Lighting

A lot of pelagic encounters can happen very close to the surface. Therefore you have more opportunity to shoot with available light rather than having to shoot with strobes. Whilst whales and whale sharks might look slow moving they are deceptively fast in the water, so not having the extra bunk of twin strobes can be a distinct advantage in trying to keep up with them. Shooting at relatively shallow depths also allows you to make use of filters, which can also give some very pleasing results.

FIG. 9.60 Canon 5D, 16—35 mm at the 16 mm end, f11,1/320th sec, ISO 250, no strobes. A good example of what is possible near the surface. No need for bulky strobes that will only slow you down when trying to keep up with such agile and playful subjects. Shooting with the sun behind you keeps the contrast under control and the subject well lit.

FIG. 9.60 Canon 5D, 16—35 mm at the 16 mm end, f11,1/320th sec, ISO 250, no strobes. A good example of what is possible near the surface. No need for bulky strobes that will only slow you down when trying to keep up with such agile and playful subjects. Shooting with the sun behind you keeps the contrast under control and the subject well lit.

When shooting pelagics it's best to position the sun behind you so the light can fall onto the subject. If you shoot into the sun your camera may struggle with the high range of contrast. With the sun behind you the contrast will be less harsh, which will result in a more pleasing range of tones.

Once you get below 15 metres a strobe is essential. If your subject is likely to be fast moving and you are not sure how many passes it will make, you will want to get as many shots as possible. Whilst some photographers may have invested in the mother-of-all-strobes with super fast recycle times you do not need to rely on outright strobe power to be able to shoot in motor drive with strobes. Most SLRs these days have extremely impressive high ISO capabilities. By setting your ISO relatively high, 400—600 for example, you can reduce the power, allowing them to recycle much faster (the paparazzi use this technique to shoot machine-gun style so they capture every drunken wobble of their unfortunate quarry).

A few other key disciplines are also relevant to shooting pelagics:

• Turn your camera on, select aperture and shutter speed, extend strobe arms (and turn it ON) before you enter the water. You will waste less time and fewer valuable opportunities if you are ready to go right away.

• Research. Look at pictures others have taken. This will give you an idea of what to expect and the types of shots that should be possible. Think about the kind of shots you want to take and the settings you will need to take them. Pre-visualisation sounds very corny but it's a useful technique for times when you might only have a few chances to get the shot you are after.

• Repeats. Many of the dedicated pelagic trips visit the same place several times allowing you to learn after each dive. Take your laptop, download your pictures and think carefully about what's working for you and what's not. Note the settings that worked well on one dive and dial them in to your equipment as a starter for the next dive.

• Don't be afraid to shoot at arm's length or by looking over the camera. This technique can give your images some interesting angles of view. You'll be shooting wide angle and whilst you might miss a few shots the first time you will soon get used to the technique. You'll find it a useful way of gently pushing away over friendly sharks without missing the shot!

• And finally, watch other photographers at work, the positions they get into, the camera angles they adopt on their quarry, strobe angles, etc. On a dedicated pelagic photo-workshop you learn so much from watching each other shoot.

FIG. 9.61 Canon 5D, 15 mm fisheye, f7.1,1/40th sec, twin Inon 240 strobes. One of my favourite shots. I kept the shutter speed low (1/40th sec) to retain the deep blue of the background as I wanted the shark against an empty blue ocean. To get a little closer, and to get just the right angle, I held the camera at arm's length as the shark swam past. It took several attempts to get the framing just right but with 20 reef sharks swimming around me and the dive site all to myself I had the time to get the shot I was after.

FIG. 9.61 Canon 5D, 15 mm fisheye, f7.1,1/40th sec, twin Inon 240 strobes. One of my favourite shots. I kept the shutter speed low (1/40th sec) to retain the deep blue of the background as I wanted the shark against an empty blue ocean. To get a little closer, and to get just the right angle, I held the camera at arm's length as the shark swam past. It took several attempts to get the framing just right but with 20 reef sharks swimming around me and the dive site all to myself I had the time to get the shot I was after.

FIG. 9.62 Canon 5D fisheye, f9, 250th sec. Just to play with the senses of the reader. Orientate 180 degrees to view as taken.
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