Thursday, December 25, 2008

Canon Black Dot ... or Not

Canon Australia posts the following advisory about a curious anomaly some consumers have noticed with their new 5DMKII Digital SLRs:

Black dot phenomenon and Vertical banding noise

Posted on: December 17, 2008

To Owners of the EOS 5D Mark II Digital SLR Camera :
We have learned that some users of the Canon EOS 5D Mark II digital SLR camera have indicated two types of image quality phenomena that appear under certain shooting conditions.

“Black dot” phenomenon (the right side of point light sources becomes black)
Vertical banding noise
We are currently investigating ways to improve and/or mitigate these phenomena. An announcement will be made on the Canon Website when measures to address these phenomena have been decided.

The phenomena are likely to occur under the following shooting conditions.
“Black dot” phenomenon (the right side of point light sources becomes black) When shooting night scenes, the right side of point light sources (such as lights from building windows) may become black. The phenomenon may become visible if the images are enlarged to 100% or above on a monitor or if large prints of the images are made.
Vertical banding noise If the recording format is set to sRAW1, vertical banding noise may become visible depending on the camera settings, subject, and background. The following camera settings can reduce the phenomenon.
Set the recording format to RAW or JPEG.

Set C.Fn II-3: Highlight tone priority to 0: Disable if the recording format is set to sRAW1.

The vertical banding noise is not noticeable if the recording format is set to sRAW2, but please set C.Fn II-3: Highlight tone priority to 0: Disable if you are concerned about noise.

Canon always strives to provide the highest quality products to our customers. We apologize for any inconvenience these phenomena may have caused. We appreciate your kind patronage and support.

I took delivery of a Canon 5D MKII Christmas Eve. In the spirit of the holidays, and with curiosity about the "'black dot issue" I took this picture of a tree ornament.

I realized there would be lights in the background, the exact kind of pinpoint light sources that the Internet seems to be abuzz with. A perfect test for black dots. Here are screengrabs of a couple of different lights at 100%.

I shot in RAW, and I can't replicate the problem. I realize this is a cursory test, but I can't help but be amused that so much bandwidth and consternation is being directed at such a minor issue, that will no doubt be fixed by firmware anyway.

As for the 5d MKII, it is a very nice camera, extraordinary performance at a modest price, and I'm looking forward to the arrival of my Seacam 5D MKII housing in February. The first production housings will likely be shown at upcoming BOOT show, January 17-25 in Dusseldorf. 21 megapixel, Digic 4 processor, and HD movies ... This is going to be a serious tool for UW imaging.

Note - I heard from a friend who suggested that the issue would only show up at ISO 1600 to 6400. So, I took similar shots with both the 5DMKII and Canon 1DsMKIII. Regrettably, I did not mount the two cameras on a tripod, so there is variability in crop. After all, I did not start out to make this a scientific test, but more a matter of curiosity. (Focus was on the tree ornament, throwing the bulb slightly out of focus, as might happen in a normal night scene background)

This is the 5DMKII at 6400 ISO.

This is the Canon 5DMKII at 1600 ISO.

This is the Canon 1DsMKIII at 1600 ISO.

I'm very satisfied with what I see so far, not that this would likely be of any consequence to the kinds of things I normally shoot anyway. I'm far more eager to get the camera underwater and do real images with real subjects on a coral reef somewhere.

Click any of the images to see a more detailed/enlarged view.

Jan 9, 2009: Note that issue is now resolved with firmware update -

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Scuba Diving Magazine Sold

I have been very closely affiliated with Scuba Diving Magazine over the past 9-years as Director of Photography and author of a monthly photo column. Happily so, for the people I worked with at the magazine are a talented and inspired group, and I think we did some exceptional work together. But, the publishing business is a fluid environment and last Wednesday we were informed that the magazine had been sold to Bonnier, the parent company of a wide variety of magazines, including Sport Diver. The news release announcing the sale is at

I don't personally know what will happen with Scuba Diving and their website,, under its new ownership; but assume it will flourish in some new incarnation, and I wish them well.

But, I feel a special affection for the people who were the Scuba Diving we knew and loved. People like editor/publisher Keith Phillips, who worked tirelessly to perpetuate his vision for the magazine. Beyond tirelessly, really. The man is a machine, dedicated entirely to doing what he could to make Scuba Diving the best it could be. Iris Stein and Moira Honeyman were a stellar art team, ultra-talented and truly a pleasure to collaborate with. Marketing Director Susan Smith knew the magazine intimately at all levels, and kept it sailing forward all these years, from the very beginning. Advertising art director Brittany Boits and ad business director Jodi Deem handled their divisions with excellence as well. Patricia Wuest is a brilliant editor, a valued colleague, and also a 16-year veteran of the magazine.

The web team of Nick Lucey, Emily Cook, and John Collenberger did quite amazing things with with such a small staff ... a credit to their work ethic and talent. And then there were the other editors who kept me on track with deadlines and excellent insight into how to craft my words better or more concisely. Thanks to Travis Marshall and Gil Griffin for that. While I did not work with them directly, the Scuba Lab team of Bill Kendig and John Brum performed a valued reader service in terms of offering emprical and unbiased testing on a wide variety of dive gear. One of the most popular columns in the magazine, Lessons for Life, was authored by by Mike Ange.

The sales staff was likewise terrific. Led by National Sales Manager Travis Gainsley, the team of Steve Eisenberg and Sharon Mariner managed to cover the wide-world of scuba manufacturing, photo equipment, and dive travel; again with a small staff, talent, creativity, and lots of passion.

To all these people, and others so important to my life over the years that have drifted in an out of the Scuba Diving constellation, both as a Rodale and an F+W publication ... Dane Farnum (who had the vision to entice me to Scuba Diving from Skin Diver magazine all those years ago), Debbie Edwards, Jason White, David Blansfield, Buck Butler, David Taylor, Andrew Wiens, Nancy Miller, Jessica Benton, Joy Waltz, Kevin Whitworth, Deborah Kirk, Stacey Kronquest, Rhonda Messex, Gail Schmidt, Jan Siplon, Cheryl Haughney, Laura Cook-Smith Walker, Ashley Bringman, Ann Marie Macdougall, Jean-Paul Laflam, and John Hardy ... I've truly enjoyed our time together and wish you well in your next projects.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Power of a Picture

Last summer I was teaching a photo course in my home waters off Key Largo, visiting one of my traditional favorite sites, Snapper Ledge. There, amid the massive schools of blue-striped grunts and schoolmaster snappers, was a lone nurse shark, curiously lethargic on the bottom. It was not until I got closer that I realized this shark had been stabbed in the head and eviscerated, probably by an unthinking and definitely uncaring fisherman. Tragic as this was, it was actually the second time I'd seen such a thing done to a nurse shark on this same site, and began to feel that something had to be done about it.

A few days later we went back to the same site, and found this same shark, dead and pale on the bottom. I took a picture, thinking at the time people simply had to see what was going on here.

I wrote about the whole event on my personal blog at, with the recommendation that Snapper Ledge become a Sanctuary Preservation Area, protected from spearfishing and hook-and-line angling ... a total no-take zone. It is a very special place, it is being abused, and it deserves that level of protection.

It then got picked up by Eric Cheng, who posted it on his website and authored a compelling and conservation-minded petition at Dive Photo Guide and other photographic and marine preservation websites linked to the petition as well, and soon the petition became very viral and highly visited. As of this day, 2,528 people have signed this petition to make Snapper Ledge a SPA. It is interesting to see many of the very high-profile people who have signed this petition, and also the level of passion clearly evident in so many of the individual comments. The whole level of response was very heart-warming to me, and reassuring to know so many cared so deeply about the health of our coral reefs in general, and Snapper Ledge in particular.

Scuba Diving Magazine came on-board big time, with space in their reader forums and a generous home page slot linking to a lovely video that underwater videographer Frazier Nivens shot in support of the Snapper Ledge SPA initiative, see

I won't say this project has been without some level of angst and controversy. Some spearfishing enthusiasts thought I was unfairly picking on them. Others felt any regulation was bad regulation. But, my point was always that Snapper Ledge was geologically unique for the massive schools of fish concentrated here, and it had to be protected for future generations.

Fortunately, NOAA agreed with me and the other 2,500+ people who signed the petition and agreed to include SPA designation for Snapper Ledge in their upcoming planning for the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. In the words of Commander David Score, director of the FKNMS, "As you know, at the last meeting the Sanctuary Advisory Council discussed Snapper Ledge again and recommended we move forward with a SPA designation alternative for it included in the overall marine zoning update that was recommended as part of the new management plan. They urged me to convey their thanks to you and everyone who took action on this issue. The attached letter is an attempt to do that but will not be able to capture the amount of appreciation we have for your efforts on behalf of the critters of the Keys."

The point is that it Snapper Ledge will become a SPA. It won't happen overnight, as there are governmental protocols that must be satisfied. I knew that when I began the process, but also recognized that NOAA was very sensitive to the desires of their constituency, the various user groups diving and snorkeling and fishing the waters of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Actually, they have been extraordinarily proactive on this issue, which I sincerely appreciate.

I am very gratified that a few photos sparked a firestorm of outrage and that good will ultimately come of it. Such is the power of a photo, coupled with the power of the web.

Dumpster Evolution

Previously unpublished, written in the summer of 2007:

The change has been coming for quite a while, but still, this was a nostalgic week for me. This was the week we scheduled a massive trash bin to be delivered to my photo studio in Key Largo. We had made a decision to change the thrust of the business to fit emerging technology, and that meant discarding remnants of things that were “a good idea at the time”. When I looked at the depth of the dumpster detritus, it struck me how significantly the digital revolution fostered these changes, and as I walked from room to room in our building, I was reminded how each segment of a business devoted to underwater photography has had to adapt.

The detritus of an analog darkroom

The Darkroom – I had a plan when I came to Key Largo in 1978. I came as a recreational diver on holiday and heard they had 500,000 divers visiting Pennekamp Park. I figured half of these must take pictures underwater, and half of those shot slides, and half of those would bring it to my shop to be processed at $6 a roll. Well, that would be gross revenues of $375,000, which to a guy making minimum wage as a color lab technician in Denver was HUGE! Of course, my “business plan” was totally bogus, and there were nowhere near that number of people taking underwater photos at the time, let alone walking through my door. But still there were enough shooters having their E-6 film processed, and enough photographers willing to try underwater photography for the first time with my rental Nikonos II, that I was able to make a go of the business.

This was way before I got my first commercial assignment, and way before I’d even heard of “stock” photography. Actually, that E-6 sinkline I built in 1978 was a cornerstone of the business for the next 25 years. I could rent cameras in the morning and then go out on the dive boat in the afternoon to practice my underwater photographic skills. That night I would process the film, mine and whatever customer’s film came in, and by the next morning I’d see the results of what I’d done.

This quasi “immediacy of review” was an extremely important learning tool to me. While a lot of pro photographers were shooting Kodachrome in those days, I was a big fan of the E-6 Ektachromes, not only because it was cheaper to process myself, but because Kodachrome had to be sent out to a big lab somewhere, and in those days before FedEx, it could be more than a week before processed slides made its way back to my post office box. Seeing the results while still fresh in mind was a very powerful learning tool. Later, as I began to teach photo classes on live-aboards and at dive resorts, we wouldn’t even consider them unless they had quality E-6 film processing services.

Then, I went to the first Digital Shootout in Indonesia with the guys from Backscatter and Light and Motion. The month was September of 2001, which we’ll all remember because it put us in Manado watching the 9-11 terrorist attacks on TV at the time. The Digital Shootout staff put an Olympus 3040 in a Tetra housing in my hands for the first time, and “immediacy of review” took on a whole new meaning. Yes, there were issues with digital lag, and it wasn’t as easy to compose and critically focus on a camera’s LCD as it was through the massive viewfinder on my Nikonos RS, but the potential of the technology was irrefutable even then. Instant review, with the ability to change exposure variables for the next shot, not just the next day. That was a “Eureka” moment that changed my life, or at least the picture-taking part of it.

As soon as I came home from that trip I bought a Nikon D1X and a Seacam housing, which was the beginning of the end for my E-6 darkroom. I started shooting more digital images, my clients became more accepting of digital submissions, and dive tourists to Key Largo began shooting more digital as well. By 2004 I had as many digital shooters in my photo classes as I did film enthusiasts, and by 2005 I taught my first digital-only photo seminar.

An E-6 line requires a certain critical mass of use and replenishment or it won’t be of predictably high quality. We simply weren’t using it and we had to shut it down last summer. Yesterday all my stainless steel reels, heater-recirculator pumps, and chemical storage tanks went to the dumpster. While I hate contributing to the landfill overload, I am very pleased I am not consuming and discarding processing chemicals every day. And, even at wholesale, film and processing were very expensive.

Net transition benefit = Two Thumbs Up. Migrating to a digital workflow has made it easier for me to capture images on location, and the quality of the resulting files from my high-end digital SLR are so much better than scanned film I’ll never go back. I may embrace the next greatest technology, but the odds that it will involve an E-6 line are pretty infinitesimal.

Stock Photography – In the early 1980s, as I began to have photos published in national magazines, I got a call from The Image Bank. They were a stock photo agency in New York, and they suggested I send them some of my photos and they would try to sell them too. After all, they were in New York and that’s where all the publishers and ad agencies that really mattered were located. Actually, they did pretty well for me, but not as well as we were doing ourselves. We decided to put a toll-free phone number in so clients could call us for their photo requests, and about then a fledgling courier service called Federal Express was just getting started and finally, even from a remote corner of the Florida Keys a client could be looking at my slides the next day.

Plus, we had a big advantage because our photo researchers were scuba divers. That meant that when they wanted to illustrate an ad for a cruise ship going to Grand Cayman, we would not send them a clownfish from the Red Sea. A client would call with a photo request and we’d pull the right slides and shoot duplicate transparencies. The E-6 film would be processed and mounted in-house, and sent out for review. The client would show their client, and maybe a month or so later we’d get a call again. Yes, they wanted to use the shot, we’d negotiate a use fee, and then the original transparencies they wanted would be FedExed to them, along with a delivery memo specifying they were responsible for loss or damage to the original slide at $1500 a pop.

The dupe was never as good as the original, so they needed the original to have scanned for whatever print medium they had in mind. That meant they had to be willing to accept the liability, as well as pay for the multiple Fed Ex fees. With an 800-phone number and Fed Ex, people with niche coverage, like mine from the underwater realm, could be competitive with the Big Boys in New York.

Then in the mid-1990s, as the Internet began to really rev up, a few visionaries perceived that photography was a commodity that could be viewed online, and then digitized and transmitted over this new pipeline. It should come as no surprise that Bill Gates was one of them, and his privately owned stock photo agency, Corbis, is now the second largest in the world. What was a bit of a surprise was that two investment bankers, Mark Getty and Jonathan Klein, came to a similar epiphany and began to build an empire based on digital transmission of visual content. They bought several existing agencies, including The Image Bank and Tony Stone Images, and invested mightily in the technology that would make the job of finding and licensing the right image far easier. A critical component of their vision was not only finding the right images, but transmitting them over the web. No more duplicate transparencies. No more originals getting sent to the client for scanning. No more liability for $1500 slides lost or damaged. In 1995 Getty Images was founded and today is the world’s largest stock photo agency, serving an average of 2.3 million unique visitors each month with over 2.3 billion thumbnails and 161 million page views.

Somehow, in competition with emerging technology our vis-sheets with duplicate slides were being called for with less frequency. The writing was on the wall regarding digital delivery of visual content, I found a few very good agencies to partner with, and now the business is better than ever. Most of my significant analog images have now been scanned, and all new captures are digital, so the images are all the “language” of the Internet, that being zeros and ones.

A two-terabyte hard drive can hold as much information as this room full of slides.

However, there is a whole new urgency to how images are being transmitted on the Web. To a great extent the technology is so new there is a “Wild West” fervor and stills and even video clips are getting passed around with such frequency it is hard to ever know who authored them or where they came from to begin with. Wikipedia reports on this issue, known as orphan works:

“Orphaned works are, broadly speaking, any copyrighted material where the rights holder is hard to find. Because the cost of finding the owner is so high, creators cannot build on orphan works, even when they would be willing to pay to use them. In many cases the works were abandoned because they no longer produced any income. In most cases, rights holders, once found, are delighted to have their work used with minimal compensation.
In February 2006, the US Copyright Office issued a report on orphaned works, concluding:
• The orphan works problem is real.
• The orphan works problem is elusive to quantify and describe comprehensively.
• Some orphan works situations may be addressed by existing copyright law, but many are not. Legislation is necessary to provide a meaningful solution to the orphan works problem as we know it today.”

Here is a major disconnect … the perception is that cost of finding the owner is significant, so even if fees are willing to be paid to the copyright owner, it is not worth the hassle. So, unless the copyright holder is easy to find, the work may fall into Public Domain and can be used for free. This whole issue is up for legislation in the US Congress at this very moment. Visit to learn more.

Yikes! That is a scary thought for anyone who licenses visual media. Yet, the same digital technology that threatens our copyright can protect it. Metadata is the information that goes along with an image on a web site. It is the means by which a researcher who types “Carcharodon carcharias” into a search box on a website comes up with pictures of great white sharks. Yet, once the image is downloaded, that information is gone, unless it is embedded in the photo’s IPTC field. If it is, Photoshop and most other browsing programs can reveal who shot it, when it was shot, and caption details; all with a single click of a mouse.

The pending Orphan Works legislation is going to force metadata to be embedded in all digital images to protect photographer’s rights. According to David Riecks, chair of the Stock Artist’s Alliance's Imaging Technology Standards committee, "Photographers need to add metadata to their digital images now, or risk losing future income. Without metadata, they may as well be putting their images in a black hole."

Net transition benefit – One Thumb Up, One Thumb Down. The new technology is liberating in some ways, as it is much easier to have work viewed by a broader universe of potential buyers. But there are so many technology-driven changes that one must be constantly aware. Plus, writing all that information in the IPTC field is BORING! Inputting data into small fields on a computer screen is not what drove me to be a photographer in the first place.

Hey, maybe those days of renting cameras in the morning, diving in the afternoon, and processing the E-6 at night weren’t so bad after all. But, meanwhile the dumpster’s full and the trash truck’s a-comin’.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Jerry Greenberg - Friend and Mentor and Champion of Photographer's Rights

It is a story I like to tell about a man who has become a very close friend over the years. The year was 1980 and I had just begun to get published in dive magazines when I got a call from Jerry Greenberg saying that he and Rick Frehsee would like to take me to dinner.

Now, this was a big deal for a kid in Key Largo, for I had been highly inspired by the work Rick had been doing with underwater models in Skin Diver and the original Sport Diver magazines, and Jerry was my go-to guy for books and education on underwater photography. When I was living in Kona, fresh out of graduate school and trying to figure out how to make my first underwater photos work, Jerry's post cards showed me what artful application of artificial light should look like.

I wore through the pages of my first copy of MANFISH WITH A CAMERA with years of perusal, never imagining that I would end up living and diving in the marine wilderness Jerry first brought to national attention with his many publications about Key Largo and John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. (Fortunately in 2005 Jerry gave me a fresh copy, this one inscribed "To Steve: With best wishes and thanks for all your help these many years. Jerry Greenberg")

But, back to that night at dinner with Rick and Jerry. The point was that I was getting published and they thought maybe I had legs in this business, and as such, maybe I should learn some of the rules, for my own protection and for the betterment of the photo industry. They were incredibly generous that night, explaining the principles of copyrighting one's images (slides, in those days), meeting deadlines, and as Jerry put it, always avoiding the peril of "believing in your own press releases". They also told me to never judge another photographer by their work you see published, as that is as much about design and art direction and the politics of advertising as it is about someone's own personal vision. There were a lot of other nuggets of wisdom that night, things I never forgot. Just as I never forgot their unselfish willingness to share with me.

Thinking of Jerry's early and unswerving belief in the power of copyright and his belief in the legal system, I am greatly saddened to see the final outcome of his long (11 year) battle with National Geographic. It all went back to a CD-ROM collection of all of the back issues of National Geographic called The Complete National Geographic: 108 Years of National Geographic Magazine. National Geographic used new technologies never imagined when Jerry shot his first photos for them, and they created a product that had terrific sales potential. The one issue was that they didn't necessarily own the rights to all the work contained within those 108 years of published pages, and the copyrights to Jerry's in particular were clearly registered to him.

Jim Pickerell, the author of a highly respected newsletter on subjects of interest to stock photographers said it very well in a post today. In his words, "The grim outcome of Greenberg vs. The National Geographic Society should be of deep concern to every photographer who believes copyright offers legal protection. Rather, this case teaches us two things: the law is not always fair or equitable, and those who have deeper pockets tend to win ...

"If there was ever a photographer who dotted all the Is and crossed all the Ts in executing a contract for photographic work, it was Jerry Greenberg. His written agreement with the National Geographic Society said that for the fee he was paid he was licensing only the rights to publish his work in a single edition of the printed magazine. If NGS wanted to use his work in any other way, it would be necessary to compensate him for that use.

"Greenberg also had letters from NGS transferring the copyright back to him. It should be noted that these images were used by NGS before the passage of the 1976 Copyright Act. At that time, copyright rested with the organization paying for the work and not the creator. as it does today. Thus, the formal transfer of copyright back to Greenberg was extremely important.

"Greenberg had the images registered with the Copyright Office years before The Complete National Geographic: 108 Years of National Geographic Magazine CD-ROM discs were created."

Ultimately that was the issue. Jerry owned the copyright to these images and it was up to him to choose how or if they were to be used, and at what rate of compensation. You'd think.

Jerry stops into my studio frequently, an honored guest I am always eager to see. He updates me often about his new photographic missions, now exploring digital imaging in collaboration with his brilliant son Michael. He shows me the beautiful artwork his wife Idaz creates for their series of books and waterproof marine ID cards. He also has kept me updated about the National Geographic saga all these years.

It was challenging and expensive and probably more than a little intimidating to be one man going against the corporate might of the National Geographic Society. But, he persevered because he believed in copyright, the validity of contractual law, and the honor of a deal made in good faith. He never wanted to be enemies with National Geographic. The work he did for them was the proudest achievements of his career. Actually, he has never wanted to fight with anyone who misappropriated his work over the years, and there have been many. He just wanted to not be taken advantage of and fairly compensated for his work. A simple enough request from a man of honor.

In this case Jerry carried it all the way to the steps of the US Supreme Court. He won a few rounds in court. National Geographic won a few more. But, these are huge issues of law to every visual artist that were being debated in this particular case, and Jerry felt it had merit to be heard by the highest court in the land. Most in the photographic community shared his belief. I definitely did. But, in the end only about 5% of the cases set before the Supreme Court are actually heard, and Jerry's was not. That was the final shot. Now it is over for Greenberg vs. National Geographic.

It's not over for Jerry Greenberg, of course. He'll walk away from that chapter of his life and move on with taking more digital photos, enjoying life with his family, and of course scuba diving in these familiar waters off Key Largo. Yet, what he's done will long reverberate in legal and professional circles.

Pickerell closes with these chilling words: "Photographers owe Greenberg a tremendous debt of thanks. Hopefully, they will take the lessons of this case to heart. If the infringer is a small organization without a lot of resources to pursue legal action, and the photographer has the copyright registered, he may get an out-of-court settlement, or at least keep legal costs to a minimum. Infringers with deep pockets will eventually get their way, even if it takes 11 years, regardless of what might be fair or equitable."

I'd like to be less pessimistic. But, no one does copyright registration and contracts better than Jerry Greenberg. Clearly, being right does not always guarantee victory.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Seacam Seaflash 150 - First Tests of Rear Curtain Synch with Canon

E-TTL - #1

MANUAL BRACKETS - Full, 1/2, 1/4, 1/8 power - #2



Canon shooters have long been challenged in the underwater realm when trying to achieve rear curtain synch. The issue is that only Canon topside E-TTL enabled strobes would work in rear curtain synch mode. Manual strobes, like we are used to using underwater, did not. That was an advantage that Nikon had over Canon when shooting ultra slow shutter speeds and trying to convey a sense of motion. With Nikon the trail of action would be behind, but with Canon (and forced front-curtain synch) the motion would be in front of the subject, and therefore visually confusing.

Seacam now has developed rear curtain synchronization (RCS) with their Seaflash 150. With a new hardware upgrade introduced in March of 2009, RCS is now possible with both the MKIII and 5DII Canon cameras. New strobes delivered after that date will have the new technology integrated, those already in the field will need to go back to Seacam from an update in the electronics. Having TTL exposure automation PLUS rear curtain synch is an exciting new technology. For me, as a Canon shooter anyway.

* To set 2nd curtain synch (Rear curtain), go to the custom functions menu on Canon cameras:

Canon MKIII - Function Bank II, category 5, choice #1 for 2nd curtain

Canon 5DII - Flash has to be attached to camera and turned on. Menu 3rd from right that looks like a wrench. Go to: External speedlight control > Flash Function settings > Shutter synch > 2nd curtain. Unless camera senses speedlight with 5DII, it can't be done.

Just set it and leave camera in 2nd curtain synch always. If using a fast shutter speed it does not matter, and if using a slow shutter speed you’ll want it. SHOT #4

Also, nice to know it is extremely consistent for action sequences, as we can see from this series of 37 photos shot on motordrive at F-2.8 and using only 4% of the power of the strobe for each shot. Photo shot from behind strobe, focused on LED on rear of strobe, but showing consistency of light emitted from strobe to the exposure slate. You probably can't see it in this small screen grab, but each LED reads "4", without variation. A smaller aperture would have used a higher percentage of strobe power, but this LED graphic makes it very easy to choose the correct aperture for whatever the strobe-to-subject distance might be to assure ultra-quick recycle when shooting motordrive sequences SHOT #3

While I was at it, I also tested the E-TTL, but I'd done that before so no surprise it was very accurate. See the range of exposures from F-4 - F-22, F-22 being a little dark only because it exhausted all the power in the strobe at the minimum F-stop. BTW ... when it dumps full power the LED display reads EE, and it emits an audible signal so you know, even without looking. SHOT #1

And finally, here is the test of the manual brackets at full power, half power, quarter power, and one-eighth power; each with about 6/10ths of a second between shots. This was as quickly as we could rotate the aperture dial on camera and on slate. The recycle was actually much quicker at settings less than full power, too fast for me to actually time. Testing did demonstrate extremely rapid recycle capability. SHOT #2

Seaflash 150 works with Canon (E-TTL) and Nikon (I-TTL).

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Scuba Diving Magazine's Annul Photo Contest

Each year I travel to Savannah, Georgia to help judge Scuba Diving Magazine's annual photo contest. As a courtesy to my friends and fellow photo enthusiasts, I hereby post their invitation to participate:

"2009 Scuba Diving Magazine Photo Contest
Got a good eye for underwater photography? It could take you to Wakatobi Resort in Indonesia if you are the Grand Prize winner of the 2009 Scuba Diving Magazine Photo Contest. (Grand Prize courtesy of Wakatobi and Reef & Rainforest.) You can compete for prizes in four categories: Macro, Topside, Marine Life and Wide-Angle. Other prizes include a live-aboard trip for two aboard the Caribbean Explorer II, a dive trip for two to Fort Young Hotel in Dominica, a dive trip for one on Aqua Cat Cruises in the Bahamas, a dive trip for two to Habitat Curacao, UWATEC Aladin Tec 2G wrist computer, Atomic Aquatics B2 regulator, Dive Rite 3000 regulator, Spare Air package and cases by Storm Case.

For more information and to enter, go to > "

Hope to see you there, albeit virtually.

While you are thinking of UW photo concepts related to Scuba Diving magazine, please be aware I was also very involved with the creation of a very tasteful and informative e-zine having to do with underwater imaging. To get it, and to subscribe to the new "Ocean Imaging" monthly newsletter we are now sending out, you need to visit this URL below and register.

"Register for the new Ocean Imaging newsletter and get a free Photo Guide!
Sign up today for Ocean Imaging, the free e-newsletter for underwater photographers and videographers from Scuba Diving magazine. Each month, new photo and video tips, news on the latest equipment, and direct links to exciting new imaging content on will be delivered to your e-mail inbox—free of charge!

To register, simply complete the survey here >

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Power of RAW ... and Lightroom ... and a Great Shot

I had a photo course over the past couple of days with a friend. We were shooting here in Key Largo, but he brought me some of the images he'd shot in the past including a very nice series from Palau's Jellyfish Lake. There was one particular image that was so striking compositionally I asked to see the RAW file so we could see what we could extract from it using Adobe Lightroom 2.

Actually, everything we did was done in only a few minutes. The original RAW, bottom photo, was very yellow and green. Actually, the water was probably yellow and green, but that doesn't mean that we had to be too literal about it. We tweaked the exposure, boosted the blacks, and then used the eye-dropper tool to select color. The eye-dropper can be used on any area in the photo that is black, 18% gray, or white (white that still has detail, that is) and it will add the color shift that will change the overall tint to achieve what mathematically the program would deduce is black or white or gray.

Sometimes, that gets one closer in a single jump than can be done using the color balance sliders. Still, one should rarely trust that is the final color fix, and fine-tune the color balance. Additionally, we spotted a couple of small bits of backscatter, and used the new graduated filter tool, dragging it from the upper right down into the fin area. (The graduated filter and adjustment brush, where you can actually brush exposure variability onto select portions of the photo are reason enough to upgrade from Lightoom 2 from Version 1.0.)

The adjusted color version is in the center, and then with a click on the grayscale button and a couple of slider tweaks the black and white image resulted. We decided that was our favorite from the series.

All of that is very powerful, but what really rocks is that the images don't exist as megabytes on my harddrive until exported. Before that, they are merely instruction sets that exist on Virtual Copies of the master RAW shot, and these are only a couple of kilobytes.

Lightroom presents massive time-saving options to the digital photographer, and keeps the archive mass reasonably manageable as well.

Friday, November 28, 2008

RED camera - early test data

All images © George Monteiro, all rights reserved

I'm not a videographer. But, I am a big fan of any means to get a better still image, and that includes using video to do so. Which these days, includes technology introduced by the RED system.

There has been a lot of chatter on various photography user groups about the potential of the RED digital cameras, in their current iteration and in terms of new products predicted. I'd tell you more about it, but truthfully don't know much more than I read on the web. This from RED's website: Typical high-end HD camcorders have 2.1M pixel sensors and record with 3:1:1 color sub-sampled video at up to 30fps. RED offers the Mysterium ™ Super 35mm cine sized (24.4×13.7mm) sensor, which provides 4K (up to 30 fps), 3K (up to 60 fps) and 2K (up to 120 fps) capture, and all this with wide dynamic range and color space in 12 bit native RAW. At 4K, that’s more than 5 times the amount of information available every second and a vastly superior recording quality. In addition, you get the same breathtaking Depth of Field and selective focus as found in film cameras using equivalent 35mm P/L mount lenses.

Of course, most are talking about the RED as competition to 35mm film for cinema projects, or video that massively out-resolves existing high definition technology. But, there is also the camp that contends that it won't be long until, for some types of photography, single frames from the RED will be competitive with the capture quality from still cameras. Imagine a sports shooter covering the 100-meter dash at the Olympics. Put the RED on a tripod and let it roll. Send the clip back to an editor and let them decide what the iconic, decisive frozen-moment-in-time might be. At the same time, there is video clip that can be used for the client's website. RED for web is overkill perhaps, but it will be done. As bandwidth and hard-drives increase in speed and capacity, it all seems very plausible.

Given all the excitement and hype, I've been very eager to see the current state of the art in RED image capture, and when my friend George Monteiro (from Sea-Cam video productions) stopped by my studio recently (he was down to do a test shoot underwater in Key Largo), I asked him to e-mail me a few sample JPGs from the day. Obviously, within the context of a blog you'll never be able to decipher image quality variables, but when I dug into the files in Photoshop I made a few basic deductions:

1. RED topside - The shot of the covered bridge is quite impressive. It was transmitted as a small JPG, but opened in Photoshop as a 24MB, 8-bit file. That's about the size file I would expect from a 10-12 megapixel digital still camera. Not necessarily all the detail I'd expect to see from a 12-megapixel camera, but considering this is a still frame from a video, amazing. It held detail quite well in the 100% enlargement. See the screengrab from Actual pixels in Photoshop. Considering the context, really a significant achievement in technology.

2. RED underwater - Here's a few of George's comments in his post to me. Here are a few test stills I pulled from yesterday's shoot. Please don't judge them for composition most are from the middle or end of a tracking or pan shot. But they will show you the native resolution of the red in 4K mode at 30FPS with a wide open shutter (1/30th of a second) so you will see motion blur in the close fast moving fish. The images have been compressed as Jpegs to about a half meg each. They were shot in natural light with a UR Pro with a dome port using the 18mm setting on the wide angle Red zoom lens ... I color corrected them for maximum dynamic range in RED Cine and used the various white balance features to achieve what I thought was agood balance. They may be a little contrasty and over saturated but this was my first attempt with underwater footage with RED

He made the other significant comment that it was all shot at 1/30th of a second. I asked why 1/30th, immediately thinking back to the very old analog days when the Pentax 6x7 I bought was essentially DOA for underwater use because it only would synch with strobe at 1/30th second and slower. 1/30th was way too slow for most things I shot on the reef, and only acceptable with wide angle shots with models, or shots in low ambient light. He explained, logically enough, that choosing faster shutter speeds made the video less "fluid" and more choppy. Faster shutter speeds would be better for freezing the action of moving fish in a still frame grab, but may not be the perfect solution for optimizing video. Apparently, that will be a consideration when choosing shoot parameters primarily for video (motion) versus primarily for extracting stills.

George was dialing in a new dome, and in looking at the JPGs I see he probably missed focusing on the virtual image correctly, as the underwater shots aren't as sharp as the topside shots he showed me. However, finding the exact nodal point for a zoom lens is a complicated matter, and getting it right the first time would be a lucky thing indeed. Still, if the camera renders a sharp still frame topside, there is no reason it won't do the same underwater with the right port and port extension. The RED zoom focuses very close, so I doubt that it will need a diopter to focus on the virtual image, once the focus "sweet spot'' is determined for the dome of choice. George already has a plan to improve the result in his next dives.

The same rules that apply to minimizing optical aberrations with a housed still camera will apply to the housings for the RED. For moving pictures there is probably some latitude for smearing corners, but the higher the camera resolution, the more optical flaws will be evident. And, when those optical flaws are frozen, in a still frame, they are ever more obvious.

From this it is clear that RED bears strong potential for use underwater, but the housing manufacturers will have to get very serious about dome performance if these images are to hold up to publishing standards, competitive with existing still technology. Still, there will be some subjects that might never be captured any other way, and for these the RED will be marvelous.

Of course, technological convergence cuts both ways. As RED creates video technology that encroaches on the potential of still imaging, Canon has just introduced their 5DII still digital camera, capable of capturing high definition video, separate or even simultaneous with a 21-megapixel still digital photo. And as RED gets ready to introduce their new modular system, you can bet that our traditional camera manufacturers are pursuing revolutionary upgrades of their own.

These are fascinating times to be a shooter, for sure.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

New Canon PowerShot Brochure

I had a nice surprise when I received my newest issues of Digital Photo Pro and Outdoor Photographer magazines. Polybagged with each issue was the new 34-page catalog published by Canon for their advanced amateur photographers. Entitled "Canon EOS PowerShot for Advanced Photographers" this lavish production was anchored by their concept to have their Canon Explorers of Light using advanced consumer cameras. All of which makes sense, because the line between consumer and professional products is blurring all the time ... they are all just so very good these days. Any pro shooter could go out and do their job with almost any of the products featured in the catalog, although the pro versions might be better weather sealed, or have faster motordrive sequencing, or whatever. Still, the consumer products are pretty amazing these days.

Anyway, as a Canon Explorer of Light,, my assignment was to shoot the new Canon G10 in the Canon housing. The photos above show the cover (a gorgeous shot by Tyler Stableford), one of my underwater shots taken with the Canon "point-and-shoot", and the promo materials for the G10 camera.

I was meant to be on location in Little Cayman for Scuba Diving Magazine when this project came due, and it proved to be the perfect place to run the G10 through its paces. The shallow reef at the top of Bloody Bay Wall was ideal because the backgrounds for fish photography were so nice, the water so clear, and gratefully the fish were so accustomed to divers it made getting near enough for quality imaging quite easy.

Thanks to Travis Gainsley for taking the portrait of me and assisting the underwater portion of the shoot, and to my friends at Little Cayman Beach Resort for providing the photo-opportunities.

As for the G10, very cool camera. The native lens is 28mm (28-140mm in 35mm equivalents), and therefore a bit wider than the 35mm lens on the G9, and the image quality is superb. I've been shooting a Canon G9 as my family and pocket camera for a while now, and love the logic of the navigation within the various shoot modes. The G10 preserves the ergonomics and RAW capability, and bumps up the megapixel count, and adds the Digic 4 processor.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Solutions - Tom Kline on Photographing Salmon in Alaska

I had a phone conversation with photographer Tom Kline recently. He lives in Alaska and does very interesting research and documentary photography with marine life of the region. We had been chatting about a polecam system he was using to photograph herring at night from a boat, which made me think of other photo-ops he might encounter that might be particularly challenging. Like, photographing salmon in local streams, for example.

Aside from the obvious challenge of not wanting to be where a grizzly bear might be working the same salmon, Tom said the biggest problem is light. He said the days are very short in Alaska in the particular season when the salmon are running. The issue is further complicated by the mountainous terrain. The sun drops behind the ridges very early in the day, and even when it is "piercing" the canyons, it is like dusk in the Caribbean. So, Tom decided he needed to take his daylight with him.

To that end, his salmon-shooter involved building an aluminum "sled" that would hold his Seacam housing and Nikon D2X solidly on the stream bed. Then a set of rails held one Inon strobe (chosen for their small weight and easy maneuverability ... a huge issue when schlepping the system back into the woods) hard wired to the housing. That strobe pointed not towards the water, but up to an array of 5 other Inon strobe heads. In Tom's words "There are 5 strobes being slaved - two on the L and R ends, one in the middle, and two on the lollipop" Each of these four strobes are set to slave mode, and would fire when the hard-wired strobe went off. It is these 5 strobes that aim back towards the stream, in front of the lens, at the point where the salmon are meant to swim. At that point, Tom takes a long remote cord, sits on the bank of the river, and fires the camera once the salmon swim into view.

Very clever solution to a unique photographic challenge.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Now for Something Entirely Different - Alaska

I know this is a bit early to get excited for a trip that is not scheduled until summer 2011, but we did a trip to British Columbia and Alaska several years ago aboard the Nautilus Explorer, and that still remains vivid in my mind as one of my all time favorite live-aboard adventures.

For that one, please see:

The summer cruising season to this region is very short, and 2010 and all the rest of 2011 is sold out for the Nautilus Explorer. However, we were fortunate enough to have them hold a charter for us in the very heart of the best-of-the-best time to be there. This time it is a special itinerary to Alaska only. See the letter below from Captain Mike Lever of Nautilus Explorer to know what to expect:

"Our Alaska journeys have continued to evolve and get better and better since you were last onboard. The diving, scenery and experiences up here were always spectacular but with each passing season, we are getting more and more dialed in, discovering more "kick-ass" dive sites, obtaining additional permits and fine tuning the very best places to see the big critters -- humpback whales, sealions, sea otter, grizzly bears, giant pacific octopus and wolfeels. We now have one site with 10 wolfeels and can practically guarantee octopus sightings for example!

Sample Itinerary: Departure Date: Wed Jul 6, 2011. The ship will be available for boarding in Juneau at 6:00 pm. The ship is scheduled to sail at 8:00 pm. Disembarking in Ketchikan on Sat Jul 16, 2011 at 9:00 am.

Day 1: Dinner-time board in Juneau. Evening steam and anchor before midnight.

Day 2-4: Wake up at Point Adolphus at the entrance to Glacier Bay for the best humpback whale viewing in southeast Alaska plus eagles and stellar sealions. 3 hour sail to Indian Island at the entrance to Icy Strait where we will anchor for the next 3 days. Excellent invertebrate diving plus stellar sealions on every dive with vis usually 20 - 30 feet. Zodiac tours and kayaking with fantastic photo op's up close with humpback whales, sealions, sea otters, bald eagles, etc. Finish off with an evening visit to the tiny boardwalk community of Elfin Cove.

Day 5: Wake up at Baranoff Warm Springs. 2 great dives with loads of scallops, anemones and kelp plus a visit to the hot-springs.

Day 6: Patterson Point. Reliable octopus sightings. Breathtaking scenery at anchor in a steep sided fjord. This is the most beautiful inlet we have ever seen and we have seen grizzly bears on every visit here.

Day 7 - 8: Port Alexander/Wooden Island. Great place for zodiac tours and kayaking and shore visit to Port Alexander not to mention varied and excellent diving - both invertebrate and critters including 10 wolf eels around a single rock.

Day 9: Le Conte glacier. Iceberg day!!

Day 10: Prince of Wales Island. Steep wall diving, 10,000 swimming
scallops, varied diving, early evening arrival Ketchikan.

Day 11: morning disembark”

I know what some of you may be thinking ... I don't do cold water. I had that thought the first time to British Columbia and Alaska as well, but with modern drysuits the cold is not an issue, and truthfully, I have never seen greater density and diversity of life underwater than beneath these Emerald Seas. Plus, for the most part, things don't move quickly and the photo opportunities are extraordinarily productive. Yet, for all of that, the best of this trip happens above the water. Seeing glaciers calf, watching eagles and grizzly bears and stellar sealions, trying our hand at over/unders with salmon, relaxing in a natural hotspring, and photographing humpback whales are pure phototgrapic inspiration!

My wife Barbara and daughter Alexa were aboard for the last trip and they didn't even go diving. Still, they found this was one of our best family vacations ever. In fact, Barbara just came in and looked over my shoulder as I was looking at photos from the last trip, and she confirmed, emphatically, that she wouldn't be diving this time either! Oh well, her loss, because for sure I'll be diving. You can dress for cold, but you can't experience the magic below without jumping into it.

Even though 2011 is a long way away, this is a very special trip, and I appreciate the cooperation and consideration our friends at Nautilus Explorer have extended in giving us this absolutely perfect seasonal opportunity to visit Alaska.

As with all my dive travel and photo courses, please see WaterHouse Tours, for more information.,

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Pix from the Road - Ambon to Raja Ampat

I just got home from a great trip to Indonesia, beginning in Ambon and cruising to Raja Ampat on the Seven Seas. Terrific boat and crew, and big shout-out to Stew Esposito, cruise director on board, for going the extra mile at every step along charter but especially shepherding our bags on board the ExpressAir flight out of Sorong.

Nothing worse than getting home without your bags. Well, plenty things are worse than that, but still, something to be avoided whenever possible. Especially in my case this time, as my Seacam 1DsMKIII housing was booked to leave the day after I got home to go to the Bahamas to shoot super-models for the Victoria's Secret swimsuit campaign. I wasn't invited, mind you, but my housing got to go on rental to shoot over/unders and such with pro fashion shooter Russell James. No doubt my housing will have good stories to tell when he comes home ;)

The trip had very nice diversity, with good wide angle potential in the Banda Sea (although there were plenty of critter options there too) and the wealth of creatures and soft coral backgrounds that make fish and macro photography so interesting in Raja Ampat.

I'll get around to writing a proper article about the trip one day soon, but for now here's a brief glimpse of the kinds of photo-ops we encountered on our 12 days at sea.