September 1, 2013 Natural Light By Gayle Van Leer


Summer with its long daylight hours means more time to dive with the sun and for us here in Southern California it also means our water warms up into to the high 60’s. Don’t laugh, that’s downright tropical to us year round regular divers!  At least in the top 25 feet or so becomes a warmer zone, below that you will be thinking drysuit is a good idea. Also means blue water close to shore more often than not and some good chances for getting some great natural light photos even when the visibility is short of 20’.

I will remind you again that I am not shooting with strobes, but with “continuous” lighting via two Sola lights, a 2000 and a 1200 and I am using a Sony RX100 point and shoot camera. Large objects that are not close, I just can’t light properly so I go to natural light. I have gotten fairly good results in the “warm zone”, that upper 30’.

In the accompanying photos, the diver in the kelp was shot about a half mile off shore in 30’ or so of water on a day where the visibility was probably 25’. The other three photos were taken at a near shore location in 10-20’ of water on a 10-15’ visibility day. The shark was probably the deepest, and in kelp as well so less light was coming through, whereas the schooling fish were closer to 10’ deep. You should be aware of where the sun is in relation to you and your subject. The effect you get is entirely different so think about what you are trying to achieve as you compose your shot.

Excellent example of this are the photos of the schools of Sargo (the larger fish) and Salema . Taken probably 20’ from each other within 5 minutes of each other, the results are completely different. I was moving along slowly with the Salema who kept flowing around me as I kept shooting at different angles trying to capture the sunbeams. I was basically shooting directly into the sun. After a few minutes I paused and turned to see if my dive buddy was still behind me and instead found the Sargo not 10’ away. They seemed to be following me as I was following the Salema!  Turning my camera on them (sun now at my back), they allowed me to approach quite close while swimming along with them. I was glad to have the small lightweight set up of the BTS tray and arms. Not only is it easier to push through the water one handed while following a school of fish closely, probably was less intimidating to the fish as I shoved it at them! Even though I was close enough to use my lights on the sargo in this case, I would not have been able to evenly light all the fish in this photo so for me natural light was still the best choice.

Camera settings: For these natural light only shots I set the IOS at 400.  The huge sensor in my camera gives an advantage of being able to shoot at 400 with barely any noise apparent. I keep the white balance on “Auto”, set the camera on shutter priority mode and put the shutter speed at 250. To freeze sunbeams you need to have a fast shutter speed. These settings work for my particular camera and situation, you may need something different with your camera.

Happy shooting!

9-1-13 school-beams 9-1-13-diver-in-kelp 9-1-13-sargo 9-1-13-shark

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