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Shooting Behavior: how do you do it?

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#1 echeng


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Posted 05 August 2007 - 10:05 PM

Hello, Wetpixel readers. We're working on an upcoming IMAGES column for Sport Diver magazine about how to shoot behavior in underwater imagery. Do you have a favorite tip or two you'd like to share? We'll be pulling from your quotes for the sidebar of the article.

Also, if you have any images that illustrate a specific point, please post them here! Deadline is August 14.
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#2 uw_nikon


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Posted 05 August 2007 - 11:21 PM

Research your subject's behavior.
-why do they do the behavior
-when do they do it (time or a reaction to stimulus)
-how do you (the photographer/diver) affect your subject's behavior and how can you minimize that
-what behavior do you want to capture

While shooting
-watch for a pattern of behavior (i.e., a small fish hopping from perch to perch; a fish tending its eggs/nest (fanning, cleaning, chasing away threats), etc.)
-what's causing the pattern
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#3 cor


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Posted 06 August 2007 - 02:13 AM

Like Chris says, research is very important. But when the moment is there you have to be able to capture it.

You have to be willing to spend a whole dive, or multiple dives, on one subject.

You have to be ready to take a shot at a moments notice. This can mean having to look at a subject through your viewfinder for a long time.

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Synchiropus moyeri flashing the female before mating
image by Julie Edwards

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#4 Giles


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Posted 06 August 2007 - 06:12 AM

I think the favourite bit of advice I ever had came in two pieces.

"Watch all the videos and read the manuals and then go and take a few rolls of photos, you'll be fine"
.... a few years later .....
"Remember all the rules you learnt, you have to learn to break them sometimes"
I couldn't tell you who said them, but i have used them a few times in teaching.

Capturing Behaviour for me was more of an equipment progression than a knowledge thing.
I had been diving the same waters and same sites for years, and although thanks to others I keep learning more and more about all kinds of subjects I knew how most of the common ones behaved already, my point and shoot just didn't have the combined reflex talent as my trigger finger so inevitably I would get the 'tail' end of the action !

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#5 BotSO


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Posted 06 August 2007 - 06:48 AM

I took Stephen Frink's Digitial Immersion class in Key Largo last month and learned a valuable lesson about shooting behavioral shots:

Pay attention to the animal's behavior BEFORE you attempt the shot.

After I wasted ~10 frames trying to get a good shot, I realized if I backed off a little bit, The Queen Angel captured below was actually a great model. S/he would chomp a bit on some coral and then stop and stare at me, chomp a bit more, stop and stare... and so on. By giving the animal time to work, I was able to rattle off about 20 decent images over a five minute period.

A little more depth of field and I'd be 100% pleased with the image...


#6 rtrski


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Posted 06 August 2007 - 09:50 AM

If you plan to set a video housing down in the sand and leave for several minutes, in order to film some shy mantis shrimp out of their holes, be sure to leave a slate tied to it that says "LEAVE ME ALONE".

On my last trip to the Flower Gardens one of the DM's put his video housing down for just this purpose and some of the divers came up with it saying "wow! look what we found...looks like someone dropped it!" He had many minutes of nothing, and a few seconds of a shrimp just peeping out before the point of view started jostling all over the place as the rig was 'rescued'. :ninja:

Edited by rtrski, 06 August 2007 - 09:53 AM.

Current rig: Sony SLT-alpha55 in Ikelite housing, Sigma 105mm f2.8 DC Macro w/ Ike 5505.58 flat port or Sigma 8-16mm f/4.5-5.6 DC HSM behind UWCamStuff custom 5" mini-dome. Dual INON z240 Type IVs triggered with DS51 for TTL mimicry, or DS51 alone with home-made ringflash assy for macro.


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#7 crcdiver



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Posted 08 August 2007 - 12:23 PM

When you are looking for a yellowhead jawfish with eggs, stay low and look out about 10-15' ahead of yourself. When you see one stop and look at the throat for two black spots with two stripes below (sometimes just the stripes).

Posted Image

Edited by crcdiver, 08 August 2007 - 12:26 PM.

#8 Deep6


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Posted 08 August 2007 - 01:18 PM

I learned several things from reef Fish Behavior book. I think that is close to the real title. Animals with eyes in the front (like us) are predators. Body position and type of mouth are also important. If you have an animal approaching you with eyes in the front and a largish mouth, it is likely to eat you.

I try to approach my potential subject slowly and with my side (as if I am just cruising by). I have tried this method on several turtles in the Caribbean and in the Pacific with good result. Previously, head on approaches would drive the subject away.

Carpe carp - Seize the carp

#9 DeanB


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Posted 09 August 2007 - 08:57 AM

One piece of advice as a filmmaker I will always remember and act on:

"Immerse yourself in your subject, live its life, don't just drop in on the occasional visit". "Gain its trust and it will trust you within its world"...

A fantastic and very true piece of information...

Dive safe

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#10 TheRealDrew


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Posted 09 August 2007 - 10:03 AM

- Try to control your breathing so that it remains consistent. The sound or bubbles produced by a sudden larger exhale or inhale will scare subjects, though you can often get them to come back by slowing down. Some animals become skittiish on the exhales, so longer inhales can bring them back in enough to get a shot before you have to exhale. For Angel Fish some longer exhales and bubbles will often act as an invitation for them to play in the bubbles.

- Pay attention to where you are going so that you know how you would like to position yourself ahead of time. This helps for smoother (non-startling) approaches and let's you see how an animal is behaving at the time. As you are heading in also check the settings on your camera and strobe(s) to do as many adjustments as you can prior to reaching the subject. When making adjustments upon reaching the subject (such as repositioning strobes) do it slowly.

- Observe what the animal has set up as its "personal space". I have seen this often with Splendid Toadfish. A couple of inches closer or further from where it is hiding will bring it out or send it back to its hole. Back up a few inches and it will come out again.

#11 wagsy


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Posted 09 August 2007 - 04:34 PM

Sit in one spot for a very long time :)

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#12 seagrant


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Posted 13 August 2007 - 11:44 PM

Interesting behaviors are the main thing I look for in my underwater photographic subjects. The scene can be beautiful, even stunning........, but for me I always want to see some cool behavior represented that communicates to myself and others.

Yes, some photographers are better at capturing behavior than others. It is probably due to many reasons already listed here but the main thing I find in photographers who really capture unusual behaviors is they really really like their underwater subjects!! I mean really passionate affinity for the underwater world - enough to overcome many barriers just to go in the water repeatedly, again and again and observe.

Lots of people take pictures of them, but very few really capture the "spirit" of these docile creatures. Another point that shouldn't be taken lightly is I think the best behavior u/w photographers do their homework! A component of that "homework" is to ask and listen to the advice of people, especially local people who know in this case the manatee and the conditions most likely to be encountered. Here is a young manatee I encountered who seemed "overjoyed" with his great fortune to have this valuable scratching tree all to himself! He not only had it all to himself because the adults were doing their adult things in the next spring over; but also because this was a weekday during a non-busy time and good weather. I schedule myself to go at these times specifically to catch behavior like this.
Posted Image

Macro Examples:
Polkadot Batfish
Again many people dive where I photographed this cool batfish foraging for tasty bits, but few divers ever get this close and capture this luring and feeding behavior. I spent a long time at a distance from this batfish just getting him used to me and thankfully he got so used to me that he treated me as just another piece of sunken flotsam - ahhh, as it should be for a photographer. So there is a rare and succinct statement from me; to catch cool behaviors act like a piece of sunken flotsam - really put your heart into it....

Here is the polkadot batfish chomping on a tasty crustacean.
Posted Image

And here he is using his "lure" that is seldom deployed. I understand there is a chemical that is released in the lure that attracts his prey - small crustaceans, etc. Also interestingly enough the size of individual batfish "lures" varies greatly (but you might not want to quote me on that). If you don't believe me check out Ellen Mueller's photos of a different species - the shortnose batfish deploying his lure [link here to Ellen's pic: http://www.pbase.com.../image/45079768]. I'm not sure if the length of the lure is species specific - it may very well be but I also think it varies with individuals. Again another interesting tidbit that sets one up for capturing neat behaviors! Details matter!! :)

Polkadot batfish deploying lure:
Posted Image

OK, that's my take on it, Best Carol

Edited by seagrant, 14 August 2007 - 01:52 AM.

#13 ornate_wrasse



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Posted 14 August 2007 - 11:56 AM

I received this tip from a fellow diver on the boat after trying to get some shots of a juvenile spotted drum.

The spotted drum always swim in a figure eight pattern. If you have your camera in front of you waiting for the spotted drum to swim its pattern you will likely get a good shot. They typically find a sheltered area and can be found on the side of the rock that has little current. Get into position, wait patiently for it to make its move and you could end up being rewarded with a great shot.

That's my tip of the day.

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#14 yahsemtough


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Posted 14 August 2007 - 12:43 PM

Research, patience, time and luck.

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#15 CamDiver


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Posted 14 August 2007 - 10:49 PM

Hi All,
It depends on the animal in question I guess. I once spent almost seven months making a short film on Mandarin fish. I got all of their nightly behavior but it just took determination and time to sit there night after night to get the shots needed, the final piece was just 15 minutes in length, and long at that. For that project I hardly got any decent footage in the first month as the fish were incredibly skittish when I used the video lights (25w Osram Bulbs). It took a month of me repeatedly going back to the same coral head before they were comfortable enough with my presence to pretty much ignore me and get on with their business. When I started documenting their behavior I then noticed that so long as I stayed pretty still they would swim around me. If I tried moving around them they would take cover almost immediately. Hence the seven months for completion.

For other animals, larger beasts such as Sharks and Mantas of which I have dived with extensively over the past almost seven years of being based in Yap, Micronesia and Palau, all I can say is breathing and stealth.

Our interaction with them is normally at times when they are feeding or cleaning, and if very lucky during their mating season. When they are at cleaning stations their comfort zone should be respected at all times. If a manta approaches me at any given time I hold my ground and stay as low as I can get. I don't make any sudden or erratic moves, fluidity is the key. If they continue and fly directly over me I, against safe diving practice guidelines :) attempt to hold my breath. I do this to avoid the larger exhaust bubbles from hitting their bellies and scaring them. Seeing as I've deflated my BCD there is no danger from ascents due to full lungs etc. For those wishing to maintain an open airway, try breathing out through your nose. This will avoid large exhaust bubbles as your exhaled air will escape from the skirts of your mask.

Moving around a cleaning station is a sure fire way to scare the animals off. If you must move do so at times when the manta has its back to you. You will see by observing them at the station that they stick to a pretty standard flight path, for want of a better term. Move slowly, deliberately and low when they have their back to you and stop before they start any head on approaches again. Repeat until you are in your required position. It really bugs me to see camera wielding divers swimming like buggery after a manta trying to get their shots. It achieves nothing and really freaks the animal out.

If you are fortunate enough to witness multiple mantas during a mating season or feeding behavior just stay low, avoid blocking their flight paths and hope they are in the mood to 'perform' for you. In three years of diving almost everyday with mantas in Yap I have about 4 hours of multiple manta footage in clear water and about 1 minute accumulative footage from three attempted mating actions. Rare stuff.

I can only offer input based on the interaction with species here in Palau on a regular basis. Grey Reef, White Tip Reef, Black Tip Reef, Zebra and Nurse. The only thing I can say for free swimming species is to maintain a very slow approach at all times. Breathing is also key, spend a minute or two getting close to a patrolling Grey Reef Shark and then letting out a plume of bubbles once in position will normally result in the shark readjusting its flight path. I often mention to snappers here that the best approach is to use your exhalation as a way to gauge how close they want the sharks to be for any given image.

For any species who may, at times, be encountered laying on the channel bottoms or in sandy areas etc, it's all in the approach. Stay calm, breath slowly and low and move meticulously and deliberately.

Apart from that if you are given the opportunity to witness and document any particular behavior such as hunting, cleaning or mating then make sure to avoid crowding the animal. This could lead to the animal either having to interrupt its natural course of behavior or lead to you gaining another bodily orifice!! Not what the doctor ordered.

Like I said, this is from what I have seen and learned from interacting with sharks in Palau and Yap. For other species I'm sure there are other people out there diving with them sufficiently in order to supply the relevant information.


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- A Natural History Documentary -

#16 Steve Williams

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Posted 21 August 2007 - 09:35 PM

My first post on wetpixel, so take it for what it's worth. I've been diving since 68 and taking a camera down since 72. Consider me a prosumer. Taught some classes and sold a few images to hotels to hang in the lobby or restaurant. Dive because I love it, clearly never tried to make a living. Far from the level of expertise of the great folks here at this site. But almost 40 years of diving will teach you a few things. I believe great behavioral images come down to three pretty simple ideas. First, you must be very comfortable in the water. Thrashing around sounding like a wounded sea lion might get you one shot at that last of a lifetime Great White image but not much else. So OK you’re comfortable, next, you must at all costs avoid the hunting mind set. I remember when I first started trying to get my first great fish image, the reef would come alive after I ran out of film.
When I stopped "hunting" the vib or my Karma or the feeling I was projecting changed markedly. The creatures of the reef pick it up. Try this some time. Leave you housing on the boat and just go hang out, breath slow and watch the reef come alive. It is not easy to do consistently. I was hanging out off the outer reefs in Belize on one trip trying to call mantas who occasionally come in close enough for the wall divers to see them. I have a manta mantra I was trying that was half a hum and half a prayer to Neptune. After three days of this, a dark shape came out of the looming blue, level with me at 40' about 200' away. I got as excited as a new groom on his wedding night and headed down at full speed to get below my first manta. She didn't like that idea and took a down angle. You could write this in your logbook,” Never try to race a Manta to the bottom." She wasn't even trying and I was going for all I was worth. Guess who won that race, she went below me, I took the shot pointing straight down and my trusty 102 tried to light the bottom of the Caribbean. Not a great image. The lesson here was, as soon as I pulled up at 140 ft plus after hitting the shutter, the manta got curious and circled back to see what this very strange being was doing in her realm. She circled me vertically three times; 3 ft away as I floated there dumbfounded waiting for the strobe to power up.
Don't hunt. If you come back with a lot of great images of fish’s tails, I'll bet you need to change your mindset. Be one with the reef, the reef will come to you. The third idea of course is you have to be in the water. Sounds simple, but I'll bet you more great images were missed while the photographer was at the bar drinking rum punch than for any other reason. When you look at all the great images on this website remember, someone was committed enough to crawl out of a warm bed, put on a cold wetsuit, and get in the ocean, with a checked out fully operational camera that cost more than their car. Just for the chance, the opportunity to bring home that image.
Let’s see if I can summarize, be comfortable, be one with the reef, and be committed.
Good luck with the article!

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