Whale icon  WIDE ANGLE FUNDAMENTALS (UNDERWATER)

Written by underwater photographer Magnus Lundgren [v. 2014-1]
 
← Back to Knowledge Base main page
 
Feedback Why this page? We often hear "It is so difficult with wide angle photography underwater!" But we say nothing is diffcult when you know how to do it. And it is the same with wide angle photography underwater. This page is an introduction into wide angle photography. If you are new to this subject or you want to fill in the gaps of your knowledge this guide is a good guide for you. We will also publish more detailed wide angle guides in the future like The dome report, The classic action shoot, Best wide angle lenses on the market?, How to shoot video with a DSLR, Close up wide angle and many many more!
 
Salstraumen Norway © Magnus Lundgren Photography
 

Feedback What is wide angle photography? In the real "non-underwater" photography world any lens with a focal length less than the equivalent of 35 mm is considered a wide angle lens. Underwater we tend use the widest possible lenses we can find or affored because it allows us to get very close to a subject while still being able to include a very large subject or both the subject and environment in the composition.

Feedback Not difficult. Wide angle photography is generally considered much more difficult than macro photography. But in reality nothing is difficult if you have the knowledge. There are a lot of users out there trying hard to do wide angle shots with non wide angle lenses and flat ports. So you really need a very wide "wide angle" lens and some basic knowledge.

Feedback Big stuff and big scenes! Wide angle photography is all about photographing whales, sharks, dolphins, big fish, schools of fish, coral reefs, environments, wrecks, action and much much more. This is what we all dream of, it is very exciting photography and the wide angle images are the most interesting images for non-divers. So you might as well learn the basics about this already from the start.

 

Aperture 10 TIPS MAKING YOU A BETTER WIDE ANGLE PHOTOGRAPHER

1 → The wide angle lens

Manta rays Hanifaru Maldives Wide angle photography can be shot with any camera (compacts, mirrorless and DSLRs). To get a quality wide angle shot you need a wide angle lens. There is simply no way around this.

Compact camera users: A wide angle wet lens will increase the image angle of the built-in lens on your camera. The wet wide lenses are fitted onto your specific housing and they are mounted with either a screw in thread or twist on bayonet mount. If you are getting a new compact camera and housing, be sure to select one that takes a wide angle wet lens. If you’re shooting with a compact camera you have the option of switching back and forth from wide angle to macro while underwater. In my eyes that is almost to good to be true.

DSLR or mirrorless users: You need to mount a wide lens on your camera and use a dome lens port in front of it mounted on your UW housing. The wider lens and the closer the lens can focus the sharper the image will be. More details. It is very important to get a good combination of camera - wide lens - and port configuration to get a really sharp images and to avoid optical corner distortion. Please consult the manufacturers own charts or contact Exposure Underwater and we will help you get the most out of your investment. We have a few aces up our sleeve for you as well.
 
 

2 →  Fisheye or rectlinear lens?

Wide angle Sea&Sea for compactSigma 15 mm Fisheye  Nikkor 16-35 mm

 

To avoid confusion, misunderstanding and misinformation around the wide angle lenses. Here is some accurate and easy to understand information to shed some light on the topic.

Fisheye or a rectilinear lens? Well in the perfect world you would like to have both and most high end prosumers have one rectilinear lens and one fisheye lens as they are making the image look and feel so different.

A wide rectilinear lens is a straight lens not bending the corners. Note! Even straight wide angle lenses are a little bit bent on the widest setting. This type of wide angle lens is giving the image a more classic feel. For compact users most wet wide angle lenses are "straight" lenses. For DSLR and mirrorless users there is a simple rule. DSLR with full frame sensors being most demanding. The bigger sensor the better quality of the straight wide angle lens you would like to use and the dome needs to be in tune with the lens.

Fisheye lenses do bend the image in the corners allowing an extreme wide field of view. The fisheye lens is very popular among underwater photographers. An example from Nikon's DSLR line is that the 10-24 mm lens (rectinlinear) has a 109° image angle set at 10 mm while a 10,5 mm fisheye has a 180° image angle. Fisheye lenses generally have a very good closest focus distance and great corner sharpness. For compact users Inon has a fisheye lens and for DSLR and mirrorless users there and many to choose from.

Note! Some DSLR lenses are made to be used only on smaller sensor cameras so you have to pay attention to what sensor you are using when choosing the wide lenses.

 

3 → Zoom or fixed lens?

It is getting more and more popular to use zoom lenses. In the old days the fixed lenses where much sharper but today the new zoom lenses are really good with fast auto focus, good sharpness and the allowance to zoom underwater is making a big difference. Remember that wide angle straight zoom lenses need a good dome port to work well.

Canon 8-15 mm Fisheye zoomTokina 10-17 mm Fisheye zoom NH

Tokina was the brand who started the fisheye zoom era (Tokina 10-17 mm Fisheye - above on the right) in underwater photography and Canon have followed with their 8-15 mm fisheyezoom (above on the left). Hopefully other brands will follow and fisheye zoom lenses are such a great tool for underwater wide angle as well as close up wide angle.

 

4 → Dome ports

Shooting wide angle underwater requires the use of a dome port. The dome port is a a spheric lens port made out of acrylic or glass that your wide lens is looking out at the underwater world through. This is a vital piece of equipment that acts as an additional optical element to your lens.
 

 

Fisheye Big-eye for compact usersCompact cameras normally do not use dome ports but the brand Fantasea (and some other manufacturers) have made a small dome port for compacts called "Big eye". This dome enhance the original lens angle underwater. So if your compact camera is 28 mm at the widest setting in air it will be become more narrow looking through a flat port underwater. By putting on a "Big eye" port you will get back your original width also underwater. A wet wideangle lens will allow you an even wider image angle with your compact camera.

 

 

Dome port acrylicOn mirrorless and DSLR cameras we mount a dome port on the UW housing. The dome port is in front of the wide angle lens so it is able to see out without and vignetting of the corners. A general rule is the bigger dome the better optical caracteristics. Smaller domes have other advantages like easy travel and they allow you to go closer to the subject without shading the strobe light with the port. Please consult the manufacturers port charts to see what options are available. We are happy to help you with the best lens and port configuration for your needs. UW photography professionals use several domes in different sizes. Exposure Underwater will come out with a dome report in the near future.

 

5 →  Go close

Nikon 10,5 mm fisheye - 180 degree picture viewBy now you surely know that getting close is a fundamental rule in underwater photography because it minimizes the amount of water between your camera and the subject. Even if most people know this the #1 mistake is not shooting close enough. The closer the better and that quite often that means 30 to 50 centimeters distance. 

Regardless of the equipment you use, the principles and techniques for wide angle photography are universal. One of you mantras while out doing wide angle photography should always be to go close!

 

Wonderpus photography - Exposure Expeditions

 

6 → Enjoying the surrounding light (no-strobe photography)

Sun lightOnly using the sun as your light source is a great and easy way to develop as an underwater photographer with just an UW housing and wide angle lens set up. No arms, no strobes and no cables. Easy, simple and free. All cameras are getting better and better and they make it possible to shot with the sun light with good quality even at high ISO settings. So give it a go. When you shoot with ambient light it is in the shallow waters with good light conditions that is the best place for this type of photography. While snorkeling for example.

Shooting using only ambient light teach you about exposing the scenes to your liking and composing will be essential for the images. Without the strobes on while diving you can shoot strong silhouettes, play with the sun ball in the shot or even shoot close to the bottom allowing sunlight to paint the foreground. It is possible to accomplish very interesting UW photography without strobes and good examples are in wreck photography, all type of shots close to surface, big animals and schools of animals and split shots linking the underwater world with the topside.

 

7 → Strobe light & wide angle

 

In terms of wide angle photography and strobes most people need straight and down to earth advice. Remember by adding strobe light to wide angle images you can enhance them a lot giving them a fresh and crisp feel. Again it is important to go close to the subject enabling light from your strobes to reach the subject. You will anjoy sharp and vivid foregrounds bit moderation is key here!

Most common problem when using strobes is much strobe light. Way to much! Bracketing the strobe light is a good idea. Make sure you have a good background exposure and then you can balance up the strobe light for the foreground. As I said not to much is the key and practise makes perfect. So find easy and stationary subjects in calm conditions are a essential to get a understanding fo the light. A wide scene may need a wide even lighting approach, while shooting a diver looking at a clown fish, or an approaching shark you might want to us the strobes at much weaker power as a fill in light.

The strobe position is very important. The strobe/s starting point should be placing them behind the camera sensor plane, at some distance out on the sides housing angled straight ahead or in a slightly outward angle to prevent backscatter in the image. You should have a feeling that your strobes are shooting past the subject. If you want to make it easier for you then shoot verticals as the linses are not as wide in sides and remember to keep one strobe above the camera, one is to the side – or even better one on each side. Your strobe positioning will vary depending on what you are shooting. So please note - the strobe positioning are variable and your set up is a good starting point.

 

8 → Mixed zone - the art of balancing ambient- and strobe light

Your strobes are used to paint some light on your foreground subjects, while proper ambient exposure ensures a color-rich and vivid background. Your goal should be to balance your light in such a way that both the foreground and background and  that get some contrast and separation between them.

One easy to understad method is to make some images with the strobes turned off until you have an pleasing overall exposure. Ususally a bit darker compared to what the cameras suggest. Then turn the strobes on and add a pleasing amount of strobe light on the foreground or main subject. You can of course vary your strobe power settings and positioning to properly exposure the foreground subject. Strobe power and positioning make the difference in outstanding imagery so you have to practise on non-moving subjects.

Remember! The direction of the sun, weather changing and you changing depth will change the overall light and you will have to change the settings to get a good overall exposure.

 

Eagle ray - Galapagos - Exposure Expeditions

 

9 → Strobe arms (length & boyancy)

You need an arm system (and a tray for compact users) to fix the strobes to your UW housing. With the right arm system the whole camera rig become one unit and you will then realise how easy a strobe is to use underwater. We recommend most users to attach the strobes with four 8 inch arms (or slightly shorter/longer). Two on each side but each housing can possibly need something else. 8 inches are a good universal "middle of the road" arms workable for wide angles and can still be used as a not to cumbersome set up for macro.

Some housings are very compact and becomes extremely heavy underwater. By getting thicker arms with the right bouyancy you can balance your system making it easier to handle. This will effect your images a lot. Do you need to balance your camera rig then check out our biuyancy arms and if you are unsure just call us.

 

9 → Diving skills

 

DiverTo be an good wide angle photographer is linked to your 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. Be a responsible UW photographer and take care of the delicate environment around you. Right number of weights and their positioning, bouyancy control, being able so swim backwards, awareness of your surrounding are all important skills.

 

10 → It is all in the image

LensTo go from taking good wide angle images to great ones you need to start thinking about the different elements in your image. If you start getting the light right, use strong and tight composition and correct focus then you something will start to happen :-) The day you take control over your own combinations you start creating your style of images
 
 
→ Light is a great part of wide angle photography. Along with the subject sometimes the main image feature. So how do you light the subject? Allow ambient light to hit the sensor, soften the strobe light with diffusers, are the strobe light coming from the side, the front or are you back lighting? Do you have to worry about backscatter?
 
→ Strong and tight compostion takes some playing around. Learn about the rule of thirds, use the fore ground and background relation, go low, fill the frame or back off. Find diagonals and S-lines, shoot from underneath or an arial view point. If you really like a shot you see then analyse the image composition. Most of the time that is one of the major reasons why you really like it.
 
→ Backgrounds enhance or complement your foreground/subject, use the sun, near-by scenery, modelling divers, silhouetted structures like piers or boats and remember you do need some time to find the angles.
 
→ Depth of feild (DOF) can be an important parameter in your image. It strongly linked to your aperature but also to the focal length of the lens as well as how close you set the focus.
 
 
 
Learn more? Join Magnus Lundgren wide angle photography expeditions or weekend work shops where you are taught all theses skills and get the chance to practise yourself, You get direct and quaiity feed back on your results. If not possible find another workshop possible for you. Learning and knowledge is the key to inspiration and great photography.
 
 

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 info@exposureunderwater.com.