Martin Edge explains how a failed attempt at a whaleshark workshop ended up being a masterclass in shallow-water macro.
A failed whaleshark workshop ends up presenting some mega macro opportunities in Djibouti
Last year, I had the pleasure of escorting a group of enthusiastic underwater photographers for a six-day ‘full-on’ photo workshop to photograph whalesharks, which regularly visit the straits of Djibouti situated on the Horn of Africa. It was my second group-visit in 12 months to this relatively unknown country. The draw, without doubt, being the virtually guaranteed whaleshark sightings between the months of October and February each year. Unfortunately, it was not to be this second time around. While only a few day boats were busy in the straits with individual clients, Sylvia, myself and the rest of the group were scanning the waters for a sighting but it just wasn’t to be! Cut to the chase, I turned the ‘Whale Shark Workshop’ into a ‘Dappled Light and Macro Master-class’ and while we all continued to scour the oceans enthusiastically during the day, we came to a consensus that between the hours of 5am-7am and again between 4pm-6pm we would visit (which turned out to be) some excellent reef-scapes. In preparation for this trip, I had packed an assortment of wide-angle lenses and it was almost an after- thought to include in my kit bag a couple of macro lenses, specifically a Nikon 60mm and a 105mm macro lens as I had never considered Djibouti as a macro destination. No more than a ten-minute boat ride was a shallow macro photo-dive site, teeming with close-up opportunities. So popular and productive was this particular site that we abandoned our original dive package in favour of one very long (120 minutes plus) both morning and afternoon in a maximum of 5m-10m deep. There were all manner of macro subjects, but what caught my eye were the blennies and gobies. My first serious attempts to shoot these were using a Nikon 60mm macro lens, though I considered that the working distance of this lens would be enough to allow me close enough to get a decent composition without spooking them, but I was so wrong with this assumption. Now, I’m a very big fan of the 60mm macro and I use it first and foremost whenever I can because I find it a tad easier and faster to focus than its big brother, the 105mm macro. I must have encountered at least 20 over a period of ten minutes, none of which would allow me close enough to get a decent head shot. The following afternoon I broke out my ‘little used’ Nikon 105mm macro and set off in search of a little more success. It’s pertinent to mention that I like to keep my Nauticam camera rig as slim, lightweight and ergonomic as I possibly can so on this macro site, I stripped it down and used two short 20cm ‘Stix’ flash arms. I was rewarded! The extra 10cm or more working distance of my 105mm macro lens allowed me to ‘shimmy’ on my side along the sand with my camera in a vertical orientation and pick off one particular sabretooth blenny. The left side of my cheek was so low that it was in contact with the sand and it’s this low profile that allowed me to get eye-level composition and separate the immediate background behind the subject. My Nikon D7200 continuous 3D focus mode did a good job of tracking their movement. I was close enough to them to use a small aperture of f22 (large depth of field) which helped achieve sharp focus from front to back. As always when having a productive session such as this, I backed off to review my LCD screen to ensure that I had achieved a shot which pleased me.
Nikon D7200 in a Nauticam housing, twin Inon 220 flashguns on short ‘stix’ flash arms positioned above and to each side of my housing, pointing out as if to ‘wrap’ the light around the subject. Nikon 105mm macro lens. F22 at 1/320th second, ISO 200, auto white balance. Continuous 3D focus mode.