The moon was full; the water temperature was ideal. Around midnight, the underwater happening that I had come halfway around the world to photograph began to unfold. The corals were spawning, releasing pink eggs and sperm into the water column and creating a fantastic underwater blizzard of life. Sex in the sea at its peak! Of course, you will not experience a coral spawning on every night dive. You will, however, experience the best conditions for close-up and macro photography - for a good reason. At night, many fish are sleeping, which allows you to get up-close-and-personal with these critters, snap a few pictures and move on in search of new subjects. Sleeping fish are not the only subjects that you'll find on the reef when cloaked in its veil of darkness. Crabs in all sizes and disguises creep and crawl along the reef in search of a tasty treat. Basket and feather sea stars spread their magnificent arms to trap floating plankton. Hard corals bloom, creating colorful underwater gardens. Nudibranchs, like the beautiful Spanish dancer (no, not the one you met in Madrid), dance gracefully over the reef. And octopuses tiptoe through the sand, changing their color and texture to perfectly match their surroundings. Nighttime Basics Extension tubes: These handy accessories fit between the Nikonos 35-mm lens and the Nikonos camera body. These accessories cannot be removed under water. Usually, extension tubes are sold in a set of three tubes: 1:3 (one-third life-size); 1:2 (half life-size); and 1:1 (life-size). For greater magnification, extension tubes can be stacked. Specific wire framers, which frame the subject area, are sold with the set. Extension tubes are useful for pictures of coral polyps, small crabs in soft corals, head shots of arrow crabs, nudibranchs, tunicates, details of sea stars and other subjects that will not be scared when wire framers are placed around their bodies. Nikonos close-up kit: A popular accessory among Nikonos users, the kit consists of an accessory lens, which can be removed underwater, and a set of wire framers. The kit can be used with the 35-mm and 28-mm Nikonos lenses; when the 28-mm lens is used, the frame size is a bit larger and the depth of field is bit deeper than when the 35-mm lens is used. Sleeping fish, scorpionfish, frogfish, starfish, lobsters and moray eels are just a few of subjects that you can capture on film with this accessory. Sea & Sea stuff: For its easy-to-use MX-10, Sea & Sea offers a close-up lens and a macro lens that turn this point-and-shoot camera into a way-cool camera for small-critter photography. Sea & Sea's Motor Marine II EX features a built-in close-up lens that flips into place at the touch of a switch. When the MM II EX is transformed into a close-up camera, you can have fun searching out small critters that you missed or were hiding during the day. Macro lenses for SLRs: Most professional photographers prefer using a housed SLR for macrophotography for two reasons: 1) there's no wire framer; and 2) lenses in the 60-mm to 100-mm range allow the photographer to shoot close-ups from a distance, which is much less intrusive on subjects than shooting with a wire framer. All of the aforementioned subjects, big and small, can be photographed with macro lenses. Note that as the focal length of the lens increases, so does the working distance from the subject - a big benefit when photographing very shy fish, like spotted drums and angelfish. Wide-angle lenses: Most novice underwater photographers don't think about using a wide-angle lens at night. However, 12-, 15- and 20-mm lenses are great for close-up photography because they offer tremendous depth of field, something macro lenses, extension tubes and close-up kits don't offer. If you want pictures of reef scenes with a great sense of depth or pictures of fish in their environment, then dive with a wide-angle lens on your Nikonos, Sea & Sea or housed camera. Strobes: Generally speaking, you don't need a super-powerful strobe for close-up photography. If you plan to take wide-angle pictures, however, just be sure that the angle of the strobe is equal to or greater than the angle of view of your lens. As with daytime underwater photography, two strobes give you more power and versatility. They also allow for more creative lighting - like shadowless and ratio lighting. That said, many of the pictures in my books and articles were taken with one strobe, which creates a shadow and adds depth to a scene. Shooting Tips and Techniques Ready for a night dive with your camera? Here are some helpful hints. Be gentle: Silt and sediment can ruin a picture with backscatter (light reflecting off particles in the water). To avoid backscatter, settle down very gently on the sand. When you are finished taking your pictures, lift off gently so you don't ruin the scene for your buddy. Be patient: Patience pays underwater. When you see a subject, don't rush in for the shot. Take your time and think about the background and foreground elements, which can make or break a shot. Also, frame your subject very slowly, especially when using extension tubes or close-up lenses. This way, you will not startle your subject. Shoot several shots. When shooting slide film, take exposures at the recommended setting and then one stop over and under that setting. Color print film has a wide exposure latitude, so bracketing is not necessary. By taking several shots, you also make in-camera dupes, which are better and cheaper than after-processing dupes. Also, because even a speck of plankton can ruin a shot (if you don't have Adobe Photoshop), taking back-ups is important to ensure picture-perfect results. Experiment with lighting: Want unusual nighttime pictures? Try unusual lighting. Take your strobe off the camera and try to hold it over your subject for top lighting (which makes the background disappear) or behind your subject, a technique that produces beautiful pictures of soft corals and sea fans. Pool practice: Never photographed at night? Then I'd suggest a pool session with your gear. While you are underwater, become so familiar with your gear that making adjustments becomes second nature, i.e., so you can do it without looking - in the dark. In closing my homily for this issue: Don't have the beer or glass of wine with dinner. If you do, you can't dive. And don't be tempted to slip into your comfortable sweat suit or the hot tub after dinner. If you do, you'll probably want to skip the night dive. And don't go to bed early. If you do, remember this: You snooze, you lose when it comes to getting great macro pictures. For more information about underwater camera housings, underwater strobes, amphibious cameras and other photo products, click onto the Sea & Sea home page below.
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