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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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-
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
- Goin’ Nuts with an Olympus TG-6 (Shooting from the Hip for Snorkelers) – April 5, 2021
- In Praise of Chance Encounters – September 11, 2020
- On Being an Underwater Photographer Who Favours the Shallow End – July 31, 2019