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!

Nikon & Subal Gear for Sale

EDIT: this post is out of date, only showing what I’ve already sold – have moved the relevant bits to a new page

http://suzywalker.wordpress.com/selling-my-nikon-subal-gear/

· SOLD: Subal FE dome £470 + extention £100 + subal zoom gear £50
· SOLD: + tokina 10-17 FE lens £350
· SOLD: 105 port with focus knob £375
– SOLD: Nikon 105mm VR Macro lens (boxed with instructions and lens hood) £400
– SOLD:iPhone 4, Unlocked, 32GB, boxed £200
– SOLD: Nikon D300 body (boxed with 2 batteries & charger, & wired remote shutter) £300
– SOLD: Nikon D70 body & Nikon 18-70mm kit lens (unboxed with 1 battery & charger and lens hood) £200
– SOLD: Nikon 70-300mm (unboxed with lens hood) £50

- SOLD: Whole Nikon & Subal Macro underwater set up (you’d just need to acquire strobes): £2000

  • Subal Housing ND30 (Type 3) for D300
  • Nikon D300 body (boxed with leads etc, 2 batteries & charger )
  • 60mm (type 3) flat port with front & back covers
  • Nikon 60mm lens (boxed)

Photos of Gear (and I have to thank Mike for taking all these for me)!

How to set up a Subal ND30 – Part three – 105 VR lens

Following on from the how to set up a subal housings parts one and two, part three is just a quick update really..

I have the Subal 105 VR port with manual adjuster knob (for use with the new Nikon 105 VR lens). The port comes with some instructions which I pretty much followed to the letter but here are some brief observations.

  • It turns the opposite way to the 60mm flat port!
  • It uses a slightly thicker oring, be very careful not to mix up your orings. I keep all mine in little resealable sandwich bags with the port size written on the front.
  • You have to attach the lens after the camera is in the housing (because the lens is too fat to fit through the back way). I keep the camera body cap handy so I don’t get any stray dust in my camera whilst I’m fiddling with my housing before I fit the lens.
  • Make sure the lens itself is switched to M/A unless you want to manual focus for the whole dive! As you put the port on its easy to knock that little switch so care is needed.

How to set up the Subal ND30 – Part two – Strobes

As promised this is the long overdue second section about how I personally set up my Subal ND30 (underwater housing for the Nikon D300). I have two Inon Z-240 type 3 strobes and sea-and-sea sync cords. This is how I put mine together. Other makes might be different so you should ask the advice of your dealer. Remember I’m still just a beginner and these instructions are mostly my aid-memoir.

Strobe sync cords.

To connect the strobe to the housing you need a strobe sync cord (or two). I have two different ones depending on if I’m using one strobe or two, but essentially they have the same method to attach.

The small end goes in the camera and the big end into the strobe.

Attaching the sync cord to the camera housing:

1) Take the plastic cover off the small end (and keep it handy)

2) Put the metal ring back on flat side first (I learned the hard way not he leave these metal rings on for storage, mine got salted on and took 3 burly men and a wrench to get it off again).

3) Grease the little blue oring

4) Take the stopper out from one of the flash ports on the housing.

5) The pins go in a certain pattern inside the port and the sync cord so line it up by twisting until it drops into place them push in firmly.

6) Screw the back part of the sync cord (not the metal ring) to tighten

7) Now screw the metal ring for extra tightness.

8) Take the plastic cover and port cover and screw together so they protect each other and stow somewhere safe and out of the way.

Attaching the sync cord to the strobe(s):

1) Take the plastic cover off the large end (and keep it handy)

2) Grease the little blue oring

3) Take the little plastic cover from the sync port on the strobe

4) Line up the little pins and holes in the sync cord and port (mine has a little yellow dot to line up too)

5) Once its dropped into place push down firmly and screw into place.

6) Screw the two little plastic covers together so they protect each other and stow somewhere safe.

I have one single cord for a single strobe and one splitter cord for two strobes so I only ever use one port on my housing. Don’t make the same expensive mistake I made, make sure you grease the orings on the port stopper for the unused port because if the water gets in your port will go rusty and need replacing! If you use two single sync cords I guess you wouldn’t get this problem anyway. When my port when rusty the first I knew about it was when my strobes were behaving very erratically, they were firing seemingly at random and wouldn’t stop for a while after I pressed the shutter, this didn’t happen during my test shots in the hotel, it happened on the dive because the housing was wet and the cord was shorting. I thought my camera was broken! Luckily it all went back to normal after we unplugged the affected strobe port from the little circuit board inside the housing.

See the original post for instructions on how to put together the main subal housing back and 60mm lens port and tokina 10-17 fisheye port.

see part three coming soon for 105VR lens…

Good news and bad news.

Which first? Well the bad news is that I’ve busted my housing already! The good news is I got to go and check out Ocean Optics new store in Basildon.

To all those with ND30s who only use one strobe port. Make sure you grease the Orings and tighten the port cover of the unused side before diving and flooding the port :( Its gone all rusty inside and my strobes were behaving most strangely until I unplug the affected port from the inside electronics.

I’ve taken my baby up to Ocean Optics  so that they can fix it. It’s always worth going to see them in person because they are such great people. Their shop used to be in the Strand (which was great for me since I live in central London) but they’ve expanded out to include the use of the underwater studios at Basildon. They have a great looking deep pool that is heated to almost 30 degrees. Now it’s a tube, a train and a bus to get there but it was worth the trip as I feel my housing is in the best care. Fingers crossed I get it back before our next trip!

Caught in the act!

It’s not often that I get to see photos of myself whilst I’m taking photos underwater but Mark Webster sent us some pictures taken of me taking this picture from our recent trip with him!

This is my picture of the Scad fish…

And here are Marks pictures of me!

Many thanks to Mark for these.

Underwater Photo Workshop – The Brothers liveaboard

Well, after one exhausting week back at work I’ve finally got around to writing a little review of our recent trip. It was off to Hurghada, Egypt for a 1 week summer break (booked with oonas divers) aboard the MY Blue Planet 1. Destination: the Brothers! For those of you who haven’t heard of the brothers, they are two small islands in the middle of the Red Sea. They can only be travelled to by liveaboards (much fewer diving boats is always a good thing).

The real appeal of the trip for us was the photo workshop. We’re total Photo-workshop-junkies now, whenever we book a diving trip we try and make it a photo workshop of some sort. It’s not so much that I want to buy photo teaching (although that always comes in handy), what we are actually aiming to buy is piece of mind that the diving will be specifically photo oriented and tailored to the needs of photographers. Although Mike doesn’t actually take photos underwater he’s just as much (if not more) a fair-weather sort of diver. The groups are usually smaller (to accommodate all the huge camera rigs!) and the diving usually a lot more flexible. More time to do your own thing, several dives on the same divesite and a much more relaxed swimming pace ;) No more chasing a manic dive master for 45 minutes nonstop for us!

This workshop was run by Mark Webster. We went on Mark’s trip to Indonesia last year and it was amazing! He’s a really nice relaxed and easy to get on with guy. His wife Suzanna wasn’t with us unfortunately on this trip so there was just the crew of the boat, the dive guide Ashraf, Mark and ten of us. The workshop was very informal. If we had questions Mark was on hand to help. Also, Mark gave a daily presentation on various themes such as wide-angle, macro, wrecks and capturing the character of marine life.

Despite having vowed to never fly on Excel airways again (after the last time) on the flight out we got there 10mins before checkin opened and they were unusually nice to us! We didn’t get charged extra baggage, probably because they didn’t feel the weight of our hand luggage or see how much stuff I’d get stuff into my new photographers jacket! The plane was nice, although we knew in advance that they charge you for *everything*, even water, so we’d stocked up on food & drink before we boarded. We met up with Mark (and a few of the others) at the departure gate. We were actually sitting next to Jeff on the flight out – what are the chances of that!? Anyway, 5hrs passed relatively quickly and we were soon stuffing ourselves into a tiny minivan for the 30 minute ride to the dock. We stayed moored at the dock overnight so we could wait for the Egyptian authorities to give us permission to set sail in the morning.

The first dive was a check dive at Sha’ab El Erg (a.k.a Dolphin reef) unfortunately we didn’t see any dolphins so I was forced to take photos of Mike in his new ‘wing’ ;) !

It was the first time he’d taken it for a spin and he seemed very proud of it.. We originally bought it to save the weight of his stab jacket (BCD) but with all the metal clips and everything on it I think that it was perhaps a rouse to justify the purchase as it only saved perhaps ½ a kilo! Apparently it gives much more freedom of movement around the arms. I think I like to have stuff in my BCD pockets too much to switch though.

The rest of the first two days diving were close to Hurghada at a place called Abu Nuhas. There was no real current and the visibility was quite good. It was all wreck diving though (apart from the night dive which we didn’t do and they saw loads of Spanish dancers – damnit!). I like wrecks but probably not as much as the next man. After two days of wide-angle (shooting with my Tokina 10-17 fisheye in a big dome port) it was quite glad we moved on. Here are some shots I got of the Carnatic and the Ghiannis D:

Having said that I did like the glass fish inside the Carnatic!

We sailed away to the Brothers. As moored up at little brother and I was glad I’d brought my sea sickness pills!

This little guy accosted me as we jumped in the water, two shots and he was off. Just proves it’s a good idea to preset your camera to some sensible settings before jumping in!

I switched to macro but on the promise of possible sharks I switched back again. No sharks though :( Suzanna saw some, but she fins like a divemaster and I had no chance catch up with that action. I think this is her and Ethan speeding into the distance!

We stayed at little brother one full day (and night) and an early morning dive the next day. In the brothers they never do night dives so it was pretty much 3 dives per day (or less) for the whole trip. The current was much worse than we are used to dealing with at both islands (but that isn’t hard as we don’t really like currently dives at all). Also, diving from a rib with a huge camera is a bit of a game. There was one lovely dive at big brother by the pier, straight off the back of the boat, just me and Mike (everyone else had sped off in the rib to dive the other side of the island). No current, quite shallow, nice and relaxed. Everyone else soon cottoned on that there was a non-currently, photo friendly opportunity and the rib was then undersubscribed in the afternoon.

The last dive day was spent back closer to Hurghada again at Gifton Island & Gotta Abu Ramada. This is back in range of the dive boats (and where the picture at the top of this post was taken). Lovely macro diving though. I filled a whole gallery of just Christmas tree worms! We also saw a great octopus that sat and posed for me (see below).

Also, something I’ve never seen before, schooling puffer fish! The ‘ride of the valkyries’ music popped into my head as soon as I saw them all coming towards me!

As seems to be tradition on photo workshops there was an informal end of week competition, this time we were all asked to submit two underwater photos which would be judged by the crew. Congratulations one again to Valerie for winning with her shot of a cute little Nemo. Here she is taking her trophy.

Unfortunately I don’t have a copy of Valeries winning shot to display. :(

I was very pleased to be second AND third! Here are my two submitted shot.

All the photos in this post shot above the water were shot by Chefdude with a Canon EOS 1D Mark IIn & EF 85mm f/1.2L, and all shot below the water (unless otherwise stated) are taken yours truly with a Nikon D300 in Subal housing.

The full underwater gallery for this trip is here: http://www.pbase.com/suzy_walker/the_brothers_liveaboard_2008

All in all we had a great trip with a lovely bunch of people! Hope you enjoyed this review.

How to set up a Subal ND30

I’ve written this how to guide-to get primarily for my own use as an ad memoir but I thought I’d post it here in case anyone else is having trouble. When I took my subal to Cebu, Martin Edge had to show me everything. So I’ve jotted it down here from what I can remember. This is my disclaimer.. these are my own personal notes so if you chose to use them and your camera floods please don’t blame me.

EDIT: One piece of info that I forgot to mention (thanks for pointing that out Peter). I always take the strap, the little rubber eye piece and plastic LCD screen cover off the camera before putting it in the housing. The little eye piece should just click off if you push it upwards. Apparently the pressure caused by these things can cause a flood.

I have a 60 macro flat port lens and a fisheye (with gear & extension ring) for my Tokina. This is how I set them up. I may update this account with pictures in June so take this as an initial draft.

Firstly, make sure you’re in a nice dry environment (I always did this in my room at Cebu). And make sure no one will interrupt you otherwise you’ll end up missing a step and flooding it :(

Back of housing:

  • - Open Subal housing with heal of hand, push down & twist (this is how I do it because I haven’t the strength in my thumbs).
  • - Take out baseplate and attach it to the camera (by the tripod screw slot) with a coin
  • - Drape flash head over the edge of the housing
  • - Turn Subal Housing on/off switch to ‘On’
  • - Of the two knobs on the left hand side – switch the larger one to auto focus, Flick the smaller button up to ‘M’ for Manual Focus
  • - Switch the camera to manual focus
  • - Switch the camera on and remove the lens cap!
  • - Place camera into housing (on baseplate spokes) & flick down baseplate switch to secure
  • - Put flash head into hotshoe on camera and make sure its pushed in firmly until flush with the hotshoe
  • - Test switches (on/off & turn focus to C or S)
  • - To remove the o-ring, run thumbs over main o-ring until it pops out at the bottom or top.
  • - Clean the groove with a cotton bud
  • - Clean & slightly grease o-ting & check for little bits of grit or hairs or anything that might cause a leak!
  • - Place o-ring back into the groove at the top & push gently into place with thumbs
  • - Wait a few moments to make sure the o-ring doesn’t pop back out at the bottom (Ive seen this happen and it causes a leak if you don’t notice this)
  • - Clean the lid of any grime & place in position
  • - Click into place with two clips (with palm of hand or knuckles or thumbs)

Front of the housing:

- A flat port (like the 60mm macro port) is easier to put on before inserting the camera. A dome pot (like the Tokina fisheye) or a port for a lens that needs gears is possibly easier to put in place with the camera already inside.

- 60mm macro flat port

o Lightly greasy o-ring.

o Place back onto port by thumbing the o-ring back into the groove rather than stretching the o-ring back over (they stretch eventually anyway & need replacing).

o Hold the port so that the subal logo is at the nine o’clock position

o Place the port onto the housing & turn until you feel it drop into place

o Then push down hard & twist until locked into place (the Subal logo should now be at 12 o’clock at the top of the housing all being well)

- Fisheye for Tokina

o Put camera into housing (as described above)

o Put the extension ring onto the front of the housing (follow the instructions for the 60mm macro port above)

o Place the gear ring inside the housing onto the lens. Push it down into a position so that the teeth of the gear turn when the side knob is set to manual focus (this autofocus/manual focus knob is misleadingly named in this case. I am using the lens on auto focus but the manual focus level is zooming my lens for me).

o Once you can turn the lens with the knob you know the gear is on correctly.

o Grease the o-ring of the fisheye port.

o On mine there is no subal logo to line up but when properly attached the larger shades on the port should be at the top & bottom. So put the large shades at 9 o’clock & twist until it drops into place. The push hard & twist until the shades are at the top & bottom. One thing to note, be careful when twisting these that the extension ring is still locked into place with the logo at the top (and not twisting with the fisheye).

Ta da! Now go and watch for bubbles in the dunk tank before taking it diving! And try not to leave it unattended.

EDIT: see other posts in my ‘Subal Housing How To’ category for strobes, 105 VR lens and any additional updates… here