Techniques

Super macro photography can be tricky when you first start, but the following tips should help you get the hang of it in no time.

FIG 8.55 Mounted on a Sea & Sea flat port, the dual element achromatic +10 dioptre SubSee and its corresponding port adapter makes super macro photography possible. The SubSee can be swung out of the way on a hinged arm so normal macro photography is not affected during each dive.

Subject Choice

You might be tempted to seek out primarily microscopic animals to photograph, but shooting abstracts and detail shots of typical 'normal-size'subjects can be rewarding and revealing. Keep the composition simple — try to limit the frame to a single subject, and minimise distracting objects in the foreground and background. Slow moving (or static) subjects are well suited for this type of photography, since tracking objects at high levels of magnification can be difficult. Also, since lens-to-subject distances are often very small, approachable subjects are preferable over skittish ones. Otherwise, be prepared to spend the majority of your dives trying to make friends with your subject.

FIG 8.57 Purple Goby, Komodo, Indonesia. While observing a small group of these Redeye Hovering Gobies (Bryaninops natans) above a patch of Acropora coral, I noticed that one repeatedly returned to the same perching spot. I set the camera and strobes up for the shot, waited for the small school to calm down, and, sure enough, my little friend sat down right in my frame — perhaps to show off her pretty eyes! D300 in an Ikelite housing with dual Ikelite DS125 strobes, 105 mm lens, ReefNet's +10 SubSee, f22 at 1/200 and ISO200.

Finding the Subject through the Viewfinder

While you might be able to easily see some subjects with your naked eye, locating them through the viewfinder is a task that's sometimes easier said than done. I find it useful to take a moment to mentally map the area surrounding the subject, taking note of the positions of nearby brightly coloured objects or other distinguishable points in relation to the subject so that when you pull the camera to your eye and the subject isn't in the frame, you'll be able to use the directions from your mental map to find it. With a little practice, this technique will become second nature.

FIG 8.58 Flatworm, Kimbe Bay, Papua New Guinea. I noticed this flatworm making its way towards the edge of a small coral ledge, so I set the camera to

Rapid Fire mode, waited for this eye level shot to materialise, then seized the moment with a quick burst of shots.

D300 in an Ikelite housing with dual Ikelite DS125 strobes, 105 mm lens, ReefNet's +10 SubSee, f45 at 1/200 and ISO400.

FIG 8.59 Octopus eye, Blue Heron Bridge, Florida. Peering out from a discarded beer bottle, this octopus remained motionless while I positioned my light in such a way that only its eye was illuminated at the time of exposure. This was on a sandy bottom in around 10 feet of water, so I was able to empty my BC, sprawl out, get my breathing under control, and take my time setting up the shot.

D300 in an Ikelite housing with a single Ikelite DS125 strobe, 105 mm lens, ReefNet's +10 SubSee, f20 at 1/250 and IS0250.

FIG 8.60 Yawning Goby, Tulamben, Bali, Indonesia. I found this Goby on an uncharacteristically shallow whip coral, so decided to capitalise on the situation. After a preliminary dive taking 'standard' pictures of it, I decided that it was necessary to go back to it with my super macro rig. After custom-making a floatation system for my housing, I went back to the Goby on two more devoted dives, spending around 5 hours waiting patiently for it to yawn. D300 in an Ikelite housing with dual Ikelite DS125 strobes, 105 mm lens, ReefNet's +10 SubSee, f32 at 1/250 and IS0200.

Focusing Methods

For any given f-stop, depth of field is a function only of the magnification ratio of the image being produced. More magnification means less depth of field. Since super macro photography involves high degrees of magnification, it follows that the depth of field will be very small. How and where the narrow field of focus is positioned depends on your choice of focusing method.

Method #1: Normal Auto Focus. It is tempting to simply 'point and shoot', trusting that the camera's auto focus will select the correct portion of the subject to be in focus, but this can be a dangerous move — if the camera selects a plane of focus that is a fraction of a millimetre this way or that, the shot can be changed from treasure to trash. I do not recommend this method of placing focus.

Method #2: Auto Focus with AF-lock. Once the image is properly framed and roughly focused, the focal plane can be locked in place by half-depressing the shutter release, pressing and holding the 'AF-L' (on Nikon bodies) button, or by switching the camera body into Manual focus mode. Using any of these methods, the camera can be rocked back and forth as necessary, to precisely place the plane of focus where you desire.

FIG 8.61 Red Blenny face, Blue Heron Bridge, Florida. This tiny Blenny was in a lone slab of concrete in just over 5 feet of water. Using a combination of super macro tools (teleconverter and achromatic wet lens), I was able to fill the frame with its face — which is not much larger than a grain of rice! That's my thumb next to it, in the upper corner of the image. D300 in an Ikelite housing with dual Ikelite DS125 strobes, 105 mm lens, with a Kenko 2X Teleconverter and ReefNet's +10 SubSee, f25 at 1/250 and ISO 200.

Method #3: Manual Focus. Having access to the primary lens' manual focus ring can be very helpful when trying to position the plane of focus. This is the most effective method, since your fingers are kept free from holding down any buttons, and minor changes in magnification and framing can be made with the turn of the focus ring. However, not every brand of port has a built-in manual focus knob, so your particular rig may not be capable of this focusing technique.

Another helpful technique is 'focus bracketing'. Once your image is properly composed, take several exposures while very slightly rocking the camera body back and forth. This will usually increase your chances of positioning the plane of focus precisely where you want it. You can further increase your chances by decreasing the size of the aperture (increasing the f-stop number) to get more depth of field. But this should be done sparingly since reductions in aperture size are inevitably accompanied by some degree of image softening from diffraction effects. This can do more harm than good.

FIG 8.62 Blue Blenny Face, Eilat, Israel. This Blenny was the perfect super macro subject — very calm, unaffected by my presence, and full of expression and colour. I positioned my strobes in such a way that only the face of the Blenny and part of its tubular home were lit up. It was near the sand, so I was able to kneel while setting up the shot.

D300 in an Ikelite housing with dual Ikelite DS125 strobes, 105 mm lens, ReefNet's +10 SubSee, f25 at 1/125 and ISO 200.

Breathing/Buoyancy

Keeping super macro subjects framed properly takes more than just a keen photographic eye — you'll need solid control over your buoyancy (if shooting off the reef), a steady pair of hands, and a slow, calm breathing cycle. Coordinating your exposures with the pauses in your breathing cycle will usually give you the best shooting opportunities.

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