On the subject of me

Spluttering in an attempt at surf photography

In my first post about underwater photography, I got so far as to show you my first test shots but the majority of the blog was about the build up to purchase in the first place. Let’s recap shall we?

I bought the Outex Pro kit with flat port and the 120mm Dome port along with some step-up rings in order to be able to use my other lenses (warned of vignette potential however). It looks like this:

Outex Pro kit with 120mm dome, on my Canon 6D and Canon 24-70mm.

It took a while to get used to the camera outfit, and I’m still not 100% there but it’s definitely easier the more I practice. I’ve done around 10 shoots now, all in the ocean and all FREEZING my butt off in my neighbour’s teenage’s son’s wetsuit they’re kindly lending me. So next on the purchase list are the following: a good wetsuit, some flippers, some booties, a weight belt and a freaking boogie board (this will make sense soon). Oh and potentially an aqua jogging belt…


I guess we should talk about how to actually do the thing huh?

Disclaimer - I'm not a professional in UW photography yet. I have a vision of what I want to offer through my business(es) and I know it's going to take hours and hours of practice. I'm happy for you to learn alone with me - no gatekeepers here.

Operating the camera through the thick perspex of the Outex housing is a little like trying to text wearing oven mitts. It takes some getting used to, especially when it seems easy as you assemble it at home but as soon as you take it out to the water it becomes a lot more cumbersome. I have to dig my nails in to turn the dials but the fabric is amazingly resistant – it feels so wrong…but it works…

When I first went out, I tried the dome port on with the 24-70mm, however I had the lens zoomed in to 70mm, and nothing would focus. You can see that in my split shot below (the only split shots I’ve taken are on that first test run), if you look closely – I actually miss focus on the sea life. I couldn’t figure out why this was happening until I got home and put it in the bath. I zoomed out to 24mm and had less of an issue – but still not solid focus if I’m honest and I’m yet to re-test that specifically. Definitely a goal over the next month.

I’ve learnt the dome port is a lot harder to master – especially as I went for the smaller one and as I don’t have an especially wide lens. The 24-70mm at 24mm is my widest for now. These next few shots are with the dome port and you can see I had trouble keeping the surface unblemished EVEN THOUGH I licked the crap out of it (I learnt that’s what surf photographers do?!) but luckily for me, I freaking LOVE the oddities of the droplets.

The most action I had with this kit was the long weekend I spent in ōakura with my friends during the school holidays. I think I went out 5 times. My poor kids…everyone’s poor kids in fact, as I dragged them all to the beach with me!

The first evening was where I took the shots above – just the kids playing and jumping over waves and being crazy and fun (really my favourite thing to shoot), the next day we got a little more specific.

My dear friends Charlotte and Hayden had been wanting to capture an image of Hayds surfing for ages. They had a really specific shot in mind and after explaining how I was in the learning phase and it was unlikely I’d be able to capture the magnificent Taranaki Maunga AND Hayden surfing in the foreground…we agreed to just go and try our best and have fun.

So far, no leaks. That’s the most important thing to note. I felt confident assembling the rig each time I went out at this point (keep reading) and so there were no issues here. I shot all the above on the 24-70 and this time I was able to push in and out whenever I wanted as I’ve learnt I do not have to be restricted on this. WTAF?! It’s just crazy that each time I go out I learn one more thing. This one is embarrassingly simple but I DON’T CARE – turns out you can just physically pull the lens out and in to change the focal distance instead of using the wheel…OMG moving on…

The other thing I did here was keep my F stop pretty high (for me) around F4 – F6 (gasp) but it made everything so gloriously simple…why do I not do this? Well, I know why but again, why?

A big thing I realised on this shoot was I need to figure out how to assemble the strap. When you buy your Outex pro kit it comes with a strap configuration but blow me down, there’s no bloody instructional videos on how to set it up. Do they think we just inherently know what to do with a hundred clips and bits? Well, yes because then I recruited my friend Rose after she informed me that she connects best with people when there is a task to complete together…enter Nikki…

And she totally bossed it. Anyway, I’ll tell you why I needed it. I COULDN’T GET PAST THE FLOPPING BREAKING WAVES. Yes that’s right. I tried to shoot surfers in the shore. Number 1, I’m afraid. I’m afraid of the ocean. Number 2, how do I duck dive beneath the waves and hold onto my camera? I was anxious about dropping it. It floats, yes, but what if it gets knocked? We are pretty darn close to the sand and there were rocks too…I knew I’d have to sort that strap out so I could fling it behind me and dive under those waves.

Geez I’m getting a lot of silhouette shots huh? Must be because I am definitely not nailing surfing yet!

The next shoot was evening time – got a few great shots but again more on the prep side. Weld Rd was super rocky, not to moan but my feet reeeeeeeally hurt (add booties to the list) and I was still stuck with the previous problem of not having my strap on (tehe) yet. I won’t share too many from that night but here are a few more before we get to the solve!

Third shoot! We’ve got the strap on. I have flippers ever so slightly too small for me. This became unbearable after about 5 seconds and we flung them off, favouring instead the stylish and ever so fashion forward aqua jogging belt. I can see you all dying with envy through my third eye. Maximum credit goes to Hayden for the belt (and the idea) and to Maryanne for the flippers!

Unfortunately, the waves got this belt pretty hard and ripped a few strips off the pads…but it super helped me stay out past the breaking waves! Next imperative lesson – get a freaking boogie board.

duck diving and my first major problem

Ok. The strap enabled me to dive under the waves and finally make it out to a calm spot between the breaks. I didn’t make it all the way out the back, but I was proud of myself for this one small achievement! Hayden had to hold my hand A LOT and also hear the many, MANY profanities I spewed (have I mentioned I’m afraid of the sea?) but we remain on speaking terms.

The leak

On the last evening we did two shoots. This was the first one since we attached the strap. We went out with the aqua jogging belt on and I finally made it to the calm spot. We started shooting, I started spluttering. I never thought about staying afloat – i just…thought I’d be able to do it? I’d love to include the audio clip of me doing this on the rare moments I shot some video…to come, to come.

I started checking my camera a bit more as I was thinking I’m way more submerged than I’d ever been. I glimpsed some droplets on the lens. Was it a trick of the light? I yelled at Hayden – I think I have a leak! My feet found purchase and I looked harder, there was indeed a breach! Nothing major, but very definitely a few tiny droplets on the actual lens, front only. Nothing in the back. I wish I had a photo of that alas, my only thought was fixing it.

First half of the evening at the end of which we got the leak:

We booted it to shore and I waved frantically at Rose and Maryanne – leak leak! OMG do you have friends like mine? You wish you did. Ok sorry but really – have you met me? I’m a hurricane, dubbed so by my long suffering siblings. I tend to be 0 or 100 with no in between. Rose is the complete opposite, calm and steady constantly. She immediately lay out towels, Mare took the camera, we dried what we could and carefully, Rose took it apart. My wetsuit was still dripping and not being helpful. There was sand everywhere, I still can’t believe we managed this but THE SUN WAS SETTING guys we had maybe 10 minutes to get some golden hour. Rose dried the camera and re assembled. Once the ‘cameradom’ was back on I could screw things back on EXTRA TIGHT.

What was the problem? Simply this – I hadn’t screwed the ports on tight enough – my seals were weak. My fault! No hole, no problem with the gear, so we all checked it and then out we went again. We got 5 minutes of golden hour but NO BREACH. And I got tumbled guys – I got legit tumbled – not a single droplet so it really was user error and the most amazing lesson learned.

Second part of the evening after we fixed the problem:

wrapping up part II

I don’t know really – what to say? This is an excellent entry level pro kit. I’m so impressed with Outex and every time I go out I learn more. Still SO much more to learn. Hit me up if I can practice on you. Next blog is about shooting people underwater! Like, actually.

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