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Dive Photo Guide


Photo Lab with Giacomo Rossi
By DPG Editorial Staff, July 15, 2020 @ 06:00 AM (EST)

Pro underwater photographers Tanya Houppermans and Rico Besserdich take a detailed look at five of reader Giacomo Rossi’s images, giving him pointers and feedback on how he might improve them.

Secretary blenny, Mexico, Sony a6300, Sony 90mm macro lens, ReefNet SubSee +10 diopter, Nauticam housing, dual Sea&Sea YS-D2J, f/22, 1/160s, ISO 200

Tanya Houppermans: I’ve seen a lot of blenny shots over the years, but this one really stands out. Look at all that crisp detail—wow! Impeccable focus combined with even lighting, perfect exposure, and bright, vivid colors really set this image apart. Usually, the next thing I would say is to get rid of the spots in post-processing, but I’m actually going to say to only get rid of some of the spots in post-processing! Background spots on an image tend to be distracting, but the ones in this image actually add a nice sense of depth, giving an almost 3D effect to the blenny and coral. There are a few spots that I would remove though: the one on the blenny’s face, and a few of the brighter spots in the foreground, such as in the upper left corner and underneath the fish. There is also a bit too much negative space to the right side of the blenny, so I would recommend cropping that a little more so that the blenny isn’t in the dead center of the frame. Overall, this really is a beautifully executed image.

Rico Besserdich: This is a nice macro shot of a small and often shy marine animal. Considering the challenges of using a 90mm lens with a +10 macro diopter on a 1.5x crop factor camera, we can see a successful realization of proper depth of field, sharpness, and colors—not to mention the “cuteness factor”! Whether the “snow” effect caused by the heavy backscatter was intended or not, the very bright (almost white) spots are a little distracting. Cleaning up the bright spots in post, and making the background slightly darker (though not black) by adjusting curves and levels would give an extra kick to this image. Backscatter could have been dealt with better during the dive by turning the strobes downwards, almost pointing directly at the housing and not to the main subject; in so doing, just a “kiss” of light would hit the main subject, helping to isolate it from the background. Finally, I think cropping to a 4:3 aspect ratio (instead of 3:2) would work wonders, as this would create a pleasing composition adhering more closely to the Rule of Thirds.

Jacks aggregation, Cabo Pulmo, Mexico, Sony a6300, Sony 10–18mm  at 10mm, Zen DP-170 dome, Nauticam housing, dual Sea&Sea YS-D2J, f/11, 1/40s, ISO 160

Tanya: Having been in and around large schools of jacks such as this, I know how difficult it can be to convey its sheer size in one image. This photo does that very well with the addition of the diver to give a sense of scale. The composition wouldn’t work nearly as well without the diver, and I also like the diver’s positioning just below the school. This image does lend itself well to black and white, but it is slightly underexposed. One fix would be to increase the exposure slightly in post-processing, but I would actually recommend decreasing the shadows, which would help bring more definition to the darker areas. Along with this, increasing clarity and bumping the white slider up a little would brighten the image to make it pop more. Finally, I suggest removing some of the spots in the lower part of the frame to clean it up a bit.

Rico: This is a well done shot, and I especially liked not only the diver in the frame but also how this massive school of fish is giving some space around the diver, which resulted in a nice interplay of light and shadow. Furthermore, this image speaks to the vast richness of the underwater world—this is why we go diving! The composition is good; everything works. Also, such images simply “must” be in black and white. I think an image of such quality and expression deserves the very best in final post-processing, meaning the small white dots on the sand and dirt in the water should be removed. Furthermore, the combination of lens and dome port might not be ideal given the rather obvious corner unsharpness and distortion: The dome port was too small. In addition, I would check if the right set of dome port adaptor rings was used, as I feel like the distance between the camera lens and dome port was incorrect, resulting in the aforementioned distortion. But putting technical aspects aside, this is a wonderful image.

Mako, Magdalena Bay, Mexico, Sony a6300, Sony 16mm plus Fisheye Converter, Nauticam Mini Dome, Nauticam housing, f/8, 1/500s, ISO 1000

Tanya: Makos are the fastest sharks in the sea, and it can be quite a challenge to get good, in-focus close-up shots of them such as this one. Giacomo used a fast shutter speed, 1/500s, which is exactly what I would suggest to freeze the motion of the mako and bring out the details that you see here. I also like the negative space to the right of the mako, which makes for a more dynamic composition by showing the part of the frame that the mako is moving into. Great job on the nice, even lighting, too. If you look in the upper-left corner, and to a lesser extent the upper-right corner, you’ll notice a violet color lining the edges between the water and the sky. This is known as chromatic aberration, or “fringing,” and while there’s a lot of physics behind what’s going on, it’s basically caused by the lens not focusing all color wavelengths to the same focal plane. There’s nothing the photographer did inherently wrong to cause this, and it’s a common issue with an easy fix. In post-processing, simply adjust the purple color hue to the blue end to blend with the water, or desaturate the purples. Now you’re left with a stunning image of an amazing shark.

Rico: Shark encounters are on the bucket list of almost every underwater photographer, and that makes this image already a successful shot. It was the right move to work with ambient light only. The ripples on the water surface add a nice little extra, and despite the animal being about to turn around and swim away, we can see everything that makes a shark a shark. The camera settings might seem slightly unusual at first glance, but when it works, it works. Period. Congratulations to the photographer on making use of ISO, an important but often forgotten setting. Sharpness and colors look just fine. The composition is okay, but I would love a bit more space between the shark’s fin and the lower-left corner of the frame. A very minor issue with this beautiful shot is the almost burned-out area on the shark’s body, which is not a question of camera settings but more a problem of shooting position and angle. Easier said than done, but a slight change of shooting position would have avoided that overexposed area, most likely caused by a sunray.

Manta, Boiler, San Benedicto Island, Sony a6300, Sony 10–18mm  at 10mm, Zen DP-170 dome, Nauticam housing, dual Sea&Sea YS-D2J, f/11, 1/60s, ISO 200

Tanya: It can be very difficult to get everything in focus in an extreme wide-angle shot, so bravo on getting both the manta in the foreground and the pinnacle in the background nice and sharp. I think this image can work well in black and white, but this one feels a bit flat. I would like to see more contrast between the light and dark areas. This was taken at a slow shutter speed of 1/60s, so increasing that slightly would make the image a little more crisp straight out of the camera (don’t forget to increase the ISO or open the aperture another stop or two to compensate). In post-processing, increasing the clarity and bumping up the white slider would help as well, helping the manta to stand out more in the foreground. The composition works well—nice use of Rule of Thirds—and I especially like that the entire vertical edge of the pinnacle is in the frame.

Rico: This is an impressive scene, and I enjoyed being reminded that the idea of shooting vertical images hasn’t been totally forgotten. This image, of course, had to be a vertical one, given the interesting shape and structure of the rock, with the manta adding an extra something to the frame. As well, shooting this scene in black and white adds to the dynamic and visual impact. But black and white isn’t a very forgiving photographic style. As a rule, when it doesn’t look good in color, it won’t work well in black and white. As we can see, the visibility is excellent, so the distance from camera to subject(s) shouldn't be a big deal here. But when there is a distance of more than 6 to 10 feet between camera and subject, the use of strobe(s) will only turn the water “bad,” as is the case in this image. In such situations, and especially when shooting in black and white, I would make use of ambient light alone, unless the main subject is very close. Having said all that, with some adjustment of levels and curves in post, this image could go from good to great.

Manta, Boiler, San Benedicto Island, Sony a6300, Sony 10–18mm  at 10mm, Zen DP-170 dome, Nauticam housing, dual Sea&Sea YS-D2J, f/11, 1/40s, ISO 400

Tanya: This is a very pleasing composition, with a real sense of the scale of the pinnacles behind these gorgeous mantas. The manta in the front is slightly out of focus though. Sometimes this can work, with the blur giving a sense of motion, but that usually requires at least part of the manta being in focus, such as the eye. I would have preferred to see the front manta in sharp focus, and perhaps the background slightly blurred to give more of a sense of depth. This was shot at only 1/40s, and I believe this slower shutter speed may have caused the foreground blur. My suggestion would be to increase the shutter speed to at least 1/100s, and then open up the aperture more to compensate. The ISO is good at 400, as the overall exposure is optimal. A slight change of focal areas is all this image needs to be a very successful extreme wide-angle shot.

Rico: A very beautiful scene! What especially caught my eye was the rhythm in this image—the elegant, majestic movement of the mantas combined with the solid structures of the pinnacles in the background. As Tanya points out, the shutter speed was a bit too slow, as we can spot slight sharpness issues in this image. In an image such as this, that isn’t a huge deal, but in general, 1/40s is a bit slow for anything that moves. Another suggestion would be a change to a 4:3 aspect ratio, which would help the composition even more as there is some negative space in the image that does not contribute to its overall expression. When doing white balance and other image corrections in post-processing, keep an eye on details. Image data that does not exist can’t be restored, not even in Lightroom or Photoshop. We can see this in the cyan tones in the upper-left corner of the image. Again, the lens and dome port configuration isn’t ideal—not that obvious in this image, but still visible. But then, there is the fantastic rhythm of the composition: This is still a beautiful scene that is captured well.


Final Comments


Tanya: These really are some wonderful images, and I’m impressed with the variety of both subjects and range, from macro to super-wide angle. Giacomo has a great eye for what makes a compelling composition, which is evident in each of these photos. I’d like to see him practice with increasing shutter speed just a bit to sharpen some of the wide-angle shots like he did with the mako. Then it’s just a matter of a few little adjustments in post-processing to really make the images stand out. Living and diving in Mexico gives Giacomo ready access to some truly incredible subjects, and I’m really excited to see more of them beautifully captured through his lens.

Rico: It’s not enough to dive some of the best places in the world with an underwater camera if one does not have an eye for photography. But it is this eye for photography I see in Giacomo’s images. Yes, there are technical aspects that could always be improved, but that goes for all of us. If you could choose between capturing magic and beauty with your camera, or just knowing the right settings, what would you choose? Giacomo goes for the former, and with a little bit more practice, perhaps a few minor gear fixes, and a glass or two of good Italian wine during concentrated post-processing sessions, I am very sure that Giacomo will continue to impress us with his own brand of magic. I’m looking forward to it.

About Giacomo Rossi: An Italian living in Mexico, Giacomo is a 46-year-old dive instructor who has been diving since 1998. His underwater imaging journey began in Sudan when he was working as a dive guide and shooting videos using a Sony camcorder in a Light & Motion housing. Once he settled in Mexico in 2011, he upgraded to something more compact, a Sony RX100 Mark II, which can capture impressive video. Gradually, he began enjoying the photo capabilities of the camera and switched to shooting stills. In 2018, before his first trip to the Revillagigedo Islands, he upgraded again, this time to the Sony a6300 in Nauticam housing.

If you’re interested in having your images critiqued in our Photo Lab column, send us five of your best images (unwatermarked), sized at 1500 pixels wide (for both horizontal and vertical images), and for each image, a one-line description, location where it was taken, camera, housing and lighting used, and exposure information. Please also include a 50–80-word biography detailing your photography background.


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