responses here!

 

Thanks,

Sean

 

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I’ve seen amazing photos from an iPhone in a case on my last trip Galápagos 

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Fascinating...It's interesting how much Iphones are coming along. Thanks for the input.  I'd like to have more capability than that. 

Has anyone used the SeaLife UW cameras? They sell the ReefMaster RM-4K which looks desirable...

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what aspects frustrate you?  and what sort of photos are you hoping to achieve?  macro?, wide angle? video?

it's a fairly wide open question but without knowing specifically you find difficult it's hard to make a recommendation.

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As Chris asks, what do you see as the major frustration? Perhaps post a few images that you've shot?

So much depends on what you’re trying to achieve and the quality of the results which would please you 

For the vast majority of people, unless happy with point-shoot-and-hope-for-the-best, u/w photography  tends to take a great deal of time, effort and patience (and cash!) - and frequently frustration and disappointment! There is sadly no magic bullet or formula.

The DSLR/Mirrorless systems can help you create extraordinary images but they take a lot of time and effort to acquire the familiarisation necessary.

Maybe the next step down is the type of system built around, for example,  the Canon G series, Panasonic Lumix, or Sony A6xxx. Not quite as complex as DSLR/mirrorless there is nonetheless a steep learning curve.

After that, you can get pretty good results from an iPhone in the SeaLife housing - but you will never achieve the sort of images that, for example, the Aquatic system you are selling is capable of achieving.

https://www.sealife-cameras.com/sportdiver-underwater-smartphone-housing/

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I'd say that the issue was choice of destination. Both Socorro and Galapagos are great destinations for underwater photography, but both are poor destinations to learn underwater photography.

To learn skills you want easy diving, which offers repeatable and unhurried opportunities with subjects. So you have time to think about and optimise those techniques.

Once the techniques become second nature you can then make the most of those challenging but rewarding destinations. In many dives you either need a point and shoot camera, or to be on top of your technique so that you can operate a more capable camera as efficiently. 

Alex

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@SharkDiver2020

Following on from what @Alex_Mustard said, Socorro & Galapagos are not the the locations that I would expect someone to learn U/W photography (however, we're assuming you were shooting wide angle in these locations to get images of the larger marine life). If you were shooting macro, there are dive sites in both locations where you can find relatively calm conditions with slow(er) moving subjects.

So what were you attempting to shoot?

Having said this, many (if not most) u/wphotographers start shooting macro, and usually (although many won't admit it ;) start out taking images of things that literally don't move (like coral). or move very slowly.

Both my younger teenage kids started this way, and enjoyed the early successes of shooting hard coral, sponges, holothurians, soft coral, sea urchins, shells, starfish, crinoids, etc. Then they started moving on to nudis and slow moving fish... 

They both started with Oly mirrorless systems with my son moving to a D500 and my daughter now using a Sony A7R4.

Moving to a simpler system might be a way forward, however so might diving somewhere that's more conducive to learning to shoot.

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Good evening,

It takes a long time to master some could say you never stop learning which for me is the case, I think you need to master the easy things

first, creatures which don't move a round much with a Marco lens strobe position is easier as strobe arms are normally very short.

I also have practiced at home with lighting subjects laying on the floor which gives you an idea what you are lighting.

Workshops are the best way to learn I have been on quite a few now where you meet other like minded divers.

the amount you learn from each other is quite remarkable, on all trips I've been on repetitive dives on the same dive site with the natural 

light changing also helps.

Andy.   

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Alex, you are incredible! I've read your books! They are amazing and I've long respected and admired your work.

As far as the responses from this well seasoned group! Thank you.  As far as questions, in both Soccorro and the Galapagos on Bluewater Photo Workshops (excellent) surrounded by excellent and more experienced photographers, shooting the same content, I expected with a professional setup using an Aquatica wide angle dome, Canon 5D Mark IV with a 16-35 F2.8 lens, that my work should have been reasonably comparable to my more seasoned dive partners.  To say my photos were close was a vast understatement.  

Having had reasonable success shooting exotic wildlife on land in the Arctic, Africa, and other regions, I have a basic level of expectations. My goals for these dive spots were wide angle portraits of these majestic sharks and their gorgeous backdrops.  Consistently my photos had poor definition, the sharks were always too far away even if visually they seemed close (causing me to have to crop 60% of the photo in post processing further reducing image quality). 

There are many principles to great UW : subject positioning, use of strobes, post processing.  What I find though is that there are too many adjustments one must make on the fly that for someone going on 1-2 dive trips a year are excessive and never become second nature. While trying to enjoy the dive, constantly changing camera settings, trying to optimize strobes, etc becomes burdensome and takes away from the joy of being underwater.  While it would be amazing to have my own photos, at this point I'd rather purchase photos from a brilliant artist like Alex Muster versus struggling to take something 5% as good.

I agree it's important to build skills in easy dive environments, but having no interest in taking limited dive time to go to places that are uninteresting, and all of my diving being focused on bucket list trips, I'm not sure this UW thing is right for me....

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I'd say that the issue was choice of destination. Both Socorro and Galapagos are great destinations for underwater photography, but both are poor destinations to learn underwater photography.

To learn skills you want easy diving, which offers repeatable and unhurried opportunities with subjects. So you have time to think about and optimise those techniques.

Once the techniques become second nature you can then make the most of those challenging but rewarding destinations. In many dives you either need a point and shoot camera, or to be on top of your technique so that you can operate a more capable camera as efficiently. 

Alex

 

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1 hour ago, SharkDiver2020 said:

Alex, you are incredible! I've read your books! They are amazing and I've long respected and admired your work.

As far as the responses from this well seasoned group! Thank you.  As far as questions, in both Soccorro and the Galapagos on Bluewater Photo Workshops (excellent) surrounded by excellent and more experienced photographers, shooting the same content, I expected with a professional setup using an Aquatica wide angle dome, Canon 5D Mark IV with a 16-35 F2.8 lens, that my work should have been reasonably comparable to my more seasoned dive partners.  To say my photos were close was a vast understatement.  

Having had reasonable success shooting exotic wildlife on land in the Arctic, Africa, and other regions, I have a basic level of expectations. My goals for these dive spots were wide angle portraits of these majestic sharks and their gorgeous backdrops.  Consistently my photos had poor definition, the sharks were always too far away even if visually they seemed close (causing me to have to crop 60% of the photo in post processing further reducing image quality). 

There are many principles to great UW : subject positioning, use of strobes, post processing.  What I find though is that there are too many adjustments one must make on the fly that for someone going on 1-2 dive trips a year are excessive and never become second nature. While trying to enjoy the dive, constantly changing camera settings, trying to optimize strobes, etc becomes burdensome and takes away from the joy of being underwater.  While it would be amazing to have my own photos, at this point I'd rather purchase photos from a brilliant artist like Alex Muster versus struggling to take something 5% as good.

I agree it's important to build skills in easy dive environments, but having no interest in taking limited dive time to go to places that are uninteresting, and all of my diving being focused on bucket list trips, I'm not sure this UW thing is right for me....

 

 

 

 

 

It seems you picked one of the more challenging subjects to try and produce images of, getting close to sharks underwater and lighting them in challenging conditions (not crystal clear water, particulates in the water,  current, etc.) is certainly a challenge and not something I'd expect to get great images straight off. 

If reef scenics are of interest to you I think you would find them less challenging to produce images you would be happier with - you basically set your strobes and settings  and get to the right distance and shoot.  Other things that may be easier could be macro photography where TTL strobes can work. 

Based on what you have said point and shoots could allow you to take some record shots but I expect you'd be disappointed in the results.  A lot of what makes pleasing UW shot is the lighting and unfortunately that involves strobes and arms which need to be positioned properly. 

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Chris Ross: Thank you! I appreciate your valuable insights...

You are correct: the particulate matter in the water, fast currents, and quick animals were ultimately really disappointing. I never mean to complain! I just want to enjoy my dives, feel gratitude to be in these special places, and come home with some great memories in terms of images.

I think practicing on slow moving reefs is a great idea and there are some amazing bucket list places like Papua New Guinea or Palau.  

 

Thank you sir for some wonderful advice and listing to my rookie frustrations.

 

Sean

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Maybe make trip to Lembeh or Anilao. Those places are much easier to dive and get good results, but I wouldn’t consider them boring by any stretch of the imagination. 

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I thought my underwater photos were decent until I went to the Digital Shootout and saw what others were doing, daily.  Caused me to try to up my game.   I was shooting a D850 underwater with 230mm dome and 16-35.  Or macro with 105vr.

I've rarely been happy with my wide-angle stuff, but I think that a good deal of that is my choice of subject matter, which is often seascapes.   Unless I have a) bright sun, b) clear water, and c) relatively shallow depth, I just don't have much 'luck' in the results.   Macro is far simpler and easier to emphasize a subject and light it.   Don't need good ambient conditions there.

I'm mostly struggling there in both post-processing (mostly white balance) and composition, but trying to improve in both.  But I'm not struggling in camera settings particularly, and it would be interesting to hear where you are having issues.

I see some indications:  particulate matter in the water (really sucks for wide angle), fast currents (can be fun in video, but yes, does make it hard to put the camera where you want it when it needs to be there), and fast critters.   Well fast critters are always going to be tough, unless one of the camera makers comes up with good subject detection for underwater animals like fish.  That's part of the challenge and part of the reward when you get lucky.  And persistence tends to lead to more luck.

When doing 'general' wide angle, (unpredictable but quickly over situations)  I think the most acceptable no-time-to-change-settings wide-angle setup for me was to set shutter speed (1/160th) and aperture (F9-ish), turn on Auto ISO and then carefully manage strobe power manually based on distance of strobe to subject and ISO involved.   So an ISO 800 shot might care of the ambient, and a kiss of strobe power lights the subject but doesn't overwhelm it and still allows a good color white balance since the camera was really set for ambient.   Putting in strobe power at very low settings didn't overwhelm the ambient white balance, and once the strobes were set, it was really just a matter of having another subject about the same distance from the camera.   That allowed me to focus more on composition and focus.    Since wide angle has a pretty good depth of field, prefocusing on a reasonable distance can allow you get shots of fast moving critters, though it is often hit-or-miss there.

Some things underwater are a volume game, even for the most experienced.  I find there is no substitute for dive time underwater.  And since strobe position is so important, it is important for you to master getting the flash power where you want it at the exact strength you want it.   You simply need to take time to get the strobes right for the subject.   That said, if the subject can be repeated, you don't need to change the strobes and can then cruise around getting images easily.   But you'll have to chimp the results at first to get those strobes right.   That won't change with a different camera.   But if you have a pool and some underwater subjects, you could practice at home.

 

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I will agree with Alex, Socorro and the Galapagos are definitely not the places to either learn uw photography or to try new kit. I made the same mistake on my first dive trip about 30 years ago. I visited Sipadan Island with Borneo Divers and expected results while I was just learning ro deift dive. Needless to say that my shots were poor.

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