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