If you want to learn how to paint, study the works of Michelangelo and Matisse. If you want to play jazz piano, listen to Count Basie and Duke Ellington. And if you want to be an underwater photographer, immerse yourself in the work of the best underwater photographers.
For this special photo section, we asked seven of the top shooters working today to share one of their favorite images and to tell us what it took to get that special shot, so that you might learn from their experience. For Amos Nachoum, it was the willingness to travel halfway around the world and wait for three hours holding a 10-pound camera to his face for a single shot. For Brandon Cole, it was facing down the world's largest carnivore.
One thing you'll learn from this gallery is that there's no one way to capture a perfect photograph. The elements that converge in that single moment are as varied as the images--and the photographers--themselves.
|Photography by Masa Ushioda|
American alligator, Florida Everglades
It's not easy to coax a 10-foot alligator into the center of your viewfinder. Fortunately, for this photo shoot, I had the assistance of an experienced guide who had the unique ability to imitate the alligator's own quacking and squeaking sounds. She did it so well, in fact, that it created another problem. Her calls attracted all of the other alligators nearby, which sent this big one into territorial mode, thrashing about, chasing the others 50 yards to the right, 100 yards to the left. All I could do was wait--for the alligator, and then for the light.
I set my camera's focus to minimum distance and closed down the aperture to f-11 to get the eyes within the depth of field. The water was dark and required two strobe lights at full power to compensate for the low light. For topside exposure, I used various densities of neutral density gradation filters to match above water and underwater precisely.
CAMERA AND SETTINGS: Nikon N90x camera and 16mm fisheye lens with custom neutral-density gradation filter; Nexus Master Housing with 9-inch dome port; two Sea & Sea YS-90 strobes with diffusers at full power; shutter set for automatic at f-11; Kodak Ektachrome 100VS film.
|Photography by Berkley White|
Blue rockfish, Point Lobos, Calif.
I kept my distance from this school of blue rockfish as it swirled through the kelp of a small, craggy pinnacle near Point Lobos, Calif. The school's pattern changed slowly as it moved in my direction. I shot a few frames as the fish passed and watched them cycle back to where they started.
I limited the exposure to ambient light and metered to keep the background bright and the fish shadowed in the foreground. Extra grain from the pushed Kodak T-Max black and white film and dark silhouettes added to the mood of the photograph.
There was a time when the kelp forests just seaward of my shop in Monterey teemed with blue rockfish. Over the last 10 years, however, intense fishing pressures have reduced rockfish populations and left many kelp-topped pinnacles vacant, almost ghostly.
CAMERA AND SETTINGS: Nikonos V camera and 15mm lens; 1/60 sec. at f-4; Kodak T-Max black and white film.
|Photography by Chris Newbert|
Freckle face blenny, Solomon Islands
You'd have to be humorless not to be attracted to the freckle face blenny. I found this one in the Solomon Islands, surrounded by colorful encrusting algae, a perfect setting for the cartoonish character poking its head out of its burrow.
The challenges presented by this photo were primarily physical, not technical. The freckle face blenny lives in shallow water, typically six to eight feet deep, in the oxygen-rich surge zone where the rock slab substrate is worn smooth and slippery by wave action. The blennies themselves are small and shy, which means working at very high magnifications with longer focal length macro lenses.
Steadying myself in this washing-machine environment with nothing to hold onto, while using a 200mm lens, with a depth of field only fractions of an inch, and with a subject constantly darting in and out of its hole, was an exercise in alternating patience and exasperation.
CAMERA AND SETTINGS: Subeye Reflex camera and 200mm Micro-Nikkor lens with extension tubes; twin Ikelite SS50 strobes; 1/125 sec. at f-16; Kodak Ektachrome 100VS film.
|Photography by Amos Nachoum|
Great white shark, South Africa
Day seven was a calm winter day off the coast of South Africa. By 9 a.m. we had already had six breaches, but none made for the spectacular out-of-the water image I wanted. I decided to gamble, follow my intuition and try for a vertical rather than the more commonly executed horizontals. It was a long shot--shooting vertical from a small, moving vessel, against the wind and wave action, all with the hope of filling the frame with an unpredictable breaching great white shark.
It took more than three hours. I was drenched in sweat from sitting on the bottom of the boat, holding the 10-pound camera glued to my eye and breathing engine fumes. When it finally happened, it happened so fast that I remember only pressing the trigger so fast that I exposed 19 frames on that single breach.
I had a vision in mind before I arrived in South Africa to photograph great whites, and I returned home with only a single useable image--but I was completely satisfied. I had captured an awe-inspiring performance by the ocean's greatest athlete.
CAMERA AND SETTINGS: Nikon F5 camera with 200mm zoom lens; 1/2000 sec. at f-4; Fujichrome Provia 100F film.
Caribbean reef shark, Bahamas
Over the years I've had many opportunities to photograph Caribbean reef sharks, but I wanted to do something a little different this time. Stuart Cove took me to the wreck of an old Bahamian Defense Force cutter off New Providence in the Bahamas for a unique background.
I shot both film and digital images, but this image came from my Nikon D1X digital. I shoot in the NEF format, so when I opened the file in Photoshop, I had a 60-megabyte TIF file, plenty large enough for magazine reproduction. For the final version (above), I did a little backscatter removal, and eliminated a small fish that was blurred from motion in the original (bottom). But since it was a relatively monochromatic color shot anyway, the main Photoshop application was choosing "grayscale" to alter the image to black and white.
CAMERA AND SETTINGS: Nikon D1X camera and 16mm Nikkor lens in a Seacam housing; Ikelite 200 strobe with custom diffuser; 1/80 sec. at f-11; ISO equivalent of 125.
|Photography by Brandon Cole|
Sperm whales, Azores Islands
We were 20 miles off the Azores, a scattering of islands hundreds of miles off Portugal, when we found these sperm whales resting in a group at the surface. Quickly, silently, I deployed my new secret weapon--an inflatable kayak I had shipped all the way from the states. Paddling in stealth mode, I closed to within 200 yards and slipped into the water, taking a quick meter reading on the open blue.
I could feel their megaton presence. I angled directly in front of them, hoping that with eyes far back on the sides of their block-like heads, their forward vision was limited.
Click! Click-click! I froze. The world's largest carnivores were pinging me with cetacean sonar, echolocating to see my insides. Praying they wouldn't mistake me for a tasty giant squid, I held my ground as they began to approach. Trying to hide behind my camera, I braced for impact--but 10 feet in front of me they swerved, the closest whale favoring me with a curious glance. Then the sweet sound of the camera's motor drive.
CAMERA AND SETTINGS: Nikon 8008S camera and 20mm f-2.8 lens; Aquatica housing with 8-inch dome port; 1/125 sec. at f-8; Kodak Ektachrome E200 film pushed in developer to equivalent of ISO 320.
|Photography by Doug Perrine|
West Indian manatee, Homosassa Springs, Fla.
I had an excellent subject in the form of a curious and playful one-year-old manatee calf, but I had to deal with a high load of fine bottom sediment suspended in the water column. In order to reduce the amount of silty water between the lens and the subject, I wanted to use the widest possible lens. The 16mm fisheye allowed me to fit the entire manatee into the frame when it approached to a distance of less than a foot from the dome port.
Typically, the above-water scene is a couple of stops brighter than the underwater view, and requires a neutral density filter to darken it. In this case, however, there were dark trees above, and a fairly light-colored, shallow, sunlit bottom under water. So all I needed was a little bit of low-power flash to light the manatee's face, and I had a pretty good match.
CAMERA AND SETTINGS: Nikon F4 camera and Nikkor 16mm f-2.8 full-frame fisheye lens; Aquatica housing with 8-inch dome port; Ikelite substrobe 150 at 1/4 power; settings unrecorded; Fujichrome Velvia film.