Photo Tips

  1. Introduction
  2. Basic camera use
  3. Wide angle
  4. Snoots
  5. Workshop

Wide Angle Photography

While wide angle shots can be tricky to achieve pleasing images, some basic photographic knowledge accompanied by the application of a series of simple steps can make the whole process less daunting for the photographer and develops a procedural approach to 'building' the image. This tip page will describe a step by step approach which I apply when creating wide angle images.

The steps are:

The Idea

Image 1: The idea

Image 1: The idea

While diving the wreck of the James Eagan Layne in 2007 I spotted a set of wheels. These made an interesting and immediately recognisable foreground feature as the basis for my wide angle image. My camera setup on this dive was for natural light using the green water Magic Filter. Using settings of 1/20 sec @ f4, ISO800 with a Canon 10-22mm wide angle zoom I took a number of images. However the resulting images were disappointing due to a number of fundamental issues:

  • Highlights blown out towards top of the image
  • The Magic Filter requires the sun over the shoulder for best results ... I was shooting into the sun
  • Wheels 'lost' within the image
  • Poor diver positioning
  • Camera noise
  • Lack of experience with camera settings

However the basic idea was there and I could see the potential for a much improved shot.

Natural Lighting

Shooting using a combination of natural light and strobe lighting provides the photographer with a variety of creative opportunities; the natural light provides the ambient colour of the surrounding water while the strobe provides fill-in light for the foreground subject. To achieve repeatable results, it is necessary to set the camera to manual (M) mode giving the photographer full control of the shutter speed and aperture settings.

Typically the shutter speed is used to set the desired colour intensity of the water column. Due to the short duration of the strobe, typically thousandths of a second, the maximum sync shutter speed of 1/250th of a second has no impact on the foreground lighting. As the shutter speed is increased from slow settings (e.g. 1/25 sec) to faster speeds (e.g. 1/250 sec) the water column progressively darkens as shown below:

Colour at 1/25 @ f8, ISO 200

Settings: 1/25 @ f8, ISO 200

Colour at 1/50 @ f8, ISO 200

Settings: 1/50 @ f8, ISO 200

Colour at 1/100 @ f8, ISO 200

Settings: 1/100 @ f8, ISO 200

Colour at 1/200 @ f8, ISO 200

Settings: 1/200 @ f8, ISO 200

Colour at 1/400 @ f8, ISO 200

Settings: 1/400 @ f8, ISO 200

It should be noted that there is a limit to the maximum shutter speed achievable on the camera when used with a strobe; this is known as the sync speed and typically has a speed of 1/200th or 1/250th of a second. The Nikon D300 camera has a configurable option allowing a sync speed of 1/320th of a second.

For wide angle I will typically set the aperture to around f5.6 and then take a series of images into the water column adjusting the shutter speed to achieve the desired water column colour. To ensure my camera monitor provides a realistic colour representation in the playback I alter the camera monitor brightness option to match the colour on my computer screen.


Strobe Lighting

The foreground subject is lit using one or two strobes as appropriate. When using dual strobes I will typically set the strobe position and power setting of a single strobe before introducing the second strobe to fill in any additional lighting. In this way it is simpler to determine the impact and coverage of the first strobe and then provide any additional fill-in if required by introducing the second strobe.


Human Element

Depending upon the desired result the introduction of a diver can add additional interest to the final image. In particular if shooting a wreck the diver can add a sense of size and perspective or add human interaction i.e. the exploration of a lost vessel.

Normally I equip the model with a torch often to direct the viewer towards an area of the picture. The choice is yours, digital images are cheap so shooting without a torch, with a torch directed straight at the camera or to the side of the lens to reduce the impact of the beam are all options that can be explored. Note that keeping the torch within the silhouette shape of the diver is generally more effective than held outside the diver's body.


Building the image (1)

From the initial idea, I now build the image as a series of steps. These are demonstrated through a series of images taken under the pier at KBR, Indonesia.

  • Step 1: Arrange the image composition and set the aperture and shutter speed for correct exposure of the background (Image 1).
  • Step 2: Turn on one strobe and adjust the strobe power and position to light part of the foreground (Image 2).
  • Step 3: Turn on the second strobe (if required) and adjust the strobe power and position to complete the foreground lighting (Image 3).
  • Step 4: Introduce models if desired to add extra interest (Image 4). Underwater this may be the introduction of a diver.
Image 1: Exposing for the sky

Image 1: Natural Light

Image 2: Positioning of first strobe

Image 2: Single Strobe

Image 3: Positioning of second strobe

Image 3: Dual Strobe

Image 4: Final image including surface models

Image 4: Surface interest


Building the image (2)

Returning to the initial image of the diver over the James Eagan Layne, the following sequence of shots were captured. The step by step approach described above was used; once the desired exposure changes were achieved it was simply a case of getting my model to swim between the hull plates.

The photographer can use a number of methods for guiding the model including hand signals or showing the image on the camera display. On large dome ports an experienced model can position themselves based on their reflection.

Image 1: General composition and lighting

Image 1: Composition

Image 2: Example of model with no torch

Image 2: Model without torch

Image 3: Example of model being too distant

Image 3: Model with torch

Image 4: Example of model 'clipping' the wreck

Image 4: Model with torch

Image 5: Final image

Image 5: Final image

Having established the correct balance of natural and strobe lighting (Image 1) I got my buddy to repeatedly swim through the shot. I took about 18 images in total. So why did I choose Image 5 as the final image?

  • Image 1: The image needs a diver to complete the image and fill the space between the hull plates.
  • Image 2: The diver in this image has no torch; in my opinion the inclusion of the torch provides added interest.
  • Image 3: The diver here is too far back and loses prominence. Also the angle of the divers body is not aligned to the right hand wreckage as is apparent in Image 5.
  • Image 4: The diver silhouette is 'clipping' or intersecting with the wreck. Generally it is better to have a clear separation between elements in the image.


As described it is possible to apply a series of procedural steps to creating wide angle images. I have found this approach slows my photography down in a positive way through a series of deliberate and considered shots, providing a repeatable routine that has resulted in an overall improvement in my wide angle compositions.