matty smith photo: Blog en-us (C) matty smith photo (matty smith photo) Sun, 09 Jul 2017 23:42:00 GMT Sun, 09 Jul 2017 23:42:00 GMT matty smith photo: Blog 120 119 Review: Nikkor 8-15mm F3.5-4.5 E ED - Part 1 In May 2017 Nikon released the Nikkor 8-15mm F3.5-4.5 E ED fisheye lens. It’s an FX lens predominantly aimed at full frame cameras, but it will also work very well on DX (D500, D7500 etc).


On FX cameras it creates a full circular image in the centre on the frame at the 8mm end that encapsulates a full 180-degree hemisphere. Zoom in to the 15mm end and you have a more usual 2:3 ratio rectangular fisheye image covering 180 degrees corner to corner diagonally.


Put this lens on a DX camera such as the Nikon D500 and you a great fisheye zoom from 15mm down to 11mm, if you go wider than 11mm you get a heavily vignetted image in the corners as the sensor size is too small to capture the full circular fisheye effect. 11mm will also give approximately 180 degrees of view corner to corner on DX sensors.


I’ve used mine on a couple of dives now so I thought I’d put a small review together to let you know how I’ve been going with it and how it’s performing. In Part 1 I will review the lens on my FX Nikon D810, part 2 will be on the DX Nikon D500. Both reviews will be using both my Aquatica Digital 9.25” & 4” glass ports. I’ll take this opportunity ahead of time to mention this lens has a minimum focus distance of 16cm in front of the sensor plane. That works out to be just a couple of cm in front of the front glass element. i.e. Very close!!! It should work well inside the 4” port.


Test 1: 8mm End in 9.25” Aquatica Digital Port

So dive number one was using the 8mm end of the zoom behind my Aquatica Digital 9.25” glass port, my rig was set up as shown in the image below.  9.25” Glass port with port shade removed.


This is a 9.25” Glass port with port shade removed.  It is necessary to remove the shade because it will otherwise be included in the frame! No port extension, Aquatica zoom gear and inward strobe lighting on short strobe arms.

The reason for the inward lighting is because you will need to be very close to your subject, almost touching, to get a frame filling shot. To light it you literally need to direct the strobe light through the glass port whilst being very careful not to get the strobes in shot. You will also need a very clean port inside and out, that strobe light will be very unforgiving at highlighting dust and smears.

I have to say that I was very impressed. I didn’t think I’d like to full circular effect in my photography but it actually became very addictive on subsequent dives. I’m being very careful not to over do it now!

The selfie picture of the rather frisky octopus below shows the effect of the full frame fisheye and highlights the use of the inward lighting. The suckers were gripping my port and were lit quite nicely. Exposure was 1/15th sec, F13, ISO 64.



Looking at the 100% crop below from near the centre of the frame shows great sharpness and detail. The image below has no post sharpening and is a straight conversion from the .NEF file using Adobe Camera Raw 9.10.1.



A 100% crop from the edge of the frame is still very good in my opinion. There is a little chromatic aberration evident in the back scatter as shown below, but that is only to be expected with such an extreme lens.



Using the “Remove Chromatic Aberration” function in Adobe Camera Raw very quickly removed all the aberrations and left the image with good edge of frame sharpness. With a little post process sharpening my final image was crisp all the way across.




Test 2: 15mm End in 9.25” Aquatica Digital Port



In my next test the set up was slightly different. I had slightly outward turned strobes on short arms, because I would be close to my subject but not as close as before and the lens is set to the 15mm end of the scale. It’s handy to say here that you probably wouldn’t use this lens on a FX camera at any of the zoom range between the 8 and 15mm ends as all you get is heavy vignetting in the corners of the frame. You’d go either full circle at 8mm or full frame at 15mm and that is all really.


The image below of a colourful sponge garden is again free from any post process sharpening or lens correction at this stage. Lens performance is still great, nice and sharp all the way across. Exposure was 1/80th sec @ F22, ISO 250



The 100% crop from the bottom left of the image below shows a little chromatic aberration around that sponge head right at the edge of the frame but it’s quite negligible and will be easily fixed.



Again checking the “Remove Chromatic Aberration” box in Adobe Camera Raw and a little post sharpening and any evidence of any aberration at all in the crop below has vanished in a couple of seconds. That’s an impressive fisheye lens in my book!!



Test 3: 15mm End in 4” Aquatica Digital Port



In this test I was still using my Nikon D810 and the lens is set to 15mm in an Aquatica Digital housing but this time I switched out the 9.25” port for the 4” glass mini dome. I also added a 16.5mm (0.65”) port extension because that was the smallest extension I could use to fit the lens in without hitting the inside of the port. Aquatica haven’t released or recommended an extension for the lens yet (as of 8th July 2017), I will continue to play around and update this review if I find anything better. This fisheye zoom is a little longer than a prime fisheye.

My lighting was switched back to inward because I knew I would be getting close again.



Above is an uncropped seahorse image with no sharpening or lens correction. The centre of the frame is nice and crisp. Exposure 1/125th sec @ F29 ISO 160.



A 100% crop of the bottom left corner shows a noticeable increase in chromatic aberration from the 9.25” port, but it’s still very far from terrible and given the extreme lens in a small port I find it quite acceptable. Added to that this may not be the best extension port in use.



Again Adobe Camera Raw has almost eliminated any aberrations and given me a sharp image across the frame.

So there you have it, a summary of my findings so far. Not a fully comprehensive test by any means, but this is an on going review so I thought I'd share my thoughts with you up until now.  In part two of this review I will be testing the lens with my Nikon D500 DX camera.

I think it’s a great lens with lots of potential. It’s certainly very sharp for a lens of this type and it holds it’s own when pushed to extremes. And the great thing is it replaces my Nikkor 16mm F2.8, Nikkor 10.5mm F2.8 and 1.4 teleconverter in my kit back making for much lighter travel. I’d call that a win.

If you have any questions, feel free to send me an email at




Matty Smith


(matty smith photo) Sun, 09 Jul 2017 23:37:33 GMT
How to stop water beading on your dome port for over/under photography (VIDEO) How to stop water beading on your dome port for over/under photography

(matty smith photo) Mon, 03 Jul 2017 09:15:00 GMT
Tell me more about the 18inch dome port you use for your over/under images... Photo credit Warren Keelan Photography

                                                                                                                    photo credit: Warren Keelan


To create a half over half under image you are basically creating a window into another world where light and focus behave on a totally different playing field, especially when shooting through a curved optic such as a dome shaped port. The interaction of the curved surface of the port and the diffraction of the water make submerged objects appear disproportionate to reality. They appear much closer and the smaller the dome port diameter is, the greater this effect. So, what the camera actually sees underwater is a “virtual” diffracted image much closer than it is in reality and the camera must focus on this virtual image to make a sharp photograph. This is not generally a problem when composing a completely submerged image. It does however cause a few problems with depth of field when composing a half/half if you require front to back sharpness.

The lens being used must be able to envelope the smaller, closer “virtual” image and the real above water image in its depth of field range. For this reason most photographers reach for a fisheye or extreme wide angle lens and stop down to F22 to capitalise on depth of field. This works fine but has obvious drawbacks, you either lose shutter speed or have to bump up the ISO, especially in lower light situations or in the open ocean when you are being bounced around by waves and higher speed shooting is desirable.

I mentioned earlier that the smaller the dome port, the greater the diffraction and the closer the virtual image is ergo greater depths of field are required by upping F stops to get the under and over in focus. Got it? Good!

So in order to counteract this problem I designed and built my own monster 18” dome port (coming from an engineering background helped with that) to shoot over under images and the results are, as Michael Aw puts it, AWesome! Front to back sharpness is now easily attainable with reasonable apertures and shutter speeds (as wide as F8 with a fisheye) and proportions appear more realistic, sometimes images are almost too clear and lifelike leading to comments such as “That picture has to be fake” when I assure you it’s not. I can achieve a thin and needle sharp waterline on the dome port and an equally clear horizon and everything in between, well into the corners of the frame, happy days.

Not only does the “AWesome” dome port alleviate focus and proportion problems but it also has several other advantages.

  1. When shooting in choppy, open ocean and getting bounced around by waves the port is buoyant enough to ride over the swells and rarely gets engulfed. This allows you to remain in a good position to continuously shoot over under and get a good even split of air and water in frame, which was a great advantage to me when shooting silky sharks at the Gardens of the Queens, Cuba. The seas were quite choppy and the action was coming thick and fast and every frame I fired was a good over/under and not and entirely engulfed “under” or left high and dry “over”.
  2. Another advantage of the buoyancy of the dome is that it pretty much supports itself in the water. This means you don’t have to lift the weight of the camera up to shoot, which usually results in the photographer sinking which makes it difficult to frame up….. and breathe!!
  3. The added lens to water line distance of this large dome means the water line remains thin and unobtrusive in the frame too. If you imagine a smaller dome the meniscus of the water line is much thicker and occupies too much frame space because it is close to the lens, it can be distracting, especially as it won’t be sharp either. I guess this point is kind of a personal thing, but I do like a nice sharp waterline.
  4. An advantageous by product of this huge port, which I didn’t consider when designing but have now discovered, is that I can use my 50mm Nikkor lens with it to create some interesting and less obvious over/under images. Such as my image “New Pennies”. It’s a shoal of 5 silver bream shot swimming just below the surface on my 50mm lens at F4.5 if I recall correctly. The fish are pin sharp but he pastel colours of the sunrise in the over part of the image are far out of focus with that dreamy, silky smooth bokeh goodness. It’s a different type of image not possible with smaller domes.
  5. And finally, the dome makes a good croc and shark shield!!! The backing plate is 8mm solid marine grade aluminium, it make you feel that bit more protected during the more sobering shoots.

I have since made several prototypes of this dome port in slightly different sizes to “fine tune” it with both Aquatica Digital and Seacam housing mounts,  Nauticam coming soon. It’s been field tested from the Arctic to the tropics with great success, if you’re interested in knowing more or even having an opportunity to play with one in the ocean, then watch this space, or flick me an email to

(matty smith photo) Sun, 05 Jun 2016 06:34:00 GMT
What housing do you use for your camera and why? Caribbean Reef SharkCaribbean Reef SharkA Caribbean reef shark patrols a colourful coral bommie. I couldn't get over the clarity of the water on this dive, I was around 26m deep when I took this shot and it looks like you could just reach out and touch the surface!!

Good water housings are always come in 2 parts; the main housing body that the camera body sits in and the lens port (short for portal) that houses the lens.

The brand of housing I use is an Aquatica.

Aquatica housings are built like bricks, they are made out of marine aluminium and they have to be. This is very important as gear gets unavoidably bashed around in marine environments; there is no getting away from that. Climbing in and out of boats, scrambling though rocks, getting tossed about in the ocean, sun exposure and sometimes extreme temperature change are all par for the course.

In addition to this, coming from an engineering manufacturing background, I have started to design and build my own camera water housings and lens ports. This allows me to customise my gear to my personal preferences.

(matty smith photo) Fri, 20 Nov 2015 08:45:00 GMT
What post-processing do you do? Violet SnailViolet SnailWhenever there are large numbers of bluebottles around these predacious snails wont be far behind. They use a raft of bubbles to float on the ocean surface in search of bluebottles and other floating hydrozoans to feed on. Should the bubble raft be burst the snail will sink to certain death in the depths below. Often these snails are found covered on barnacles too, they just hang on and come along for the ride! I shot this using a mixture of flash and slow shutter ambient light exposure, hence the sharp but blurry thing going on.

Post process is kept to a minimum, as I like my images to stay faithful to the subject. The only things that may be changed are white balance, contrast and saturation in moderation. I keep all of my wildlife photography true to subject; I’m not a big fan of over processed images, especially when trying record the natural wonders of nature.

I prefer to enter photography competitions that limit image manipulation so that it's a level playing field for pure photography skills, not Photoshop skills. Most of the respectable natural history comps are based on pure photography such as the BBC/NHM Wildlife Photographer of the Year Awards.

I like to experiment with light and unconventional methods of photography. Often the cost is missing great images.... but sometimes it pays off with an image that was previously unimaginable.

(matty smith photo) Fri, 06 Nov 2015 08:45:00 GMT
What is the most useful & inexpensive piece of kit you've ever bought? Margined GlossodorisMargined GlossodorisA Black Margined Glossodoris Nudibranch.

2 Black plastic funnels which I taped to each of my underwater lights. I got them from a car spares shop for about $2 each and they make a world of difference to the lighting effect.

They turn my lights into spotlights meaning you can focus on certain details of an image and leave everything else backed out. A great example is an actor on a stage under a spotlight; it’s the same effect.

The technical term is a light “snoot”. You can of course buy commercially available snoots for a couple hundred bucks or something, but a $2 funnel works just as well!

(matty smith photo) Fri, 30 Oct 2015 08:45:00 GMT
When did you start shooting underwater photography? Reaper CuttlefishReaper CuttlefishCameleons of the ocean! These two reaper cuttlefish flicked through several colour changes right before our eyes!! Cuttlefish are visual communicators and have some of the most highly developed eyes on the planet. They can actually see polarised light and tones that are invisible to the naked human eye. This couple were hanging out off Bass Point, Shellharbour, NSW Australia.

I first got into photography in general in my late teens around the mid 1990’s. I had always had an attraction to the ocean from as far back as I can remember, so it was only natural that it would become my muse. But it wasn’t until around 2004 that I first started getting in the water with my camera. 

I used to shoot surfers around the coast of the UK on my Nikon F80 in an Ikelite or Liquideye housing. Back then you only had 36 frames so you chose carefully what you shot! It was a long swim in to change film!

(matty smith photo) Fri, 16 Oct 2015 08:45:00 GMT
I'm just starting out in wildlife photogaphy, what advice can you give me? Silver Tip Shark A common mistake that many new comers to wildlife photography make is to quickly get frustrated if they don’t achieve instant results. Like anything worth doing it takes time and practice, so don’t just rely on having the best camera for your success.

Many people ask “How many pictures did you take to get that one?” And truthfully the answer is often “Thousands”. Pressing the shutter on the chance of a lifetime image is commonly the last link in a long chain of events that led to being there in the moment at the right time.

Before you even pick up a camera you should thoroughly research your subject. Learn its behaviour and where it is most likely to be at any given time. Be prepared for many early mornings and unsociable hours. Then when you get your shot you really feel like you’ve earned it and rightly so.

If you have a vision of what you want to shoot, stick with it. With time and experience you’ll get your shot. At first don’t be too obsessed with travel to far off countries, practice on wildlife in your own backyard so that you can hone the skills which will allow you to make the most of any overseas photography trips later.



(matty smith photo) Fri, 02 Oct 2015 07:45:00 GMT
5 tips for starting out in underwater photography Lemon SharkLemon SharkA lemon shark beautifully accented by 2 juvenile trevallies at Beqa Lagoon Fiji

  1. Safety safety safety! Only enter the ocean to shoot if you’re a competent swimmer and never do it alone! It’s easy to get distracted taking your shot and not realise you’re drifting off shore and into danger. If you’re shooting around rock pools check the swell and waves, don’t get caught out and washed into the ocean, it happens to rock fisherman around here all the time. Always take someone with you and let someone else know where you are going and for how long.


  1. Keep warm by investing in a good wetsuit and boots, they will also protect you from the sun and any bumps and scratches you might get from sharp rocks etc. Even in tropical climates you can still get a chill and cramps if you’re in the ocean for a few hours. A warm photographer is a happy photographer!!


  1. Make sure your equipment is well protected. Buy the best water housing you can afford if you’re going to get serious. You don’t necessarily have to buy a brand new one either, there are some good underwater photography websites that have classified forums on them and you can often pick up a second hand bargain. It’s tempting to buy a cheap ‘plastic bag’ type waterproof coat but remember it the only thing between your beloved camera and the harsh elements!


  1. Lighting is important underwater, it’s a lot darker and less contrasty than in air so you’ll want to invest in some form of underwater flash if you’re shooting any more than a few feet deep. Anything red will appear a dirty brown/grey when submerged more than a foot or two down without the aid of artificial light, as you go deeper oranges and yellows go too until everything looks blue when no flash is used.


  1. Invest in good quality lenses over a bells and whistles camera body. Start with a good wide angle zoom, something in the 10-24mm range, then add to that a fisheye and a mid range macro lens. There is no use for a telephoto underwater as you’ll always want to be as close to your subject as possible.
(matty smith photo) Fri, 25 Sep 2015 09:45:00 GMT
How did you capture the bluebottle image "Sailing"? SailingSailingA Portuguese man o war cnidaria (Physalia physalis) sailing on a stormy morning at Bushrangers Bay NSW Australia. This image was a finalist in the NHM/BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year awards 2014.

All Limited Edition prints are made on fine art matte paper with a 1 inch (2.5cm) white signature border around and hand signed and numbered by Matty Smith. All editions are limited to 100 prints of each size only, numbered in ascending order and come complete with a certificate of authenticity.

During strong summer nor’easterly winds, the east coast of Australia sees huge armadas of Portuguese Man o War siphonophores (AKA Physalia Physalis or “Bluebottle”) washed ashore. Often mistaken as a jellyfish, though it is not. Each individual Man o war is a colony of four different types of organism living together in a symbiotic relationship, a floating city of animals if you like, each one with it’s own important job to support the colony.

This image was taken in a place called Bushrangers Bay in Shellharbour NSW.  I had noticed that the Man o wars often get trapped in the bay making them slightly easier to photograph in their natural environment. I wanted to pick out the beautiful colouration and detail in the tentacles against the eerie darkness of a stormy early morning. The wild atmosphere adds testament to the lifestyle of this sailor of the open seas.

Despite shooting all manner of different scenes and creatures with my over/under style the Portuguese man of war was by far the most difficult. What you don’t see in the still image is the constantly changing dynamics of what’s going on. The ocean is surging back and forth, the wind is blowing and these guys are perfect sailors – they motor along in the slightest breeze! And you’re trying to frame all this up whilst treading water or swimming along side trying not to get stung. It can be frustrating at the best of times!!

Lighting was the most critical component of this image, I needed to retain the desired darkness of water yet pick out the detail of the animal. This took lots of experimentation with different techniques over several weeks. Eventually employing the use of fibre optic snoots on my underwater flashes enabled me to pick out just the right amount of detail without over exposing too much of the surrounding ambiance.

Nikon D300s, Nikkor 10.5mm f2.8 Lens, Aquatica AD300 Housing

(matty smith photo) Fri, 21 Aug 2015 09:45:00 GMT
How do you go about capturing an over/under image? I see you!I see you!An American saltwater crocodile off the coast of Cuba.

I view my half over half underwater images as a landscape photograph; I prefer brooding and atmospheric skies over a blue sunny midday and a composition that compliments both the above and below elements. I undertake many location scouts with my snorkel gear on. Whilst doing the scouts I will take reference pictures so I can plan how to make my final image when a suitable location has been found. A final image in my portfolio is often a well-researched and planned affair.

In addition to the visual components there are some technical issues. To create a half over half under image you are basically creating a window into another world where light and focus behave on a totally different playing field. When compared to the “air” part of the image the underwater part will generally focus closer to the lens due to refraction, be darker, less contrasty and less saturated so underwater strobe lights are a must, especially on those dark and stormy days or sunrise/sunset. Wide-angle lenses are essential if you want to achieve an image that is sharp all over, though great effects can be made using a standard or short telephoto, the rule is to experiment.

I always use my camera in manual mode and take a meter reading from the sky to make sure that element is exposed correctly. The underwater part is often several stops darker than the sky so I will adjust the power on my flashes to suit. The underwater subject has to be close to the camera for this to work. Light falls off very quickly through the water and even the most powerful flashes have an effective range of only a couple of feet in water.

If I were to give one final useful tip when creating a half over half underwater image that would be the bigger your waterproof lens dome port is the better, 8” diameter is the smallest I would recommend.  It helps to blend the two worlds by pushing the water line meniscus further away, which makes it less conspicuous in your image. The large dome also increases depth of field aiding sharp focus both above and below, near and far.

My biggest tip of all is just to go the extra mile to get the shot right in camera and not to rely on editing software to fix it up later. Be true to the subject, show your viewers the reality and beauty of our natural world how it’s meant to be.

I have always used Nikon cameras inside Aquatica Digital water housings for all of my underwater photography, their ingenuity, reliability and tough build quality is exceptional in every circumstance.




(matty smith photo) Fri, 17 Jul 2015 09:45:00 GMT
What environmental factors are important when planning your photo expeditions? Legal ImmigrantLegal ImmigrantA long finned eel in the Sydney Botanical Gardens pond. This Eel would have been born just off the coast of New Calendonia before starting it’s 2000km journey to Australia. It would have waited for a rainy night to exit the sea and slither across the grass into this fresh water pond. Here it will live for the next 30 years before the urge to reproduce becomes too strong and it will do a return journey from where it came to breed and then die. Incredible.

Tides and wave activity are a crucial element to my over/under work. Some subjects are just too deep under the water at high tide to shoot, for instance and if I want to marry that subject with a nice sunrise then I have to wait for a low tide sunrise to coincide. That happens about once every 2 weeks so it can be a long waiting game at times!! However, higher tides generally flush clearer water into the bay areas and bring the jellyfish. So each subject has it’s own special set of conditions, which can be frustrating when I just want to get the shot in the bag.

I like dawn and dusk because the light has that something extra special that we’re all familiar with, everyone likes a sunset right? It also renders the water an inky black, which adds bags of mystery and atmosphere to a photograph. If the sun is higher in the sky I’ll always under expose a bit to put the atmosphere back in.

You can shoot in the water in most weather conditions, you’ll always achieve a certain “feel” whether it’s sunny summer holidays or stormy magnificence. The thing that will ruin a shoot though is bad water visibility, then you can forget it, stay in bed!!



(matty smith photo) Fri, 26 Jun 2015 09:45:00 GMT
What bits of kit would you recommend to people starting out? What kit do you use? Black and LightBlack and LightSome of the most beautiful light I have ever witnessed.That is all.

For people starting out I would recommend investing in good quality lenses over a bells and whistles camera body. Camera bodies come and go but a good set of high quality glass will serve you well for a lifetime. You can upgrade your camera body later down the track as you progress. Also when choosing a camera you are buying into a system that you’ll want to stick to for the above reason. I use Nikon, they’ve never changed their lens mount so I can use lenses 30 years old on the latest bodies if I wish and I often do.

I use a Nikon D810 DSLR camera with a Nikkor 14-24mm F2.8 lens for most of my ocean photography. This equipment goes into an Aquatica Digital waterproof housing. My lighting comes from 2 x INON underwater strobes.

My lighting comes from 2 underwater strobes. They are made by INON and are the Z220 model. I like the INON strobe because they are very compact compared to other models and that’s important with this type of photography as you are often working between rocks in tight spaces.



(matty smith photo) Fri, 29 May 2015 09:45:00 GMT