Saturday, July 13, 2024
HomeScuba DivingIntroduction to Shooting U/W Digital Stills

Introduction to Shooting U/W Digital Stills

As an artist and designer originally in still photography and video, I had virtually given up taking still images in favor of video for the last 20 years. The expense of film and processing and all the other associated inconvenience of still photography made video, for me, the medium of choice. Check out my gallery to see what you can do with digital.

But the technological advances in digital still imaging that have taken place in the last few years have totally changed my viewpoint. And when in comes to underwater imaging I can see no reason for the average uw photographer and anyone interested in getting involved in underwater stills to consider anything but digital.

The cost for the highest end digital cameras is still prohibitive, but at $500-$700 we can now get a 3 to 4 megapixel camera which will deliver unbelievable quality. For the cost of a complete Nikonos V system (now discontinued) you can get an Olympus 4040 camera, Light & Motion Tetra Housing, and Nikonos 105 strobe….and never process film again.

Most of divers really don’t do much with their underwater pictures. Maybe they’ll make a few prints, or maybe give a slide show to their friends or family. Today, digital files can easily produce 11×14 images and there are some other very significant advantages to digital that we’ve never had before.

  • Immediacy, you actually see what you shot a moment after you click the shutter. No more waiting until you get home from a dive trip to see how you did.
  • Next, the ability to adjust exposure and composition underwater. You will know right away whether the exposure and composition were right. With digital, you have the information to make improvements under water, while you’re shooting. Film could never do this. As a result, the learning curve is very quick. With the auto focus and easy manual focus adjustments of these new cameras, digital shooters seem to learn in a single dive what would take dozens of dives for a film shooter to absorb. I strongly believe that this immediate feedback aspect of digital will revolutionize underwater still photography.
  • The ability to see your images during the dive as well as topside on the boat immediately after the dive. As a web designer I am able to have direct access to my images and can work on a project on a liveaboard or at a resort without having to wait for film to be processed and images to be scanned. I also do Digital Workshops and I can share images with each student and other divers on a liveaboard or at a resort right after a dive or at night.
  • Unlike a slide, where the image is essentially set for all time once it passes through the processing chemicals, with a digital file there is considerable adjustment still possible after-the-fact. With Adobe PhotoShop or Jasc Paint Shop Pro, you can crop, manipulate the colors and exposure, remove extraneous details like fins or bubbles, or even correct the most common problem, backscatter.

There’s so much you can do with digital files these days. You can print them yourself with a reasonably priced photo-quality printer you can do up to 11×17 enlargements. But you don’t have to have a digital darkroom to get good prints. There are services that let you e-mail the files to online like or, who will do it for you. But its so easy to get good prints yourself I really encourage you to make your own.

How about all those boxes full of prints and negatives, or the loose-leaf binders full of slide pages! What a hassle. If you want to email or print an image you then need to scan it. But with digital there is no scanning to be done because they are already in digital format. With inexpensive CD burners now available, it’s easy to transfer lots of image data from your hard drive to removable media that can be viewed on any modern computer, or TV screen for that matter.

[“Olympus E20” right]

And rather than having to make a traditional slide show, with programs like PowerPoint you can easily make a slide show on location and view it via your laptop. Most multimedia laptops even allow you to play back the images on a TV directly from the computer with software that comes with the camera.

There are differences between digital and film camera, but they’re getting fewer. First is lag time: The higher end digital cameras like the Nikon D1 and Canon D30 can capture fast action, but these cameras are expensive. Most use the 3-4megapixel compact cameras, where lag time is a concern because the camera has to do a lot at the moment the shutter is released. It has to auto focus, control exposure, and save to a digital file. So far, they can’t do that instantaneously. Capturing fast action is difficult but not impossible, but it does take practice. Olympus has a new camera, the E-20. This camera, in the $1500-$1700 range, is a 5 megapixel camera, designed like a single lens reflex, has options for multistorage cards (including a 1 gig IBM Microdrive) and has a big memory buffer for a faster response time.

The built-in zooms on most digital cameras are not as wide as the more expensive housed still cameras, but the better housings such as the Light & Motion Tetra, have high quality wide angle and macro lenses available….and you can even change them underwater lenses already available…

Most purists insist that film is far superior to the digital format but for most of us it’s often impossible to tell the difference with today’s technology. If you’re considering getting into underwater imaging, this new technology is just too exciting to ignore. Besides, it’s so much more fun with digital.

Here are some useful links: