Don’t forget to pack your wide angle lens.
Last year I decided to make the the move from the pristine beaches of Mahe, in the Seychelles to the mucky slopes of Ambon, Indonesia. The Island of Mahe was surrounded by beautiful hard coral reefs, colorful fish, turtles and the occasional shark. The majority of my time in the Seychelles was spent shooting wide angle, and only occasionally did i get the chance to break out the macro lens. Now living in Ambon, it is a different story; with dive sites packed with weird and wonderful critters, the macro lens has certainly been getting a good work out. Having the luxury of spending time exploring the sites of Ambon and becoming familiar with the critters, I have noticed that there are many great opportunities to move away from the classic macro shot and to break out the fish eye lens – not only to capture some of the larger critters, but also to incorporate some of the strange and diverse habitats these critters call home.
When planning a macro trip, people often fall into the trap of thinking small. We pack our macro lenses, dioptors and tele convertors in order to capture classic shots such as the yawning Frogfish, Harlequin Shrimp on a blue Sea Star and Squat Lobster in a Crinoid. Not many people think about packing a wide angle lens for obvious reasons, but one thing Ambon has taught me is there is as much diversity available in photographic options as there are critters in Ambon Bay! There are opportunities to be had through a wider lens and the results can really set your images apart from the rest.
What is Close Focus Wide Angle?
Close focus wide angle is a technique that is typically practiced using a very wide lens. Fisheye lenses work best because of the extremely close focusing distance and the ability to focus on subjects just off of your dome port. This technique will make your subject appear larger and really pop from your background, especially
with the forced perspective this type of lens gives. Close focus wide angle is not normally associated with muck and critter diving due to the small size of the majority of subjects, but there are some species where Close Focus Wide Angle is a very effective technique.
Choosing your subject
One of the most challenging aspects when shooting close focus wide angle is finding a prominent foreground subject and also a pleasing background. If you can find both of these you have the basic building blocks for a great image. Jetties are always a good place to start as they attract a large variety of life and provide great backgrounds and light. It is always worth planning your dives under a jetty in accordance with the sun’s height; knowing which way the jetty faces and timing your dive will ensure you make the most of the light. Close Focus Wide Angle is not a technique that you are going to be able to use on tiny critters such as a Skeleton Shrimp or Boxer Crabs. Instead concentrate on larger critters such as Giant Frogfish, Scorpion Fish, Rhinopias, Octopus, Anenomes and Ghost pipe fish which all provide great opportunities with the wider lens. What you are really looking for is a slow moving bottom dwelling creature that has a balance of colour and character. A lot of the time, especially on a critter diving trip, some of your subjects are bound to be on a rubble or sand slope with only limited visibility. To combat this you want to get as low and close as possible, minimizing the distance between you and your subject. This will give you more contrast and colour from your subject. This trick is not only specific to Close Focus Wide Angle, however; getting close and low in general is a great tip to remember when shooting underwater.
Your dive guide will play a big part in helping you choose the right subject – not only because they will know what critters are around, but they can also advise you on the type of substrate or background you will be dealing with. Often a good muck diving site will have a number of critters around, so it’s worth doing a macro dive on the site first to check it out, and if the conditions look good, return with your wide angle set up.
In terms of lighting and exposure, you are going to want to light your subject with your strobes; you can then control the light in your background by using your shutter speed to get the water tone you are after. As for your subject, you can control the exposure by using your aperture and strobe power. Start of with an aperture of f8 (but you may need bump it down a few stops if you want more depth of field to maybe f14). For your strobes they will have to be tucked back away from the port (about level with the hot shoe connection) and angle them a little way out from the housing so you are utilizing the softer light on the edge of the strobe beam. Your strobes will also have to be nice and close to your housing in order to illuminate the whole subject and not create large shadows.
Fish eye lenses are the order of the day with this technique (Nikon 10.5, Canon 15mm and the Tokina 10-17mm). Tele convertors are also great addition as they reduce the coverage of the lens and add depth of field to your shot. As for the dome, a small dome is essential – no bigger than 6 inches in order to get as low and close to your subject as possible.
- – Plan your dives and speak to your dive guides. Ask them what is around and also where it is. Only use the wide angle set up if you know there may be a critter you can use this technique on. Don’t strap on the fisheye for every muck dive.
- – Get low and get close – this technique is all about getting as close as you can without disturbing the critter.
- – Have your strobes close to your housing.
So when planning your next muck diving trip, consider a wide angle set up for some of your dives. Take the time to look at some of the critters with a wider perspective to add a bit off diversity to your critter portfolio.