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Shooting small

by Peter Tatton

Reproduced from in focus 60 (June, 1997)


A few years ago this was easy. With mainly (non-SLR) amphibious cameras on the market anything taken with either a close-up lens or extension tube was a macro shot. Now it is more difficult as many divers use SLR cameras in underwater housings. A reproduction ratio of 1:6 or greater up to 2:1 is now considered to be a close-up / macro shot.

So why shoot small?

The answer is simple - because it is technically easy. Flash is used for the vast majority of macro shots. So the Shutter speed can be pre?set at 1/90th for the Nikonos V, 1/60th for SLR housed cameras or up to 1/250th for the Nikon 801 or more advanced Nikon cameras.

As most camera and flash systems use TrL metering the selection of is less critical than if shooting manually. When shooting macro subjects you should always try to use the smallest possible to gain the largest depth of field. If in doubt bracket, using the setting and the camera's LED ready-light will tell you when your shot was correctly exposed. After a while the settings for a set distance will become second nature to you.

With the Nikonos V or Motormarine II the close-up equipment pre-sets the focal distance using a framing device so, once the manufacturer's advice has been followed, focusing is taken care of. With SLR cameras you can see the exact point of focus so there is no problem.

When shooting small you are close to your subject, which means the amount of suspended matter in the water between the camera's lens and subject is reduced. This gives you an apparent increase in visibility, which is great if you are photographing is normal UK waters! When the water is clearer this is not a disadvantage; you will just be able to see your subject more clearly.

Having purchased your expensive underwater photographic gear you will want to get good consistent results and shooting small is the means by which to obtain this goal. Good macro photography can be mastered easily in one season? so what's stopping you?

So what are the problems?

Specific to the non-SLR cameras (Nikonos V and Motormarine II) are their focal framing devices which can inadvertently cast shadows across the photograph or appear in them. When attaching frames to the camera care should be taken so that they are correctly fixed and the flash is positioned in such a way as not to illuminate them.

With SLR cameras framing devices are not a problem but flash positioning can be. If you set your flash to illuminate a subject Ini away then zoom into a subject 30cm away your flash may not be pointing at it or it may cast an unacceptable shadow. This is one of the down sides to using a SLR for close-up work. You must consider the lighting of your subject at all times. A modelling light, especially one incorporated into the flashgun, helps immensely in these situations.

With so many underwater variables under control it is important to select strong bold subjects. Do not settle for the first species you come across but look around for one that fits your frame and can be well composed. Remember that everyone else has the same advantages as you so if you are entering competitions your shot has to have that something extra.

Over the years much has been written about close-up photography, so I have not gone overboard here. 'In Focus' has covered the subject in its October 85, August 86, April 89 and September 96 issues. Most books written on U/W photographing techniques have sections covering close-up photography.

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