About the resort
As I posted last, I’ve just spent a week at the lovely Atlantis Resort in Dumaguete, the Philippines sponsored by Diversion Dive Travel. Over 6.5 diving days I managed to take 2,367 photos and nearly two and a half hours of underwater video. The diving at Dumaguete is mostly muck diving. We sell tickets on the site and via telephone. This means the macro lens stayed on and my dives were a treasure hunt for strange critters over a mostly sand and rubble bottom.
I did five dives a day and with only 1-2 hours between each one it was good to stay shallow. The resort itself was lovely topside with great food and facilities. Most importantly, the dive guides were expert spotters, finding things that I couldn’t recognise as animals even after they were pointed out to me. The ornate ghost pipefish above was one of the critters I could find on my own as they like to hang out in featherstars. They move enough to be spotted, but not so much that photos are hard to take – perfect.
About the photo
If you haven’t seen one of these guys before, check out the photo above. This pipefish characteristically floats heads down and his eye is near the bottom. While he may look flattish, after my first session of taking photos I downloaded them to discover that focussing on his body was leaving the eye out of focus every time. So the next dive I focussed on his eye with a half press on the shutter, recomposed and clicked. I surfaced confident I had gotten the shot…nope! With the lens only 20cm or so away from the creature, the action of tilting the camera moved the plane of focus so that nothing was sharp.
So on the third session of clicking away at an ornate ghost pipefish while the other divers turned up unique critters around me, I discovered the technique. When shooting macro I normally switch to using only the centre-point autofocus spot on the camera. This gives me fine tuned control over what’s in focus and what’s not. The centre-point spot is more sensitive than the others, but the obvious drawback is that it’s in the middle. This means the focus of every shot will be right in the middle of the frame. It’s not ideal unless you want the eyeball in the middle of your frame. Focus, recompose and click works best when moving the camera sideways on a flat plane. As I discovered here, it doesn’t work so well when tilting the camera.
The answer turned out to be simpler than that – change the focus point. I turned on one video light to improve focussing speed and moved to the bottom autofocus point with the camera held vertically. After a few shots I zoomed right in to check and was a lot happier with what I could see on the screen. From there it was just about waiting for the little guy to move into the right position in his crinoid home, while I made adjustments to depth of field to include enough background. After nearly 20 minutes of hanging out together I got the shot above. Out of all 2,367 shots from the trip, it’s my favourite.