Underwater Photography

Goin’ Nuts with an Olympus TG-6 (Shooting from the Hip for Snorkelers)

Compact Cameras, Supernatural Eyes, and how to “Go Nuts”…

A compact camera in your hand, one like the Olympus TG-6, can be like having a supernatural eye embedded in your palm. Just like that creature in Pan’s Labyrinth. I know that sounds nuts, but, come on, underwater photography, in full flight, is wonderfully nuts… is it not?

‘Bend it like a PJ’ (photo taken 23/08/20). This shot of a Port Jackson shark was taken the third time I went in the water with the TG-6. Not unlike working with the TG-4, this result would not be possible without the sequential shooting mode. The difference with the TG-6 though, is that it allows you to create RAW files in this ‘burst’ mode, whereas the TG-4 did not. This, for me, is such a drawcard for upgrading to the TG-6.

Before I had a TG-6, I was using the Olympus TG-4, which I simply adore. It was the camera with which my passion for underwater photography became fully realized. In many ways, I would’ve been happy to just continue with the TG-4—I still have it and it remains in good working condition. But, the itch to grab a TG-6 and give it a go proved too hard to resist.

And, moving onto the TG-6 was just that- an itch. I was not motivated by online reviews or anecdotes by other underwater photographers. It just felt time to move onto something new.

Of course, calling the Olympus TG-6 something new, having been a TG-4 user for over three industrious years beforehand, might not qualify as the-whole-truth-and-nothing-but-the-truth. Regardless of the truth here, all transitions should be as smooth and benevolent as the one I experienced in changing from a TG-4 to a TG-6. Not to mention as rewarding.

‘The Dandy’ (photo taken 05/01/21).  This shot of an eastern blue groper was largely the product of working ‘one-handed’. Camera in one hand, leaving the other hand free to grab onto a rock ledge. This approach is made a lot easier with a compact camera. Also, at the time, I considered that piece of seaweed an unwanted invader–however, I realized later it adds, not detracts. The lesson here has to be keep shooting no matter what ‘invades’ the frame.

Tips and Tricks for ‘Goin’ Nuts’

Okay, before going any further we need to backtrack. By ‘going nuts’, I don’t mean macro or using lights or a housing or anything remotely fancy. I’m talking about pure, if not primitive, point and shoot. So, before we go nuts with our new Olympus TG-6, it’s upon me to tell you my camera set-up as simply and clearly as I can.

Camera Modes

With the mode selector wheel switched to underwater, go with ‘underwater wide’. Then hit the toggle directly under the ‘ok’ button which will give you the sequential shooting mode–we’re going with the third choice from the left. That’s ‘sequential low’, then hit the ‘ok’ button. Hitting the ‘ok’ button again will allow you to choose RAW files, if you so desire. One more toggle up will give you the aspect ratio; I favor 4:3, you can always crop later. The last little thing I find crucial is going into the menu settings and making sure ‘rec view’ is turned off, so there’s no delay in seeing what you’re shooting while in sequential shooting mode.

‘Rowboat’ (photo taken 13/10/20). The thing about this little green turtle was that he caught a lot of light. Both his shell and skin were very pale and very reflective, and we were in the shallows where the sunshine was quite strong. This was a case of dropping the exposure bias by -0.7 step to compensate. The by-product of doing this, which I quite like, is a darkened background.

Exposure Compensation

Once in the water, one particular difference I’ve found while using the TG-6 as opposed to the TG-4 is the need to adjust the exposure bias if the subject is particularly bright which can often be the case in shallow and clear water. There’s a handy dial on top of the camera right next to the shutter button. I either go with -0.3 or -0.7 step depending on the subject and conditions. Sadly, I have no clear and concise tip here. Like so much of this primitive, ‘going nuts’ approach it’s a matter of practice and adjusting in response to results.

There are times, in lower light and less visibility, when it’s advisable not to change the bias at all. Given I’m still in my early days here, this little matter remains a work in progress. Nevertheless, I’d rather deal with an underexposed shot in post production instead of an overexposed one.

‘Roar’ (photo taken 16/03/21). This photo of an Australian giant cuttlefish must qualify as a technical disaster. You’d have to be nuts to include it in a blog about underwater photography and underwater cameras. Thankfully, if you’re reading this, we’re in Nutsville. The tech specs on this one are as follows- f 2.8, 1/60 sec and an ISO of 1250. No flash was used and heaps of light was pumped into this photo in post production, as well as a generous amount of contrast. Despite all the manipulation and ‘noise’ in this shot, I will stand by it as a triumph of going nuts with an Olympus TG-6. Now we’re cave painting!

Embrace the Witchcraft

I fear it must’ve been something of an outrageous statement to claim in my opening paragraph a compact camera in your hand might amount to having a supernatural eye embedded in your palm, but allow me to say, as I have whenever I’ve had the chance in the past, that digital photography is witchcraft. You could never get away with what we’re now getting away with back in the days of shooting on film. As such, the combination of the wonders to be found underwater and this ‘witchcraft’ is an invitation, if not a clarion call, for you to grab an Olympus TG-6, jump in the sea and go nuts.

But, wait a minute, just technology without technique nor that elusive and contentious notion of what is and what is not beautiful makes going nuts a hollow pursuit when it comes to underwater photography. Oh no, this is where I descend, pardon the pun, into the finer points of what the approach and philosophy of going nuts with our new TG-6 is all about.

‘That first day in a new school’ (Photo taken 14/09/20). Fish swimming away is normally a mine in which no gold can be found, as far as underwater photography goes. There are, of course, by way of exception, great tail shots to be had. Here, with all the help in the world from the sequential shooting mode, I threw myself into a large school of yellowtail scad, twisting and turning with them. The one drawback is the great number of shots you may find yourself going through, and going through fish school shots is tiring, to find a piece of gold. But, it’s the shot that lasts in the memory not the effort in mining it.


Composition is bound to turn up in any discussion of any form of photography and here it is in relation to going nuts with our new TG-6. Being really fussy or being any sort of perfectionist as you would as a macro photographer or what-have-you has no place here. Nevertheless, gaining a sense of good or, better yet, striking composition is essential. My pointers boiled down to their simplest are as follows-

  1. Get as low (eye-level at least) and as close as you can to the subject (as close as the subject or circumstances will let you).
  2. Fill the frame as best you can with the subject in question. And, unless we’re taking a head shot here, try and get all of the subject in the frame.
  3. Aim to shoot the subject from a forward aspect. Maybe not swimming at you necessarily, but an angle on the creature’s approach or close encounter will add dimension to the photo.
  4. The one other pointer, not strictly relating to composition but inextricably linked to it, is to do with light. In using only natural light, the one staple of goin’ nuts, the main consideration is keeping the light behind you as best you can and as much as the subject and moment will allow.

Rules are a drag and surely seem a corruption of the spirit of goin’ nuts. The good news here is that there’s an exception for every rule. But, knowing the rules makes breaking them that much more fun. Not to mention that much more effective.

‘You and blue’ (photo taken 14/09/20). This shot of an eastern blue groper over the rocky reef near Shelly Beach in Sydney, Australia doesn’t break all the rules. It is low and close, and the light is behind us. But, it’s bang side-on, no particular angle at all. And, this has got to be the worst part, his tail is unceremoniously chopped off in a most haphazard fashion. This is goin’ nuts with mixed results. Nevertheless, I value this photo for the groper’s appraisal of me and the TG-6, which nailed the focus for me, by the way. This groper’s look was something meant for a side-on shot and, if the tail had been in this shot, the groper’s face would’ve been squeezed into the corner of the frame instead of the sweet spot where it is. This, I would argue, is an uneasy but nonetheless happy marriage of goin’ nuts and composition.

‘Down in the alley’ (photo taken 10/02/21). A fairly large, banded wobbegong, around two metres in length, shunning the attention of prying underwater photographers. At close to two metres, I wasn’t about to get too close or too low to this shark in such a tight spot. Wobbegongs are normally placid but they have an impressive set of teeth which they will use if pushed too far…this is navigating the fine line between goin’ nuts and being stupid!

Shooting Format: Portrait or Landscape??

That wobbegong shot brings us to the matter of if and when to use a portrait format. By a portrait format I merely mean swinging the camera on its side at something like a ninety degree angle. There are times the TG-6 will do this automatically, when you’re twisting and turning in an attempt to keep a moving subject best placed in the frame. Such was the case with that first shot of the Port Jackson shot. I had him lined up in the normal manner on his initial approach but as the shark change direction and I reacted in kind, the TG-6 swung into portrait mode. Of course, you can swing any given shot into portrait mode or back from it in post production. I myself seldom argue with the TG-6’s judgement, certainly not in the case of that Port Jackson shot.

Then there’s consciously adopting the portrait format at the time of shooting in the water. That can be a little trickier and something I’ve only been wholeheartedly embracing the past couple of years. When in doubt I go the conventional landscape orientation. There are situations, such as the subject being a long creature like a shark descending or ascending, when portrait format is a no-brainer. The background of a subject further away may appear that much interesting in portrait format. There are times the shots I’m taking don’t seem to be making an impression on me at all but employing the portrait format then, well, turns it right around and makes it nutty enough to be a winner or much less of a loser at least. There again, practice heaps and dare to stuff it up until you find your mark.

‘Dive bomber’ (Photo taken 31/08/20). This shot of an Australian giant cuttlefish crash diving was definitely an instance of employing the portrait format being a no-brainer. Long subjects all but demand it.


‘Way of the wobbegong’ (photo taken 18/01/21). Employing the portrait format here was more of an aesthetic thing. Can things aesthetic be associated with goin’ nuts? Hmm, anyway, this shot was never gonna fly in landscape format. The way of this wobbegong was forward, not to one side or the other.

My Underwater Philosophy

In closing, we come to the philosophy, or maybe ‘driving force’ is a better way to look at it, behind what it is to go nuts with our new TG-6. I believe good underwater photography, or any photography for that matter, benefits from being possessed. By possessed I do indeed mean possession as portrayed in the film The Exorcist. ‘By the Devil!’ I hear you exclaim. No, by a different driving force. ‘Ahh,’ you say, ‘you mean the love of the ocean and of its creatures, doncha?’

No! I do not! Love for the ocean and its creatures is all well and good for fighting the good fight of marine conservation and all that but when it comes to underwater photography love ain’t gonna cut it. Love’s going to fall short. Love will muddle the matter. What we’re talking about here is fascination.

Fascination, hopefully you have David Bowie’s track by that name playing in the background as you read this, is much cooler but just as deep as, you know, whatever that other thing was I just mentioned.

Fascination for the ocean and its creature, I’m convinced as a devout Catholic at Lourdes, is crucial to guiding your hand in the right direction when it comes to going nuts with our new TG-6.

‘More than just a pretty face’ (photo taken 29/08/20).


All the photos presented here were taken at the Cabbage Tree Bay Aquatic Reserve located in Sydney, Australia. What this marine sanctuary might lack in size it more than makes up for in its concentration of cool critters. Each season, even each month, can bring on a whole new cast of characters. I’m indebted to this place on every imaginable level.

‘Star jump’ (photo taken 13/10/20). As I would’ve mentioned before this little green turtle was catching so much light I dropped the exposure bias by -0.7 step. I possibly could’ve gone harder. Nevertheless, the TG-6’s viewfinder tipped me off to how bright this chap was. Note how the background is so underexposed this almost looks like a blackwater shot. Witchcraft!

Ian Donato


  1. Heidi Ernst April 8, 2021

    Hello, I love the colors and sharpness of the pictures. Have you done any editing? And if so, which program, if I may ask.
    Thank you

  2. Judy April 9, 2021

    I love the photos.. im an addict too.wanba get better thanks for the tips

  3. Maree April 10, 2021

    Thank you, I love this write up. I’m new to the TG world, recently purchased TG6 and still finding my sea legs when it comes to snorkelling, so those 2 things combined = I have no clue what I’m doing lol. Looking forward to lots of practising. Do you have any other tips or blogs that might be useful?

  4. Morgan Bennett-Smith April 13, 2021

    Hi there, it’s definitely a journey! This article from Ran is a great starting place for settings and info: https://www.housingcamera.com/blog/guides-tutorials/recommended-settings-underwater-compact-cameras

    Otherwise, practice makes perfect! The more you shoot, the better you get 🙂

  5. Morgan Bennett-Smith April 13, 2021

    Hi Heidi,

    Thanks for the comment! Ian’s philosophy is to keep it simple, but he does edit his photos using the Olympus software that came with the TG-4, called Olympus Viewer 3. He updated it online when he purchased the TG-6, and uses it for minor adjustments. Another great program for editing underwater photos is Adobe Lightroom, which offers a lot more power and flexibility, but is not free unless you already pay for Adobe Creative Cloud. Hope this helps!

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