Photo Tips

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

Photo Workshop

Workshop Promotion

Workshop Promotion

The following sections detail tips and ideas presented by Martin Edge and Alex Mustard at Imperial College, London on 6th November 2010.

In addition to the following descriptive notes many of the techniques are demonstrated in the video of Martin Edge and myself shooting various subjects (shot and edited by Jo Horrocks of Cuttlefish Productions.)

Combating Backscatter

Backscatter is caused by an excessive overlap in the camera cone and lighting cone. Reducing this overlap will prevent at best or at least reduce the impact of backscatter on your images.


  • Getting closer to subject is MORE important than position of strobes.
  • Where visibility is poor, go for wider lens i.e. 60mm rather than 105mm or consider Close Focus Wide Angle(CFWA) using a fish-eye + tele-converter.
  • Tight framing removing background water can reduce the impact of backscatter.


  • Use a single strobe makes lighting more manageable.
  • Turn off the strobes and shoot with a higher ISO using natural light.
  • Reduce power setting on strobes and concentrate light on main subject and use ambient light to fill in with a slower shutter speed.
  • Use of snoot or off camera strobes, thus reducing lens/light cone overlap.


  • Consider amount of particulate in the water i.e. blue vs green water.
  • Consider shooting against a black background.
  • When shallow water shooting, consider strobes out of the water.


General Backgrounds

Up close and personal with an anemonefish
  • Get low relative to the subject.
  • Think horizontal and vertical composition, as well as diagonals.
  • Think of viewing subject from different angles.
  • Consider background of subject, try different view points.
  • For portrait composition consider moving bottom strobe to top of housing (needs a base-plate to mount the strobe arm).
  • Remove handle from bottom of housing to get entire housing lower relative to the subject.

Technical Backgrounds

For wide angle backgrounds consider:

  • Strong blues/background colour
  • Depth Perspective
  • Snells window/Ripples
  • Sunbursts

Strong blues/background colour

Diver silhouette, Yolanda reef, Red Sea
  • Competitions look for strong blues.
  • Use of white balance post processing tends to bleach blues.
  • Set background and ensure foreground/main subject well lit to avoid need to alter in post processing.
  • Change exposure by 1/3 stop e.g. 1/60 to 1/50 etc. to affect the colour of the water column.
  • For good blues consider:
    • Sun out (fast fall off of light on cloudy days).
    • Sun high (middle of the day).
    • Sun slightly behind.
    • Calm conditions help.
  • In poorer conditions consider:
    • Closer composition i.e. tighter lens.
    • Fisheye in the horizontal rather than vertical (reduces fall off in colour as you go down the image by reducing dynamic range).
    • Reduce column of blue i.e. only part of image has blue water.
    • Expose for sky/surface or for the water column, and remove Snells window/surface from the image.
    • Add a warming gel filter can improve background colours.

Depth Perspective

  • Consider sense of dimension/depth in the image.
  • Bland depthless photos are useful for magazine covers.
  • Use silhouetted background to provide sense of depth perspective.
  • Dramatic backgrounds by shooting towards the reef; detail brought out with strobe lighting.
  • Use Snells window and surface objects (e.g. trees, dive boat etc.) to add depth.
    Diver silhouette, with sunburst and Snells window
  • Shoot with the light (i.e. light from behind).
  • Consider patterns e.g. piers, wrecks etc.
  • Divers … ideally parallel to the camera and preferable as recognisable subject.

Snells window/Ripples

  • Surface ripples, breaking waves etc add interest.
  • Edge of Snells window.


  • Hide sun:
    • Out of image; just get beams.
    • Behind subject.
  • Careful not to burn blues out too much.
  • Reduce shutter speed to reduce sun ball size e.g. 1/80 → 1/125 → 1/320.
  • Start or end of day gives lower sun angles producing dappled light (need to shoot from 1 to 2 metres).


Lighting Techniques

Snooting the Flash

Fish lit with dive torch
  • Turn off auto focus and set strobe position; when focus achieved light should be in the right position.
  • Consider spotlighting part of a subject with snooted strobe plus lower power setting on other strobe for a slightly less emphasised background.
  • Consider continuous light sources e.g. dive torch


  • Set shutter speed 1/8 to 1/30th second, around ISO 100.
  • Consider ND filter (8) for bright conditions or late/early in day when less light.
  • Strobes set to light subject and not background; configure lighting to just illuminate subject only initially with high shutter speed then change to slow shutter speed.
  • Try:
    Cardinal fish movement (1/3sec@f32)
    Slow shutter speed (1/5sec @ f32) with camera rotated
    • Panning camera against water, surface ripples etc.
    • Panning horizontal, vertical and diagonal.
    • Rotation.
    • Zoom lens … wide → tight view with Rear Curtain Sync.
  • Most effective when sharp and soft images.
  • Full blur rarely works well underwater.
  • Consider subject dynamics e.g. sharks and fish make excellent subjects.
  • Type of motion:
    • If camera is still and subject moving, set Rear Curtain Sync.
    • If camera panning, set Front Curtain Sync.
  • Rotation Steps:
    • Set front curtain sync and high shutter speed 1/250th.
    • Set lighting to highlight the subject.
    • Change shutter speed to 1/15th.
    • Rotate camera.

Split shots

Split shot of Gangga Island, Indonesia
  • Key points:
    • Needs a large dome; not effective with small/mini domes.
    • Focus on underwater subject, NOT topside (unless split with person where area of interest e.g. face is on surface). Depth of field on wide lens will keep topside in focus.
    • Sun behind.
    • Sun high.
    • White sand beneath ideally (deeper water hard to expose for as greater dynamic range between topside and underwater subject).
    • Use flash if extreme difference between surface and underwater, or if shooting at night.
    • Introduce more layers for interest e.g. sand, coral, diver, split, water surface, trees, blue, clouds.
  • Droplets:
    • Ideally keep top of dome dry.
    • Rainex can be used on glass (NOT on acrylic).
    • Shami leather to dry port.
    • Dunk and raise quickly and shoot (water has not time to start running off).

Mini Domes

  • Ideal for Close Focus Wide Angle (CFWA).
  • Work well with FE lenses; tendency to have soft edges on rectilinear lenses.
  • Able to light subjects close to the lens; with a larger dome tends to cause shadows.
  • Strobe positioned close to side of dome.
  • Consider f14 rather than f8 (poorer corner sharpness).


  • Ensure not too close to camera unless expected.
  • If eyes visible they MUST be in focus, and interested.
  • Better model posture if they swim through the scene rather than stationary.


Off Camera Lighting

  • Needs remote strobe with sensor.
  • Main light source needs to be hidden.
  • On camera strobe set to low power (enough to trigger off camera strobe).
  • Need widest angle strobe.