Underwater Photography: Behind the Camera

~ by Dhritiman Mukherjee

PUBLISH DATE: March 30, 2020

Underwater Photography: Behind the Camera

Underwater photography is all about capturing the incredible life beneath the water. The beautiful end product is backed by a complex string of techniques. One should be prepared to tackle all the challenges as well as be equipped with the right set of instruments.
The Baja Expedition Series has had its success due to the detailed homework done by Dhritiman Mukherjee focusing on every component. Here is a detailed guide by the Explorer himself to assist you in capturing the ethereal beauty beneath the mesmerising waters. Out in the Baja Peninsula, he shares the challenges which he had faced and how he dealt with them.

The Challenges Submerged

To capture the unparalleled beauty of underwater, one must research extensively on the natural history of the place. One should also do a little study regarding the behaviours of the subject whether they charge at human interference or not? Dhritiman faced several challenges. Some of these were:

1. Sea water

Once you decide to pursue underwater photography, you will dive into the depths of the water. Here, you will face a lot of issues like water pressure, saline water etc. Your housing has to be the best so that it performs under the water-pressure and deals with saltwater corrosion in a better way.

2. Varying Visibility

While shooting underwater, visibility varies with depths of the water. More you go down; the spectrum of light becomes narrower which means you are losing out of white light. After a point, the light totally disappears.

3. Water between the camera and the subject

A common challenge is that since you are underwater, there is bound to be water between your subject and the camera, blurring the action.

4. Lack of stability

Lastly, there is a constant instability due to moving water and the moving object.
Are you prepared?

These six rules will help you comprehend an image in your mind before capturing it in your camera.

1. One of the most important rules of photography is that the photographer should be very clear on what he truly intends to communicate. Ask yourself these questions- do you want to show the subject’s habitat? or just show the natural history of the subject? The final picture is dependent on the weather, season and light conditions. According to these factors, the photographer should prepare for the shoot.

2. While shooting, keep this point in your mind- sunlight is mostly sufficient at the water surface. As mentioned above, as you move down, you start losing the colours from the spectrum. Following this, you will need to carry artificial light so that you can get back the lost colours. But carrying the light is also not enough. You should be well versed with the syncing speed of the flash. Ideally, our explorer used an IkeLite stroke and kept the sync speed at max.

3. You should be aware of how reflection works under the light so that you do not see bright patches in your images. The light must be smooth as if it is equal to the natural light. This rule also comes naturally with experience.

4. Selection of the lens or the camera body is also one of the most important questions which plague the photographers. In underwater photography, there is always going to be water in between the subject and the camera. You should try to get as much close as possible to the subject, to get pictures without much noise.

5. Another point to keep in mind is that you should know that a telephoto lens is not suitable for underwater photography. Following which, you must carry a wide-angle lens or even a fisheye. Also, make sure that the minimum focusing length of the lens is as low as possible.

6. Lastly, you must shoot in the manual mode due to the varied light conditions from artificial light. However, you can choose the Aperture priority also as an option.

A Snap at Perfection

If you want to ace Underwater photography, you have got to use the right equipment. It is an important aspect which gives direction to all your preparation. Understanding the challenges of underwater photography, Dhritiman used Sony mirrorless camera and gear, which are light-weight and convenient to use with underwater housing with flexible with custom settings and compact design
Below are few benefits of using Sony Gear as mentioned by Dhirtiman from his experience from the expedition.

1) During the Baja Expedition, our explorer used an Aquatica housing for underwater shooting. If the camera is smaller than the housing set-up also become smaller. Innovation at its best, Sony mirrorless cameras offered an advantage to him since they are small and lightweight.

2) Sony’s lenses offer one of the best compatibilities when it comes to underwater photography, right from a wide-angle to minimum focusing length to the perfect focal length. FE 12-24 mm G Lens , FE 16-35 mm F2.8 G Master Lens, FE 16-35mm F4 Zeiss Lens and FE 28 mm F2 Lens with a Fish-eye adaptor are the best and recommended by our explorer. You don’t need to use any close-up adaptor with these lenses as the minimum focusing length and their performance at such short distance are exceptional. You save all the additional weight and worries with these lenses. Additionally, Dhritiman also recommends the FE 90mm F2.8 Macro Lens in case you want to capture the small creature.

3) When it comes to viewfinder, different people have a different preference. Some people want to view through the viewfinder while few prefer the display and there are still few who prefer both the options. Now while using housing, automatic change of the viewfinder do not work at all. However, the Sony cameras has a solution to this issue. You can set custom settings wherein with just a click of a button the option can be changed. This is very helpful feature while under water and that too with a housing over the camera.

4) It is particularly challenging to use a white balance during underwater. Solving this problem, Dhritiman used Sony’s WB (Auto), which worked efficiently underwater and as per him this is one of the best in the industry.

5) Sony gear comes with several focusing points covering corner to corner of the frame. It becomes quite easy to select focusing points anywhere in the frame and focus on the subject. But in the SLR when you try to focus inside a housing, it becomes difficult. You don’t face such issues in Sony mirrorless cameras. Moreover, you get many other options like Multi-point selection to select focusing options to explore various creative options

6) The low light performance of Sony’s gear is exceptional and one of the best in the industry. With minimal light and water in between the camera and Subject, low light performance is of utmost importance.

7) And not to forget the battery performance of the Sony gears. These gears have shown exceptional battery performance wherein Dhritiman has covered 4-5 dives at a single charge.

Every factor adds up in making every photograph, a true reflection of Under Water’s Splendid sphere of eternal magnificence. Diving into the realms of water, our explorer has used Sony Alpha 7R III and Alpha 7R IV camera which complemented his creativity.

The tips and tricks mentioned by Dhritiman have come from his immense experience doing underwater photography. This will act as a guide for you to better prepared while going for such an expedition underwater. It requires a lot of learning and unlearning from each picture and make it better each time.

All the best for all the users who are going to do underwater photography in future!
Publish date: 01/04/2020

Dhritiman Mukherjee

About Dhritiman Mukherjee

One of India’s most accomplished nature and wildlife photographers, Dhritiman Mukherjee is an explorer and wanderer. In the last twenty years, he has pushed his limits as a photographer to do work that is compelling as well as scientifically essen... Read more

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