SMC: Get The Shot

The image above was taken recently in my backyard in South Florida. I'd like explain how it was shot and processed, and the gear and technique used. I like this shot - I hope you do too - but even if you don't I think it can be instructive to discuss the technique. I've spent quite a bit of time with this family of Jawfish, and have shots of the the males with eggs from many angles and with several lighting schemes. Later in this article I will show a shot that demonstrates the range of the SMC.

This shot isn't cropped, i.e. it was framed like this in the camera. I don't have anything against judicious cropping, but being un-cropped makes this a good example to talk about.

Getting the shot:

This image was taken with the Canon 5D Mark III, Canon EF 100mm macro f/2.8L, Nauticam Macro Port 94, Nauticam SMC. Shot in Manual exposure mode, shutter speed 1/200, aperture f/18, ISO 100, with 2 Inon Z-240 strobes with diffusers on, set to -2 stops from full power, and aimed so the one on the right side is barely catching the face. A couple of notes about these settings. For shutter speed, the sync speed on the 5DIII is 1/200, and for macro that is where I will always start unless wanting to lighten the background or get some motion blur. In regard to aperture, I like shooting super macro at about f/18. I am ok with opening the aperture up from there, i.e. to about f/8 or less when the shallow depth of field is wanted. But I definitely recommend not shooting higher than f/22 because of diffraction effects. This is a topic for a different day, but as a general rule, f/18 is the smallest aperture I generally use, and your sharpness will suffer going much higher than that.

One of the things I really like about the SMC is that it is easier to focus with than other powerful closeup lenses. This has to do with less distortion at open apertures. Since the camera does it's focusing with (typically) a wide open aperture, less distortion means easier to see to be able to focus. I mostly use "thumb focus" (camera set to only focus when AF-ON button is pressed) with a single focus point, and that is what I did here.

The SMC also allows for a small amount more working distance than a plain closeup lens. This difference doesn't seem like much when experimenting with the lens, but in this shot it makes a big difference. The Jawfish has his personal space, and if you or your lens invade that space, Mr. Jawfish retreats to his burrow.

Composition:

As I mentioned, I've got a lot of shots of this guy, or his brothers (yes, male - jawfish males brood the eggs). There's no "right" way to shoot this, but I wanted to try for a different sort of look than is typical.

One really important compositional rule I learned a long time ago (from the late Jim Watt) is how our eyes deal with sharp focus on the subject's eyes. In this case, I purposely am focusing on the eyes in the eggs, and not the eyes of the papa fish. His eyes are nicely blurred but not so much as to obscure what they are. I think this adds an element to the story here... the proud father showing off his babies. Emphasis on the babies because of the focus. That's my take, but I think the shot lets the viewer decide the story here.

Post Processing:

Another thing I learned from Jim Watt - try to get it right in camera so you don't have to spend a lot of time in front of the computer. I use Adobe Lightroom (only editing a particular image in Photoshop if it really needs it) and here's all I did on this image:

1) Keywords - I added these keywords. blue heron bridge, jawfish, jawfish with eggs. Now, I know that is not an extensive keyword list, but I've found that if I get too picky about keywording, I won't do it at all. So I basically just say what it is and where it was shot. If I sell the image, I will add a caption and title.

2) I made some small changes to the "Basic" panel. Here they are:


Pretty basic changes in the Basic panel. added a tiny bit more exposure, dropped the blacks for some contrast on the left side, and a added a little bit of punch up in Clarity and Vibrance. That's it. 3 - Spot removal. There were roughly 20 little spots that I removed. Here they are, using Lightroom's "Visualize Spots" feature:

See the spots? Really easy to knock them out with the Spot Removal Tool using Visualize Spots. Any more than this amount, and I am likely to a) Use Photoshop instead b) Hire a teenager to click spots for me or c) give up and go shoot it again.

4 - A small amount of sharpening (using the new sharpening mask in Lightroom to avoid artifacts in out of focus areas) and a little noise reduction, and we're done with post processing. (note: do these last so Lightroom runs faster as you do the other edits).

A couple more thoughts about the SMC. First, did you notice how the sharpness held up in the corner and along the edges? This is a huge advantage of the designed-for-use-in-water SMC. If you've struggled with this in the past, well, you know what I am talking about.

Here's a much tighter shot, also taken with the SMC. Above, I mentioned the working distance issue; in this shot it is even more critical. It took a long time to get the Jawfish comfortable with me this close. Any less working distance, and I am pretty sure it would never have happened.

These two shots really work to demonstrate the range of the SMC. The first image was taken with the full frame Canon 5D Mark III, while the 2nd shot was taken with the APS-C Canon 70D. Neither is cropped, i.e. both are framed as they were shot. The first shot is backed off at the far end of the SMC range, and the second is at the closest end. The "crop factor" of the 70D also helps with the apparent magnification in the 2nd image.

Want even more magnification? We'll talk about the SMC Multiplier in another blog post. Thanks for reading... drop us an email at innovation@nauticamusa.com if you have any questions.

Chris