I have mentioned this before, but I think it needs its own blog post together with some examples, because this is the single most important thing when it comes to over under photography. So what is the single most important tip for great over under photos? The secret is in the water, obviously :)!
The problem and the charm of over under photography is the fact that the photo is created in two different mediums. The upper half is air, which is usually sunny and bright and the lower half is water which absorbs much more light than air and is therefore always at least a little bit darker, not to mention less transparent, muddy, polluted…etc. Shooting 100% above or 100% underwater allows the GoPro camera to automatically adapt to the amount of light that is available. But with over under photos the camera has to consider both – the brighter upper half and the darker lower half. Even with big dynamic range of the new GoPro cameras this can be a problem. Apart from the light problem, to fill the photo with an interesting underwater scene you need the water to be as transparent as possible, so that the subject that you are photographing is clearly visible.
What’s the perfect water recipe, what kind of water is best for half half photography?
- Transparent – no mud, sand, algae…you want the water to be as clear as possible, a lake full of distilled water would be the best 🙂
- Bright (sea) bottom – even the clearest water becomes darker if it lies over the dark muddy bottom
- Shallow water – it is brighter than deep water.
So on one hand we have dark, muddy water on dark bottom and on the other hand we have transparent tropical sea on white sand bottom. Guess which one giver better photos:)?
I think all this is best explained with photo examples. Unfortunately (or fortunately) I don’t have examples of really dirty water over really dark bottom, but here we go (all photos are made using our Split dome port and GoPro Hero 4 Silver):
Here the sea bottom was pretty bright, but the water was milky from the nearby factory dumping calcium chloride into the sea. So underwater visibility was zero – you can not see the surfer paddling underwater.
Here we have a combo of not very clear water and sea bottom that has rocks covered with brown algae. Again underwater visibility is very bad.
Usually warm tropical seas have more transparent water but it is not always so. Of course – you can get some sick photos and effects even if the water is not transparent.
That’s me hiding under the surface. Here the water transparency is okayish:) but the bottom is not very bright and the thick dark cloud cover does not give lots of light to begin with.
It is not necessary that cold water is less transparent than warm sea. Here is a shot from an alpine river that was so cold you could feel it in your bones.
Here the water transparency is ok and the bottom not that bad, but note that when the weather is darker, with grey clouds, there will be less color in the water.
Here the conditions are almost ideal. Water is transparent, there is some brighter sand on the bottom and the water is shallow.
Clear blue skies (some clouds are ok, they make the sky much more interesting), transparent water and almost white pebbles on the ground. You can see the difference that the water depth makes – on the left the water is shallow and the photo is much brighter than on the right where the sea gets deeper. In darkness cameras can not capture as much data as they do when there is enough light. Less data, more noise, worse photo.
Sunny sky, transparent water, bright pebbles on the floor reflecting the light back into the water. Almost ideal conditions. A few rocks here and there, even when they are brown, don’t make much of a difference. They even make the photo more interesting.
Here you can see the difference between shallower water with bright stones on the right and deeper water with brown rocks on the left. Also – no matter how clear the water is and how good and bright the bottom – the more water you put between your camera and the subject you are photographing, the more color and clarity will be lost. See next photo ->
Here the distance between the Split dome port + GoPro camera is only about half a meter (20 inches), together with clear water and bright ground the colors underwater really come to life, they are almost the same as above water. With increased distance colors and detail are lost. Check out the rocks in the front and the rocks far in the back and compare.
So an extra tip for this tutorial would be – go close! Try to put less water between your Split dome and the subject you are photographing.
In one of the next tutorials we will take a look at how to improve your over under photos with a few adjustments in Photoshop.
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