Focus On: Underwater Macro Photography Part 2 – 105mm

Following on from Mondays 60mm macro underwater post, today I’d like to showcase some of the photos I’ve taken with the 105mm macro + Nikon D300 and highlight some key differences.

Equipment:

  • Nikon D300 + Subal Housing for D300 (£2000)
  • 105mm VR macro lens + Subal 105 port with manual focus knob (£925)
  • 2 Inon z240 strobes (not for sale)

As Vincent so rightly points out in his comment on my previous post, the 105mm takes a bit of getting used to. Its a wonderful lens but as with all camera gear it has its pros & cons. Pretty much the only con of consequence for me personally is the weight. Its a much heavier lens. If you too are struggling with this I’d recommend the StiX floats buoyancy collar that they developed to combat this issue. It encircles the port and balances it all out a little. Don’t forget to cable tie it on though as you may see it float off when you tip the lens upwards! There are quite a few pros, the main one being the extra working distance you get. Both the 60mm and the 105 are 1:1 lenses but to have the critter the same size in the frame you can back right off with the 105 giving more room for lighting and more distance for shy critters. And of course you can more easily get that nice blurred background (bokeh) which can help to lift your subject from it’s surroundings especially on messy backgrounds.

Here are a few shots I took in Bali at the end of last year (click images for larger)…

This tiny shrimp was difficult to see so having a nice clean background was essential for the shot. It is nice to have the second part of the coral blurred out in the  background for some context though.

This little toby was very small and very shy, I would not have been able to take a good shot with a 60 without him just swimming off.

Another very shy critter:

Its good fun and games trying to get shots of garden eels, when you approach they disappear into the sand. This is another shot which would have been almost impossible with a 60mm’s reduced working distance.

You have to be careful where you focus when the DOF is so shallow, getting only the tail in focus would have ruined this shot:

Pygmy seahorses are notoriously shy and they hate the light of the flash & spotting torch (it can stress them so much that they would die so responsible underwater photographers take the pygmy pledge – to only take a maximum number of 3 or 4 shots per seafan).

Dreamy bokeh can give a different atmosphere to a photograph than a straight on ID shot.

The lens can ‘hunt’ for focus if the subject is not contrasty enough, this little guy was quite contrasty but so close to the seabed (which is the background in this topdown shot) that the camera would constantly back focus. The manual focus knob on the port is worth its weight in gold in these situations.

I took this little guy’s photo back in 2009 on a night dive, you can understand how small he is by considering that the huge boulders he’s sitting on are sand granules!

I hope you liked my stroll down memory lane with my 105mm VR macro set up for the Nikon D300. As I said at the top of the post I’m currently selling that set up. Buy for only £2875 (camera, lens, housing and port)! Click here for more details & the full list of equipment for sale or email me at scubasuzy-sellingnikongear@yahoo.co.uk. Thanks for supporting my work!

Focus On: Underwater Macro Photography – 60mm

Following on with my theme of photo posts about the gear I’m selling. For the first of two posts on macro lenses underwater, today I’d like to showcase some of the photos I’ve taken with the 60mm macro + Nikon D300 and give you all some simple general macro tips.

60mm macro lens

60mm macro lens

Equipment:

  • Nikon D300 + Subal Housing for D300 (£2000)
  • 60mm macro lens + Subal flat port (£375)
  • 2 Inon z240 strobes (not for sale)

I still think that the crop sensor DX cameras make the best underwater cameras for macro. People who switch to full frame often struggle with what they found quite simple on DX. I know several professional underwater photographers who moved to full frame for their wide angle shots only and still use the Nikon D300 as their macro set up. And this 60mm is my favourite lens to use. The reason being is it is super fast at auto focus with much less of the “hunting” of some of the newer lenses I’ve used. This is essential when your tiny creature or fish is moving about and you are slightly moving too (we all have to breathe occasionally). The light weight of it is another plus for me personally. I dont have very strong wrists (too much computer work has given me RSI which is the reason I’m selling all this gear and finally moving back to a smaller camera).

Here are some photos from last year (some of these might look very familiar for regular readers of my blog) – click them for larger:

As you can see, you can get very close, in fact I think it would probably focus right on the front of the port (although it would be hard to light a subject that close)! The blue background in this image above is actually starfish skin. This little tiny shrimp lives on the starfish for a free ride.

I love blennies and the quick focus of this set up allowed me to capture this one yawning in 2011.

As well as the capacity for macro the 60mm lens is wide enough for portraits of bigger fish such as this batfish being cleaned:

The 60mm allowed me a closer working distance to this cardinal fish with eggs in his mouth. All the other cardinal fish were hanging around so close that had I tried to take this photo with the 105mm macro there would have been two or three fish between me and him for the same framing.

My top simple tips for macro:
  • Get down to eye level (if you can without damaging the reef), your images will be more full of ye contact and impact.
  • For any critters with eyes try to always make sure eyes are in focus.
  • To get the eyes and mouth in focus, for shallow DOF photos, focus between the eyes and the mouth. It will be in focus 1/3 in front of the focus point and 2/3 behind the focus point.
  • If you find your lens hunts for focus (this one does not but many macro lenses do) when don’t be afraid to switch the camera to manual focus and move the camera back & forth to focus).
  • If your camera allows (most camera these days are fairly customisable), try to have one button access to 100% zoom in on your photo. For example on the D300 I set the middle button (between the arrows) to toggle between 100% and zoomed out for quickly checking eye focus on macro shots with shallow DOF.
  • Check your LCD histogram rather than relying on LCD brightness to check for exposure.
  • Sometimes it’s hard to see the settings in the little screen on the top of a DSLR camera without flattening your subject, on the Nikon D300, the little info button (it looks like a key if I remember correctly) displays that whole screen on the LCD when in shooting mode.

This was one of the first underwater shots I took with my DLSR system in a swimming pool with Martin Edge!

I hope you liked my stroll down memory lane with my 60mm macro set up for the Nikon D300. As I said at the top of the post I’m currently selling that set up. Buy for only £2375 (camera, lens, housing and port)! Click here for more details & the full list of equipment for sale or email me at scubasuzy-sellingnikongear@yahoo.co.uk. Thanks for supporting my work!

PhotoFriday – ‘Lucky Shot’

This week’s Photo Friday entry: ’The Lucky Shot’

For this weeks photofriday theme I’d like to talk about photographing clownfish (nemo)! The shot above was most definitely ‘the lucky shot’ because it won me a trip :) However in general photographing clownfish is a matter of patience. You find a nice anemone with pretty clownfish and every time the fish looks look in the viewfinder you click the button. They swim around and around and in and out so its mostly patience & luck when you get a good one.

If you want to see more of my underwater photos from various places then check out the galleries in my Reef Beasties Gallery.

See all the other photo Friday entries (and submit your own) for ‘The Lucky Shot’ here.

Best Photos 2012

As in previous years it is time to review and select my best/favourite photos of 2012. I always really enjoy looking back over all the posts and pictures I’ve made throughout the year and reflecting upon how fortunate I am to go to such great places and have such supportive people in my life. With no further ado, and in no particular order, here are this years top ten (click each for larger version on pbase)….

‘Taj Mahal’ Cenote with Eleo. While we were in Mexico we popped down the coast to see the amazing underwater caves called “Cenotes”. When the sun shines through the holes in the jungle surface these caves are simply magical. I did several blog posts on them because each of them have different characteristics.

Cardinal and friends. I liked this one because even though its taken in the ocean it gives an aquarium vibe. Diving on a tropical reef is so often like being on the inside of a giant aquarium I like that when I capture it in my photos. I got quite a lot I was please with from Bali.

Operatic Nemo. This little guy looked like he was singing an aria for me (in deep baritone). I also love him because he won me the end of trip competition in Bali.

Fish are friends not food. The amazing thing about whalesharks is what they eat. The largest fish in the sea eats the smallest thing, plankton. I liked this photo above the other more traditional mouth open whaleshark feeding shots because of the little remora fish swimming for all his worth to try and get out of the whalesharks mouth. Remora fish usually hook onto other sea creatures for a free ride so this scene amused me even though the little fish is in no danger.

London Triangles. This year I started a new photography degree course (and a new blog to go with it). I’ve had great fun trying to bend the exercises into my photographic areas of interest. This one was from an exercise on triangles and patterns. Its taken looking up into a building on the south bank.

Singapore skyline. We stopped over in Singapore for a few nights on our way to Cambodia and I indulged in my joy of panoramas with this one at night take from Marina Bay.

Duomo. We went on a city break with a friend of ours to Florence. Its long been on my ‘must see’ list of places to go and it didn’t disappoint. As with many beautiful cities, florence has been photographed millions of times. I really liked this view of the Duomo in the early morning. Its one of the only times to get near it when there are no people but as you can see there are still cars zipping by. For me it infuses old and new.

Contrasts Assignment. I had a lot of fun creating the lighting for this assignment with some desk lamps and tracing paper. You can see the whole assignment here.

Decorator crab. This little crab knows a thing or two about camouflage. He’s actually got live corals living on his shell to enable him to blend in more easily with the reef. I found him while searching for triangles for my second assignment.

Giant spotty fish. I like this whaleshark photo as it shows off his spots. As tradition dictated we could only refer to them as ‘giant spotty fish’ until we’d seen one in case we jinxed the trip.

HONORABLE MENTIONS:

Since choosing just ten is very hard its became tradition for me to briefly mention the spill over … (click for larger):

I hope you enjoyed reviewing my images of the year with me. If you’d like to see more I’ve put my fav 100 of 2012 here. Merry Christmas & Happy new year everyone!

Macro Monday – Pygmy Seahorse Safety

It’s been a while since my last Macro Monday so I thought I’d combine it with a nice large soapbox from which to make you aware of the danger that divers (and photographers especially) pose to pygmy seahorses. Pygmy seahorses don’t deal with stress very well (who does) and by not very well I mean it can be fatal to them. So when we say that bright flashlights and strobes stress them you can see how this would be a very bad thing.

Dr. Richard Smith has published a recommended code of conduct to be followed when interacting with Pygmy seahorses. Richard’s PhD thesis was all about them so his guidelines are based on hundreds of hours of observing them and also watching the interactions between seahorses and humans. The idea behind the code is that it will be something that can be: “printed, emailed and talked about as much as possible.”

So please head over to his site and download the pdf, take it with you when you dive and show your dive guides! He even has it in a few different languages. They are simply adorable little creatures and they need our protection so spread the word….

Macro Monday

Just a few garden macro photos been added to my above water macro gallery… (click images to see bigger)

If anyone has watched bugs life, this green cricket reminded me of Hopper. At one point a ladybird was coming towards him across another blade of grass, I think he would have travelled under him except a little foot came out and kicked the ladybird so he tumbled to the ground. I shouldn’t have laughed but I did. Poor ladybird. I guess the Cricket was a little cranky because my dad had mowed the lawn and although we left them a little grassy area to play in most of his home was gone.