August 19th, 2014
Underwater Macro Photography A Personal Perspective
My first SCUBA experience was no more than 15 years ago. Looking back, I recall only one detail from those days – The burning question in my mind – How to take a camera underwater.
Almost a 1000 dives and several camera/housing sets later I’ve yet to scratch the surface …
As photographers we seek to capture unique scenes and bring our own personal view of them to light. This pursuit leads us to the far corners of the world in search of each creature’s habitat. With exposure comes appetite and soon one has to study the seasonal seas/currents and set off chasing some of the less known underwater species.
There are two main categories of underwater photography Macro or Wide-angle. This categorization is not arbitrary as each subject matter can be found in its own habitat, requires dedicated skills and specialized equipment. Let me explain;
The first thing we typically cannot properly grasp in Macro images is their true sense of scale. A macro image crops the subject as closely as possible to capture the smallest details and by doing so it excludes all other references to the size of its subject. There are many other factors that contribute to this isolation; Macro lenses have very shallow depth of field, at times no deeper than few millimeters. Macro subject are often skittish, they must be approached very cautiously and do not like to hang around while we fiddle with our gear, change perspective or place something next to them for reference. Some subjects are very sensitive to artificial light, either from the focus torches or strobes, leaving us one and only one chance to capture their image. Combining all that with the ultimate goal of not harming the creatures or their habitat, while photographing, limits our flexibility even more.
A pigmy Seahorse, for example, grows to be no larger than 1.5 cm. They anchor themselves by wrapping their tail, which is almost 50% of their total length, to the branches of the Gorgonian they call home. At average depth of 60 ft, the Pigmy seahorse relies on relative darkness and camouflage to survive.
But that is only half of the story, and a very dry and technical half at that.
The true story behind a good Macro image comes to life when we look at it on our computer screen from the comfort of our home or on the walls of a gallery. The full story behind a pigmy seahorse or any one of millions of these minute and supremely beautiful creatures is their size compared to our current viewing distance. For me, Macro Photography, beyond its very special sense of esthetics, is the ultimate pursuit of a needle in the haystack.
Imagine I asked you to pack a bag, take several flights to the other side of the globe, go to a specific island, enter the ocean and in the dim light of 60-70 ft deep water find a creature no larger than 1.5 cm and photograph it!
One-of kindness is a critical attribute of any photograph, Macro underwater photography sets one of the highest bars for this achievement while bringing some of the more obscure and fragile wonders of creation to life.