Shooting Skeleton Shrimps

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Skeletons have a very short lifespan. In Amed, you need a few days with really calm sea, and you’ll have them holding to their hydroids – usually a thin kind of Leptothecata. They can be seen starting at -12m, where the wave and tidal influence is not noticeable, but most stay at -27m, on a flat, sandy bottom. They live in communities, frantically fighting, procreating and moving for around one week, and then they’ll be dead and gone.

Some advices for making doable the nerve wrecking task of shooting skeleton shrimps on a Dslr camera.

– Plan your dive in advance, if you know where they are (under 1/2 hour bottom time, on air, is not much, if you plan to stay at -27m). Set your strobes and viewfinder to portrait position before diving.

-Skeletons face the current as they feed on little particles brought by. This means you will be on the side of the current, bringing backscatter into your own shot. Allow yourself some time to stay still and dissipate it. That also applies to any other movement, including strobe adjustments.

– Hover near the hydroid and observe it for a while  before picking your subject. Don’t waste time on the too active / too skittish / too small / bad positioned.

– Don’t try to move them – they are fragile and fast – once scared,  they will hide and won’t come back.

– Use your focusing light as you wish, or as your autofocus needs. – they are not light sensitive.

– I still prefer to prefocus, and wait for the surge to bring them in frame, and eventually making very minor adjustments with the camera, than solely rely on autofocus.

– Forget TTL, due to shutter lag: pre-adjust your flashes on an empty hydroid, and then move to the real shooting scenery.  Once you set your aperture, you really don’t need it. It’s just energy / time consuming.

It’s very easy, at depth, to become “mesmerised” or obsessed, ignoring your air supply or no-deco time, while chasing that shot that doesn’t seem to happen. Learn to accept that sometimes, it’s just not happening, regardless of the effort you put onto it. If you’re staying too long shooting the same skeleton and you still have no keepers, give yourself a chance to move and start again on a different one. Stop, for a while, look at yourself and think about what you’re doing wrong.

This kind of shooting is mostly a game of discipline. Though it can also be fun, once you master it.


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