5 photoshop tricks for saving your underwater photographs.

5 photoshop tricks for saving your underwater photographs.

If you’re interested in underwater photography, one of the best things about booking your next live aboard diving trip is the prospect of being able to spend an entire week underwater snapping away.

While taking photos underwater is rewarding and a great way to show off to all your work colleagues remember the amazing sites you’ve visited, underwater photography presents budding photographers with a whole range of different challenges that you don’t need to worry about on the surface. Visibility, particles in the water, moving subjects, and light are all new issues that will affect how your underwater images turn out.

Sometimes I find myself taking better photos on my smart phone above the water, than on my fancy digital SLR below it. Or I’ll have spent a week on a live aboard only to discover once I’ve returned home and uploaded a shot of a sea turtle that looked epic on the LCD screen, that it’s actually slightly blurry. If you’ve just started taking underwater photo’s, chances are one out of a hundred of your pictures are actually worth keeping (trust me, I’ve been there!) However there a few little tricks that you can use to potentially save that image you were about to send to the trash.

Good photos start before you’re even under the water.

Think about what setting you have your camera on, and what format these images are being stored in. If you want to be able to maximise your potential to digitally improve your images once you’ve finished snapping away in the ocean, make sure you are shooting all your images in RAW format.

RAW files are far larger than JPEG images (which is probably the format your camera is currently on if you haven’t switched to RAW yet), so you won’t be able to store as many photos on your memory card.  The editing freedom that comes with shooting in RAW however far outweighs the downside of the large size of these files. Just make sure you invest in an extra memory card or two before you head off to your next live aboard dive destination.

Buoyancy, buoyancy, buoyancy!

Not only does good buoyancy equal more relaxed and safe diving but drastically improves your underwater photography technique. If you’re constantly inflating and deflating your BCD, flapping about with your hands and knocking the marine life around you’re going to struggle to return from your dive with good photos.

Becoming a good diver takes time, and you should enjoy the learning process. Too many divers want to rush through their courses and spend little time focusing on actually becoming a better scuba diver. Go diving purely to practice your buoyancy and then start dabbling in underwater photography. To learn some more tips about how good buoyancy will help your photography techniques, check out our article. 

Camera Raw Editor.

An underwater image that could use some TLC.
An underwater image that could use some TLC.
The same image after editing in Camera Raw.
The same image after editing in Camera Raw.

This is an average underwater images’ best friend. Time and time again I have relied on Camera Raw Editor to turn a less than perfect image into a keeper. Camera Raw gives you a second chance at creating great underwater images.

Here you can edit the temperature, tint, exposure and contrast of an image. Over exposed image? Bring down the highlights and play around with your image until you’re happy. You can lift the whites and the blacks of the image and bring more clarity to your photo to create an image that really pops with colour and contrast.

One of the best tools in Camera Raw and Photoshop is the spot healing brush, which literally replaces a selected area of the image with another part of the photo. This means with a little time and effort you can remove all those particles or light spots scattered throughout your photo.  Spend some time in Camera Raw and I can assure you your images will go from woeful to wonderful.

The ‘diffuse glow’ filter.

The edited image with Photoshop filter 'diffuse glow' applied.
The edited image with Photoshop filter ‘diffuse glow’ applied.

After you’ve played around in Camera Raw you can either save your image or continue tweaking it in Photoshop. My one go-to filter for images that are less than ideal is the ‘diffuse glow’ filter. This filter really accentuates underwater light breaking through the surface of the ocean, and give underwater photographs an ethereal and magical feel. To find the ‘diffuse glow’ filter in Photoshop, head to ‘Filter Gallery’ under the Filter menu, and you’ll find it in the distort section.

If all else fails, convert to black and white.

Colour can be hard to correct in underwater images. Black and white is far easier to work with, and you can bring the contrast up without changing the colours to garish neon versions of the original hues. An image that you thought was beyond saving can suddenly turn into an artistic impression of the underwater world. Convert your image to black and white, play around with contrast and brightness and watch it transform.

My Favourite Dive Site

My Favourite Dive Site

As a diving instructor and liveaboard cruise director I’ve often been asked which is my favourite dive site. Having dived in the Red Sea, Central America, Asia and Australia this is of course a very tough decision, being a libran makes it even tougher! I’ve tended to basically divert the question. So much does depend upon the time of day, the weather, the marine life seen and the divers you’re with. I’ve had fabulous dives at SS Thistlegorm but likewise I’ve had exceedingly challenging and not so enjoyable dives at that site too.

So when on a liveaboard diving trip in Komodo last month I was asked this very question, I decided to turn things around and look at it from a different perspective – which dive of this trip, or any trip, would I not want to miss? Suddenly the answer was clear – The Unusual Suspects in Bima Bay.

Ornate Ghost PipeFish
Ornate Ghost Pipefish

I first dived here with Siren Fleet in 2009, it was the first dive of our holiday and having a new camera housing I didn’t take my camera but instantly regretted it. There was so much to see and my eyes were really opened to the amazing critter life that’s so active in this Indonesian bay. Thankfully our cruise director mentioned we would dive the site again at the end of the holiday and all the divers were in whole hearted agreement.

 

 

 

Ambon Scorpionfish
Ambon Scorpionfish

The site itself is little more than a sandy slope with a few boulders, dotted here and there are soft corals, crinoids, hydroids and algaes providing a little colour and plenty of places for creatures to hide.  The max depth advisable is 18m though much of the dive time is spent in the 5-10m range. Technically you could consider this “muck diving” due to the trash debris that the critters have turned into homes but its not really dirty – no used nappies (diapers) have been seen.

Tiger Shrimp
Tiger Shrimp

As a lover of the little stuff, I’m totally in my element diving here. Going along slowly and sticking closely to a keen eyed guide can really open your eyes to some of the wonders. Thorny and estuary seahorses, ambon scorpion fish, waspfish, mimic octopus, frogfish and seamoths are typically sighted in the shallow sand and rubble, whilst deeper along the boulder strewn reef its common to find ghost pipefish, fringed filefish, lobsters, mantis shrimp, moray eels, zebra crabs and coleman shrimp riding fire urchins, and the latest dive afforded a new sighting for me – Tiger shrimp!

Since that first time I’ve returned to The Unusual Suspects 11 times, with my longest dive recorded at 103 minutes and that still felt like not long enough. Needless to say I’ll be heading back again in 2016 – with a better camera!

Bima is on the island of Sumbubwa, part of the Lessser Sunda Islands. There are as yet no dive centres in the area so its only possible to dive there by liveaboard. Waow, Indo Siren, Damai and Arenui all have scheduled departures from Bima or offer the site as part of their Komodo itineraries. If you’d like to experience the delights of this critter hotspot visit liveaboard.com for trip dates and availability or select from the photos below.

waow indo-siren

 

 

 

damai arenuiSpecial thanks to Dive Instructor Megan Collins for her stunning shot of Bima Bay taken last week aboard S/Y Indo Siren

The innovative technology that’s saving sea turtles.

The innovative technology that’s saving sea turtles.

Drones are the craze that’s sweeping the photography world, and now they are not only being used to capture stills of wildlife, but to protect it.

Controversially used by the military and  increasingly so by professional photographers snapping awe-inspiring aerial footage of landscapes from above, they are now being deployed as an innovative method of conserving wildfire.

If you haven’t seen the kind of footage a well-piloted drone camera is capable of producing, check out this clip from underwater photographer and dive instructor, Tristan Gale. Tristan spent three and a half years diving on the Great Barrier Reef and during that time captured some incredible footage of the reef from a birds eye view.

Lian Pin Koh and Serge Wich, founders of ConservationDrones.org, originally started making drones to use to photograph Orangutangs while studying them in the dense rain forests of Sumatra.  Since then they have been used as an easy and relatively inexpensive way of tracking poachers in Africa, and researching whale movements from the sky. Not for profit marine organisation Sea Shepherd has even used them to monitor whaling vessels from afar.  Drones are well suited to aiding biologists and conservation groups as they can cover more ground than rangers on foot, simultaneously recording data and taking high quality images. As the technology behind this equipment continues to improve and the cost continues to go down, drones will become more regularly and widely used by environmental groups.

Scuba diving in Mexico is high up on any scuba divers bucket list, and has crystal clear water and is home to an abundance of marine life. Off the coast of Mexico drones will be deployed in the hopes of protecting nesting sea turtles and their eggs. Olive Ridley sea turtles return year after year to the beaches of Oaxaca to nest, and whilst the sale of meat and turtle products has been banned for the past twenty years, this illegal activity still goes on.

According to the the Federal Attorney for Environmental Protection, poachers who ransack around 20 nests will come back with a haul of 2, 000 or so eggs, and these have hefty price tags attached, going for between $600 and $1000 pesos (up to $60 US per nest) on the black market.

Of every 1000 eggs that are laid by these critically endangered turtles, only one will actually make it to the open ocean and reach adulthood. The drones will be utilised to ensure illegal poaching of this sea turtle population doesn’t continue, and that this species can continue to survive.

How to improve your underwater photography in one simple step.

How to improve your underwater photography in one simple step.

If you’ve tried your hand at taking photos underwater before, then you’d know that it’s a whole different ball game down below the surface than it is above. Colour loss, visibility, ocean conditions and subjects that have the ability to swim away from your lens are all thrown into the mix, and even a simple point and shoot camera can become a challenge to use. While these elements are all ones that we learn to deal with as our underwater photography skills develop, there is one crucial skill that if you master early on will make a world of difference to your underwater photographs.

Achieving neutral buoyancy can make composing and taking a beautiful underwater photos far easier. Achieving neutral buoyancy underwater not only makes your whole dive experience more enjoyable and far safer, but can also lead to a better-executed photo. We’ve all been there before in the early stages of our diving, limbs flailing and fins kicking the sandy floor up whilst we try and hover in front of a vibrantly patterned Nudibranch to take a happy snap, inflating our BCD and then deflating when we feel ourselves slowly starting to head towards the surface, all the while juggling a camera. If you have control of your buoyancy, then you will have far better control of your camera, and this equals images that you can proudly show off to all your work mates when you’re back to the daily grind once your dive trip is over.

When I first learned to dive, I was working as a hostess on a diving liveaboard in the picturesque Great Barrier Reef. I was diving every chance I had, as soon as I’d prepared the evening meal I was in the water with the rest of the guests. Diving every day, you’d think I would have got my open water certification in a matter of weeks, if not days. My instructor, who was also working on the live aboard, drilled into me from day one how important achieving neutral buoyancy and streamlined trim was if you wanted to be a safe diver. He had me perform every skill in the open water course at neutral buoyancy, rather than on my knees, before he would sign me off as a competent diver. At the time, it made me want to pull his mask off underwater and slap him but now I realize just how beneficial that training was, particularly when I’m trying to sneak up on a sleepy unsuspecting turtle to take a photo.

Neutral buoyancy starts above the water

If you’re struggling with your buoyancy underwater, or you’re crashing into coral with your camera on a dive take some time to purely practice and play around with your buoyancy. Good buoyancy underwater starts at the surface. Plenty jump in for a diver overweighted, lugging around more lead than they actually need on a dive which makes it harder to achieve neutral buoyancy at depth. Ensuring you are correctly weighting yourself prior to beginning a dive will make perfecting your neutral buoyancy techniques at depth less of a battle.

Leaving the surface is the hardest part

Most divers think that they need to wear more weight than they actually do because getting below the surface can be a struggle, but trust me this is the hardest part. Once you’re down below the 3-5 metre mark you’ll realize that you really didn’t need that extra three pounds of weight. When you’re about to descend for a dive make sure you’re relaxed, and if you are finding it a challenge to make you’re way down don’t beat yourself up over it. Empty your lungs with a nice deep exhale, and put your inflator hose up high and straight so air doesn’t get trapped inside it. If you’re still struggling to sink beneath the surface, try flipping over on to your face and using the weight of your body and some big strong kicks to head down.

Be Aware of your depth

When we dive, our bodies are under a lot of pressure and this affects our wetsuit, our dive gear and even the air spaces in our bodies, so you need to be very aware of your depth when it comes to achieving buoyancy. Once you’ve levelled out at a certain depth, see how your neutral buoyancy is coming along. Good neutral buoyancy means that you don’t need to move or kick to stay in position. It makes you feel like you are flying, lying weightless in the water, not floating and not sinking. If you feel like you’re starting to sink a little, try and take a full breath of air in and you should feel yourself rise. Likewise, you can exhale your breath to sink down. Your body position in the water is also closely intertwined with your buoyancy, and good trim equals good buoyancy.  Many divers are bottom heavy, with their weight belt around their waist and fins weighing them down so they slant upwards in the water. Every time you kick in a position like this, you’ll end up going up rather than forward. To improve your trim add some weight to the upper half of your body, or even around the top of your tank, and you’ll see that you’re far more streamlined on your dive.

Do a weight check at the end of the dive

At the end of your dive, check your weight to know for next time exactly how much you need. Ideally, with an empty tank at around 50 bar, your lungs half full and an empty BCD you should be floating with the water at eye level.

Once you’re achieving neutral buoyancy and your trim is streamlined, next time you’re off on a well deserved dive holiday to the Maldives, Costa Rica or another incredible underwater destination you will be rewarded with beautiful images that were far easier to achieve, and didn’t end with you running into a fragile underwater ecosystem!