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Alert Diver is the dive industry’s leading publication. Featuring DAN’s core content of dive safety, research, education and medical information, each issue is a must-read reference, archived and shared by passionate scuba enthusiasts. In addition, Alert Diver showcases fascinating dive destinations and marine environmental topics through images from the world’s greatest underwater photographers and stories from the most experienced and eloquent dive journalists in the business.

IMAGING PHOTO TECHNIQUES

IMAGING PHOTO TECHNIQUES COMPOSITION Consider the fact that all lenses have a sweet spot, which is generally at the center of the lens. Not all wet diopter lenses are equal in this regard; some offer a greater area of sharp rendition. Yet no matter what lens is being used there is a way to get around a “bullseye” shot. Some compositions will benefit from the subject being centered, but others will favor the primary subject elsewhere in the frame. When autofocusing, the photographer will need to shift the autofocus indicator zone to the portion of the frame that needs the greatest sharpness. Many supermacro aficionados prefer to focus manually, perhaps taking the lens to its greatest magnification and then moving closer to the subject until the desired portion of the composition pops into clarity. LIGHTING When shooting macro and supermacro, lighting is critical to both exposure and composition. Due to the close working distances, some technical issues such as backscatter (particles suspended in the water column illuminated by the strobe) are happily minimized. This is fortunate because many supermacro subjects are found in muck or in places with poor or variable water clarity. I like to keep things simple, so in most cases I use the fastest shutter speed possible. This minimizes ambient light, but the composition is usually so tight that everything in the frame is typically strobe lit anyway. This allows me to concentrate on f-stop, strobe positioning and composition. My strobes are usually angled so they’re not aimed directly at my subject. A modeling light separate from the strobe is extremely important for this setup. Often I use a single strobe over the subject and aim it slightly back toward my housing so most of the light is actually shadowed by my housing and port. Just a small curtain of light illuminates the subject. This strobe angle can help eliminate background light even on a shallow reef. In some cases I use a light-shaping device such as a snoot (see alertdiver.com/Unique_Techniques) to eliminate a distracting background. Sometimes I want big and bright macro images and need a flood of light. In these cases I aim a primary strobe and use a second strobe (usually set to low power) for fill light. Backlighting with a third light can give the subject an additional layer that will set your photo apart from the pack. Before your next dive, get to know your system a little bit. Identify and learn how to work with your camera’s weak points. Learning how to squeeze a little more horsepower out of your existing system can be as simple as experimenting. Here are a few ways I have revved up the power of my camera system through logic and experimentation. Learn the camera’s focus-locking functions. This can be a powerful tool for split-second shooting. Once you achieve correct focus you can stop the lens and adjust the critical focus with subtle camera movement (or the subject’s movements). Practice focusing, locking, adjusting and firing while paying close attention to critical focus. Remember that what we see through the lens and diopter is equivalent to a maximum aperture of the lens, usually f/2.8 for a macro lens on a digital single-lens reflex camera. With practice you will become accustomed to the difference between what you see through your viewfinder and what your lens and settings capture. Any lens appears darker as the aperture decreases, for the obvious reason that less light reaches the viewfinder. To eliminate the handicap of focusing through a dark lens, modern cameras have automatic diaphragms and only step down to the preset aperture at the moment of exposure. The image’s DOF will no doubt be better than what is seen through the ground glass for the simple reason that rarely would a macro shooter expose at wide-open apertures. The precise DOF will not be revealed until later in the image review. Visualize your sensor plane as a three-dimensional rectangular space in which your subject will be 102 | SUMMER 2016

A pink ladybug (isopod) takes center stage under the canopy of a hydroid. Hydroids are a great place to seek smaller supermacro subjects. Strobe angle and high shutter speeds are an essential combination in creating a black background, eliminating distracting backgrounds. Opposite, from far left: Mushroom-coral pipefish (Siokunicthys nigrolineatus) are elongated subjects with interesting facial features. Shooting subjects from front to back can yield dramatic drop-off in depth of field. Using your focus lock button (AE/AF) and waiting for your subject to bring itself into the frame can help you capture subjects with unpredictable movements. Once the eyes are sharp and in the desired focal plane, release the shutter. These supersized clownfish embryos were shot with stacked diopters, magnifying the image (i.e., going beyond 1:1). Using off-camera lighting to illuminate your subject from behind creates bright macro images and reveals even more detail. photographed. Left to right is the plane of field, and front to back is the depth of field. After locking your focus you can recompose in this space to get away from the standard bullseye composition. Getting low is also important for exposing the little critter’s habitat and getting a more intimate look into its world. Shooting anything from front to back will always create a greater fall off of acceptable sharpness in your DOF. Shooting the subject on a plane parallel to the camera’s sensor will maximize the areas of the image in sharp focus. Good buoyancy control and sensitivity to fragile coral is of course very important with supermacro photography. It usually takes time to gradually approach cryptic and skittish creatures, and it may be tempting to kneel on the bottom when doing so. It is almost always best to dive without being in contact with the substrate and to also make sure gauges or fins don’t inadvertently come in contact with fragile coral. Going beyond 1:1 isn’t as difficult as you might think; all it takes is a little practice, determination and a good eye for finding subjects. Remember to be patient with yourself, have some fun, and try to apply a few of these techniques to help you along. AD ALERTDIVER.COM | 103

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