In previous columns, we discussed some basic techniques used in creating vibrant and memorable underwater photographs, as well as dive photography safety, etiquette, travel tips, other tidbits related to shooting underwater. Now, it seems natural to show some favorite images from my library, along with the stories behind the shots and some technical information about how I captured them. The four images displayed this month were all shot on slide film in the early 2000's, before digital camera technology became so affordable and qualitatively competitive with film cameras.
2000—Kimbe Bay, Papua New Guinea
|Shot with a Nikon N90 and Nikkor 60mm macro lens in a Sea and Sea housing with 2 Sea and Sea YS-90 strobes on Fuji Velvia ISO 50 slide film.|
This image was shot on my first-ever trip to Papua New Guinea. (I loved PNG so much that I have since returned nine times.) I had taken a two-day underwater photography refresher course with photographer Tammy Peluso, who was the Photo Pro at Walindi Plantation Resort. Tammy helped me make the transition from a Nikonos V camera to a housed SLR, which, at the time, was a large leap of faith for me because I had no previous experience with a housed, auto-focus camera. The ultra-rich color saturation of the Velvia film is, in my opinion, still unmatched by digital technology. But, shooting digitally nowadays has so many other advantages over film that most are willing to compromise a little on this aspect.
The vertical format of this image, as well as the strikingly vibrant colors and lucky timing (capturing the fish's mouth agape), are what make this image really work for me. Note that the main subject of the image, the anemonefish, is not positioned in the dead center of the image. Rather, it is in the top third of the frame, which is considered by many to be more aesthetically pleasing. This composition technique, called the "rule of thirds," suggests that the main subject be placed at one of the intersections of theoretical vertical and horizontal lines that divide the frame in thirds (think of a tic-tac-toe board).
Later on my first trip to PNG, I was a passenger on the liveaboard dive boat Star Dancer. We were moored at a site on Father's Reef, which is a large reef complex in the Bismarck Sea off of the north coast of East New Britain Province. We had intended to make four dives there that day, but were only halfway through our first dive of the morning when a rather strong storm rolled in, bringing heavy wind and torrential rain. The boat captain decided it was best to have all divers abort their dives, and to take the vessel to a safe harbor to ride out the storm. While we were heading back toward the boat, I noticed a hawksbill turtle cruising the reef below me, and hoped it soon would ascend to the surface for a breath. Luckily, it did just that.
I was directly beneath my subject at about 25 feet, shooting directly up towards the surface, where the turtle was snatching a breath or two before diving back to graze on the reef. Since I knew that my strobes would only illuminate any particles suspended in the water (creating backscatter), and not the turtle, I turned both off, and shot several frames with the ambient daylight as my only source of light. The waves and raindrops created a unique and fascinating texture to the rich blue background, silhouetting the turtle. Note again the use of the "rule of thirds" in composing this image. This was the first image of mine ever published--it was honorably mentioned in Islands Magazine's Photography Competition in 2001.
Here is another image shot on film that displays the incredible color saturation, contrast, and dynamic range that digital cameras can't yet match. As digital camera technology continues to advance rapidly, this will undoubtedly change.
Papua New Guinea's Eastern Fields is a large reef complex in the Coral Sea, about 100 miles southwest of the capital city, Port Moresby. Of all the coral reefs I have dived in the last ten years, the Eastern Fields in 2002 offered the most complete view of a fully healthy coral reef system, essentially untouched by the influences and impacts of human activities. The health of the corals was incredible, as was the huge variety of reef fish and pelagics that seemed unconcerned by our presence. On one dive, while "hunting" for a glimpse of a rare Lacy Scorpionfish (Rhinopias aphanes), I came across a Neon Triplefin, a member of the goby family, perched upon a healthy colony of neon green star coral. The fish was only about two inches long, but the 60mm macro lens allowed me to compose and snap off a few frames with the lens port a mere 3 inches from the fish's nose before it spooked and disappeared. In the case of this image, I actually broke a rule that I try to follow when shooting: I decided to place the main subject's eyes dead center in the frame. I think I got away with it in this image because of the wonderful color and texture of the coral, the vibrant red of the Triplefin, and the fish's diagonal position in the frame. This image was highly commended in the ANZANG Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition in 2005.
(For the record, we DID end up finding a wonderfully red-and-white colored Rhinopias later in the trip, but my images of it were far inferior to this one.)
On my last dive trip before switching from film to digital, I spent a month or so in the Kingdom of Tonga in an effort to capture images of the humpback whales that come to Tongan waters to calve and mate during the Southern winter. Having shot most of the month with color slide film (mostly Fuji Provia 100), a stormy day with poor light inspired me to do a little experimenting with a very fast black and white film. Kodak's T-MAX 3200 was, and still is, one of the fastest black and white films available, allowing me to use much faster shutter speeds and smaller apertures to get the same exposures possible with the ISO 100 film. The high-ISO film ultimately gave me the ability to freeze any movement of the whale without sacrificing the high depth of field associated with small apertures (high f-stop numbers).
As with all high-ISO media, whether film or digital, the resulting images tend to be more grainy ("noisy" in digital) than images taken with low-ISO media. In this particular case, I was actually trying to use this "graininess" to my advantage, creating a more abstract representation of the animal. Although I was within eight feet or so of the whale's rostrum, I was still able to fill the frame with almost the entire 40 feet of its length. The high depth of field kept its nose, eye, pectoral fins, and most of its body in focus.
This particular whale was an adult male that was trying to win the affection of a female, despite the fact that she was already paired off with another male. The "intruder" tried for at least an hour to get himself between the "consort" and the female, while the consort spent the same amount of time trying to block him. For most of this period, the female appeared quite content to show off for the snorkelers in the water, doing spins and rolls all around us, while the males jockeyed for position. At one point, however, the action between the two males got to be a little too rough for us to be safely in the water with over 120 feet of VERY active humpback whales, so we got back on our boat and watched the remainder of the amazing show from above.
In the coming columns, I will first share some of my favorite early digital work, then more recent images, along with a few tips on how I captured them. Hopefully, these pieces will give you some ideas and insight into how to be more creative with your own underwater photography.
Until next time, have fun, and dive safe!
To view more of Jeff's work, log on to www.jeffyonover.com .
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