Underwater Photography

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

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 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