Story Behind the Shot: Super Macro in Puget Sound

Patricia Gunderson describes how she shot the super small critter that won her 1st Place "Super Macro" in our 2011 Ocean Art Contest

by Patricia Gunderson

 

 
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Patricia Gunderson's 1st Place "Super Macro" photo from the 2011 Ocean Art Contest, photo of a juvenile Spiny Lumpsucker taken near Seattle, Washington

 

I have always had a fascination with the Pacific Spiny Lumpsucker, ever since I worked on a NOAA fisheries research vessel (the Miller Freeman) and we used to bring them up in the trawl net during fish surveys. On one such trip the scientists set up a small aquarium where we actually kept a few. Those little fish would face each other off and stubbornly protect their respective corners of the aquarium. I spent many fascinated hours observing them, but had yet to see them in their natural habitat underwater. Last summer I was offered the opportunity to do so while diving at the Keystone Jetty on Whidbey Island in Puget Sound, where I heard tales of small juveniles dwelling on certain kelp plants on the jetty. It was with great excitement that I found these tiny fish, clinging to the kelp fronds and hovering close. 

There were not many of them, and they were difficult to focus on and photograph. Shooting a subject that is less than a quarter inch big and in a spot that almost always has kelp moving in the current makes framing and focusing difficult. I first saw the lumpsuckers in July, and every time I would dive the Keystone Jetty I would attempt to photograph them but was never satisfied with my shots. It was in August that I was diving the jetty and experienced some better luck. Using my Micro Nikkor 105 with a 1.4x Tamron teleconverter I was able to capture a photo of this little fish that went on to win first place "Super Macro" in the Ocean Art Contest! I used a Nikon D70, which I shoot mostly in manual focus with my 105 lens, so I am lucky if I get shots in focus. In my experience I have found that the key for these small subjects is to take a lot of shots until you finally get one that works. I think my photo uniquely captured the character of the little fish and its funny shape as it clung to a piece of kelp. It was shot in manual with one YS 250 strobe and one YS 120 strobe. F20, 1/40 s, 200 ISO.

 

Shots From Puget Sound

Of my shots that Summer, one of my personal favorites is not technically a very good photo because of the crop, but it demonstrates the scale of the lumpsucker.

 

This photo was taken 2 weeks before and I believe it is the same fish, and the small amphipod (sea flea) shows the scale of the lumpsucker.

 

Lumpsuckers are very territorial and they stayed in the same area on the same kelp for about four months at the jetty. I continued to photograph them every time I had a chance.

Other photos taken the same day include this photo of a of a very large Decorated Warbonnet hanging out in a crevice. No multiplier was used on the 105 for this photo:

 

 

I spent some time watching a Penpoint Gunnel dart out of the algae to feed and captured the fish in this comical pose with its mouth open:

 

 

And this Mosshead Warbonnet posed for me for a short time at the end of the jetty:

 

 

I love diving in cold water and observing its fascinating ecosystem. Diving locally at Puget Sound gives me frequent opportunities to refine my skills as an underwater photographer, and living next to some of the world's best diving makes me feel unbelievably privaleged. Each time I dive I learn a little more about the marine environment and it never ceases to remind me why it needs to be cherished and protected. 

 

Further Reading:

 

 


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