On our last Red Sea Relaxed, I have posed the question as to how I managed to successfully capture sunbeams.

Beam me down Scotty…..

Scuba Travel, Indonesia, Lembeh, Sunbeams
Perfect storm, of a beautiful reef out in Lembeh, where I’ve managed to frame out the sun but kept the beams

Capturing Sunbeams is quite difficult if shooting with a camera that you can only use the LCD screen to frame and focus. In fact, it’s much easier to take these pictures with your eye wedged up tight against a viewfinder, blocking out the extraneous light as you look towards the sun.
And if you really want an easier life then an optical viewfinder is way simpler to do this with. A very important point here, you MUST NEVER look directly into the sun, especially via some sort of optical pathway or even a screen.

This was no answer though as the person in question like me was wielding a mirrorless camera that had an LCD screen, even though it had a viewfinder it was an LCD viewfinder. Easier to the frame with I guess, but still with all the issues of using an electronic-based system.

Scuba Travel, diver, sunbeam, sunburst
This selfie I have blocked the sun itself with the laggy end of a bit of old rope which has allowed the beams to shine through, I shot this with a compact and framed the picture whilst I waited on the line during my safety stop.

Sunbeams Issues? What Issues?

Well, the problem with an LCD screen or viewfinder is that the image is produced electronically and the signal producing that image from the sensor struggles to capture such a wide dynamic range as encountered when pointing a camera towards the sun.
This results in a visible burning out of the image on screen or in the viewfinder, which isn’t an issue with a much simpler optically based system.
So how do I manage then and what was my advice?

I told the questioner that what I do is try and find the point when the camera starts to overload on screen and then reframe so that this point, the brightest point on the screen is only just out of shot.

This is easier said than done and requires a bit of practice. I prefer to do it using the screen and be prepared it doesn’t work every time, you will probably need to take a few shots to get success.

When it does though you’ll be rewarded with lovely beams of light cascading down your picture from above.

Scuba Travel, sunbeams
The beams are less pronounced in this shot, and to avoid the sun directly I’ve had to tilt the camera from the horizontal but I think you’ve got a bit more license to do this underwater than on land.

Sunbeams. Is that all? what about exposure?

You’re correct to ask, it isn’t just a matter of pointing it in the right direction.
You’ll need to make sure you’ve got your exposure right.
What I do is get a general idea of what my exposure without the strobes turned on should be.

I do this by taking a couple of test shots in the direction of the sun but without the sun actually in the frame.

This usually means that to get a nice dark blue and using a mid-range aperture around f8 on my fisheye lens (see why we shoot with wide-angle lenses here) then I am usually at or around the maximum synch speed of my camera which in my case is 1/320 of a second.
if you’re shooting with a compact you’ll be able to go much higher with this which will give you more flexibility and scope in some respects, but if not then as long as it’s not right in the middle of the day, then you should be able to get the background nice at about 1/250, if it’s still not dark enough then reduce your aperture and go to f11 or smaller.
Bearing in mind though that this will impact on your strobe settings and you will have to compensate by increasing their power accordingly.

Scuba Travel, sunbeams, Red Sea
Here the sun is only just out of frame, and I would have liked the background do be a bit darker, however, needs must and in the circumstances it was as dark as the kit I was using would allow.

Phew, a lot to think about.

Yes but if you practice your strobe and mixed lighting techniques then this shouldn’t be too much of a task load and you will get some beautiful sunbeams pictures.

If you take it nice and slowly and repeat your shots methodically you will in the end, get the sunbeams.

Taking things slowly is much easier on an itinerary that allows you more diving freedom.
Photographic itineraries that I have been running for four years now with Scubatravel are a tried and tested method, however, we are aware that not everyone wants to be on a dedicated photo trip so we have started running a new itinerary that has already received a resounding thumbs up from our guests is our new Red Sea Relaxed trips, these have the freedom and exclusivity of a photo itinerary, with a much more reactive plan, to include multiple dives at a site, and also an “open deck policy. Without being exclusively a photo trip.

Parting shot……

Please click on the picture to take you to a series of blogs about shooting wrecks. This could be you, in August this year, when I will be doing a Wreck themed photo trip. Click here.

Scuba Travel, diver, wreck
You just need to get your angles just so, to hide enough of the sun behind your foreground object. I’ve not got it exactly right here, but sometimes you need to cut yourself some slack, and to be honest it wouldn’t have been fair on my model to make him fin into quite a strong current at this point for much longer !!

Hope that’s been illuminating please dive safe and be kind to the environment.