Take a look at the two sea cuttle photos I've included in this section. It's the same animal. I could tell you that I photographed the animal against the coral background at mid-day. Then, eight hours later, after skipping the white wine served with dinner on the Palau Aggressor, I went for a night dive and found the same animal hovering in open water, where I photographed it against the jet-black midnight sea. A good story, right? Well, I'd be telling a fish tale, because I took the two photos within about 10 minutes of each other. No, I did not use Adobe Photoshop to create the black background. If I had, I would have insisted, like all honest shooters, that Sport Diver place the letter P in a circle under the photo. (This is the nature photographer's symbol indicating photo manipulation by computer.) Actually, I dramatically changed the picture by simply changing my f-stop. Not so advanced, right? You can do this stuff. For the sea cuttle photo showing the coral reef background, I balanced the light from my strobe to the natural light. Here's how to do this with a Nikonos V and TTL strobe: Simply adjust the aperture while in the A mode until both the 60 and 125 shutter-speed LEDs are illuminated in the viewfinder. When you do this, you set the correct f-stop for the flash synch speed (1/90 of a second), which is automatically set by the camera when you turn on your flash. This f-stop/shutter-speed combination should give you a good natural-light exposure with what's called daylight fill-in flash. If this doesn't work, you may need to use a faster film speed. And, as always, filling the frame with the subject helps with all flash exposures. To darken the background, simply select a smaller f-stop: the smaller the f-stop, the darker the background. But be sure to check the flash confirmation light on your strobe to make certain your subject is still getting sufficient illumination. I suggest taking several exposures to get the effect you want. I also recommend taking additional exposures one stop over and one stop under the recommended exposure. Here's the easiest way to do this: When using ISO 100 film, take an exposure at ISO 100, ISO 200 and ISO 50. Don't forget to reset your ISO dial. When using an autofocus SLR in an underwater housing, you can follow the same basic technique: Adjust the aperture until you get a correct natural-light reading for the flash synch speed. For a darker background, stop down the aperture until the flash is the only light source illuminating your subject. For information on camera housings, submersible strobes and other photo products, click on the home page below. The Best Underwater Camera System in the WorldOK, you have been hemming and hawing about buying an underwater camera. You've looked at the Nikon RS, Nikonos V, Ikelite and Sea and Sea underwater housings for your 35-mm AF SLR, Sea and Sea MotorMarine II and even the EWA flexible housings. All great stuff. After 18 years of scuba diving around the world, taking tens of thousands of pictures (some stunk, I admit) and talking with countless amateur photographers (some with photos better than mine), I've finally discovered the best underwater camera system for you. But there's a catch: The best system for you is not necessarily the best system for your buddy or any other diver. Here's what I mean. The best system for you should be affordable and match your needs. Before you buy a camera or a system, ask yourself these questions: How serious am I? Do I want to invest part of my child's college fund in a professional camera, or do I want a point-and-shoot camera to record my underwater memories? Should I, like the pros, have backup gear, which will require an even greater investment, or should I simply pack some StressTabs for when my one and only synch cord craps out? Should I buy the on-site photo pro's best shots and try to convince everyone at my dive shop that they are mine? Be practical. Don't over-invest in a system, but don't get locked into a system that will prevent you from growing creatively with your hobby, growth that should occur as you make more dives with your camera. Keep in mind (and this is important) that the most expensive system is not necessarily the best system for a particular shooting situation. For example, if you are diving at night with the mantas under the Kona Aggressor (great fun, by the way) or with the sharks at UNEXSO (more thrills), you don't need an expensive autofocus SLR in an underwater housing because you don't need autofocusing. A less expensive Nikonos V or Sea and Sea MotorMarine II with a 15-mm or 20-mm lens will give you a sharp picture if you pre-set your focus. With an autofocus SLR, in fact, you may miss some manta shots while the lens is trying to focus. In addition, the large add-on finders that are available for manual-focus cameras make composing a picture fast and easy -- perhaps easier than looking through a smaller viewfinder on a housed camera. On the other hand, an autofocus SLR, especially with a 50-mm or 100-mm macro lens, is a good choice -- the pros' choice -- for close-up reef work. These lenses provide a comfortable working distance for you and the fish. However, if your subject is not moving, like a coral polyp or a flamingo tongue on a sea fan, a close-up kit will do just fine. Close-up kits are also good for nighttime portraits of fish when they are in a deep sleep. By now you see my point: There really is no best underwater camera system for everyone. The pros and serious amateurs I know dive with autofocus SLRs in underwater housings and with amphibious cameras, like the Nikonos V and Sea and Sea MotorMarine II. If you are just starting out with underwater photography, consider your budget and think about the type of pictures you most often want to take: wide-angle shots or close-ups? Knowing this info, you can indeed determine the best system for you. For information about metal camera housings, submersible strobes, amphibious cameras and other photo products, click on the home page below. Way-Cool Add-On: Underwater Photo-Tech's Spot-ShotI hope you don't mind, but I'm going to get a plug in for one of my books, Seven Underwater Wonders of the World. But in this case, it's a justifiable plug. You'll see. On page 80 in the Red Sea chapter (you gotta buy the book if you want to know the other underwater wonders of the world), there is a picture of a scorpionfish taken with a Nikonos V 35-mm lens and Nikonos close-up kit, which includes a Nikonos close-up lens and a wire framer. While I was checking the page proofs, this picture looked fine. However, when I got my first copy, I could not believe I missed a glaring error: The black wire framer is showing in the bottom of the picture! I goofed, but it was not the end of the world. I'm still proud of the work. Plus, when it comes down to it, who the heck cares, anyway? I'm sharing this experience with you because when you have your first coffee-table book published (hey, it's not impossible), you needn't worry about getting a wire framer in your photos if you shoot with a Nikonos V close-up kit. In addition, you'll probably get even better close-up photos than I did with this system. How so? By using a way-cool add-on called the Spot-Shot by Underwater Photo-Tech, which was not available when I was working on the book. Spot-Shot is a focusing and framing device that eliminates the need for the wire framer on the Nikonos close-up kit. It's a relatively simple device: basically an arm that mounts on your camera and holds a small flashlight on the left and right sides of the lens. The flashlights are positioned so that when their beams cross -- achieved by moving the camera toward and away from the subject -- the focus is correct. There are several benefits to using this device. First, you'll get a higher percentage of good fish portraits because you don't have to stick a wire framer in your subject's face, scaring the heck out of the fish; second, the corals will love you because you will not be bashing metal against their fragile bodies (especially on night dives); third, you'll have greater flexibility when it comes to positioning your strobe because the wire framer will not be in your way; and fourth, at night, the two small flashlights act as spotting lights, eliminating the need for an extra dive light. (You still need your dive light for safety, of course.) The Spot-Shot costs $70. Different models are available for different lenses, as well as for extension tubes. For more info, call Underwater Photo-Tech's Web site at 603-432-1997. For information about amphibious cameras and camera systems, click on the home page below. P.S. -- On the Light SideCheck out this great idea from Laurie and Martin Sutton, the talented folks at Sea-D Publishing in Grand Cayman, who produce those informative CD-ROMs on marine life and in their spare time run Fisheye of Cayman. To lighten Laurie's load while diving with her Nikonos RS, Martin constructed an ingenious and inexpensive buoyancy device for the heavy camera rig. He got one of those foam kickboards you see in swimming pools, cut out a small section in the shape of the camera tray and taped the foam to the bottom of the tray. That's it. Now Laurie enjoys diving with her Nikonos RS almost as much as she likes diving with Martin. Plus she's getting some pretty good photos, as I saw while diving with her in Thailand. Rick Sammon is the author of six books on the marine environment, including Seven Underwater Wonders of the World. He was only kidding about not telling you the other underwater wonders of the world. The seven are: Great Barrier Reef, Palau, Lake Baikal in Siberia, Red Sea, Belize Barrier Reef, Galapagos and the Deep Ocean Vents.
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