Friday, August 07, 2009

Terry Picasso - Underwater Challenges

My wife and I did two things we had not done before during our trip. We went snorkeling and we did underwater photography. Today I want to discuss three challenges about underwater pictures and today's image is a fun illustration of one of the problems we faced. Disclaimer - this image has been digitally manipulated but it is representative of my state before coffee. The three challenges are light, colour and motion.

It is substantially darker underwater than above the surface and the deeper you go the darker it gets. What tools do photographers have to address this? We can increase the ISO, slow the shutter, open the aperture, or add more light. There are trade-offs with each of those actions, but it is the last one I want to focus on.

One of the most obvious solutions might be to use the on-camera flash. If you follow Rick Sammon's
advise you will know that one of his rules is 'take the flash off the camera'. In my case, the Panasonic TS-1's flash cannot be removed - it is built-in. There is an additional problem with using the built-in flash underwater that requires you to force the flash off. Sea water is not pure - it is well sprinkled with suspended material. If you use the flash on-camera, all of those particles will light up like a snow storm. This is illustrated in the area surrounding my head in today's photo. This was taken at close range, the further you are away the worse the problem will be (within flash range). If you want to use flashes underwater you will need to get them off-angle from the lens axis. Conditions do vary so give the on-camera a try but be sure to verify you are getting an acceptable image.

I did expect that white balance would be a problem. But I was surprised by how much of a problem it was. I expected to determine the best colour settings in Lightroom and then apply them to all of the pictures I took underwater. That didn't work as the colour of light within an image was highly dependent on which direction I took the picture and how deep I was. Duh! This is one challenge for which I don't have a good solution- any suggestions?

Motion is something we always deal with in photography. Sometimes we want to convey the sense of motion within a still frame. Other times we want to freeze the motion of a moving subject. In my underwater situation, my challenge was my own motion. The standard answer - when earthbound - is to use a tripod or like device. However that would not be viable on coral reefs - if at all. Although the bays we were snorkeling in were somewhat sheltered from the open Pacific, the surf was moderately strong so we were constantly being tossed about. Diving deeper would help a bit, but my TS-1 is only good to 3m underwater and like all things photographic there is a trade-off. The deeper you go, the more light you lose.

So now let me explain today's image. Barb wanted to take a picture of me underwater. The combination of us both being new to snorkeling and being tossed about by the surf meant that every time we got framed up for the shot, one of us would move and the resulting image was not what was expected. She would only get a piece of me. While reviewing our images I was about to delete all of those 'mistakes' when she suggested 'Terry Picasso' - a portrait composed of all of those mistakes. If Pablo had created it, it would sell for a million, wouldn't it? Who wants to open bidding at $500,000?

Panasonic DMC-TS1, Hawaii

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