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.

Live aboard diving in Mexico: you’re guaranteed to have a whale of a time.

Live aboard diving in Mexico: you’re guaranteed to have a whale of a time.

With a head like a truck and a body covered in polka dots, swimming alongside the enormous whale shark is high up on any avid divers ‘must do’ list of underwater experiences.

Whale sharks are the largest cartilaginous fish in the world, yet are nothing to be afraid of. The ocean giants filter feed on plankton, which explains the enormous size of their head and mouth. To sustain a 12 metre long shark feeding on a food source that is around 0.04% of its size requires one huge set of jaws.  Whale sharks scoop up plankton and any unsuspecting small fish hanging near the ocean’s surface, using their mouth like a net to collect the massive amount of food they require.

Whale sharks thrive in waters of warmer temperatures, which means if you want to spend some time underwater with them pack your bags for somewhere tropical. Mexico is not only renowned for the encounters travellers can have with these magical animals, but is an insanely fantastic and relatively untouched dive destination in its own right.

Mexico is  where seeing these incredible creatures is almost guaranteed at certain times of the year. Live aboard diving vessels in Mexico usually plan their itineraries around the seasons, so you’ll have to decide where you want to go and what you want to see prior to booking your trip.

Whale sharks can often be spotted in the Sea of Cortez. Protected by the Gulf of California, the Sea of Cortez’s relatively calm water stretches for over 1000 kilometres. Almost a third of the world’s species of cetaceans can be found in this underwater microcosm, and diving in the Sea of Cortez is absolutely phenomenal. From July to October, dive live aboards  visit this area for week long action-packed trips.

Scattered throughout the Sea of Cortez are endless pinnacles, islands and rock formations so there’s no shortage of live aboard dive sites. There are few animals that can melt even the coldest of hearts quite like sea lions can, and the Sea of Cortez is where a dive can quickly turn into an underwater play session with these puppies of the sea! It’s not uncommon to be able to tick more than one kind of whale off your bucket list, with species of orcas, dolphins and whales spotted regularly.

The unique geographical position of the sea and the surrounding area has resulted in species that can only be found in this area, and diving in the Sea of Cortez presents divers with the rare chance to encounter the endangered and unique sub species of porpoise endemic to the area, the vaquita. The Sea of Cortez is bursting with so much life that it’s difficult to list it all and really do this melting pot of marine life justice, so I recommend you just book that trip and head over there yourself! Due to the remoteness of the Sea of Cortez, the best way to head over to this part of the world is by a dive live aboard.

A humpback whale calf comes in a little closer to inspect my camera lens.
A humpback whale calf comes in a little closer to inspect my camera lens.

If a different kind of ocean giant is more your thing, Socorro in Mexico is one of the few destinations where you have the chance to interact underwater with humpback whales (another great spot to swim with humpbacks is the Kingdom of Tonga).  Socorro has been coined ‘Mexicos Galapagos’, and it’s easy to see why.

The Socorro Islands are a group of 4 islands each named individually, but are often collectively referred to as the Socorro group. Liveaboard diving at Socorro offers encounters of the pelagic kind, and plenty of them. Sharks can be found here in the hundreds.

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The luxury Mexican dive liveaboard, the Solmar V. Click the image to learn more!

The team onboard the Solmar V live aboard once counted 7 different species of shark on a single dive!

Huge schools of hammerheads can be seen gliding past along with Giant Pacific manta ray. This species of manta can grow to just under 7 metres from wing-tip to wing-tip, and are regularly visitors to the Socorro Islands. Whale sharks are a special treat at the islands, and can be spotted in November/December and late April/May.

If heart-stopping adrenalin rushes and interactions with some of the biggest creatures to call this blue planet of ours home is what you’re all about, Mexico needs to be your next live aboard dive destination. The biodiversity of this dive destination truly needs to be seen to be believed.

Top three live aboard trips for divers on a budget.

Top three live aboard trips for divers on a budget.

Travelling on a shoe-string doesn’t mean you have to rule out jumping on a diving live aboard or two. (Which we think is the only way to scuba dive. Find out why here).

The one thing that you need to remember about booking a dive live aboard is that they are all-inclusive. So while it might seem like you’re forking out a fair bit of your hard earned cash, you’re actually paying for your food for a week or so, your air fills, your insanely amazing diving, a comfortable bed and in most cases, all those sunset cocktails.

A budget dive live aboard is a particularly good choice for anyone who wants to spend part of their time touring the above-water sites of their chosen holiday destination, yet also wants to explore what the underwater world has to offer. And the best thing? Once you’ve paid for your live aboard trip upfront all you have left to do is count down the days on your calendar without worrying if you’ve put enough cash aside for your holiday, because you’ve already paid for it!

Whilst some people might not want to splurge all their holiday savings on a diving live aboard, there are plenty of options out there to suit a diver with a tight budget. Below we’ve listed the top three best live aboards for those on a budget, in a few of the must-dive destinations.

The Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Dive the Great Barrier Reef AND have money left over to see everything else Australia has to offer? Yes please!
Dive the Great Barrier Reef AND have money left over to see everything else Australia has to offer? Yes please!

This place is spectacular. Thousands of kilometres long and the legendary David Attenborough’s favourite place in the world (or so he told Mr. Obama). The Great Barrier Reef is the one place you have to dive if your planning on visiting the sunburnt country that is Australia.

While there are day boats that leave from Port Douglas, Cairns and the Whitsunday’s, hands-down the best way to see the Reef is on a dive live aboard. There is nothing more beautiful than waking up and getting in your dive gear for a dawn dive, just as the sun is beginning to rise over the horizon. Watching the fish begin to become more active after a night of rest, and seeing the coral regain its colour as the sun begins to get higher in the sky is an incredible experience that you just don’t get on a day trip.

You’ll visit the more untouched parts of the Great Barrier Reef on a dive live aboard, and the Scuba Pro vessels offer trips that won’t break the bank.  ScubaPro has three vessels, called ScubaPro I, ScubaPro II, ScubaPro III. For a two night trip you’re looking at around $230 AUD a day, and the short length means you can visit the Great Barrier Reef and have still have time to see the rest of Australia and do some croc-wrangling, koala cuddling and kangaroo wrestling.

The Red Sea, Egypt

The Red Sea Aggressor. Click the image to learn more about this fantastic live aboard.
The Red Sea Aggressor. Click the image to learn more about this fantastic live aboard.

This is not only one of the most renowned scuba diving destinations, but also one of the most reasonably priced. If you’ve got your heart set on a Euro-trip, the Red Sea needs to be on your travel itinerary. With no shortage of budget diving liveaboards, the Red Sea is renowned for it’s incredible coral formations, drift and wall dives, pelagic species and tropical water.

Sipadan, Malaysia

The Celebes Explorer is the only vessel that offers year round diving in this iconic dive destination and is great for a diver on a budget. Another area of the underwater world that is  best explored by live aboard, you can expect turtles galore along with huge schools of pelagic fish on a backdrop of fantastic coral formations. There are only a maximum of 120 diving permits issued in a single day, ensuring this area remains pristine and treasured, making your trip even more rewarding.

Liveaboard.com has the most extensive range of live aboard dive trips to suit any dive enthusiast, on every kind of budget.

Have you got any great tips for divers on a budget? Let us know by leaving a comment below.

Thinking of doing some Palau diving? Read this first.

Thinking of doing some Palau diving? Read this first.

Most dive destinations have something they’re renowned for.

Cocos Islands in Costa Rica is famous for its hammerhead action. When you dive the Great Barrier Reef in Australia you know you’ve come to see the, uh, reef. But Palau in Micronesia is one of those dive zones that has a little bit of everything. And one hundred percent of that everything is absolutely amazing. 

So, what is it about Palau that makes it such a popular spot for scuba diving?

For one, there is no ‘season’. Most dive destinations have a certain time of year that is the most suitable for scuba diving. Thanks to very little fluctuation in temperature, the water in Palau is always balmy and tropical. The turquoise water of Palau offers good visibility year round that rarely drops below 15 metres, and can reach up to 40 metres. And we haven’t even started on the huge variety of marine species you can see diving in Palau.

Palau is where three of the oceans currents intersect, and with it comes a dizzying array of marine life. Enormous schools of fish, giant green sea turtles, dolphins and a variety of shark species can be often spotted, along with manta rays and whale sharks. Palau is home to some of the most fantastic and exhilarating drift diving on the planet, along with a sea floor littered with World War I and II wrecks. The Palau archipelago is made up of eight major islands and 250 smaller ones, so with no shortage of dive sites you’ll never do the same dive twice.

As with most remote areas, diving the Palau archipelago is best done by an all inclusive dive live aboard. On here, you can dive all day and see the best this destination has to offer.  Below we’ve listed a few of our favourites to make your holiday decision a little easier.

Ocean Hunter 3

Ocean_Hunter_3 (1)w825h550crwidth825crheight550This luxury vessel was specifically designed with the diver in mind. Ocean Hunter offers 7 and 10 night live aboards, which visit the best sites Palau has to offer. Each day you can jump in for up to 5 dives, making the most of your time in this tropical underwater paradise. Did we mention there’s not one, but two jacuzzis on board?

Palau Siren

Palau_Siren (1)w825h550crwidth825crheight550Part of the popular Siren fleet, this live aboard has all the bells and whistles you could possibly want. Along with a spacious sun deck, the Palau Siren provides divers with a massive shaded diving deck complete with individual stations and personal storage lockers, so you’ll always know where your gear is. All gear hire is complimentary on board this boat, so if luggage space is an issue you can leave your dive gear at home for no extra charge. FYI, we know a few tricks of the trade when it comes to packing for a live aboard. Check them out here.

Palau Aggressor II

This Palau live aboard is offers divers a dream experience. For those who love to dive, dive, dive but don’t want to sacrifice any of the creature comforts this boat has your name written all over it! Spacious decks, air conditioning and private bathrooms and showers in all 9 staterooms will leave you well rested after your action packed day of scuba diving. Like the Palau Siren and Ocean Hunter 3, this vessel gives divers the chance to do up to 5 dives, including some thrilling night dives.

You will never get bored of Palau diving.

When you start your 7 or 11 night live aboard adventure, the days stretch out in front of you. Once you start diving the sites on offer however, you realise there’s no way you could tire of diving this magical area. One dive you’re surrounded by sharks and pelagic fish, the next you’re alongside the skeleton of a WWII ship. With sensational drift diving, a phenomenal amount of life and a lake full to the brim of harmless jellyfish, Palau is one unique must-dive destination.

We’ve only listed a few dive live aboards here available in Micronesia. Visit Liveaboard.com to see a full list of luxury dive live aboards that you can take the trip of a lifetime in Palau.

Jump in with millions of jellyfish in Palau’s Jellyfish Lake.

Jump in with millions of jellyfish in Palau’s Jellyfish Lake.

In a recent article I stated that most dive destinations are renowned for one thing in particular (like humpback whales in the Kingdom of Tonga), but in Palau everything underwater is so diverse and wonderful it’s hard to narrow it down to just one.

I was mistaken.

The Micronesian archipelago of Palau is home to a lake that is full to the brim with completely harmless jellyfish. Jellyfish Lake is a stark (but awe-inspiring) contrast to the breathtaking drift dives and spectacular coral reefs surrounded by year-round tropical water that you can expect of a Palau diving trip.

Jellyfish Lake,
Jellyfish Lake, Eil Malk Island.

Jellyfish lake is nestled amongst a vast expanse of forest on Eil Malk Island. Eil Malk is part of the Rock Islands, which is comprised of around 445 mostly uninhabited limestone islands.  After a short hike, you arrive and take in the view of the lake and it’s surrounds. Emerald water, bordered by dense jungle and lined with a blanket of perfect blue from a cloudless sky. From above,  it’s hard to see what all the fuss is about. Sure, the lake and the vegetation surrounding it are beautiful, but it’s not until you enter the water that you truly believe the hype surrounding Jellyfish Lake. 

The Jellyfish Lake is a snorkel-only site, and as you descend beneath the surface on a single breath you are overcome by feelings of serenity and wonder as the millions of jellyfish rise above and below you.The jellyfish that inhabit the lake are giant golden marshmallows, like droplets of soft liquified sunshine floating all around you. The giant jellies that call this marine lake home are either moon or golden jellies, and there are thought to be 10 million of these in Jellyfish Lake.

Jellyfish lake is a marine lake, so when you first dive down you might be surprised by the salty taste of the water.  Once connected to the ocean, the 12 000 year old Jellyfish Lake is now isolated from the rest of the sea creating a mini-ecosystem where the jellyfish is king. While the lake is relatively isolated from the surrounding ocean, it’s  filled with saltwater thanks to a spiderweb of tunnels and fissures through the limestone of an ancient reef. This disconnection from the open ocean has encouraged the evolution of an eco-system lacking in diversity, but abundant with Jellyfish. These jellies no longer require their stingers. With few natural predators they no longer need this characteristic, making snorkelling with the millions that inhabit this bizarre ecosystem a pain free and phenomenal experience.

There are dozens of these marine lakes like Jellyfish Lake throughout the Rock Islands. This particular lake however is unique in the fact that it has an anoxic layer along the bottom, which is one reason why scuba diving is not allowed in Jellyfish Lake. The last 15 meters of the lake contains high concentrations of hydrogen sulfide which can be absorbed through the skin of a diver, leading to death. Jellyfish are also delicate creatures, and air bubbles created from breathing through scuba apparatus can travel through their flimsy bodies, irreversibly damaging them.

Everyday, the resident Golden jellyfish make the arduous migration from one side of the lake to the other, following the movement of the sun. Strangely enough, the Golden jellyfish have a strict schedule they like to adhere to. In the morning they move from the centre of the western basin to the eastern basin, then in the afternoon head to the western side of the lake, finally propelling themselves to the western basin where they spend the night.They migrate in such a way to gain as much exposure to the sun as they possibly can, revolving as they move so each part of their body receives some rays. Golden Jellyfish photosynthesise zooxanthellae living in their tissues and this symbiotic relationship provides them with their food source. Whilst these jellyfish have evolved to lose their stinger, they are still faced with a natural predator quite literally lurking in the shadows. The ethereal Golden Jellyfish avoids shadows not only so it can receive meet its daily dietary requirements, but so it can avoid an attack from an anemone living on the outskirts of the lake.

The Moon jellies don’t have as much of a rigid routine as the Golden Jellyfish, propelling themselves here, there and everywhere. Moon jellies are the opposite of the Golden Jellyfish who seek out and thrive in the sunshine. These jellyfish rise to the surface every night to feed in the light of the moon.

How to get there

How many places in the world can you swim with thousands of harmless jellyfish?

One.

For that reason, most Palau diving live aboards will include a visit to Jellyfish Lake in their itinerary. That way you can not only spent a week diving the myriad of dive sites Palau is known for, but also visit its deservedly famous jellyfish lake.

Scientists have just discovered a glow in the dark sea turtle.

Scientists have just discovered a glow in the dark sea turtle.

This isn’t just a catchy headline.

A team of researchers on a night dive in the Solomon Islands came across a hawksbill sea turtle glowing like a neon sign, and documented the first ever case of biofluorescence in a reptile.

Biofluor-what-now?

Biofluorescence is when an organism absorbs one colour and then reflects it as a completely different colour. Biofluorescence is not to be confused with bioluminescence, where organisms are capable of producing their own light, usually through a chemical reaction. To put it simply, biofluorescent animals can change the colour of existing light, and bioluminescent animals can create their own light.

Seeing bioluminescence underwater is one of the most breathtaking things you can see night diving. Many small organisms are bioluminesent, and put on a spectacular show for night divers. There is few things more surreal than switching your dive torch off and watching the thousands of tiny fluorescent lights dance around you.

Marine Biologist David Gruber, was in the Solomon Islands to film bioluminescence displayed by coral and small reef sharks. You can imagine his surprise when a hawksbill turtle came swimming into view, glowing a distinct red and green (if you don’t believe us check out the video from National Geographic below!) Until this moment, biofluorescence had never before been seen in any reptile, let alone a sea turtle. The divers swam alongside the brightly glowing animal, filming it using a camera fitted with a yellow filter designed to pick up on fluorescent animals within the frame.

Gruber explained that the red glow on the turtle’s shell may be from algae growth, but that the yellow and green was emitted from the turtle. Animals normally use biofluorescence as a defence mechanism or as a form of communication, but exactly why these mysterious and critically endangered sea turtles glow is a question that is now waiting to be answered.

Want to dive in the Solomon Islands? The Bilikiki liveaboard is one of the best live aboards in the area, and visits the main 3 island groups of Florida Island, Russel Island and Marovo Lagoon which boast and array of incredible and diverse dive sites.

The household condiment being used to save the Great Barrier Reef.

The household condiment being used to save the Great Barrier Reef.

The Great Barrier Reef. The only living organism that can be seen from space, and my favourite place on this blue planet of ours. Sadly, just like the rest of the ocean, the Great Barrier Reef is threatened by the pressures of issues such as climate change and marine debris. Unlike the rest of the ocean though, there is one issue more pertinent here than on any other reef, in the form of a nasty looking starfish that is responsible for 42% of the Great Barrier Reefs coral loss. Fortunately though, scientists have recently discovered the food item you probably have in your kitchen cupboard that can stop it.

During 2011, I was part of a program run by the Queensland Government that was designed to eradicate crown-of-thorns from the outer Great Barrier Reef. When I explained to people I was killing starfish for a living, the look I received in response was like I’d just told them I personally killed Bambi’s mother. These starfish are about as far as you can get from the cute and colourful sea stars you see diving on coral reefs. Besides cyclones, crown-of-thorn starfish are one of the leading causes of coral loss in the Great Barrier Reef.   About the same size as a dinner plate, crown-of-thorns feed on a diet of coral and look pretty much exactly like their name suggests. Their spikes can deliver a painful sting (just ask my old man) and if you reach two or three strikes then you’re out. The poison inside a crown-of-thorns builds up in our bodies if we get stung, and if you end up getting spiked more than twice your body can go in to anaphylactic shock.

These starfish aren’t actually pests. In fact,  they are an integral part of a healthy functioning reef ecosystem. They eat faster-growing coral, such as staghorn and plate corals, keeping it in check so slower growing corals have a chance to catch up. It’s when populations of crown-of-thorns (COTS) rise too high and too quickly that they present a big problem.

The Great Barrier Reef has faced outbreaks of COTS since the 1960s. Scientists are still trying to pin-point the reason why, but it’s thought to be linked to agricultural run-off resulting in more phytoplankton in the water (the diet of COTS larvae) and a decline in population of the few predators this starfish has. According to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, crown-of-thorns starfish populations are under control if you only see a lone starfish on a 20 minute swim, or about 15 per hectare. On a single COTS eradication dive I undertook whilst I was working on a dive live aboard in the Great Barrier Reef, I killed a total of 45. On another trip organised specifically to cull crown-of-thorns in Bait Reef, one of the most pristine and untouched sections of the Great Barrier Reef, we killed 269. So, a few more than one on a 20 minute dive.

The thing about COTS though, is that they are hardy little predators. Until recently, divers thought they were lending the reef a hand by spotting one on a dive, whipping out their dive knife and cutting off each of their 20 arms so they could never feast on the reef’s precious coral again. How very misconceived they were.

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Culling the invasive crown of thorns starfish in the Great Barrier Reef.

Starfish possess the ability to regrown their limbs. Like something out of a sci-fi movie, every one of their amputated limbs can grow into a whole new separate starfish. Until recently,  crown-of-thorns could be culled using multiple shots of sodium bisulphate solution or a single shot of bile salts. These methods worked, and didn’t harm any of the surrounding marine life. However, the latter method comes with a hefty price tag attached, and for an organisation to purchase half a kilo of the salts alone will set them back around one hundred and twenty dollars.

Researchers from the James Cook University have recently discovered a solution that will cost quite a bit less than this, is safe for all the other creatures that call the ocean home and readily available. Within 48 hours of a lab based crown-of-thorn starfish being injected with a 20ml dose of vinegar it was dead. Yep, the exact same vinegar you have with your hot chips. Lead scientist of the project,Lisa Boström-Einarsson, said that within 24 hours of administering the vinegar all that was left of the spiky echinoderm was a smear of slime. The researchers will soon be testing their new method out in the ocean.

Last year 2 full-time COTS control crews managed to cull 350 000 starfish. This sounds like a pretty big figure, but there are approximately 12 million crown-of-thorns starfish currently on the Great Barrier Reef, and females can lay up to 65 million eggs over a single spawning season. This research could potentially be the saviour of one of the world’s most iconic underwater landmarks. The cheap, easy access and safe nature of vinegar means potentially anyone can be a reef hero. Who knows, maybe by the time you head to Australia for a dive live aboard adventure you’ll be able to cull these pests yourself!