Underwater 360° Panorama Photography Tutorial: Part 1 – Selecting and Protecting The Camera

This is a guest blog post by Richard Chesher, one of the most interesting 360Cities photographers, and a friend of the 360Cities team. Richard has been an active professional photographer for more than 50 years and has been published in National Geographic Magazine, Sports Illustrated, the Encyclopedia Britannica and hundreds of books and magazines, and is an expert in underwater panoramic photography.

1) Richard Chesher with his underwater camera housing

Taking underwater sphere images (360° panoramas – editor’s comment) differs from taking land or aerial sphere images in four ways:

1. Protecting the camera in a watertight housing.
2. Colour bias, limited visibility and low ambient light levels.
3. Issues related to being underwater including breathing, cold, currents, delicate or dangerous creatures to worry about.
4. Keeping the camera in a stable position relative to the subject while rotating through 360 degrees.

Selecting and protecting the Camera

You need a fisheye lens and your choice of camera/lens combination is somewhat controlled by available underwater housings.

The best option is to use a SLR with a full frame sensor – like the Canon 5D with a 10 to 15-mm fisheye lens. But that’s an expensive option for such a risky business. I use a Canon 7D with a Sigma 8-mm lens in an Ikelite Housing with an 8 inch dome and port extension. Photo 1 shows my Canon 7D and Sigma 8-mm lens in an Ikelite Housing with an Ikelite – #5510.45 8″ dome assembly and an Ikelite – #5510.10 8″ port extension. These model numbers would be different depending on your camera and lens.

2) Richard Chesher taking a 360° underwater panorama

There is a wide selection of other housings for Canon and other cameras – whatever you get, make sure you have a fisheye lens that gives you a full 180 degree view and a large diameter dome port (8″) to minimize distortion and maintain your full wide angle view. I’ve used Ikelite housings for 30 years and have only drowned one camera (my own fault) so I have no hesitation recommending Ikelite for your housing. I can also recommend buying it through davidhaas (at) sbcglobal.net. David is an Ikelite dealer and lives near the Ikelite factory. He offers excellent prices but the best part is that David is a well known professional underwater photographer himself and can be a real help with advice and getting spares – especially if you don’t live in the USA.

This gear is big and heavy and expensive so you might be thinking of trying to get something smaller and cheaper. Last year I searched for a more compact solution and tried a Canon S95 in an Ikelite housing with a wide angle “fisheye” adaptor. After a great deal of online research and discussions with other photographers I bought the Dyron Fisheye Adaptor for the S95. The problem with the other adaptors was poor image quality on the edges – both distortion and focus issues. If you zoomed in a bit you got better results but then you didn’t have enough of a wide angle to do a sphere without doing two or more rotations. After a series of trials on the reef I finally had to admit the Dyron fisheye adapter was completely useless for doing sphere images. The photos had vignetting and chromatic aberration for about ¼ of the distance in from the edge – only about 50% of the centre part of the image was OK and even that wasn’t very good. The S95 is, however, a nice little camera and I use it (with no adaptor) to take close-ups and small scenics while the SLR is busy in robot mode. For now I think we are stuck with the big expensive equipment.

This is Part 1 of the 360° underwater panorama tutorial series. A new installment will be published every Friday, so watch this blog!

These images are interactive 360° panoramas / sphere images – click to open:

This is Part 1 of the 360° underwater panorama tutorial series. A new installment will be published every Friday, so watch this blog!

5 thoughts on “Underwater 360° Panorama Photography Tutorial: Part 1 – Selecting and Protecting The Camera

  1. Very nice work you have been doing!!!
    I have a question, from my understanding the dome port acts like a lens element and your focus will be twice the distance of the dome port size. So with an 8 inch dome port your focus will need to be 16 inches or less, is this true?


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