A Beginner’s Guide to Over-Under Photography
By Tine Funderud and Stone Meharry, Goat Island Dive and Snorkel.
This one is for anyone with a camera who’s spent hours trying to take over-under photos!
First of all, to make your life a lot easier, get a dome port for your camera! The larger the dome port, the more surface area to split the water and create a water line. A big dome gives you the room to move the waterline up and down while still splitting the water. With a smaller dome port you will need a smaller aperture to get above and below the water in focus.
When you are in the water, you will get droplets on your dome which will interfere with the finished result. To help prevent this and create a drop-resistant dome, a great tip is to use baby shampoo or similar and wipe the dome and dunk as needed. Be careful of any jewellery ie. rings or bracelets that could easily scratch the lens.
Getting a shot perfectly balanced in and out of the water will depend on the tilt of the camera housing. Start at 50% and then adjust your tilt to suit. This will even out and you will get 50% in the water and 50% out. This can be difficult because of water movement. It can take a lot of practice and patience – and not every day is a great day to shoot over-under shots.
For your photo to come out clear as possible you should be focusing on the underwater subject not the above-water subject. This will also depend on what you want to highlight and you should look at using auto focus on the underwater subject and lights to help you highlight it. You lose a lot of light even just below the surface so underwater lighting will go a long way to supporting you to get the best shot. A basic torch will not be bright enough for low-light photography. Remember: in the water you are in constant movement and you have to avoid a long shutter speed. Focus your light on your subject to get the best results.
You need decent visibility in the water. If the visibility is poor then the underwater subject will not be as detailed and result is a boring image. When sun is overhead it penetrates and lights up the water – ideal for split-shots. If shooting earlier or later in the day, the image should be composed with the sun somewhere at the back of the camera so that the light falls in front of the scene.
It is practice and experience as well as choosing the right conditions that will help you get a good shot. Checking tides, lighting, times of the day re the sun etc. are essential.
Shooting split-shots is similar to landscape and close-focus wide-angle photography in that you need a large depth of field in order to keep the entire image in focus. In most split-shot scenes, there’s an underwater subject within a metre or two of the lens and a topside subject that can be anywhere from three to hundreds of metres away. Stopping down to a low f-stop (ie. F16 or F18) allows you to keep both scenes in focus, including the water’s surface just in front of the dome. When shooting with a small aperture it’s essential to closely monitor shutter speed, which will need to be at or over 1/60 for a sharp image. ISO will often need to be bumped up in order to expose the image with a fast shutter speed.
Finally, a wide-angle lens is the easiest to shoot overs-unders with. Don’t be afraid to use your fisheye lens for split-shots. Often the water line accents the slight warp of topside objects. If the fisheye warp effect is not desired, you can straighten it out with post-processing features.
Shoot in calm, clear water. Shoot on a sunny day, and use your strobes to light up the underwater subject when necessary. Try to shoot with the sun behind you to minimize the exposure difference between the over and under sections. And always remember to keep your subject as close as possible to the lens!
Split-shots are a creative way to enhance your photo portfolio and these tips will help you bring home some great shots! Have fun and remember that the shooting doesn’t stop when you reach the surface.