Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Getting the most out of your underwater photographs

We've all been there ... at least those of us who are stupid enough to drag cameras with us while we go scuba diving ... You get back from the dive, and you look at the pictures you took and you find there's that one picture that looks good ... except for that blue/green cast dominating subject and background. It looks flat and you remember thinking how beautiful and colorful the fish was when you took its picture.

What can you do? Well ... here's a method that can often return significant natural-looking color to your underwater images that have that blue/green cast. This technique works best with images without a lot of water column and lots of colorful stuff. I'm using Photoshop CS3 for this tutorial, but most of the effects are easy to replicate in other editors.

Here goes ... the image I'll be starting with was generously permissioned by fellow underwater photographer David Sifre - Thanks David! (David's blog can be found at

Step one ... Surprise! This step has nothing to do with color and more to do with Sharpening. I find that many underwater photographs with lots of nice textures and details can benefit from a bit of local contrast enhancement and fine sharpening that one can achieve with the application of an unsharp mask or masks.

This filter tool can be found under Filters>Sharpen>Unsharp mask. I use an amount of somewhere between 110 and 150 and a radius of 0.6-0.9 with a threshold of zero. Sometimes I follow this up with a second pass with another unsharp mask with the amount down to 20-25 and the radius up to 30-50 and the threshold somewhere between 8-12.
Don't be afraid to dial it back and make sure to preview the results in a 1:1 magnification to truly see the impact ... you don't want to oversharpen the image, but done right you can really accentuate the details of an image this way.

Ok ... Step 2 ... on to the color part.

Make a duplicate layer from your background. You can do this by right-clicking the layer in the layer control or on the toolbar under Layer>Duplicate Layer ... Next, use a Blur filter (average is best) to completely schmear the layer into a solid color field. It will likely look something like this:

Next, hit CONTROL and "I". This will invert the color field layer and should look like this:

Now look at the layer control ... each layer has pull down option that defaults to "Normal" next to another control labeled "Opacity" with a value of 100% ... the first pulldown contains the blending options for this layer. Switch this from "Normal" to "Overlay" and play with the opacity until you think the image looks good.

Lastly, I often will hit an image like this with an "auto-level" adjustment. If you want to preserve the maximum flexibility and use non-destructive techniques, you can create a levels adjustment layer and apply the auto-level that way. That can be found under Layer>New Adjustment Level>Levels ... Or, if you are happy to start the process of collapsing the image to a single output file, you can "flatten" the color layer and the background into a single layer by going to Layer>Flatten Image at which point you can apply an auto-level adjustment directly to that single layer with Image>Adjustments>Auto-level.
Here's the final result ...

This post was referenced on the front page of, a site dedicated to underwater photography. Here's a link to that article from Wetpixel.

Thursday, July 31, 2008
Jeremy Payne on underwater color correction

Wetpixel member Jeremy Payne posts a link to his technique for color correcting underwater images exposed with too little strobe light.
Here’s a method that can often return significant natural-looking color to your underwater images that have that blue/green cast. This technique works best with images without a lot of water column and lots of colorful stuff. I’m using Photoshop CS3 for this tutorial, but most of the effects are easy to replicate in other editors.

Posted: Eric Cheng 07.31.08 04:14 AM
Related » (discuss) (link here) (1 comments) Categories: News, Photo News

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

New Camera

So ... I bought a new camera ... and not just any old camera ...

A Nikon D700 ... like this one:

Oh boy is it nice. It has a lot of features, but the thing that got me to buy it is the sensor that it uses to capture the light to create images. This sensor is Nikon's foray into the "full-frame" digital camera space. The D3 was the first camera to use this sensor, and now the D700 uses it in a smaller form factor.

The images it produces, particularly in low light, are stunning.

Here's a silly example, but it was shot in a dimly lit room at iso 3200:
george first d700
There will be SOOOO much more to come about and from this camera ...

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

NYC Waterfalls

Around NYC's waterfronts these days are some made-made waterfalls sponsored by the Public Art Fund. At night, they are lit up and look quite beautiful.

My friend Gioel took some beautiful shots of the one under the Brooklyn Bridge with his new Nikon D3 ... here's one:

Here's one with my Powershot G9:

Not bad, eh?

Full Report from Grand Cayman

As I mentioned, I was just down in Grand Cayman for 5 days ... from June 21st to June 26th ... here's a more complete trip report.

This trip was a 10th anniversary present from my wife ... she wanted to send me somewhere I could take an underwater photography class, so I booked myself 5 nights at Sunset House in Grand Cayman and signed up for 3 half-day classes with the Cathy Church school. Cathy was actually away celebrating her birthday on a live-aboard somewhere, but I signed up to work with her staff.

The only other time I had ever been to Grand Cayman was in 1999 when I stayed for 5 days at the Cayman Diving Lodge on the East End on my very first "dive trip". For anyone that knows (or knew...) the CDL, they know how special a place it was. For those that don't, it was a really cool little dive hotel on the East End of Grand Cayman with 12 rooms, two boats and an amazing way of getting the job done. They were the best, and fortunately their traditions live on with the Ocean Frontiers operation. Ivan wiped out the original CDL, but a successor is planned for a 2009 opening. But I digress ...

I made a full plan for my five days and pretty much stuck to it ...
Saturday ... I left NYC on a 9:00AM Continental Non-Stop to Grand Cayman. By 1:45PM local time, I was checked in, unpacked and at the Cathy Church office ready to go. We spent about an hour looking at some older photographs together and talking technique topside. By about 3:00PM we were in the water ...

This was click number one of the trip:

I was in business! My teacher - a nice South African chap named "T" - gave me a crash course in both Macro and Wide Angle "basics" over the course of a nice long 85 minute dive. I didn't bring my stacked INON macro lenses on the first dive, but that didn't stop us from trying a little macro on that first dive:


We also got to see the mermaid and did a few different series of shots to show the working distance of the strobes and what kind of benefits the wide angle adapter allowed in terms of getting closer to bigger stuff. She only has two shiny bits ... as you can kinda see here:


Unfortunately, in my haste to get to the water, I left my pelican (with my INON macro lenses and some other goodies) in an office that got locked up and wouldn't be accesible again until Monday ... so much for playing with the stacked INON UCL-165s on Sunday ... oh well.
Sunday ...

On Sunday, I got up nice and early and drove out to the East End to dive 4 tanks with Ocean Frontiers. What a pleasure ... well worth the 45 minute drive. I can't say enough good stuff about Ocean Frontiers. They set a standard that is rarely (if ever) met and certainly never exceded in my opinion.

In the morning, we dove a site called "Lighthouse Wall" first ... and just like my first dive ever on the east end in 1999, there was a decent sized reef shark making its way across the wall just as I descended. I snapped one quick pic as it moved away:

Shark, sorta

The second tank was at a site called "Little House (on the Prairie)" ... a colorful reef dive with beautiful elkhorns. I didn't get a single shot of the elkhorn that I liked. It was in 25 feet of water and bathed in natural light and all my shots stink. Sometimes the best shots are in your head ...
The afternoon started with a site called the Maze ... at a certain point, I just folded up my strobes and powered down the camera ... the swim throughs were tight and twisty and a lot of fun, but didn't accomodate my strobe arms ... it was a fun dive!

The swell that day was intense ... it was reaching down REALLY deep and actually made me seasick on my safety stop. I felt so pukey after the first dive of the afternoon that I considered bailing on the second ... but a few oranges and a quick swim and I was ready again.
The second was a site called Iron Shore Gardens that I remembered from my last visit ... lots of swim throughs and tons of tarpon. I wasn't thrilled with my tarpon shots (BOY are they shiny!), but I kind like this one:


Monday ...

On Monday, I went out on the Sunset House boat in the morning. Everyone else on the boat was connected to a Scuba Network trip except for me. Quite the crew ... If Sunday was heaven ... Monday was, while not hell, certainly ... not heaven. I got buddied up with a older gentleman and super nice guy ... a physician that has been diving for 30 years and taking pictures underwater for years as well. He also had a G9 in an Ikelite ... we met at the bar on Saturday when I came up from the dive. He had lots of questions ... (probably because he doesn't have all you to help!!). That was fine ... I love to help and teach ... what wasn't fine was his diving. He was the underwater equivalent of a bull in a china shop. I spent much of my time following him around keeping him off stuff. The Sunset House boat was also not quite the same as Ocean Frontiers ... nice folks, but they had some "rules" I ddn't quite understand. My principal complaint was that while they offered Nitrox fills, they stated at the briefing that everyone was to dive the "air tables" and advised those of us that had enriched air "not to extend your bottom time". Huh? Oh well ... like I said, REALLY nice people but I doubt I'll dive the Sunset House boats again. The sites were "ok" ... but not quite as nice as the East End.

Monday afternoon, I finally busted out the INON UCL-165s for another 85 minute shore dive with "T" ... having a nice long dive dedicated to learning one thing with a teacher/buddy/assistant is really the way to go. I spent the whole dive learning the minimum and maximum focus points with various combinations of zooming, one and two macro adapters.
There were a few really good shots from this dive, but these are some of my favorites:

Christmas Trees on Sunset Reef

Anemone and Diamond Headed Blenny


Tuesday ...

Morning with Sunset House boat ... shot video with a Magic Filter ... still haven't even really reviewed the footage. Similar to Monday ...

Tuesday afternoon was supposed to be another dive with "T" ... but alas, I failed to charge my canera battery and so ... I did a nice long shore dive where I practiced bouyancy skills and sneaking up on tiny critters ... fun, but I'm still kicking myself for not charging the battery.
Tuesday night I did a night dive with Ocean Frontiers. On my previous Cayman trip, I had done the same dive as my first night dive. I've done a bunch over the years, and the first was always my favorite ... I was really loking forward to doing it there again. The first time, I basically sat on the sand next to the same coral head the whole time and played with an octopus. This time I cruised around with my camera and had fun. I only caught fleeting glimpses of a few different octopi and no good pics ... Oh well. Overall, the dive was a blast and there were a couple decent shots, but nothing great.

Wednesday .... last day ...

On wednesday, I drove back out to dive with Ocena Frontiers again ... this time on a three-tank safari with lunch at a marina and a swing through Stingray City for tank #2.

The first dive was Babylon. Sooooo nice. There is a pinnacle mount next to the wall covered with soft coral and black coral and fans and sponges ... it is a spectacular dive. I was having a weird problem with one of my strobes, but I got some really good shots here:



Babylon is about as nice as it gets in my opinion ... just so beautiful ...

Dive two was Stingray City. New regulations make it less fun than it used to be ... you now sit in a circle, the guides do all the feeding and they bring the rays to you ... 10 years ago, I swam with them, fed them ... a wholly different experience.

Here's a couple:


After Stingray City, we ate lunch at Kaibo Yacht Club ... nice fries!

After lunch, and as we motored to our third (and my last) dive, the engine of the boat died ... The captain worked his ASS off for 2.5 hours and finally got us underway again. The last site was worth the wait. It was called Omega Reef and it was like Babylon without the pinnacle. BEAUTIFUL color and pristine reefs ... such a nice way to end a great week.

This was the last click of a great week:

Overall impressions:
*** Grand Cayman ... still amazing, particularly the East End
*** Cathy Church School ... terrific!! "T" helped me tremendously.
*** Sunset House ... fun little shore dive, great bar, terrific people
*** Ocean Frontiers ... The Best. Dive with them if you can.
*** G9 with Ikelite ... impressive. Handles well, functions easy to access. Love it.
*** INON UWL-100 ... great addition ... corners very soft ... thinking about the Dome Port ...
*** INON UCL-165s x 2 ... useful, but add chromatic abberation and limit working distances. With two, you need to be REAL close to get a focus lock.

Next? Who knows ...