In Your Face.

The last picture of this series really gets up close and personal. I was practicing with macro and found a VERY lazy scorpionfish laying on a group of rocks. He allowed me to get super close with my macro lens and snap a couple shots. I inched closer and closer, working to to get a nicely centered face on shot. Eventually I did and I love this one. Its a little busy, if I could have blocked the strobe a little more so that just the front of his face was lit with the rest of the fish dropping more into black I think it would be even more dynamic, but for first time practice, I’ll take it. You can really see the character of the fish when he’s up this close; the grumpy face, slightly smirking at the camera as if he knows something I don’t. Though really, who knows… scorpionfish could be rather polite and classy folk.

Filling the Frame.

The second to last group of pictures from my photography adventure a couple weeks ago is of a tube anemone. I had my macro adapter with me and really wanted to work on some macro shots and practice with “filling the frame,” another one of Scott’s composition tips. I had a little trouble at first, not getting my camera to focus properly…that is until realizing I had messed with the settings on my camera and was not even in the mode I wanted to be. After taking a second to switch back into manual and check my exposure settings I tried again. This time everything worked right. After that I spent the next 15 minutes (at least!) huddled over this anemone trying to get a shot with it wide open, perfectly centered with its tendrils spreading out of the frame. Finally I got it…well its maybe not 100% in the center, but its pretty darn close!

I continued shooting, trying different angles, still working to fill the frame but also to see if a lower angle, or an off angle would create a more compelling image. I remembered the rules of trying to use the diagonal and ended up liking this next image…

What I really liked is how the inner tendrils of the anemone are more prevalent, carefully reaching up and out of the dark center. Once again, I had trouble not shifting any sandy bits as I knelt in the sand next to the small creature, but as a first time practice I’m okay with the small white spots of sand marring the dark center. If I really wanted to I’m sure I could take them out in photoshop, but I haven’t had the time.

After awhile I remembered I was underwater with a finite air supply, so I checked my gauges, surprised to find my air half gone and 30 minutes elapsed. Yikes! Looking around I also discovered that the rest of the group had moved on to other subjects, so I said goodbye to my anemone and swam up to shallower water in order to make the dive last a bit longer and to find another macro subject.

School’s Out.

At the end of the second dive, I was headed back to the boat when I happened across a large school of fish. Realizing that I was too far away for my strobe to really work,  I tried to quickly adjust settings as if exposing just for the background, while also keeping in mind the moving subjects… ie: not a very slow shutter speed or I’d just get a bunch of blurs. I took a few shots, then started to move toward the schooling fish adjusting my strobe as far out from the camera as possible, hoping to get near enough to illuminate some of the school, but also eliminate backscatter.

This plan definitely helped, though of course as soon as I started swimming toward the school then turned away, so instead of getting a massive group of fish swimming at me, I now had them swimming away from me. I was able to get close enough for my strobe to catch some of the fish which definitely helps to add definition and make the fish pop from the blue background, but I still could have been closer. For a first time, and random run in I think I did pretty well. In addition, I tried to remember some of the “rules” of composition from Scott and attempted to fill the frame with the fish, but also use the diagonal. I think the last picture worked the best in that respect, as I was able to line up the fish coming into the frame from the upper right and exiting the frame almost in the lower left. Just a tiny little tilt would have really made it pop with the diagonal, but just like everything there’s always room for improvement!

Glowing Goby.

This picture is my favorite from the dives. I managed to get up close and personal with a black eyed goby and for once he didn’t dart away. Practicing with just zooming in to allow a closer shot without getting too close to a flighty subject, I was able to sneak up to a group of gobies and snap a few pictures. While most of them were either a little too late or not quite in focus or well composed, this one stood out to me. The little goby rested on a weedy covered rock and kept moving around, but not far, as I approached. I was able to capture this shot just after he touched down, and truthfully I lucked out a bit with the framing. He’s not amputated at all (phew!) and his face and eyes are nice and crisp in focus with the shallow depth of field dropping off along his body. What I particularly like, is how my strobe illuminated him… it looks like he just swallowed a lightning bug and is being lit up from the inside out! One of the pluses for my new camera is that with a high pixel resolution I’m able to actually crop pictures and still maintain a good quality image. So, I also cropped this shot down to just the goby’s head, and it remained crisp and looks cool, really bringing out that inner illumination that I like. Enjoy!

You take a rock.

The next set of pictures from my trip two weeks ago were more wide angle practice. I’d settled myself nice and low and was once again waiting, hoping for a fishy friend to swim through as they had been all around. With not much happening, Scott swam over and taught me a very useful trick. He took a rock, and banged it against another a few times and presto! Sheephead and Garibaldi started swimming towards us, zooming back and forth around and in front of me, right in the perfect position. I think if I had a slightly faster shutter speed the fish, especially on the sheephead, there’s a little bit of shadowy blurring where the strobe froze the fish, but the slightly longer exposure blurred him a bit.

The last picture I like, but once again the focus is just a bit off. This Garibaldi came zooming right for my lens, and I was able to snap a shot before he turned away. Unfortunately he swam through my area of focus before I could get the shot, but its still pretty cool looking!

Fishy Faces.

The next two photos to share, from now two weeks ago are two closer shots of fish. While neither are award winners, i like to think they both portray a little of the fishes character. The first, a kelp rockfish, perches knowingly upon a rock surveying all around him. He eyes me warily, but holds his ground. Whether it’s nerves of steel or that he’s just to lazy to swim off he allows me to get close and snap a few shots. The blurred background helps him stand out, though I do with the image was a bit sharper. Next time, faster shutter speed.

After him, we have a juvenile Rockfish. Scott pointed this little guy out to me and at first I wasn’t sure what he was because of how distinct the stripes and coloring were and primarily due to the lack of the typical cherry red lips. He was hoovering above a sea urchin, and I tried to shoot up from below the urchin, but I couldn’t get an angle I really liked, so I opted for a more standard fish ID shot making sure to keep the whole fish in the frame and a little bit of leading room in front of him. I was rather impressed at how unafraid he seemed, especially for such a little fish. He hoovered around the urchin, slowly turning ’round and ’round and keeping an eye on me as much as possible. He finally skittered off, but not before I was able to get one decent shot right as he turned my way.

Busy Sea Life.

The next picture in my line up was from the second dive last Sunday. We were still working on wide angle, and I’d learned the key trick of banging rocks to attract fish. I had a sea star that I was using as a foreground, waiting for a nice fish to swim through, and had a pretty decently exposed background of rocks and kelp. When the Garabaldi swam through, I captured him nicely, though on closer inspection I realize he’s not quite in focus. What I really like about this photo, is the variety of color, and the legs of the diver in the background. I feel like it adds some action as we captured another diver exploring the kelp forest while a small school of fish swim by, with the bright orange Garabaldi in the foreground. Its a bit busy, and of course the focus could be sharper, but despite all that, I really like this photo. Enjoy!

Olympus EPL1, Focal Length 14mm, F8, 1/30

Seen from Below.

At the end of the dive, Scott had us work on silhouettes. While he hoovered in around 5 feet of water, the four of us dropped back down and worked to capture an image with the sun directly behind him, remembering to adjust our settings to find the proper exposure so that the suns rays cascading through the water would be surrounding Scott, shadowing him to be dark against the light water.

I was amazed at how difficult this was… I’m sure I took at least 20 pictures and in all but one, I was barely off, with the sun exposed to the side, or completely showing. Sometimes I amputated a fin or arm from Scott. It seemed that every time I had the shot lined up, myself or Scott would move in the few seconds before I could depress the shutter, and I’d miss it. I also discovered that the EPL1 limits me to a shutter speed of 1/160. I don’t know if that’s just with the kit 14-42mm lens or the camera in general. I had to close down all the way to F22 in order to get a decent exposure, and I feel like I could have made it even better if I could have made the shutter speed just a little bit faster… oh well, that’s what Photoshop is for, right?

Here’s the shot, enjoy!

EPL1, Focal Length 14mm, F22 1/160

Welcome to Wide Angle.

Welcome to the beginning of my week of photo analysis!

We started Sunday morning by working on wide angle. The goal of the first dive was to get used to changing shutter speed in order to get the background properly exposed, then using the flash to light the subject. Flash position was not worked on as much this dive, we just kept in mind to try and keep it as far from the camera as possible to eliminate backscatter. I spent most of my dive with my feet in the air (perhaps time to start wearing my ankle weights), laying on the sand, or even on my back as I tried to get low and shoot up. With the 14-42mm lens on my EPL1, getting a real wide angle shot is difficult, but I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of backgrounds I was able to get. While many of my shots were plagued with backscatter on the first dive, where visibility was only between 10-20ft, I did end up with one photo that I really liked. There was just one problem… no subject. I found a large rock, that had some nice tall strands of kelp in the background and a school of blacksmith cruising mid water. I got down on the ground, twisting to get my camera angled up as much as possible (barely able to see my lcd screen), and tried to wait for the ever present Garibaldi or Sheephead to come swimming through, but alas, none came. It wasn’t until the second dive, when I watched Scott grab a small rock and bang it on the rock next to him, that I learned the ever valuable trick of attracting fish! Incredibly, several Garbaldi came zooming straight towards his camera as he banged away.

So back to dive one, here I sat, with no subject coming to visit me, so eventually I moved on. What I was left with though, was a really nice set up, and for once a properly exposed background! Had I waited a few more moments, hopefully the kelp would moved aside again and would not have been intruding on my foreground, but all in all I’d say a pretty good start to my wide angle adventures!

14mm, F8, 1/60

Foto Frenzy.

I’m going to try something new this week. Instead of one long post about the glorious weekend I had diving and posting multiple photos for you all to check out I’m going to break it down. I’m going to post one photo at a time and try to analyze it. Why you may ask? Well….

On Friday I spent the evening with Scott Geitler (of Blue Water Photo Store and UW Photo Guide fame) and a couple other folks to really learn the essentials of underwater photography. I’ve been wanting to take a class for AGES, for up to now, everything I’ve shot, and the little bit I know about photography has stemmed from some small knowledge of expsoure, composition rules, etc from a black and white photography class in high school, one in college and just reading articles online. Most of my shots have been luck…mostly snapshots, with not as much thought as should go into the composition, proper exposure settings and so forth. I mostly would shoot on P mode or similar, hoping for the best and typically not getting it. This class was designed to outline the basics for underwater photography, go over certain “rules” as well as help us understand how to set the camera and strobe(s) for different types of shots to get the best exposure, lighting, and composition that you can get.

If I took one thing away from the class it would be that underwater photography is all about the shutter speed. Scott explained one very important rule: Your shutter speed does not affect your strobe power. At first this made little sense to me, but once explained (the strobe fire at about 1/10,000 of a second, much faster than any shutter speed… so they will not be cut off by the camera exposure) it totally makes sense. This “phenomenon” also explains why I was having so much trouble before when trying to get the background properly exposed, as I worried about using a slower shutter speed thinking it would blow out my strobe. So silly.

The next most important lesson I learned was that I need to get closer. No really… closer and closer and closer. Apparently I tend to shy away from getting up closer and personal with my subjects, either from worrying about scaring them away (here’s a tip… my camera has a zoom!) or from just not thinking composition, and trying more to capture just the entire thing. I practiced getting closer, to “Fill the Frame” – one of the composition rules I learned, searching for pattern, filling the frame to create unique views. In addition to that I learned how important it is to not “amputate” a subject, that is when shooting more of a fish ID style shot…trying not to accidentally cut of a fin or part of the tail can make or break a photo. I do that a lot, I realized, as I looked back at many of my favorites from years past and saw how often bits and pieces of the subject extended past the edge of the frame.

Finally the last big lesson I took away was “Shoot Up”. This sounds easy, but if you think about how we fin along while diving, its usually over the reef looking down upon the fish. Many of my shots I now notice are either looking down or straight on a subject. Scott really stressed the importance to shoot up, especially out here in our beautiful kelp forests, the only way to really express the grandeur of those plants is to get really low, and shoot up, allowing as much of the strand of kelp to extend through the picture’s background. Mostly this get low, shoot up rule stands for wide angle photography, but even when close up in Macro, getting low and angling up at a subject will create unique and bold photos, and of course, getting up close and personal will add character to my shots.

After absorbing all this valuable knowledge I went out on the Magician dive boat with Scott on Sunday where we put these principles into action and I learned how far I have to go, and how much I’ve been doing wrong! I had three long (all nearly an hour…which hasn’t happened in ages due to teaching or to deeper dives) dives, where we were given “homework assignments” to work on, trying to put all the principles that had been taught Friday into action. So that’s what I’m going to try and talk about over the next couple of days… all the shots we worked on during Sunday’s in water portion of the class. While my photos aren’t masterpieces by any means, I got a couple I like, and am excited to share with everyone, especially a couple nice wide angle (despite not having a true wide angle set up… which I seriously want now by the way), where the background was clear and properly exposed, a problem that had always plagued me… mostly because I did not understand how to achieve the background exposure.

So, sit back and remember to check here, facebook or twitter. I’ll be trying to add a post every day or so as I go through the pictures, and once I post them here, I’ll add the photo to a FB album as well.