Sep 102014

Sunbeams in Komodo

About the dives

As you might have gathered from the last three weeks of posting, I had some great dives through Komodo and Alor on the Arenui. The water was warm and clear, the little fish were plentiful and the corals were healthy. There’s only so many ways to say – the diving was very nice! – so today I thought I’d talk about these photos instead.

Sunballs underwater

About the photos

Clear water and bright sunny days up top creates pluses and minuses for wide angle photography. One of the definite advantages is that up in the shallows when the surface is calm you can capture these incredible sun rays. The key to good rays is a fast shutter speed and much shallower water than you would think. Sun rays look good from 10m, but they look even better from about 2m depth. Waves on the surface break up the rays so there won’t be as many. Flat calm surfaces are best, and diving when the sun is low in the sky can produce amazing golden hour results. Of course this only works if you can use a fast enough shutter speed to freeze the rays as they jump around.

Diving with the Arenui, this definitely wasn’t a problem – I had the opposite issue. My strobes are wired electronically through my housing which means they only sync up to a shutter speed of 1/250. That’s the speed that both of these photos were taken at, and both at the same time of day. The main difference was the depth and the f stop. Up in the shallows for the top photo my foreground coral about about a foot from the camera. This meant to get some strobe light on it, even at full power, I needed a mid range f stop of f13. In the shallows in the middle of the day, f13 was not nearly small enough to let me capture the sunball. Had I tilted the camera any further up I would have gone from capturing nice rays to capturing the white ball of death, distracting from the shapes and textures of the reef.

I found the sunball itself hard to capture throughout the trip if I wanted to avoid big over exposed patches mid-photo. The second photo here was the answer to that problem. It was taken at the start of the dive when I was down at a depth of about 25m. To increase the strobe power on the foreground subject I moved in very (very) close and put this coral tree right up against my dome port. By lighting it from behind the strobes are practically in the picture which means I could select an f stop of f22. I also downshifted my ISO from my usual 400 to 100. So in every way this shot is at the limits of my settings…the fastest shutter speed, the smallest aperture and the lowest ISO. With all that sorted, the bright tropical sun is just starting to resemble a sunball with nice rays, as seen from under 25m of clear water.

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