Picture Perfect: What Makes a Good Image Great

Picture Perfect: What Makes a Good Image Great

When I was a new underwater photographer, I entered a contest online that had the theme, “Schooling Fish.”  I had a few images of schools of fish, so I entered two that I thought were pretty good, and since the contest limit was three images, I threw in the only other image I had of schooling fish, which I didn’t think was very good.  As it turns out, I won first place with that image.  Since it was an online contest, it was open to comments from the public, and someone wrote underneath the image, “No offense to the photographer, but I don’t see what’s so great about this image.” Frankly, that person voiced my feelings exactly.  Luckily for me, another person posted a comment that explained exactly why the image was so great.  He said, “This image leads your eye from left to right and swirls around the school ending up where you started only to compel you to look again.”

 

Leading the Viewer and Good Composition

I learned a valuable lesson from this experience, and that was that I needed to learn what the elements of a good image are so that I could use them to my advantage in the future.  All too often I didn’t understand why some images were better than others, and I thought that every photo I saw, that had something in it I had never seen before, was “great!”  So my first lesson in learning to make a good image was to look for elements that would lead the eye through the image.  Since western civilization reads from left to right, a good image will reflect that familiar direction.  We interpret this as “good composition.”

There are a few composition guidelines that can help you achieve this.  The most familiar of these might be the “rule of thirds.”  This is when you divide your image into thirds both horizontally and vertically and the important elements of the image, such as the eye of a fish, are placed on the intersecting lines (about a third up or down, and about a third from the left or right of the image.) The “S” curve is another device (anything that leads the eye in the shape of an “S”), The Fibonacci sequence has a fascinating array of spirals, patterns, and the “golden mean” which are shapes occurring in nature that “feel” good when our eyes see them.  For some people, the ability to discern these shapes is quite natural and we consider those people “gifted” or “talented” when they apply those abilities in art.  Post processing software such as Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop has these patterns associated with the crop tool so you can see what they look like.

Lighting

Good lighting is crucial to good image making.  There are lots of mistakes in underwater lighting that have become so common on social forums that our eyes are becoming accustomed to them. A common mistake is lighting the outsides of a subject, with a shadow in the middle.  This occurs when the strobes are turned too far out, or are blocked by the camera’s housing and cast a shadow through the middle of the image, like this:

There are a lot of other lighting problems with this image too.  The strobe on the left is turned up too high, causing the light to be harsh.  The water is dark and ugly, and could have been corrected with a higher ISO or larger aperture.  The lighting in the image below is much better.

An image that is properly lit will have even lighting throughout the subject, without any highlights that appear white, and without any fall off of light through the middle. The viewer’s eye should not be able to immediately tell whether a strobe was used, or whether the image is naturally lit.  When we are under water, everything we see has a blue cast, so we have to use strobes to bring the color back.  Our challenge as underwater photographers is to make images that don’t have a blue cast, but that also don’t have an obvious use of strobe.  The image below shows a large sponge that is properly lit from top to bottom, with a beautiful blue background.  The viewer must look closely to see that the ground around the sponge has a blue cast.

Thought Provoking

One last thought on making good images great.  The image below would have been a good photo of the USS Kittiwake without the diver, but it becomes a much better image with the diver standing next to the wreck.  This causes the viewer to react to the size of the ship relative to the man, and provokes a sense of awe and maybe even gives a sense of the mysterious.  Perhaps it causes the viewer to imagine the ship is haunted by the ghost of the man standing next to it.  In any case, that tiny added element provokes thought, and that makes the image GREAT.

With thousands of images flooding our social feeds, these few techniques are often overlooked when producing artistic and meaningful images.  If you can remember that you want to create an image that causes the viewer to pause and allow his eyes to wander about the image, you have created a GREAT image.  If you create an underwater image that lets the viewer forget that you had to use an artificial light source, then you have created a GREAT image.

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I promise that I will protect your privacy and I will never sell or share your e-mail.
As always, if you enjoy my images please visit my website, waterdogphotography.com, or give me a like on Facebook at Waterdog Photography Brook Peterson.  Don’t forget to follow me here at waterdogphotographyblog and please feel free to share on Facebook or other social media.
My photographs are taken with a Nikon  D810 in Sea and Sea Housing using two YS-D1 or YS-D2 Strobes.
All images are copyrighted by Brook Peterson and may only be used with written permission.  Please do not copy or print them.  To discuss terms for using these images, please contact me.
Five Tools for Creative Shooting on Shipwrecks

Five Tools for Creative Shooting on Shipwrecks

Scuba diving is an adventure and there is something about diving on a shipwreck that awakens the little kid in me.  Maybe it is the mystery of the ship’s sinking, or maybe the fantasy that there will be a hidden treasure chest, or maybe it is even a sense of the wandering spirits who are forever trapped in their watery grave. Whatever I am feeling as I explore a shipwreck, I want to capture that moment in my photography.  But photographing shipwrecks can be challenging, and how do you convey your experience to others?  It all starts with having a good foundation of photographic tools to draw from.

Bow of the Fesou Wreck, Maldives
Bow of the Fesou Wreck, Maldives

One of the most apparent challenges of wreck photography is how to light the wreck.  Most shipwrecks are much bigger than our strobes can cover, so we are limited to either shooting with ambient light, (which we can leave natural or turn to black and white in post processing) or we can shoot just a portion of the wreck.

When we photograph a wreck using ambient light, we must adjust the camera settings to let in as much light as needed so that the background is a nice blue, and the wreck is properly exposed. I would suggest you test shoot several images to get the exposure right.  Start by using a shutter speed around f/80-f/120 and adjust the aperture and ISO.  Remember that if you want good depth of field you will need a higher aperture, so ISO is the most likely adjustment you will make.  With today’s newer digital cameras, you should be able to adjust the ISO to a fairly high number without too much noise. Look on the LCD to see if there is good detail in the wreck.  You will want to see a range of shadows and highlights.

Stern of the Chrisoula K, Red Sea, Ambient light, ISO 500, f/8, 1/60s.
Stern of the Chrisoula K, Red Sea, Ambient light, ISO 500, f/8, 1/60s.

It is also important to note which direction the natural light from the sun is coming from.  If the sun is behind you, you can expect more detail in the subject.  If the sun is behind the wreck, you can expect it to be in silhouette. In the image above, the sun is behind me.  This image also works well processed as a black and white photograph because of the detail and contrast in the image.

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Another tool you can use to light a large wreck is a filter.  Magic Filters™ are developed for underwater photographers and help compensate for the lack of reds in the water.  They work best without strobes, with the sun at your back and your camera angled slightly down.  You will need to set your camera to manual white balance, so that the image is processed in camera with the correct colors.  The advantage to using filters is that you have good color throughout the image, including the blue water, which often looks washed out without them.

The Stern of the Giannis D, Red Sea, using ambient light, manual white balance, and Magic Filters. ISO 400, f/9, 1/100s
The Stern of the Giannis D, Red Sea, using ambient light, manual white balance, and Magic Filters. ISO 400, f/9, 1/100s

If you are using strobes, then it is important that you capture areas of the wreck that are identifying elements, and that they are small enough to be covered by the strobes.  Popular elements are propellers, ladders, winches and rudders.  The image below is of a locomotive that lies in 100 feet of water next to the Thistlegorm in the Red Sea.  You can see that only the very front of the car could be captured by the strobes.

One of two locomotives aboard the Thistlegorm when it sank.
One of two locomotives aboard the Thistlegorm when it sank.

The next image is of the steering quadrant on a ship called the SS Perseus which was sunk by the infamous vessel “The Wolf” during World War I.  This element of the ship is important because it helped to identify the ship as being from the WWI era, and ultimately identify which ship it was, as only two vessels from that time period are known to have sunk here.  Taking images of significant elements such as these is artistic because it illustrates the story.

Steering quadrant on the SS Perseus, Colombo, Sri Lanka
Steering quadrant on the SS Perseus, Colombo, Sri Lanka

Another tool that is always present in good underwater photography is a sense of depth.  We often take images of a fish, with a reef behind them, and perhaps a diver in the background to give a sense of depth.  On a wreck, it is important to give that same sense of depth.  But if you are photographing something inside, that can be a challenge.  A way to overcome this is to look for ways you can use ambient light in the background.  In the image below, you can see a cargo hold filled with stacks of Italian tile.  The ambient light in the background helps convey the vastness of the space.

The cargo hold of the Tile Wreck in the Red Sea
The cargo hold of the Tile Wreck in the Red Sea
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Trucks parked in the hold of the Thistlegorm, Red Sea

Sometimes there is no possibility of bringing in ambient light, and you still want to convey a sense of depth. A tool you can use for this would be a remote strobe, or ‘off camera’ strobe. This is an additional strobe that is triggered remotely by the light from your strobes. You can place it wherever you want to create dimension to a closed space. This truck is in a closed portion of the cargo hold of the Thistlegorm in the Red Sea. There are several trucks in this space, so I put the remote strobe in the cab of the second truck giving depth to the area.

A remote strobe can also be used to light something in a room such as the boiler, or steering wheel, or some other interesting element. The image below shows a lot of dimension with the use of a remote strobe to light the back room, and blue water and fish in the background.

Inside the Tile Wreck
Inside the Tile Wreck

Light beams from the sun give moodiness to an image so if they are available, use them to create atmosphere.  Beams of light can be difficult to capture, especially in a dark space.  In this image I am using an ISO of 1250, f/5, 1/60.  There is enough particulate in the water that the sunbeams are captured by it, even with a slow shutter speed.

Shafts of light illuminate the cargo of tile in the hold of the Tile Wreck, Red Sea
Shafts of light illuminate the cargo of tile in the hold of the Tile Wreck, Red Sea

Using different lighting techniques goes a long way when you are trying to transfer your underwater experience to your audience.  Don’t be afraid to experiment with your strobes as well as ambient light, filters, remote strobes, and sunbeams.  They are all tools that you can use to improve your underwater photography, and give value to your images.

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Email *
As always, if you enjoy my images please visit my website, waterdogphotography.com, or give me a like on Facebook at Waterdog Photography Brook Peterson.  Don’t forget to follow me here at waterdogphotographyblog and please feel free to share on Facebook or other social media.
My photographs are taken with a Nikon  D810 in Sea and Sea Housing using two YS-D1 or YS-D2 Strobes.
All images are copyrighted by Brook Peterson and may only be used with written permission.  Please do not copy or print them.  To discuss terms for using these images, please contact me.
How to Shoot Fish in a Barrel

How to Shoot Fish in a Barrel

One of the great things about photography is the ability of the photographer to express their creativity.  Sometimes creativity is inspired by the “moment” or the “environment” and sometimes that creativity is painstakingly thought out.  On a recent trip to Southeast Asia, a dive guide who was not a photographer had creativity coming out his ears, so his ideas and mine became a collaboration in creativity.

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Deep inside the barrel of a tube sponge live tiny critters such as isopods and shrimp.  The tubes can be more than a foot long, so it is hard to see very far down in them.  My guide taught me that if you put your dive light close to the bottom of the sponge, the critters inside would head to the opening to get away from the light, so you can “chase” the little shrimp with your light to the opening where you can photograph them.

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It isn’t always as easy as that, though.  Sometimes the tiny animals remain inside their safe home.  These shrimp were living inside a tunicate which had a very small opening in the top, but was quite spacious inside.  In order to photograph them, the lens of my camera had to be up against their front door and the light had to come through the walls of the tunicate.  This ended up being effective because of the green cast the walls of the tunicate gave to the inhabitants inside.

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This tiny isopod is smaller than a grain of rice, and I wanted to show the environment in which it lives, so I had to back the camera lens away from the tunicate, then focus through the opening to the animal below.  In the above image, the pink “frame” is about an inch higher than the animal at the bottom of the tunicate.  It’s a bit of a tricky technique, but quite effective when you get it right.

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Sometimes it is the moment that captures your imagination.  One night I came upon this octopus living inside a coffee cup.  He was very active and let me photograph him for about ten minutes doing various things before he turned the cup upside down and buried it and himself in the sand.  In the image above, my strobes were pointed directly at each other with the octopus in the middle.  Since he was stirring up so much sand, this helped eliminate the backscatter in the background, while lighting the animal up nicely.

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Capturing the moment with these tiny gobies in the neck of a bottle was a good exercise in creativity.  First, lighting the fish so that its features are sharp and the environment is defined required patience.  There are two fish in the above image, one behind the other.  As I wanted just the eyes of the fish and the front of the bottle to be in focus, I was using a shallow depth of field.  This meant waiting for one of the fish to settle in just the right place so that all the elements could come together.  I was also using a snoot, articulated so that the light was going directly up the neck of the bottle.

THREE'S A CROWD
THREE’S A CROWD

The fish were also darting around, trying to decide on how to pair up and vying for each others attention.  So this shot was intended to tell that story.

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Finally, capturing the “yawn” of the fish was another exercise in patience where I was rewarded with three yawns, one from each of the three fish.

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Shooting fish in a barrel, that is, through the opening of a bottle, cup, tunicate, or sponge was a prelude for an experiment in creativity that I have been working on for the past several months. This is an example of an idea that was painstakingly thought out to produce an effect.  In this image, I have used a tube to produce the animal’s own reflection as a frame around it.  It took months to discover the right length and diameter of the tube, the best lighting, and the most effective position of the animal. Shooting fish in a barrel, it seems, is not as ridiculously easy as we have been led to believe.

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Email *
As always, if you enjoy my images please visit my website, waterdogphotography.com, or give me a like on Facebook at Waterdog Photography Brook Peterson.  Don’t forget to follow me here at waterdogphotographyblog and please feel free to share on Facebook or other social media.
My photographs are taken with a Nikon  D810 in Sea and Sea Housing using two YS-D1 or YS-D2 Strobes.
All images are copyrighted by Brook Peterson and may only be used with written permission.  Please do not copy or print them.  To discuss terms for using these images, please contact me.

 

Processing Black and White Photographs in Lightroom

Processing Black and White Photographs in Lightroom

Have you ever wondered how to create striking black and white photographs using Lightroom?  This video tutorial shows you how!

Click HERE:  How to Process Black and White Photographs in Lightroom

 

Please subscribe below!  I promise that I will protect your privacy and I will never sell or share your e-mail.

Email *
As always, if you enjoy my images please visit my website, waterdogphotography.com, or give me a like on Facebook at Waterdog Photography Brook Peterson.  Don’t forget to follow me here at waterdogphotographyblog and please feel free to share on Facebook or other social media.
My photographs are taken with a Nikon  D810 in Sea and Sea Housing using two YS-D1 or YS-D2 Strobes.
All images are copyrighted by Brook Peterson and may only be used with written permission.  Please do not copy or print them.  To discuss terms for using these images, please contact me.
Underwater Ballet

Underwater Ballet

My favorite time of year has come for scuba diving in Southern California.  During the months of August to October, it is not uncommon to see large schools of baitfish and lots of other animals feeding on them.  So with that in mind, I anticipated diving under the oil rigs and photographing the eco-palooza that I was sure was going on.  Unfortunately, the visibility was down a bit on the day I took the plunge, so the visions I had of swirling schools of anchovies laced with cormorants and sea lions was somewhat dimmed.  But then something unexpected and marvelous happened. Out of the dark water a form appeared against the sun that was shining dimly through the haze.

Free diver, Alasdair Boyd
Free diver, Alasdair

In fifty feet of water, a man swam by.  He was wearing no scuba, and seemed in no hurry to get back up to the surface.  He stopped for a moment while I took a few pictures.

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As he turned around and went toward the surface, it occurred to me how graceful the human form is when viewed in the slow motion of water.  The long fins and slow deliberate movements made a scene reminiscent of a ballet.

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To my utter delight, another free diver, John, joined the dance along with a couple of sea lions.  The scene could not have been more ethereal.  It is a Ballet I would attend again and again.

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Please subscribe below!  I promise that I will protect your privacy and I will never sell or share your e-mail.

Email *
As always, if you enjoy my images please visit my website, waterdogphotography.com, or give me a like on Facebook at Waterdog Photography Brook Peterson.  Don’t forget to follow me here at waterdogphotographyblog and please feel free to share on Facebook or other social media.
My photographs are taken with a Nikon  D810 in Sea and Sea Housing using two YS-D1 or YS-D2 Strobes.
All images are copyrighted by Brook Peterson and may only be used with written permission.  Please do not copy or print them.  To discuss terms for using these images, please contact me.
Grand Cayman, The Caribbean’s Sweet Spot

Grand Cayman, The Caribbean’s Sweet Spot

Each major diving destination has its “sweet spot;”  that delicious area that is rich in bio-diversity and like a decadent chocolate keeps you coming back for more.  You know what I mean. Indonesia has Raja Ampat, the Philippines has Anilao, and the Caribbean has the Cayman Islands.  Grand Cayman, in particular has so much to offer, it is like the creme brulee of the archipelago.

Green Sea Turtle feeding on a Sponge
Green Sea Turtle feeding on a Sponge

One of Grand Cayman’s attractions is the opportunity to scuba dive or snorkle with turtles. The turtles are protected under Cayman law and the turtle even appears on the Cayman Island’s flag, currency, and seal.  On the Northern tip of Grand Cayman, is a turtle farm where you can learn about turtles, and even wade into their habitat and pick them up.  There is also a snorkeling pond. Each year, turtles that are produced on the turtle farm are successfully released into the waters around the Cayman Islands helping to sustain the Island’s population.

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Scuba divers get to enjoy diving on the wreck of the Kittiwake, a popular artificial reef that was sunk off of Seven Mile Beach in 2011.  The wreck is shallow enough that snorkelers can also enjoy seeing the wreck.  Each dive is guided, and the area is strictly protected.

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Another popular activity that is taking place in the Cayman Islands is Lion fish Culling.  The Lion fish is an invasive species in the Caribbean and although they are a beautiful fish, they are rapidly depleting the native reef fish population.  The Lion fish has a voracious appetite and can reproduce every five days.  It can potentially lay 2 million eggs a year, and has no natural predators in the Atlantic.  I have heard it is delicious and there are organized Lion Fish Derby’s if you are interested in spearing them for yourself.  The Lion fish on the spears in the above image were fed to the fish in the picture.  Authorities are trying to teach grouper, sharks, tarpon and other large fish to prey on the Lion fish to help naturally control the population.

Sting Ray City
Sting Ray City

Perhaps one of the best things about Grand Cayman Island is Sting Ray City.  In the shallow waters of Grand Cayman’s North Sound is a bay where hundreds of sting rays gather to interact (and by interact, I mean get fed squid) with tourists.  Dozen’s of excursions are offered daily out to “Sting Ray City,” where you can snorkel with or wade in the shallow waters with the sting rays.  Most operations provide food for their customers to feed to the sting rays.  The sting rays are accustomed to many visitors every day and are not afraid to come up and give you a hug.

A Guide shows a tourist how to "hug" a sting ray
A Guide shows a tourist how to “hug” a sting ray

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The water around Grand Cayman is known as some of the clearest water in the world.  Scuba diving here is popular because of the beautiful scenery, topography, and warm Caribbean water.

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The coral is typical of that found in other parts of the Caribbean, but the blue water seems to be the truest blue of any in the world.

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There are plenty of little critters, too.  The beautiful Flamingo Tongue is a cowrie (snail) that can be found on the Gorgonians around the islands.  It has a plain yellow shell, but when its foot is extended and wrapped around the shell, you can see it’s beautiful spots and markings.

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One of my favorite critters that is plentiful around Grand Cayman Island is the Conch.  These large snails have the craziest eyes that they extend out from their shell so they can see where their next meal is.

Conch eye
Conch eye

One thing is certain; Grand Cayman has the best the Caribbean has to offer when it comes to enjoying the beautiful waters surrounding the island.  It is definitely a place where you get to have your cake and eat it too.

Please subscribe below!  I promise that I will protect your privacy and I will never sell or share your e-mail.

Email *
As always, if you enjoy my images please visit my website, waterdogphotography.com, or give me a like on Facebook at Waterdog Photography Brook Peterson.  Don’t forget to follow me here at waterdogphotographyblog and please feel free to share on Facebook or other social media.
My photographs are taken with a Nikon  D810 in Sea and Sea Housing using two YS-D1 or YS-D2 Strobes.
All images are copyrighted by Brook Peterson and may only be used with written permission.  Please do not copy or print them.  To discuss terms for using these images, please contact me.
Five Life Hacks for Better Wide Angle Underwater Photography

Five Life Hacks for Better Wide Angle Underwater Photography

As a scuba diver in Southern California, I frequently get to dive in water that has low visibility.  This can be a challenge when shooting wide angle images.  In almost all conditions, underwater photographers must learn to cope with the phenomenon known as backscatter; that is, the reflection of light off particles in the water back into the camera’s lens.  Backscatter is much more prevalent in water with a lot of particulate, but it is present in nearly all underwater conditions. Fortunately, there are a few tricks to making beautiful images, even in poor conditions.

Slow it Down

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When you are not in bright, clear water, or when the sun is behind the clouds, or when you are too deep for the sun’s rays to penetrate to depth, try this little trick to saturate the image with ambient light:  slow down your shutter speed to 1/30th to 1/8th.  Since you are using strobes, this will do two things:  It will allow the ambient light to saturate the image, leaving you with blue (or green) water behind your subject, and the short burst of light from your strobes will “freeze” the subject so that it is in focus during the extended time the lens is open. Backscatter may be reduced as well, since the movement of the water may in effect, blur it away during that extended time.  The image above was taken with a shutter speed of 1/13th.  The color of the water, kelp and the snail are all more saturated than if the shutter had been open for a shorter time.

Turn Them In

Strobes turned toward the housing
Strobes turned toward the housing

One of the techniques that I use frequently when there is a subject that I want to light without lighting up the particles in the water on the sides, is to turn my strobes toward the subject. This works well for close focus wide angle shots.  In the image above, there is a shadow on the left hand side of the tube sponge.  It is coming from the right hand strobe, which is turned directly toward the sponge.  The reason for doing this is that the light from the strobe is landing directly on the subject, and not on the water to the sides where backscatter might ruin the image.  In addition, the angle of the light is less likely to bounce off particulate directly back into your lens, so again, less backscatter. The caveat is harsher shadows, but drama isn’t necessarily bad.

Down and Out

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Sometimes I have a large subject that needs to be lit all over.  The solution I used to light this coral head without getting backscatter was to place my strobes above my housing pointed slightly out and slightly down so that the entire coral head is lit, but the water above it only receives ambient light.

Pull It Back

Strobes too far forward caused too much backscatter on the sides of the image
Strobes too far forward caused too much backscatter on the sides of the image

The above image has a number of issues, but it illustrates the point that when the strobes are placed too far forward, the beam of light can reflect off the dome causing a great deal of backscatter on the sides of the image.  The solution to this problem is to pull the strobes back so that they are behind the handles of your housing.  In the image below, I did just that, reducing the amount of backscatter while lighting the entire scene.

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Wide Angle Snoot

Backscatter is reduced with a wide angle snoot
Backscatter is reduced with a wide angle snoot

If all else fails, there is still another trick up your sleeve, literally.  If you cut the sleeves off of an old wetsuit (a neoprene beer can cozy will work as well), and put them on the head of your strobes with about an inch of the sleeve overhanging the edge where the light comes out, you can reduce the amount of backscatter in your images.  This works especially well in poor visibility, and is suited to close focus wide angle shots.  In effect, you are reducing the angle of the beam coming from your strobes and directing it toward your subject. Sort of like a spot light. Less light is hitting the water, and a more direct beam of light is hitting your subject. Walla! Less backscatter.  Sometimes this technique works well when combined with a slow shutter speed.

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Although there are plenty of techniques to reduce backscatter in your images right out of the camera, it is always a bit of an issue even to the most seasoned underwater photographer.  A little particulate might look natural in some images, but if you really want to get rid of it all, it will need to be done in post processing.  Have a look at my tutorial, “Clean It Up!  Dealing with Backscatter” if you would like to learn more.

Please subscribe below!  I promise that I will protect your privacy and I will never sell or share your e-mail.

Email *
As always, if you enjoy my images please visit my website, waterdogphotography.com, or give me a like on Facebook at Waterdog Photography Brook Peterson.  Don’t forget to follow me here at waterdogphotographyblog and please feel free to share on Facebook or other social media.
My photographs are taken with a Nikon  D810 in Sea and Sea Housing using two YS-D1 or YS-D2 Strobes.
All images are copyrighted by Brook Peterson and may only be used with written permission.  Please do not copy or print them.  To discuss terms for using these images, please contact me.
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