In underwater photography, shooting subjects with black backgrounds can really help to isolate and make your subject jump out of the picture. But how do you get the effect without diving in the dark?
Basically what you are trying to do is illuminate your subject but shut out all the light surrounding it.
This works best if you have empty space behind your subject rather than have it backing onto a coral or rock. Try different angles to achieve this and remember to shoot upwards, not downwards or ontop of the subject.
To achieve the effect, you have to adjust your cameras settings to limit the light. To do this, first you should put your shutter speed up high.
On an SLR the highest speed synced with your strobe is usually about 1/250th, on a compact camera its much higher so start at about 1/500th.
Having a high shutter speed pretty much does exactly as it says on the tin. It makes the shutter react more quickly, therefore only a small amount of light has time to reach the sensor before it closes.
Next, you need to set a small aperture (high f.stop) which will also limit the amount of light reaching the sensor. With an SLR this would be around f.16 or higher, with a compact around f.6.3. The small aperture combined with a fast shutter speed will shut out any ambient light and should give you the black background effect, even in bright conditions.
Your strobe also plays a big part of achieving the effect. If there is nothing behind your subject, then your strobes can be positioned wide and pointing slightly outward to avoid backscatter.
However if you do have something in the background, then strobe position can make or break the picture. Try to position your strobe so that it is wide and pointing inwards slightly towards the camera port. This should help with making the light just lightly hit your subject and not travel too far past it, making it easier to create the black background with the camera’s settings.
This technique can take a few attempts to master. If you find your background isn’t black enough, then put your settings up or try positioning your strobe differently. But once you do start to achieve it, you’ll be able to take some artistic and professional looking shots.
So get out there, have fun and see how black your background can get!
For different photography techniques, have a look at our Shot Type Tips page for inspiration. For other useful digital underwater photography techniques to help you get the most out of your underwater camera system, take a look at our Tips and Tricks section.
If you’d like to learn more about underwater photography, take a look at the Liquid Lense range of underwater photography courses. All Liquid Lense courses have been designed in-house to help you get the most out of an underwater camera system.
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