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Learn to shoot with the Nikonos V
How to Create Underwater SilhouettesNikonos V

Photo Internet Articles | Photo Galleries

The underwater realm is unquestionably one of the most colorful places on the planet. Coral reefs explode in bursts of riotous color. Fishes of every imaginable shape and hue cruise over these gardens of life, seeming to advertise themselves in gaudy stripes, dots, patches and bands of red, blue, yellow and purple. Some of the most striking underwater images have been of these reef inhabitants and the gardens they inhabit. However, underwater photographers can also choose to capture the grandeur of the underwater world by creating what is known as a silhouette.

Silhouettes lack the colorful details of traditional underwater portraits or seascapes. The subject is often captured as a black outline against the bright blue of the surface, generally highlighted by the light of the sun. These images although lacking color can often express powerful moods and emotions. The black outline of a graceful Manta Ray gliding overhead like a massive fighter plane, its delta wings extended in flight is an image that will capture the imagination and attention of the viewer. This technique has also been used to photograph the stark images of Hammerhead Sharks, Whales, Whale Sharks, divers and schools of fish overhead. Indeed, solely your imagination and creativity as a photographer limit the list of possible subjects.

Often however, when underwater photographers first try to experiment with this silhouette technique, their images usually seem bland and lifeless. While the subject is well framed and compelling, the image just doesn't seem to "pop".

So what's the problem?

Below are some hints on how to shoot silhouettes like the pros.

First of all, as with all photographs the composition of the image is critical. The diver must learn to perfectly position himself so that the subject is directly between the lens of the camera and the sun. This is easier to do when the water is clear than when the water is cloudy. Silhouettes are more dramatic and work best when the photographer is diving in clear water with decent visibility.

When photographing subjects as silhouettes, make sure you are close enough to the subject so that it can easily be discerned in the final image. A tiny image of a far away shark is not as exciting as one where the diver feels as if the shark is about to swoop directly overhead.

Because the photographer is often shooting at a strong upwards angle with plenty of available light, the choice of film speeds is not very critical. Film with slow speeds and small grain such as Kodak Ecktachrome 100 and Fuji Sensia 100 can be used effectively. Most underwater photographers strive to capture a strong vibrant blue background. To achieve this, we choose Kodak's Ecktachrome on many occasions since it tends to accentuate this color of the spectrum better than some other films.

One of the keys to a powerful silhouette is the exposure rendered by the camera. Since the photographer is relying on natural light, it is important to use a shutter speed fast enough to freeze the action. A blurred image of a swimming animal is generally not the desired effect. In order to ensure a sharp image try to shoot at a speed of 1/125th or faster. In addition to freezing the image of the subject, these fast speeds will also help to isolate the individual rays of the sun producing a dramatic sun burst effect. By outlining a stunning silhouette of a large marine animal with this sun burst effect, the photographer now has added an element of drama to the image.

When shooting silhouettes, it is important to properly expose the surrounding water. Divers should meter the water around the subject by using the light meter inside their camera (not always easy to use) or with the help of an external underwater meter. Once the photographer has positioned himself such that the subject is properly positioned and the meter indicates an exposure of 1/125 or higher for the surrounding water, the image is ready to be shot. Nikonos V cameras have built in light meters which are accurate but occasionally difficult to read through the viewfinder. Ikelite makes terrific external light meters such as the DM 4200, which have large illuminated dials to help the photographer see the proper exposure readings at a glance.

Sekonic L-164 Marine Meter IIOur metering choice is the Sekonic L-164 Marine Meter II. It is easy to use and easy to read even with a mask on. External light meters can be pricey, some can be as high as $500.00 but worth it if you are going to be a serious underwater photographer. It is generally more effective to use a Manual exposure rather than utilizing the camera's TTL functions for these types of shots.

While the technique is not difficult to master the camera's TTL system often does not produce the exact exposures necessary for truly stunning silhouettes. As with filely all forms of underwater photography, it is helpful to bracket your shots. Make sure you vary the exposure up and down by at least one f/stop to ensure that you get the very best image possible under the circumstances.

Silhouettes can make for some amazing and compelling images. Go out and give it a try…you'll be happy you did! :

Things to Remember:

  • Silhouettes are more dramatic and work best in clear water.
  • Get as close to the subject as possible.
  • Shoot at a strong upward angle with plenty of available light.
  • Shoot at a speed of 1/125th or faster.
  • Meter the surrounding water and set your aperture.
  • Take the shot, bracket and have fun!.


Available Books, Videos & Cameras

SeaLife Digital Underwater CameraSealife 12 Megapixel 5X Optical Zoom and 3-Inch LCD screen Underwater/Land Camera

GREAT Underwater Beginner Camera!

Product Description: SeaLife's DC1200 makes underwater photography it easier than ever before. Mystical sea creatures, vibrant colorful reefs, or haunting wrecks from a bygone era, the DC1200 is the camera to catch them all. SeaLife's new 12-megapixel camera combines diver-friendly design and four underwater color modes, for sharp, colorful pictures underwater or on land.

SeaLife eliminated the typical button cluster on the back of the camera, in favor of five thumb operated "piano key" controls. The large shutter button extends forward with a fingertip-control lever that allows scrolling through menus or zooming in and out without releasing your grip from the camera. This "Central Command Lever" and the "Piano Keys" are making great underwater pictures and videos easier than ever before.

Expand the DC1200 with SeaLife's popular line of underwater accessories, including the Digital Pro Flashes and wide angle . Automatic focus from 4" to infinity. Record 2+ hours of sharp, colorful video with sound when using a 4GB SD memory card. Depth tested to 200ft. Fully rubber armored for shock protection. Full 1-year warranty covers the underwater housing and camera.

SeaLifes Sea Modes which have built in color correction and External Flash Modes for vibrant color and manual control of the cameras shutter and aperture, round out the DC1200.

Other SeaLife DC1200 Camera Systems:

  • SeaLife DC1200 Elite 12MP Underwater / Land Digital Camera & Strobe System
    Where to Buy
  • Sealife DC1000 Elite 10MP Underwater / Land Digital Camera & Strobe System (2 Digital Pro Flashs)
    Where to Buy


Other Available Cameras and Accessories

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Travel Storage & Viewer Systems

Epson P-5000 and P-3000

Epson P-5000 & P-3000 (Storage & Viewer Systems)

Product Description: This is an essential tool for the digital photographer who shoots a lot of images. The Epson P-3000/5000 provides an excellent way to download, store and display thousands of photos, videos and more on the spot - without a computer. With the ultra fast processor, it’s easy to backup images right from your memory card (CF/SD) or camera. Transfer thousands of photos in no time at all. Then, continue shooting.

With the large, four-inch LCD, you’ll be able to instantly review images immediately after the shoot. In fact, you can easily view slide shows and videos, or listen to audio files. Best of all, you’ll be able to present professional quality images anywhere you go.

Because this system uses Epson's Photo Fine Ultra LCD technology, you’ll see every color and detail. This unit also has Adobe RGB color space support which means, each viewer displays over 16.7 million colors.

You can even zoom in and verify RAW files.  And, with a long battery life, these systems are ideal for extended, on-location shoots. Save and view all your best shots at the scene.

Or, transfer files from your camera or any USB device. You can even connect and download your files directly to your Windows or Mac computer. The Epson Epson P-3000/5000 makes it easy to save and share images virtually anywhere, with amazing clarity and color.

Features & Benefits

  • 40GB (P-3000) or 80BG (P-5000), high-capacity hard drive to backup thousands of photos
  • Large, 4-inch LCD for easy viewing
  • On-the-spot download device to save, view and share photos, videos and music anywhere
  • Epson® Photo Fine Ultra LCD technology for more accurate colors
  • Adobe® RGB color space support
  • Ultra fast processor for fast downloads
  • DivX® video file support, plus audio/video out to instantly view slide shows and videos
  • Rechargeable battery so it’s always ready to travel
  • Long battery life that’s ideal for extended, on-location shoots
  • Built-in card slots that support Compact Flash® I/II (CF) and Secure Digital™ (SD) memory cards
  • Hi-Speed USB 2.0 for fast file transfers
  • RAW file support — zoom capabilities to check the focus and fine detail

Additional Information


Other Travel Storage Systems

Perfect for storing and transporting documents and digital images!!
Other storage systems

Sandisk Cruzer SanDisk Cruzer Micro 16 GB USB 2.0 (Flash Drive)
SanDisk Cruzer Micro 8 GB USB 2.0  (Flash Drive)
SanDisk Cruzer Micro 4 GB USB 2.0 (Flash Drive)
SanDisk Cruzer Micro 2 GB USB 2.0 with U3 (Flash Drive)

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Last Modified: December 05, 2010

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