Nikon D810, Nikon 105 Micro VR, 2.8, Nauticam SMC
Sea and Sea MDX D810, 2 x Subtronic Nova,
1/320, f.18, ISO 100
It’s a fairly common species in all Indo-Pacific, and can produce eye-catching images, if shot right. To get this kind of results, you need to set it all up in advance. This is how I do it with my set up: Once I spot the eel dancing, head out of its hole, I move away a bit. If you have your strobes (and viewfinder) set for landscape, adjust it all for portrait.
- Set up the lens focusing distance to its maximum. That can be done on two ways: First, with the fairly useless focusing ring, adapted to your lens, if you like spending money. I just use the AF-Lock button, to focus, with my thumb (as you always should), instead of pressing the shooting button half way. I let the auto-focus “hunt”, releasing when it reaches the furthest end.
- You need to know, from experience, the depth of field your wet diopter will give you at any given aperture. That only comes with experience, as there is no chart, as far as I know, that can predict it correctly. Go to a swimming pool and shoot a measuring tape! (I did it.) Write the results and memorise them, as you see realise how many millimetres stay sharp, on your computer screen. I only wanted the eyes sharp, so f.18 was the one to go for. ( I can hardly get any depth of field at all below f.14.)
- Speed is not so important here. I just went for the maximum I could synchronise the strobes – the undesirable sunlight wouldn’t be noticeable above 1/125, I guess, but it doesn’t hurt to be extra sure.
- As for strobes, TTL is unusable, as the time wasted between pre-flash and flash is enough to miss the moment. Shoot manual! So, once you have your focusing distance set, approach a rock, or something, until you get it sharp, and adjust strobe power accordingly. It’s mandatory to have the axis of their circle of light on the same horizontal line as your lens. It’s a frontal shot so, if light comes from top or bottom, it will look weird. Also, as we search for symmetry, their distance from the lens must be exactly the same. You can tilt them slightly inward, if you like but, as the Subtronics have a very wide beam, I just pointed them forward.
- Forget focusing lights. The diopter glass needs to be less than 10 cm from the eel. It’s hard enough not to spook it, even without them. The idea is to approach the eel slowly. Their frantic head movement usually draws a pattern. Understand it and place the camera where you know it will pass in front of in on the desired angle. As you see it on the frame and roughly focused, just shoot. Speed is crucial. Then it’s trial and error, many will be scared and hide, some will give you a few chances, which, again, are are very easy to miss.
Just play the game with patience, don’t be greedy and you will rewarded with the perfect front shot.