I'm just wrapping up preparations for a coffee table photobook titled "Visions of the Coral Triangle - Big Images, Small Camera". The photobook compiles 3 years of images captured in Indonesia and the Philippines. Both of these two countries sit at the heart of the "Coral Triangle", an area in the world with the highest biodiversity in the world. The reason why there is such biodiversity here is because during the Ice Age, the sea level receded considerably. However, the islands around the Coral Triangle essentially became a "bowl" that kept sea water intact and marine life continued to thrive, whereas in areas in which water level dropped, species died off.
Areas of Indonesia depicted on the book include Wakatobi, the scuba oasis of Sulawesi; Raja Ampat, known for its dramatic mix of underwater and above-water scenery; Triton Bay, the soft coral capital of East Indonesia.
Areas of the Philippines include Puerto Galera, an unusual corner where lots of little critters gather and Anilao, the nudibranch capital of the Coral Triangle.
I used a small point-and-shoot camera to capture all the images. The whole underwater setup is not that small, but it proves the maxim that knowing your camera is the way to getting nice images.
Here are a couple of preview pages:
One day in December of 2010, a friend of mine had posted on my Facebook wall, "Congrats on your win in the photo contest. Great pic." That's how I learned that I had won the compact camera category in the Ocean Art Photo Competition 2010 (http://www.uwphotographyguide.com/compact-wide-angle-2010). This is the story of how I was able to take the two pictures (First Place: "Starry Day") and (Honorable Mention: "Sunrise on a Soft Coral") that took honors in that contest.
The pictures were taken on the last two days of an expedition to Raja Ampat and Triton Bay (Indonesia) aboard the MSY Seahorse in December of 2009. We had seen the manglars and mantas in Raja and now we were enjoying the "typical underwater scenery" of Triton Bay. The typical scenery was amazingly colorful soft corals in less than 15 feet of water!! This was an underwater photographer's paradise!
The reason why this place was such a delight was that at 15 feet of water you had the option of using the sun rays to bring the colors out and that you could spend a lot less air. Our dives could last 2 hrs long! Another advantage of the shallowness was that you could position a coral with a sun burst as back light relatively easily, compared to a deeper dive on a wall.
The dive site where both pictures were taken was called "Larry's Heaven", named after diving pioneer of Indonesian waters, Larry Smith. When asked what was his favorite dive site in Triton Bay, Larry once said "This one" (referring to Larry's Heaven). The site was a small island surrounded by many islets that created channels and crevices where soft corals thrived. This area was also a place of high currents on certain sides. One day, the eastern side was completely inaccessible because of high currents. Soft corals thrive in high current areas because of the nutrients that currents bring.
Below is the actual dive briefing map depicting Larry's Heaven. Label #1 points to where "Starry Day" was taken, it is located on the South side. Label #2 points to where "Sunrise on a Soft Coral" was taken, it is located on the East side. Because the coral was located on an islet, I was able to aim eastward and was able to shoot the sun as the background.
In terms of equipment, I used a setup that I had build over the years based on recommendations from attending private classes, seminars and underwater workshops. My setup was built around the Olympus SP-350, the descendant of the venerable Olympus 5050 line, and the Olympus housing PT-030 with an electrical connector to two Sea & Sea YS-110 strobes. The electrical connector was manufactured by a German company called Heinrichs Weikamp (http://www.heinrichsweikamp.net) known for its underwater electronics. The electrical connector makes a huge difference for such a small camera. It allows me to take repeated images with low cycling time. It also saves the camera's own battery because it does not have to trigger the internal camera flash, which is required if I were to use a fiber optic connection. For "Starry Day", I shot thirty pictures, to get the one that I was happy about.
Another accessory that made a huge difference on these pictures was the Inon UFL-165AD fisheye lens. This version is a wet mountable one using a bayonet mount (Inon Mount AD) that allows you to attach the lens with a quarter turn twist under water. This lens gives you a field of view of 100 degrees and allows you to shoot within inches of your subject. This was very important in order to get the most out of my strobes. The closer I was, the more light I could get. For "Sunrise on a Soft Coral", the fisheye lens allowed me to get as close as 5 inches from the coral. The colors just bursted because of the strobe light. This picture took some adjustment to get right because of the back lighting condition. In the end, I used a 1/400 shutter speed in order to limit the light from the sun. The Heinrichs connector allowed me use TTL, which is uncommon for small compacts. In this particular situation, TTL prevents you from having over-exposed areas especially when the subject is so close to the strobes. TTL also obviates the need for me to constantly adjust the strobes manually, so I could focus on other things like composition and strobe positioning.
This particular lighting setup is very close to a setup that you would see in more expensive SLRs, but I was able to get it in a smaller package that allowed me to have both macro and wide angle at the same time.
The end result of the days at Triton Bay was a very satisfying one, even more, with being able to have two winning pictures. It took, however, many years of research and trial and error to get a setup that I was comfortable with and that was able to get me the results I wanted.
- Larry's Heaven (aka Little Komodo), Triton Bay, Indonesia
- Aboard the MSY Seahorse on an expedition thru Raja Ampat, Misool, FakFak and Triton Bay. Departing Sorong and arriving to Kaimana
Olympus SP-350, Olympus Housing PT-030, Heinrich Weikamp bulkhead, Inon AD Mount, Inon UFL-165AD Fisheye, 2 Sea&Sea YS-110
Depth: < 8 ft
Location: South side
Time of the Day: Afternoon (4:30pm)
Depth: < 5 ft
Location: Eastern side
Time of the Day: Morning (7:50am)
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