Newbie tips for underwater photography with new Olympus TG-5 camera & PT-058 underwater casing

Similan Island

After my Advance Open Water course, my first diving trip begins in Similan Islands. Situated in Khao Lak Thailand, the word 'Similan' derived from the malay word 'Sembilan" which stands for 9, that signifies the 9 islands there. In this trip, I took the opportunity to try out my newly bought camera, Olympus TG-5 and underwater housing, PT-058. My main objective is to test how good is the Olympus TG-5  camera and also to experience what is underwater photography.

After my first diving trip, I would not recommend any newbies, just like me to ever touch underwater photography until you are comfortable with your dives (recommend to start underwater photography after 30 dives or have good buoyancy control). The reason is because for my first 2 dives during the trip, I have totally lost my breathing control due to the anxiety to take photos deep down. As I am inexperience in underwater photography and unfamiliar with the equipment, I started to take photo/video on everything I saw deep down. When that happens, my tank was cleared in less than 30mins! (Normally for newbies a 30m dive would last between 40 to 45 mins, experienced divers can dive up to 1 hr!) These totally ruined my dives and my dive guide was also shock on the rate of my air consumption.

My dive guide recommended me to dive without the camera for the next 2 dives and everything went normal during the dives. I was back on track and was fully concentrating on my breathing and buoyancy throughout. I started to familiarize myself with the buttons on the PT-058 underwater casing when I was not diving. For my 5th dive, my dive guide told me to bring along my camera and advised me to continue to concentrate on my breathing and buoyancy. I kept the camera by my side most of the time as I do not want to ruin my dive again, only to take a few shots when there are interesting marine lives. The photography result for the few shots was even much better than those multiple shots that I took during my first 2 dives (check out my Instagram for my dive photos).

Tips for underwater photography as a total newbie:
1) Make sure you are very comfortable with your dives (especially buoyancy) before starting underwater photography
2) Familiarize yourself with the equipment on land first, try operating the buttons closing your eyes
3) Do not start snapping away for the first 2 dives, keep your camera by your side, concentrate on your breathing and buoyancy
4) When you have a chance to take photo, prepare your camera, concentrate on your buoyancy and slowly approach target
5) A strobe is recommended for great photos
6) Always be aware of your surroundings as you do not want to knock onto something while taking photo
7) Stable the camera, aim, breath out slowly and press the shot button
8) Light source is very important, aiming up is better than aiming down for great shots
9) If you are in a group, after taking a few shots, move away for others to have the chance too
10) Always remember! Diving is first priority, photo taking is second priority

Tips for good shots during underwater diving
1) Head shot (eyes of marine looking at the camera) is most difficult to capture (need a lot of patient & luck)
2) Marines in action (e.g fighting, eating) totally change the feel of the photo, also need luck to capture
3) The subject cover 30-40% of the photo and the background 60-70% (normal shot)
4) The subject cover 60-70% of the photo and the background 30-40% (macro shot)
5) Good source of light (natural/strobe) is important as it help to capture all the colors of the shot
6) Hold the camera in a steady/stable position, maintain slow breathing (not stop breathing)
7) See and learn from the good shot photos from pros (to know what/how to capture a good shot)

As a newbie, to be frank, 90% of all my shots are not good. Only about 10% looks fine and about 5% can be considered good shots (check out my instagram for other nice shot during my diving trip in Similan island). I hope these percentage can get better as I gained more experiences. This photo on the yellow sea horse is one of my best shots, capturing the subject in the center of the photo with good light source which projected the colors of the coral that the sea horse is clinging on.

The actual size of this tiny sea horse is about 5cm and I have to move very close to capture this shot. As the sea horse does not move much, it is quite easy for me to slowly move to a correct position, while watching the camera screen to capture this shot. Some marines swim very fast and could be gone in a flash, therefore opportunities to slowly watch the screen to take a shot is rare.  

This shot on the coral shrimp may not be the best shot in term of colors and light, but it is one of the best macro shot during my trip. This shot was taken through a tiny crack in the coral. In this photo, the size of the largest colorful coral shrimp is about 4cm and the other 2 tiny coral shrimps are about 2cm. I have to carefully and slowly move very close in order to get this shot, as shrimps are super sensitive to movement. Look at their super long antenna that can detect movement from afar, which help them to immediately retreat if they sense danger.

Just sharing some of my best shots and knowledge above and I would also need to improve my skills in term of diving as well as underwater photography. I have found passion in diving and underwater photography through this diving trip and will continue to capture more nice photos from the deep.

The correct underwater equipment will surely help in a better shot and a normal set of equipment will range between US1400 to US1500. This is the price range which I would recommend any newbie who seriously want to start/try underwater photography (There are much more expensive sets but this is the recommended range just for a starter).

My current underwater camera setup:
1) Olympus TG-5 tough camera
2) PT-058 underwater casing
3) Sea&Sea YS-03 strobe with bracket

This setup is for a starter like me so as to try underwater photography. After my first diving trip, there are good reviews on my photos so I felt I have invested in the correct setup for a start. I will be looking into upgrading to a better set in future after I have improved my photography skills.

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