Getting the Down Low : Shooting underwater (or anywhere for that matter) in very little available light

Getting the Down Low

On shooting underwater (or anywhere for that matter) in very little available light

I started this blog as a basic stand alone, but as these things often do the subject started to expand and I wanted to share more with you about this type of shooting of which i’m very fond, and the word count shot up.

Part 2 here

Part 3 here

So I figured it’d be better to make this a three parter kicking it off with a few pictures that I’ve shot in low light that I’ve used the techniques outlined in the final part in greater detail.

Part 1 in a day or two will cover the terminologies used, and the exposure triangle.

I'm going to illustrate this blog with pictures that I've shot in caverns in the Mexican Cenotes in the main. Which are quite challenging to shoot in for many reasons least of all the difficult lighting situations that you will encounter.

This picture typifies the challenges faced when shooting in low light and also using the flash to light the foreground. Simply from a photographic standpoint, you'll have to to be able to sort out your background exposure. It's easy to overexpose in caves and lose your highlights. As well as adjusting your strobe output to fill in the foreground with light, and not overcook that too.
At the same time you may well be in an unfamiliar diving situation, so most importantly before you devote your braincells to the photo stuff, you'll have to have a confident handle on the diving.



Why take pictures in low light ?


Taking pictures underwater exposes us to stunning experiences that if they were only to exist in our minds eye would be a tremendous shame. 


And understandably we would like to share these experiences with others.

So as part of your learning curve in underwater photography you need to know how far you can push your camera and it’s settings, and also what you can do to help the situation, and move it from being something that seems impossible to something that you can share and show off to others.

At the best quality that is available to you, and not limited by your own lack of understanding.


We often find ourselves in dramatic light shows inside wrecks and caverns, and unless you know how to handle the camera controls well, you're going to struggle to record these experiences.


Very early morning on the Thistlegorm Wreck, and here the sun hadn't yet risen, so managing exposure to enable some light in the background was important. So knowing how far I could go down with my shutter speeds was vital in preventing the background from registering as pitch black, whilst using my strobes to light up the fish and wreckage in the foreground.
We'll look at the Exposure Triangle in this series and how you can use it to enable you to shoot outside of the regular familiar daylight scenarios.




Developing your skills


Shooting at the edges of what is possible with your camera setup allows you to know what your boundaries are limited by.

Often I encounter people that have been poorly advised about what can and can’t be achieved.

Or they’ve spent too long pixel peeping and slavishly believing what people say on the popular review sites.

I’ve sold pictures, and used shots in advertisements blown up to metres across that if I’d believed the wizards of the internet, shouldn’t have been possible.

I see a side effect of this commonly in beginners to photography particularly about shooting at high ISO’s, they’ve heard or read a review that talks about excessive noise at high ISO’s of this camera or that, and rather than push the boundaries themselves they’ve just accepted that that is that.

If you take something from this blog series I would like it to be, finding out for yourself just what is and isn’t possible.

By testing things out yourself.

I mean it’s not like it does any actual harm shooting at shutter speeds, that some would suggest too slow to handhold a camera.

You never know you might just pull it off.

Or that the sky will fall in if you push the ISO on your camera up to very high levels, give it a try and see what happens, and more importantly see how you can use the knowledge gained to push your own envelope as far as it will go alongside your camera.


If i'd worried about shooting at very high ISO's with my camera, or using very slow shutter speeds, I would have never known what the outcome here would have been shooting at a ridiculously high 8000 ISO!!!
Pushing your camera to the limits will allow you greater freedoms in the future and allow you to expand what your camera, but more importantly you, can do.
This picture was shot with a micro4/3 camera at an ISO that really shouldn't have produced anything meaningful and handheld at a shutter speed of a 1/25 second, so it's always worth pushing things to the limit to see what will happen.




This time it’s ok to turn to the Dark Side


Shooting in really low levels of illumination is very liberating and will actually shed some light on the fundamentals of all photography as you’ll gain a better understanding of things like the exposure triangle, noise control, and why things like sensor size really matters.

So let’s bring it on and get some of the definitions learnt in Part 1 coming very soon.


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