Photographing Underwater Textures

Mother Nature's Amazing Undersea Designs

By Kevin Lee

 

 
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Any opus produced by the world's best artists pales in comparison to the exquisite works composed by Mother Nature herself.  Particularly in the underwater world, if we focus on perspectives smaller than what the average human eye "sees," an astonishing kaleidoscope of colors, textures, and designs is revealed.  Most of the images that follow were taken in the waters of Anilao, Philippines, where I used Club Ocellaris as my base station.  As an aside, in terms of friendly service, great cuisine, top-notch dive services and convenient proximity to the best dive sites, Club-O is the absolute best value, in my opinion (the nitrox service is the frosting on the cake).

 

 

Textures

The deep ridges of this mushroom coral cast dramatic shadows

 

 

The approach to capturing textures underwater

Fortunately with extreme macro photography, water clarity is not a serious issue since the subject-to-lens distance is so short.  I always get as close to the subject as possible, often up to the minimum working distance allowed by the camera/lens setup (mine is about 4~6 inches) as long as the subject composes well. Always look at the subject, and move the camera in and out. 

Underwater composition for designs

Turn the camera and explore shooting from slanted angles (not just flat, straight on), which can alter depth of field for unique perspectives. Remember getting close is not the goal, optimal esthetic composition is. But, usually the closer the better.  With proper composition through the camera viewfinder, cropping can also be minimized, bringing out the greatest detail in full frame images.  Finally, when coupled with optimal strobe positioning, backscatter can be largely eliminated.  Strobes need not be positioned symmetrically on each side.  In fact, offsetting one strobe at a different angle and/or distance than the other can produce unique shading, shadows and depth of field. Snooting, something I have yet to try, promises to add another interesting dimension to super macro images.     

 

Textures

Crinoid arms.  Normally diagonal compositions are more appealing.

 

The equipment used for photographing underwater textures

Equipment used for all of these underwater images was a  Nikon D300 camera in a Sea & Sea housing, Nikkor 60mm macro lens, Kenko 1.4 teleconverter and dual YS-110a strobes.  Strobe positioning explained here in this article, shows the extreme inward positioning of strobes for macro photography. 

 

Underwater Camera settings

Generally I employ ISO 200 and a shutter speed of 1/250 to minimize unintentional blurring.  At these close distances, the depth-of-field is very narrow to begin with, so I normally shoot at higher aperture settings (in the teens and above) to maximize DOF.  If a subject is particularly light colored, I may use F32 or higher and even physically back off the strobes to achieve optimal exposure.  And the power settings on my strobes are usually dialed down to 50% or less, providing just enough, not too much, light to illuminate the subject i.e. kissing it with light.

 

We asked Kevin some questions about whether he prefers RAW or JPEG

UWPG: Are these mainly processed from JPEGs or RAW files?

KL: All JPEGs

UWPG: Are these files cropped much?

KL: No, not much if at all.  My goal is to obtain the optimal esthetic composition in the viewfinder, then snap the picture.

UWPG: Did you process these images in Photoshop?

KL: Minimally since there's hardly any backscatter and there's good control with exposure.  Contrary to convention, I do not shoot RAW.  I think it takes too much memory and if I can't take the image with decent exposure, then I will review the histogram and reapproach the shot.  I don't have time or desire to go into a RAW processing program and edit.

UWPG: Have you had JPEGs published right out of camera?

KL: Yes, my JPEG images have made magazine front covers and inside spreads with no problems.

 

 

More of Kevin Lee's wonderful underwater texture photography

 

Textures

Sea Urchin

 

underwater photography abstract designs and textures

Coral

 

The following four images are examples of fish pectoral fins, each unique as a human finger print.

Textures

 

Textures

 

Textures

 

Textures

 

 


 

Textures

Inside of a tunicate captured using extreme side-lighting.

 

 

Even the body of a synapted sea cucumber presents an interesting and colorful design.

 

 

Sponge

 

 

Soft coral, perhaps resembling daisies.

 

 

Underside of a leather sponge.

 

 

Mollusc eggs

 

 

Coral

 

 

Tiny tunicates reveal delicate colors and designs

 

 

Mushroom Coral

 

 

Sponge pattern looks like a landscape of volcanoes on a distant planet.

 

 

A green sponge with topography resembling verdant mountains and valleys of a fantasy land.

 

Even common algae reveals delicate colors, patterns, and textures.

 

 

Polyps on the stalk of a soft coral.

 

 

Orange polyps on a soft coral stalk.

 

 

Colony of tunicates

 

 

A gorgeous orange and white sponge.

 

 

The texture of this sponge was the inspiration for the pattern below.

 

Dress, using fabric with the sponge pattern of previous image. Designed by Wendy Kaufman.

 

 

About the author

Kevin Lee is a well traveled scuba diver, an award winning underwater photographer, and an avid "brancher."  More of his beautiful images can be viewed on his website at www.diverkevin.com.

 

More articles by Kevin Lee

 

Further Reading

 

 


Where to Buy

Please support the Underwater Photography Guide by purchasing your underwater photography gear through our sister site, Bluewater Photo & Video. Click, or call them at (310) 633-5052 for expert advice!


 

Comments

I absolutely LOVE these!

I absolutely LOVE these! Thank you for sharing!

These are truly astonishing

These are truly astonishing images, Kevin. Thanks for sharing this fascinating world with us.
Suzy

Exquisite!!!

You've done it again, Kevin! A new, incredible and wonderful world opened up with your camera and photographic talent. Spectacular! Dan W.

wow

Fantastic ! Great job

VERY COOL!

Is Wendy Kaufman any relation to Robert Kaufman fabric mogul? I see quilting fabric in the future as we are always looking for new designs and textures! congratulations Kevin! Best, Jan

Kevin, these are stunning! As

Kevin, these are stunning! As I was scrolling down I was thinking that these should go to textile designers. Hee, glad to see they're out there.

Fantastic

For all your Photographs I have only one word:
F A N T A S T I C