Finding the right White Balance

Everyone new to underwater photography wonders: “Where are the colours?”. Maybe you can identify yourself. After hours of diving and countless pictures taken you are sitting on your balcony, having a cold beer. You are reviewing your media and suddenly you wonder what happened to those beautiful colours on your images. Magnificent reefs and beautiful school of fish suddenly appear dull, green and boring. Let’s have a look on how to fix this issue in the first place.

When taking pictures underwater you need to keep in mind, that water absorbs the colour of light. Therefor, the deeper you venture, the less colours will be visible on your pictures.
You will notice, that the colour “red” is being completely absorbed at a depth of 10 meters, followed by “orange” at 20 meters, “yellow” at about 35 meters and “green” at a depth of 45 meters. Everything deeper than that will appear in a blueish colour.

There are three different ways on how to restore these colours on your images. Some techniques work better than others and might also depend on your camera system. But one word is enough to rule them all:

WHITE BALANCE


The process of adjusting the colour composition in a picture is called white balancing. You can accomplish this while taking a picture or in post production. When setting the White Balance on your camera, you are simply telling your device, which colour in your current setting is “true white”. In result, the cameras algorithm calculates all other colours according to the “true white” you set.

Note:


If you are capturing the underwater world with an action camera like a GoPro, there is little you can do to make the colours pop, but one of the following tips might also work for you.


1. Automatic Underwater White Balance

When choosing between different White Balance settings in your camera you might come across the “Automatic Underwater White Balance” (usually marked with a FISH symbol). Not every camera supports this feature. Cameras like the Canon G7x, Sony RX100 or the Olympus TG series for example allow you to use Underwater White Balance. As every cameras colour algorithm is different, the results from different cameras will vary in style and colour. Automatic UW White Balance is a good way to get started but might not work properly at greater depth.


2. Manual White Balance

Every digital, mirrorless or DSLR camera allows you to adjust the White Balance manually. Depending on the manufacturer and camera system you would have to take a picture of something white (white fins or slates e.x). Then you need to tell your camera that this image contains the “true white” and your camera will calculate the whole colour spectrum according it. This setting is usually found at the very bottom of the White Balance settings.
Adjusting your White Balance manually gives you greater opportunities, better results but can sometimes be quite tiring: Remember, the colour spectrum is different at every depth. Meaning you would have to adjust the White Balance every time you go shallower or deeper. Some cameras give you the option of saving multiple custom White Balance settings. This way you can set 3 different White Balances for 3 different depth and change them according to your depth.


3. Post Production White Balancing

Everything is possible in post production. If you have experience using editing programs like Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop you know, that you can change the Temperature and Tint of a picture in post production which is actively effecting the White Balance of your image. Lightroom gives you the option of selecting a white object on the frame. According to your selection it will adjust Tint and Temperature of all colours.
Changing White Balance in post production is a great tool to rescue your underwater colours but it should be the last resort. The quality of the image suffers under too much editing and post production. Therefor you are advised to capture your images straight from your camera with the right White Balance setting and only “manipulate” the image afterwards if truly needed.

Conclusively we would advise you to set your White Balance manually for the best results. If you are still not happy with your colours, the only way out is to invest in underwater strobes. Only with underwater strobes the true colour of the underwater world will comes into light. Learn more about underwater strobes in our next article.

Why Whales Make Sounds

Generally speaking, whales are believed to make noise to either navigate, communicate, locate food or find other whales. 

All whales are very social creatures that travel in groups called “pods.” They use a variety of different noises to communicate and socialize with each other. The three main types of sounds made by whales can be specified as clicks, whistles, and pulsed calls.

In the animal kingdom these clicking sounds are believed to be used for navigation and identifying their physical surroundings. You may have already heard of bats using this exact same technique, known as echolocation or biological sonar, to fly in the dark and locate potential prey and predators. But they are not the only ones. Dolphins, toothed whales and some types of birds are also well known for using this extraordinary technique, as it allows them to move around in pitch darkness, while still being able to navigate, hunt, identify friends and enemies, and avoid obstacles.

 This is how it works: When the soundwaves produced by one of these animals bounce off of an object, the echoes returning from all directions help the animal to form a 3-dimensional picture of its environment, helping them to identify the shape and distance of the object and thus allowing the animal to ‘see’ further than their eyes are able. Specifically for Dolphins and toothed Whales these sounds are produced by squeezing air through their nasal passages near the blowhole. These soundwaves then pass through the forehead, where a big blob of fat called the melon focuses them into a beam. If the echolocating call hits something, either an object or another animal,  the reflected sound is picked up through the animal’s lower jaw and passed to its ears. Echolocating sounds can be really loud, hence the ears of dolphins and whales are shielded to protect them.

 Experts also believe these special clicking sounds to play a role during social interactions, suggesting they may also have a communicative function.

Similar to the variety of languages and dialects of the human language, differing vocal “dialects” have been found to exist between different pods within the same whale population. This is most likely so that whales can differentiate between whales within their pods and strangers. 

Did you know that some humans are also able to use echolocation? Some blind individuals have learned to use echolocation to sense details of the environment by making clicking sounds with their mouths. Studies have shown that this is possible with lots of training, even for people who are not sight impaired.

In addition to clicks, most toothed whales also produce whistle-type sounds. Humpback whales for example are famous for their singing abilities, as you probably remember Dory demonstrating in the iconic Finding Nemo scene. Interestingly only males sing, and their singing is heard most often but not exclusively during mating season. The singer is usually alone in a head-down, tail-up position, but occasionally another Humpback will join in. Humpback whales do not have vocal cords, so the way they produce sounds is by pushing air through tubes and chambers in their respiratory system. Using underwater microphones, whale researchers have recorded the sound of different species communicating underwater as a method of detecting, tracking, and identifying whales. One way to analyze these recorded signals is to digitize them using a computer and to display them as a spectrogram, which are visual representations of the spectrum of frequencies of a signal, in simpler terms a way to visualize sound like a picture. Hypotheses to why whales sing exist, but researchers do not know the absolute reason. The most common theory is not much different from the clicking explanation, as it is believed to serve as a way to communicate their location to other males, attract females, navigate, find food, and communicate with each other.


The 5 Best Beginner Dive Sites around Amed

Blessed with clear visibility and a large variety of marine creatures: The area surrounding the little fishing village of Amed makes every divers heart beat go faster.
The north eastern coastline of Bali is packed with endless coral reefs. Dozens of bays string together forming Balis largest dive area. From Padang-Bay through Gili Selang up to Amed and Tulamben you could literally jump into the water and dive. This abundance of sites can be overwhelming, therefor we will share the 5 best dive sites for beginners with you.


1. USAT Liberty Shipwreck (Tulamben)

Depth: 5-35 meters
Access: Shore
Level: Beginner

The areas most famous dive site claimed its reputation for a reason. USAT Liberty was an American war vessel during the second world war. The ship got torpedoed by the Japanese towards the end of WW2 close to the Komodo Islands. Upon it’s sinking the ship got pulled to the island of Bali where allied forces beached the vessel on Tulambens shore. The Liberty remained stranded there for many years while being scavenged by the local community. The eruption of the massive volcano “Mt. Agung” in 1963 forced the vessel underwater where it lies up to this day. Over the years the wreck became a heavenly paradise for marine life. The whole ship is covered in different types of hard and soft corals. This coral city invites an astonishing variety of marine creatures to settle. Most famously known is a family of Humphead Parrotfish (Bolbometopon muricatum) residing in the shipwreck at night, whilst grazing on the surrounding coral reefs during the day.

2. Pyramids (Amed, Tukatse)

Depth: 5-25 meters
Access: Shore/Boat
Level: Beginners to Advanced

This dive site in the heart of Amed is a pure gem. Along the large coral reef lie artificial coral constructions in the shape of pyramids. The reef itself ranges from a depth of 5 to 20 meters and is home to a variety of coral fish (Angle Fish, Butterfly Fish…). Alongside the reef on a depth of 18-25 meters about 20 large pyramids align them selves. Over the years the pyramids allowed plenty of corals to grow on them. With corals came a diversity of schooling fish (fusiliers, goat fish…). Additionally, every pyramid is home to a slightly different type of coral. Some of them are inhabited by large fan corals, others by table corals and some are home to a mix of different hard and soft coral species. This site can attract pelagic marine animals like hammerhead sharks, schools of barracudas and sometimes even whale sharks.

3. Amed Wall & Jemeluk Bay (Amed, Jemeluk)


Depth: 3-55 meters
Access: Shore
Level: Beginners, Advanced and Professional

The best place to learn diving in Amed. In the shallow areas of the bay, right off-shore, beginners can perfectly accomplish their Open Water Course. By venturing out towards the right side of the bay you will eventually reach the famously known “Amed Wall” – a beautiful wall dive site ranging from 10-45 meters. The wall is covered in all types of coral. You can find gigantic sponges, gorgeous fan corals and large table corals. On days of clear visibility you will be astonished by the beautiful landscape.

4. Drop Off (Tulamben)

Depth: 5-60 meters
Access: Shore
Level: Beginners, Advanced and Professional

Even though this dive site is dropping very deep, beginners can enjoy the feeling of flying along the shallower parts of the wall. The Tulamben Drop Off is quite different to the Wall in Amed. Different types of corals can be found. Also the marine life in this part of the coast varies from the one found in Amed. Just because the site is reaching very deep it doesn’t mean that the area from 5-18 meters has nothing to offer. A school of fusiliers is stationary living at the very beginning of the dive site. The Drop Off is also home to an abundance of macro marine life. Nudibranchs in all shapes and sizes can be encountered here. Don’t spread the word to loud but there have even been recent sightings of Whale Sharks right here!

5. Japanese Shipwreck (Amed)


Depth: 3-30 meters
Access: Shore
Level: Beginners

Among dive professionals in the area this site is known as a paradise for microscopic marine creatures. The wreck is considerably small and lies very shallow just in front the shore. Despite its small size it is home to dozens of nudibranchs, ghost pipefishes and coral fish. Beginners love this wreck as it is easily accessible and shallow. The reef surrounding the shipwreck is worth another whole dive itself. Pristine corals, thousands of different species of fish and the notoriously known “Pigmy Seahorse” can be found here. To find this very small seahorse you definitely need very good eyes or a dive buddy specialised in finding them!

Who is a Scorpion?

The order of scorpaeniformes includes many different families which come in variable forms, textures and colors. All of them are very poisonous, some less than others but nevertheless you need to be extremely careful when working with them. Usually they would never charge you if you behave respectfully and responsibly.

Kingdom: Animalia, Phylum: Chordata, Class: Actinopterygii, Order: Scorpaeniformes, Suborder: Scorpaenoidei, Family: Scorpaenidae


Lionfish (Pterois)
Most commonly known member of the Scorpaenidae family is the Lionfish genus. Lionfish vary from species to species. All of them have similar features: featherlike fins, distinct facial features and poisonous spikes on their back.

During the day, Lionfish tend to rest on corals or rock. If you approach them slowly you get a good chance to take pictures of them. At night they start to hunt. Some divers experience that Lionfish follow them at night. This is due to the divers’ torches. Lionfish use the light to locate their prey.
Unlike in other parts of the world, Bali’s Lionfish are a natural part of the ecosystem and not invasive.

Common species in Amed:
Spotfin lionfish (Pterois antennata) – red stripes, white body with a dark spot
Devil firefish (Pterois miles) – reddish to tan or grey
Clearfin Lionfish (Pterois radiata) – reddish-brown with about six vertical dark/white bands
Red Lionfish (Pterois volitans) – red, maroon, brown stripes & white body
Dwarf Lionfish (Dendrochirus brachypterus) – very small in size, red coloration and banded antennas. 

Scorpionfish (Scorpaenopsis)
This camouflaged ambush predator can be found all over Amed’s dive sites. Scorpionfish rarely move and stay in one place. They blend into their environment by letting algae and other microorganisms grow over their bodies. Sometimes it can be very difficult to see them. That’s one of the reasons you should never touch or hold on to anything underwater as you might be placing your hands right onto one of these guys.
The appearance of scorpionfish depends on the environment they live in. Even though there are different species of scorpionfish it can be difficult to distinguish them. They all have 12 to 7 poisonous spines on their back. Some have very long snouts giving them their distinct scorpionfish-like look.
Common Species in Amed:
Tassled scorpionfish (Scorpaenopsis oxycephala)
Flasher scorpionfish (Scorpaenopsis macrochir)



Sea Goblin (
Inimicus didactylus)
Also known as Indian Walkman, demon stinger or devil stinger. This nocturnal predator often lies partly-buried under sand or rocks. They have highly venomous spines which can cause serious injuries. The lower pectoral-fin rays are used as ‘walking legs’.

It can be very difficult to get a good picture of this creature as it blends into its environment perfectly. This makes it difficult to separate it from the background. When the Sea Goblin feels threatened it exposes extremely colorful fins. Looks really cool in pictures from above.

Stonefish (Synanceiidae verrucosa)
This creature is often wrongly identified as a member of the Scorpaenopsis family due to their similar appearance. Once you take a closer look, you will see the significant features which distinguish this fish from the Scorpaenopsis family.

Stonefish are usually brown or grey, and may have areas of yellow, orange, or red.
They can be found in very shallow areas of the reef, which poses a danger to snorkelers who come to close.
These ambush predators carry one of the most toxic venoms found in the animal kingdom. 13 spines on their dorsal area contain the fatal toxin from which it only takes 6 spines to possibly kill a human.

Despite their toxicity they are a great subject for portrait pictures. Make sure to never get too close and especially avoid contact. As they usually won’t move it can be easy to photograph them.
Do not attempt any photoshooting if you feel out of buoyancy control or if there is a surge or current.

Leaf scorpionfish (Taenianotus triacanthus)
The Leaf Scorpionfish (sometimes called paperfish) is one of the least poisonous members of the Scorpaedie family. The venom of the leaf scorpionfish is considerably weaker than that of the lionfish and stonefish. Their color varies from green, red, pink, brown, ocher and yellowish to a ghostly white. As they are really thin they can often be mistaken for a leaf. 

Leaf scorpionfish can be portrayed in many different ways and styles. As they seem slightly transparent you could try to position your strobe behind them to get this translucent appearance.

Nudibranch Anatomy

Every diver loves nudibranchs. But do you know your nudibranch?

Kingdom: Animal, Phylum: Mollusca, Class: Gastropoda. Subclass: Heterobranchia,
Clade: Nudipleura.

Nudibranchs meaning “naked gills” are invertebrates. These mostly shell-less mollusks appear in dozens of different shapes, sizes and colours. Up to this day there have been at least 2.000 species of nudibranchs (short: nudis) discovered.

Nudis are amongst macro photographers’ most favourite subjects because of their extraordinary appearance. Generally, nudis can be divided into two classes: AEOLID & DORID NUDIBRANCH

AEOLID NUDIBRANCHIA

Aeolid nudibranchs are characterised by having long, narrow bodies with numerous finger-like projections, called cerata.  They have a pair of oral tentacles, parapodial tentacles, and rhinophores on their head (McDonald 1999).

A) Oral Tentacles are sensory feelers used to help the slug feel its way over the terrain

B) Rhinophores are chemical sensors on the head that are used to detect chemicals in the water (Ellis 2001)

C,D) Cerata are thin, finger-like projections of the digestive gland of the slug. Some nudibranchs have photosynthetic zooxanthellae from the coral in its cerata (Tackett and Tackett 2003).  The Cerata are also used in defense.  The tips of some cerata can contain poisonous substances (D) (Picton and Morrow 1994).  Cerata can also be cast off when the nudibranch is alarmed. 

E) Acid Glands produce defensive acid secretions against predators. 


DORID NUDIBRANCHIA

A) The Branchial Plume allows Dorid Nudis to filter oxygen from the water and breathe

B) Rhinophores are chemical sensors on the head that are used to detect chemicals in the water (Ellis 2001)

C) Oral Tentacles are sensory feelers used to help the slug feel its way over the terrain

D) Nudibranchs are hermaphroditic, meaning they are both male and female at the same time, but they cannot fertilize themselves. For reproduction, nudibranchs stick together in a dance-like act. Eggs are being deposited in each individual. Some nudibranchs have their anus on the same area as where the reproductive opening is located, others have their anus located in between the branchial plume.

E) Acid Glands produce defensive acid secretions against predators.

The other 70 %

Did you know that our oceans cover more than 70 percent of the earth’s surface?

With so much of our world’s surface taken up by the ocean, it’s clear how vital the well being of these marine environments is to our fragile ecosystem. Scientific studies have also found out that between 70 to 80 percent of the oxygen we breathe is produced by marine plants, such as algae. 

The ocean does not only cover most of the earth’s surface: What’s underneath is even more fascinating. An incredible 94% of the Earth’s living documented species live underwater, not including the many species we have not even discovered yet. According to Ocean Service we have yet to explore an estimated 95 percent of ocean life. That would mean, everything we know so far only covers about 5 percent of what’s actually out there. Given the enormous size of the ocean, it is impossible to know the exact number of species that live there. 

But that hasn’t stopped the global scientific community to investigate further by learning and documenting as much as possible about one of the greatest mysteries on this planet and most importantly sharing their latest discoveries with us. 

Karimunjawa: The island of Karimunjawa founds itself surrounded by dozens of tiny islands.

Sequential Hermaphroditism

Did you know that some aquatic species can change from male to female and vice versa?

Nudibranchs are hermaphroditic, too. On the picture above you can see two “nembrotha lineolatas” exchanging eggs and semen. During the mating process most nudibranch connect to each other sideways.

This phenomenon is called sequential hermaphroditism and describes a type of hermaphroditism that occurs in many fish, snails, slugs (yes, nudibranchs are hermaphroditic as well), and even some plants. We speak of sequential hermaphroditism when the individual changes its sex at some point in its life. Species that can undergo these changes from one sex to another do so as a normal event within their reproductive cycle that is usually cued by either social structure or the achievement of a certain age or size. Oftentimes this happens to ensure successful reproduction.

Clownfish are one of the most famous sequential hermaphrodites. Clownfish are all born male, but can change their sex to female if the necessity occurs. They for example change their sex from male to female when there is no other female to mate with or when they attain a certain size. (By the way, this would’ve changed the entire plot of Nemo.)

This phenomenon goes the other way as well.

Unlike clownfish that start life as males and transform into females, there are other species, such as the California sheephead, that start as female and transform into male.