Whisper the tradewinds. Tell me the story of a secret place, a place undiscovered by divers, a place devoid of mainstream tourism. St. Vincent and the Grenadines… whimsical, musical, mythical, these are the traits of an undiscovered paradise located in the Windward Islands of the Caribbean...
About the Author: At Age 17, Clay received an Explorer's Club grant to join Jean-Michel Cousteau's dive team in Papau New Guinea. After graduating from college and spending three years as a commercial diver in the Gulf of Maine, he moved to Grand Cayman and worked for nearly a decade as a photo pro, instructor, and captain for the Aggressor fleet of live-aboards. In 1996 he co-authored his first book with Marty Snyderman, Guide to Marine Life : Carribbean, Bahamas, and Florida. These days he splits his time between doing marine-related photographic assignments, leading tours and producing documentaries for his company, Underwater Art Films.
Image Specs: The image was made using Fujichrome Velvia film, a film of extremely fine grain that makes it excellent for blowing up to a larger size. Because the shot was of a moving boat taken from a moving boat, an extremely fast shutter speed was required to render the image sharply. I pushed the film to gain a faster shutter speed and opened my Nikkor 80-200 f2.8 zoom lens wide-open (f2.8) to achieve 1/500 second shutter speed. I also used a B+W warming polarizer set close to maximum polarizing since this image was made close to mid-day.
The reefs of St.Vincent and the Grenadines are washed by currents rich in plankton. This giant elephant ear sponge is typical of the colorful sponges and other filter feeding invertebrates that adorns the reef outcroppings of these islands. The sponge pictured here is approximately 48in in diameter and was found at the site called ''Mayreau Gardens'' near the Tobago Cayes.
Image Info: This image was made using a housed Nikon F5 camera and 2x Sea and Sea YS300 strobes set on TTL. I identified the colorful foreground and brought my model up into the current where she could hold her position whilst adding to the composition and providing that ''human element'' I needed to realize the image I had previsualized. I spot metered the water column with my aperture preset at f5.6 to achieve a shutter speed of 1/60 second. Before firing the shutter I changed my meter pattern to matrix setting so that the strobes and natural light would balance. I was using Fujichrome Velvia film pushed one stop to ISO 100. The lens of choice was the Nikkor 16mm fisheye… always a good choice for close focus wide-angle underwater photography when straight lines are not crucial.
''St. Vincent Over and Under''
St. Vincent is a volcanic island crowned by the Soufriere volcano in the north and fringed by dramatic lava ledges now awash with crystalline Caribbean waters. These productive waters channel nutrients to the colorful marine invertebrates and fishes that adorn St. Vincent's reefs. To date they have been explored by very few divers. Here pictured is the ''Merlin'' of these magic reefs, Capt. Bill Tewes, owner of Dive St. Vincent and underwater guide extraordinare. Bill gazes down upon the reefs that 25 years ago lured him to St. Vincent and left him so smitten that he never left…
Image Info: This shot is one called an ''over and under'' because half of the frame is above the water and half is under. To produce this kind of image I identified a reef that passed very close to the surface on a day that was glass calm and sunny. I had the subject hold the boat as close over the reef as possible and I metered for the topside exposure with my housed Nikon F5, 16mm fisheye lens, Aquatica A5 housing with 8inch optical dome coated with Rain-X. Using a single YS300 I threw a little light onto the reef below to bring the underwater exposure up to that of the above water exposure. I made the image using the Kodak ISO100 VS emulsion pushed one stop to ISO 200. I preset my aperture to f11 to allow for ample depth of field so that both above and below subject matter would be in focus, but I made my focus sharpest on the underwater subject. I made 72 frames to ensure that one would turn out properly.
On a site called ''Han's Reef'' in St. Vincent the top of the reef at 25 feet is washed by a persistent current that feeds and keeps these brown chromis up in the water column. At one point I was surprised to find that my buddy had disappeared in the midst of hundreds of these tightly schooling chromis.
Image Info: Though these small fishes are an unlikely subject for a 16mm fisheye lens, the fact that they were tightly schooling and that they passed very close to the dome of my housed Nikon F5 camera allowed the fisheye perspective to work. I shot using Fujichrome Velvia film pushed one stop and 2x Sea and Sea YS 300 strobes set on TTL. The TTL did not kick in as I had preset my aperture for f16 seconds before which both made the water column a bit dark and properly exposed the reflective fishes even with a ''full dump'' strobe output.
The reefs of St. Vincent are home to many frogfishes. Of all the places I have dived in the world, St. Vincent is ''number one'' for hosting these unusual fishes. They attract prey by wiggling a modified dorsal spine (the ''lure'') just over their mouths. These fishes maintain one of the fastest feeding mechanisms in the animal kingdom. This coupled with their extreme camouflage (cryptic coloration) make them quite an extraordinary find.
Image Info: This fish portrait was made using a housed Nikon F5 with a 60mm macro lens. I spot metered the background water and dialed in a exposure that was one stop under to make the foreground pop. I lit the subject with 2x YS30 Sea and Sea strobes set on TTL. The right strobe was positioned slightly right of center while the second was positioned far behind and to the left of the subject to provide backlighting to make the lure separate from the water column. Patience and perseverance were required to capture the subject when it was actually ''angling''.
The seahorse is another unusual and typically rare creature that I have had the pleasure of photographing over the years. Like the frogfish, they are very rare and quite cryptic…nearly invisible. The Longsnout Seahorses of St. Vincent are quite oversized! Often we found seahorses measuring five inches in height… a veritable giant by seahorse standards. It surprised me to find that this species was quite common on the sites we dived in St. Vincent.
Image Specs: This image was made with a housed Nikon F5 using the 105mm macro lens and 2x YS30 Sea and Sea strobes set on TTL and ev-.7 to properly expose the darker than gray color of this cryptic creature. I used Fujichrome Velvia film rated at ISO 50 since my strobe to subject distance was less than a foot.
A seahorse will turn away from you when you come in close to photograph them. To prevent this I came in very slowly, non-invasively and with the long macro lens. Next, I maneuvered my right fin around the other side of the seahorse so that it turned away from the fin and turned slowly toward my lens.
We dropped into the waters of the Tobago Cayes and were soon inundated by a school of Creole wrasses. The remarkable numbers of these and other plankton feeders were indicative of a healthy reef system that is well fed by the plankton carrying currents. While this presented itself as a similarity to the pristine conditions we found in St. Vincent, the reefs of the Grenadines such as the one pictured above, were seperated by white, white powder sand rather than the volcanic sand characteristic of St. Vincent just 25 nautical miles to the north.
Image Specs: This image was made with a housed Nikon F5, 16mm fisheye lens, Aquatica A5 housing and 2x YS300 Sea and Sea strobes. After locating the tight school I motioned for my model to work her way behind the school. I spot metered the water behind the Creole wrasses with my aperture preset at f8. The resulting shutter speed was 1/30 of a second so I set the strobes for rear curtain sync to prevent forward ghosting and changed my meter pattern to matrix metering. I closed in for the shot. The model and the school came together at 3 feet strobe to subject distance and the TTL did not work since the foreground was not adequately dense to bounce lighting information back to the camera. Fortunately my estimate of f8 as a preset exposure was adequate to light the foreground without overexposing it even though the TTL didn't kick in.
''Wreck of the Purini''
The gunboat Purini ran aground west of Mayreau Island in the Grenadines in 1918. The shipwreck is now home to myriad reef fishes and colorful marine invertebrates that have flocked to the wreck like metal to a magnet. Much of the superstructure is down, but the bow, boiler, ribs and props are gloriously intact. Every square inch of the old vessel is covered with marine life such that it has become as much reef as wreck and that makes for great diving.
Image Specs: I shot the wreck of the Purini with a housed Nikon F5, 16mm fisheye, and 2x YS300 Sea and Sea ultra wide coverage strobes. I used Fujichrome Velvia film pushed one stop to ISO 100 and spot metered the water column before switching back to matrix metering for a well-balanced exposure. As is my habit, I preset the aperature for a f-stop that would allow just a bit more that sufficient strobe light to strike the foreground before the TTL kicks in. In this case I preadjusted the aperture to f4 to achieve a shutter speed of 1/30 of a second and with my strobe to subject distance of five feet and a big reflective foreground, the TTL worked nicely. I hustled into the water to get this shot ''in the can'' before other divers passed under the stern and dislodged silt that otherwise would have showed up as backscatter in my images. Further, I metered and gave my model direction before I passed under the stern, and I eased back between frames to allow the strobes to recharge and me to exhale without silting out my own pictures.
Fort Duvernette Rock
As we raised the sail and headed north for the short crossing back to St. Vincent I reflected on how different from St. Vincent and yet how beautiful these Grenadines dive sites and anchorages were. It was as if each were a completely different destination with separate, yet related underwater worlds of wonder. Those tradewinds soon snapped the mainsail full and commenced to whisper into my subconscious ear, ''you'll be back…''.