The kaleidoscopic patterns of nudibranchs is the obvious reason why underwater photographers favour them. Shooting nudibranchs can be challenging even though they don’t move and don’t hide when we get closer to them. Here are some tricks to photograph a nudibranch and to get a little bit creative!
1. How to find them
With more than 3.000 species found worldwide in almost any marine habitat, it can be tricky to find them despite their dazzling colours. Locating their food source is often a good place to start! Most of the species are very particular when it comes to food, and will only feed on one or a few specific food sources such as sponges, fish eggs or even other nudibranchs. So, if you are looking for a particular type of nudibranch, research what it eats or the type of environment where it is likely to be found.
2. What equipment to use?
Photographing nudibranch obviously falls into the macro category, so you should bring everything you normally use for this kind of photography.
- Lens: a 60mm lens might be considered optional, but it could be a useful tool in combination with a teleconverter. Bringing a 100 or a 105 mm macro lens is a must, and you should also consider bringing several different dioptres.
- Light: You will also find yourself in need of a good focus light. A LED light that produces around 500 lumens or more and has a wide, uniform beam without any hotspots is ideal. Macro strobes and a suitable focus light to ensure optimal working conditions for your camera.
- A lot of patience and a keen eye.
3. Use manual focus
Work carefully and methodically and after a while you will be able to get the focus exactly where you want it. Try shifting to manual focus and moving the housing back or forth to achieve the correct focus. Auto focus tends to miss the target slightly when working with really small stuff, and you might not notice just by looking at the camera display. Try to enlarge the picture to get a better idea, or just do it manually and you will get better results once you get the hang of it.
4. How to be Creative
Nudibranch photos are all about showing off the subject’s natural beauty. Simple compositions, sympathetic lighting and non-distracting backgrounds are your goals.
You can really make your nudibranch photo different by incorporating some behavior. Fortunately, nudibranch are usually up to something. Mating, feeding, laying eggs and you may even find shrimps hitching a ride!
Different lens, different effect:
- Macro: a 60mm lens is perfect for hunting random nudibranch.
- Super macro: A wider macro lens – such as a 100 mm – enable you to create a “filling the frame”.
- Wide angle macro: For larger nudibranchs, using a wide angle lens allows you to create different compositions and can be really fun to do.
- Try to create different compositions or use a variety of ƒ-stops on the same subject to get a feel for what can be done to create something a little different.
Dramatise your photo
- Strobe angle and power are always the best choice for creating drama in an image.
- Snoots eliminate the immediate surroundings in your image.
Take the right angle
- Low angle generally give you eye contact and does away with much of the background clutter at the same time. Waiting for the nudibranch to crawl up onto something allows you to compose it against either an open-water black background, distant colourful reef or the sun ball.
- Go for a uniform background that let the nudibranch shine in its own right; a sponge for example. If the background is cluttered and full of objects and different colors, your subject will not stand out and make a lasting impression on the viewer.
- Another option is to go for a classical, black background, which is easy to achieve once you find a nudibranch that sits on something that sticks up from the bottom. Get below the nudibranch, shoot at an upwards angle and use the water as background. Using both a high f-stop and fast shutter speed will give you silky-smooth blackness as a backdrop for a brilliantly coloured nudibranch.
- Keep in mind that aesthetically you want to get the attention of the viewer to enter the frame and stay within the frame. Note that subconsciously the viewer’s eye will enter a picture from the bottom left hand corner of the picture and move up to the right. If the primary subject is oriented so that it is coming into the frame from right to left, the viewer’s eye will turn back toward the left following the direction of the subject, staying inside the frame. If there are multiple subjects in the frame, the eye will often bounce back and forth between the subjects, extending the viewer’s attention inside the frame.
- The filling the frame technique is great to create an impressive appearance of these tiny nudibranchs. It will also bring attention to the colours of your model.
- It is always best to have the eyes and the rhinophores (head tentacles) in focus. Nudibranchs do actually have eyes, and while visible in some species, they are invisible in others. They are located to the front of the animal, slightly below and ahead of the rhinophores.
Be warned: Nudibranch photography is highly addictive 😉 Once you begin, the quest for tiny treasures can easily take over your diving.