Author:Steven Kovacs

Steven Kovacs was born in Canada,and had a fascination for the underwater world from a very young age.,He started diving in the cold,rich waters surrounding Vancouver Island in 1999 and bought his first camera in 2001,From there he quickly developed a passion for macro photography, with a special emphasis on underwater behaviors. Recently he has become an avid enthusiast of black water drift diving in deep waters.

He has placed over 100 times in International photographic competitions,including the prestigious Veolia Wildlife Photographer of the Year contest.

He's also been published in numerous books ,and magazines,and his work has been displayed in numerous institutions,including the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington,Monterey Bay Aquarium,KOC Secience,and the KOC Science and Sea Museum in Istanbul, to name a few.

 

 

INTRODUCTION

While the average diver is hanging up their gear for the day and getting ready to relax,select groups of divers around the world have discovered a whole new underwater realm to explore and photograph,This is because every night in oceans around the world,one of the greatest mass migrations on earth takes place,The diurnal vertical migration. Deep water organisms move up to the surface at night and then return to the depths during the day. Mixed among these deep water organisms are a myriad of other pelagic drifters such as jellyfish and pelagic fish that live out in the open ocean.

larval Lionfish iso250 f/25 1/250

Adventurous divers can join an array of boats that travel out into deep water at night to depths of 200 to 1000 meters or sometimes even more,Participants then jump in and drift along at recreational depths anywhere from a few meters to as deep as 20 meters ,in order to see what strange and wonderful creatures they can find drifting up from the depths,Many of these animals have rarely been seen by divers,and some have never been photographed before,These include many larval fish, ,zooplankton,jellies, salps, molluscs, cephalopods, ,and countless other invertebrates.

larval Long Arm Octopus iso250 f/25 1/250

Occasionally larger animals such as Sharks or Sailfish will swim by and pay a visit out of curiosity,In addition,Flyingfish floating at the surface are always a treat,and can be especially challenging to shoot depending on how calm the surface conditions are.

This type of diving out in the middle of the ocean at night with no bottom is not for the faint of heart ,but after a little,while it can actually be quite relaxing.

Flying fish with surface reflection iso250 f/29 1/250

The setup typically involves a weighted down line that is attached directly to the boat or to some kind of illuminated buoy,Although some boats tether divers to a line,the greatest flexibility is to not have any tether system in place and leave the responsibility of staying with the line to the diver,In that case, paying attention to where the line is at all times becomes very important so as not to end up too far from the boat,Ideally there are lights attached to the downline at regular intervals (for example, every 10 feet) to make it easier to remain oriented,It's also very important to be aware of your depth at all times,It's very easy to go too deep chasing after something special if you're not paying attention.

Larval deep water Gibberfish iso250 f/29 1/250

EQUIPMENT

The majority of the animals encountered are extremely small,ranging from a few mm to around a couple of centimeters,As a result, photographs are often times taken at or close to the minimum focusing distance so higher f-stops ,(f / 18-f / 25)that result in a greater depth of field are usually required,This may also necessitate the use of a slightly higher iso (250-400) to attain an adequate level of exposure.

rare deep water Cusk Eel larva iso205 f/25 1/250

A general consensus among almost all black water enthusiasts is ,that a dedicated macro lens with a shorter focal length,such as a 50mm or 60mm,is best. The longer lenses like the 105mm tend to be much more difficult to work with on this type of dive.

deepwater Diamond Squid iso250 f/25 1/250

Also,a lot of light is essential when searching for these tiny animals,especially because a lot of them are almost completely transparent,making them almost invisible,Generally,I feel the more light the better (within reason of course),but there are some black water divers who prefer low power lights,Some photographers will attach two or three powerful lights to their camera rig while others prefer a single low light torch,Experimenting is the best way to determine individual preferences. I personally attach 3 Big Blue lights to my camera set up when searching but quickly drop the power down after finding a subject to photograph.

deep water Dragonfish iso400 f/29 1/250

PHOTOGRAPHY TIPS

Black water photography can be extremely challenging and may take several dives to get the hang of,The subjects and diver are constantly in motion,Sometimes the subjects are not too happy with a very bright light being shined on them and will then try to make a hasty escape into the blackness,All of these things will take time to get used to.

larval lobster with jellies iso250 f/25 1/250

Many of the subjects are almost completely transparent making focusing on them a challenge,I find automatic focus works well while a few people like to use manual focus,Others prefocus and then move in and out till the subject appears sharp in the viewfinder before pressing the shutter,Practice and experimentation is the best way to determine,what's best for each individual.

bably Swordfish iso320 f/25 1/250

Since there is no bottom or reference in the pitch black,good diving skills are essential,Free floating in deep water requires excellent buoyancy skills,The better the buoyancy the easier it will be to take photographs,Minimal and slow movements are also important since it's easy to cause currents that can send a subject tumbling out of control.

larval Lobster with Jellyfish iso320 f/29 1/250

Among the many challenges of photographing some of the larval fish is that the eyes may be highly reflective,It's very easy to overexpose and blow out the eyes when properly exposing for the rest of the body,If this becomes problematic then exposing more for the eye is advantageous resulting in a slightly underexposed body which can be brought back to a proper exposure in post processing,Sometimes changing the position of the strobes to change the angle at which the light hits the subject can also help.

larval Reef Basslet iso250 f/25 1/250

In my opinion,an extremely important tip,is to extend your arm out and focus on your finger tip and use this as a starting point every time before finding a subject,It makes it easier and quicker to find in the animal in the viewfinder,You can then move in or out as necessary.

another deep water Diamond Squid iso250 f/25 1/250

CONCLUSION

Black water is like a treasure hunt in that you never know what you will come across,It can be very addictive searching for and witnessing amazing creatures few people,if any, have ever seen before. The first few dives might be frustrating but practice will make it easier over time,I highly recommend everyone try it at least once to see if it's for them. Most people will not be disappointed!

larval Reef Bass iso250 f/29 1/250

larval Moray Eel iso250 f/29 1/250

pelagic snail iso250 f/29 1/250

deep water Sharpear Enope squid iso250 f/25 1/250