I have people ask me all the time about shooting underwater, and all of the stuff that's involved.
Most of the questions are about gear and post-processing. To me that's sad, as I believe the most important stuff that goes into making a good shot has very little to do with gear and post processing.
A good shot has first to do with bringing your camera on the dive. If you don't take your rig with you, you'll never get the shot. The number of times I hear surprise from divers that I took my cam over the rocks or through the surf, or took out the scooter and the camera - its always surprises me.
If you leave your rig at home, you'll miss capturing the moments of the dive.
One of the other important elements of shooting that has nothing to do with gear or post is getting to know your subjects. Bob gets great Lumpsucker shots because he has taken the time to know where these guys live, what the eat, where they hang out and how they behave.
Nudi's - while just bags of pus and slime, have very replicable and very predictable behavior patterns. Its easy to spot them when you know what to look for (and you're not always looking for the Nudi, but looking for the things the Nudi's eat, the places they live, the environment they prefer - still water, sand, moving water, etc.)
In this series I'll be covering a lot of the things I do to get the shots - from spotting, to composition, to gear to post, etc.
In this first one, I want to show you a before and after Macro.
We came up on this Tri Linny. He was in a good spot - out on the end of a kelp leaf, by himself. If I got low enough with my belly on the sand, I'd be able to shoot up a bit and not have too much behind him. It could be a good shot.
The down side is he was very exposed to the surge. I was getting pounded and he was flapping back and forth.
There was a lot of shmootz in the water and I was shooting with only one strobe (the other was intermittent so I turned it off.) So the lighting isn't the best, but with a nudi this small, out in the open - one strobe is fine.
I set up, braced and was firing off shots - I finally captured the Nudi in-between surge thrusts - but I didn't like what I was getting behind and around the guy with my normal f18 (pretty deep DOF).
I moved to an f7.1 Ap - this is a much tighter Depth of Field. The result is it softened everything up and I was much more pleased with the shot. The down side is you have no margin for error, as if you breathe or move your rig even an eight-of-an-inch you're going to miss your focus spot (for me, its always the Nudi's head.)
You can see in the shot above how much the softened background accentuates the subject. I like this shot a lot better. Of course it took about 4 or 5 shots to get him standing upright in all the surge.
Below is the final image once I got done processing it. Here's what I did:
- Crop - I crop everything to a 6 X 4 aspect. It makes all my shots look uniform when I line them up. On very rare occasions I'll use a custom crop - but 99.99999% of my stuff is cut to 6 X 4. Although I try most of the time to fill the frame and not crop at all, these shots are center shots, as I was pretty far from this little guy.
- Color Correction - Ikelite Strobes are very, very warm. Most of the SoCal landscape (especially at ML) is orange and brown. Without some color correction everything will look like a warm orange mess.
- De-Speckle - I was shooting in really, really dark water. I was pretty far away as there was nowhere to brace that brought me close enough - so there is a lot of stuff between me and the guy. De-Speckle is a noise reduction that takes out some of the small black dots that invade low light, long distance shots.
- Noise-Reduction - I ran this shot through Neat Image. That takes out all that little rainbow fleck noise from a low light, long distance shot like this. It also gives the Nudi's skin a smooth sheen - so I use the edit slider and I fade the result so the skin looks more realistic and not all Nicole Kidman / Madams Tussaund's
- Shadow / Highlight - my fav tool for Nudis. The impact on a TriLinny is minimal, as their skin isn't too reflective. But on a McFarlands, or on any of the white Nudi's (Sandy, Yellow Lined, Limbaughs, Flavah, etc.) it changes eveything. It controls the reflections, brings out the bumps on their skin and the wrinkles and just makes them easier to look at.
- Pick out the yuck - this is the most time consuming process. I go in and pick out all of the floating yuck. I view the image at 200%, then go in and use the "Spot Healing" tool for the first pass. For stuff that is too tight to the subject I'll use a "Clone" tool as its more selective and I can set the hardness (the edge) to leave the surrounding stuff alone.
- Sharpen - I don't use the "Sharpen tool" - I use "unsharp mask" set at maximum (500%) and then go to edit and fade the unsharp mask. It gives me much more control over the finished result and allows me a much wider control parameter.
- Re-size - I resiize it to 1200 pixels wide.
- I will usually run the 1200 image through a very subtle "smart sharpen" just to give it a little pop without making it too crispy. When I "save for the web" its making the image only 72 DPI - so the Smart Sharpen really helps my stuff sparkle at these very low DPI's. I start at 40% and fade to taste
And that's it.
No wacky photoshop voodoo, nothing introduced into the image that wasn't there, nothing extraordinary to materially change the subject - just some clean up and some color correction.
Of course, then I then post the shots to Dive Matrix.
Wide Angle shots take a bit more work - I'll post a walk through of some WA shots soon.
KEEPER SHOT BEFORE
KEEPER SHOT AFTER