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The Art of Snooting

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Are you a black background enthusiast? Do you enjoy playing with the texture and shadows of your subject? Are you looking for a new challenge? If you answered yes to any of these questions, snooting could be the next technique you need to master!

For this post I’ve collaborated with Ajiex Dharma, a freelance dive guide and accomplished macro photographer, based out of Tulamben, Bali. Well known for his signature black background photography, Ajiex regularly teaches keen divers the snooting technique. In this blog, we’re going to be talking through the benefits of snooting and some tips and tricks for you to get started.

Before we get started, what is snooting? Usually reserved for shooting macro subjects, snooting is a lighting technique where a tube or funnel is placed over the front of strobe(s), allowing the photographer to direct light onto the subject in a more precise manner. The photographer will typically shoot photographs of this style using a high shutter speed, higher f-stop value and a low ISO. This creates a crisp black background in contrast to the illuminated subject.

A relatively inexpensive technique to try out for yourself, gear ranges from home made ten dollar funnels, through to the more expensive Retra snoot… and everything in between. There really is an option to suit every budget.

I asked Ajiex what he thinks is the benefit of the technique and what a photographer can expect to gain from shooting using snooted lighting in comparison to a less fiddly technique?

Snooting is a different shape of lighting. It is particularly useful when you enjoy achieving a black background in your photographs. A snoot is really worth the extra effort for isolating a subject where, due to how the subject is located, you can anticipate a messy foreground or bland background. You can make a subject stunning and elevate your photograph from an ID shot to a work of art!” AD

So, let’s get started, these are our top tips and tricks you need to consider when trying your hand at snooting.

1: Get your buoyancy under control

Snooting requires you to get very close to your subject, so as you can imagine, buoyancy is critically important. As a photographer, you want to approach your subject in a calm and controlled manner to prevent your subject from running away or hiding. Creeping up on your subject with minimal disruption to it or the muck and sand around you will save you time editing out backscatter in post. It will also allow you more time with your subject, minimizing any stress you may cause it.

Additionally, like in all underwater photography, the more rapidly you breathe and the more you move, the faster you’re going to run through your air while also introducing motion blur into your image.

2: Know your camera

“Understanding your equipment is really important. It helps you understand what settings you need to get the shot you want. For example, if you shoot a hairy shrimp with a backlight, you need to know how to capture the details. If you use a big f stop (f5), you will get more light but you will probably find your picture is too bright. You will also find this depth of field too shallow. If you use f22 (or higher) this image will be even better because it will be sharp” AD

As with all macro photography, you need to understand the relationship between ISO, Aperture and Shutter Speed. You will still need to evaluate the size of your subject and the effect you want to create. The lighting technique is not a substitute for good macro practices. Make sure the eyes or key features of your subject are sharp and in focus and that you’re shooting with intent.

3: Get a friend to help you

Picture an actor standing on a stage with a spotlight above them. One step in either direction and your actor is in darkness. A snoot performs in much the same way. The beam of light can be so narrow that one centimetre in the wrong direction and your beautiful nudibranch or decorator crab will be in darkness.

Getting a friend or assistant to give you a hand will make getting the hang of snooting initially much easier. Eventually, after a lot of practice, you will get a feel for the new piece of equipment and will develop an understanding of where the snoot needs to be placed in relation to your camera and subject. However, when you’re just starting, doing this on your own will be infuriating. Your friend or buddy will be able to see the subject easily and help you place the light more efficiently onto the subject.

If your strobe has a focus light, use it. It’s so much easier to be able to see a beam of light coming from your strobe before you take the shot. It will give you a much better idea of what features will be illuminated, how the shadows will fall and whether or not your subject will be over or under exposed.

This will be a great help for your buddy initially to get light placement just right. Additionally, when you come to shooting on your own, this will be an invaluable learning aid.

4: Get creative!

“Snooting is about getting creative and using different lighting. Backlighting, side lighting, it’s about drama!” AD

Remember my spotlight analogy from point two? Now forget it! It’s time to get creative. Top down lighting is not your only option. The real benefit of snooting is that you can direct light precisely from any direction imaginable. When you’re first learning, find a single interesting subject and stay with it. Snoot it from the top, the back (particularly if it’s transparent), the sides, underneath and watch how the shadows and the texture of the subject change. Although maybe try and find a subject without eyes that won’t mind being blasted with light over and over again…

As an example, I’ve included an image below of an emperor shrimp on a nudibranch. I’ve seen many of these pics with the shrimp sitting in between the rhinophores lit from the top down. I wanted to do something different. The snoot was placed facing the shrimps face but with the power of my strobe dialled right down.

By doing this, it allowed me to showcase the texture of the nudibranch skin. You can actually see the little feet of the shrimp digging into the surface of the nudibranch. If you keep looking at the images, you can even see the wrinkles and fold of the skin. I thought it was something beautiful and unique, worth capturing.

To show you a different effect, Ajiex and I photographed the Pikachu nudi using a side lighting technique. The snoot was held to the side of the subject, allowing the transparency to become the feature of the photograph. Additionally, by creating highlights and shallows, the folds of the face became far more apparent. I feel like it gave the subject an interesting personality and interest.

As a final tip, when snooting, remember you don’t have to capture the subject in isolation. Sometimes it is interesting to include a little of the background of context. If there is a beautiful tunicate, try and include this in your shot. Really this tip is about playing with your gear and really finding out what you like and the best way to achieve shots that you feel proud of.

Wrapping up, I really hope you’ve got a good sense of what snooting is and some practical tips to help you get stuck in. It’s a technique I absolutely love using. Despite the initial frustrations of learning how to place the snoot and using the power setting on my strobe to get a light balance that I enjoy, it’s been a really worthwhile challenge and I highly recommend that you give it a go!

If you’re ever in the Tulamben area and want to take lessons or learn more about snooting, you can reach Ajiex here on Facebook or Instagram @ajiexdharma.

Check out more of Miranda-Clare’s photos on Instagram @divingphotos or visit her website www.mirandaclare.com.

Diving and underwater photography enthusiast Miranda-Clare first discovered her passion after moving to Grand Cayman in 2015. Since then, it has become her obsession to explore and capture the underwater world. Now based in South East Asia, she enjoys sharing her journey with other aspiring photographers. Find out more at www.mirandaclare.com.

Marine Life & Conservation Blogs

Sharks: The Oceans Greatest Mystery – Part 3

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Sharks are a truly incredible animal that have evolved and shaped themselves to be the perfect predator which, in turn, has shaped our oceans and the animals that live within it. Sharks have existed on our planet for up to 400 million years and throughout that time they have become one of the most numerous top predators on our planet, they have lived through 5 major extinction events when many other species died out. Sharks have been doing something right all this time, but at this very moment sharks are facing a threat that is so powerful that it is literally changing the face of our planet, and that force is Humans, it’s us. Sharks are being killed at an unprecedented rate, a rate of unimaginable scale. Recent studies by scientists have shown that since 1970 we have reduced Shark & Ray populations by a staggering 71%.

What threats do they face?

Sharks worldwide are currently dealing with a huge array of issues which is putting the whole group at risk. Sharks are being killed for their Fins, Oil, Teeth/Jaws and other members of the group, such as Manta Ray’s, are killed for their Gill Rakers and wings.

Firstly, let us talk about what is potentially the most inhumane form of animal harvesting, Shark Finning. This is the practice of removing a Sharks Fins, usually whilst the animal is still alive, and then discarding the rest of the animal back into the Ocean. The Shark is usually still alive throughout the whole process and the animal usually dies from drowning or blood loss on the sea floor. Shark fins only account for around 2% of a Sharks average body weight which means that 98% of the animal is merely tossed back into the ocean, 98% of the animal is just simply wasted. Now this begs the question what are Shark fins used for? Well, they are used in an Asian dish known as Shark Fin Soup, now Shark fin is tasteless, which means that the fin only adds mere texture to a Chicken or Pork flavoured broth which further begs the question, why use Shark Fin and not something else to add texture. Well, the soup serves more as a status symbol and it is known as the food of emperors and kings, those who can afford and serve Shark Fin at a banquet or party are revered as wealthy.

Sharks are also harvested for traditional medicine, where it is believed that by ingesting Shark parts such as their cartilage or liver, it can give you a Sharks “magical” powers and abilities. The most common rumour is that Sharks do not get cancer, and by consuming Sharks you can also become immune to cancer. This is of course false; Sharks do in fact get cancer and with recent additions of pollutants and chemicals into the oceans from human activities, sharks get cancer now more than ever, along with a whole host of other ailments. This means that by eating Sharks you are actually more likely to catch illnesses and ailments such as Mercury poisoning, due to the fact that Sharks hold a large quantity of such toxic substances in their bodies.

Aside from Shark finning, they are also at huge risk of becoming caught in nets and on lines as Bycatch, this means that they get caught despite not being the targeted species. For example, Sharks are commonly caught on Tuna hooks or in Tuna nets. Unfortunately, in these instances they tend to not even have their fins removed and, in this case, the whole animal is wasted. The sharks are usually already dead after being brought up due to the amount of time they have sat on hooks and usually die from exhaustion or drowning. Sometimes Sharks are killed in sport fishing tournaments as game fish, where people will go out on Shark fishing days and many Sharks will be killed for the chance of beating a previous record.

Sharks are also at risk of habitat loss, in the same way as Jaguars and Macaws in the Amazon, and Elephants in Asia. Human activities such as fishing, expansion, pollution, mining and Global Warming are all threatening Sharks Habitats. Flapper Skates, which are also known as Common Skates, are now Critically Endangered around the UK due to trawling damaging the egg laying sites for this species. The Bimini Islands, which are famous for the presence of a Lemon Shark Nursery, were in trouble a few years back with plans for demolishing a section of the Mangrove Forest on the island, to make way for a Golf Course. Thankfully it wasn’t successful, but if it was it could have put the Lemon Sharks at extreme risk as this is an area needed for the beginning of the lemon shark’s life cycle.

Another factor putting sharks at risk, is the amount of plastic pollution and pollutants in the water. Plastics can block the digestive system of plankton feeding Sharks and Ray’s such as Whale Sharks and Manta Ray’s, and discarded fishing gear such as nets can entangle up Sharks and other aquatic animals. The amount of fishing being done in the oceans also puts sharks at risk from their food supply disappearing, as humans fish the oceans, we are inadvertently removing the fish stocks that Sharks rely on for their survival.

Sharks & People

Sharks are an apex predator in the World’s Oceans, and it may seem far-fetched to believe, but we depend on Sharks more than you might think. Let us start with fish, currently 10-12 percent of the world’s population relies on the Ocean’s fish for their diet and survival, and Sharks help to keep fish stocks healthy by eating sick, injured or diseased fish and holding the toxins and diseases in their bodies until they die, this is why Sharks have such a strong immune system. With Sharks hunting these fish, it helps to keep the stocks healthy and means the fish that we catch and eat won’t make us sick.

Sharks also play a vital role in the Planet’s oxygen cycle, the Ocean essentially acts as a giant blue lung taking in Carbon Dioxide from the air, seagrass beds and plankton then absorb the Carbon Dioxide and release it as Oxygen back into the atmosphere. If Sharks were to disappear then other animal stocks would explode out of proportion and eat all of the sea grass and/or plankton and the oxygen cycle would be hindered. An example is, if Tiger Sharks were to disappear, then the Turtle population would rapidly increase, allowing the Turtles to eat all of the Seagrass, which would mean we lose a key component of the production of our oxygen. Along with plankton, seagrass helps to produce 75% of the Oxygen we breathe daily. Seagrass Meadows also store more Carbon than any Forest on land making them one of the most productive habitats on our Planet.

How can we be better Ambassadors to Sharks?

It may seem like there is not much we can do, but you would be surprised to hear that there is in fact a lot that we can do to help Sharks. Sharks have been tarnished with a hugely negative reputation, a reputation that can make protecting them difficult. The problem is people are told their whole lives that Sharks are mindless killing machines and that if you go in the Ocean, you are likely to meet your timely demise, but we now know that these stories are literally just that, stories. One of the best ways of protecting sharks is to help people better understand them and all it may take is a simple conversation, a conversation where you can debunk myths, a conversation where you can change their perspective. Jacques Cousteau once said, “People protect what they love”, and this saying holds a lot of weight. People will protect sharks if they love them, and the only way to allow people to love them is for them to first understand them, and understanding first comes through education. If people love Sharks, then the whole cycle starts again with them going out and telling people about Sharks. If you are Diver and or, Underwater Photographer, then you can share your experiences and imagery with people, which will allow their perspectives to shift, and you would be surprised to find out how beneficial Social media can be for Sharks, as it’s a place where you can share your images and stories to a very wide audience across the globe.

Another way to help is to not buy Shark Fin Soup or any Shark products, it may be tempting to buy a Shark tooth necklace or Shark in a jar when on holiday, or even to try Shark Fin Soup, but this will only feed the problem, if we can do this then, when the buying stops then the killing can too.

Something that has been realised recently is that Sharks are worth more alive than dead and over a Sharks lifetime, it can bring in many millions of Dollars through Echo-Tourism, compared to the couple of dollars it will bring into a fisherman if the animal is killed. Thankfully, areas that were once Shark fishing hotpots, have turned to becoming areas where Shark populations have exploded, due to an influx of Divers from across the globe going to see Sharks alive and healthy. Places such as Raja Ampat, The Maldives, and The Galapagos Islands have put protections on sharks and in doing so attract divers to these areas where Sharks are protected, with divers going to these areas only further helps and funds the Protected area and allow the work to continue.

A final thing you can do is to write to your Local MP about needing larger and stronger Marine Protected areas, with stronger protections from commercial fishing. As it stands there is less than 0.5% of our World’s Oceans that have complete protection from commercial fishing. Scientists have stated that for our Oceans to be protected, we need at least 30% of our Oceans to have complete protection for Sharks, Fish and other marine mammals, which will, in turn, allow our Oceans to stabilise themselves.

There is still a lot that you can do and if you do just one of these things, you could help change the fate of Sharks and allow them to continue thriving and shaping our oceans for millennia to come.

So that’s it, a deep dive into Sharks, our Oceans Greatest Mystery. A look into their biology, behaviour and secrecy. I hope after this you come away with a better understanding and appreciation for this incredible group of animals, I hope after this you now look at a Shark and see not a monster, but an animal that is incredibly misunderstood and one that not only keeps our Oceans healthy, but also our whole Planet. Sharks are a key component in our survival, and with our help they can continue to be our Oceans Greatest Mystery.


Follow Donovan on Instagram at www.instagram.com/donovans_reefs

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Safe, Sustainable Travel – How will the new travel normal work for our environment?

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The past year has definitely been a strange one for us all. Life as we know it has changed for good. Our daily lives, future plans, travel and holiday dreams have all changed in ways we never imagined. For some of us, it was a time of reflection, some sadness, some fear, but we all managed at some stage to find some peace and happiness too.

Reflection about our well-being, seeing how the environment has been positively impacted by the lock downs, connecting with family and friends, even if only virtually and perhaps uniting as a global community, we can’t say it’s been all bad. But moving forward, re-opening our countries and allowing freedom of movement once again – with the ‘new normal’ needs plenty of careful thought and consideration.

PPE ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT 

We need to consider our health, especially now that many of us are returning to work. We need to make sure we are looking after our well-being and we also need to consider our environment. There are new requirements and expectations set in place, but if we are not careful, we will simply create whole new areas of issue, transferring what we have ‘undone’ during lock down to new environmental issues.

The internet is already awash with images of discarded face masks impacting wildlife and marine life. Even as early as February 2020, 70 masks along 100 meters of shoreline were found on a beach clean in Hong Kong and more recently in the Mediterranean, masks have reportedly been seen floating like jellyfish.

Discarded masks may also risk spreading the virus to waste collectors, litter pickers or members of the public who first come across the litter. Let alone the fact that as a mask breaks down over time into millions of particles, the potential is there for those particles to carry chemicals and bacteria up the food chain.

At Secret Paradise Maldives we are firm believers in sustainable travel and also believe that if each one of us takes individual responsibility and educates just one person, messages such as these will filter through to many people.

Picking up a couple of plastic bottles or bags on the beach may seem a tiny gesture given the global plastic crisis but what if every single person on this planet just picked up two pieces of plastic rubbish? Or better still, we individually stopped and considered our actions and disposed of rubbish and waste appropriately in the first place? The problem would pretty much be solved, or very close to it!

However, we are also realists and understand that this is easier said than done. So, we urge our followers, guests and partners to educate just one person about the new normal. Highlight how their actions can protect the environment and also achieve safe, sustainable travel, be that domestic travel or international travel. Ask them to pass their new knowledge on to another person and let the education and results filter through.

HOW TO TRAVEL SUSTAINABLY WITH THE NEW SAFETY REQUIREMENTS 

Sustainable travel is not just about considering your carbon footprint and who or what will benefit from your tourist dollar, it is also about making considered decisions and green choices when it comes to packing the necessities of travel in the post COVID world.

Face Masks:

Choose reusable masks. They are actually becoming quite a trend with many different designs to choose from. Why not make a fashion statement with them! Let kids wear fun looking masks, like a friend’s daughter who has a big smiley face on hers – it makes her less conscious about wearing it and she remembers to wear it because of the fun reactions she gets.

Keep a few fresh spare masks in different key places, like one in your handbag, one in the car, one at your place of work – this way you are less likely to forget them and need to buy disposable ones.

When travelling consider if you will be able to wash your mask after use. Packing a mask per day may now be like considering how much underwear to pack!

There is also the opportunity to support local businesses and purchase masks locally. Maybe they will become the new holiday gift for family and friends!

Hand Sanitizer:

Washing your hands with soap and water should always be your first option but when you are travelling this may not always be possible.

Many shops are selling handbag size hand sanitizers and once again this means more single use plastic being disposed of.  Consider purchasing industrial size hand sanitizer and refill your handy, on the go bottles.

We’ve successfully changed our mind set with water bottles and refilling them so there is no reason we can’t do it with hand sanitizer.

Disinfectant Surface Cleaning Wipes:

Disinfectant wipes are perfect to clean door handles, bathroom taps, AC remote control, toilet handles and more and it’s worth having a pack in your hand luggage.

Ensure to seek out eco-friendly biodegradable wipes and dispose of them responsibly.

Go Digital:

Never has there been a better time to go paperless.  Ask for electronic travel documents be they transport related, hotel confirmations or tour and activity bookings. Certainly, if the accommodation provider or tour operator are sustainably minded they will not blink at your request.

Not only will you be helping the environment it will also assist you in maintaining social distancing.

Bring Your Own Toiletries:

We may find that hotel properties find that they need to return to the old practice of single-use toiletries instead of multi-use bottles/containers to minimize the spread of germs.

Therefore rather than rely on hotel-provided toiletries bear the small inconvenience of packing your own or decant from larger size containers you use at home into re-usable travel containers. Or check out the now popular natural, soap/shampoo bars that are available which also have less impact on the environment as they wash away.

TRAVEL SUSTAINABLY AND SAFELY WITH SECRET PARADISE 

COVID-19 may have given us many new challenges and considerations to make, even before we leave the comfort of our homes. But this does not mean that you need to compromise on either your safety or on protecting the environment.

It remains about making the right choices and assisting others to do the same. If we all work together sustainable travel and safe travel can work hand in hand, albeit socially distanced!

As with travel in general at this moment in time, regulations and recommendations are constantly changing and evolving so make sure to check out local travel guidelines and listen to the medical experts.

At Secret Paradise we have reviewed all our operational practices to ensure all aspects of guest’s comfort and safety have been accounted for, but without losing the memorable aspects of our experiences and service.


Discover more of The Maldives with www.secretparadise.mv

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Explore the amazing triangle of Red Sea Reefs - The Brothers, Daedalus and Elphinstone on board the brand new liveaboard Big Blue.  With an option to add on a week at Roots Red Sea before or after. 

Strong currents and deep blue water are the catalysts that bring the pelagic species flocking to these reefs. The reefs themselves provide exquisite homes for a multitude of marine life.  The wafting soft corals are adorned with thousands of colourful fish. The gorgonian fans and hard corals provide magnificent back drops, all being patrolled by the reef’s predatory species.

£1475 per person based on double occupancy.  Soft all inclusive board basis, buffet meals with snacks, tea and coffee always available.  Add a week on at Roots Red Sea Resort before or after the liveaboard for just £725pp.  Flights and transfers are included.  See our brochure linked above for the full itinerary.

This trip will be hosted by The Scuba Place.  Come Dive with Us!

Call 020 3515 9955 or email john@thescubaplace.co.uk

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