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Compact digi expert Paul Duxfield gives the low-down on the camera setting that can work magic with your underwater photographs
taken without white balance
crisper, truer colours
navigate through your camera's menu button
By far the most common question I get asked is: ‘How do I make my pictures look less blue?’ The problem we all face when taking photographs underwater is that water absorbs red light; the deeper you go, the more red light is absorbed. So your images look bluer and bluer. To solve this problem, we are going to look at an often ignored camera function that is buried in the menu of a lot of compacts, which is called custom or manual white balance.
Before we get to grips with the settings, I’d like to recommend that anyone buying a compact digital for underwater use should choose one with manual white balance in its settings. If you already have a camera and it doesn’t have this feature, don’t despair: in future columns we will look at different ways for you to get your colours right underwater.
Can’t I just use a flashgun?
An underwater flash has been the traditional means of beating the blues, as the artificial light will restore colour to a subject close to the camera. But this technique has its drawbacks, not least because even the most powerful flashes will only illuminate subjects within a 2m range. Underwater flashes add bulk to your underwater rig and, of course, they are an additional cost. So, while flash photography can be a useful weapon in your armoury, I want to show you how to get things looking good by using the full range of your camera’s ability to record colour at differing levels.
How does it work?
White balance is a function unique to digital cameras and video. It enables the colour temperature of a shot to be altered to suit the type of light you are receiving in a given scenario. It may not have been designed specifically for underwater use, but it has a superb ability to restore reds and yellows in what would otherwise be a monotonous blue scene.
First, you must disable the camera’s built-in flash, (refer to your manual on how to do this), as it is not necessary for this technique. Next, find the white-balance setting in the camera’s menu. It is usually accessed by pressing the ‘menu’ button on the back of the camera. You can then navigate to the manual or custom white balance heading, which is usually marked with an icon that looks like a small square with two opposing triangles underneath it.
On some models you have to be in the ‘manual’ camera mode to be able to access some of the higher menu functions such as ‘manual white balance’. Press ‘OK’ again and follow the on screen instructions to adjust the white balance. During this process, you need to focus the lens on something white, such as a diver’s slate – white sand, a pale rock or even your own hand should do the trick. Just remember not to set the white balance while aiming into the blue, as the camera will over-compensate, resulting in the sort of colours that look good on a tie-dyed T-shirt, but are less appealing in an underwater photograph.
That sounds suspiciously like task-loading… At first, it is a bit of a handful, so the trick is to practise on land until it becomes second nature. Don’t forget to practise with the camera in the housing, or it won’t help at all. The good news is that once you’ve mastered manual white balance, you need never have the blues again.
• Disable the camera’s built-in flash
• Find the white-balance setting
• Focus the lens on something white
• Use the full range of the camera’s features before investing in accessories
• Practise on land with the housing
• Paul Duxfield (www.paulduxfield.co.uk)
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