Tips, tricks and photographic techniques from Liquid Lense’s underwater digital imaging specialists, to help you capture perfect underwater Cavern and Swim-through shots.
Caverns and Swim-throughs offer a great opportunity to take some stunning images, with superb underwater ambient light settings.
Light and White Balance Settings
When photographing in Caverns and Swim-throughs, to make use of the ambient light, you will achieve your best photographs on sunny days. Ambient light gives amazing blue backgrounds, silhouettes and the ability to capture scenes that are too large to be lit only by strobes.
To help boost the blue background, you can experiment with your camera’s different White Balance Modes. For example, with Canon cameras, we tend to set the ‘White Balance Type’ to the ‘Fluorescent’ setting. The Fluorescent setting adds warm red tones, thus enhancing the blue. Cameras vary, and diving conditions can be different too, so we recommend playing with your camera’s White Balance Settings to see which one works best for you.
You can capture some great silhouette shots of just a Cavern or a Swim-through, however by adding a subject, with a strong recognisable shape (for example a diver or fish,) you will have a focal point for your shot and it will add scale and depth. Typically, silhouettes are shot with the sun behind the subject. When photographing inside Caverns and Swim-throughs, when the sun is not directly visible, you can still achieve a great silhouette shot, as long as you have enough contrast between the darker subject and the blue water background.
Camera Settings for Cavern and Swim-through Shots
When shooting in manual mode, use a large aperture/low f-stop (for example f2.8/f3.2) and a slow shutter speed (for example 1/125). These settings will compensate for the darkness of the environment, allowing you to photograph in lower light conditions.
When shooting in auto mode or ‘P’ program mode, you can use the exposure value setting (EV) on your camera. The EV button allows you to quickly underexpose (darken) or overexpose (brighten) your image. When you play with the EV button, what you’re doing is telling the camera to either brighten or darken the photo, from the optimal exposure it perceives. Caverns and Swim-thoughs usually have lower light conditions, so you will want to try making your image brighter by upping your EV setting.
Try to set your ISO as low as possible. This will depend on the amount of natural light available, but by setting it as low as possible you will retain detail and have better image quality. Using a higher ISO, means the camera has less light to work with. Unfortunately, this also means you will probably end up with a noisy (grainy) image.
Strobes and Lighting
When photographing in Caverns and Swim-throughs, using a Strobe or a Digital compact camera’s internal flash, you will get the opportunity to capture a portrait shot of a diver, with the Cavern/Swim-through silhouetted in the background. You may also be able to capture the creatures living inside the Cavern/Swim-through.
Ideally, use an external strobe or strobes. A Digital compact camera’s internal flash is not ideal for underwater photography. The average compact camera may have a built in flash that can be used on land, up to 10m from the subject, but underwater it can only be used up to 3m from the subject. Remember, water absorbs light much quicker than air, so if using a Digital compact camera’s internal flash, try to get as close as possible to your subject.
You can dive with Scubafish and Liquid Lense through amazing Caverns and Swim-throughs at the islands of Ko Haa.
One of Ko Haa’s highlights is The Cathedral Cavern, at island number five (Ko Haa Yai.) This large cavern has three chambers. The first two chambers are connected by a shallow swim through, at 9m. It is possible to surface inside the Cathedral and see the limestone stalactites looming from the high ceilings.
Another highlight is The Chimney Cavern System, at island number one (Ko Haa Neung.) The Chimney is a Swim-through from 5m down to 17m. It has an inter-connecting chamber. The Chimney is home to a large shoal of Copper Cave Sweepers. You can also find banded sea snakes, lionfish, nudibranches, frogfish, harlequin shrimps, many other crustaceans and beautiful cowries, giving you great opportunities for photographs.
Please remember that all underwater photography requires you to have good buoyancy control and it is even more important when photographing in Caverns and Swim-throughs. This is for your safety, the environment and for achieving excellent photographic results.
You can take the PADI Peak Performance Buoyancy Specialty Course with Scubafish.