The famous resort of Wakatobi in South East Sulawesi, Indonesia, probably needs no introduction for many readers. Veteran pioneer Australian Underwater Photographer Kevin Deacon decided to forgo all other genres of underwater photography during his most recent tour to concentrate on capturing the simple beauty of Wakatobi Indo Pacific coral reefs. A task not as simple as it might seem but the resulting images illustrate the value in the age old rule, one dive, one aim!
`The word Photography, translated from ancient Greek, broadly means, `Painting With Light’. However the photographer who can truly capture the light, is the true `Master of the Light’. (Quote by: Kevin Deacon)[caption id="attachment_2516" align="aligncenter" width="625"] Early morning shafts of sunlight bathe a coral head with light producing a surreal image of corals in the sunlight. It’s an illusion of course, the coral head is lit with strobes but the challenge of the photographer is to produce the perfect illusion so that the viewer perceives the image just as it was actually seen by the photographer but only captured with perfect balance of sunlight and strobes.[/caption]
TO TAKE AN IMAGE OR TO MAKE AN IMAGE?
I am often asked during my underwater photography workshops, `do you go into the water to capture whatever turns up or do you go after a picture you have created in your mind?
Well the answer is yes to both but not simultaneously. Some dives are certainly photographically opportunistic but my favourite dives are goal oriented.
The real challenge is not to take a picture, rather the challenge is to create one![caption id="attachment_2515" align="aligncenter" width="625"] Many photographers would swim past the undersides of table corals, never thinking about the potential for a coral reef undersea seascape, yet intense strobe lighting combined with powerful rays of sunlight can produce and amazing image, but yet again, only when those fish give life to the image![/caption]
Leading a group of keen divers and photographers to the wonderful resort of Wakatobi, remotely situated in South East Sulawesi, Indonesia, provided a splendid opportunity to create a portfolio of classic coral reef scenes.
Located in the Coral Triangle, the centre of the marine world’s greatest bio diversity of coral and marine life species and with unparallel support from the resort team and facilities, Wakatobi is a perfect underwater photography studio. And believe me, considering the idyllic location and accommodation, the wonderful hospitality, the range of dive sites, dive boat facilities and all round diver support, one will not suffer for their art here![caption id="attachment_2514" align="aligncenter" width="625"] The shallow reef flats in 1 or 2 meters are a great place to start looking for the perfect coral reef scene, an environment often overlooked by photographers focused on the depths.[/caption]
REEF HUNTING AND SHOOTING
Creating such images comes with some great challenges. Cruising a coral reef leaves one with an impression of living beauty with myriads of tropical fish darting about the pastel shades of hard coral sculptures and the saturated colours of soft corals and gorgonians. However, attempting to capture this in one single image can often leave the photographer with an image that resembles a plate of fruit salad rather than an image that reflects what the mind remembers!
So, the photographer must be prepared to swim many leagues of coral reef looking for the occasional scene where nature's landscape gardening has reached such level of perfection all within the scope of a single frame.[caption id="attachment_2519" align="aligncenter" width="625"] Deep sea gorgonian corals revealed against shafts of early morning light provide a sense of the ocean depths, a different mood that occasionally justifies ignoring the shallows.[/caption]
That is just the start of the process, bright, cloudless sunlight is needed to illuminate the scene, smooth water surface will also provide rich blue backgrounds and perfectly formed shafts of light. All of this is just the beginning! To complete the image, someone needs to cue the fish! If at least some are not schooling somewhere in the image, the result will still be beautiful but lifeless. Of course, you can’t cue the fish but if you invest some time with everything else framed, you just have to be ready to trip the shutter when fish appear. Unfortunately that will only be for 1/250th of a second so you need to be accomplished with your dive and camera skills![caption id="attachment_2520" align="aligncenter" width="625"] There are times when you must break the rules, twin strobes aimed from directly beneath the camera reveal saturated coral colors and detail contrasting beautifully with the big blue above. Incredible to think that such beauty is just 2 meters below the surface.[/caption]
SEEING THE IMAGE
Knowing where to look is an important element. I find often the best scenes are in very shallow water, never more than 10 meters deep and frequently found at one or two meters on the reef shoulders, just at the drop off. This is a zone often frequented by lots of schooling fish, anemones, clown fish and fast growing Acropora & soft corals.[caption id="attachment_2512" align="aligncenter" width="625"] Anemones and their resident anemone fish are perfect subjects often found on the shallow reef drop offs, they provide a good focal point for creating a reef scene image.[/caption]
While cruising this area the creative mind must be fully engaged looking for the right coral reef elements. By its very nature coral reefs and their inhabitants are designed to create confusion to the eye, all part of nature's survival strategy.[caption id="attachment_2517" align="aligncenter" width="625"] Strobes positioned perfectly horizontal to the camera lens provide even light above and below the plate coral revealing life otherwise concealed. Shafts of sunlight reveal the effect of nature's life giving energy for corals.[/caption]
MASTERING THE LIGHT
Successful wide angle scenic reef photography depends on mastering all the light sources, including the natural sunlight and your dual strobes. Shooting in the direction of the sunlight can produce rich blue backgrounds, shooting against the direction of sunlight produces a curtain of light, very creative as long as you don’t include the full force of the sun on the water’s surface.[gallery ids="2513,2518"]
Much more thought needs to be given to the use of your strobes. Ideally you will have extra long or telescopic strobe arms like I do. This dramatically reduces backscatter in wide angle scenes, allows strobes to be placed in far better lighting positions and makes it possible to position strobes closer to subjects each side of the wide angle panorama view you are creating.
I often find an ideal position for my strobes is well out and well down from the level of my camera as this pumps light into the undersides of coral reefs revealing saturated soft coral colours and occasional marinelife hidden in the shadows. This dual strobe position is an exact opposite to how I would normally shoot but after all, the bright sunlight is taking care of the above portion of the image.
I cruised the pristine reefs of Wakatobi twice a day for 10 days. This gave me the best opportunities with early morning and mid morning light. After 20 dives and many images recorded, I have produced a portfolio that I believe is faithful to the genre of "Beautiful Reefs". I hope you enjoy these images and the information here helps you on your way as a `Master of the Light’.[caption id="attachment_2521" align="aligncenter" width="625"] Blue waters swirl above and a hint of clouds in a blue sky prevail. May my twin Seacam strobes produce enough light to paint my palate with oranges and lavender! Please god of nature, send me 5 triggerfish to bring life to my final "Celebrations of Coral Reefs" image.[/caption]
Kevin Deacon is one of the pioneers of underwater photography in Australia. His images have been published worldwide in prestigious books, magazines and advertising media. Kevin and Cherie Deacon along with their team of scuba and photo instructors, dive masters and tour guides operate Dive 2000 in Sydney, Australia’s most experienced dive, travel and underwater photographic equipment centre. www.dive2000.com.au
Dive 2000 is also the Australian Importer and Distributor for Seacam Housings and most Underwater Photography equipment.