The Wider View Pt 2 : Wreck shooting with your wide angle

 

Ok, in Part 1 of this series, we looked at why we use wide angles in our underwater photography, and shared a few tips about shooting and composing with your reef shots but one of the most important areas we would use our wide angle lenses is for shooting that other mainstay of underwater photographers, and this is for shooting the wrecks we love so much.

Our Lust for Rust

There are many reasons to explain our love for wreck diving, in my case it’s evolving constantly. Initially I wasn’t the slightest bit interested in the actual wreck itself but was keen on the life it encouraged to live in and on it.

After a bit of time though I started to appreciate the historical context alongside the marine life aspect a bit more, and now i’d say my love for wrecks is a combination of things.


Over riding all of this though is that I love them as photographic subjects, and try and convey where and when I can both the marine life angle and also the atmospheric feelings an impressive wreck will bring out in me.

 

So the shot’s i’m sharing with this post will hopefully convey this.

And I’m going to start with a classic shot and angle of view of the Ghiannis D a famous wreck in the northern Red Sea at a wreck lovers playground called Abu Nuhas, where the Ghiannis D resides alongside 3(4) other wrecks within a stones throw of one another.

 

Technique wise this is a fairly simple picture, shot in available light from very shallow, around 5 to 10 metres depth, the real trick here is planning beforehand with your buddy, to hang back and wait for the rest of the group to depart so you can accentuate the sense of scale with a single diver looking small in the frame.
Simply not achievable without a fisheye or super wide lens, with the same sense of clarity.
As i’m actually a lot closer to this wreck and the diver than it appears, so i’m shooting through the minimal amount of water to frame like I am.

I’ve shot this scene with many different cameras across the years, but the one constant that I wouldn’t and couldn’t shoot this scene without is a very wide lens.

  Ghiannis D shot with a fisheye lens, using available light and in RAW, time of day is relevant with this wreck, as I find the sun is in a better position around lunchtime to early afternoon.

Ghiannis D shot with a fisheye lens, using available light and in RAW, time of day is relevant with this wreck, as I find the sun is in a better position around lunchtime to early afternoon.

 

Stern Looks

I love the rear end of the Ghiannis D but another lady with an impressive stern well deserving of a photograph is the Thistlegorm, a wreck steeped in historical context, and also teeming with marine life, so I find it’s generally a win win all round for most underwater photographers.


And for this next  example I’d like to share a shot of the stern of the Thistlegorm.


This is very time sensitive, I find it’s best to get up very early, after prepping your kit and discussing the plan with your buddy the night before, as you’ll want to get in as early as you can.


As it’s still quite dark you’ll have a couple of options, you’ll either have to juggle your exposures and increase your ISO to give you a fast enough shutter speed to record the wreck with the available light, or as i’ve done here mix some flash with the available light, a wee bit trickier to pull off, but being very close to her, the stern rail, and the fish, were well within my strobes range.

 

FYI i’m using a pair of Inon S2000’s, my strobe of choice, as they’re small, and pack enough of a punch to get the job done most of the time.

 

I’ve eschewed using a fast enough shutter speed than I would chance with a purely available light shot, and instead have opted to rely on the strobe to freeze the foreground, whilst holding as steady as I can to give me a reasonably bright background exposure.


If I’d opted for a higher ISO I could have had a faster shutter speed, but I would have sacrificed a little quality as the higher ISO increases the noise in the shot.

  Technically a bit of a headache to pull off successfully, and there’s always the random aspect of luck involved, my buddy acting as a model was just the icing on the cake. I love it when a plan comes together. This had a very slow shutter speed, around a 1/10 second

Technically a bit of a headache to pull off successfully, and there’s always the random aspect of luck involved, my buddy acting as a model was just the icing on the cake. I love it when a plan comes together. This had a very slow shutter speed, around a 1/10 second


I was also going for a deliberate motion blur of the school of Fusiliers, which are often seen at the stern like this in the time just before daybreak.

And as they are the only thing moving in the shot, they record as frozen with the flash but with a motion blur behind them, it’s important to use 2nd Curtain synchronisation for this, but await another blog, where I will cover this in greater detail.

And so it was worth getting up early to get a different shot of the Thistlegorm stern, as I’ve seen loads that all look the same.

It’s always going to be a bit of a balancing act though.

Insider Viewpoint

Both of the previous pictures were of course classic external compositions but we need to grasp the technical aspects of shooting inside the wrecks for those times when we choose to venture inside.


Sometimes out of necessity if the current outside is running.

And opting for the relative tranquility afforded by the shelter of the wreck is sometimes a great plan B.

 

So I’ve picked a pair of pictures one shot without strobe, and the other with.

They were coincidentally taken about five minutes apart, and within about a few metres of one another too.

They’re both shot inside the Ghiannis D the second in the engine room and the first using available light in the crew galley.


Time Critical

 

This angle looking up the wreck towards the bow, was taken just outside the door leading from the engine room area. Inside the crew galley.

  Get your background exposure sorted first and err on the side of underexposure for your strobes relying upon your more flexible RAW file to finish the picture in the edit.

Get your background exposure sorted first and err on the side of underexposure for your strobes relying upon your more flexible RAW file to finish the picture in the edit.

I have seen many versions of this shot, but the over riding thing about this is the time of day of the shot.

It doesn’t work if it’s the first dive of the day, and tends to work best when the sun is higher in the sky, to guarantee lovely pillars of light.

So 2nd and 3rd dive of the day is best, so ideal if you’re in charge of the itinerary, and can dictate when you dive these spots.

Another insider tip, is to do this shot after a group has passed through.
You’ll here some people complain about the visibility being destroyed by previous divers stirring up the silt, but I actually prefer it for shots like this, as a bit of sediment in the water guarantees better light pillars, and you’ll be able to take your time.

Again it’s a balancing act, I needed to shoot at a higher ISO, at 1600 ISO but still I ended up having to shoot at as slow as 1/20 second at the aperture I was using.
So bracing yourself, and ensuring your model/buddy stays very still is vital.
Modern cameras with image stabilisers really help in these situations.

Things are looking up

This last pic taken inside the Ghiannis D again, just a few metres from the position I was in for the last picture.

Here i’m in the engine room, looking straight up towards the hatch at the top, so the first thing is to make sure my exposure settings allow the blue water to not over expose, and to be burnt out.

So that was my primary concern, and once i’d established the baseline

background exposure, I now had to get the strobe output pegged.

I prefer with highly reflective subjects like these Cave Sweepers in the shot, to err on the side  of under exposure, as depending on their angle to you, they can act like little mirrors.
So i’d usually be quite cautious about blasting them with too much light, relying instead upon bringing up the shadow details in my editing program.

 Another tricky balancing act between shutter speed and ISO, and easier to get the beams when a group has just passed through, and better midday or later, you’ll need to wait for the diver to pass into one of the beams

Another tricky balancing act between shutter speed and ISO, and easier to get the beams when a group has just passed through, and better midday or later, you’ll need to wait for the diver to pass into one of the beams

One of the main reasons for shooting in RAW is to allow you this greater  room for fine tuning after the fact.

Once i’d got my settings sorted, I just had to wait for an aesthetic grouping of fish, and take the shot.

 

Practical things when shooting upwards like this is to time the shot to not include your exhaled bubbles which can spoil the composition.

Summing Up

Venturing inside a wreck is not without it’s hazards, so don’t get too caught up in the photography, look after your buddy, and be mindful of what you’re doing, safety first.

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