Category Archives: Workshop

Underwater Photography Workshops – My Tips

I thought the Red Sea workshop with Alex Mustard was brilliant to I thought of writing down my notes and sharing them with you.

This final post is a general one and has my lesson learned from attending the workshop, those that follow are generic tips that I think would be beneficial to anyone wanting to attend a similar experience.

Before the Workshop

The experience actually starts before you even attend the sessions key points for me include:

  • Ask questions about the workshop and how it works
  • Know your equipment
  • Take all the gear you have
  • Be fit and self reliant
  • Set your self objectives

I did not really ask many questions before going as Dr Mustard sent a very comprehensive document however this is not standard and it is better to ask in advance about the conditions, the dives, the type of training and generally how the workshops is organized. Some have talks, other have one to one, other are just dive trips where you ask when you need. Not all types fit everyone so better to make sure you go to one that matches your need.

Sadly even this time like in every trip I have come across people using their equipment or part of their equipment for the first time. The end results is wasted dives and opportunities, I cannot stress enough that testing your rig in a pool before going allows you to familiarize with it and make any corrections you need.

Pool Conditions
Pool Practice

Also take all the possible lens, ports, parts that may be useful. Once you are there you don’t want to have regrets about something you have left home. In my case all was there but I did not know about remote strobes otherwise I would have got myself a trigger as I have 2 Z240s.

Transformer Tray
In case of doubt exceed with equipment

In most of those workshops buddy system does not really apply so make sure you are self reliant and fit as the conditions allow to avoid embarrassing or even dangerous incidents. Once there dive within your comfort limit and if you don’t really have a buddy dive with a guide.

It is useful to know before you go what your objectives are, for example what type of shots you want to work on. This means you have something to do over and above the assigned tasks.

During the workshop

Once there you need to stay focused on your performance. Those are additional points to think about:

  • Deliver the assigned tasks
  • Go off the beaten track
  • Learn from other participants
  • Take notes

Sometimes during those workshop there are challenges or set shot that are suggested, this is your opportunity to compare your work with others and therefore you should make sure you deliver those also to find out if there are limits with your equipment.
Eggs
In the Red Sea workshop were given the task of taking pictures of cardinal fish with eggs in their mouth. I realized I could not fill the frame because I lacked a mid range close up lens and my camera would not focus closer.

In addition to the suggested shots you should make changes to those and try something different even if not totally different.

Ras Katy Sunset

There are many landscape split shots but not many portrait so why not try one results can be excellent and it is easier with a small dome.

Other participants also will give a go to the same shots or have better editing skills it is worth to watch and learn.

Trucks
My buddy was setting up a remote strobe I fired a few shots (unintentionally of course) so I got my own shot!

Finally take notes of what you did right and wrong and if you missed anything.

After the workshop

After the sessions are over still there is work to do over and above going over your pictures again.

  • Write down your lessons learned
  • Look at other people images
  • Order any equipment that you missed

Well it goes without saying that I put the notes together and summarized them here.

I also found great to connect to other people and then look at their gallery for other shots that we had not discussed before.

Finally I ordered myself an Inon UCL330, funny I had this lens and sold it not realizing the real use which is fish portraits!!!

That’s all for now if you go on a workshop soon I hope you find this useful.

Red Sea Workshop with Alex Mustard – Part VI Schooling Fish

On Friday we were up for our last 3 dives at Shark Reef the current had not changed but this time I decided to give more a go to the schooling fish after setting up all the backgrounds I wanted.

As you can see from the image on the title we had more of the usual divers chasing fish but this did not deter me this time as I developed a specific technique to do the dive that I used fully on the last two photo dives.

So after a bit of experimental shots like this one

Batfish school from Top
Batfish school from Top

It was time to give it a proper go. To be honest is not that I like batfish that much and probably this is one fish that you can shoot in RAW in ambient light however if you do that you need to sacrifice quite a few ISO stops. With strobes the issue is to get the school in a formation that allows you to do a good job with lighting. This is my best shot for the session.
Schooling Batfish on Reef
What I like about this shot is the light on the fish or most of it where you can see yellow fins but also the background and a hint of surface.

Other fish that featured on the day were jacks but catching a school of those running past is quite hard unless the school is really big and they circle you.

Jacks Schooling
Jacks Schooling

In those type of formation you have all sort of issues with hightlights form the strobes in fact I was shooting 1/4 of power.

Giant trevallies made a more interesting single fish shot like this one.

Giant Trevally
Contrary to what you may think this is a shot with strobes otherwise you would not see the texture of the fish as you see it. Maybe a busy background but good technical exercise.

I also attempted a few anthias shots just to try a well tested technique to get them buzzing out the reef

Red Reefs
In the middle of the dives while I was waiting the barracuda school came out to play. Barracudas are quite tough as they require strobes to lit properly and I find the multitude of black and white shots that you see a bit boring as the fish texture is what makes the shot.

You have several challenges with the formation, if the school is big is difficult to take it all unless you are on the bottom or on the top. In the first case you need to control bubbles in the second you shoot the bottom so better be neat.

Anyway with a bit of patience I got the shot that I wanted

Arrows
It is impossible to illuminate properly all of them but this shot has got the right geometry and I think is quite pleasant.

On the second dive I was lucky to spend some time with a Giant Barracuda that was literally commanding the school at sight, very rewarding from a diving point of view I got so excited that I kept shooting with a relatively slow shutter speed however the fish that is lit by the strobe is well crisp.

Giant Barracuda issuing orders
Giant Barracuda issuing orders

This shot is much deeper than the previous so the blue is colder but still makes for an interesting shot.

On dive 3 I decided to do a bit of video although I had not taken my favorite lens so I had to apply a filter directly on the camera lens. Moreover I had forgot the setting Toy effect on from some other experiment and whilst this is off in RAW it came back in video so the result is a soft warmer image…yuk still was fun to put it together so here it goes

It was time to rinse the gear (if you could call that hosing it quickly on the dive platform) and get ready to leave the day after. On the last day we were asked to put together a selection of our best 10 pictures and were give a video with some gopro footage taken by the ops manager plus our slideshow. Considering the time it was spent to do it the result is excellent.I hope this has given you an idea of the workshop that I definitely recommend, on the next post I will write my personal lessons learned from such experience.

Red Sea Workshop with Alex Mustard – Part V Tiran & Mermaids

As the currents were not playing ball we decided to head to Tiran to dive Jackson reef.

I love jackson as a dive and a video dive but I was a bit vary from a photography point of view as lighting can be a problem.

Anyway there was an option for a hammerhead dive in the early morning or a first dive on Jackson followed by a second before returning to Ras Katy for an afternoon and sunset dive.

Hammerhead are found on the back of Jackson reef when there are shallow thermoclines with the surface at 26C the chances were low however I had alternative ideas for that dive.

As foreseen there were no hammerheads so towards the end of the dive I tried a few shots of the Lara Wreck (that is on the surface) through the Snell window despite the strong surf.

The resulting shot is currently my desktop theme and is here.
Lara from the reef
I tried to get the wreck on the surface, the breaking surf, the sunball, some fish or at least silhouette of fish and the hard coral to give a dramatic moody look to the image.

On dive two was time to have a relaxing dive with not much effort on photos. I saw few tunas at around 28 meters that is unusual and a turtle and some other critters though the shots are not particularly exciting.

In one occasion a dive guide came to be all excited as he had seen a turtle so I went there and bumped into our own guides that were out for a fun dive.

Turtle and Dive Guide
Turtle and Dive Guide

They usually are asked to get out of the frame instead I took the shot for their facebook perusal.

When the turtle had enough she shot off to the surface and I tried a silhouette however I forgot the strobe on

Failed Silhouette
Failed Silhouette

Nothing that lighroom can’t fix and this is the resulting shot after adjustment

Silhouette after lightroom
Silhouette after lightroom

Not bad huh?

Back at Ras Katy I tried few more portraits like this one

Fish Portrait
Fish Portrait

Though my favorite is another
Masked Butterflies

At sunset I was part of the mermaid group, we had a model Katrin Felton  suprising what a phenomena Mermaid tails have become.

We had a 2-3 shots in different poses however only the first was successful as the snell windows was ruined by one of the photographer that keept shooting with strobe…and getting in the way as she did not listen to the briefing properly well no big deal.

Anyway I gave it a shot afterwards Kat was not particularly happy about the barrel distortion that she said makes her look fat! Unfortunately I did not have a rectilinear lens anyway if you find yourself in this kind of set up make sure you have one.

Mermaid Kat I
All in all it was a bit of fun again I tried to include some fish, the reef, the mermaid, the sun rays. I looked at other pictures of the mermaid and I think she can’t appreciate how important is not to see the knees too much but I guess she likes to focus more on her figure on how slim she looks lol!

All in all another great day and a different perspective on shooting model underwater.

 

Red Sea Workshop with Alex Mustard – Part IV Shark Reef

After the first 3 days of workshop we got into the core of it and Alex talked about schooling fish and how to take shots.

We had 4-5 varieties to choose from:

  • Batfish
  • Surgeonfish
  • Barracuda
  • Jacks
  • Snappers

Detailed information was given in terms of how to best approach the fish depending on their behavior and also about the etiquette in terms of letting other people best positioned taking their shot first.

The surgeon fish are not that photogenic and actually quite messy I tried to take some shots when the current was pumping and they were all aligned close to the bottom at Yolanda however to me this is not that exciting as a shot. Other people got better results but I frankly was not that bothered about Surgeons. Probably as the fish is pretty dark and does not reflect the strobe much. The featured image close to the title shows what I mean.

During this trip the current was not going north to south as usual but there was near to no current at shark reef and current going outward at yolanda corner. This means the snappers that usually sit at the edge of shark reef were not out to play.

We were left with barracuda, batfish and jacks to choose from. On day 4 I only see few giant trevally but not many schooling jacks so had to focus on barracuda and batfish.

Unfortunately the barracuda were far from the reef and a bit too deep and did not really want to entertain chasing them so I tried with the batfish. Obviously there were not only us but also other boats so it was a bit of a competition for fish.

Encirclement
Encirclement

Also you always managed to get someone in the frame or bubbles

Shooting Batfish Below
Shooting Batfish Below

So I focused on trying to get the best backgrounds for the pictures to come like in this case.

Bommie

Also had some fun taking images of the others and the batfish one or two came out pretty good.

Bats Photography

Creative angles
Creative angles

It is quite hard to have the discipline to respect rules when you are with other 18 photographer on the boat so the competitions had to be expected and I was not that bothered.

In the evening we headed back to Ras Katy and I borrowed a Nikon D7100 from Nauticam UK. I asked to have a 9″ dome for the split shot and jumped in the water with the idea of just doing that.

This is my best  shot

Ras Katy Sunset

Personally I do not like split shots where the surface line is very distorted to avoid that you need to make sure your lens is near to rectilinear and it is better to shoot portrait as there is little distortion on that axis. What I wanted to capture in this shot is layers, the reef, water under and over, the boat and sunset colors.

I think it came out pretty good but it is painful to take 100 shots just to get one right and I wish I had some fish in the frame but never mind is good enough like this. The water was not really flat so that was an additional challenge as you can see the wave breaks on the lens creating a little thicker line but overall a good shot.

 

Red Sea Workshop with Alex Mustard – Part III Sunbursts and the Caves

On the early morning of Day 3 we left the Thistlegorm for Ras Mohammed.

Dive number one would have been on Ras Zahatar, this dive site has some great opportunities for sunburst shots in the early morning but generally not a lot of fish as the location is quite sheltered and there is never too much current that I recall.

There are also some very nice gorgonian fans around the 22 meters mark however as soon as we jumped in it was clear it was going to be a competition to have some of it. Besides not having made clear arrangements for modelling with anyone it was going to be a quite technical session.

Since the arrival of digital sunburst shots have proven to be problematic for DSLR and mirrorless users. The issue is with the sunball itself there is an issue of highlights when you try to shoot a coral reef with the sunball in the frame and you are using a shutter speed of 1/250th or 1/320th that are typical DSLR sync speed.

Mirrorless cameras do even worst as usually the base ISO starts at 200 that makes it really difficult to capture this shot.

So the key is to put the sun behind something or have the rays in the frame but not the sunball. Something like this to give an idea

Soft Coral
The sunball just behind the soft coral gives a nice glow so even with a 1/250th shutter and f/8 at ISO 100 is possible to capture a captivating scene.

Few meters away there is a gorgonian with a red soft coral on top that is really exciting to see at naked eye. To me this reminds of a frogfish head profile. It is impossible to capture this scene at 1/250th f/11 ISO 100 it is just too bright you need to reduce at least two stops to get the sun properly however if you did that on a DSLR you would be shooting at f/22 and it is near to impossible to properly illuminate the coral with your strobes at the distance required.

That is where our RX100 compact comes to help as you can sync your strobes at 1/2000th this should give a black background around the coral, the coral properly lit in the foreground as I had the strobes at full power and the sunball in the frame as well without too  many glowing highlights, this is the resulting shot
Sunburst
Note that a model would not be visible in this shot and fish would be colorful only in front of the coral or close by anyway as discussed there was not fish to model for me and this was just technical entertainment. The image is quite strong but the lack of fish makes it less interesting.

I found some cooperating clown fish on this dive however they are those with the dark eyes so despite the eye contact the shot is not as strong as it would be with a better subject
Look Right in
This is taken with a single Inon UCL-165 a luxury of having a compact and being able to wide and macro on the same dive.

Anyway I was happy with the sunburst in the frame so that dive was well worth it.

Dive two was at Jackfish Alley, and proved to be the most entertaining of the day. Who knows this dive sites knows that there are two caves, the first is wide but very dark and at certain times has turtles inside. The second is really narrow but has few cracks the provides a cathedral light effect best experienced in other site of the Southern Red Sea. Anyway we got the briefing and Dr Mustard was going to be marshaling the queue of photographer in cave number 2.

Being familiar with the dive site I knew that cave 2 is quite narrow even for normal diver let alone this big troupe of photographer so I mounted my tripod legs on the tray with a view of working in cave 1 and then move to cave 2 after the chaos was over.

Well it was real chaos as you can see from the feature image divers in the way, bubbles silt, in short it was a mess.

So I spent some time in cave number 1, this cave is really dark and you can’t really shoot handheld. In cave number 2 you can use speeds of 1/25 or 1/30 up your ISO  and put the camera on a rock whilst you take the shot, in cave 1 this results in darkness unless you go to 4 digits ISO.

So my shot on cave 1 is taken at 0.4″ f/4 ISO100.
1st Cave@Jackfish Alley
The shot is taken with the camera on the tripod using self shoot so that there is no shake from the hand pressing the shutter, this means the picture is sharp as it can be and due to low ISO also very noise free. Unfortunately fish did not feature in the shot so this is again a fairly technical shot that is not as strong as it could be.

There were other interesting opportunities in smaller cracks like this one that I like quite a lot though is not a sensational shot.
Window
I like the fact that the two snappers are one silhouette and the other full color.

After the shambles of dive 2 we moved to Shark Reef where the first dive was really more to acclimatise with the site so won’t bore you with the pictures for that dive.

In the evening the sunset dive was at Ras Katy that would have been our regular evening spot from there onwards.

On day one I was playing with dapple light and reflections

Dapple at Ras Katy
Dapple at Ras Katy

 

This is me taking the shot above

Interceptor Shooting Dapple

As you can see I am nearly at the surface thanks to Damo for this picture.

Near surface can also be interesting like in this case

Test Shots dapple Reflections
Test Shots dapple Reflections

Here you can see part of the Snell windows together with the reef and the sunball. This shot can be made much more interesting if you focus on the reflections.

Anyway this was the end of day 3 of diving next post will be about Shark Reef and the schools of fish.

Red Sea Workshop with Alex Mustard – Part II Thistlegorm and Co

After the first day of fish portraits it was time to go and dive the Thistlegorm, this can be an amazing dive site but also very challenging as the wreck is not sheltered by any reef formation.

We got there early in the morning and attached to the wreck using the classic 3 point method: anchor, line on the bow and line on the stern we were all ready to go.

I have to say Dr Mustard prepared this very well and had a wealth of information on the wreck and the specific features.

The first dive was suggested to be a guide tour of the wreck from the outside with a limited penetration, the second would have been a penetration and the third dive a play with remote strobes (that I did not have).

As I had dived the wreck a number of times I decided to change the order so on dive number one went for a penetration of hold 2 and played a bit with the motorbikes.

There were already some others surrounding the bike as I went down so I played a bit with the divers themselves before being able to get in position.

Wreck Diving
It is amazing how much more interesting is a picture once you have a person in it. Eventually I got hold of the Bike in hold 2 also known as Elle’s bike. I looked around and there were some hatchet fish that I thought would have made the picture more interesting compared to the usual single fish in front of the bike.

Motorbike in Hold 2
I love the reflection on the fish that the strobe produced.

On dive 2 it was time to take some ambient light shots and I was expecting some divers to be around the stern that I could capture. Unfortunately the day boats had gone and the Thistlegorm was pretty empty so dive 2 was a bit of a waste as the boat itself says very little without a diver or a school of fish.

Thistlegorm Stern
Thistlegorm Stern

It could be the size of a RIB but you could not tell from here the massive size of the boat. It is quite dark at the 28 meters I took the picture so there is not a lot of color.

On dive 3 people that had them were playing with remote strobe. I fired a few shots when my cabin mate was placing his strobe, funny enough his remote strobe fired and I blackened him in lightroom so he is actually still there!
Trucks

The remote strobe creates the blue in the truck glass that would not be there otherwise.

Next trip I will take my third Z240 and the gorillapod, I have to get a remote trigger but I think this is relatively straightforward.

The briefing from Dr Mustard included map of all the bikes and trucks and suggestion for shots and strobe positioning really impressive detail there.

After 3 dives on the wreck we moved to Beacon Rock where the Dunraven rests not to dive the wreck but to experiment with dapple light.

This was a very productive dive for me I had some of the best shots in relatively poor conditions.
Dapple

The surface was not flat but this made it even more dramatic as the waves were breaking through.

There were also barracuda and goat fish shoals. The barracuda were not really cooperating so I focused on the goat fish

Special Guest

Goats

Meteor

I also had a 26º snoot this time so I played a bit with an octopus
Waiting in the dark

The good thing about the Inon snoot is that you can remove it and take normal shots with two strobes
This is the same octopus as before just to give you an idea

Side Shot

I was very happy with the performance of my RX100 Mark II one of the only two compact on the trip especially comparing to micro 4:3 that did not really look that much better.

Part 3 will be out soon with the first shots from Ras Mohammed

 

Red Sea Workshop with Alex Mustard – Part I

So finally the time had come to attend the Nauticam Try out with Alex Mustard.

If you have never done any of those workshops I would definitely recommend you one. It is not just the outstanding tuition but the fact that the boat will go to specific dive sites at specific times to take advantage of conditions and light for photography.

If you are keen to see the pictures this is the link to the set with the 30 images I like the most

Giant Moray

I used the RX100 for stills for the whole trip but then on the last dive I shot this short clip just to give an idea of what it was like. Note that I used the auto magic filter on the lens and by then I had ruined it a bit so the image is softer than it should be and not up to my usual standards, the purpose is to illustrate the diving style not the quality of my set up for video.

The trip started with a preliminary explanation on how things were going to work and after a static first evening on the boat we departed for Abu Nuhas the early morning after. Unfortunately the conditions were really rough so we ended up aborting and after a check dive at alternatives we went to the barge.

The objective was to shoot fish portraits, cardinal fish had eggs in their mouth, at least some of them were carrying them, so you could find yourself your fish and try to take some shots. It was apparent that due to the level of comfort of the fish I could not get close enough with my diopters to take a shot to fill the frame so I needed to crop quite a bit as in this shot.
Eggs

Hopefully the eggs are still visible. Anyway the rest of the gang had for 90% DSLR and were happily shooting portraits with their 100mm macro lens I was struggling getting anything decent so I decided to try something alternative as it was clear that if I was shooting fish mid water I would have been too far away to fill the frame.

This shot from Alex Tattersall gives you an idea of what should have come out with the right level of magnification that I could not achieve.

cardinalwitheggs

In some cases I did find more cooperative fish like those two.
BigEyes

So I put on the snoot and started looking for different things like in this shot taken with the Inon at 20º.
Grey Moray
Those little gray moray are endemic of the red sea and look quite cute. I then found a giant moray and took a series of shots this one being my favorite.
Giant Moray

The Inon snoot is a great piece of kit especially because you can go from 20º to 100º depending on the parts you combine. There are fiber optics snoot on the market that are sensational for macro but do no wide angle, the Inon snoot can do wide angle with 86º 53º 46º coverage and narrower beams of 26º and 20º for smaller things or special effects.

This is a picture of the snoot set that I would recommend to all Inon strobe users.

Wide angle Snoot
Wide angle Snoot
20 degree snoot
20 degree snoot
Inon snoot kit
Inon snoot kit

Obviously I could only capture semi static subjects with the snoot and the issue of fish portraits remains. The RX100 at 100mm equivalent requires 50cm focus distance that becomes 66cm in water. At this distance the capture area is rather large and unsuitable for smaller fish like the cardinals in the example so a solution would be to use an Inon UCL330 diopter to reduce distance to around 25-30 cm and therefore have a 2x magnification but I don’t have this lens anymore so can’t confirm. I will buy it again and do some more tests in a future trip.

I will post part II in the next days with some shots from the Thistlegorm so stay tuned