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Mastering Macro Underwater

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Mastering Macro Underwater


Generally, anything small enough to fit within a 5-by-7-inch area is considered macro. Lots of subjects fall into this category - fish, crustaceans, abstract details and more. Photographing subjects this small requires getting close and using special macro lenses.

Using a Panasonic GH3 and Olympus 60mm macro lens, Jim Decker was able to get close to this tiny blenny. With manual settings of ISO 200, f/22, 1/160, he was able to retain detail in this image.


Macro subjects often work best with tight framing and the elimination of distracting details. As in most types of underwater photography, if you think you're close enough, it pays to get even closer. When you're reviewing your images, it's often the tightest ones that stand out.


The flip side of moving in on your subject is that your depth of field (the zone that is in focus) shrinks rapidly the closer you get. To combat this, you will need to stop down the aperture. This means using higher F-stop numbers. Typically with macro photography, you will need to use at least f/11 to maintain reasonable depth of field. Conversely, extremely shallow depth of field can also be used as a creative technique that helps you separate your subject by focus.

These anglerfish are some of the most interesting sea animals. Using a GoPro, Macro​mate Mini and video lights, this froggie was captured in photo mode with a colorful, non-distracting background.

Watch Those Backgrounds

The key to a successful macro image is an interesting subject that is well exposed and very sharp, positioned on an interesting background. Oftentimes it's easier to find a good backdrop and wait for a subject to arrive. If you can't find one, you can create negative space behind your subject by getting your camera lower and shooting upward. This helps separate the subject by creating a negative space behind it.

Nudibranchs are some of the smallest of the ocean critters. This image was taken with a GoPro Hero3 Black Edition, Macro​mate Mini and Light & Motion GoBe 700 lights.


A longer focal length lens, such as the Nikon 105mm VR or the Canon 100mm IS, allows greater working distance from the subject, which is why these lenses are so popular for taking portraits of small, skittish creatures. Accessory lenses that either screw on or flip down over your housing's macro port while you're underwater allow you to get even closer to your subject, increasing the magnification of it in your frame. The Macro​mate Mini is this type of accessory macro lens for underwater GoPro shooters, getting you 3 inches away from your very small subjects for razor sharp focus. Whether point and shoot, mirrorless or dSLR, bringing the tiny wonders of the ocean to the big screen is possible for any level of underwater photographer.

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