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Dive Photo Guide


Triton Bay Backlit Soft Coral
 February 10, 2010 @ 02:14 PM (EST)

By Jason Heller

The Idea

So many images look alike these days. Separating yourself from all of the other talented underwater photographers can be challenging, but doing so should be a driving force for all of us. One of the best pieces of advice ever given to me is from one of my mentors and role models, David Doubilet. He advised me to create images that nobody has seen before, or to create images of subjects that people see all the time, but in a unique way. Those words go through my head on every dive.
backlit soft coral silhouette diver triton bay underwater photograph
Location: Triton Bay, Indonesia. Equipment: Nikon D3x with a SEA&SEA MDX housing, 2x SEA&SEA YS-250 Strobes, 1x YS-120 Strobe, 1x YS-110 Strobe off camera. Settings: ISO 200, 1/250, f/14
This last year I have spent a lot of time shooting photography outside of the water, where I have wireless control over my lighting and can place lights anywhere I need them to be. We are a little more limited underwater…for the most part, but not totally. I have been committed to experimenting with my lighting - backlighting, side-lighting and multi-source lighting are all techniques I have tried.

So while in Triton Bay, one of the most prolific areas I have dived to date, I spent a few days lugging an extra strobe with an optical slave to try and find the perfect soft coral to backlight. My goal was to balance the light to the point where the coral looked like it was glowing from the inside, but not so overpowered that it looked too unrealistic.

Additionally, I wanted the glowing coral to be part of a multi-element image, not the sole subject. My concept required a nice sunny day where I could include a sun ball to balance the image, and I envisioned a diver silhouette for the human element.

The Shot

I experimented for three days until I started to understand the size and density of the coral required to glow properly. I just needed to find the perfect stalk of coral. In the end I created a series of glowing soft coral images, each with its own vibe. However, finding the perfect stalk of coral situated in a way that I could incorporate the sun, and also still had my dive guide’s willingness to model for me, proved difficult.

On the last day of my trip I found it, and the morning ambient light was magical. When I first shot the coral, my model was nowhere to be found. So I shot some “safety shots”, just in case I couldn’t find my model, or find the coral again, or if the perfect lighting conditions changed.
backlit soft coral triton bay

I swam like a mad man to find my model, returned to the location and created the image. The ambient light and sun angle had changed slightly, but it was still magical.
I shot the image with three strobes attached to my rig, and one slaved strobe behind the coral for the backlight. My middle strobe is always at a lower power level with a homemade dome diffuser and acts as a fill light. My two primary strobes are SEA&SEA YS-250’s and they were set to about ¼ to ½ power and used to create lighting and texture around the branches of the coral.

The water was shallow, so there was a lot of sunlight. To create foreground/background contrast and to capture the sun beams and maintain good water color, I shot at a fast shutter of 1/250. The corresponding aperture to achieve a rich and detailed foreground exposure, and to keep the middle ground fairly dark, creating contrast between the glowing coral and the background, was f/14.





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