I was once again back in Fiji and looking forward to working for a number of my regular clients.  First stop was Manta Ray Island Resort with the aim of creating some great new images to show sun, sand and crystal clear waters – all of the vital ingredients required for a tropical escape.  The weather gods had not been particularly kind on my previous shoot there, so with the sun out in full force I was excited to be making my way north to the Yasawa Island group where Manta Ray is based.

Arriving in the evening I straight away headed out across the island (no more than a few hundred metres) to capture a stunning Fijian sunset.  A good start!

Nikon D800E, Nikkor 24-70mm lens, f16 at 1.6 seconds, ISO50, Exposure +.3 step.

However the next morning dawned windy and very cloudy and I thought I would have no chance of getting those tropical images I was so desperately after.  But to my delight, by the time I had finished breakfast the skies had once again cleared to a stunningly beautiful day with palm trees swaying in the breeze against a blue sky backdrop, sparkling turquoise water and shimmering white sand.  This was Fiji after all!

On my previous visit the focus of the shoot had been to photograph the Manta Ray’s after which the resort is named.  I had therefore spent a fair amount of time in the water and using my AquaTech underwater housing, which gave me some ideas for this project.

Nikon D4, Nikkor 14mm Lens, f11 at 1/500 second, ISO800.

One of the new activities available at the resort is stand-up paddle boarding – one of the world’s largest growing sports and a big attraction of your stay at Manta Ray Resort.  I therefore wanted to create a split – half underwater / half overwater image – of someone on a paddleboard.  However I also wanted to capture a split snorkelling shot showing the snorkeler beneath the water and the stunning island above.  The resort owner Ryan had arranged talent for both shots and after chatting a bit more we decided to see if I could capture both of these activities in a single image.

This is a little more challenging than it may sound!  I used my Nikon D4 with a Nikkor 14mm lens in my Aquatech underwater housing.  On the housing I had a 25mm extension and an Aquatech 8 inch dome port (another of those strange situations in photography where some measurements are imperial and some metric).

There are some unique challenges with using a dome port – the large dome does make it possible to shoot the split images but when it is submerged the dome throws a “projection” of the scene which can make focusing on your subject matter both under and over the water surface very difficult. It takes trial and error to work out the correct focusing for each setup.

My normal procedure for underwater shooting is to manually focus the lens before entering the water. I duct tape the focus ring to prevent any chance of movement.  The next challenge is to have the above water subject also in focus.  I therefore choose a higher ISO than normal and combine it with a smaller aperture to give me greater depth of field.  I asked my paddle boarding model Emma to paddle towards me and I let her get fairly close before signalling to Ana to swim underwater through my frame.  We did this a number of times to ensure I had the distances right, and to allow both girls to perfect their timing.  The end result was a number of great images each slightly different, that the client was thrilled about.  Another box ticked.

Nikon D4, 14mm Lens, f13 at 1/1250 second, ISO800.

Later in the day I also photographed the girls diving from the long boat (another way to show just how crystal clear the water is at this particular resort) and I really liked the way the bubble trails look like an oversized mermaid’s tail behind them.  Dropping one of these shots to black and white created quite a moody image that was a personal favourite from the shoot.

Nikon D4, 14mm Lens, f13 at 1/500 second, ISO800.

Another challenging but fun day at the office!

Don’t forget, if you are investing in any underwater gear yourself at any stage, use my Aquatech discount code – “aquatech cm2013” – to receive 5% off the total cost of your order.  Cheers!

All images copyright Chris McLennan.

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7 comments so far

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  1. [...] the full article at Beyondf8.com Recently Viewed Products P-30 EX $195.00 PD-85 Lens Port [...]

  2. Hi Chris,
    Amazing day at the office!

    I must ask though, how did you figure out the “projection” you mention when shooting splits? I currently use the same port and extension setup and have never managed to get my head around it..

    Thanks in advance,


    • Hi David, it is all a matter of research and time in the water testing… Hopefully you will get it nailed with the info supplied. It is not easy however but well worth the effort! All the best, Chris

      • Hi Chris,

        Thank you very much for the response, I can’t wait to get some decent clarity on the east coast Australia, I can finally give it a solid crack!


  3. Hi Chris,
    Thank you for this great article !
    I was wondering if it you needed an extension as you use a 8 inches dome and as the virtual image would be about 12 inches (30 cm) from the front of the port? That seems plenty of distance for the 14mm to focus close enough (it seems to have a min focus distance of less than 30cm)..
    I’m asking that as I consider buying a fisheye samyang with a min focus of 30cm… I’d like to use it for surf photography but underwater shots as well… The port would be between 4″ and 8″.
    Not sure if I’m doing the right choice or if I should buy a Nikon 10.5 with a min focus of 14cm??
    Thank you for your help!

  4. Hi Francois, thanks for your kind comments. The extension really depends on your camera / lens combo and how you want to use it. I do use an extension with my 8 inch port – I am using a dull frame Nikon D810 with a Nikkor 14-24mm lens and this works perfectly for me :-) My preference is not to use fisheye as I find the 14 much more versatile for above the water as well. For surf photography a smaller dome or flat port may be preferable…

    All the best
    Chris McLennan

  5. Awesome thank you :)

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