Diving Sorrento Peninsula 2022

It was time again to visit Gianluigi and all friends at Punta Campanella Diving in Massa Lubrense.

As I had already been in Egypt on a liveaboard I only did 4 dives:

  1. Banco di Santa croce
  2. Vervece
  3. Punta Campanella
  4. Mitigliano steps

The banco visibility was poor also at depth however I still managed to get a few interesting shots with inward lighting.

Profile
Inward Rockfish

Groupers were very shy but the anthias were performing

Deep Bommie
Wall

Consider that the anthias images are between 30 and 40 meters. I went there as I wanted the red gorgonian coral in the shots

The Vervece instead was a wonderful dive however the barracuda love to hang exactly on the thermocline resulting in hazy images

Thermocline

I could manage a good shot were you can see the surface staying right on the thermocline.

Vervece doppio senso

The second day had one of my favourite spots Punta Campanella conditions again difficult with limited visibility but plenty of options for interesting shots.

Eyes

In addition to the cardinal fish in the cracks there was an interesting hermit crab that started legging it when I set the strobes for inward lighting.

Hermit on a run

At the surface I manage a few decent shots of jellyfish

Stinger

I would have liked to go on the Isca caves however the divers were not experienced so we went to the steps of Mitigliano which is a great close up wide angle dive.

Gorgonia

Corals are not too deep and there is a good variety of fish on top the cardinals in the cracks

Damsel
Salp Uphill
Mullets

The visibility was a bit better but the light was decent so I took a variety of shots of salp, mullets and damselfish

That’s all for Italy for 2022. I feel I need more dives to get the best but am quite happy considering the limited number I could do.

For sure shooting wide angle here is a challenge but I think the shots worked out ok

Challenges of high dynamic range underwater scenes

A recent discussion on wetpixel with regards to mirrorless cameras vs DSLR seemed to highlight that electronic viewfinders are a major limitation vs optical viewfinders in high dynamic range scenes.

In reality an optical viewfinder does not have dynamic range is just the projection of what the camera lens is seeing through a mirror while an electronic viewfinder is a small screen limited to the 10 stops of dynamic range of the camera jpeg engine.

So there is no doubt that in certain cases the eye and the brain do a better job than a screen to manage certain scenes however to say that this is a limitation that cannot be overcome is a real stretch especially as now most images are taken with mirrorless cameras and have high dynamic range.

During my last Red Sea adventure I spent almost an entire dive shooting sunbursts. Sunburst can be tricky this is an excerpt from Alex Mustard Underwater Photography Masterclass

“At depth the overexposure at the edge of the sun ball is only in the blue channel, which creates an ugly cyan halo around the sun.”

Other situations for ideal sunburst are calm waters which I did not really have during my trip.

So possibly I had the worst conditions and most challenging for my camera, as you know I shoot a Panasonic GH5M2 and the micro four third format is frequently labelled as having very low dynamic range.

During lockdown I have practiced a lot of landscape and night photography and many sunrise and sunsets and I have learnt that actually my camera has a lot to offer if I do not fully trust the exposure tools.

The camera lies to you

The image displayed in camera and in the EVF is an output of the JPEG photo setting of the camera and shows what the manufacturer believes it is an optimal image. RAW converter do exactly the same thing and apply corrections to the raw data to show what they think looks good as a starting point for editing.

Red – LR Default

This image taken at around 18 meters so fairly deep shows a moderately clipped sunball in what was not calm surface water and a fairly dark foreground despite the strobe fired on the coal.

This image is instead the camera RAW data very close to linear and without correction. Note the cyan sunball and the very dark foreground.

RAW Linear data

This does look really dark indeed and to be frank the camera sees a lot in the dark.

The important part though is that this image is not clipped in the highlights and the darks are not crushed either.

The image can therefore be rescued to produce a decent result.

Red – Edited

Is this image as pretty as one where the sun rays do a perfect star in calm shallow water? No.

Does it have an ugly sunball of death? No

Is it noisy grainy or lacks sharpness? Definitely not

Would you have taken this image if you believed the camera exposure settings? Probably not

How to take good high dynamic range images underwater with a mirrorless camera

There are a number of challenges to be overcome:

  1. On some cameras the EVF may get so dark that you can’t see any of the foreground
  2. The camera metering system reflects a jpeg not a raw image file
  3. The image review afterwards may also be incorrect
  4. You do not know how to edit such image to find out if it was clipped or not

Let’s take those challenges one by one.

Normally with a mirrorless camera if you try to expose so that the sunball is not clipped the display gets so dark that you can’t see the foreground unless you have a light.

Some cameras like mine have a metering mode called highlight weighted where the camera calculates exposure not on the middle grey but the highlights. This in turn allows us to calculate how much headroom is built in the exposure tool of the camera. I have calculated that for mine is 1 full stop. So the first step is to set your camera to the fastest shutter speed your flash can sync to (in my case 1/400) the lowest ISO (in my case 200) and the smallest aperture that does not go into diffraction (in my case f/10) and see if you can match that 1 stop overexposed and work from there with your aperture. Set the strobes to match your aperture in my case I set them to f/16 to start and then move to f/22 if needed if I am reasonably close otherwise I may go all the way to full power.

The second step is to switch back the camera to a normal multi metering mode and ignore entirely any warning of clipped highlights so you can compose the scene and shoot.

The jpeg review will show blinking highlights in abundance but you know that is not actually true.

Later in lightroom we apply the setting to remove the program bias and see if the scene was clipped

Lightroom develop mode

As you can see the scene is correctly exposed!

After some editing we are at what I consider a decent result

Adjusted Image

Here another example later in the day in another dive site an even more challenging backlit situation.

Buddy diving

Conclusion

There is no doubt that the eye and the brain can do an easier job in those challenging condition to frame the shot however any camera including a DSLR will lie to you when it comes to the image review so ultimately you can push your equipment much further than you think if you know how.

Red Sea Image Makers 2022 Shot Report

Just back from a fantastic week. Cannot write a trip report on something I arranged however I am confident those will come from the participants.

The actual schedule ended up like this

DateTime inSiteLensVideo
31/7/2208:40TempleCanon 8-15mm
31/7/2211:40Jackfish AlleyCanon 8-15mmYes
31/7/2215.10Beacon RockCanon 8-15mm
31/7/2217:30Beacon RockCanon 8-15mm
1/8/2206:35DunravenPanasonic 8-18mm
1/8/2210:45Small crackPanasonic 8-18mmYes
1/8/2215.30MarcusPanasonic 8-18mm
1/8/2217:00Dolphin SnorkellingPanasonic 8-18mmYes
2/8/2206:20Giannis DPanasonic 8-18mm
2/8/2209:45CarnaticPanasonic 8-18mm
2/8/2215:20ThistlegormPanasonic 8-18mm
3/8/2206:25ThistlegormPanasonic 8-18mm
3/8/2209:45ThistlegormPanasonic 8-18mm
3/8/2214:10RM LighthousePanasonic 8-18mmYes
4/8/2217:30Sandbar trip

4/8/2206:20Shark ReefCanon 8-15mm
4/8/2210:00Shark ReefCanon 8-15mm
4/8/2214:00Ras GhozlaniCanon 8-15mm
4/8/2217:40Sunset SplitsPanasonic 8-18mm
5/8/2207:00Ras Za’tarCanon 8-15mm
5/8/2210:00Ras Umm SidCanon 8-15mm
5/8/2214:20TempleCanon 8-15mm
5/8/2217:40Sunset SplitsPanasonic 8-18mm

I would have preferred a more aggressive approach to some sites however I decided ultimately to settle on something that was challenging diving wise but not extreme.

I used my Panasonic GH5M2 with the Canon EF 8-15mm and the Panasonic 8-18mm. Surprisingly I found I had more keepers with the 8-18mm this is due to the dolphin dive for which I took the risk of using the rectilinear lens and continuous autofocus which worked well.

Day 1

The trip had a slow start at Temple followed by Ras Mohammed and some technical training on light at Beacon Rock.

Pulsating reef life at Temple

Ghost in the Shell

Moray Burst

Day 2

After a dive at Dunraven and a better one at Small Crack where I took video we moved to Abu Nuhas where I decided to skip the last dive and go for a snorkelling trip hoping to get dolphins.

underwater explorers

Inside the Marcos

Wreck diving

Barnacle Bow

The dolphin came to play we had one hour with them swimming at speed around us and getting really close

Lone Dolphin

Spinning
Checking you

Dynamic Duo

Dolphin Photography

Day 3

It was the day of the wrecks including the Thistlegorm in order to support the group I was at the back which did not help visibility. We were mostly on our own though

Giannis Vertical
Red Coral
Giannis bow
Phantom Wreck

Wrapping cloth?
Exploring the stern of the Carnatic
Big fish

Ceiling

Cage

Day 4

Two additional dives on the Thistlegorm and we were back to Ras Mohammed after the adrenalin an easy dive at the lighthouse followed by sunset trip on a sandbar. This time I tried to get some better shots of the Thistelgorm exterior while I would say inside there was generally less fish to make the shot interesting.

Bikes trailer
Truck
Motorbike
The last Steering wheel truck

Headlights

Propeller
Machine Gun

Locomotive

Day 5

Two dives at Shark Reef the current was pumping. We missed the snappers on dive one but they were there in full force with the batfish on dive 2. The group however ran out of air very fast trying to get the shots. Last dive was at Ras Ghoslani to have a break and finally a session of split shot that was not very successful due to waves however I did produce a decent one with quite some fish.

Bommie of Jolanda
Head On
Arrow head
Green Turtle take off
Videography
Layers

Day 6

Usually the last day is a more restful however we had 3 dives and one sunset split session so actually a full day. Here dive one was focussed on sunburst but ended up also being dive two.

Mushroom

Swarming
Hidden burst
Red
Red Sea Fan

Bommie at Ras Umm Sid
Buddy diving
Ras Katy Tip

Conclusion

It was a great trip although I am not sure I took my best shots in all cases. The Thistlegorm was under par while the dives at Ras Mohammed and other sites other than Shark Reef were better than expected.

One thing that proved to be absolutely right was that the ability to influence the boat schedule and itinerary is essential. We were in the water always first, Egyptian boat have a tendency to get in the water very late for dive one and this means most of the following dives have the sun really high and not always the best conditions.