Written by underwater photographer Magnus Lundgren [v. 2014-1]
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Macro photography 

Feedback Why this page? This page Macro fundamentals is an introduction into macro photography underwater. If you are new to this subject or you just want to fill in the gaps in your knowledge this guide is a good guide for you. We will also publish more detailed macro guides in the future like Macro lighting techniques, Macro Formula 1 - Super macro, How to balance you rig for macro photography, The complete guide into macro lenses for underwater use, Close up wide angle and many many more!

Coleman's shrimps © Magnus Lundgren Photography
   Coleman's shrimps © Magnus Lundgren Photography     

Feedback What is macro photography? When you photograph the small and amazing superstars (or sections of larger subjects) of any aquatic environment at close range this is what is traditionally called underwater macro photography. We could even call it close-up photography if that makes more sense to you.

Feedback Revealing a new world! When you as an UW photographer get into the macro and enjoy the environment at a very close-up distance, looking at it through a sharp macro lens, a whole new world is revealed. Suddenly a local dive site gets a brand new charm and not before long you realise that any location hold a good number of macro photography subjects.

Feedback Challenge your imagination. As a macro photographer you hardly move at all and because of this you will suddenly see small scenes and models that has been there all the time but easy to overlook. Realising this it is more or less your own imagination that is setting the limits for your macro photography than enything else.


Feedback Crisp images in low vis. Another advantage when doing macro photography is the possibility to make crips images in low visibilty. So reaching a dive destination where the sea conditions are less favourable than expected then put on the macro lens on, jump in and be happy. Night photography is often the same as macro photography.




1 →  Focus close to the subject

Compact cameras: You simply push the macro icon, on most cameras it is a flower symbol, and you are in macro mode. It is as simple as that. Some compact cameras can focus 1 cm away while others have a closest focus of 6 or 7 cm.
Flatport for macro lens 

DSLR and mirrorless camera users: You put on the sharpest macro lens you can find in combination with a flat port on your underwater housing and then you are ready to go. The most used macro lenses focal length for DSLR users range from around 50 mm up to 105 mm underwater. MLC users most common macro lenses are in the range of 30 mm to 60 mm. The real workhorse lenses for DSLR users in the underwater world are Canon's and Nikon's 60 mm, Nikon 85 mm and Canon 100 mm and Nikon 105 mm lenses.


2 → Boost your cameras macro mode

Diopter +10 (wet lens, close-up lens)You boost your camera macro mode by adding a diopter (or close-up) lens which works like a magifying glass. These lenses are sometimes called wet macro lenses as the can be attached underwater in front of the flat port of a compact camera housing or straight on some DLSR and MLC flat ports.

The diopters are labeled +5, +7 or +10 depending on how much it magnifies. It is a boost to the macro mode and on most of the diopters it shortens the closest focus of the lenses. For example a good solution for a 105 mm macro lens used on a DSLR system.

3 → Add quality light

DSLR system

In macro photogaphy added quality light is a must and it also help you to get a bit deeper "depth of field" in the image. You can add light by using a constant light source like torch but it is even better to use one or two UW strobe/s. We recommend you using strobes as it makes it easier get good colour reproduction on the image at the samt time as you freeze the image and get sharp results.

You need an arm system (and trays compact users) to fix the strobes and light to the housings and with the right arm system the whole camera rig become one unit and you will realise how easy a strobe is to use underwater.


4 → Focus & video light

Light FIX NeoA camera can have a hard time to focus in low light and even in the tropics we find subjects hiding under stones, in the shade, or photograph in the late afternoon or at night and it is good practise to always bring a constant light (lamp) help your camera to focus faster and more accurate. You do this by adding a focusing light and this light (if bright enough) can also be used as addtional light when using your cameras video function.

There is a number of focus light on the market and we think overall power, power settings, colour temerpature, angle of the light beam, burn time, charging time, changable battery and size are important features. Check out focus and video light [here] and if you need support contact us to help you make the right choice.


5 → UW strobe Sea&Sea YS-D1 TTL and well-lit subjects on every exposure

What is TTL? Simply put, the TTL is a term for a strobe mode where the camera automatically dimension the power of the strobe/s. The TTL mode works great in macro photography underwater and make it much easier. TTL can be enjoyed through fiber optic cables without any extra equipment. With analog cables a TTL converter have to be involved somewhere between the camera and the strobe. For example Ikelite has a TTL converter built into many of their housings. Sea&Sea have developed an optical TTL converter bought separately. The staff on Exposure Underwater thinks there are good reasons to have TTL possibility in the camera system and if you have you will use it a lot when shooting macro.


6 → Diving skills

DiverTo be an good macro photographer is linked to good diving skills. You should always move around slowly, avoid stiring up the bottom and when appropriate lie steady and still on for example a sandy patch. To be a responsible macro diver and take care of the delicate environment around you is a given. Right number of weights and their positioning, bouyancy control, being able so swim backwards, awareness of your surrounding are all important skills in macro photography.

Potential subjects must be evaluated. Some striking subjects are dimissed as there is no chance of a good moment or presentation. Some ordinary subjects will be a striking subject because of it's fantastic presentation or position. This evaluation is something that comes with your experience as a macro photographer.


7 → It is all in the image

To go from taking good macro images to master level macro images you need to start thinking about the different elements in an image. When looking at a shot the overall impression is effected by different parts. The day you make you own impression on these parts you start creating your style of images. It is not easy but something good to aim for. Important elements:
Pro level→ Good composition takes some playing around. To go low, fill the frame, back off, diagonals, shoot from underneath or an arial view point. If you really like a shot analyse the image composition. Most of the time that is the major reason why you like it.
→ Backgrounds enhance or complement your subject and you need time to do this. Do you want water coloured background, black or a blurred and coloured background?
→ Focusing need a lot of practise and when you can place a focus point actively on the rhinophores on that 10 mm nudibranch then something is happening. Practise how to find the perfect focus in macro mode with your system.
→ Depth of feild (DOF) is a important parameter in the images and it is not only linked to the aperture but also to the focal length of the lens as well as how close you are to the subject.
→ Light is along with the subject the main image features. So how do you light the subject? Where are the strobes aimed (side, front or back lighting)? Do I have to worry about backscatter? Do I allow ambient light to come in? Creative lighting in macro are basically under the same genereal rules as wide angle photography.
Learn more: Join one of Magnus Lundgren photographic expeditions or weekend work shops where you are taught essential skills and get the chance to practise yourself, You get direct feed back on your results. If not possible try to take images with other photographers. Learning and knowledge is the key to inspiration and great photography.

8 → Moments and presentation

Photographers get excited and to often we shoot like cave men (or women) because we are so thrilled about what is in front of us. On other times the same photographer are utterly bored and come up with no images at all. Both scenarios should is a challenge.

So try to let the camera hang low for a while and watch your subject. What is it doing, will it exhibit any behavior, will there be a moment in the next five minutes? Will an image angle materialize? Try to imagine what the best possible moment to capture will be. Even for a slow moving nudibranch, there is often a best moment.

Magnus note: I take my best images when I am bored. The moment I feel there is nothing more to do on this dive site anymore then I know there is a chance I will do something interesting. That is the time when I push myself out of the comfort zone into creativity.


9 → View finders & displays

Viewfinder 45 degreeOn some cameras (compact & mirrorless) the display is the main window where you see the image your are about to make. The better display the better for you. We need inspiration and a bad displays are just not doing that at all! One way to shoot macro with a display (live mode) is to zoom in while shooting so you can see a bit better where you are putting the focus. Double check the focus in your images before you are swimming away from an important subject.

For DSLR and some ML cameras a traditional viewfinder is often used even if all of these camera also have live mode. It is much easier to see where the sharpness is set in a viewfinder compared to a display. Many UW housing manufacturers have in addition to this produced special magnifying viewfinders, either straight or at a 45 degree angle, that are excellent tools for macro photography. Please check these viewfinders in more detail on our site.


10 → Finding the subjects

The best macro photographers find the coolest subjects and it is not a matter of luck. To find remarkable micro models you need to do some research about the environment you are visiting, about what subjects you are able to find and where they tend to hang out. Many times half the job is done if you know what they eat or where they hide. Always make your own most wanted list before a trip.

Local knowledge is always the key to fast success so on location ask around, talk to people, divers and if possible, use a skilled local guide who is specialized in macro subjects. Be a bit picky as bad guides can make a good dive go bad but a good guide can take you to another level. This is for sure.


Feedback Your valued feedback

We are here to help you get the right stuff along with you on your trips and we hope you find our guide above useful. If you have suggestions on missing information please do not hesitate to mail us