Jun 032016

World Ocean’s Day is June 8th, and this year’s theme is “Healthy oceans, healthy planet”.  It’s been a while since we’ve discussed plastic pollution here on the blog, so in the spirit of World Ocean’s Day 2016, we wanted to reinstate a serial post called Breakup with Plastic, Makeup with the Ocean.

In these short periodic posts, we will provide a tip as to how you can reduce, reuse or recycle your plastic wares.


Tip 4 – Eliminate the use of beauty and personal care products containing plastic microbeads.

First, what are microbeads?  Microbeads are tiny plastic balls that are used in some cosmetic exfoliators, body washes, facial washes, scrubs, toothpastes and other products.

Why are microbeads bad?  Microbeads are a major source of plastic pollution in our oceans, lakes and other bodies of water.  Due to their minute size, they are not filtered out of the wastewater at sewage treatment plants. Also, they act as toxin absorbers, causing harm when they are inevitably ingested by marine life.  Eventually these tiny spheres move up the food chain, and we all know what that means for human who consume fish.

How can I determine that my products are microbead free?  By 2017, it will be illegal to manufacture and sell a cosmetic product containing microbeads in the United States.  Until then, or if you live in an area that has not banned microbeads, become a label-reading sleuth.  Look for the ingredients polyethylene, polypropylene and polystyrene, nylon or polymethlyl methacrylate, especially when purchasing products which claim to exfoliate or deep clean the skin.

Plastic pollution of our oceans may be a HUGE issue, but small changes CAN and DO help.  Please remember that your actions add up.


More about World Ocean’s Day 2016

This year World Ocean’s Day is organizing a Better Bag Challenge.  By taking the challenge, you promise not to take any disposable plastic bags for a whole year.  You can share your commitment on social media using the hashtag #BetterBagChallenge.


Jan 252016

Many photographers don’t have the time, the inclination or the technical knowledge to process, edit and optimize the images that they have taken.  Shooting your images is the fun part, but for many, post-processing is simply a chore.

Eagle Ray Before and AfterWe are happy to share that Meredith is now offering professional photo editing & retouching services for underwater photographers.  As an experienced underwater photo editor/photographer, and a scuba diver of 20+ years, Meredith specializes in enhancing the beauty of your underwater subjects.

You can find more information about our photo editing services here. Please don’t hesitate to contact us with questions, or for a custom quote, at reeftraveleronline@gmail.com.

Jan 182016

One of the most common questions I hear from beginner underwater photographers is, “Do I really need to use a strobe?”.  This is a very valid and important question.  The addition of a strobe, or two strobes, adds a significant amount of bulk and weight to your camera setup.  There’s also the fact that strobes are expensive. Taking these factors into account, it’s easy to see why this question should be carefully considered.

Like with many other all-important questions, the answer to this one is, “it depends”.  It depends on several factors.  Let’s go through a few of them.

Do you snorkel only?  Or will you be scuba diving?

This is probably the most important factor to consider.  In this discussion, it’s helpful to understand a bit about the color spectrum and how it is affected by water and depth.  Water is a very effective absorber of light, and certain colors disappear quickly with each foot of depth or horizontal distance.  Red is almost completely absorbed at 15 feet (5 meters).  Orange and yellow are the next to disappear.

If you are snorkeling at shallow depths, you may be able to get good color in your photos using only natural light (sunlight).  The time of day, your shooting angle and the weather conditions will be an important factor.  Direct sun (or midday sun) coming from overhead often casts harsh shadows on your subject, so mid morning or afternoon sun is often best.

Whitetip Reef Shark, no flash, notice the shadows on the subject due to shooting in mid-day sun

Whitetip Reef Shark, snorkeling photo, no flash.  Notice the shadows on the subject due to shooting in mid-day sun.

Southern Stingray in St. John, no flash, shot in later afternoon. Notice the more diffused light.

Southern Stingray in St. John, snorkeling photo, no flash, shot in late afternoon. Notice the more diffused light.

What quality do you want in your photos?  Think about the quality you want in your photographs.  If you simply want a few snapshots to remember your adventures, and you are not looking for high quality, color-saturated images, you don’t necessarily need a strobe.  Keep in mind that if you are diving below 10 feet (3 m), your photos will have a strong blue/green cast, and they will lack a variety of color tones.  For some divers, this is perfectly acceptable.  If, however, you want images that are suitable for framing or printing, you will want to use at least one strobe to restore the colors that are lost at depth.  And please, shoot in RAW format if your camera allows (more on this here).

We recently photographed this longlure frogfish at 25 feet (8 m) with and without flash.

Without Flash

Without Flash

Green Frogfish Bari Reef S 2

With flash (dual strobes), notice the color difference

What do you intend to photograph?  Do you plan to photograph fish, humans, reefscapes, marine mammals, wrecks or something else entirely?  This will be an important question to answer.

Let’s say you plan to shoot whale sharks while snorkeling.  First, lucky you.  Second, ambient light is probably best.  Remember that your strobe will throw light about 5 feet (1.5 m) in distance.  A whale shark is much, much larger than that.  So it’s virtually impossible to evenly light an entire whale shark with one or two strobes.

Whale Shark in the Maldives, no flash

Whale Shark in the Maldives, no flash

If you intend to photograph humpback whales, dolphins or marine mammals, sharks or large marine creatures in blue water, you should not use a strobe.  Your strobe will not illuminate the entire subject, and swimming with it will limit your maneuverability while snorkeling.  Try to position the sun to your back to help eliminate those pesky shadows (like you see in my whale shark photo above).

When your subjects are tropical fish, coral or reefscapes, you will need at least one strobe to bring out the full spectrum and saturation of colors that give the reef its beauty.  Photographing a vibrant coral reef without a strobe isn’t likely to do it justice.

There are always exceptions to these general ideas about flash -vs- ambient light in underwater photography. We know one incredible reef/fish photographer who uses only the internal flash in the camera, and her results are unbelievable.  We also know photographers who use LED lights for still photography underwater.  Experienced photographers often develop their own unique techniques that fall outside of the norm. What are your thoughts on this?  Do you use one strobe or two?  Or just the sunlight?

More Reeftaveler posts about underwater photography techniques-

How to Take Better Fish Portraits

How to Take Your Snorkeling Photography to the Next Level

How to Take Better Fish Portraits

Underwater Photography Etiquette

Jan 252015

Fish portrait photography can be a challenging endeavor.  Some fish are notoriously shy.  Some dart away faster than the blink of an eye.  Others are curious and may swim around you, but will seldom give you a facial shot (the barracuda and the porcupine fish come to mind here).

If you are looking to improve your fish portraits, or even if you are just starting out, below are a few strategies you can employ to maximize your chances of getting the perfect shot.

1.  Get Close to the Subject – This is probably the most important rule.  If you aren’t close to your subject, you have almost no chance of capturing a sharp, compelling image.

2.  Regulate Your Breathing – Try to take slow, deliberate breaths.  Many fish are afraid of the hissing and gurgling noises that you inevitably make underwater.  Not to mention that your bubbles are a visual disturbance.

3.  Approach Slowly– Approach your subject in a slow, cautious and deliberate manner.  You may need to stop and watch before your move in closer.

4.  Maintain Situational Awareness – You may have sighted a rare species, which is naturally an exciting moment.  But this does not mean that you can forget about basic diving skills, your own safety, and your duty to protect the reef and its inhabitants.  Maintain good buoyancy and watch your depth.  Don’t descend too deep in pursuit of a subject.  Likewise, if you spot a fish at a higher depth, beware of ascending too quickly.  These may sound like basic concepts, but I have heard stores of experienced divers incurring serious harm by ascending too quickly in pursuit of a subject.  Also, don’t harm the coral or harass sea life in pursuit of the shot.  And remember that your flash is harmful to the fish’s eyes, so please don’t take 50 flash shots of that frogfish that can’t get out of your way.

5.  Increase Shutter Speed and Shoot Full Manual if Your Camera Supports it (Many lower end compact cameras may not have these features, so feel free to skip ahead if you have a camera that shoots only automatic modes).  – The best way to clearly capture quickly moving subjects is to set your own aperture, ISO and shutter speed.  I typically use a shutter speed of 1/250, an aperture between 4.0 – 5.6 and ISO 100-200 for fish portraits in clear, tropical water.

6.  Background is Important – Whether its a deep blue or black background, or a brightly colored sponge of a contrasting color – your background matters.  It isn’t solely the subject that makes a shot come to life.  If you are shooting RAW, it may be easy to fix some background disturbances or problems. A stray fin from a diver may be easy to remove, excess noise can be reduced, and you can often darken your background while maintaining a nice exposure on the subject.

7.  Study Fish Behavior – Get to know your subject.  Is it skittish?  Does it repeat a certain behavior pattern?  Does it have a mate?  Take time to dive the same sites and become familiar with the critters.

8.  Know Your Camera – Shutter lag time, auto focus lag time, and flash recycle time are important things to know when shooting moving subjects like fish.

9.  Focus on the Eyes– Keep the focus on your subject’s eyes.  Watch your depth of field.  If it’s too shallow, you risk losing focus or clarity on other important features of the fish.

10.  Minimize Direct Eye Contact with the Fish – Some fish (and many other animals) feel threatened by direct eye contact and will take defensive measures.  Your goal is to make the fish comfortable with your presence, while not interfering with its natural behaviors.  Keep your eyes on the camera’s viewfinder or display screen.

Here are a few of our recent fish portraits from Bonaire.

The Odd Shaped Swimmers

balloonfish yellow sub S


scorpionfish bari reef S


 The Angels

French Angel Yellow Sub M

Juvenile French Angelfish

french angelfish salt pier M

French Angelfish

 The Eels

goldentail moray bari reef S

Goldentail Moray Eel

lone garden eel invisibles m

Margintail Conger Eel

Do you have any tips for successful fish portraits?  If so, please share.  I’d love to know what works for you.

Related Links

Underwater Photography Etiquette

Snorkeling Photography – Moving Beyond the Basics

Guide to Photographing Fish

Sep 062014

In my last post, I touched on the growing global problem of plastic pollution.  Our oceans have become a dumping ground for plastic products of all types.

I’ve realized that I could do much more to help combat this problem.  It’s time to start making more conscious choices as a consumer in a plastic-laden society.

I have decided to start a new campaign on Reeftraveler called “Breakup with Plastic, Makeup with the Ocean” to share ideas about how we can reduce our reliance on plastic as consumers. Each week I will post a tip or reminder about positive change we can make.

This week’s tip focuses on one of the easiest things we can do to reduce our personal plastic use.

Tip 1 – Bring your own reusable bags to the grocery store.

Approximately 300 billion single use plastic bags are used in the United States each year.  That’s an average of 1200 bags per person per year.  Most of those bags go right into the trash after our trip to the store.  Several cities, countries and jurisdictions have instituted a ban on plastic bags.  Don’t wait for your city or state to enact a ban – change your habits now.