Shooting Macro

Introduction
Chances are that as a diver, you have seen some amazing pictures of beautiful nudibranchs, seahorses and such. Unlike other amazing pictures of sharks and manta rays, taking pictures of tiny critters does take some unique equipment and practice; but once you have the hang of it, the world of macro photography offers limitless possibilities.
macro arlequin shrimpmacro emperor shrimp

What is macro photography?

super macro lense Macro photography is simply the art of taking pictures of small subjects, whereby the camera is very close to the subject and the resulting image is larger than the actual subject in real life. Simply put, it is producing images that are greater in scale than 1:1.

Once you delve into the world of macro photography, you will discover many possibilities – but before discussing the finer points of shooting images with a macro lens, let’s look at what can be done without a lens.
macro lensemacro lense dimension

Macro without a lens

olympus tg series Before you begin to buy lenses, dioptres and other specialized macro photography equipment, you can get a head start by just using your camera in its housing. Most modern cameras have a macro mode which you can use to get some great results. The key components of macro photography without a lens is to get as close as possible to your subject, choose the macro mode, zoom and stay as still as possible to capture your shot. Whilst a camera only setup is a great place to start and you will be able to start developing your skills, eventually you will need to move up to a lens setup. This is because the inbuilt lens in the camera will have its limitations.
We highly recommend the Olympus TG series to start underwater photography, the macro and super macro mode without lens is great.
macro lense vs no lense

Macro Vs Super macro

macro frog fish As discussed previously, macro photography is the art of taking pictures of small subjects from very close ranges. However, when the subject becomes small than a couple of centimeters, you have to move from macro photography into the realms of super macro. Try to think of this in terms of microscopes; to look at a normal cell, you can use a standard laboratory microscope; however, once you want to look into the cell itself you need an electron microscope that offers significant magnification.

macro pigmy seahorse Generally, macro photography covers subjects from 1-10 cm for whole subjects but can also be a detail macro shot of much bigger subjects. Think of the ubiquitous chromodorid nudibranchs ( as the most common macro subject encountered by divers in tropical seas. On the other hand, you can take a great macro shot of the eye detail of a sleepy parrot fish or a friendly wrasse, or even capture the stunning details of a lobster’s eye.

Once the subject is less than 1 cm, you are truly ensconced in the realms of super macro photography. To fully understand this, just consider the magnificent “Shaun the sheep” Costasiella kuro nudibranch. This tiny critter maxes out at a miniscule 5 mm and when seen with the naked eye on a dive, is no more than a tiny whitish speck. However, view it through a super macro lens, and your view finder explodes with green colours and the finest of details, and you are presented with a stunning beautiful animal.

Lighting

macro set up Ultimately, using artificial lighting in macro photography is a must. Due to the depth and more frequently the fact that most tiny critters tend to be slightly tucked away under outcroppings or other slightly sheltered positions, they are not very well lit up. Using strobes and snoots will become a must. The key to using strobes for macro is getting the correct angle and setup, since pointing the strobes directly at the subject will result in horribly over-lit and bleached out pictures. Care must be taken to point the strobe(s) sufficiently away from the subject so that it lights it up sufficiently without over-exposing it.

Composition

Composition rules for large scale photos still apply to macro photography. In the same vein that a picture of a fish tail first is not really a great composition and won’t win any awards, a picture of a colourful nudibranch rear, with the rhinophores and gills barely visible is also not great. Photos should be either head on to the subject or slightly off to one side, always focusing on the eyes to get them sharp, even if you use a narrow depth of field.
macro nudimacro shrimp

Do I need to get a macro lens and a super macro lens?

This is really a matter of personal choice, while there are both macro and super macro lenses, with different magnification powers, quite a few macro lenses offer the ability of stacking. This is where you can “double up” macro lenses, by screwing one macro lens into the other thus achieving double the effect of a single macro lens. Some photographers opt for the stacking option since it offers more flexibility and can be more economical than having a macro and a dedicated super macro lens. Stacking also gives the photographer a back-up regular macro lens in the long term. On the other hand, some good underwater cameras, even point and shoots, have a great macro mode that can give great results. Ultimately, it’s the size of the subject that demands a macro or super macro lens.

How close do I need to get my subject for macro photography?

As a general rule, you want to be as close as possible to the subject in order to get it into focus, even more so when using a lens. If you are too far out, the picture will lack the stunning details normally associated with macro photography. On the other hand, being too close might push your lens and camera beyond their abilities and the photo will be somewhat blurry and lacking in details. Generally, for macro and super macro photography the subject should be 2 to 10 cm away from the camera. This is a rough guide and will vary with different cameras and lens setups.

What makes the best macro subjects?

macro squidAs a general rule when considering subjects or macro photography, you really need to consider how close you can get to the subject. Subjects that are skittish and nervous and will not allow you to get that close make terrible subjects. This is why fish are difficult macro subjects since they move when they see you get close. They best subjects not only ignore divers and let them get close, but the subject itself does not tend to move a lot in its everyday activity. This is why nudibranchs, pygmy seahorses, molluscs, shrimps and pipefishes make the best macro subjects. Because they don’t move a lot and are relatively relaxed in the presence of divers, coupled with their amazing colour patterns, they make phenomenal subjects.

What are some macro diving heavens?

One of the great things about macro photography is that it can be done anywhere in the world since almost all coral reefs have a rich and diverse life of tiny critters that make for great subjects. However, there are certain dive destinations that offer an incredibly rich and unique macro bio diversity. Top destinations are found in the Indo-Pacific/South-east Asia part of the world and include Wakatobi, Lembeh Straight, and Tulamben in Indonesia. In Malaysia, Mabul Island is world renowned for its life and muck diving, and Anilao in the Philippines is another macro heaven for underwater photographers.

You can also find plenty of tips on Dive Photo Guide
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