Q: Backscatter is a fan of your macro videos! We love your technique of black backgrounds with amazing macro critters. How did you avoid lighting up distracting elements in the background?I love black backgrounds with macro shots! So I make a concerted effort to get them. Distracting backgrounds are just that...distracting. If something in the frame doesn't add to the overall image....then it hurts the image. I avoid this by lighting the subject in specific ways. Isolating the subject using light. However, you can't get black backgrounds all the time. Ambient light needs to be low, early morning, late afternoon, deep water, and night dives are the best ways to achieve this. Another thing that comes into play is the position of the subject. You need some open water space behind the subject. The more the better. I look for this when I am looking for subjects. This is the luck of the draw. Many times I see a critter that isn't positioned well that I just have to pass up. If there is something directly in back of it, you aren't getting a black background. I try not to waste time on subjects where the shot isn't there. Once you have the ambient light low, and a critter in a good spot, aiming of the lights is all you have left. I wish there was a silver bullet for a lighting position, but it really depends on the position of the subject, as well as background elements. The idea is to aim the light to just touch the subject. If the subject is in a bad position, I will sometimes use spot mode on my video lights to avoid lighting a distracting background. This can be tough to accomplish, especially with moving subjects. It takes practice and a lot of patience.
Q: Your subjects have great texture from the shadows created by expert lighting positions. What light position tips would you share with an inspiring underwater videographer?There is not one light position that works for all shots. When I first started, that was what I was looking for, but it just doesn't work that way. Practicing different lighting positions is what helped me. I’d recommend a new videographer to start out with a stable subject like a nudibranch, or Christmas tree worm and light each subject with at least three different angles. Reviewing these results will show how different positions and shadows look on your subjects. In general, start with your lights positioned about 6-12 inches higher than your camera lens and almost above your subject. Watch the edge of of your light and tilt your light heads until only your subject is illuminated. Watch the shadows change as you move your lights around. Also, certain subjects may require different lighting positions due to sensitivity. For example, a nudibranch for the most part can be lit in many different angles. However a Ghost Pipefish is traditionally shy and bothered by light and is best lit from above limiting the light to their eyes. Too much light especially with macro can be a problem. Make sure you don't overexpose the subject, which can be easy to do with macro subjects.
Q: Please let us know more about your gear. What makes up your primary camera system?My current setup is as follows:
- Camera - Canon 5d MarkII
- Underwater Housing - Ikelite Housing for Canon 5D MarkII
- Macro Lenses - Canon 100mm Macro f/2.8L, Canon 16-35mm f/4L
- Wide Angle Lenses - Canon 15mm f/2.8 fisheye, Canon 8-15mm f/4 fisheye
- Lighting - Light & Motion Sola 4000's, Light & Motion Sola 2100
Q: Capturing images like yours require an enormous amount of patience and knowledge of the subjects. What are your tips on safely approaching animals and setting yourself up for the best shot angle?First of all you have to find the subjects. And while I am getting better at this, I still rely heavily on local guides. They are amazing and rarely disappoint. Going with a dive operation that caters to photographers is also key. They know what photographers want and how they like to dive. They help find the shots you are looking for. They understand when you stay with a subject for the entire dive, while a regular dive operation you may feel pressured to keep up with a group. Once a subject is located, I stop and assess the situation. Often times my wife, Tyra, is photographing the subject, so I get to really think about how I am going to setup for the shot. At this point, I adjust my tripod legs and lights to the approximate position they need to be. This allows minimal adjustments to minimize the sounds and movements that might scare the subjects once I set the rig down. I also, sometimes shine the light on the subject before I put the tripod down just so the subject gets used to the light. Once down, always try to focus on the eyes. This is what the viewer looks at. And with a DSLR in particular, the shallow depth of field is extremely difficult. Out of focus eyes are a huge turn off for the viewer. One other thing of note. When shooting macro and using a tripod, it is good to go to places that the environment supports it. You don’t want to destroy coral by setting your tripod on it. Places like Lembeh, Anilao, Bali, Milne Bay PNG, are all places that have sand, rubble, muck type of environments which is perfect for macro shooting with a tripod.
Q: All of your images are rock solid. What tips do you have for selecting and using a tripod system?A good tripod is certainly a must for good macro work. You want a tripod base that is wide. This will give you stability in high current. It is also nice out of the water as a nice base to stabilize your housing on a boat or camera table. I also use the tripod for wide angle for static shots as well as using the legs for a wide handle to help with stability while hand holding. I use the Xit 404 Tripod Plate for Ikelite as well as the Xit 404 Tripod Leg. The twist clamp legs save so much time, and allow for quick and easy adjustments. While a tripod is important so are other factors that you might not think of. Once you have your camera in place, and have hit record, back your face away from the back of the housing. Your exhales can shake the housing, and have minor shaking in your footage. Also, I have found arms such as ULCS Ultralight arms to be better than Flexarm or Locline arms. don't shake the housing as much as a locline style of arm in current.
ABOUT DUSTIN ADAMSON:
To learn more about Dustin, please see facebook.com/oceanshutter and oceanshutter.com.