Few environments on earth consistently inspire the awe and majestic undertones the underwater world does. Although the ocean teems with beautiful and odd macro subjects that could keep a photographer busy for many lifetimes, wide-angle photography usually includes the medium of water itself as a primary element of the composition, and thereby presents the unique opportunity to capture the ocean in all its splendor. If you're reading this issue of Sport Diver, chances are you are part of a special segment of people fortunate enough to experience the beauty of the underwater realm firsthand. The rest of the world can only catch a glimpse of the ocean's mysteries through the images that we bring back. Generally, anything less than the equivalent of 35 mm is considered wide angle. Technically, a wide-angle lens has a point of focus that is a short distance from its optical center, which creates a wide horizontal field of view. Wide-angle lenses are available in various sizes and provide a deep depth of field. Some can actually cover an area wider than the human eye can see.
Compact camera shooters have the option of switching back and forth from wide angle to macro while underwater by using wet lens adaptors, which are easily added to the outside of the housing's lens port. If you're using a housed SLR, however, you must select one lens to use before the dive, and it's not swap- pable underwater. Your options will be fixed length, fisheye or limited zoom lenses. The Nikon 10.5 mm or Canon 15 mm fisheye lenses and the Nikon 12-24 mm or Canon 10-22 mm zoom lenses have become the "working lenses" for underwater photographers. An interesting alternative is the unique Tokina 10-17 mm fisheye zoom lens, although there are many other options. These ultrawide lenses allow for creativity and an expression of personal style. Note that lenses and ports must be compatible in order to produce tack-sharp images from edge to edge. You may need to utilize different ports and accessories for different lenses, such as port extension rings and diopters. Ask your retailer about exactly which accessories may be required for optimal underwater performance with any particular lens.
LET THERE BE LIGHT
Shooting wide is both challenging and rewarding. It requires attention to both the foreground and background and how the two work together to become a cohesive, striking image. Your strobes are used exclusively to light your foreground subjects, while proper ambient exposure ensures a color-rich and crisp background. Strobes should be positioned out to the sides and behind the plane of the camera to prevent the illumination of particulate matter between your camera and the subject, otherwise known as backscatter. Angling your strobes away from the subject slightly will also help to reduce backscatter. Create contrast to ensure that your wide-angle images pop by shooting at an upward angle and keeping your subject against a different color background so the foreground subject doesn't merge into the background a common mistake that results in lackluster images.
TAKING THE NEXT STEP
Once you have mastered lighting, begin adding compositional elements to your images such as divers, which can add perspective to your scenes. Play with the positioning of your subjects against the negative space in the image. Silhouette your subject against the background. Create a "forced perspective" by getting in close and creating an optical illusion that your subject is much larger than it is in reality. Try shooting split shots in which the image is captured partially underwater and partially above the surface. This can only be accomplished with a dome port. The large surface area of the dome breaks the plane of the water and allows for this unique technique. Split shots are some of the most difficult images to create, as you must compensate for the difference in ambient exposure above and below the waterline. However, the challenge can yield equal rewards when you nail the shot. Visit sportdiver.com/wideangle for more information on going wide.