Mucking About with the Camera

It’s come to my attention via the log of searches that people have used to find this blog that a lot of people are looking for camera information, and more importantly, underwater settings. This post is going to be a quick blurb on settings I’ve had success with and techniques I’ve learned/experimented with for underwater photography. Bear in mind that I’m a relative amateur in this particular field, but that said, I have taken a huge amount of photos underwater (something to the tune of 3000+ now) over the last few years, so I’m starting to get the hang of certain things. The PADI Underwater Digital Photographer course was a big help to me as well, for technique and post production work. Each Camera will have a representative picture and video, to give you an idea of what it’s capable of.

Sea&Sea 860G in Shallows

So, my first camera, the Sea&Sea 860G. I purchased this camera new in Bali during my Advanced Open Water course. I loved this camera, not just because it was my first underwater camera, but because it was simple to operate. I never figured out the white balance function, but I remember adjusting the ISO speed from automatic to 200 or 400. The small lens it came with made for good macro shots and even a few wider angle pics. This camera was and is a workhorse for an amateur underwater photographer. Remember to adjust the ISO speed and if you can figure it out, do the white balance. It’s worth mentioning as well that the flash is somewhat anemic and drains the battery very, very quickly. For a lot of my good shots in darker water, I used my back up light or even my main light on night dives to illuminate my photo prey.

Sealife DC1000 on Shallow Reef

The next camera was the late and lamented Sealife DC1000, that perished after an O Ring failure. This camera came with settings built in to work underwater. I’ll tell you right now, never use the scuba setting. Only use the snorkel setting at depth, then use the land setting anywhere 6m or higher. Why? The settings flood the images with red pixels to bring their colour out. On a small screen or small format, it doesn’t look so bad. Viewing it in full size reveals the red pixels, and they are frustrating at best to try to edit out in post production. The flash was good, and the rechargeable battery was enduring, making multiple dives achievable. The button system was very, very easy to work, and the wide angle lens was basic but functional. The macro setting was decent, and it made excellent videos at shallow depth (they’re not National Geographic, but they’re nice to show people). If you don’t mind the risks of the trench O Ring system, this camera is a good choice. I imagine had it survived longer, I would have invested in a strobe system for it, allowing me to eliminate the need for the underwater settings.

L22 photo by Night

Now, my current camera, the Nikon CoolPix L22 with Ikelite housing. This camera has already proven itself in cold water, tropical water and by night. It surprised me and everybody else with it’s clarity and ability underwater. It is also a very challenging camera settings wise though, because it’s really a land camera that has been pressed into service underwater. I tried to, and fought with, the white balance function while diving in Hawaii. At 30m down, it did bring some colours back, but lost some clarity. Ultimately I decided to let it autobalance in favour of the crisper images it gave. I did set the exposure compensation, the (+/-) button, to -1. I found it brought out colour better and richness in the photos. The macro setting is excellent by my estimation, and good for getting up close. I also have the Image Mode (in the Menu area) set to 3m. Because it works on AA batteries, I often have the flash set to go off with every shot, since I can replace the batteries after each dive if needs be. In clear tropical waters and shallower depths in the colder waters at home, I can switch the flash to Auto. The video function is solid, and over all, as a non-professional camera, the L22 is a solid platform to work from.

There are a tonne of write ups, articles and recommendations about underwater photography and the techniques to use for it. I’m not going to repeat them all here or flog a dead horse. I’ll just add this: don’t be afraid to get right up to what you want to take a picture of. Know your targets though, and read up about the local aquatic flora and fauna before you hit the water. Moray eels and lionfish you can get close to, you may want to be a bit more wary around stingrays or larger sea creatures. That’s my say on cameras for now. In the future I hope to add a strobe system and various lenses to the Nikon/Ikelite package that I’ve got right now.

Good Luck and Good Diving!

About the author

Graeme is a professional diver, qualified as a PADI and SDI Divemaster, DCBC 40m Unrestricted Commercial Scuba Diver, 30m Restricted Surface Supply diver, and CAUS Scientific Diver Lv.2. Graeme has an Associate Degree of Arts in Environmental Studies, where he focused on archaeology and physical geography, and an Advanced GIS certificate.