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Dive Photo Guide


Top 10 "Can't Miss" Caribbean Subjects
By Joseph Tepper, February 28, 2011 @ 02:01 AM (EST)

By Joseph Tepper

Diving in the Caribbean can sometimes feel like diving in an aquarium. Yes, the water is  usually crystal-clear -and on top of that most islands  actually have dive sites named “aquarium"- but after years of diving in one place, it can feel like you've seen and shot everything a million times: almost like you're stuck in one large fish tank.

This list is a compilation of the top ten Caribbean photo subjects that we might otherwise often swim right past, which can still be "can't miss" photographic opportunities and make the walls of that aquarium dissapear.


1. Flounder: The hardest part about photographing these masters of camouflage is finding them on the reef. Even once discovered, it can be easy to dismiss any photographic potential because of a bland monotony between subject and the sand upon which it often hides. Try capturing the flounder perched on an elevated patch of reef to make its colors really 'pop'. Focus on the flounder's eyes or create an abstract from its colorful display.

Closing the aperture not only improves depth of field, but also creates a contrasting black background


2. Lizardfish: Similar to many unappreciated Caribbean subjects, lizardfish often go un-photographed when they blend into the landscape. One great way to distinguish the fantastic texture of these subjects from their backdrop is through a technique called Bokeh, whereby an opened aperture blurs the majority of the field, except one specific point of focus.

Using the Bokeh tecnique, with low apertures, draws focus to the detail of this baby lizardfish's face


3. Scorpionfish: Another master of masquerade who loves to avoid the flash of the strobes. Aside from basic profile shots, most divers see these amazing sit-and-wait predators as nothing more than a cool critter. Try focusing on a specific part of the fish -an eye or mouth perhaps- and with your mid-macro lens and high-aperture you will be astonished with the amount of detail in this subject's guise. Catching a yawn or with prey in its mouth may be a matter of patience, but the reward is well worth the wait.

Focusing on the eye of this scorpionfish creates a focus point for the viewer, while also bringing out the detail of disguise


4. Christmas Tree Worms: Common throughout the world's reefs, Christmas tree worms are distinguished by their distinct, well, christmas tree shape and colorful highlights. They are fantastic subjects for beginning photographers to learn the nuances of lighting, composition, and patience; and thus are often overlooked by more advanced shooters. Try using wet-adaptors or macro lenses to capture the psychedelic, spiral pattern in a more abstract way.

This type of abstract is becoming more common, but it is a great alternative to traditional methods of shooting (one spiral of) this inricate worm


5. Eels: They come in all shapes, colors, and forms- green, yellow, gold, tiny, and long. Species like the green-moray and golden-moray are often overlooked by experienced underwater photographers, and being often tucked into the reefs nooks are considered not worth the challenge. What a shame! After you have mastered basic portrait shots, try bringing out the personality of the eel by being patient for classic behavior, such as that often-misjudged, benign yawn or even getting a cleaning from some smaller friends.

Capturing behavior of this eel puts action into the photo; just think what his dental bill must be!


6. Gobies: Gobies, gobies everywhere! Yes, there are probably thousands of gobies tucked away on every dive site, and while their many names can become jumbled in your mind, they are still great practice for macro shooters. From practicing manual focus on that 100/105mm lens, to trying to get crazy close for your new wet-adaptor, these tiny subjects are a reliable way to refine your super-macro skills.

Breaking the rules- we are taught never to shoot down, but in this case it gives symmetry and texture to a common subject


7. Squirrelfish: Don't let their big, button eyes fool you: these are the photo-hogs of the underwater world. Actually, their evolutionarily enlarged eyes help these common reef fish see better in poorly lit environments, and are often receptive to close photo opportunities. Because of this, try pushing yourself past the basic profile shot and get creative: abstracts, side lighting, and the texture of the scales make the creative possibilities limitless.

Cathy Church was the first person I know of to take abstracts of Squirrelfish fins- rotating the camera and side-lighting makes 'Squirrel Steps'

8. Banded Coral Shrimp: Once you've seen one you've seen 'em all. While this is certainly true of banded coral shrimp, there are ways to make even this innocuous reef inhabitant stand out in your portfolio. Often spotted by their thin, white antennae protruding out from a crevice, it is the unique texture of these arthropods that stands out when exposed with high-apertures and cross-lighting.

Dinner time! A common Banded Coral Shrimp feasting on bloodworms at night

9. Blennies: Redlips, Secretairy, Sailfin...too many to count! And while some of these are more coveted and revered as a 'must have' for photographers, it is a pretty safe bet that you will come into one blenny or another on any given Caribbean dive. The key with each variation is to capture the quality that makes it unique- secretary's googly-eyes, the sailfin's fin, the redlips'...redlips. Spend quality time with each -sometimes even entire dives- to capture the blenny's personality.

Try capturing emerging blennies from the front to capture the emotion of the eyes, instead of a profile shot from the side


10. Flamingo Tongues: One of the great things about underwater photography is the ability for something to look infinitely more beautiful in a photograph than in real life (and most things are pretty amazing to begin with). One such subject is the under-appreciated flamingo tongue. The intricate patterns indelibly etched into this snail's shell -that's right, its not a slug or nudibranch as thought by many- make stunning abstracts. Experiment with lighting and composition to set the mood of your shot and you may be surprised at the results!

They say eyes add drama; but in this case it makes a unique backdrop to a relatively common subject (fingerprint flamingo tongue)


This is by no means an attempt to trade those tickets to Komodo, or Galapagos, or any other corner-of-the-world destination for somewhere in the Caribbean; but maybe next time you find yourself on your 100th dive in the same Caribbean dive spot, maybe you will remember to appreciate some of the lower-profile subjects you once treasured when starting to dive.

For those of you who may think this art of “making something out of nothing,” is no more than a way to keep bide your time until a big trip to a remote destination, take a look at some of the winners of this year's Our World Underwater Photo Contest. Out of thousands of entries from every inch of the world's dive-able waters, it is creativity with common subjects -fireworms, toothy morays, parrotfish abstracts, garden eels, bokeh-ed/backlit blennies- that  make the judges say "wow," and are suprisingly rewarding as a photographer; but frankly, shooting crocodiles and sharks ain't so bad either...



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