Having talked about what the strobe does for you and the things that you need to think about to use them effectively, it’s time to consider the variety of ways we can use the strobes to enhance our underwater pictures.
The first thing to understand is a formula. That is that Total light equals the sum of Vertical light and Horizontal light. This diagram illustrates the concept. We can produce infinite variations of the picture by changing the amount of light from each source being used in an image.
As we are scuba diving, we adjust the amount of vertical light in the picture, so we will be changing the color of the background. We can take the background from black, where we allow no vertical light in, to a light blue where we add a lot of ambient light. This is probably a good place to start to compose our picture. Start by turning your strobes off and take a sequence of photographs varying the aperture with a shutter speed of 1/125th until you get the background color you are looking for. Point the camera, with the sun at your back into the blue water. Quite frequently, if you are scuba diving in the tropical waters of Key Largo, a good place to finish will be about f8 at 1/125th. at an ISO of 200. Obviously, less light will make the background darker, and more light, lighter. Once you have a background color to your liking, turn on one of the strobes and point it at your subject. Start on low power on the strobe and take a photograph. Review the result in the LCD screen and adjust the strobe power accordingly, increasing or decreasing the power. You can then turn on the second strobe to fill in any areas you think could do with some extra light.
In this picture of a Nassau Grouper, the shutter speed was 1/200th of a second with a small aperture and the strobe power was on high. This eliminated the vertical (ambient) light and made the backgound dark to avoid lighting a distracting background.
By contrast, this picture of a scuba diver on Molasses reef used a slower shutter speed of 1/125th with an aperture of F9 to allow more of the background light in to show the divers in the distance and give an idea of the size of the reef. The power of the strobe was increased until the lighting on the Atlantic Spadefish highlighted them just enough.
This picture of Divemaster Nick scuba diving on one of his rare days off used a slow shutter speed of 1/60th of a second combined with a large exposure of f5.6 to lighten the water on what was a fairly dark day. When you use a slower shutter speed on a moving object with a strobe, there isn’t much risk of motion blur because the strobe, which is lighting the foreground object is only typically illuminated for 1/1000th of a second, effectively freezing any motion.
This close up of a butterfly fish taken on Snapper ledge, was again taken with a fast shutter speed and small aperture to avoid lighting the brain coral in the background. It was taken using only a single flash to create an interesting shadow and provide some depth into what would otherwise be a “flat” photograph.
Remember that the most important point about using strobes is to use them to balance the horizontal and vertical light. We also use it to bring out the hidden color of underwater life. These two photographs of the Spanish Anchor on Molasses reef illustrate the point. The photo on the left was taken using only vertical light. The one on the right balances the horizontal and vertical light to get a nice blue background and uses the horizontal light to bring out the hidden color.
It also shows how important it is to follow the golden rule of Underwater Photography – While you are scuba diving and taking photographs, get close to the subject and when you think you’re close enough – get closer!
Happy shooting to all you Underwater Photographers out there. Keep diving, and keep shooting, as the best way to improve your abilities with a camera is experience, especially in the particularly demanding environment of salt water. And heck, it’s a great excuse to do more scuba diving in Key Largo after all!
Instructor Dave Jefferiss
For those who want to continue to learn about Underwater Photography, here is information on our “Digital underwater Photography Specialty Course”. (And it’s taught by Instructor Dave himself!)
How many of you remember when the Movie “Jaws” came out? Well I don’t know about you, but afterwards I would actually see shadows while swimming in my backyard pool…this from a “Miami Native” who had spent loads of time in the ocean! This is a good example of how our minds can make us feel fear, even if it is unreasonable to think it exists! Sharks bring out a primordial fear in humans. The thought of being “eaten” alive… particularly when we are not in our natural element but are in the water, is terrifying to most of us.
This inherent fear came to my attention the other day when a group of folks came in inquiring about a “Discover Scuba Course”. One member of the group said “not me…I don’t like sharks” when I asked how many wanted to try scuba diving. So is this a rational fear for humans, and scuba divers in particular? Is there a decent chance that we could be attacked by a shark while diving? Well think about this…
According to The Diving Blog…the chances of getting attacked by a shark are even greater than that! Check out the rest of their blog on this by clicking this link…”5 Things More likely than a shark Attack“. (I think you’ll enjoy it, I did!).
The Florida Keys are home to the only living barrier coral reef in the continental United States. Molasses Reef, arguably the largest and healthiest reef in the Florida Keys, sees the most divers of any site here. There has never….that’s never… been a shark attack on a scuba diver on Molasses Reef that I can find evidence of!
Sharks are mostly scavengers, and according to NOAA…
“Despite their scary reputation, sharks rarely ever attack humans and would much rather feed on fish and marine mammals.” NOAA
If you’ve been following our “Key Largo Diving Blog”, you know we’ve been seeing Caribbean Reef Sharks on a regular basis on many of our dive sites for a couple years now. This is a great development not only because it’s exciting to see them while scuba diving, but also because it’s a good sign of the health of the Florida Keys ecosystem!
One thing is certain, sharks are a critical part of the ocean ecosystem, and are endangered in many parts of the world as a result of over-fishing, including the grotesque practice of “shark fining”. According to “Endangered Species international“…
“The local fishermen I have spoken to in Southeast Asia, all have been fishing for over 15 years, told me that sharks are becoming very rare or extinct in their area.”
Pierre Fidenci, Founder of Endangered Species International.
So we’re ecstatic about the increasing numbers of Reef Sharks in Florida Keys waters, and for anyone out there considering diving Key largo, it seems pretty certain that sharks should not be a concern to your safety. What does seem certain is that humans are much more dangerous to sharks, than sharks are to humans.
Best to all!
Sea Dwellers Dive Center of Key Largo
We had the “Boulder Emergency Squad” diving with us last week. This is a group of Technical Rescue Professionals, a great group of guys & gals, and from their feedback I think they really enjoyed diving Key Largo! We hit a lot of sites, including the Speigel Grove and even…the Eagle, a place we do not visit too often. It was worth the trip, (and more coming on that in another blog!)
Allen Stevens was kind enough to send this awesome clip of a Reef Shark that decided to do a swim-by for his camera. As most of you know by now we see Reef Sharks on most dives here in Key Largo. I think it’s one of the best shark videos we’ve seen…hope you like it and hope to see you down here diving Key largo with Sea Dwellers Dive Center of Key Largo soon! Thanks Allen!
While scuba diving Key Largo last week, I noticed there were several divers sporting cameras on the Sea Dweller III. Interestingly, each seemed to have a different camera configuration. In the “old days” of underwater photography, things were simpler in the respect that you had a camera and a housing. And while there were different camera and housing manufacturers, they were more or less similar in their configuration…as well as expensive and somewhat cumbersome by the way!
When it comes to photography, things have certainly changed…
Now scuba divers have more choices. In today’s world there are 4 basic choices of cameras available. These are smart phones, point and shoot cameras, mirror less SLR, and then the DSLR. Each choice involves making tradeoffs between price, performance and portability.
By far the most common camera in the world today and at the lowest end of the cost curve is your smart phone. Before you dive in with your phone in hand, you will need to take a few precautions as most phones are not waterproof so of course you will need a housing. Well today we have plenty of options for this!
You can buy a waterproof housing for most popular models for anywhere from $25 for something that you can use to take a picture while you are snorkeling to $180 for a housing capable of operating at depths of up to 195ft. So why buy anything else? Well, for one reason, you have very limited creative control over the image. The functions of aperture, shutter speed and ISO are not available to you to modify. The second issue is the inability to zoom in or out in the image underwater.
Finally, the sensor size that we talked about in the first chapter is extremely small. So, even though the iPhone 6 for example creates an 8MP image, those pixels are extremely small since the overall chip area is only 28 sq mm. This compares to 864 sq mm for a full frame DSLR chip. 30 times smaller!
Because there is so much less area to get information on, the dynamic range of the image is much less than an image of the same size taken by a larger chip. The other thing is that it reduces the angle of view of the image. The picture on the left shows the amount of an image captured by the sensor using the same lens as the sensor size reduces. The blue rectangle represents the image size on a smaller chip compared to the larger red rectangle on a larger one. This reduction is generally referred to as the “crop factor” of a chip. Normally, you might think that making the image look closer would be an advantage, but as you’ll learn later in this series, that’s not true for the underwater photographer. Water has the effect of making things seem 30% closer than they really are, so the crop factor works against taking anything but tight close-ups.
On the other hand, most phones now have the ability to produce 1080p video. You can see examples of videos shot underwater with an iPhone6 by clicking this link to a previous Key Largo Diving Blog called “A Day of Diving on Molasses Reef”
Once considered the entry-level product for digital cameras, point and shoot cameras have come a long way over the last several years. From a low price of $70 to a high of $2,800 obviously there is a wide range of features available in this product range. At the low end of the price spectrum, the issues of small chip size still apply, although this Sony RX model features a full frame chip as large as any DSLR. None of the cameras in this category give you the ability to change lenses although most have both an optical and a digital zoom capability.
The other variable to consider is shutter lag. This is the time it takes for the camera to take the photo from the time the shutter is pressed. If it takes a long time for the camera to react, you may miss that perfect shot that was taken at the peak of the action. Some more expensive cameras in this category have substantially overcome this problem and advertise shutter lags of below 0.005 of a second.
Most cameras in this category will require an additional housing like this one from Ikelite. This package retails for $380 and includes the camera and the housing.
You can find more details following this link:
Until recently, some water proof point and shoot cameras were available, but they could usually only operate at depths less than 45ft .This year however, Nikon has introduced the AW130, which operates down to 100ft and retails for about $350. This makes it a very flexible tool for the casual underwater photographer who wants to travel light when diving in Key Largo!
Some things to bear in mind when picking a point and shoot camera for underwater use. Unless the camera allows you to store a RAW image, you will have very limited ability to adjust the white balance of the photo after you shoot it. You will need to check to see if you can manually set the white balance before shooting to make sure you get an accurate color reproduction.
Because of the crop factor issues we talked about above, the less expensive point and shoot cameras will not do as well when it comes to wide angle photographs, however, close-up or macro photographs can be every bit as good as those taken by much more expensive camera systems. This Grey Angelfish was taken with a 3MP point and shoot 15 years ago. The reefs and wrecks of Key Largo bekons the scuba diver with his/her camera!
Look for Part 2 of “Picking the Right Camera” soon, and thanks to all!
Sea Dwellers Dive Center of Key Largo
This past weekend was our “9th Annual Sea Dwellers Reunion Weekend”, and we are happy to report it was a success! Every Year for the last 8 we’ve held this event, which has turned out to be one of our favorite weekends of diving. As a matter of fact, I’m pretty sure our staff enjoys the event almost as much as our guests seem to! The idea for this originally started when we realized how many wonderful people returned to dive with us year after year. We started putting together a list of these folks and discovered that many had been diving with Sea Dwellers Dive Center for years and some even decades! The list was pretty long, we are happy to say, and we are honored to be the destination of choice for these wonderful divers who choose to spend their dive vacations with us!
So we wanted to offer something special for these divers, many of whom have become like friends & family to us, and Boom…Sea Dwellers Reunion Weekend was born! The event includes of course a lot of scuba diving, but also a lot more: We have a “Special Guest” each year; we’ve offered activities including treasure hunts, photography contests, reef cleanups, Champagne cruises, night dives, and always a big party (that has become a costume party), including dinner, beverages, and prizes to cap off the weekend! Our “Special Guests” have included a couple world-renowned underwater photographers, an Oceanographer, a NOAA Sanctuary Founder, and this year a NOAA Blue Star Program Rep.
We are happy to say that this year’s event was the biggest ever! We had many divers who had been to past Reunions of course, but also had some “new blood”…folks that had been diving with us before but first time for Reunion. Speaking of repeat customers… Melinda Gardner made it again this year and has not missed one. We consider her the “Queen of Sea Dwellers”…and our biggest fan! Thanks Melinda!
Our divers came from Tennessee, California, New Jersey, Wisconsin, Illinois, North Carolina, South Carolina, New York, Massachusetts, Florida, Michigan and Louisiana to dive key largo with Sea Dwellers this year!
The weather cooperated… the first day started with a little chop but blue skies, light north breeze, good vis, and good diving prevailed! Because many of the participants know each other from diving with Sea Dwellers over the years, the group, as usual, meshed together quickly. Staff and divers all play well together for this Key Largo diving event!
This year we were very happy to welcome our Jet Blue friends, several of which we have certified over the last couple years. They fit in well and contributed greatly to the success of this year’s event! (We will be flying Jet Blue on our next trip). BTW It was also great to have the Monroe family back this year after missing the last few!
The costume party Saturday night was a big hit as always, (but maybe a little more raucous than usual?) We served fresh steamed Key West Pink shrimp caught locally here in the Keys and everyone seemed to enjoy them. Interestingly, the original Reunion was not a costume party, but since the Reunion usually falls on Halloween it just kind of morphed into one. The theme this year was “When I was 20″…to help celebrate 20 years for Jeff & Rob at Sea Dwellers Dive Center.
We want to thank everyone who helped to make this year’s Reunion Weekend one of the best ever! We enjoyed spending this time with you immensely, and if you don’t already know this, we could not do it without you, you are the heart and soul of Sea Dwellers Dive Center!
Best to all!
Rob & Jeff and the Staff of Sea Dwellers Dive Center of Key Largo
Some divers on our reef trip got an unexpected show the other day. Long time Sea Dweller divers Nancy and Heather Jones, from Rocky Mount, North Carolina, were confronted by a Manta Ray during their dive. As you can see by the video taken by Heather, the beautiful creature gave them quote the show! Barrel roll after barrel roll… he performed wonderfully!
Manta rays are large eagle rays belonging to the genus Manta. Mantas can be found in temperate, subtropical and tropical waters….according to Wikipedia. Interestingly, up until the last 4 or 5 years Mantas were rarely if ever sighted here off Florida Keys waters. I have been here my whole life and never did we come across a Manta over those decades. But now, much to our delight, every year several of these creatures spend some time on the dive sites here off Key Largo. Sea Dwellers Dive Center hopes these Mantas will continue to visit us every year!
A special thanks to Nancy & Heather for providing this wonderful video!
I don’t like to repeat myself, but the diving here in Key Largo has been about as good as anyone can remember lately. Flat calm seas have been the norm for about 8 days and
counting, and the weather forecast for Key Largo predicts more of the same for as far ahead as they forecast. As most of you know, we now are running more consistantly to the deeper wrecks with the addition of the HMS Minnow to our operation.
The Dive Gods have repaid us for this decision so far…the wreck of the Duane and the Spiegel have been amazing this summer. First, for those of you who are not familiar…the USCG Duane is a 329-foot cutter that was decommissioned on August 1st, 1985. The ship was intentionally sunk on November 27, 1987 off of Key Largo, Florida Keys, to create an artificial reef. This ship was sunk in about 120 feet and is just off the reef line, (Molasses Reef). Due to it’s depth and the frequency of currents it is considered an advanced dive and most dive operators like ourselves, (Sea Dwellers Dive Center), require an Advanced Certification and proof of previous deep dives in a log book.
Many consider the Duane to be the best deep wreck in the Keys….she sits upright on the sandy bottom at 120 feet and on clear days the outline of the hull can be seen from the surface, or close to it. Visibility is often 100 feet plus, and large pelagics are common.
Thanks to our good friend Tomek for providing this great video…it is probably the best we’ve ever received from any of our divers here at Sea Dwellers Dive Center of Key Largo! We hope you enjoy it!
Dr Ellen Prager, nationally recognized Marine Scientist, author, and on-air contributor to NBC, (known to many of you from our very own Sea Dwellers Dive Center Reunion Weekend), has been kind enough to offer a guest Blog for our Key Largo Dive Blog based on her newest book…enjoy!
Imagine if there was a Harry Potter for the oceans! How many new divers and ocean advocates would it inspire? Millions? What if some of the funds generated could be put back into ocean education, conservation, and science. And along the way, both young and those young-at-heart enjoyed reading, laughing, and felt like they were exploring the sea.
It’s a lofty, but wonderful dream. And one I hope to achieve in some small way with my newly released book, The Shark Whisperer (Scarletta Press). It is the first book in a new middle grade fiction series entitled, Tristan Hunt and the Sea Guardians. The 5-book series targets 8 to 12 year-olds, but adults seem to be enjoying it as well. The books are fast-paced action adventure novels, which include humor and learning about sea creatures, marine habitats, and ocean issues.
Some pretty cool undersea locations and experiences (often based on real life) are integrated into the stories. Book number one takes readers and the main characters to the Florida Keys and Exuma Islands, Bahamas. In book two, they’re headed to the British Virgin Islands and while I am just writing book three; Monterey, California and Grand Cayman are in the mix (you’re the first to know). Book four and five locations remain undecided, though I have a few fun ideas and am open to suggestions.
Appearing in the books are dolphins (who doesn’t like dolphins), sharks, eagle rays, parrotfish, squid, octopus, seabirds, and more. At a wildlife rehab center in the first book, there’s a shark getting dentures, a farsighted scallop, an overindulgent moray eel, and look for a mantis shrimp with anger management issues in book two. There’s also an evil shark-finning, coral reef blasting villain in book one and lots of high-tech undersea technology in book two.
No imagine if you could have some of the capabilities of your favorite sea creatures. What would they be: Maybe echolocation, fast and long swimming underwater, camouflage, or one of my favorites, mucus deployment skills. The main characters discover they have just such special undersea powers (if only I did). But I don’t want to give too much away. And in the back of the book there is a note about what is fantasy and what is based on real ocean science.
So far, the response has been fantastic. Kids (and their parents) can’t seem to put down The Shark Whisperer. I’ve even gotten emails begging for book two, which has yet to be published (Spring 2015). And the book has already gone back for a second printing.
If you love the ocean and marine life, have kids that like to read or are reluctant readers, and you share my dream for building the next generation of divers, ocean stewards, and protecting the sea, I hope you’ll help spread the word and maybe even buy the book (it’s cheap at about $10 at national booksellers or most anywhere online). And if you want to suggest a location, cool undersea experience, or sea creature for one of the next books, go to www.tristan-hunt.com to learn more and email me!
And thanks to Rob and Jeff at Sea Dwellers Dive Center of Key Largo for always providing a great dive and ocean inspiration – hope to get down there again some time soon!
Dr. Ellen Prager is a marine scientist, author, avid diver/snorkeler, and formerly the chief scientist at the world’s only undersea research station. She is a frequently requested speaker and has recently been hired as an on-air ocean expert by NBC News. To learn more about her go to www.earth2ocean.net
The Key Largo wrecks here have been excellent lately! Visibility has been in the 75 – 125 foot range, very blue water, beautiful! As you can see in the short video below taken by Bruce Goodwin of Ocean First Divers, conditions have been excellent. The marine life we’ve been seeing…sharks, goliath groupers, and schooling horseye jacks…in addition to the always present abundant marine life. Diving temp is around 83 degrees and warming by the day it seems…and topside temps have reached 90…summer is indeed here! Come on down and dive with Sea Dwellers Dive Center, we’re doing the deep wrecks more frequently these days, and it’s been worth it!