Jan 312013

Blenny on a log

After three years of shooting wide angle with my Canon 5DII, I picked up a macro lens for myself just before Christmas. I’ve really appreciated being “stuck” with the one underwater lens so far. Not having another option means I’ve taken wide angle shots in terrible vis and with inappropriate subjects on a regular basis. As a result I’ve learnt a lot about getting the best out of the lens in all kinds of conditions, and become a better photographer as a result.

With a new lens comes a whole new learning curve for making great pictures. While it’s going to take me a while before I can reliably shoot the picture I see in my head, I wanted to share some of the very early things I’ve worked out. This is lesson number one: pick the right subject.

Last year I dived Layang Layang atoll, in Borneo. The highlight of the trip was definitely the encounter with a school of hammerheads, way out in the blue. With 30 degree water I was diving without a wetsuit, and paying a lot more attention to the camera than the location of the reef next to my knees. Despite the reef being make up of spikey things and soft coral with stingers, I didn’t once make contact or injure myself.

Exposed clownfish

With the first dives on a macro lens in Thailand over Christmas, that all changed. Not only did the macro lens require peering through the viewfinder (no shooting from the hip here), but I needed to get closer, adjust settings and stay there longer to get the shot I wanted. My cave diving buoyancy control came in handy, but even then most of the caves I dive in don’t come with current or surge.

In the end, the lesson was a bit simpler than trying to stay rock still in a contorted position with the surge washing over me – find a better subject. If I see a cute critter beside a rock where access is blocked by a fan, or where getting the strobes to shoot down a crevice is going to mean crushing some nearby wildlife, the cute critter gets a pass.

On the other hand, now when I find a critter in a good spot (perched on top of an exposed log, say) I stay with it and click away. My wide angle discovery that finding a good spot and waiting for a fish works better than chasing a fish as it runs away also holds true for macro photography. With the forebearance to leave difficult-to-access subjects alone, my shots improve and the dive site is preserved for next week’s photography. My new underwater mantra: there’s always a better critter, just over this rock….keep swimming!

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