Monday, May 30, 2011

Assignment 5: First Set of images

Having created a shot list I went ahead and captured photographs that met most of the items I had initially considered.

In total I completed 42 dives, each between 40 and 60 minutes, at depths up to around 26m.  Most of the dives were onto underwater reefs, i.e. islands of coral rising from a sandy sea bed at 26m to a depth of around 10m.  These reefs never break the surface, although over a period of 100's of years could eventually rise to the ocean surface and form islands.  This limited some of my photography, as red filter (for example) works poorly below 10m, but presented pretty typical shooting conditions and given the excellent coral quality and abundant fish life meant I had plenty to work with.

In total I shot just short of 3,000 underwater images over the 42 dives, plus a number of snorkeling forays in the lagoon.  This seems like a lot of images, but is only around 70 per dive.  It should be born in mind that any given subject requires several shots, bracketing exposure and also to get a moving subject into frame.  I split my shots between a 60mm macro lens and 10-22mm wide angle on a 1.6x APS-C sensor based camera.

Underwater photography has a number of interesting challenges, first of all anything more than 1m away will not produce a good image, hence the use of either macro or extreme wide angle lenses, both designed to enable shooting from as close to the subject as possible and external strobe lighting.  Changing lenses on a dive is no option, so it is important to decide early on what to shoot and then live with that choice, if a whale shark swims by when I have a 60mm macro mounted, tough.  Good camera handling skills are a given, you need to instinctively know what exposures work (manual mode is most common underwater) and how to position external strobes on jointed arms to avoid back scatter and provide adequate lighting to the subject small or large.  Finally you need to be able to shoot an image of a moving animal whilst also moving - excellent buoyancy control is essential to avoid damage to reef or self.  Any exposure is a 3 dimensional problem in light, position, and camera control that needs to account for the fact that the subject might be very poisonous and only a few inches away.

So, how did my experience match to my shot list:

1. Nudibranch (sea slug) (Shallow Dof) - I was quite pleased with this one, soft colour and the animal is not fully visible leaving some mystery in the shot

 2. Shark in shallow water, perhaps as a B&W image - Processing to B&W really helped me to add contrast to the image and also a sense of menace that should accompany a shark, although this one was only 2 feet long.

3. Hard Coral on the reef, but imaged against an open water blue background - I did not manage to fully frame this as I wanted, I envisaged it as a macro shot, however, the explosion of fish from the coral against the blue background makes for a dynamic image.  The blue is still too green, I will correct that later

4. Repetition of form in scholling fish - this was taken whilst snorkeling in the lagoon, I like the play of light on the fish school.

5. Light filtering through wood under a pier - I was not able to achive what I really wanted here, the light never achieved the quality I wanted:

6. UW landscape of sand - kind of dessert image, but underwater.  I am very interested in this image and a few others very much like it

7. A sea fan (Gorgonian) shot with a blue water background - very striking and not easy to achieve.  Again colour balance is not complete, however, the small fish adds point interest and context to this Gorgonian

8. Something very cute- clown fish.  OK, I know, however, they are very hard to photograph well, as they never stop moving (part of the reason I shoot so many frames)

9. A fish face, very close up image of a fish possessing strong character. This beautiful, yet ugly Jaw Fish possesses a similar character to a bull dog.

10. A B&W study of coral shapes and form - I am not sure how well this works, the form is interesting, but is it an interesting enough photograph

11. A diver to add some context to the image set - similar to the sand image, this shot from the lagoon of Heidi hanging in inner space attracts me very strongly

12. A boat from below - This shot shows a group of divers having just entered the water beginning their descent.  It is a good context shot and one I am pleased with.

13. Use a red filter to balance the light attenuation and create a very colourful edge of reef shot - no chance, the light and visibility were too bad to use a red filter on this trip.

14. Try working with 2nd curtain flash and drag the shutter when photographing moving fish - create a sense of movement.  This also did not work as I could not get my Ikelite strobes to 2nd curtain sync, the camera would only permit non Canon strobes to first curtain sync.  However, I still like the effect created, it has a sense of movement lost in most conventional shots.

15. Focus in on a detail of a fish , such as the eye or teeth - This simply works for me

16. Work up some images with a very black background in otherwise open water daylight conditions.  Creating a black background is pretty easy photographically, simply heavily under expose the image and use flash to light the foreground.  The trick is finding a subject with no background.  In this case a small fish on a whip coral.  These are extremely hard to shoot, as the coral is moving, i am moving and 2cm long fish is also moving.  This tests diving and photographic skills to the limit, but is great fun when successful.

So, I managed to obtain a good variety of shot and subject.  These images need a substantial amount of further processing, correcting colour castes and removing back scatter, etc.  As such these images are a good example of use of the skills involved in Digital Photographic Processing.  However, what I have is a divers set of images with no really coherent thread other than that they are all taken in and around Lankayan Island and are underwater images.  I am not satisfied with this approach and want to present something more coherent that captures an element of the underwater world.  I will develop this idea further in my next blog entry

Assignment 5: Initial Thoughts

Although I have now returned from the trip to Borneo, I used my notebook to record ideas as I travelled to the destination, here I transcribe those to illustrate my thought process as I worked up ideas for the content:

My first thoughts were to create a series of individual shots that illustrate the learning that I have taken from DPP and how I have applied it to underwater photography. To this end I prepared the following shot list to try and accomplish during my stay on Lankayan Island (in no particular order):

  1. Nudibranch (sea slug) - Shallow Dof
  2. Shark in shallow water, perhaps as a B&W image
  3. Hard Coral on the reef, but imaged against an open water blue background
  4. Repitition of form in scholling fish
  5. Light filtering through wood under a pier
  6. UW landscape of sand - kind of dessert image, but underwater
  7. A sea fan (gorgonain) shot with a blue water background - very striking and not easy to achieve
  8. Something very cute- clown fish...
  9. A fish face, very close up image of a fish possessing strong character
  10. A B&W study of coral shapes and form
  11. A diver to add some context to the image set
  12. A boat from below
  13. Use a red filter to balance the light attenuation and create a very colourful edge of reef shot
  14. Try working with 2nd curtain flash and drag the shutter when photographing moving fish - create a sense of movement
  15. Focus in on a detail of a fish , such as the eye or teeth
  16. Work up some images with a very black background in otherwise open water daylight conditions
Given that I need 10-12 images this first set of ideas would supply sufficient variety.  The issue that I have with this concept is that there would not be a great degree of cohesion between the images, other than commonality of location and the fact that all shots are made underwater.  However, it would be a good demonstration of skill and capability if it works.

An alternative view would be to theme the image set around one of the following:

  1. Nudibranch's - these colourful sea slugs make for fascinating subjects
  2. Portraits - a series of close up images of the faces of underwater animals
  3. Sharks/Rays - a study of the larger animals in the surrounding reef system
  4. Landscape - a series of underwater landscape shots showing the diversity and structure of the reef ecosystem
  5. A calendar for the island - treat the assignment as if I had been asked to create a calendar for the island
  6. A study of underwater light and texture
To a large extent my ultimate selection will depend upon the availability of subject and success in shooting.  A major equipment failure could result in no images at all and a return to an above water concept for assignment 5.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Assignment 4: Tutor response

Overall feedback was positive, although with some good suggestions for improvements.  Interestingly to me, my tutor felt that the first "star Wars" image conforms to the "Real or Fake" requirements as the models were convincing enough to appear real.  The main recommended change was to add an author, in this case my name:

So, in hindsight I did not need to produce a second composition, however, I am glad I did and I view the 1984 concept as by far the more convincing image.  The recommended changes for this image were:

  • To re-frame the image for a more symmetrical comp.  This I have done, however, it forced a change in the image aspect ratio as the original image had too little negative space around the central content.  Generally I want to get images correct in camera, however, this type of exercise really needs some space around the subject to enable some freedom in framing.  As I was using a prime lens on my camera, and had a very limited freedom of movement I could not adjust this at time of shooting
  • To make the central Stalin opaque.  This improved the strength of the image and did reduce confusion in the center of the picture.
  • I have added the authors name
  • It was suggested that the two "Men in Black" on the stairs were barely visible.  I have not moved them, however, I had two shots with these men in view and so have cloned two sets of these men into the frame.  This adds some extra menace in a group of similarly dressed men ascending towards Big Brother
  • When I processed the image this time, I have changed the shade of blue in the split toning to something a little darker

All in all a good learning experience and an eye opener in terms of how easy it is to severely manipulate an image in this way

Assignment 5: Planning

Much of DPP looks at the overall issues of workflow in photography.  For a diving trip workflow is critical and starts with the pre-travel preparation.  Underwater photograph, particularly with a DSLR is a demanding activity and requires a considerable amount of equipment, in my case:

  • 2 x Canon EOS 40D (always have a spare body, sea water kills cameras)
  • 60mm Macro
  • 10-22mm WA Zoom
  • Batteries, Chargers
  • Memory cards - I take an 8GB for each days diving, I do not earse them until I return to home
  • Laptop for downloading cards
  • external HD for back - this way I have 3 copies of every photograph
  • Underwater Housing - Mine is an Ikelite, made from tyrasnparent plastic, very handy for seeing if any water has entered the system
  • Flat port for Macro and Dome port for wide angle - each lens must have a separate port on the housing
  • 2 external strobes with 125J each, underwater photography requires a lot of light, these are considered small strobes even though each weighs around 1Kg
  • Arm system to enable me to position the strobes underwater
  • Tool kit to enable simple repairs
All of this has to be assmebled and carefully checked before getting on the plane.  In addition I have a 15-85mm and 70-300 zoom for above water work.  Added to this is a second system for HD video that my wife uses, less weight than my system but still quite bulky.

This is my camera system laid out in preparation to pack - I always arrange the system on a table to mentally check that I have everything

The second aspect to planning an underwater photography trip is contemplation of subject and the style of image that I wish to achieve.  I have been shooting underwater with an SLR for over 5 years and am technically an accomplished shooter, however, ost of my work is very much orientated towards accuracy and detail.  My great joy is macro frequently working at 1:1 magnification and often f/22 or even smaller apertures.  This yields often impressive results, e.g.

but can be a little too precise.  In the above image the background is black because I have shot with a very small aperture and the only light reaching the sensor is from the strobes.  I do like this image and it was part of my Assignment 5 submission for TAOP, but it is of a certain style.  recently I have experimented with very shallow DoF and wide apertures, yielding a much better rendition of the water and an almost dreamy look to the image:

This takes some care as placing the focal point is critical to the success of the image. 

These two images are successful underwater macro shots, however, the second has a better feel to it.  My goal on this trip will be to further develop this style applying it also to larger subjects such as schools of fish.  I also plan to experiment with dragging the shutter on moving subjects to try and obtain a sense of movement in the images.

The photographer I hope to emulate (to some extent) is David Doubilet, regularly featured in NAtional Geographic, but also one of the most sensitive underwater artists.  He frequently works in B&W and creates some truly dramatic imagery

The destination for our trip is the Sulu Sea between Borneo and the Philippines.  This is priamrily a macro destination, so I expect to most often be using my 60mm macro.  However, the island we are visiting is the home of a number of large schools of fish so I hope to combine some wide angle work as well.

The goal for this trip will be the publication of a book of underwater images produced as an art photo book, rather than a holiday album.  I use Blurb to publish my books and have been very happy with the quality of their work.  I do not expect to include this in my submission for the course, but it is an option. 

For the course I plan a series of 10-12 prints, each using different techniques in capture and processing, illustrating my learning in the course, but also (I hope) conveying my passion for diing and the art of underwater photography.