Overlooked Settings for water shooting

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          While the basic shutter speed, aperture, and ISO settings maybe the main concern when shooting photos, there are a few more that can make or break your photos. Depending on your housing you also may only be able to change these before you get in the water. These settings have to deal with light and focus and both of these things are extremely important when it comes to nailing the shot as the last thing you want is a blown out sky or a shot out of focus.

          The first setting you should be aware of is focus point. (Assuming you are using Auto Focus) This is the place in the frame where you want your camera to focus. On my housing I am unable to change this once I put the camera in the housing so this is set while I am setting up my housing. While some people may have luck with the camera choosing where to focus, this has not worked for me in the past and often ended up with the closest water to me in focus and the wave or surfer out of focus. For me, I use point focus and I generally try to set the point in the top center of the frame. Now, there may be new technology that makes this way easier for some people but for anyone shooting on a 9 year old camera like I am you are going to want to change your focus point to where the surfer or wave is most often going to end up in your photo.

I set my focus point higher in the frame this day as I knew I was shooting airs.

I set my focus point higher in the frame this day as I knew I was shooting airs.

          Not deviating from the topic of focus, the next setting is auto focus mode. This is how your camera tracks objects and focuses on them. My camera has three focus modes, one shot, ai focus, and ai servo. One shot focuses on your focus point and keeps that focus until you stop holding down the shutter button. This is not useful for surf as the ocean is constantly moving. Ai focus focuses on your subject and if the subject moves it refocuses to try to track it. While this sounds good in theory, I have found that it is not reliable in surf as your entire scene is constantly moving. The last mode is Ai servo will refocus every frame to try to keep your focus point/subject always in focus. This is what I keep my camera on 99% of the time and have found it to work great for shooting surf or as good as my camera’s auto focus can work.

Unfortunately I missed the focus on this one, focus stayed on the foreground instead of refocusing in the center.

Unfortunately I missed the focus on this one, focus stayed on the foreground instead of refocusing in the center.

         The last setting I always try to keep on is my histogram. There are several ways to do this but my go to is to have the camera display the histogram in image review with a smaller preview of the image. Most cameras can have it display on screen the whole time you are shooting but I choose not to do that as keeping the screen on kills the battery much quicker. The histogram is important because it gives a more accurate representation of how your lighting in your shot is than the preview you get on the screen. If you use the preview on the camera you are relying on the brightness on the lcd screen and the conditions you are looking at it. Something shot in the bright sun with a high brightness may seem perfect when you review it on the screen but when you import it on the computer you may realize that the brightness on your screen was too high and the image is actually severely under exposed. I’ve had exactly that happen to me where all over my photos came out over exposed because the brightness was very low on my screen and they looked good on the previews. The histogram is much more important in the water because you cannot simply move into a shaded area to look at the previews of your shots to see if they are exposed properly.

This shot looked perfect on my view finder but when I pulled it up on the computer I realized my sky was completely blown out.  I was able to recover it with some extra editing.

          While there are many more important settings, these ones are often learned by trial and error. I thought they were worth mentioning to avoid the inevitable out of focus shots or blown out skies. I’ve made all these mistakes in the past so hopefully you don’t have to

 All Photos Copyright of Dave NIlsen Photography 

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