Macro Shooter's Handbook
By Mike Bartick
People often ask me, how did you see that little critter? I wish I had a solid answer for that. The truth of the matter is knowing what to look for and where to find them can only give your photography a slight edge, the rest lies in your ability to capture the photo. David Doubilet once said “either photograph something that no one has ever seen before or photograph your subjects in an entirely different way”.· While I admit I am no David Doubilet I can still hold myself to that same philosophy. Each experience is our own when we dive but as photographers we have the ability to share our experience with others. Regardless of the camera we use, SLR or compact, stunning images can be made when we understand some very basic principles. There are many ways to shoot macro subjects that include the basic ID photo to the more artistic magazine style photos. Each are important to understand and equally useful at times.
Lets look at some “how to” ideas for both, ID pics then artistic photos.
An ID photo is used to identify a creature by using a photograph. Usually referenced from a book, an online site or e-mailed to an expert. We need to be sure that the creature is well represented in the photo.
- Shoot the subject from different angles-Profile photo is a must
- Even lighting to highlight any subtle nuances
- Include habitat or food source if possible
- Size reference is always good
- Sequential photo of behavior
- F-14 @ 125 ISO 200 nikon/100 canon
Try not to get creative with the F-stop or lighting, remember this is to ID the creature correctly not to win a contest.
An artistic photograph involves a little more understanding of the camera's functions and lighting. We need to keep our head in the game and think about the different ways to photograph our subject. Keep in mind that shooting wildlife photos is often a non-orchestrated event that unfolds quickly.
An artistic marine life photo should communicate more to the viewer then just a profile of a creature. Using the F-stop and lighting become critical at this point, after all photography is all about how we control the light.
I’ll list a few ideas to inspire the photographer within us all that might just help on the next dive trip
- Pay close attention to strobe placement and positioning
- Change the f-stop often to create interesting effects within the photo
- Pay attention to contrasting colors
- Take extra time with your subject 15-30 minutes is not unusual
- Get low and shoot up
- Sharp eye contact with the creature
Avoid the salad bowl photo by defining your subject. If you need to point out what you want the viewer to see then the chances are your not defining the subject.
Understanding the f-stop functions of your camera require some time
The F-stop of a camera lens plays a dual roll by dictating the amount of light that can travel through the lens to saturate the digital sensor (or film plane). Additionally the F-stop controls the “depth of field” of the photograph.
Depth of field is a term used heavily in photography and understanding it will allow the photographer more flexibility in his/hers skills to capture artistic photos.
The lower the number as illustrated above F2.8 allows the most light to enter into the camera and gives the “shallowest” depth of field. Creating the bokeh effect or blurring of the foreground and background, working away from the selected point of focus.
On the opposite end of the spectrum we have F-22 with a noticeably smaller opening. This allows less light to pass through to the sensor but increases the depth of field.
F-stop at a glance
F2.8-Shallow depth of field allows foreground focus and blurs the background
F-22- Increased depth of field allows foreground focus but also includes a deeper range of focus in the background
Many movie productions are shot using a shallow depth of field, man on the street type photos where you don’t want the background to be included and portrait photos.
Nature photographers use an increased depth of field to include backgrounds of mountain peaks, flowers emotional reactions in crowds and more.
How does this all relate to Macro photography? Well that’s up to you. Remember these are only suggestions to help inspire you to keep your head in the game.
Shutter speed is another element that controls the creative process when shooting photos underwater and showing motion while using strobe power is nearly impossible unless you’re using the rear shutter sync on your SLR.
The strobe flash freezes your subject in the blast of light that is recorded on the digital sensor (at the speed of light)…
If your source of light comes from constant lighting it should be considered as available light. The shutter speed will weigh heavily on your results. 1/60 is considered a slow shutter speed when shooting with available light and will show motion in the photo by softening the edges.
1/125 is considered faster sharpening the edges of the subject but also restricting the amount of light volume passing through the F-stop opening. Sound confusing? It isn’t really. For the most part underwater photographers don’t need to worry about the speed when using a strobe, as long as we are above the 1/60 mark.
The biggest challenge can come when shooting in sunny clear conditions where the strobes need to battle the sun for sharpness. Shooting photos in shallow water on sunny days can create soft edges and will require more strobe power to battle the imposing sunlight. Our strobes cannot win this battle but it doesn’t hurt to try. Try these suggestions below to help stave off the imposing sunlight.
- Shoot with higher strobe intensity
- Lower your ISO to· the maximum
- Increased f-stop
- Increase shutter speed
Often times shooting over white reflective sand on sunny days can be extremely frustrating. By using the above settings I have managed to walk away with a few photos worthy of sharing.
Use of strobe
Strobes are a great way to add onto your camera setup. They play a critical role in allowing the photographer to add the light and color back to the subject matter at hand. Remember in your basic dive training how we learned about the light filtering process and the loss of color as we move deeper within the water column. The strobes add that back, adding the pop of color and light when and where we need it.
The strobe flash is shaped like a cone with the narrow end of the light at the opening of the strobe. As it travels away from the strobe through the water it expands outward again being filtered. The angle of the strobe placement plays a huge roll in macro photography. Try the tips below to achieve different effects
- Strobe power down to 25%
- Angle strobes in and almost back at the housing for dark/black backgrounds
- Rotate outwards to increase background lighting
- Use different strobe powers to increase soft contrast and shadows
- Use a single strobe for increased dramatic lighting
There are some great products on the market now that help the photographer to really create some stunning images. Listing a few may help take your photography to the next level but none are more important than a solid focus light.
- Soft but bright focus light
- Diopter subsea +10, or Inon stackable lenses are very popular, Wet lens
- Teleconverter’s 1.4 x kenco or tamron mounted on the lens back
- Fiber optic snoots or homemade funnel snoots
- Proper macro lens 60mm, 100 mm or 105 mm
Remember the most important part of shooting photos is to enjoy the dive, learn and share with others. Photography is subjective and everyone has a different viewpoint. So whether you're heading out for a day of diving a shore dive or a month of intensive fieldwork, shoot for yourself. Hold yourself to your own challenges and never be afraid to ask questions.
Now, get out there and have an adventure!
Mike Bartick is a Southern California local and diver
He discovered his first Nudibranch in the frigid California waters just off the SoCal coastline of Laguna Beach. Since then his admiration for critters has bloomed into a full blown obsession that has lead him across the globe. His favorite diving is split between California, and The Philippines, more specifically Anilao.
He is a travel expert and guide to SE Asia and has assisted many groups and individuals to find and photograph the critters of their dreams. But his involvement doesn’t end there, he is also the General manager for Crystal Blue Resort· in Anilao Philippines and Banca Diving the critter hub of SE Asia.
And while he admits that it feels good seeing your own work in print, its still about finding the critters, making friends and enjoying the dives.
To learn more about Mike’s work and photo safari trips visit his website at saltwaterphoto.com