Underwater camera housing hacks by Hannah Prewitt

If you own an underwater housing for your camera, I hope you are well versed as to how to use it properly to prevent any leaks. But this is usually all the instructions that you get with it tell you. I now have a little experience with underwater photography and am the proud owner of an Aquatech Elite I housing, so I’d like to share some tips with you that I’ve picked up through trial and error over the last couple of years.

FYI you can no longer purchase the Elite I housing from Aquatech since the newer model (Elite II) has been released, but these tips should all still apply to housings from any brand.

Tip #1 - how to clean your housing ports

I’m going to admit something quite embarrassing here. For a long time, I didn’t clean my housing. More specifically, my dome port. I was so fragile with it, I treated it like an egg, and I didn’t know what you could actually clean it with. So I’d rinse everything in fresh water and dry it off. Which is exactly what Aquatech tell you to do. But that’s all. It turns out that everyone else is cleaning their ports with lens cleaner, and it makes SUCH a difference. Just make sure the area is fully clear of any grit to prevent scratching and be sure to use a soft clean cloth.

BONUS TIP: Use a hairdryer with a concentrator nozzle to remove any bits of dirt from those hard to reach edges of your dome port. 

Underwater camera housing hacks.jpg

Tip #2 - how to keep your port free from water drops

WET PORTS

You probably already know that the best thing to use on your dome port to prevent water droplets forming is your own saliva. But if you use your hands to rub the saliva around the port, then you are reversing the effect of the saliva in the first place because your hands have lots of oils on them. Make sure you spread your saliva round the entire dome port with your tongue. Yum!

I’d also recommend leaving a few minutes between licking the port and getting in the water, as it’ll be more effective than doing it moments before getting wet.

DRY PORTS

I’ve read a lot about using wax on your flat port to allow water drops to run right off but I’m just not convinced yet that I’m prepared to do that to my equipment. I’m also not sure how a layer of wax over your port doesn’t affect the quality of your image. So I’ve been testing other methods and the one I’ve found that works the best is simply to clean your port with lens cleaner before your shoot. Which is something you should be doing regularly anyway but I have found that when I have a freshly cleaned port, the water just drips right off. I also cut a tiny piece of chamois leather that I keep down the sleeve of my wetsuit or tucked into my watch strap to wipe off any stubborn droplets should they form, and this works really well. Also, lifting your camera out of the water at a slight downward angle encourages the water to fall off quicker.

On a side note…. ever wondered what the difference actually is between wet and dry ports? Surely they’re both wet ports because they both get wet, right? That’s exactly what I thought for a long time. Turns out, they have different names for a reason…

A dome port is called a wet port because it is designed to take a photo while there is a very thin film of water over the port - as in while it’s still wet. Whereas a flat port is referred to as a dry port because the water is supposed to fall off the port before you take a photo, leaving it “dry”.

Tip #3 - how to clean your housing body

Use white vinegar to clean any salt residue off the buckles of your housing. Apply with a cotton bud and leave it on for a few minutes to work it’s magic and then rinse. Not only will this limit any salt damage, it’ll also keep your housing looking shiny and new :)

Also, if you shoot with a pistol grip, it’s a very good idea to take it off quite frequently, as salt builds up really quickly behind the screws and the trigger, so that will all need a little TLC every now and again as well.

Aquatech housing maintenance.jpg

Tip #4 - if you’re having trouble gripping your dials

This might happen if you’ve had your housing for a while or if you just have butter fingers. A simple (but not so glamorous) way to fix this is to apply a rough grip fabric plaster around the edges of the dials. That will provide a better surface to grip. Just make sure that they are really sticky plasters so they don’t come off in the ocean!

Tip #5 - if you’re having trouble using your focus ring

If you’re using a zoom lens inside your housing, you’ll have to put a zoom ring around your lens before placing it in, so that the zoom dial on the outside of your housing is able to grip your lens. Sometimes, you might find that you’ve put everything in correctly but it’s still not changing focal lengths. Like the dial on your housing is catching on something and missing the zoom ring on your lens. If this happens, it’s likely to be due to how you put the zoom ring attachment on your lens. There should be a tiny gap in the ring attachment which allows the ring to expand enough to easily put it on your lens. If this gap is close to where the zoom dial is on your housing, then it might just be catching this gap, thereby having nothing to grip onto. Try placing the gap on the opposite side of the lens to where the zoom dial will touch the lens inside your housing.

Zoom ring hack.jpg

Tip #6 - if you don’t own a wrist strap

Just buy one. I actually didn’t get one when I first purchased my housing, purely because it wasn’t recommended to me to have one. But trust me, it relieves so much stress knowing that you can let go of your housing completely when swimming under waves or putting on your fins and it will still be attached to you. You can see the Aquatech version here however, there are lots of other options out there too.

With regards to other accessories, if you’re shooting surfing I would definitely get a pistol grip. It means that you can shoot one-handed so you can get those last extra frames while your body is already safely under the wave.

Also, Aquatech have just brought out a range of caps for their ports. They’ll help to keep dust and dirt off your equipment when it’s stored or when travelling with it. I think they’re great but I don’t have any yet…. if anyone from Aquatech is reading this and would like to send me some, I’ll happily let you know my address :)

Tip #7 - get your housing serviced by the pros

Although this article is about at-home DIY-style tips and tricks, I can’t write this without recommending that you do occasionally get your housing serviced by the professionals. How often really depends on how often you use it but think of it like your car - an annual service is a good idea for it to run smoothly. Unless you use your housing much less frequently, in which case I highly recommend getting wet more often!

That’s all folks. If you have any tips for me, PLEASE do share. There’s far too little of this sort of useful information out there, and I’m a firm believer that sharing is caring :)

Underwater-camera-housing-hacks.jpg

How to take beautiful abstract ocean sunrise and sunset photos by Hannah Prewitt

Whenever I post an abstract ocean sunrise image like the one below online, I always get messages from people asking me how I did it. I love to share information and teach others, so today I’d like to share with you my top tips for creating these types of images for yourself.

1/4000, f/1.8, ISO 100

1/4000, f/1.8, ISO 100

Tip #1 - Use a wide aperture

This is because we want a shallow depth of field, so you want to shoot as wide open as your lens allows. I shoot with my 50 mm f/1.8 most of the time, and shoot wide open at f/1.8. It’s this shallow depth of field that helps to create these abstract images.

If you don’t have a really wide lens, then don’t worry. You can still try with what you have. I shot this image below at f/4, before I had a port for my other lens and it still looks pretty cool!

1/1000, f/4, ISO 200

1/1000, f/4, ISO 200

Tip #2 - Focus on the foreground

I’ve experimented with using single point focus as well as 3D continuous tracking focus for these images. Both actually work quite well so it’s up to you, but the main thing to remember is that you want to focus on the ocean, not the sun. We want the sun to be out of focus so I recommend setting your focus point in the bottom third of the frame. If you haven’t played around with your camera settings much, you might need to change your settings so that your camera takes a shot when you release the shutter, rather than only when it’s focused. If you don’t do this, you will probably find that you can’t take a photo because it will appear to the camera that nothing is properly in focus. (If anyone wants to know where to find this on a Nikon camera, feel free to get in touch).

Tip #3 - Shoot on high speed burst mode

I don’t think I ever actually take my camera off this mode, but it’s especially important to use when you’re shooting in the water. Even in fairly calm water, the light will constantly be moving around and dancing with the water, creating really unique reflections, so you want to capture it all!

Tip #4 - Shoot at sunrise or sunset

I hate to point out the obvious, but you’ll need the sun to be as close to the surface of the ocean as possible if this is the kind of image you’re after. If it’s sunrise, make sure you’re in the water at least a few minutes before the sun rises, because those first few minutes are when the magic happens. Once the sun reaches a certain height, it just gets far too bright.

1/2000, f/1.8, ISO 50

1/2000, f/1.8, ISO 50

Tip #5 - Follow the light

Don’t forget to look around to see where else the light is falling. The sunlight simply glistening on the ocean surface can also make for a really stunning image.

1/3200, f/1.8, ISO 50

1/3200, f/1.8, ISO 50

Tip #6 - Shoot in all different conditions

Don’t be fooled into thinking that you need a perfectly clear sky to get these kinds of shots. Cloud cover helps to create very different and more dramatic lighting conditions.

I’d like to keep this tutorial nice and simple, so I’ll leave it there. I would LOVE to see your attempts if you try out these tips for yourself, so please feel free to email them to me or send via my Instagram or Facebook page.

Happy shooting!

A variety of these images are available to purchase as prints online.

Photography tutorial - how to take beautiful abstract ocean photos

Attending my first photography workshop - a review of Foto Frenzy's Surf, Ocean & Lifestyle workshop event in Bali by Hannah Prewitt

In late April, I attended my first ever photography workshop. It was run by Foto Frenzy, who also run several other workshops including an underwater one photographing humpback whales in Tonga. But this was the first time they’d held a surf, ocean and lifestyle event in Bali. It was also, unbelievably, the first time that the legendary photographer Ted Grambeau had ever hosted such a workshop.

There were three hosts: world-renowned surf adventure photographer Ted Grambeau, Aquatech ambassador and big wave photographer Phil Thurston, and Foto Frenzy’s Jasmine Carey. We also had some assistance from an enthusiastic newbie Lachlan Callender. It was held at the beautiful Komune eco-resort in Bali, which is situated right on the famous surf break Keramas and just so happens to be the third stop for pro surfers on the World Champions Tour. I’ve spent a lot of time in Bali, but I’d never been to Komune Resort before and I would happily go back for a holiday. It was stunning. I was very happy to be spending eight days there learning from some of the world’s best.

The stunning landscape that we got to shoot every day.

The stunning landscape that we got to shoot every day.

When I arrived, I had no idea who else was attending or even how many people were involved. I knew one other attendee - my friend Kat Nielsen who runs The Creative Series photography blog. I was surprised to find out that there was just one student in addition to the two of us - a bubbly Mexican girl called Alexa. That was it! Three students and three (and a half) teachers. I’ll admit, this wasn’t really the plan for Foto Frenzy. They had hoped to get a few more sign-ups but they were always going to keep the student-teacher ratios low. But for this debut event, they just didn’t get the numbers. I have a feeling that next year will be quite different.

Having never attended a photography workshop before, I really didn’t know what to expect. I’d heard some horror stories from similar professional events where the students simply watch the instructors take photos, so I really hoped this wouldn’t be like that. It wasn’t.

On the first afternoon, we looked over our equipment and water housings to see what we had and made sure everyone knew how to set everything up properly. The event also supplied us with a few additional pieces to try out if we wanted, which meant that I finally got to take my 50 mm in the water :)

Alexa with her Aquatech underwater housing.

Alexa with her Aquatech underwater housing.

This first day was also used to get an understanding of what each individual was looking to achieve throughout the week, so the lessons and practical sessions were tailored to our individual needs. We had also completed a basic questionnaire prior to arrival, so the instructors had a good idea of our photography knowledge beforehand.

Our days started at sunrise where we’d swim out from the beach and shoot the rising sun from the ocean. Then we’d literally just turn in the other direction to shoot the waves. It was a dream location.

The first morning’s sunrise was incredible. Shot with Nikon D750 and 50 mm f/1.8.

The first morning’s sunrise was incredible. Shot with Nikon D750 and 50 mm f/1.8.

Lachy shooting some of the locals in the surf.

Lachy shooting some of the locals in the surf.

The workshop had various sponsors including Aquatech Imaging Solutions and Manfrotto. Ted had also arranged for Ripcurl to provide us with a model - Kipp Caddy - which meant that we had an incredible surfer ready to head out and shred whenever we wanted to shoot.

I already knew how to shoot surfers (hence my tutorial on how to take amazing surfing photos), so I was keen to learn some new techniques. On the second day, I had a one-on-one lesson with Phil Thurston - the master of shooting the ocean in slow motion - who showed me a technique to take panning shots of surfers. This was completely new to me but I have to say, I was really impressed with this shot I managed to get on my first time trying!

Ripcurl’s Kipp Caddy tearing it up at Keramas. Shot with Nikon D750 and 80-400 mm f/4-5.6.

Ripcurl’s Kipp Caddy tearing it up at Keramas. Shot with Nikon D750 and 80-400 mm f/4-5.6.

One of the things that Ted really wanted to teach us was how to understand light in order to be able to solve photography problems. The workshop provided scrims and reflectors for us to have a go and figure out how they work. This is my personal favourite way of learning so this really suited me. Learn the theory, then learn by doing.

One of the other things I got to try out was using lights, both continuous and flash. I’d never used lights before - in fact I went as far as calling myself a natural light photographer, which if I’m completely honest was partly because I was intimidated by flash. But now that I’ve learnt the basics, I realise it’s nothing to be intimidated by and something that can really add a wow factor to natural light photography.

Ted had an underwater continuous light as well as an underwater flash that we could try for ourselves. He arranged a portrait session for us in one of the resort’s pools. These were some of my personal favourite photos that I took that week and it really opened up my eyes to what’s possible with different locations and equipment.

I loved these underwater portraits so much that I also arranged my own private photoshoot with pro surfer Brisa Hennessy, who was already at Keramas in preparation for the World Tour event.

One of the most exciting things about the location is the ability to surf at night. The resort has huge floodlights that light up the wave in front of the beach so you can surf in the dark. I wasn’t sure how I would feel swimming in amongst the waves at night time, but I wasn’t going to turn down this unique opportunity. Phil paddled out with us into the dark ocean along with Kipp on his board. I wasn’t too focused on getting surf shots because I wasn’t at all confident that I would be able to shoot anything worth keeping (I was right!) but just being out there in the dark was a really cool experience. I did however, manage to get a shot I was happy with from the beach, using the same slow shutter panning technique I’d learnt earlier.

Kipp Caddy night surfing at Keramas.

Kipp Caddy night surfing at Keramas.

The entire workshop was based at the resort, as there were so many different locations within it, but we did leave the resort briefly to experience some local culture and attended a Balinese dancing ceremony in Ubud.

Using a slow shutter speed to capture the movement of the Balinese dancers.

Using a slow shutter speed to capture the movement of the Balinese dancers.

It’s hard for me to sum up eight such extraordinary days, but I left this workshop feeling like someone had opened my eyes as a photographer. I didn’t just learn how to do one particular thing, but how to use what I had learnt and adapt it to different situations. One of the main things I loved about it was seeing everyone else’s photos as well. I love how different people can shoot the same subject at the same time, and all come out with completely different images. We ended the week with a presentation of our best shots from the week.

The end of another beautiful day at Komune Resort.

The end of another beautiful day at Komune Resort.

Overall, the workshop was extremely professional but equally as informal. We had a classroom space to use all week, we had workbooks, presentations, practicals and editing sessions. We covered all aspects of photography including action, lifestyle, portraits, and products, as well as the business side of photography, workflow techniques and editing. We eat together and hung out all week and by the end we had all become quite close. The support has continued since we have left, and I now feel that I have a small network of professionals whom I can call upon for advice in the future. There was a perfect balance of freedom and guidance - we were encouraged to try everything but never felt obligated to do so. I can honestly say that this was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had, and was worth every penny. If you have any questions about anything to do with this workshop, please feel free to get in touch.

If you’d like to read Ted’s write-up of the event, you can do so on his blog.

For another article written by Kat Nielsen, Founder of the Creative Series blog, please click here.

If you’d like to learn more about Phil Thurston and see some of his incredible work, you can visit his website.

If you’d like to enquire about attending the same event next year, you can do so via Foto Frenzy’s website.

My favourite ocean images of 2019 by Hannah Prewitt

Nikon Australia just posted the finalists for the Surf Photo of the Year competition. There are some amazing images in the final 20, but I’ll be honest, there are a couple that just don’t do it for me. I guess that’s part of the joy of photography - it’s all subjective. Anyway, in light of this competition, I thought I’d share 10 of my favourite ocean images that I’ve come across so far this year.

  1. Greg Lecoeur

Greg Lecoeur - favourite ocean images of 2019_sealion.png

I believe this photo was taken in 2017, but Greg shared it on his Instagram this year. Greg Lecoeur is a french photographer who lives in the ocean and shoots all kinds of amazing marine creatures. But my favourite has to be this crazy cute shot of a sea lion sitting on the seafloor. He’s shot for National Geographic and all his photos are available to purchase as prints on his website.

2. Warren Keelan

Warren Keelan - favourite ocean images of 2019.png

I couldn’t possibly create a portfolio of beautiful ocean images without including this guy. Warren is a seascape and ocean photographer based in New South Wales, and his photos are often abstract like this one. Absolutely beautiful! Check his website for prints.

3. Alex Voyer

Alex Voyer - favourite ocean images of 2019.png

Alex is a french photographer who I believe spends a lot of time doing trips on this boat called Diatomée (but the website is all in french!). He shoots in some cold water and his freediving shots are also fantastic, but I’m just drawn to this incredible motion shot of this boat. He’s captured it in a way that makes me feel as if I’m on it too. Alex doesn’t seem to have a website but you can see more of his photos on his Instagram.

4. Mitch Gilmore

Mitch Gilmore - favourite ocean images of 2019.png

Mitch lives on the Gold Coast and shoots solely with a GoPro. I love the clarity of the water he captures, and this shot where you can so clearly see the city too is just gold. Mitch doesn’t have a website but you can find more of his photography on his Instagram.

5. Jess Parkes

Jess Parkes - favourite ocean images of 2019.png

Well it’s about time I included a female ocean photographer! Jess is based in Byron Bay and shoots all kinds of things but her ocean images are my favourite. She brings a feminine feel to the ocean. Jess also doesn’t have her own website but you can check her Instagram for more beautiful imagery.

6. Phil De Glanville

Phil de Glanville - favourite ocean images of 2019_sharks.png

Phil is another Aussie-based ocean photographer but he only uses a drone. I personally have a hard time enjoying aerial photos anymore, since the internet has become so saturated with them, but Phil brings a really unique style to drone imagery. His photos are moody and full of contrast and he quite often shoots my favourite animals - sharks. Check out more of his work on his Instagram.

7. Paul Smith

Paul Smith - favourite ocean images of 2019.png

Noosa-based photographer Paul Smith actually had an image included in the 20 finalists of the 2019 Nikon Surf Photo of the Year competition but I much prefer this one. He shot this on Noosa’s main beach during Cyclone Oma. I’ve seen this printed large in his gallery, and it’s simply stunning. Check out more of his work on his website.

8. Brandon Verdura

Brandon Verdura - favourite ocean images of 2019.png

I’ve admired Brandon’s work for quite some time. He’s based in Hawaii and his underwater images are high in contrast and moody - just the sort of stuff I love - but this image of palm trees reflecting in the water is one of those I could never get sick of looking at. You can see more of Brandon’s work on his website.

9. Kirvan Baldassari

Kirvan Baldassari - favourite ocean images of 2019.png

I only came across the work of this Tahitian photographer very recently and found his images to be very memorable. Living in the tropics he naturally shoots surfing, sharks, palm trees and beaches, but his wave photos are the ones that capture me. You can see more of his tropical images on his website.

10. Alana Spencer

Alana Spencer - favourite ocean images of 2019.png

I’ve finished off with what is probably my favourite surf image of all time. Hawaiian-based photographer Alana Spencer is the name behind the brand Coconut Comradery. Her style is vintage-tropical and, similar to Jess Parkes (#5) she brings an air of femininity to her photos.

Thanks for reading! Hopefully I’ve introduced you to some new names that you might want to continue following. I’d love to know which one is your favourite. Leave me a comment below.


My favourite ocean images of 2019

Editing the same image 4 different ways in Lightroom by Hannah Prewitt

I get a lot of questions about how I edit photos. I also get some criticism. Some people don’t like to edit their images, and that’s fine, but I personally love nothing more than to sit down at my computer with a fresh cup of coffee, put on some noise-cancelling headphones and select one of my editing playlists, and spend the next couple of hours playing around in Lightroom. As I enjoy this process so much, I’d like to share with you some of the ways that I create different moods by editing the same ocean image four different ways. The great thing about this Lightroom tutorial, is that I have only used four panels - the basics, tone curve, HSL, and split toning.

This is the RAW image straight from the camera that I chose to edit:

Editing ocean photos in Lightroom

And here are the four different moods that I created by tweaking a few different settings in Lightroom:

This process incidentally has also forced me to name my edits, which I quite like. If you follow my work, you might recognise that I have used all of these styles on various images, and I seem to get great feedback on all of them, which is nice. The kind of edit that I choose varies day by day, and simply depends on what mood I’m in.

Without further ado, let’s get started with how I created these different edits.

EDIT #1 - TROPICAL PARADISE

Basics panel

This is how the image looks when I made adjustments only to the basics panel. I’ve brightened the photo a little using the exposure slider as well as lifting the blacks and shadows. I rarely do this, as I usually like lots of contrast in my ocean photos but I was going for something a little different here and I think it works well. I’ve also pushed the clarity slider right up to +100, which is something I only do when editing underwater images, otherwise you run the risk of the photo looking too over-processed.

Tone curve

The next thing I did is add a little contrast by using a subtle S-curve within the tone curve panel.

HSL

Next I adjusted the specific colours in the image. I do this using the HSL panel. In this image, there are only two colours present - aqua and blue. However, be aware that there is often green and purple in your blue hues, and sometimes yellow present where you might not realise, and this can also change depending on your white balance - if you warm your photo a lot then there’ll be some yellow or orange in your image.

Here I’ve made the blue slightly less purple and the aqua more blue. This gives a nice overall tropical blue tone that I love without the water looking too green. Then I desaturate them both a little and create some contrast between the two by increasing the luminance of the aqua and decreasing the luminance of the blue. I find this makes the ocean really stand out against the sky.

And there we have it. A few simple edits. This is the final image:

Final image_tropical paradise.jpg

EDIT #2 - BRIGHT SUMMER

Basics panel

The major adjustments I made here were to create contrast between the blacks and whites. I also made the image a little warmer than the previous edit using the white balance sliders. I’ve chosen to use lots of clarity once again, but with this edit, I’ve also pushed the dehaze slider. This is a very important tool for ocean images, but can be easily overdone so use it sparingly. After you’ve dehazed, you might find that you then need to increase your overall exposure as well.

Tone curve

I made some very subtle adjustments to the tone curve to create a little more contrast. I prefer to use the tone curve to create contrast rather than just the contrast slider, as you have more control over the exact parts of the image you are adjusting.

HSL

As I said previously, you might find that the colours in the image vary slightly if you’ve adjusted the white balance. This edit has more red in it than the previous edit, therefore there is a tiny bit of purple in the image. It’s very subtle, but I like to remove this purple (which tends to show up in the sky) by adding more blue to it and then desaturating it completely. I’ve then made the aqua more blue and the blue more aqua, desaturated them both a little and the brightened them up by increasing the luminance.

This is how the image looks after these adjustments:

Bright Summer - HSL edit.jpg

Split toning

Since this edit is called Bright Summer, the final adjustment I made was to add a little warmth. I like to do this to the highlights using split toning. I will usually compliment this by adding some slight blue to the shadows as well. And this is the final image.

EDIT #3 - DARK STORM

Basics panel

For this edit, I wanted to create a cool and dark mood, as if a tropical storm were approaching. I used a cool temperature and added some red to the tint. Red is the first colour you lose underwater, and even though this water is very shallow, sometimes adding red can help the image to look a little more realistic. With this edit, I chose to decrease the overall contrast, which is something I usually do with underwater photos, as I find that it somehow brings more clarity to the seafloor. I can then accentuate this by bringing up the highlights and whites, and decreasing the shadows and blacks. I then added some overall clarity and desaturated the image to make it look more moody.

Tone curve

A strong S-curve is essential for this type of dark, moody edit. It looks pretty extreme without the final colour adjustments, but bear with me.

HSL

This is where the magic happens. As we’ve already established, with this particular image, there are only three colours present - aqua, blue and purple - so making adjustments to any of the other colours makes no difference to the photo.

You can see from the hue panel above that I’ve made the aqua much more blue, I’ve made the blue slightly more aqua, and I’ve pulled the purple all the way to the blue end. I’ve then completely desaturated the purple, and desaturated the blue and aqua as well. Finally, I brought some light to the seafloor by increasing the luminance of the aqua. All of these adjustments produces this final image:

Final image_dark storm.jpg

EDIT #4 - ICY FRESH

Basics panel

This edit is fairly warm but still has a red tint. I’ve pulled down the highlights here, which is a great way to get detail back from clouds or bright skies. I’ve dehazed the image quite a lot, which consequently means I have to increase the exposure. Then I’ve added some more contrast by decreasing the blacks and bringing up the whites. Once again, I’ve added full overall clarity and desaturated the colours but increased their vibrancy. If you wish you add saturation to your photos, I would suggest trying this out to avoid making the image look too overdone.

Tone curve

I’ve only used the tone curve subtly this time, and actually added a slight matte effect to the photo by lifting the blacks from the very bottom. Sometimes this effect can look really cool, especially with portraits, but be careful not to overdo it.

HSL

I think this panel is my favourite. It’s really where the magic happens. So with this edit, I’m going for an icy blue feel so I’m going to do some similar adjustments as I did with the previous ‘dark storm’ edit. I’ll add more blue to the aqua hues, make the blue a little more aqua, and take all the purple out. I want to desaturate the blue sky and the illuminate all the colours a little to brighten it up.

This is what these adjustments create:

Icy fresh - HSL edit.jpg

Split toning

Since this edit was supposed to be very blue, I wanted to add a little more blue to the overall image. So I did this using the split toning panel by adding a little touch of blue to the highlights. Split toning is a really useful tool to create subtle but effective colour changes to your photos without adjusting the white balance. I personally find that you can play around quite a lot with the highlights but adding too much saturation to the shadows can quickly make an image look over-processed.

And that’s it folks. I hope this tutorial helped you to understand my editing process and hopefully inspired you to try some different techniques with your own photos.

Let’s take one last look at all of the edits together.

I’ve personally used all of these styles in my images, however when I look at them all together like this, my absolute favourite is ‘Dark storm’. Which is yours?

Switching from Olympus to Aquatech - a review by Hannah Prewitt

A couple of months ago, I made the decision to upgrade my underwater equipment. I had gotten by just fine taking photos on my Olympus Pen (you can read all the details of this setup here). The photos looked nice and I got a great response from people about them. So great in fact, that I started getting lots of requests for prints of my work. It was then I realised that the sensor on this little budget camera was not good enough to print large, and while the shots looked fine on Instagram, they were cleverly hiding a lot of noise. So I decided that if I was going to be serious about being a photographer, I would need to invest a little more (well, a lot more) and upgrade my housing so that I could take my Nikon D750 underwater.

I deliberated a lot over what housing to choose. The options for this camera were fairly limited, which made it easy to narrow down. I was left with three choices: Nauticam, Ikelite, or Aquatech. Nauticam would be a great option for diving, however I was not about to put down nearly $5k on a housing. Aquatech have such a great reputation and some of my favourite photographers use this brand, so that’s pretty much how I made my decision. I was able to get a pretty good deal on this gear purchasing through Vagabond Photographic.

Aquatech elite sport housing review

Other than the camera that it houses, the main difference between my Olympus setup and Aquatech, is that Aquatech housings are only waterproof to 10 m. This was a real concern for me, as one of the main reasons I chose to upgrade when I did was so that I would have my new setup ready for a trip to the Bahamas - a diving trip. But I decided that if I wanted to shoot when I was diving then I could just use a GoPro, and I really needed a lot of natural light to get good shots anyway, so I figured I’d find a way around it. Which I did. I dived, and then had the boat captain lower my housing to around 5-7 m towards the end of the dive so I could take some photos in shallow water. Aside from that, I snorkelled with my housing and stayed shallower than 10 m. I was pretty nervous doing this, but I’m happy to report - no leaks.

Aquatech elite sport housing review

So what’s the main difference between the two camera setups? First of all, let me explain that I bought the Aquatech Elite Sport housing and not the basic one, which meant that I have full control over all my settings. Well, almost all. With my Olympus housing, I had access to every single setting. However, with Aquatech, there are a few things you need to set before you put the camera in, because you cannot change them after. These include: shooting mode (manual, aperture priority or shutter priority), focus mode (auto or manual), autofocus mode (single, continuous etc.), burst mode (single, high continuous etc.), and metering mode. So this requires a bit of planning beforehand. The only setting I wish I had access to while in the water is my autofocus mode, as I sometimes like to switch between single shot and continuous. But, hey ho.

Another thing to note is that not only do I have a different camera underwater, but I also have a different lens! The great thing about Aquatech housings are that you can purchase different ports for different lenses rather than having to buy the whole housing again if you want to use another lens. I chose to get a port for my 16-35 mm f/4-5.6 lens. The lens on my Olympus was 14-42 mm on a crop sensor camera, so it was not nearly as wide, and check out the difference… I love how thin that line is!

One of the downsides to having a more complex housing, is the time it takes to set up and de-kit. No more can I just lube up my o-ring and close the hatch. Now I have three o-rings to care for and I have to allow a lot more time to set things up. It probably takes me about 15 mins to set up and about 10 mins to de-kit, as you have to unscrew all the ports after you’re done as well. And one of the things that struck me most when reading the instructions on my Aquatech housing is that you do NOT put silicon grease on your o-ring. This is the first time I’ve ever seen this, and I had to check and double check that this was correct. The small amount of grease they provide is for any buttons that might get a little stuck. I would highly recommend watching the tutorial videos on Aquatech’s website when you first get your kit so that you feel confident putting everything together.

Aquatech elite sport housing review

One of the first things I remember when I tentatively got into the ocean with my Aquatech housing (after having tested it three times with no camera in a pool) was how unbelievably buoyant it is! I know there’s a fair bit of air in there but I wasn’t expecting it to be so different to my Olympus housing. When I took it on a shallow dive, I need a lot of extra weight on me just to stay at the same depth and I had to wear a weight belt freediving. On the plus side, it’s a great way to take a rest when you’re in the surf and bobbing about on the surface. It acts like a lifejacket!

Aquatech elite sport housing review

One thing I was told before I purchased my new housing was that if I shoot anything closer than 24 mm, the images will start to go soft. So I’ve used this to my advantage and created some deliberately soft ocean images like this one, which was shot at 35 mm.

Aquatech elite sport housing review

So, would I recommend an Aquatech housing? Yes, definitely. For me and the cameras I already owned, this was the right choice for me, and it keeps my options open to purchase different ports to take other lenses underwater without having to buy a whole new housing.

However, if you’re on a bit more of a budget and are looking for a versatile, low maintenance housing, I would highly recommend the Olympus housing and I would spend a little more on an up-to-date mirrorless camera to put inside.

I hope this review helps you if you are trying to decide what housing to purchase. If you have any other questions, please feel free to leave a comment or shoot me an email.

Switching to Aquatech.jpg

Swimming with sharks in the Bahamas by Hannah Prewitt

December was a pretty crazy month for me. I left Fiji, flew to Australia, picked up a new underwater housing for my camera and flew to the Bahamas. There was a very good reason I was desperate to get a decent housing for my Nikon camera - I was going to swim in some beautiful clear water and with a lot of sharks.

Swimming with sharks in the Bahamas.jpg

I was visiting my friend who is the part-owner of Ocean Fox dive centre on the island of Eleuthera. This very unknown but amazing place, also happens to be the host location of Shark School - a shark behaviour education program that enables anyone to swim safely with sharks. If I wanted to get some photos of sharks swimming in shallow water, this was the place to do it.

The first time I went in the water, we were just snorkelling and hoping to see something cool. We didn’t end up seeing any sharks, but I couldn’t believe how clear the water was (and I’m used to swimming in pretty clear water!). So I got my friend and my husband to freedive so I could get some beautiful underwater photos.

Freediving in the Bahamas.jpg

Apparently this water isn’t even that clear compared to what it’s like in summer. Needless to say I’ll be visiting again in summer!

I was slightly disappointed we hadn’t seen any sharks on our snorkel, so the next day we went diving to a site where we were guaranteed to see them - the aptly named Shark City. As we pulled up to the site, there were sharks already swimming around the boat. It had been a pretty long time since I’d swum with sharks so I was VERY excited to get in the water. I remember rolling off the boat and looking down and seeing this:

Swimming with sharks in the Bahamas-2.jpg

Not for one moment did I ever feel scared or threatened, but there is something very comforting about wearing dive gear. We pretty much spent the entire dive sat on the sand and watching the sharks swim up, check you out and then swim off. It was magic.

But deeper water isn’t really my thing from a photographic point of view. I wanted to see these animals just below the surface, under the natural light of the sun. So on the surface interval, I did just that. Following a very strict set of instructions on how to behave in the water, and what not to do to overexcite the sharks, I got in on my own to shoot. I hate to admit it, but this time, I WAS nervous.

And rightly so. Since there were no divers in the water this time, it looked more like this:

Swimming with sharks in the Bahamas-3.jpg

This was shot at 16 mm, so these sharks were a lot closer than they appear. And there were lots of them. Some were about 6-7 ft long, which looks a lot bigger when it’s swimming straight towards you. The ocean was pretty choppy at the surface too, which made keeping my composure and shooting all the more difficult. I held onto the back of the boat by a rope, maintained a vertical position with my body and was careful not to kick bubbles into the sharks faces, and managed to get a few photos I was happy with.

Swimming with sharks in the Bahamas-4.jpg

After this experience, I honestly wasn’t sure if I wanted to get back in the water snorkelling with them again. It was pretty nerve-wracking and difficult to shoot with intention. But I wanted more photos. So we decided to take a different approach and go without anyone else and just swim at the site without having dived beforehand. This way the sharks were much more relaxed and the whole experience was completely different.

Swimming with sharks in the Bahamas-5.jpg

We still had to be careful not to excite the sharks by kicking too hard or splashing around, but we were able to freedive down and swim right next to them, which made it a lot easier to get photos.

Swimming with sharks in the Bahamas-6.jpg
Swimming with sharks in the Bahamas-7.jpg
Swimming with sharks in the Bahamas-8.jpg
Swimming with sharks in the Bahamas-9.jpg

My aim with these images was to show sharks for what they really are - graceful and beautiful, and not at all interested in eating humans. However, they are to be respected and I wouldn’t recommend swimming in these conditions without understanding the species and how they interpret human behaviour in the water.

I would highly recommend this experience (in this location particularly) to anyone, especially if you are afraid of sharks. It was incredible and unforgettable and I’ll definitely be heading back when the water is even clearer!

If you have any questions at all or are interested in going here yourself, please feel free to contact me and I’ll put you in touch with the right people.

Swimming with sharks

How to take amazing surfing photos every time by Hannah Prewitt

Surfing was one of the reasons that I got into photography. Even though I’m now a surfer myself, I still love to shoot surfers. Especially good ones. Admittedly, when I first started taking photos, I would shoot on auto sport mode and think I was taking good photos. A couple of them were okay, I suppose. As my knowledge of photography has progressed, so has my ability to take great surfing photos. So now I’d like to share my top tips with you.

Just to be clear, this is not a beginner’s guide to surf photography so I’m assuming that you understand you’ll need a fast shutter speed, and a long lens. Also, these tips are NOT water-specific. They are aimed at those shooting from land or a boat, but can obviously be applied to shooting in the water as well.

Firstly, let’s go back in time to four years ago, before I even owned a camera and have a look at some of my very first surfing photos…

How to take amazing surfing photos every time-11.jpg

This is a shot of my husband, who is an amazing surfer and an absolute pleasure to shoot when it’s pumping. So it’s pretty easy to get a decent photo of him. And I think you’d agree that this one looks half decent. I’m sure most surfers would be fairly happy with this shot to post on their social media. But when we zoom in, you can see that the image isn’t sharp, the white water is pretty blown out, and it’s not very easy to make out his face.

Compare that with this shot taken much more recently, and you can see a noticeable difference in quality.

How to take amazing surfing photos every time-12.jpg

So how do you turn your surfing photos from average to ones people are willing to pay for?

Here are my top tips :)

Tip #1 - Use back-button focus

I randomly read about this somewhere and decided to try it for myself, and since making this adjustment to my camera I would never ever go back to using shutter-button focus. Even for general photography. The way your camera focuses now (unless you’ve changed it) is by half-pressing the shutter button. Which means that when you stop shooting, you then have to re-focus on the subject before you can shoot it again. When photographing surfers, this could easily mean that you miss the money shot. When I used to use shutter-button focus, probably only 60% of my shots were in focus. Once I switched to back-button focus, 95% of my shots were in focus.

So what is back-button focus? Well, it’s basically where you assign another button (ideally one on the back of the camera where your thumb naturally sits) to focus for you, leaving the shutter button to just take the photo. Which means that you can keep your focus button pressed ensuring your subject stays in focus while you choose when to press the shutter button and take a shot. Try this out and I promise you, it will totally change your surf photography.

Tip #2 – use 3D-tracking focus

This is another tip to help you focus on your subject but not all cameras are capable of it. I shoot with either the Nikon D750 or the D7200, both of which have this focus mode. You’ll find it under the continuous focus options and it basically tracks the subject for you as it moves. Very clever! Again, this will help to get almost all of your shots in perfect focus!

Tip #3 – shoot in high speed burst mode

This seems pretty obvious but if you shoot in single shot mode, then you have to keep pressing the shutter button every time you want to take a photo, which can waste valuable time and can mean that you miss the best action. Shooting in high burst mode means you just hold the shutter and your camera will take lots of photos split seconds apart from each other, giving you a nice sequence of a turn and ensuring you get the moment with the most spray.

Tip #4 – use a fast SD card

I used to think that all SD cards were the same, just different sizes. I was wrong. If you want to shoot in high speed mode (which you do), then you’ll need an SD card that is fast enough to write the images to it as quickly as you’re taking them. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself holding down the shutter but not actually taking any photos! Some brands are also more reliable than others. The last thing you want when you’ve made the effort to go somewhere to shoot is for your SD card to give you an error message. I would recommend SanDisk over every other brand. This card linked below is extremely affordable and writes more than quick enough for the needs of most surf photographers.

Tip #5 – have a basic understanding of surfing

In order for you to shoot great pictures of surfers, you need to understand what it is that surfers are looking for in an image. This is why most surf photographers do, or used to, surf themselves. It really helps to understand the sport. But, if you’re not quite there yet, then here are a few examples of surfing money shots:

How to take amazing surfing photos every time-4.jpg

A great bottom turn – you’re looking for the board to be on its rail as much as possible. If you can see fins or spray coming off the board, you’re winning.

Spray – if a surfer pulls off a great turn, they’re probably going to want the shot with the most spray in it.

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Deep in the barrel – it doesn’t matter if they make it out or not – get a shot where they look super deep and they’ll want that photo.

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Airs – if you see a surfer gaining some speed, chances are they might be headed to the air. It doesn’t matter if they land it or not, just that you get the evidence.

It’s also great to shoot the entire sequence of someone’s wave because they can use it for coaching purposes and a fast sequence acts like a video but with better stills. Plus it gives the surfer more options to choose from so they’re more likely to buy from you.

Tip #6 – if possible, get the surfer to wear something bright

Your camera’s autofocus works using contrast. Most surfers like to wear dark colours, which means #1 it makes it difficult for you to pick them out of a busy line-up, and #2 it can make it more difficult for your camera to focus from a distance against the dark water if the sun isn’t out. On that note, if you’re a surfer, be conspicuous and you’re more likely to get photos!

Tip #7 – try to avoid shooting into the sun

Unless you’re looking for arty shots that are silhouetted, try to avoid shooting at the time of day where you’re going to be shooting into the sun. So if the wave faces west, sunset might not be the best time shoot if you want crisp clear images.

How to take amazing surfing photos every time-14.jpg

Tip #8 – consider the white water in your exposure

If you’re shooting on a big day, you might want to consider how much white will appear in your image quite quickly. You won’t have time to change your exposure mid-wave, so just bear in mind that you might want to underexpose the image to start with, to ensure that you don’t massively blow out the highlights. You might not be bothered about seeing the details in the white water, but it can sometimes make for an interesting shot, like this one below that I can see all sorts of faces in!

How to take amazing surfing photos every time-8.jpg

Those are my top tips that hopefully will help your surf photography. If you’ve got any of your own that I haven’t mentioned, please leave me a comment. I’m always looking to keep learning and improving.

How to take amazing surfing photos every time

Deconstructing my photos - October favourites by Hannah Prewitt

I’d never really thought about looking back at my past images until I read Mikko Lagerstedt’s blog post about how to find inspiration for your photography. By the way if you haven’t checked out his blog, please do. He’s one of the only photographers I’ve come across who write about his process to stay motivated and inspired, which is the kind of stuff I love to read.

Anyway, I got this idea from him to analyse my past work. The idea is that by focusing on the best images I’ve created, it will inspire me to create more, to help me find my direction, and also create work that others like to look at too (I know they say you should create for yourself but knowing that other people appreciate my work is part of what keeps me going). So I decided to start doing this for my most liked image (on the gram), and my personal favourite image each month. And I figured, if it helps me, then it might help you too.

So this first image has actually been my most liked on Instagram of all time, but it also happens to be one of my favourites.

How to deconstruct your photos - 1.jpg

What is the main subject?

The ocean - shallow, clear, tropical water.

What colours are used?

An icy aqua blue.

What is the overall composition?

I’m asking myself this question because, if I’m honest, I feel that composition is the creative part of photography that I find the most difficult. But by studying this image, it’s actually really obvious that it’s horizontally symmetrical.

Deconstructing my images - composition.png

What do you like about the image?

This shot draws me in. The perspective makes me feel like I am under the water right now. I also love the reflections on the surface.

What don’t you like about the image?

I wish it was just a little bit sharper, and less noise in the background.

How could you improve it?

I shot this at an aperture of f/8, so I could use a narrower aperture to achieve a greater depth of field. It could also be more interesting if there were something swimming in the background, so I could try a Photoshop addition.

This second shot is my personal favourite from the whole month. I just love it.

How to deconstruct your photos - 2.jpg

What is the main subject?

An isolated tropical island.

What colours are used?

A steely blue and muted emerald green.

What is the overall composition?

The island is vertically centred in the image but the split in the ocean is slightly lower and adheres more to the rule of thirds. The clouds and vignette of the water also act as leading lines towards the island.

Deconstructing my photos looking at composition.png

What do you like about the image?

I love the colours and the simplicity of this shot. I also love that it’s not completely symmetrical. I think the clouds on the left side offset the shot nicely. 

What don’t you like about the image?

The water line is a bit too thick (which is because of my equipment) and there is a slight blur to the bottom of the island. I’d also like the seafloor to be a bit more in focus.

How could you improve it?

I could stop down the aperture from f/8 to achieve a deeper depth of field and pay closer attention to water droplets on my dome port.

I’ve asked myself some pretty basic questions here, but by doing so, it’s forcing me to analyse my images and hopefully help me to think more about future photos I take, rather than just clicking away.

I hope this helps you too, and if anyone needs some direction, I’d be more than happy to help!

October image deconstruction.jpg

5 incredibly inspiring photography documentaries to kickstart your creativity by Hannah Prewitt

Ever find yourself in a creative slump? I do, quite often. I actually wrote a blog post about how to get out of one, which you can read here. My last suggestion in this post was to watch some inspiring documentaries or videos about photography. This is the one thing that always seems to work for me when I'm in need of a motivation boost. So I’d like to share with you my favourite videos, to save you from scouring the internet for your own. They’re all quite different, some are longer than others, but I personally find them all incredibly inspiring, and I hope you do too!

1.     ARCTIC SWELL – SURFING THE ENDS OF THE EARTH

This documentary is similar to the one on Netflix called Under an Arctic Sky, which is an absolute must-see. This shorter video goes more behind the scenes with photographer Chris Burkard and his expeditions to the arctic to shoot surfers in freezing water. Even if you’re not interested in surfing or photography, you might feel inspired by his pure dedication to his craft.

2.     CAPTURING THE PERFECT WAVE WITH PHOTOGRAPHER CLARK LITTLE

This short video from Nikon Europe documents the story of Clark Little and how he got into photography. He started photography later in life with no formal education, just like myself, so I personally find this one really inspirational to me.

3.     NIKON D5: INSPIRED – BEHIND THE SCENES

This is a promo video from Nikon Asia for the Nikon D5 and shot exclusively on the Nikon D5. It goes behind the scenes with a fashion photographer, sports photographer, wildlife photographer, a photojournalist, and a motorsports photographer. Even though I’m not particularly interested in all these types of photography, I find each person inspirational in the way they talk so passionately about their work.

4.     NINE PHOTO COMPOSITION TIPS (FT. STEVE MCCURRY)

As someone who learnt photography almost entirely from YouTube, I’ve watched a lot of photography tutorials. This short 3-minute video stayed with me as one to remember. The tips are to-the-point, easy to understand and inspirational for a reason that I can’t quite put my finger on.

5.     DAVID YARROW REVEALS HIS PHOTOGRAPHY SECRETS – LEARN PHOTOGRAPHY

This last one is possibly my favourite. I find David Yarrow very likeable and his work is simply jaw-dropping. He claims that in 12 months, he takes only 6 great images. Again, I think I’m inspired by his dedication to getting that perfect shot. If you only watch one of these videos I’ve suggested, make sure it’s this one.

best inspirational photography videos

A beginner's guide to shooting the stars. Part II - editing by Hannah Prewitt

Now that we’ve learnt how to take a photo of the stars (see part 1 - shooting), it’s time to learn how to edit your image. It’s likely that when you load your shot to your computer, the image will look really dark. Honestly, mine look almost black. However, there is a lot of data in that image that can be brought out with some careful and simple tweaking in Adobe Lightroom. Let’s get started.

For this example I’m going to show you how to turn this shot straight out of the camera (on the left) to a beautiful processed image (on the right). I love the crazy transformation!

Note how dark the image looks before processing, and how much detail we can bring out in post.

Note how dark the image looks before processing, and how much detail we can bring out in post.

The settings for this shot are: 15 secs, f/4.0, ISO 400. Because there are some artificial lights in this shot, I was very aware of not blowing out these highlights. If the lights were not on, then I would have used a longer exposure time and a slightly higher ISO.

BASICS PANEL

The first thing we’ll need to do in Lightroom is bring up the exposure quite a lot. I’ve brought this up to +4.10. Which tells me that I probably should have exposed my original shot a little more, since I can only bring up the exposure in post-processing to +5, which I’m pretty close to. So I’ll remember that for next time!

Exposure +4.10

Exposure +4.10

Now you can see that the area where the artificial lights have now been blown out so we want to bring down the highlights to rebalance the image. Let’s bring it down to -47.

Highlights -47

Highlights -47

I’d like to bring out some of the details in the foreground so I’m going to lift the shadows a little, to +45. I’m doing this for this shot because the foreground is interesting. However, if you had a silhouette in the foreground, then I would decrease the shadows to accentuate the silhouette.

Shadows +45

Shadows +45

Now the shot is starting to take some form, so let’s bump up the contrast to make it pop a little more. I’m also going to bring up the blacks to +19, which will help to bring out a little more light in the darker parts of the image.

Contrast +44; blacks +19

Contrast +44; blacks +19

Now that our image is looking pretty good, let’s play around with the white balance. I personally like my star photos to look as natural as possible, so let’s adjust the temperature to 3,400 and add a tint of red +7.

The next thing I’m going to do is add some clarity to the image. I don’t normally add much clarity to my photos but for star photos, it really adds some good punch. Let’s add +39 clarity.

Temperature 3,400; tint +7; clarity +39

Temperature 3,400; tint +7; clarity +39

We can see the shot looks a bit more defined, now I’d like to add a bit more punch to the colours, so let’s add a bit of vibrance and saturation. Be careful not to go too overboard with these.

Vibrance +18; saturation +13

Vibrance +18; saturation +13

That’s pretty much it for the basics panel. Now let’s go to the Tone Curve. I want to bring out some of the highlights a little more using this curve, so I made a curve like this. Try it out on your shot and see if it brings out the milky way.

Now let’s move down to the Detail panel. Sharpening your image is essential, and so is reducing the noise, especially with an astro shot. These are the edits I made, but it will vary depending on your particular photo.

You can see the before sharpening and noise reduction (left) and after (right) and how much better it looks. TIP: always zoom in to 100% when making detail adjustments so you can really see what effect you’re having on the image.

 

DETAILS

Now it’s time to bring out some magic in the milky way. This involves some colour adjustments and accentuating the white of the stars. I do this using radial filters. First I like to apply a radial filter over the whole of the milky way. I have a preset for this, but the basic adjustments involve increasing highlights and whites, adding clarity and adjusting the temperature to add some warm and pinkish tones. You can see now the milky way looks much better.

Now it’s up to you if you want to make any more adjustments. Remember, there is no right or wrong way to edit an image – it’s all about personal style. I personally think that the milky way looks a little purple, so I added another radial filter on top to add some more yellow tones.

Beginner's guide to editing star photos

I’m pretty happy with how this shot looks so I decided to stop editing here. You can always add a few more adjustments, such as smaller radial filters over parts of the milky way to bring out the whites or adjust the colour slightly. If you wanted to, you could even apply a tiny radial filter over individual stars to make them pop a little more, or add some warmer tones to the artificial lights on the house. Other photographers probably have different ways of editing their night time photos but if you’re not sure where to start, try increasing exposure, whites and clarity, and then play around with your colours. Soon you’ll be able to transform an image from this….

How to edit night time star photos for beginners

to this!

how to edit night time star photos

A beginner's guide to shooting the stars by Hannah Prewitt

I’m not sure that I feel qualified to write a tutorial on astro photography, but it’s been personally requested, and I have been able to successfully produce some pretty nice night photos without any assistance so I must have some idea what I’m talking about. However, by no means do I consider myself an expert on the subject, so if you have any tips for me, please leave them in the comments below. So let’s call this ‘A beginner’s guide to star photography’.

I’m going to try and make this as simple as possible, so this first part will be about how to physically shoot the image. Then I’ll write another post explaining how to edit your image.

Location

I’m not going to talk too much about locations, because basically, you can shoot the night sky anywhere, assuming you’re outside. However, you want to try to minimise light pollution so that you can really see the stars clearly. So try to get as far away from cities and houses as you can. If you can get to a beach, or rural area, a field or mountain, they should all work pretty well.

How to shoot the stars photography tutorial for beginners

Composition

If you’re just aiming to get a photo of the milky way, then point your camera in that direction and get clicking. However, if you want to make your image a bit more interesting then we want to try and get something else in the image as well. Find something to silhouette, or put something in the foreground, or even get someone to stand still in your photo. I personally find composition one of the most difficult things about shooting at night because it’s hard to see in the dark. So you’ll have to take a few test shots just to check that you’re actually shooting what you think you are.

Equipment

Usually I say that equipment doesn’t matter, but when it comes to shooting in very low light, it does. You will need a tripod. A good one. It’s really important that your camera stays absolutely still while the shutter is open, otherwise your image will not be sharp. In terms of the camera itself, ideally you want to shoot with a full frame sensor, but if you only have a crop one, that will work too. With regards to lenses, you’re probably going to want to use a nice wide angle lens if you have one, so that you get as much in the image as possible. I shoot all my night photos at 16 mm, which is perfect for getting in the whole milky way as well as something in the foreground (remember if you’re using a crop frame camera then 16 mm will be the equivalent of about 24 mm depending on the camera model). You will also need to have access to Adobe Lightroom or equivalent editing software.

How to shoot the stars photography tutorial

SETTINGS

 First of all, you must shoot in RAW. If you don’t already, then now is the best time to start. I remember reading a blog back in the day by a photographer who regretted not switching to raw earlier. I ignored it because I didn’t understand the reason behind it, and now I wish I’d done it earlier. Basically, a jpeg is a lossy file, which means that it loses data and really limits your editing potential. The only time I shoot in jpeg now is when I’m shooting a lot of surfers and I need to save space, and I know I won’t be doing much editing at all.

The next thing we want to do is set our focus. The autofocus on your camera works by using contrast, which it will struggle to find at night because everywhere is dark. If you have a very bright spot, you might be able to use autofocus, but I always switch to manual. You then have two options. You can either set your manual focus to almost infinity when it’s still light and then tape the focus ring in place, or you can use your camera’s live view and zoom in on the stars and set your focus, which is what I do.

I also read somewhere that you should turn off your lens’ image stabilisation if you have it, so I do that too.

We will also need to use our camera in manual mode. If you’re not yet comfortable shooting in full manual mode, now is a good time to start that as well. In terms of the settings we choose, think of your camera as needing access to as much light as possible.

So you’ll need to use a nice wide aperture, but not so wide that the image is blurry. I use f/4 because that’s the widest my lens will shoot at, but f/2.8 would work great too. Then we can set our ISO. We’ll need to bump this up a little but not so much that there is excessive noise in our image. So it really depends on the capabilities of your camera. Most blogs will tell you to start at an ISO of 1600 (which is pretty high if your camera isn’t great), and then move up from there, but I’ve managed to achieve great images with an ISO as low as 400. It also depends on how much light is in your shot. I would start at 800 and adjust as needed. Be aware that the photo on your camera will look very dark! But not to worry, we’ll be bringing out all the data in Lightroom afterwards.

For your shutter speed, we need to use something called the 500 rule to calculate the longest shutter speed we can use with our specific lens in order to maintain a sharp image. The rule is simple. Divide 500 your focal length. So I use a focal length of 16 mm, so 500/16 is 31.25, which means that I can use a shutter speed up to 30 seconds and still get a sharp image. If I were shooting at let’s say 24 mm, then 500/24 is 20.8, so I would need to keep my shutter speed at 20 seconds or less. Unless of course, you want to get a blurry shot. Star trails look amazing. I haven’t personally done them because I don’t have a remote timer, but if you want to try this, then set your shutter speed to bulb (it took me SO long to discover what this was!) and you can then manually set your timer.

For your white balance, well I don’t ever set my white balance unless I’m shooting underwater. If you shoot in raw, you have full control over your white balance in post, so just set it to auto and forget about it.

And that’s pretty much it! Here’s a nice summary of the settings you can use. Remember that this is just a guide to get you started, and you will probably need to adjust things a little.

Star photography settings for beginners

How I've improved my photography this year by Hannah Prewitt

This year seems to have been a bit of a turning point for my photography career. It is not yet my full-time job, but I have been putting in some ground work so that hopefully one day, I can call myself a full-time professional photographer. While it’s great to keep planning for the future, it’s good sometimes to look back and see how far I’ve come. So here are some things that I’ve done this year that have helped me on my path.

I tried some different styles of photography. Even though I’m pretty certain that ocean photography is my favourite type, there’s no point in restricting myself to just that. And I would like to be a bit of a jack of all trades, since most people assume that if you call yourself a photographer, that you can do any type of photography. So I stepped out of my comfort zone and tried my hand at some portraits, night photography, and motion blurs.

stars.jpg

I’ve watched tonnes of YouTube tutorials. The great thing about photography these days is that you can learn everything about it online. There is so much material out there (most of it good), and I’ve made the time to sit and watch a lot of videos to teach myself how to use Photoshop, how to do astro photography, how to take portraits etc. Listed below are some of my favourite channels:

Phlearn – I’ve used this channel a lot to learn how to use Photoshop. This is such a complicated program, and these are the only tutorials I’ve found that actually explain why you’re doing what you’re doing. They also do some great Lightroom tutorials as well.

Mango Street – I love how concise and to-the-point these videos are. I also love how dedicated this couple are to achieving their goals. My favourite video from this channel is the one about their first year on YouTube.

Peter McKinnon – this guy managed to get more than 1 million subscribers in just one year for a reason. His videos can be a little long-winded sometimes but his tutorials are great. Check out his Two Minute Tuesday playlist for short tutorials.

Julia Trotti – Julia’s channel is based around portrait and fashion photography, which is not an area of particular to me, but I really enjoy her behind-the-scenes vlogs. She also posts some good tutorials for editing portraits, which is what I used to help me edit the few portraits I’ve done.

Portrait editing tutorial.jpg

I’ve networked. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt this year, it’s that networking is the most important thing you can do to advance your brand. Nowadays it’s unbelievably easy to network using social media, so there’s really no excuse to not do it.

I reached out to some brands. I contacted a brand that suited my style of photography and asked them for some products to shoot. I thought it was a long shot at the time, but they’d re-posted a couple of my shots on Instagram so I figured they must like my work. To my surprise and delight, they got straight back to me and let me choose whatever I wanted from their website in exchange for some marketing photos.

I wrote some tutorials. I believe that the best way to learn something properly is to teach it to someone else. So I challenged myself to write some tutorials on subjects that I felt comfortable with – taking split photos and motion panning photos.

All these things have helped me progress with my photography skills as well as helped with getting my work out there for people to see. If anybody else has some ideas, I'd love to hear them! Just leave them in the comments below.

Photography blog - How I've improved my photography

How to get out of a creative slump by Hannah Prewitt

Like most creatives, I go through serious ups and downs with my photography. I can go weeks sometimes without picking up a camera. If I were to pick one up, I just wouldn't know what to shoot. The motivation is just not there. I don't enjoy these slumps and they can be difficult to get out of. One thing I try not to do is to beat myself up about it. It will naturally come to an end and you will be creative once again. The one thing that helps me more than anything else is to find inspiration from other photographers. 

If any of you are currently experiencing the same thing, hopefully these tips will help you to re-discover your creativity.

Create a board on Pinterest called "Why do I love these photos?" Scour the internet for photos that catch your eye for whatever reason, and save them to your board. You can make this board secret on Pinterest so you don't have to worry about other people seeing what you're pinning. When I did this for the first time I discovered that I actually like different types of images to the ones I’m creating. Most of the images I saved were minimalistic, simple, calm. These are the images that I’m drawn to. Since then I’ve found that I’ve started seeing things slightly differently, and have started creating similar images, like these:

Try a new type of photography. As many of you know, I usually photograph the tropics, particularly the ocean. Recently I was at home in the UK and didn't have any subjects that would suit my current style. So I decided to try my hand at portrait photography. Something I'd never tried before. My twin sister was a willing model and we just practiced taking simple portraits in the garden. This also forced me to learn how to do skin re-touching in Photoshop - a skill that will always be useful.

Portraits-2.jpg

Step away from the camera AND social media. The photography world is oversaturated thanks to iPhones and Instagram. Everyone calls themselves a photographer these days. It’s easy to see all these accounts that have large followings and feel depressed about your own work. Sometimes the best thing you can do is to relieve yourself of the pressure to take a photo that other people will like and just enjoy being outside in the environment that you would usually shoot, but camera-free. See things through your eyes for a while rather than through a lens.

Find great photography blogs to follow. My absolute favourite blog site for photographers is by Kat Nielsen of @the.creative.series. She has taken the time to put together interviews from tons of different types of photographers so there's something for everyone. You can find her work here. Incidentally, I'm featured in the Ocean Photographers section :)

Blog.jpg

Watch inspirational photography videos or documentaries. There's lots of inspiring stuff on Netflix but there's also a lot on Youtube. I love this short film from Nikon that advertises the D5 by giving it to various photographers to test.

I hope these tips help you a little. If you have any other ideas, I'd love to know! Please leave them in the comments below.

Photography inspiration - How to get out of a creative slump

What equipment do you use? by Hannah Prewitt

I think this is the question that photographers get asked more than any other. I actually find it slightly offensive - as if the only reason I've managed to take a good photo is because I have an expensive camera. That's not true. Give an amazing camera to someone who doesn't know how to use it and see for yourself that it's not all about equipment.

Olympus pen and housing.jpg

I bought my first camera four years ago, and I still use it now. I bought it because I wanted a camera and underwater housing package that was reasonably priced and decent enough quality to take good shots in shallow water. Nothing too fancy. The camera itself is an Olympus Pen E-PL5, which is a Micro Four Thirds mirrorless camera. It has a cool flip-out touch screen and is super lightweight and easy to travel with. It came with a 14-42 mm kit lens, which is wide enough for me to snap some decent half and half photos.

Olympus underwater housing

The housing I use is pretty basic. It's the Olympus PT-EP10 housing, which comes with a standard flat port, but I also purchased a dome port from Zen Underwater. I've had this camera for 4 years and only had to replace the o-ring once. Now I'm spending more and more time in the water shooting, I'd really love to upgrade this setup!

Nikon camera equipment

The rest of my equipment is Nikon. Lots of people make a fuss about what brand you use, but I really don't think it matters. I chose Nikon because the person who inspired me to buy a camera was a Nikon user, and helped me choose my equipment. If he had been a Canon user, I would be a Canon user as well.

I have two camera bodies - a full frame D750 and a D7200 crop frame. Why do I need two cameras? Because cameras fail. If you're serious about being a professional photographer, you need a back-up camera. Also, the crop frame helps me get even closer when I'm shooting surfers from a distance.

Nikon lenses

I have four lenses. A Nikkor 50 mm f/1.8 prime lens, which is my most recent purchase and is the widest aperture lens I have. A Nikkor 24-120 mm kit lens, which came with the D750 and is a decent all-rounder if you need something versatile. I have a Nikkor 16-35 mm f/4 as my wide angle, which is my favourite lens for landscapes and if I had a housing, I'd take this lens underwater as well. Then I have a Nikkor 80-400 mm telephoto lens, which is the monster on the right. The shots I can get of surfers from a distance with this lens are incomprehensibly sharp. I also get a lot of compliments from strangers when I'm walking round with this bad boy.

And that's it. I have a Pelican case that I take as carry-on when I travel and I just about manage to fit everything in it if I pack it in a very specific way! It fits every airline dimension restrictions but if I'm honest, it weighs about 15kg when full. Somehow I've gotten away with it every time...

Cloudbreak - the swell of the decade by Hannah Prewitt

The morning of Sunday 27th May was dark, windy and wet. It was also my first wedding anniversary. Perhaps not the best day to plan a surf shoot, but rumour had it that the biggest swell since 2012 was going to hit Fiji. So we waited anxiously for the tide to start to fill in before putting on our rain jackets and heading out to Cloudbreak. This infamous wave that I'd been so thrilled to see for the first time a few weeks ago. I thought it was big then. How wrong I was. 

As we approached the break, you could see the spray from hundreds of metres away. And the boats. So many boats. I don't have that much experience shooting from a boat, but I've never had to compete with 60 other boats for a good spot. Factor in the rain and wind, and this would be the most challenging shoot I've ever done.

Cloudbreak thundercloud swell 2018-12.jpg

It's hard to describe the feeling of being so close to something so powerful. Your body is tense and your heart is racing the whole time. Just the waves on their own are majestic, fierce and some of the most beautiful things I've ever witnessed in nature.

Cloudbreak thundercloud swell 2018-4.jpg

Even the highly experienced watermen who are around big waves all the time seemed to be delighted by the spectacle.

Cloudbreak thundercloud swell 2018-3.jpg

To comprehend the size of these waves, you really need to have a something in the shot for scale.

Cloudbreak thundercloud swell 2018.jpg

There were no turns. The aim was to get as shacked as you could and make it out the other side alive.

Cloudbreak thundercloud swell 2018-11.jpg
Cloudbreak thundercloud swell 2018-2.jpg
Cloudbreak thundercloud swell 2018-9.jpg
Cloudbreak thundercloud swell 2018-6.jpg

Emotions ran high, especially for those who had to be rescued by jet ski after what was possibly the best wave of their life.

Cloudbreak thundercloud swell 2018-7.jpg

I have so much admiration for the commitment it takes to paddle yourself into a wave this size. Talk about a steep drop! 

Cloudbreak swell.jpg

Finding the right spot to shoot photos was difficult. Boats starting getting deeper and deeper to get a clear view. But there were some wide sets that kept the captains on their toes.

Cloudbreak thundercloud swell 2018-10.jpg

Just when I thought my day couldn't get any better, Kelly turns up to get a couple. 

Cloudbreak thundercloud swell 2018-8.jpg

I think this is my favourite shot of the day. While it's not possible to portray the thunderous roar these waves make when they break, I think this image depicts the chaos, the adrenalin, and the thrill of what it's like to shoot at Cloudbreak during a monster swell.

Cloudbreak thundercloud swell 2018-5.jpg

Tutorial: How to take perfect underwater split photos by Hannah Prewitt

One of my favourite types of photos to shoot are split photos - where you can see underwater and above water at the same time. I just love the glimpse into both worlds. But they can be quite difficult to get right, so here are a few tips on how you can take your own split photos.

1/1000, f/13, ISO 400

1/1000, f/13, ISO 400

First of all, you're obviously going to need a camera that you can take underwater. Ideally, you're want to use a wide angle lens paired with a dome port. I have an Olympus Pen E-PL5 with a 14 mm lens and Olympus housing with a 7" dome port. The dome port helps to widen the image by moving the water further away from the lens. However, you don't need this setup. GoPro's are already extremely wide and you can even get basic waterproof covers with dome lenses for your smartphone these days!

1/1600, f/8, ISO 200

1/1600, f/8, ISO 200

There's nothing more frustrating than getting the perfect split shot to find a massive water droplet on the above part of the image. To avoid this, before you enter the water, be sure to spit on the lens. That's right, spit all over it. I like to actually lick my entire dome port before entering the water. I picked up this tip from legendary wave photographer Clark Little if that makes it a little less gross.

1/2000, f/8, ISO 320

1/2000, f/8, ISO 320

Ok, settings. You're going to need a pretty fast shutter speed to capture the moving water, especially if the conditions aren't perfect. I would recommend something faster than 1/800 but depends on how flat the day is. The aperture is up to you. If you want to get everything above the water and below in focus, then you'll need to use a narrow aperture. But try out some wide apertures as well, to get some different artistic water shots.

1/3200, f/3.8, ISO 200

1/3200, f/3.8, ISO 200

I would also recommend shooting in high burst mode. That way, you're likely to get at least one great image from a burst, especially if the water is a bit choppy.

I hope these tips are helpful for you to achieve this type of image. One of the best things about these shots are that no two are ever the same, and if you're lucky, something awesome might just swim into your photo!

1/800, f/16, ISO 800

1/800, f/16, ISO 800

Underwater split photos tutorial

Tutorial: How to create beautiful ocean panning shots by Hannah Prewitt

Recently, I posted a couple of ocean panning images on social media. People responded really well to them, and I quickly received a lot of questions asking how to do a shot like that. So, I thought I'd write a quick tutorial explaining my process.

2.5s, f/22, ISO 64

2.5s, f/22, ISO 64

Technique

So what's the technique? Well, it's a panning shot, which means that you need to move the camera whilst taking the image. So ideally, you'll need a tripod to keep your camera nice and steady, but I have achieved many great panning shots without one, just using my body to stabilise the camera as much as possible. While the shutter is open, you'll need to slowly move your camera from left to right. I personally like to start moving the camera before pressing the shutter, as I find it helps to make the shot much smoother.

1.6s, f/9, ISO 320

1.6s, f/9, ISO 320

Settings

This type of shot is a long exposure, which means that the shutter is open for a relatively long time. How long is up to you. Start with 1 second, and then experiment around that. I usually find that 1.6 seconds creates a pretty good image. Of course it depends on what you're shooting and how fast everything is moving. Play around with it to find what works for you. Chances are, you'll have to take quite a few shots before getting one you're happy with. Bear in mind, that because we're doing a long exposure, you'll need it to either be dark enough to avoid blowing out your image, or use an ND filter if there is too much light.

2s, f/14, ISO 200

2s, f/14, ISO 200

What do you shoot?

Obviously we're shooting the ocean. But what the waves are doing is going to have a huge impact on your final image. The image above was taken from the clifftop overlooking a peeling point break in Bali. But shooting from the shore of a beach break is going to give you different results, because the waves are more shifty and there's probably going to be some white water (which is how I achieved the different colours in this shot below).

1.6s, f/4.5, ISO 400

1.6s, f/4.5, ISO 400

Also, if you have clouds in your photo, then the final image will look different compared to a clear sky. Personally, I think clear skies work best.

And it's as simple as that! Hopefully you're now able to take your own awesome ocean panning shots. Please feel free to tag me or send me your images. I'd love to see them!

Tutorial how to create beautiful ocean panning photos

Tutorial: How to make your underwater photos really POP by Hannah Prewitt

I always find it fascinating to see how people edit their images. I love to see before and after shots. I know a lot of photographers don’t agree with editing photos, but personally, I find it just as much fun as taking the shots in the first place. For me, it is an art, my creative outlet. I’ve received quite a few questions about how I make the water in my photos look so clear and detailed, so I’d like to share how I edited this image of silver fishes swimming.

I’d like to start off by showing you what the original image looked like straight from the camera.

Pretty shocking right? Most people would probably look right past this image. You can see that the water wasn’t very clear that day and I didn’t really expose the shot very well. However, this image can be saved because (1) I shot in RAW, and (2) the sun was out - this is very important for underwater photos.

After I did my edits in Lightroom (I won’t cover that here), you can see that the image looks 100 x better.

Fishes with lighroom edits.jpg

But it’s still not quite as punchy as I’d like it. All the data is there, I just need to coax it out a little more. This is where I use Google Nix Color Efex Pro. Google used to charge for this but now it is free. You can download it here.

The only downside to this Collection now being free is that Google no longer support it, so if it is not compatible with a new version of Lightroom or Photoshop, Google won’t fix it. For now it works so I’ll enjoy it while I can.

To open your image go to Photo – Edit In – Color Efex Pro 4. Your image will open in the app.

From Lightroom to Nik Color Efex Pro.png

On the left hand side you can see all the filters available. There are lots of great filters in this app, but there are three that I use for underwater shots.

The first thing I do is add some contrast using the Pro Contrast tool. Have a play around with the sliders being careful not to push them too far. One of the things I love about this collection is the ability to see your before and after on the same image. This really helps with not going too far with your edits.

Color Efex Pro Contrast.png

Once I’m happy with the contrast, I’ll try to bring out a few more details using the Detail Extractor filter. For this image, I found that applying this filter to the entire photo, brought out too much noise in the background, so I used the Control Points to add detail to specific areas of the image.

Color Efex Detail Extractor.png

Lastly, and one of the best tools for underwater images, is the White Neutraliser. Here I’ve pushed it pretty far so you can really see the effect, but it’s great at correcting the colours in your image.

Color Efex White Neutraliser.png

And that’s pretty much it! Press Save and your edited photo will return to Lightroom as a .tif file. You can then carry on editing in Lightroom or Photoshop if you wish.Here's the final image.

Fishes with Nik Color Efex Pro edit.jpg

There are lots of other filters you can use in Color Efex Pro, not to mention the rest of the Nik collection, which are definitely worth a look, but these three filters I find are all I need for my underwater shots.

I’d love to see how you get on using this collection to bring out the best in your photos. Feel free to send me your before and afters, and let me know what you think of this quick tutorial.

Nik Color Efex tutorial