Searching for Merlet's Fish
The day leaned toward dusk as I dropped into the water from thestern of the live-aboard MV Tiata in Milne Bay, New Guinea.Ship's captain and ultra-experienced guide Kevin Baldwin ledthe way as we dropped toward the dark reef, hoping to film one ofthe rarest and most beautiful fishes in the world: the Merlet'sscorpionfish. In more than 20 years of diving I had yet to filmthis rare species, but with Kevin leading the way I was hopeful. Hehad spotted one the previous week on this very site. I was equippedwith the "right stuff" to do close-up work in digitalvideo, "macro video," should we stumble across thismagical creature.
The Right Stuff for Macro
Shooting macro video requires a specific set of equipment.Here's what works for me:
- Optics: I apply a flat port to the housing for fullzoom-through capability and high magnification. The standard portalso offers full zoom-through, and you can expect betterdepth-of-field over that of the flat port, but in generalyou'll need to be closer to the subject to achieve highmagnification. By adding a diopter (+2, +3, +4) to the camcorderlens or to the outside of the housing, you can achieve amazingmagnification.
- Controls: My choice in camcorder and housing is thatwhich offers me the most artistic control. Housings for thethree-chip cameras offer manual focus, aperture and white-balancecontrol. These come in handy when shooting close-ups, but at theexpense of additional bulk. Should you opt for smaller, single-chipcamcorders, be careful as you zoom out for max magnification; thisis where the autofocus camcorders often lose focus and go into aspastic seeking mode. To prevent seeking, zoom in onstandby and let the autofocus "lock-on" beforerecording.
- Lighting: The soft, daylight-balanced color of HIDlights gives me beautiful saturated colors that blend naturallywith the surrounding sunlight. Halogen lighting also works well forclose-up work, but be sure to set your white balance manually oruse the "light bulb" setting. In general, video lightsadd the kind of color that makes your macro work stunning.
- Stabilization: Always think, "Minimize camerashake." To keep the image "rock solid" whenI'm zoomed in, I brace myself in the sand when possible.Additionally, add a couple of extra pounds of weight to your weightbelt, especially if you are shooting shallow. I often use a smallaluminum tripod that I have adapted for underwater use. WhenI'm not using the tripod, the legs fold back out of the wayin an instant.
As dusk on the New Guinea reef threatened our search for theMerlet's scorpionfish, I struck my HIDs. As the lights began toglow, Kevin turned back toward me. He gestured wildly toward thereef, and there, just under the ledge, gently rocked a lime-greenMerlet's scorpionfish. I dropped to the sand, set my white balanceand focused in very closely on this magical creature that had beento me, up until that very moment, simply another undersealegend.