Editing Underwater Photos – How 5 Minutes In Lightroom Can Make Yours Worth Showing Off

Share me

If you are reading this for a detailed explanation of how to use Adobe Lightroom or extensive tips on editing, then please wait for my next blog which will cover some aspects in more detail. This is more an explanation of why to even edit in the first place, while trying to show how simple and quick it can be to make huge improvements to your pictures.

Why Do People Still Not Edit???

While away photographing in Indonesia last year, I met many fellow photographers, from complete beginners who had never used a camera to professionals of many years. The pros would normally be using Lightroom, Photoshop, or a combination of both. One thing that is generally agreed upon is that Lightroom was a basic requirement, I don’t like to over edit so I can usually achieve what I want with fairly minimal editing. The beginners to intermediates were the ones who would be wary of editing for various reasons.

  • Don’t know how (the most common and understandable)
  • Don’t have the software
  • Don’t have the time
  • Prefer unedited photos (some people consider edited pictures unnatural or just like to have them perfect out of the camera)
  • Don’t do anything with their photos
  • Don’t shoot in raw

Don’t know how

Any basic editing software can be used to drastically improve an image (raw files are better for this). You don’t have to be an expert to make significant positive changes to your pictures. Once you have learned to import an image, tweaking the white balance and exposure can turn an unusable image into one you are happy to show your friends. That’s just 2 changes that can be done by sliding a bar, you will be amazed at the results. I have had photos in the past that were horribly overexposed due to a full flash at close range, what was a mostly white image was brought back to life and no longer destined for the trashcan.

Don’t have the software

One of the premium or paid for editors is not essential at all, there are many excellent free editors available. While free versions or software that your camera manufacturer may provide may not be as intuitive or have as many tools as a premium editor, it will perform the basics and these are essential.

Don’t have the time

On average, I can have a single photo imported, edited and exported in under 10 minutes. Of course some will take longer or shorter depending on how you want to present them, but basic but very noticeable alterations can be made in minutes. A good couple of hours can take a weeks worth of average shots to the next level, nothing in the grand scheme of things, it really is that simple.

Prefer unedited photos

Okay, this one is down to preference and that’s fine, that is how cameras once were I suppose. I just can’t help but think they are holding their pictures true potential back, now we have the option to improve on various aspects of a photo, why not take advantage of it? Of course the extreme is over editing where a photo can look very different from the original file but that the other end of the scale.

Don’t do anything with their photos

Similar to the above, if you don’t plan on doing anything at all then fine but even if they are for your eyes only, a physical memory, wouldn’t you make it the best it can be?

Don’t shoot raw

I still think many people believe that if you shoot in Jpeg, there is no point editing. Yes, it is more limited, shooting raw allows a lot more data to be manipulated in post processing but there’s still a lot you can do with Jpegs. At the same time, if your camera is able to shoot in raw, do! Even if you don’t plan on editing, having a raw copy of a image you really like would allow you to fine tune it even more.

Before and after with less than a minute spent

Below is 3 examples of how 3 very simple adjustments can completely transform an image. For the following examples I have chosen to use 3 important tools in editing, white balance, exposure and crop.

White Balance

Shot without a filter, you can see it is rather colourless and dull, but it has potential. Under a minute in Adobe Lightroom and the below image is possible
All that has been adjusted from the raw image is white balance, nothing else. The image has really come to life with many more colours and much more depth

Exposure

While this is a colourful image it is quite dark and underexposed preventing is from really making an in impression

Right away you can see more colour in the background, as well as the pattern on the puffer fish and surrounding coral. Again this was just using the exposure adjustment bar for comparison sake, many images you can use a variety of tools in conjunction to create some amazing images

Cropping

Cropping can be used in many ways but it can be a simple tool to help enhance composition or get closer to the subject and remove distracting or out of focus areas
Here I have cropped the image and rotated a little to bring the subject to the forefront, in this case this delightful little cow fish. As you can see the sole focus is now on the fish without the distracting coral from the first image

Give it a go

It pains me when I see pictures uploaded to any media platform where they have could have been so much better with a little time spent. Video too, it’s very easy to colour correct video yet I still see green dull videos that are crying out to be given a more natural look.

I hope some of this may have changed your mind if you do not edit, the best way to get this point across is a clear before and after shot, you might just be amazed. Find some software, import a few photos and see how you get on. It may be a bit daunting at first but after a few adjustments you will begin to see a pattern of what generally works. Happy shooting! (and editing)

share me

Cocos Island, Scuba Diving In Jurassic Park – Pelagic Paradise

Remember the movie ‘Jurassic Park’? Well, Cocos Island was actually the inspiration behind the fictional Jurassic counterpart ‘Isla Nublar’ If you’ve seen the movie you’ll know that this means cloud forests, a spectacular green mountainous landscape, numerous waterfalls and wonderfully blue water. While it may not have real dinosaurs (sorry to disappoint), it does have […]

One On One Encounter With A Giant — Morgan’s Ocean Images

One of the things I love most about scuba diving is the opportunity to interact with animals that show signs of intelligence and curiosity. Some special encounters leave me wondering what they are thinking, why are they reacting the way they are, what are they gaining from this social behaviour. In 2018 I had my […] […]

Intro to Blackwater diving and photography

So, you may or may not know what blackwater diving is, to many, it sounds just like a regular nightdive, it’s dark (black), and you’re in the water, right? Wrong, it is an entirely different way to dive, personally I feel it is more exciting and thrilling than any other dive. Although I had known what it was for a while, I had never actually experienced it first hand until a few months ago. Since that first time, I was desperate to try again, while the dive itself was amazing, I wasn’t happy with my images at the end. I will get into some photography tips I wish I had implemented on my introduction dive.

What exactly is Blackwater diving?

As I was staying in a resort for a number of months, I saw a lot of guests come and go. Every so often the topic would come up as people were intrigued as to what this mysteriously titled event actually entailed. After my first time I did it, I was able to shed some light on this for them. To be honest sometimes my explanation made it sound quite scary, no more giant squid jokes….

Set Up

Essentially, it involves a weighted downline from a buoy, somewhere around 20-25m, with some powerful lights attached to the bottom and top, this is what will attract the marine life. Now the part that scares people, you will be doing this over deep water, ideally 200m as a minimum and sometimes up to 1000m depending where. This is important as it’s the creatures from the depths that make up the planets biggest migration on earth, which is what we are all there to see. The buoy is attached to the boat so that the line and boat drift together. Each 5m, another light is added, this brightens up surrounding water and allows you to see everyone else, it also serves as a reference point to where you can attach yourself. Although not essential (but highly recommended). Each diver will have a leash, a small rope about 3m or 4m with a snaplock each end, one for the bcd, and one for the line. It can get annoying being tied to the line, but it is very easy to lose focus on your surroundings while chasing round tiny alien like animals. Add this to any drifting current and you may find yourself alone with just your torch light in no time at all. Due to the nature of the dive, it is best to keep to small groups, maybe 4-6 maximum.

Planning Ahead

For the best results, after everything is set up in the water, wait a while. Giving the lights a head start to attract life before getting in can save the initial waiting in some cases. I never minded the wait, for me it added to the suspense. During this time on the boat you can console fellow divers questioning what they have signed up for, make any final changes to your dive rig or camera gear, or if it’s your first time, sit in silence and pretend you aren’t a little worried about what your’e about to do… It’s going to be FUN!! One thing I learned was to use this time to plan peoples positions. Once you are under there is no way of communicating this so it’s best to have it near enough sussed before you jump in.

I would recommend splitting up the 5m depths so everyone doesn’t end up on the same level, bumping together or kicking each other gets annoying very quickly. Some may have preferred depths, others may be less conservative on air so might want to stay nearer the surface at 5m or 10m. I have heard mixed comments on the ‘best’ depth, I think it’s all a gamble, I always chose to go where you have the most room and I never regretted it. So it is much easier to think this through beforehand, everyone can pick a depth to start at, or maybe rotate to make it fair, it just saves all the confusion.

During the dive

After hearing how it works but not really knowing, you will quickly work it out after jumping in. After hooking yourself on the line at your chosen depth, you are now free to roam around and search for critters you may never have come across before.

Technique

  • Take it slow and easy, be mindful of others around you, do not chase
  • Use your torch to look beyond the illuminated areas to search for subjects , if you have a camera light, this extra torch is helpful also
  • If there is current, it is usually a good idea to be ahead of it, when you find an interesting critter you want to have as much time with it as possible, so give yourself that extra few seconds by anticipating this instead of being pulled along
  • Approach subjects very slowly, many species you come across are sensitive to water movement and will vanish or back away if they sense you rushing toward them
  • Look for small things, many first timers have their eyes set to search for larger animals, some of the blackwater critters can be very small and should not be missed

What will I see?

Imagine being in space and having alien like creatures floating all around you, this will be your environment from the moment you dive in to the moment you’re back on the boat. Unlike other dives, rather than everyone observing the same creature, queuing up to take a picture, divers should return with their own unique images and tales of their encounters.

Expect to see all manner of plankton species, jellyfish, juvenile stage species, squid, larval gastropods. It’s a bit of a lottery which for me is the draw, like all dives, some will be better than others. Appreciating all the small things will keep you hooked. Of course there is the sought after sightings like the Paper Nautilus and larval Octopus species which everyone hopes to come across. Some juvenile fish look completely different to their maturer counterparts and can be just as fascinating. The hard part can be identifying what you have seen, which is why a good picture is all the more rewarding.

Camera Settings and technique

From my own experience and what I have read I believe an optimal lens to be around 60mm. This allows for a good balance of working distance, focal length and focusing speed. You want to get as close as possible to avoid backscatter, sometimes a little is inevitable but you can limit this. I only had a 90mm lens at the time which was quite challenging, slow to focus, it didn’t yield great results my first time but it is possible, just requires more practice.

Multiple shots are usually needed to get that perfect picture, so I would recommend setting the strobe strength to no more than 2/3 depending on your recycle time. You can lift the ISO to compensate for this, some good starting setting would be something like

  • ISO 360
  • f/14 to f/16
  • Shutter Speed 1/160- 1/200
  • Strobes set to 1/2 to 2/3

Focusing

You will find that the majority of what you will find is fairly transparent and will soak up a lot of light. A modelling light with a narrow beam will help the cameras auto-focus and hopefully prevent it from locking onto particles in the water. In my case, using auto-focus with my mirrorless 90mm became so frustrating I opted for manual focus. If you have similar problems, try manually focusing to your shortest working distance using your hand or the downline. With this set you can just rock the camera back and forth using the viewfinder or LCD to press the shutter when the area you want comes into focus. This is a difficult way of doing things but can be less infuriating then letting the camera hunt for focus.

Strobe Position

Everyone has their own opinion on the optimum positions, I’m sure there is benefit to each. I found for eliminating back scatter, having strobes pointed a little inwards to avoid lighting up the background worked best. Setting them at at angle so the edge of the beam just lights the subject should yield the good results. If you only use 1 strobe then having it above and to the side of the port would work well, again ensuring the beam doesn’t light up everything in front of the port.

Only Macro?

I guess this would all depend on where you are diving and what you hope to spot. Generally Black water is all about macro and getting close, however not always. Don’t forget, you are in deep water and anything can come up and pay you a visit. The highlight of the last blackwater I did was a small group of Mobula Rays that circled the bottom of the line for a few minutes, of course I had my 90mm on but would have been a great wide angle opportunity. You could come across sharks, rays, dolphins, anything. It’s up to you if you want to take that risk for something bigger to drop by.