The Art of the Black Background

Its about time for me to write a new newsletter, I try to write them 4 times per year but sometimes I am not that consistent!  If you have never received my newsletter, one of the things that I always put in there is a short “UW Photography Tip”, for example, the following is the photo tip from my November 2012 newsletter about black backgrounds.  If you don’t receive my newsletter, please sign up here on any of my web pages and you will automatically receive it.  Its a great way to keep updated with news, new trips, last minute trips, and of course photo tips!

Anthias with parasitic copepods

One of the most effective macro photography techniques is the use of a black background to make that special critter shine!  A lot of folks believe that a black background can only be achieved by Photoshop manipulation, however, this is far from the truth.  The art of the black background is quite easy actually, and it comes down to just a few simple steps.  First, the subject must be perched upon something that allows the camera to get under it and shoot up; seagrass, a rock, a sponge or a bit of coral or in the water column itself (like the anthias photo above).   A second key ingredient is the depth and available ambient light: the ambient light needs to be relatively low and the photographer should be relatively deep in order to avoid the bright surface water.  Trying to shoot up into bright sun in shallow water will not work as the sunlight will give too bright of a background.  Next, the camera should be on f-11 or higher and set on the highest shutter speed that it can successfully synchronize with. Try using these tips and black backgrounds should be a breeze!  Don’t get frustrated if it doesn’t work at first, simply pull back, think about what went wrong, make a few adjustments and try again!

Lizardfish Pair

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    Coral Gardens, Menjangan, Bali

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Menjangan Island, Bali

Have you ever been to Menjangan island in Bali? Often overlooked due to the popularity of Tulamben on the NE coast (home to the Liberty Wreck) Menjangan is a small island on the NW of Bali that features some wonderful wide angle diving opportunities such as soft coral covered slopes and fantastic hard coral gardens. There are also some interesting surface interval activities such as photographing the huge Ganesha statue or hiking up to the coral temple where locals often come for ceremonies. If wildlife is more your concern, Menjangan is known for hosting a population of wild deer which can be seen with a short walk around the island. When diving here we like to stay in the Pemuteran area, which is also close to the famous muck dive Puri Jati, so divers get a great combination of large and small while diving in north Bali.
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Mt Rinjani

I had the chance to trek to the top of Mt Rinjani back in July in what proved to be a heck of a lot harder climb than I expected! The peak is at 3700+ metres (just over 12,000 ft) and takes quite some time to climb. We started on day one with about 8 hours worth of steep uphill walking until reaching the “base camp” where we pitched tents for the night in what I would describe as pretty damn cold conditions! (I am now a tropical resident as opposed to living in Canada so temperatures of less than 10C at night are damn cold!) We were going to head up to the summit at 2am but the person who was leading our tour decided that a 630am departure would be better, so that is what we did. We reached the summit after 3-4 hours of walking up quite steep and narrow slopes. The “scree slope” (loose volcanic sand) was quite loose and it seemed like you would drop back 1 foot for every 2 feet gained, very hard going in the conditions. The “lowered oxygen” was actually a lot more noticeable than I would have thought and I was definitely suffering a little bit that is for sure, keeping an eye out on everyone from the rear! Our group consisted of a bunch of folks who are from the highlands of Austria and Switzerland and assorted other mountain goats, so it didn’t seem to affect them nearly as much as it did me (although it may have had something to do with being old and not in the best of shape?!?) However, we did make it to the top of the summit and it was an amazing feat! We spent about 20 minutes or so taking photographs and discussing it while we were up there, the view from the top was fantastic as well. One of the photos below shows the crater lake that is at the bottom of the crater and the new volcano that is growing out of it. After the summit it was a jaunt back down the hill to base camp for lunch and then about a 2 hour climb down the very steep face of the crater to the lake where we set up camp for night number 2, and hung out in much warmer conditions and had a great dip in the fresh water hot springs! The hot springs are a great way to loosen up the tight muscles. The next day was a killer climb back up the crater and then a long 4 – 5 hour walk down the hill to the base of the mountain to a small cafe for some much needed beer! If you are in Indonesia for any amount of time then I would say this really is a fantastic 3 days out, but be warned, you need to be in shape and the “safety” of some of the climbs can be a bit dodgy with narrow trails and no guardrails whatsoever. Here are some photos of the trip:
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Sharing Your Photos

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I love this photo, the lady on the left of the photo is Melissa, she was taking photos of these ladies who we met on the island of Lombok back in July. Melissa asked the group of ladies if she could take their photo and she was quickly given permission. The ladies did their best “serious” pose and Melissa took a few snaps. However, I think that the best expressions were from this “behind the scenes” shot that I captured of Melissa showing the photos that she took, the expression on the lady with the basket on her head is classic. Note to all: if you are traveling around Indonesia and would like to take pictures of the people that you meet please ask permission first (just point to the camera and say “photo?” if there is a language problem) as some people don’t like having their photo taken. The best reaction you will get is to “share” your photo with your subject afterward by showing them the photo, everyone loves the results!

Frogfish Portrait

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Back to the underwater images for a moment, I led a group of divers to Komodo on the luxurious Dive Damai Dua back in June and we had a great trip with perfect weather. I would say the favourite dive for most of the folks during the week occurred on day 2! This dive was of course the iconic Cannibal Rock located in Nusa Kode (Horseshoe Bay) at the southern end of Rinca Island. We did the dive twice (or was it 3 times?) and everyone had a great time shooting things from schooling fish to ladybug amphipods to any one of 4 different frogfish that we could find. Here is a portrait of this giant bluish-grey individual. I would like to thank the Kilgours and friends for joining me on this trip and of course the crew of the Dive Damai Dua.

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The Smiles of Indonesia

One thing that every visitor seems to notice right away when traveling around Indonesia is the friendly faces and quick smiles that are so prevalent among Indonesians. Recently, I have traveled to several different areas of Indonesia and of course found that the kids in far flung villages are always so happy to see tourists visiting their homes. Although seemingly shyer than most kids I have encountered in other areas of Indonesia, these kids in a village outside of Biak in Papua province eventually warmed up to the camera and loved to pose in groups for a few fun photos.

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