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Dive Photo Guide


Shot in the Dark: The Thrill of Black-Water Photography
By Mike Bartick, August 3, 2018 @ 06:00 AM (EST)

Pelagic seahorse photo bomb, Lembeh, Indonesia

Black-water diving seems to be the hot topic these days—and why not? For this underwater photographer, it offers everything that got me interested in diving in the first place. The hunt for critters. The open ocean experience. What could be better? But the challenges associated with black-water diving are plenty, bringing another aspect to the game that separates this from a regular dive on the substrate.

One thing I love about black-water photography is that it’s impossible to set up a shot in this environment. Imagine yourself in the open ocean at night with only a distant lit downline for reference, a focus light, and a torch in your hand to hunt with—and moving through the ink-black water, shining that torch back and forth, and trying to find a subject. Once you’ve spotted something interesting, instinct takes over, and it’s on!

Larval flounder, Lembeh, Indonesia

My lens of choice is the 60mm macro lens mounted on a cropped-sensor camera like the Nikon D500, with two strobes oriented in various positions to decrease backscatter. I also use a single focus light and a handheld torch for hunting. I prefer using the torch to search with so I don’t need to swing my camera around, and keeping my focus light trained down over the lens port so I’m ready to shoot. Macro diopters generally aren’t used in this style of dive, as tracking your subjects will then become even more difficult—let alone framing and shooting one.

Black-water photography takes practice: The only way to actually get better at doing it is by doing it. I encourage everyone to try it at least four times before the say they’ve had enough. But most black-water fanatics will tell you, after their first great black-water dive, any other kind of diving is just fluff.

Jack and jelly, Balayan Bay, Anilao, Philippines

Lionfish larva, Menjangan Channel, Bali

Settling wonderpus octopus, Janao Bay, Anilao, Philippines

Orange trimmed larval sole, Janao Bay, Anilao, Philippines

Jelly with driftfish, Janao Bay, Anilao, Philippines

Female paper nautilus riding a jellyfish, Janao Bay, Anilao, Philippines

Giant female blanket octopus with eggs, Batangas Bay, Philippines

Flying fish reflection, Balayan Bay, Philippines

For more of Mike’s mind-blowing photography, check out his website, www.saltwaterphoto.com, or our Photographer of the Week feature.



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